Gay marriage, taxes, and the law of unintended consequences

Gay-flowerLast year was a triumphant year for gay marriage in California.  That means that this year, for many newly wed gay couples, April 15 was the first time they filed their taxes as married couples.  I have it on very good authority that many of these newly nuptialed couples are extremely unhappy now that they’re dealing with the infamous marriage penalty.

Considering how politically powerful gay men have become, could gay marriage lead to lower taxes?

And while we’re talking about taxes, Bill Whittle offers a sensible tax policy, one that would give all citizens a stake in America, while ending the current policy of taxing the producers right out of existence:

Flat taxes, once I understood how they worked, were one of the stepping stones on my way to conservativism. Twenty years ago, a brilliant conservative managed to explain to me how an across the board 10% sales tax would work. When he first told me about it, I got ruffled, pointing out that this was regressive tax that would hurt poor people. He shook his head sadly at my ignorance and explained that the most that poor people would get taxed, if they spent every penny they had, would be 10%, which is a reasonable amount to pay to have a stake in this country. (This was 20 years ago, before 51% of Americans paid nothing at all.) Moreover, he said, the bulk of taxes would come from those who aren’t poor, because middle class and rich people buy more. Everyone buys staples, but it’s the classes above the poverty line who have always — as a practical matter — bought into the American dream.

A 10% tax wouldn’t be high enough to deter high income spending, especially if there were no other taxes, so middle and upper class Americans would have an incentive to invest in the economy through purchasing goods. In the meantime, a 10% sales tax might be high enough to encourage a poor person to save more, rather than to buy inessential products, helping the poor person to stay solvent.

Certainly, a flat sales tax (or any flat tax) would be cheaper to administer than our current tax system. If it unleashed a rising tide of prosperity, it would bring in more revenue. On the other hand, if it brought in less revenue, it would stop rampant government spending (this was also before debt ceiling wars).

Bottom line:  Anything more simple and more fair than what we have now is a better tax system.

What is our obligation to those who make bad decisions?

wic3One of the things I’ve tried to drill into my children is the truism that the single biggest indicator of poverty is single motherhood.  That data, incidentally, does not reflect the old-fashioned kind of single motherhood, which was the result of widowhood or abandonment.  Instead, we’re talking about modern single motherhood, the kind that sees women who are deluged with birth control choices nevertheless get pregnant with boyfriends or hook-ups who feel no emotional connection or sense of economic obligation to either mother or baby.

One of my children has a part-time job at a cafe and is, for the first time, meeting adults who have full-time jobs but who aren’t middle-class professionals living in single family homes in solidly upper middle class neighborhoods.  One of these adults is pregnant and is unhappy about the fact that the cafe, where she’s been working for only five months, will not give her maternity leave.

Inquiry revealed that the pregnant woman is not married; that she’s living with a boyfriend who may or may not be the father of her child (my kid doesn’t know), and that the boyfriend doesn’t work.  Except for getting regular nooky at night (assuming that the pregnant woman still wants that kind of attention), the mother-to-be will be, for all practical purposes, a single mother.

My child found it concerning that the boss won’t pay this single mother not to work for him.  My child was therefore stymied when I asked this question:  ”Why should he pay for her foolish choices?”

I noted that, while it’s entirely possible that this woman was using enough birth control to protect six woman, and nevertheless still managed to get pregnant, the greater likelihood was that she was careless. Indeed, if she really wanted to protect against single motherhood, she could have abstained from sex until she had a ring on her finger and some economic prospects.

I threw in the fact that it’s incredibly costly to do business in California, especially in the food service industry, which have extremely low profit margins.  Employers generally are drowning in regulations, which makes businesses very expensive to run.  Add in taxes and all the other costs of business (rent, insurance, salaries, benefits, supplies, etc.), and it’s guaranteed that the employer is clearing just enough money for his personal expenses (mortgage, insurance, food, etc.).  This owner is almost certainly not living extravagantly but is, instead, living a very temperate life.

Much of the money that the federal and state government are taking away from this man, both from his business and from him personally, is going to welfare programs for single mothers, something this employer must know.  Since he’s already paying for the welfare this young woman will inevitably end up using, why should he pay twice by carrying her on the books even though she’s contributing nothing to his business?  Even if he was feeling charitable, the government has left him nothing with which to be charitable,  not to mention the fact that the government, by snatching money from his pockets, has already decided on his behalf which charities he should support — including economically foolish single motherhood.

Such a simple question:  ”Why should he pay for her foolish choices, when the government is already taxing him heavily in advance to pay for all the foolish choices of intentionally single mothers across America”?

 

It’s tax time and people are feeling the Obamacare pain

Tax formsWe went to our accountant last night.  She looked exhausted.  When we asked why, she explained that this has been an exceptionally painful tax season.  Obamacare taxes are hitting this year, and she had to informed people (well-to-do people, admittedly), that their taxes have increased by thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They were not pleased.

Interestingly, none of them saw this coming — which, when you think about it, tells you an awful lot about the mindset of people here in Marin, most of whom are overwhelming Leftist, including the rich.  The rich here know how to make money, but they really don’t know much else.  They’re uninformed about the world and how it works.  Moreover, because they think that voting Democrat makes them nice people, and voting for a black Democrat makes them good people, they are as blindly uninformed and as easily led as the 20-year-old college student or the 50-year-old cafeteria worker who reads only People and watches only Dr. Phil.

And why shouldn’t the poor have free cars? The rich are already getting green car subsidies

Working class and lower middle class people can't afford to own this car, but they can help offset the costs for the rich guy who wants one.

Working class and lower middle class people can’t afford to own this car, but they can help offset the costs for the rich guy who wants one.

One of the things that drives me bonkers-nutso about the green movement is the way that it subsidizes rich people when they make “green” purchases.  I dislike subsidies generally, because they’re a form of wealth redistribution.  But I really dislike it when government takes taxpayer money and hands it over to the very wealthy so that they can buy themselves an electric sports car, such as the Tesla.*  I know that the rich pay the largest percent of taxes in America, but the non-rich middle and working classes are paying some taxes too, and they shouldn’t be subsidizing luxury automobiles simply because they’re “green.”  (And I’ve mentioned before that their “green” claims are dubious, since they rely on electricity generated through dirty means at far-away plants.  It seems to me that all they do is move pollution, not decrease it.  And let’s not even talk about the toxic batteries….)

In a perverse way, therefore, it makes sense for the broken and broke California government to play around with the idea of giving free green cars to poor people.  After all, since the shrinking middle class is already paying for rich people’s “green” playthings, why shouldn’t they pay for poor people’s cars too?  Each increasingly poverty-stricken middle class taxpayer can take pride in the greening of California and can only hope that he goes broke (and therefore qualifies for a free green car) before all the other taxpayers go broke too.

The worst part is that the “green” subsidy, which currently benefits rich folks, is all part of a giant con to prevent an apocalyptic event that’s not going to happen.  If anything, we should be hoping that the increasingly ephemeral, even illusory, greenhouse effect really does kick in, because we’re hosed if there’s another ice age.  Water and sunlight — both of which are plentiful during warming periods — are good for all living things.  Barren, frozen wildernesses are not.

_______________________________

*These green subsidies also fund the solar panels you see on rich people’s houses.  Indeed, they fund everything green that the rich can afford without subsidies and that the poor can’t afford even with subsidies.

Lois Lerner’s demand for immunity before she’ll testify before Congress

The IRS’s Lois Lerner, who bungled taking the Fifth the last time she appeared before Congress, is now set to return to Congress.  Her lawyer has announced, however, that she’ll testify only in return for immunity, otherwise her lips are sealed.

It seems to me that whether Congress takes her up on that offer depends on how much information she has.  If she’s a criminal pipsqueak, giving her immunity means she gets away with a crime, while offering nothing in return.  However, since she is a highly placed IRS functionary, if the agrees to sing like a birdie, it may well be worth it simply to get information on everyone else.  Having said that, I suspect that there are people in government who will not be thrilled if she talks.  Am I being overwrought if I think that she might actually find herself at risk if her testimony has the potential to send high government officials to jail?

