Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nearly Half of Americans Aren't Paying Income Taxes: Bad But Maybe Not in the Way You Suppose

It has recently exploded all over the internet that nearly half of American households do not pay income taxes.  There are enough deductions and credits for families making around $50,000 and less to avoid the income tax completely, though they still are paying federal payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and others.

While some see this as a broken tax system, I see it as a broken economy.  While some gripe that half of Americans aren't pulling their weight, I see it as nearly half of Americans are not making enough money to pay income taxes.  They live below the line where we have decided that a person is only making enough to cover basic expenses and should not bear the weight of income taxes on top of it.  Instead of trying to figure out how to get those people to start paying income taxes at their current salary, lets instead focus on how to get these people making enough money to be able to afford taxes after their basic needs are met.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day and Consumption

I think the most important thing we can do to be good stewards over the Earth is to consume less.  This year we hit the seven billion mark in world population and the numbers will grow to nine billion in the next few decades before leveling off.  This means overwhelming stress on our environments, which we can mitigate by being wise stewards over the Earth.  Here are some prophet warning against over-consumption:

Jacob 2: 11-13
And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully.  And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Uh oh, here we go again...

...Who will be next to put forth a LDS political philosophy? This guy:


I will be straightforwards and call this bunk. I really don't care what sort of politics people propose; I fundamentally oppose any argument for/against any political system based on scripture and/or the Gospel. All of these arguments squeeze a subject as large as the universe itself into something the size of an elephant (or donkey, or eagle, or whatever). The Gospel is far larger, far more organic, and far more contradictory (if you only examine the surface, much like the rest of the natural world) than any one political theory can reasonably contain. All of them -- from Liberalism to Conservatism to Anarchy to Theocracy fail to really represent the Gospel in all of its power and glory.

Until the time comes when Christ himself reigns, we are stuck with imperfect people making imperfect decisions. And that's just within the Church; outside of the Church we must deal with the cultural mishmash that is the modern world. Politics in such a world are, by definition and of necessity, boisterous and rowdy and messy. People are strikingly different, so finding common ground can be a difficult business. In America we've managed to eke out an uneasy but largely peaceful existence by sheer force of will to move forward despite huge differences. All reformers must come face-to-face with this reality if they get so lucky as to attain positions of leadership. The current "Tea Party" types are learning this the hard way, the survival of their movement will depend far more on their ability to pave roads and take out the trash than their quest to defund Planned Parenthood or forcing the U.S. to default on its financial obligations. They are a perfect example of the imperfect people with whom we have to work. And, because they've won elections, those of us who think they're crazy have to work with them. We have to put up with their birtherism and looniness because at some point in time they will vote on bills