I deeply disrespect the Obama administration, from the top down, but it’s a big step from disliking them to considering them capable of turning to violence or even murder.  It seems to me that Lerner, who knows the administration better than I do, assumes that they will not hurt her, or else she wouldn’t have made the offer.  Even if the whole administration doesn’t go rogue, though, there may still be some lone fruit-loop out there who will stop at nothing to avoid jail or just the end of a career.  If I were Lerner, I’d look very carefully before crossing any streets.

What’s your take on this?  Would you offer her immunity in exchange for information?

Marriage’s open frontiers in America

A few days ago, I commented about a profound problem with the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA:  before DOMA, we had a societal consensus that marriage was between one man and one woman.  During DOMA, we had a law that said marriage was between one man and one woman, even as the societal consensus broke down.  Post-DOMA, we have nothing.  There are no boundaries, and there is nothing to stop a “loving” marriage based upon bestiality, incest, pedophilia, polyamory, etc.  The boundaries are gone.

In addition, the demands on government will change substantially with this “new frontier” approach to marriage.  A friend of mine who knows all things military sent me this email:

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how recent Supreme Court decisions have rendered marriage and family meaningless. For instance, if I were a young private or PFC in the military I would find another guy to get married to (contract marriages between service members are nothing new. It’s a great way for two otherwise unattached people to get free money for being married). Getting married is often the best way for service members to get themselves out of crappy barracks life so I could marry a male service member from another unit and move into my new house. We would not even have to be gay to do it. Then we could run around with as many women as we wanted and essentially be room mates and get paid a basic housing allowance (x2) for being married. If I were caught in some kind of adultery situation (hard to prove usually) I would simply state that I and my life partner are straight and though we are married we do not sleep together. Further, who is to judge how we choose to run our family/household? Anything goes according to the Supreme Court and if two gay men can get married why can’t two straight ones?

So that’s two of us figuring out that Anthony Kennedy’s decision creates tremendous societal problems.  Can we add three of us or four of us?  Yes, we can!

I don’t want to tread upon copyrights, so let me just direct you to Michael Ramirez’s post-DOMA cartoon and Terminal Lance’s post-DOMA cartoon (warning:  ever so slightly risque).  They both make the point perfectly, one with regard to society at large and the other with special focus on the military.

Andrew Klavan is right that we need to view this as a Democrat “squirrel” moment, one in which the Democrat powers that be distract their sometimes mindless constituents from more important issues such as the economy, or the fact that Syria is imploding, Egypt is on the verge of imploding, and Turkey is working towards imploding.  However, we cannot ignore the legal ramifications flowing from the Supreme Court’s rulings, because these ramifications can become very expensive very quickly.

If nothing else, the end of DOMA is one more reason that the tax code and IRS should be done away with and a flat tax instituted.  After all, the current tax code gives married couples distinct benefits, with an eye to advancing a stable, two-parent family.  Since that’s now out the window, we better revisit where all those tax benefits are flowing.

Using the tax code and tax authorities as Leftist sledge hammers

I’ve written before that the IRS’s aggression towards conservative groups and individuals is the worst presidential scandal in American history because it represents the first time a government agency, which falls under the executive’s control, has used its vast power to target people and groups that oppose the administration’s agenda.  Before the IRS started doing this, taxes had to come through a legislative process which was, in theory, vox populi.  Legislators were at least somewhat sensitive to voter concerns — they can, after all, get kicked out of office.  Administrative agencies with a partisan agenda feel that they’re untouchable and nothing can stop them.

Earl has now alerted me to the fact that the California legislature, which is so overwhelmingly Democrat as to make California a one-party state, has decided to copy the IRS’s behavior and use taxes to destroy political opponents:

What the IRS was doing behind closed doors may soon be official policy in California. Last week, the State Senate voted to revoke the nonprofit status of any group within the state that does not allow full participation of homosexuals, a move aimed directly at the Boy Scouts of America. According to the Associated Press, the bill “would require those organizations to pay corporate taxes on donations, membership dues, camp fees and other sources of income, and to obtain sellers permits and pay sales taxes on food, beverages and homemade items sold at fundraisers.” Groups that sponsor troops would also have their tax returns and membership policies scrutinized by the Franchise Tax Board, California’s version of the IRS.

If further proof was needed that the BSA’s partial surrender on the homosexual issue only emboldened their opponents, here it is. Compromise is not in the left’s vocabulary. Not until Dan Savage is taking your son camping will they be happy, and probably not even then.

Read the rest here.

It used to be that, if the Boy Scouts (or any other private organization) wouldn’t have you, you’d start your own organization and it would be so successful people would be knocking down your door and the Boy Scouts (or whatever) would be copying your model.  Or perhaps you’d start your own organization and it would fail, because the Boy Scouts (or whatever) actually had a good idea and were doing things right.

Nowadays, you don’t take your marbles and go play with other, more friendly people.  Instead, you stand there and kick the other side’s marbles all over the place and, if a few remain, you stomp them into dust.  My way or the highway — and I don’t care if my way destroys your essential essence, so long as you bow down before me.

The Progressive version of Martin Niemoeller’s famous “First they came” poem

Can I do some serious boasting about the quality people who come to this site?  Yes, yes I can .  (Or as Obama’s fans say, Si, se puede!)  With every post I write, I get the ball rolling and you all take off, combining your erudition, humor, and insights into a fabulous melange of intellectual wonderfulness.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I’m always honored that you chose Bookworm Room as an intellectual hang-out.

So, a little more boasting about my readers?  I’ve been referencing Pastor Martin Niemoeller lately, he of “First they came” fame.  This is because I believe that the IRS attack on political groups that Democrats don’t like is the first link in that chain.  We have to stand up and fight now, even if we weren’t specifically a conservative organization applying for tax-exempt status or a conservative millionaire demonized by Obama’s campaign machine.

One of my wonderful readers wrote a satirical version of Niemoeller’s poem, straight out of the mouth’s of Progressives.  As with all good satires, it works perfectly because it exposes an ugly truth about an ideology that drapes itself in hypocritical piety.

Some random factoids about Lois Lerner, the gal who was the head of the IRS exempt organization’s division

Lois Lerner

A little more than a week ago, no one had heard of Lois Lerner.  Now she is the poster child for government machinery run amok.  She first thrust herself into our awareness with her clumsily staged revelation that, “Oh, by the way, the IRS persecuted conservatives, but really, there’s nothing to worry about….”  Since then, it’s only gotten worse, with Lois being exposed as a serial liar.  Finally, today, she announced in advance that, if called before Congress, she would plead the Fifth, so please don’t embarrass her by calling her.  I say “Call away” and, so far, Committee Head Issa agrees.

Now that Lois has emblazoned herself as a household name, people are starting to look at her very closely.  It turns out that her hostility towards conservatives predates her tenure at the IRS, and goes back to her FEC days.  She may have failed math, but she gets an “A” in harassment.

Conservatives are doing the logical thing, which is to try to link her to Obama.  As Walter Olson at Overlawyered points out, however, the only linkage currently available is truly a link bridge to far — it’s so tenuous as to be silly.

One of my friends, who does not want to be known as a conspiracy theorist (and I can vouch that this friend wouldn’t be seen near a tin-foil hat), wondered if Lois’ anti-conservative propensities put her in an orbit other than the Obama’s.  My friend sent me this email, and assures me, as I assure you, that it’s idle speculation rather than a breaking story:

Listening to Michael Savage the other day, he brought up the intriguing questions about the IRS scandal: “Why now?” and “Who leaked it?”

One caller raised the possible theory that Hillary Clinton was behind it trying to deflect Benghazi criticism that was beginning to zoom in on her, to an Obama-centric scandal.

I was intrigued.  Here is what a quick Google search has taught me so far:

  1. The official who brought up the scandal is Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS Exempt Organizations unit
  2. Lois Lerner husband, is Michael R. Miles, a partner at the law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.
  3. I saw some articles linking Sutherland Asbill & Brennan to hosting an Obama campaign event, but…
  4. What has not been reported is that in 1993 Bill Clinton appointed Hillary’s good friend, Margaret “Peggy” Richardon, as IRS Commissioner (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/24/business/clinton-picks-lawyer-to-be-irs-chief.html). 
  5. This is where it gets a bit interesting.  Peggy Richardson was also a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.  (Oddly enough, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan had one other partner as IRS Commissioner – Randolph Thrower, appointed by Nixon…).
  6. Peggy Richardson, is (allegedly) no stranger to quashing inconvenient investigations against the Clintons (http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2006/01/hillary-silent-clinton-presidencys-latest-cover/)
  7. This is where it turns highly speculative.  I could not find, in the limited time I searched, a link between Peggy Richardson and Lois Lerner or her husband.  But one would think that partners in the same very illustrious law firm would know each other and would know a lot about each other.
  8. This is all capped by the just breaking news that Lois Lerner is going to take the Fifth in her (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/05/21/irs-official-lois-lerner-to-plead-the-fifth/) and choose not to testify before the House Oversight Committee.

Conspiracy theories or not my favorites, but when it comes to the Clintons I am less reluctant to explore them.

No answers, but some awfully good questions.

I also have a little (a very little) of my own information to add.  Since my brain instantly shuts down even at the word “taxes,” I have no idea if I’ve found smoking guns or death rays of irrelevant boredom.  Nevertheless, here are my two contributions to the Lois Lerner saga:

Item The First is a transcript of the prepared remarks Lois Lerner gave in April 12 at Georgetown University Law School.  It makes no sense to me (tax stuff, you know), but some of you may be able to glean some pearls of wisdom.

Item The Second is a lawyer’s analysis of a question-and-answer period with Lerner at the ABA’s Tax Section meeting in September 2012.  The lawyer who asked the questions posted the transcript on his firm’s website, along with his interlineations.  Again, I would be delighted if the tax savvy amongst you could translate it into normal people talk.  (Incidentally, I came across that transcript at the website for The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch website.  The Center for Media and Democracy is, as you may know, a very Left activist organization, fat with George Soros funds.)

Is the IRS scandal the worst political scandal in American history? I say “yes.”

Internal Revenue Service

When it comes to the IRS’s ongoing, repressive behavior against conservative groups, you’re likely to hear different verdicts:  The hard Left says, of course, that this is a molehill that the Republicans are scandalously trying to turn into a scandal.  (The New York Times perfectly exemplifies this line of thinking.)  Others on the Left admit incompetence, but refuse to assign moral blame.  Conservatives are willing to assign moral blame but think that no one really cares.

I believe that everyone should care because what we’re seeing now is a new type of scandal in American history, and the biggest crime a sitting administration has ever committed against the American people.  I wrote about it at Mr. Conservative, although the headline there focuses on the IRS’s probing into people’s prayers.  (Thinking about that, its worth remembering that Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled in an age when church and state were one, refused to “make windows into men’s souls.”  The IRS is not so doctrinally picky.)

Anyway, here’s the post I wrote for Mr. Conservative:

**************

There’s been a lot of debate swirling amongst the pundits lately. Is the Watergate cover-up worse than the Benghazi cover-up or vice versa? Is the only scandal that matters the Justice Department’s decision to tap Associated Press phones, because that’s the only one that the media will care about? What did Obama know and when did he know it?

Ignore all that. The absolute worst scandal that’s emerged lately, and the worst administration scandal in American history is the IRS scandal. Why? Because you, the People, became the targets of a comprehensive federal government effort to stifle dissent, one made using the government’s overwhelming and disproportionate policing and taxing powers.

All of the other scandals, going back to Andrew Johnson’s post-Civil War scandals, Warren G. Harding’s 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, Nixon’s Watergate, Reagan’s Iran-Contra, and Clinton’s Oval Office sexcapades have actually been narrowly focused acts of cronyism, garden-variety political chicanery, or personal failings. It’s been insider stuff.

The IRS scandal, by contrast, is a direct attack on the American people. Right now, Progressives throughout America are pretending that this scandal doesn’t matter: “Obama wasn’t involved.” “Tea Partiers had it coming because they’re all corrupt.” “Obama would have won the election anyway.” “It was just a coincidence that the only groups that had their applications scrutinized, sometimes for years, were politically conservative. It means nothing that, when one group changed its name to sound Progressive, its application was approved in only three weeks.” “This is just a bureaucratic snafu.” “It’s a few rogue agents in Ohio.”

Those who offer these excuses are either morally flawed themselves or delusional idiots. Pastor Martin Niemoller, who once supported the Nazi party, finally and famously figured things out after World War II:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Once a government gets the bit between its teeth and starts targeting special interest groups, that is the end of freedom, not just for those first groups targeted, but for everyone.

Okay, that was the throat-clearing. Now it’s time to add the latest chapter in the long list of examples showing that the IRS engaged in a politically motivated witch-hunt against people who don’t toe the Progressive/Democrat party line:

The Thomas More Society (a Catholic organization) says that an IRS office in California ordered a group called “Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County, Texas” to detail the meaning and content of the prayers they offered. That was not an isolated event. IRS agents demanded the same information from “Coalition of Life of Iowa,” which was required to explain what went on at the group’s prayer meetings.

When Rep. Aaron Schock (R., Ill.) asked outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller whether these were appropriate questions, Miller didn’t even have the courage to say “no.” Instead, he said meaninglessly that “It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either.”

Here’s thumbnail sketch of just a few of the other politically-motivated attacks the IRS has made against American citizens. We can expect many more revelations to come:

1. The IRS official who over saw the agency’s effort to stifle political dissent is now in charge of enforcing ObamaCare, which will account for up to one-sixth of the American economy.

2. The IRS gave confidential financial documents from conservative non-profit organizations to a far-Left political activist group.

3. The IRS (which will police ObamaCare) stole 10 million medical records, including the records for all California judges.

4. The IRS blocked applications for or otherwise harassed almost 500 conservative non-profit groups – and there’s every reason to believe that this number will continue to rise.

5. The IRS insisted that, for a pro-Life group to obtain tax-exempt status, it would have to promote abortion.

6. The IRS has been mining Facebook for private data about people who dissent from Obama’s party line.

7. The IRS tried to force a conservative non-profit education group to turn over the names of students (mostly minors) who benefited from its services.

As for those who say that the whole IRS affair becomes irrelevant if no one can prove that Obama is not directly involved, that’s completely wrong. Of course, if the president was involved, it shows that he is the most corrupt, tyrannical leader in American history, and that every branch of the executive division in our government has been tainted and must be cleaned out. And as far as Obama is concerned, if he wasn’t involved, he is a man too incompetent and weak to hold the job of national chief executive.

But think about what it means if Obama wasn’t involved, and the IRS, an agency that has the power to destroy every person in America, did all of this on its own initiative. What we’re seeing in that case is the fall-out of a complete Leftist takeover of American institutions. We will have become a tyranny by bureaucracy (in no small part due to the fact that federal agencies are heavily unionized, and always with a Leftist slant), with the entire federal government irredeemably corrupt.

Here’s one last thought for you about an American president who, wittingly or unwittingly, presided over the single worst scandal in American history:

On May 5, at Ohio State University (the same state in which the IRS scandal was headquartered), Obama gave a speech that was viewed then as yet another in the endless list of examples showing Obama painting his political opponents as loony paranoids:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

Reading those same words now, it’s clear that, like the rattlesnake’s warning, Obama was previewing the reality of a Leftist government’s total control over the people who have naively consigned themselves to its care.

photo by: saturnism

Obama and Henry II; Obama and Martin Niemöller; and Obama and Al Capone

Congratulations, folks!  When it comes to the IRS audit scandal, you are about to get three apt historical comparisons in a single post.

The background, of course, is the cascading downpour of news stories revealing that the IRS deliberately audited Tea Party groups, patriot groups, small government groups, and pro-Israel groups.  The auditing started in 2010, but reached a crescendo during Obama’s campaign for re-election.  The result was that several groups hostile to Obama and his policies were completely broken or rendered paralyzed during key moments in the Obama administration.  Obama’s responsibility, and the reaction to this true witch-hunt made me think of three historic parallels.

1.  Obama and Henry II.  I’m willing to bet you never thought of Obama in connection with Henry II (1133-1189).  Henry was the lusty, rowdy, all-conquering (at least initially) 12th century English king who married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the richest, most beautiful woman in Europe; ruled large sections of France; fathered sons who went off on crusades and set put a signature to the first “rights” document ever written; and generally set the stage for England’s prominent role on the world stage for so many centuries.

Obama is the exact opposite — not lusty, not rowdy, terrified of conquest, married to a woman whose primary claim to beauty is her arms, etc.  And yet, there’s a thread that binds them.  I thought of it when I read about the defense Obama-ites are offering when it comes to the really horrible scandal about the IRS targeting conservative groups and Jewish groups, essentially disabling them during Obama’s first term and, especially, in the lead-up to the election.

According to Obama’s defenders, even if one concedes that what the IRS did was a bad thing, Obama shouldn’t be touched by the scandal.  It was not Barack’s fault.  Leave Barack alone!!  The IRS’s version of events is that  “low level” employees committed these tyrannical acts.  The New York Times goes so far as to blame the whole thing on the GOP (and certainly wins the George Orwell “1984″ Reporting Award for doing so).  Message:  this is not Obama’s fault.  Barack Obama himself has gone on record as being surprised and dismayed.

You know what?  This may be true.  I’m perfectly willing to believe that Obama didn’t personally order these audits.  But I can’t help thinking of Henry II.  Once upon a time, early in his reign, Thomas Becket was Henry II’s closest friend.  The relationship lasted right up until Henry elevated Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury.  It was then that Becket, who had been a priest for years, finally had his “come to Jesus” moment.  He began opposing Henry vigorously on government policies that affected the Church, so much so that he became a thorn in Henry’s side.

Eventually, goaded beyond bearing, Henry cried out rhetorically “Will no one rid me of this turbulent (or meddling) priest?” (or, perhaps, the wordier “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).  It’s important to note that Henry never ordered Becket’s death.  He just whined about the fact that Becket’s existence interfered with his goals.  Four of Henry’s knights heard these words and decided to help out.  They rode to Canterbury and stabbed Thomas to death inside the Cathedral itself.

Although the facts made it impossible to hold Henry guilty for having ordered Becket’s death, everyone understood that his attitude caused it.  Henry was castigated throughout Europe.  Four years after Becket’s death, he donned a sack-cloth and walked barefoot through Canterbury’s streets as eighty monks flogged him with branches. Henry then spent the night in the martyr’s crypt.  Henry also promised the Papacy that he’d go crusading in Becket’s memory, although never did so.  As it happened, Richard I, Henry’s oldest son, more than made up for his father’s broken promise.

Obama has made it plain in almost every speech he’s given that Republicans must be destroyed.  He has not treated them as partners in governing America.  Through straw men arguments, slanders, and insults, he has painted them as the other and made it clear that the only way for him to achieve full greatness is for his enemy to be wiped out.  Small wonder that party loyalists, whether at the upper level of the IRS or in the Ohio office too him seriously.

Even if Obama is not practically culpable, he is morally culpable, just as Henry was for Becket’s death.

2.  Obama and Martin Niemöller.  The IRS scandal has been brewing for a long time.  Conservative bloggers and pro-Israel groups have been complaining for years about their targeting.  The mainstream media completely ignored these complaints, or, alternatively, contended that they occurred because the GOP politicized everything, so every conservative organization was political.  The media and the White House would have happily continued along this path if Lois Lerner, for reasons that are still unclear, hadn’t blown the story wide-open by admitting that targeting happened.

The Obama administration’s and the media’s responses, reminded me forcefully of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous statement after WWII, when he was strongly regretting his Nazi past:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

3.  Obama and Al Cap0ne The press has been ignoring Benghazi as much as possible.  They’re starting to wake up a little bit to the fact that they were played (or rather, they let themselves be played), but it’s been a slow boil, one that took eight months and enormous pressure from the GOP, conservatives generally, and the families of those who died.  Even the recent hearing haven’t gotten them too excited, as they try to exculpate Hillary and Obama, downplay the credentials of the whistle-blowers, and generally hew to their “nothing to see here; move along” attitude.  Most reasonable thinkers admit that, while embarrassing for Obama, nothing that has yet been revealed about his defalcation and cover-up will justify legal action or impeachment claims against him.

It’s been different with the IRS scandal.  Once it couldn’t deny the story any more, the media has really gone after it.  Even Morning Joe, one of the normally complacent Obama Administration shows on MSNBC, was upset by this tyranny.  We now know what really puts the fear of Gaia into Leftists:  They’re not worried about terrorist attacks; they’re afraid of an IRS audit.  That’s pathetic, of course, but there’s a good side.  If the IRS audit scandal exposes the corruption running deep and wide through the Obama administration, I guess that’s good, with the end (the administration’s downfall) mattering more than the means to achieve it.

All of which made me think of Al Capone.  He was the biggest mob boss in the 1920s.  In addition to the direct hits he ordered, one cannot count the numbers of lives lost to the moral degeneration and violence that flowed throughout American society because of Capone’s rum running and prostitution businesses.  The problem for the Feds was that Capone kept his fingerprints off these grossly illegal and immoral activities.  Everybody knew he was involved, but prosecutors couldn’t prove it.  What they could prove, though, was that Al Capone lied on his tax returns — and that’s how he ended up spending years in federal prison.  Capone emerged from Alcatraz broken, broke, and rotting inside from the syphilis that eventually killed him.

Thinking of Al Capone, there is some irony to the fact that it might be taxes that bring down one of the most corrupt administrations in American history.

(This post has been updated to clear away a totally embarrassing typo that saw me confuse Richard I’s and Richard III’s numerical designator.)

The Forbidden History of Terrible Taxes

JKB was worried that he’d hijacked an earlier thread by introducing us to Australian Topher Field’s “Forbidden” histories.  JKB needn’t have worried.  I’ve become an overnight Topher Field’s fan.

I’m including here Topher’s Forbidden History of Terrible Taxes.  You should watch his other “Forbidden” video as well, which is about free speech. As far as I can tell, he’s also working on a video about the dangers of bureaucracy, which he funded using crowd sourcing.

Is this the most regressive tax in America?

My mother lives in a very nice retirement community.  Typically for an affluent suburb, the residents are rich and white, while the employees are low-income and represent a variety of races (white, Asian, black, and Hispanic).  They’re not downtrodden employees.  Many have been there for decades and have strong bonds with the elderly in their care.  But they’re definitely not middle or upper class.  Economically, they’re working or lower class.

Man smoking

Here’s another broad statement I can make about the community in which my mother lives:  Almost none of the affluent residents smoke cigarettes, while a high percentage of the poorer employees smoke.  I know that my statement about the employees is true because I’m there often and I always see a rotating crop of employees hunkered down in the garage or standing out on the streets smoking.

I have to admit here to hating cigarettes.  (And yes, I know that “hate” is a very strong word.)  I have an unusually sensitive sense of smell, and cigarettes are very high on my list of unpleasant odors.  Just to give you an idea how much I hate the smell, back in the early 1980s, when I’d return to my flat in England after a night of dancing (not drinking, just dancing), I was so repulsed by the cigarette smell that clung to me that I’d instantly take a shower.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that I was doing this between November and March, when the flat had no hot water after 10 p.m., and the shower water was probably just above freezing.  I hate cold water, but I hate the smell of cigarettes even more.

My loathing for cigarettes means that I’ve always had two thoughts when I’ve seen the employees puffing away.  My first thought is, “God, I hate that smell.”  My second thought, always, is “They must be spending a huge percentage of their income to support that habit.”

Cigarette pack

Today, my thoughts went one step further.  Yes, they are spending a huge percent of their income, but they’re not actually spending it on the cigarette.  Instead, they’re spending it on the taxes for that cigarette.  Here in California, cigarettes are taxed at a very high rate:

Cigarettes are subject to both the cigarette tax and the cigarette and tobacco products surtax. The tax and surtax are paid by distributors through the use of tax stamps, which are purchased from the Board of Equalization (BOE) and affixed to each package of cigarettes before distribution. The cost of the stamp includes both the cigarette tax and the surtax. Currently, each stamp costs 87 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes, comprising 12 cents for the cigarette tax and 75 cents for the combined surtax.

Tobacco products, not including cigarettes, are subject only to the cigarette and tobacco products surtax. Tobacco products include all forms of cigars, smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff, as well as other products containing at least 50 percent tobacco. Effective July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, the rate is 31.73 percent.

I don’t know whether the consumer has to pay the usual county sales tax on top of all those state taxes, but I assume he (or she) does.  If that assumption is correct, you can add on an additional 8% or so to every cigarette pack sold in California, depending on the sales tax rate.

Shake down for money

This is a staggeringly high tax rate.  Worse than that, it’s a hugely regressive tax rate, meaning that it falls most heavily on those who can least afford it.  The regression is hidden, because it looks as if everyone who purchases cigarettes, rich or poor, pays the same “sin” tax for the product.  In fact, though, rich people in California have mostly given up on smoking.  This particular sin tax is passing them right by.  Poor people, whether they smoke because of peer pressure to smoke, or because they’re immune to government pressure to quit smoking, or because it’s a real pleasure in a life too financially constrained to have many pleasures, end up paying that tax.  Worse, because the government relies on this sin tax to fund health programs and education, as people quit, they keep raising the tax to stabilize revenue.

I hate cigarettes.  What I hate even more, though, is a government that funds itself by using regressive taxes.  It’s a sleazy practice.  How much better, of course, if we would fall back on a non-religious version of tithing, as Dr. Carson so gracefully suggested in the speech he gave before a manifestly bored and uncomfortable President Obama.

Was the tax increase a major Republican loss?

Today’s big story the new tax bill that Obama jetted off to Hawaii before signing, but that will soon (and inevitably) become the law of the land.  I don’t see any surprises.  I knew that we’d get hit hard and so we have.

I gather that sequestration has now been averted, so that Obama gets to continue spending.  As the headlines say, $1 in spending cuts for every $41 in tax increases.

Obama laughing

The media and the blogs are playing this as a major Republican loss.  Although I’m not sure it is, I actually rejoice in these headlines.  They sting, but they may have a benefit in the long term.

In my simplistic financial view of the world, there is one given that transcends any fancy economic talk from Ivory Towers and Leftist back rooms:  you cannot indefinitely spend more than you take in.  This is true whether you’re a person or a nation.  You can certainly spend more than you have for a while.  Indeed, if you’re rich (as America once was) you can keep spending money you don’t have for a long time.  You can borrow from friends who haven’t quite figured out yet that you’re broke.  And you can check kite — that is, you can use one empty account to pay off another empty account.  Essentially, you keep the same money floating around between accounts for a while until one of the banks or creditors figures out that you’re simply juggling a few dollars around and hoping that no one catches on that your accounts are usually empty.  And that’s all you can do.

Obama ran for, and won, re-election on a promise that he could fix our problems by taxing “rich” people more, while continuing to spend as before.  The voters bought it.

Another way to think of Obama’s promise, and the voter’s credulity, is to imagine that America is a corporation, with shareholders and various officers.  Obama is the CEO.  Because the CEO and his fellow officers have been spending corporate money like crazy without realizing a profit, the corporation is broke.  It’s worth noting that some of that spending involved distributions to select shareholders — those holding the fewest corporate stocks.

When the shareholders were considering making a push to fire the CEO, the CEO kept his job by telling the shareholders that he’d hire some armed robbers (i.e., the IRS) to force some of the richest shareholders to buy more shares in this essentially bankrupt company.  He made no promises about reducing corporate spending or trying different approaches to dealing with corporate debt.  The shareholders, none of whom could imagine himself (or herself) as being “the richest,” thought it was a great idea to have the “other shareholders” forced to subsidize the corporate spending binge. Those most enthusiastic were the ones who, despite holding the fewest shares, had been getting stock distributions on a regular basis.

Robber

Once his job was assured, the CEO used his renewed power to do exactly what he promised:  he brought in armed robbers to forcibly remove money from the “rich” shareholders without changing his management style, including his spending habits.  The only thing that surprised some of the shareholders was to discover that the CEO numbered them amongst the rich.

In other words, Americans — the shareholders in this nation — just got exactly what Obama promised and they voted for:  more taxing, more spending.

The question, then, is whether yesterday’s vote to increase taxes is a major Republican loss.  Certainly, the Republican party is in chaos — but it was anyway.  After the election, the Republican party was a demoralized, writhing, screaming, finger-pointing mass of loser-dom.

Pathetic loser

Given the Republicans’ already pathetic posture, is what happened yesterday even worse for the Republicans?  I don’t think so.  I think that, with the mid-term elections coming, this clarifies things for voters.  It doesn’t just clarify Republican and/or conservative principles, it also clarifies just who holds those principles.

White House Money Machine

More than that, the new taxes and spending clarify responsibility for America’s economy.  Obama got exactly what he wanted and he thinks that he’s laughing all the way to the bank.  Except when he gets to the bank, he’ll discover it’s still empty.  Within a few months, he’ll be thinking of that adage “be careful what you wish for; you might get it.”

Things are certainly going to be bad, very bad, for America in the short term.  But with a true compromise, of the type Boehner was trying to craft (proving either his good faith or his stupidity), things would have been very bad for America in the slightly longer term.  Short of a revolutionary change to America’s spending habits, which wasn’t going to happen with a compromise, America was always screwed.  Now, at least the Republicans can say “we tried to stop this, but Obama had a stronger political hand in the wake of the elections, so we were forced to give him what he wanted.  This is now, for real and for true, the Obama economy.”

Obama frowning

The one thing to remember is that Republicans had better start selling this Obama-economy message hard and fast now, while Obama and his media minions are still gloating about his victory over the GOP.  Once things go sour, as they inevitably will, Obama and the media will start blaming the Republicans.  We know that, where the media leads, the masses follow.  The only way to stop the sheeple is to drill home now the message that this is Obama’s victory, that Obama got what he’d promised and what he wanted, and that Obama joyfully accepts the responsibility for whatever flows from his glorious battle defeating the Republicans.

Remember:  Nothing, absolutely nothing, that came out of Congress today could have been good for America.  However, if Republicans willingly hand Obama this victory, the greatest likelihood is that it proves to be a Pyrrhic victory for Obama, with long-term benefits for conservative thinking and, therefore, for America.

(Alternatively, Obama could have been right all along, which will be good for America, and I’ll have to revert to my original Democrat allegiance.  Possible, but not probable.  Facts are stubborn things and so are numbers, and I’m betting that Leftist political ideology will not trump either facts or numbers.)

Deconstructing straw men arguments about the way conservatives view Obama

Paul Brandus decided he’d had enough of the innumerable lies about Obama floating through the blogosphere, so he did some research and came up with a post:  “Deconstructing the 5 most ridiculous myths about Barack Obama.“  Unfortunately for him, he forgot the cardinal rule of attacking your enemy:  Know your enemy.  Without that knowledge, Brandus managed to construct a series of straw men, which he then heroically destroyed.

The first straw man Brandus destroyed was the myth that Obama has played more golf than any president in history.  He proudly points out that Eisenhower played more than 800 rounds in eight years, while Obama has played only 100 rounds in four years.

That would be a very good deconstruction if Obama’s historic golf-playing habits were the issue.  But that’s not the issue.  Had Brandus had been paying attention to the opposition, instead of making up straw men, he would have known that the reason conservatives focused on obama’s golf was the fact that the MSM obsessed relentlessly about George W. Bush’s golf playing habits.  Before Bush came along, I doubt anyone cared about presidential R&R.  But the press just couldn’t get enough of the stereotype of the out-of-touch, stupid, rich conservative out on the links hitting balls.  It was for this reason, and this reason alone that, when Obama took office, conservatives liked to point out that Obama played much more golf in four years than the media-beleaguered Bush did in eight.

Brandus’ next straw man was his challenge tp the myth that Obama has taken more vacation time than any other president in history.  I’ll give Brandus this — he’s thorough.  He’s tracked presidential vacation times all the way back through John Adams (who took time off to care for his sick wife, which really doesn’t constitute a vacation).

Once again, though, Brandus completely missed the point.  Conservatives’ major grievance isn’t with Obama’s vacations, probably because conservatives understand, as Brandus pedantically pointed out, that president’s don’t leave the job, they just change location.  What conservatives decry is Mrs. Obama’s frequent and very, very expensive vacations.  She doesn’t just head off to Camp David or a family ranch in order to get a break from Washington (something that conservatives, being nice people, would understand).  Instead, she jets all over the world at enormous taxpayer expense.  That would be bad enough at the best of times, but it really irks people that she’s living the high life on the public dime, even as we go through the worst economic times since the Great Depression.  I notice that Brandus didn’t address the history of First Lady vacations.

You’d think that, having built up and then knocked down two straw men, Brandus would have been exhausted and abandon the effort.  You clearly underestimate his stamina.  Straw man number three:  Obama shows his true colors by not going to Arlington cemetery.  Once again, Brandus dug out the statistics, showing how Eisenhower practically never went there, right through GWB, who often went there.

The point that Brandus missed (and that he would understand if he pulled a David Mamet and actually read information from the other side) is that conservatives view Obama’s visits to Arlington as proxy statements for his commitment to the military.  No one doubted Eisenhower’s commitment to the military.  Not only was he career military, but he was the Allies’ highest military commander during WWII.  In addition, Eisenhower was president during peace time.  Obama, however, is (a) a wartime president, with troops dying under his command and (b) he’s shown remarkable ignorance about and hostility to the American military.  Conservatives haven’t forgotten how he accused our military of being baby killers while he was a candidate.  They paid attention when he talked about “corpse” men.  They notice when he couldn’t keep his heroes straight.  And just recently, they paid a whole lot of attention to the fact that he made no effort to rescue besieged Americans in Benghazi.  It is against this intellectual backdrop that conservatives read additional meaning into Obama’s avoiding Arlington even once.

For the Arlington “myth,” I’ll concede the facts to Brandus (he correctly listed the number of times various presidents went to Arlington).  He still failed on this one, though, because he does not understand what Arlington means, and why it matters with this president more than it did with the others.

When it comes to the “visiting” Israel myth, Brandus showed precisely the same conceptual problem he did with Arlington visits.  The myth he debunked is that “Obama has never visited Israel as president, which shows he doesn’t give a damn about it.” Brandus had to admit that Obama hasn’t visited Israel, but pointed out that other presidents never visited it either during their presidency. (His research on this is so thorough, I almost though he’d list those presidents going back to George Washington who haven’t visited Israel.)

What Brandus didn’t do, though, is debunk the fact that, when it comes to Israel, Obama “doesn’t give a damn about it.” As with visits to Arlington, Obama’s failure to visit Israel is symbolic of a presidency that’s shown enormous disdain for the Jewish state. To his credit, Obama hasn’t reneged on Bush era promises to sell arms to Israel. Other than that, though, he spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with and publicly demeaning Israel. I won’t give the whole laundry list, but it includes insulting Netanyahu on open mike, picking a fight about developments within the Jewish part of Jerusalem, setting the pre-1967 borders as the starting point for a negotiation, having his Secretary of State spend 45 minutes screaming at Israel’s prime minister, making more extreme demands about Jerusalem’s status than any other president, etc. Against this backdrop of manifest hostility to Israel, it’s no surprise that Israel’s friends see his failure to visit the Jewish state (especially when that’s contrasted with his visits to the Arab world) as just the most visible drop in the anti-Israel bucket.

So, as with Arlington, Brandus’ mastery of the facts (this president went there X times and the other went there Y times) completely missed the point: Obama treats Israel badly, so his failure to visit is added to the list of insults.

And finally, Brandus tackled the tax myth, which he characterizes as “taxes under Obama are at an all time high.”  How dumb does Brandus think conservatives are?  We know that’s not true.  We know that the top marginal tax rate in the 1950s was higher — and we think that was a bad thing.

Conservatives believe that limited government is a virtue, and that keeping as much money in the private sector as possible is the best way to enrich everyone in the nation by raising the overall standard of living.  The quarrel right now isn’t about taxes, it’s about spending.  Obama has outspent all other presidents in history put together.  To pay for this spending binge, Obama and the Democrats have said that we must raise taxes.  What conservatives say is we must decrease spending and we must get money back into the private sector so that it can create the wealth necessary to pay for the debt burden that Obama has placed upon this country.  Raising taxes on producers and creators — which is what’s going to happen come January — will decrease their ability to produce and create.  This in turn will decrease wealth in the private sector, thereby making it more difficult for the government to raise the money it needs just to break even on debt payments.

Think of it this way:  if the government has an 80% tax rate, but people only have $100, the government gets only $80 and the people are left with too little to create even another $100 in wealth the next year.  On the other hand, if the government has a 30% tax rate, which allows people to create $1000, the government gets $300, while the people are left with a substantially $700 to create newer and greater wealth in the next year.  And yes, I made up those numbers, but I do believe in the Laffer curve, which is a more sophisticated take on my simplistic example.  There’s a sweet spot out there, where the government gets enough in taxes to function in an appropriately limited, but still efficient, way, and taxes are still low enough to encourage the wealth creators.  Obama, with his Big Government ideology, doesn’t believe in that sweet spot.  He believes that government does things best, so that the best way to govern is to fund government.

Brandus is five for five:  five failures to understand conservative thinking led him to debunk five straw men.  What a waste of his intellectual energy and time.

Cross-posted at Brutally Honest

Second and third thoughts about the ObamaCare decision, which does have some saving grace

I was driving along in the car and, suddenly, the phrase “Roe v. Wade” popped into my head.  In 1973, the Supreme Court waded into what should have been a state-by-state legislative matter, and created the most vicious 39 year fight in America since the Civil War.  One side found the decision completely invalid, while the other side became so invested in its validity that it almost became a one-issue party — and, moreover, a one-issue party that became ever more extreme in its defense of its victory.  By parsing the decision as he did, Justice Roberts prevented another American civil war.

When I returned home and turned on my computer, I discovered that Charles Krauthammer was thinking along the same lines.  If I’m in sync with Krauthammer, I’m clearly in good company.

Krauthammer’s view is that Roberts wears two hats.  The first hat is the constitutional conservative, which kicked in to prevent him from allowing a vast expansion of the Commerce Clause.  The second hat is as the Supreme Court’s custodian.  That second hat requires Roberts to protect a Court that’s been under a shadow since the decisions in Roe v. Wade (favoring the Dems) and Bush v. Gore (favor the Republicans).  So, after wearing his conservative hat to deal with the Commerce Clause, Roberts still had some work left to do:

That’s Roberts, philosophical conservative. But he lives in uneasy coexistence with Roberts, custodian of the Court, acutely aware that the judiciary’s arrogation of power has eroded the esteem in which it was once held. Most of this arrogation occurred under the liberal Warren and Burger Courts, most egregiously with Roe v. Wade, which willfully struck down the duly passed abortion laws of 46 states. The result has been four decades of popular protest and resistance to an act of judicial arrogance that, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “deferred stable settlement of the issue” by the normal electoral/legislative process.

More recently, however, few decisions have occasioned more bitterness and rancor than Bush v. Gore, a 5–4 decision split along ideological lines. It was seen by many (principally, of course, on the left) as a political act disguised as jurisprudence and designed to alter the course of the single most consequential political act of a democracy — the election of a president.

Whatever one thinks of the substance of Bush v. Gore, it did affect the reputation of the Court. Roberts seems determined that there be no recurrence with Obamacare. Hence his straining in his Obamacare ruling to avoid a similar result — a 5–4 decision split along ideological lines that might be perceived as partisan and political.

National health care has been a liberal dream for a hundred years. It is clearly the most significant piece of social legislation in decades. Roberts’s concern was that the Court do everything it could to avoid being seen, rightly or wrongly, as high-handedly overturning sweeping legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

I think Krauthammer’s analysis is correct.  Roberts didn’t rule as he did because of his seizure medicine or because he was blackmailed.  He ruled this way because, perhaps rightly, he was keeping a legislative problem in the legislative sphere.  The American voters, by putting Democrats into Congress and the White House, broke the American system.  They now own that broken system and it’s up to them to fix it.  In this case, if the voters are smart enough, they’ll elect Republicans by a large majority.  If they’re not smart enough, we’re in for a lot more breakage.

Viewed this way, Roberts did the right thing.  He protected the Supreme Court’s integrity and he made the American people responsible for their own stupidity.

The best bet for the coming months is that Obama’s base will go home happy, and that he will not be able to rally them for the election.  They’ll be like the person who ate too much at dinner and sits there in a stupor, even as the roof falls on his head.  Unfortunately for Obama, Romney will be able to rally his base.  If you thought 2010 was the year of the Tea Party, wait until you see the summer of 2012.  Like 2012, Tea Partiers are up in arms; and unlike (and better than) 2012, this time they’re already organized with mailing lists, data bases, and vast amounts of political and protest experience.

Even better, after Americans suffered through months of the drug-addled, filthy, violent Occupy movement, the media is going to find it impossible to paint clean, polite, educated, employed Tea Partiers as crazed radicals.  This summer, the Tea Party will have traction, especially because the Supreme Court, in ruling in Obama’s favor, put a name on Obama’s conduct:  taxes on the middle class.

That’s all good.  What’s bad is that, as I noted in my original post on the subject, the Supreme Court has managed to allow taxes to have the scope of the Commerce Clause:  From this day forward, Congress can not only tax activity, it can also tax inactivity.  Long after Obama is gone from office, that legacy will remain.  The only saving grace is that taxes require simple majorities.  Easy come, easy go, one might say — except that taxes never go away easy, do they?

 

Congress not only can tax anything that moves, it can tax anything that doesn’t move

The Supreme Court opinion on ObamaCare runs to 193 pages.  It is the size of a book, only more boring than any book anyone would ever want to read — and that is true despite the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the worst writer on the court, didn’t write it.  I’ve been making a valiant effort to read it, but because I have other things to do with my life, I abandoned the darn thing about one-third of the way through.  For now, bottom line is sufficient.  Per the Supreme Court, ObamaCare imposes a tax on people who refuse to buy a product from a third-party. An example of that includes the Affordable Care Act which forces a penalty on those who do not take part in the newly-appointed health insurance marketplaces. That imposition is consistent with Congress’s power to impose taxes.

Ed Morrissey managed to encapsulate my immediate reaction to this, frankly, bizarre outcome:

It’s an interesting argument, but one that should have Americans worried.  Basically, this is a tax that you have to pay to private companies.  For all of the screaming the Right did over single-payer — and for good, outcome-based reasons — at least the money paid by taxpayers would go directly to government [see update II].  The Supreme Court has signed off on what is, in very practical terms, a tax levied by the insurance industry on Americans simply for existing.  It’s an amazing, and fearsome, decision that really should have both Right and Left horrified.

Nevertheless, this is the law of the land.  We can now look forward to taxes levied by the auto industry for not having bought a new car in the last seven years, the liquor industry for buying too few bottles of wine to maintain your health, and by the agricultural industry for not buying that damned broccoli after all. We might even have Obama attempt to impose a tax for not buying enough contraception; we can call that the Trojan tax.

Taxes have traditionally been levied to enable the government to buy and build things.  This is the first time in history, so far as I know, that a tax is being levied as a penalty against citizens who refuse to buy products from private vendors.  Taxes normally tax activity.  Sure, you pay taxes on a product when you buy a product but those are (a) state taxes, which are a different animal from federal taxes; and (b) taxes on a voluntary transaction.  That’s the important thing.  The transaction is voluntary.  You can opt to sit it out and the government cannot reach you.  Here, though, we are being told that the government can exact an onerous tax for inactivity.

The decision constitutes a radical redefinition of what constitutes a tax.  It is exactly what opponents said it was:  the biggest tax in history and one, moreover, that Americans cannot alter their behavior to avoid.  I am therefore at a loss to figure out why Roberts signed on to this decision, let alone authored it.  It is a staggering constriction on individual freedom.  The closest analogy to this tax is the poll tax of 1380, a tax that saw one of the biggest revolts in medieval British history and one that almost toppled the monarchy.  Poll taxes are flat taxes but, more importantly, they tax someone just for being.

Okay, that’s the bad news and it’s very bad in the long-term.  There are some potential short-term benefits, although they’re only possible, not probable:

Because ObamaCare is a tax, it’s easy to repeal the tax aspects, which leaves the whole thing unfunded.  Still, unfunded doesn’t mean vanished.  All the bits and pieces, the obligations, impositions, panels, etc., live on, unless Congress can gather itself together and formally repeal the whole darn thing.

The other short-term benefit is that it might galvanize those Americans who hate ObamaCare, leading them to vote for Romney.  That’s so not a sure thing, though.  It’s a great victory for Obama, and might finally put the wind at his back.  His signature legislation is a good thing, said the United States Supreme Court.  For many Americans, that might fall into the category of “that’s all she wrote.”  The fat lady has sung.  The opera is over.  It’s time to go back home and get on with your life.  If Roberts had some strange idea that he’d help a Romney election, he was taking a mighty big gamble with the American people, their freedom, and their money.  (Speaking of money, it’s no coincidence that the market plummeted once it received word that Congress not only can tax anything that moves, it can tax anything that doesn’t move.)

I am disheartened, but disheartened is not the same as defeated.  It is now imperative that Republicans take back Congress in its entirety and win the White House.  Jim Carville and others may proclaim the Tea Party dead, but I suspect they’ll see a Zombie Tea Party taking to the streets this summer.

Others blogging:

Kim Priestap

Maggie’s Farm/Bruce Kesler

American Power

The Anchoress and The Anchoress again

The Volokh Conspiracy (was Roberts somehow forced to uphold the law?)

Jay Cost (this may harm Obama more than he thinks in the long run)

Slate (Obama wins battle; Roberts wins war)

Noisy Room

 

Should North Dakota abolish property taxes?

Living as I do in Marin, I pay a lot — a lot — in property taxes.  Because I live in a fairly well-managed place, I mostly feel I get a lot of bang for my buck.  My town is clean, the roads are maintained, the schools are the best that public schools can offer, the libraries are delightful places, etc.  This means that, when I pony up the money, I’m not thrilled about it, but I’m willing.  In discussing the North Dakota initiative to abolish property taxes, though, John Steele Gordon makes some excellent points about why property taxes exist and about their fundamental inequity:

If you want a poster child for the enormous inertia of government, you could hardly do better than the property tax. It’s a relic of colonial times that makes no economic or policy sense today and yet remains in just about every jurisdiction in the country.

In the 18th century, property was almost all income producing (only the very rich had houses standing by themselves on town lots, the rest lived on farms or above the store). And in a fairly primitive economy it was the best measure available of a person’s ability to pay taxes.

Today, almost all residential property is income absorbing, not income producing, and residential property is among the worst possible measures of ability to pay taxes. If a man retires or loses his job, his income can drop precipitously. His property tax is unchanged. And if the real estate market tanks, greatly reducing a family’s net worth, the tax again usually remains unchanged.

The property tax is also grossly regressive. People tend to have as much house as they can afford, but only up to a point. How many indoor swimming pools do you want, after all? So while a middle-class family might pay 15 percent or more of their income in property taxes, the zillionaire hedge-fund manager down the road, despite his riding ring, three-hole golf course, and garage for his large collection of antique cars pays less than one percent. David Letterman happens to live in my town. His property taxes (I checked, they’re public record) are about five times mine. His income, I confidently assert, is at least a couple of orders of magnitude greater than mine.

Read the rest here, please.

Steele is absolutely right as a matter of economic principle, whether he’s talking about the way modern property sucks up money, rather than generates wealth; about the fact that it’s regressive; or about the way in which property taxes are a haphazard way to determine wealth and develop healthy communities.

But if we abolish property taxes, how then should a community assess its residents in order to pay for services that the residents support and from which they obtain a benefit?  Should towns begin to impose an income tax?  I can only imagine the bureaucracy and loopholes that will spring up.  Imagine having to pay income tax to the feds, the state, and the city/town!  Should towns and cities resort to a fee for service system?  Then one ends up with headlines about towns that allow houses to burn down because the owner refused to contribute to the fire fighters’ fund. The alternative is the fiscal equivalent of “herd immunity,” with a few willing people paying for local roads, schools, police and firefighters, etc., while the rest of the community obtains the benefit.

I’ve never thought this issue through, so I have only questions, not answers.  I would appreciate your input.

And while I’m ranting libertarian, if you live in California, vote NO on Prop. 29

One of the hardest fought propositions on the California ballot this June is Proposition 29 which is described on the ballot as a new law that “imposes additional tax on cigarettes for cancer research.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Those who smoke have to fund cancer research.  It’s an indirect version of “smoker heal thyself.”  Even better, because it makes cigarettes more expensive, maybe people will stop smoking.

The only problem is that things aren’t always as they seem.  First, the tax is $1 a pack, which is insufficient to deter any but the most poverty-stricken smoker.  Most smokers will just suck it up (figuratively and literally, I guess).  What the proposed tax would do is impose more costs on smokers . . . and, get this, it imposes the greatest cost on poor people.  In California, as elsewhere, smoking is a class thing.  The middle and upper classes don’t smoke.  Working classes and lower classes are being taxed for engaging in a sin that their economic betters frown upon.

One could still argue that, since the poor smoke, and are most affected by smoking’s harm, it’s appropriate that they pay for their sin by funding cancer research.  Except you can bet your bottom dollar the money is just going to get sucked into California’s financial black hole.  As those who oppose Prop. 29 explain, the loopholes in the initiative (and it’s a really, really long piece of proposed legislation, which nobody but fierce partisans will read) mean that most of the money, assuming it stays in state, goes to more bureaucratic infrastructure.

Here’s what the initiative’s opponent’s point out:

Prop. 29 is a $739 million annual new tax and spending mandate that creates an unaccountable, government bureaucracy filled with political appointees.

Doesn’t require new tax revenue be spent in California to create jobs.  Money can be spent out of state or even out of country.

Provides no new funds to treat cancer patients.

Spends $125 million annually on overhead, bureaucracy, buildings and real estate — money that could be used for cancer treatment.

Permits “conflicts of interest” by allowing organizations represented by Commissioners to receive taxpayer funding.

Allows for-profit corporations to receive $500+ million in taxpayer dollars annually.

Duplicates existing programs that already spend $6 billion annually on cancer research.

Establishes another flawed auto-pilot spending mandate like the High Speed Rail Commission — more waste, no taxpayer accountability.

Prohibits the Governor and Legislature from making changes to the initiative for 15 years, even in the case of fraud or waste.

(California Presidential Primary Election, Official Voter Information Guide)

Just how bad is Prop. 29?  It’s so bad that even the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times came out against it.  After going on for a while offering general praise to taxes that penalize behavior by making the behavior too costly, and after lauding anything that stops smoking, the Times editors fess up:

Nevertheless, we oppose this ballot measure. The problem with Proposition 29, which would raise $735 million a year at the outset (gradually dropping off as more smokers quit), isn’t the tax but how the money it raises would be spent. Most of it, more than $500 million a year, would be directed to a new, independent quasi-public agency that would award grants for research on cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases. (The research itself would not need to be tobacco-related; a grantee could study, say, the effects of obesity on heart disease, or malignant melanoma caused by overexposure to the sun.)

Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn’t make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs. California can’t afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort. Funding priorities shouldn’t be set at the ballot box.

It’s worth reading the rest of the editorial, because it does a good job spelling out what a foolish, redundant idea Prop. 29 is — and all of it on the back of California’s poorest citizens (and, this being California, non-citizens too).

What’s fascinating, too, is the way in which these liberal columnists freely acknowledge that financial rewards and punishments guide behavior — but they won’t acknowledge that these same rewards and punishments work best in the private sector.  To them, the only hand that should be doling out or withholding money is Uncle Sam’s (followed closely by Aunt California’s).

I hate smoking.  I think it stinks.  I know it’s unhealthy.  It accounts for a lot of litter.  If I had a magic wand, I’d make tobacco and the desire for tobacco vanish from this earth.  But I don’t have a magic wand.  If people want to be stupid, let them.  I do support laws that require smokers to stay away from me.  To the extent that smoke causes a positive harm — sending stinky, unhealthy particles my way — it seems to me I have more right to say to them “Don’t smoke around me,” than they have to say to me “I want to smoke and you have to put up with it.”  But as long as I’m protected in my right not to suffer from vicarious smoke, let ‘em smoke.

 

Redistribution for thee, but not for me

Students, not normally a personally wealthy group, are all for redistributing other people’s money.  Apparently, though, they draw the line at redistributing the fruits of their own labors:

The next step is to get the students to listen to Jon Lovitz’s F-Bomb laden rant and understand that, whether we’re talking grades or money, it is always wrong for a coercive government to force people to part with the rewards they earned:

We all recognize that people must contribute some sum towards a functional society, for roads, national security, etc. But that is quite different from having your elected government suddenly decide to play at Robin Hood.

Why higher taxes are not the answer

Victor Davis Hanson hits it out of the park with his post explaining why higher taxes are not the answer.  Some of his twelve reasons are better than others, but all are worthy of your consideration.  This is my favorite of the twelve, but I think you’ll like them all:

2) Inequality?

Liberals reply that income inequality is worse than ever. (Note here in their own lives they have no problem with other “merit”-based inequality: e.g., Why can’t Johnny Depp turn down a couple of roles so other less fortunate actors could star? Why doesn’t Cornel West at last break up his endowed mega-salaried professorship into three or four lectureships for the struggling part-timers? Why doesn’t Maureen Dowd go down to one column every other week to allow less compensated New York Times op-ed writers a chance to catch up? In other words, why not back off from the trough and let others have a go?) But back to income inequality: some of those figures are not just attributable to the proliferation of $200,000 orthodontists, but to factoring in the mega-fortunes of a Johnny Depp ($50 million last year in income alone) or a Warren Buffett. The onset of a globalized market allowed a new top bracket to make tens of millions of dollars, a world away from the lesser professional. There is no aggregate homogenous group of “the wealthy.” My big-farming near neighbor (500 acres in vineyard plus), who probably nets $300,000 on a rare good raisin year like this one, is a world away from the late Steve Jobs or the thousands of million-dollar-plus incomes in Silicon Valley. This incongruence is not a rhetorical point or special pleading, but evident through the president’s own rhetoric: “Millionaires and billionaires” is a deliberate attempt to weld two disparate groups together — one making 1000 times the other (if the president is talking of annual income), or one worth 1000 times more than the other (if the president is talking about net worth). But is the Menlo Park bungalow owner who teaches at Foothill College and might be “worth” $1 million (given housing inflation) really comparable to Meg Whitman? Mr. Obama knows that there is not enough of the 1% of the 1% to come up with enough revenue to cover his new $4 trillion in debt, but does he think that by going after the top 5% or 10%, well, there just may be?

I’m actually sensitive to this comparison issue, because Marin skews things. In most other parts of America (other than the other rich liberal enclaves scattered about America), we’d be rich. In Marin, we’re squarely in the middle. Because prices here are so ridiculously high, we live in a middle house, drive middle cars, shop at middle stores, and send our kids to public schools. If we had the same income in Kansas or Texas, we’d be much more comfortably situated — and in Texas, we wouldn’t be turning more than 50% of our money over to the government (state, federal and local).

Of course, we could move, but I like it here:  our house is near my aged mother who is too old to be relocated; the temperate climate suits me, because I’m a wuss; and our neighborhood is unique by any standards, providing a truly perfect backdrop to raising decent, honest, nice children.

The beer theory of taxes

Sadie got this in an email and posted it as a comment.  It’s too good, though, not to get wider play.  The beer theory of taxes explains just about everything that’s wrong with a system that drives away the wealth:

THE TAX SYSTEM EXPLAINED IN BEER

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100…

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this…

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do..

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.
“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20″. Drinks for the ten men would now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.  But what about the other six men? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill  by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% saving).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% saving).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% saving).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% saving).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% saving).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a dollar out of the $20 saving,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,”but he got $10!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a dollar too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more benefit than  me!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back, when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works.
The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too  much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.

In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

The whole thing is also a ready-made argument for flat taxes, isn’t it? Things seem more fair when everyone pays an equal percentage.

Incidentally, at lunch today, Don Quixote pointed out that with the American rich getting visibly richer, and those who are not rich feeling as if they’re falling behind, it would behoove the rich to put back into the system.  Even if the poor’s perception of their poverty is historically incorrect (insofar as the American poor enjoy a higher standard of living than the poor in other parts of the world or other times in history), we know from past experience (the French, Chinese and Russian Revolutions spring to mind), that if the people feel the chasm is too deep, a small cadre of Leftists can manipulate them into startling acts of violence and tyranny.

The problem is that the OWS crowd, and Leftists generally, want the rich to be forced to put back into the system by having the government grab money from their pockets, a tactic that only drives them away.  (See beer example, above.) If it were up to me, I would rejigger our system so that there are fewer barriers to the rich investing their money in America.  I would lower government hurdles that currently make it ridiculously difficult to build factories, hire workers, construct roads, and bring products to market.  That would make India and China look a whole lot less enticing, keeping wealth within America, so that there’s more to spread around.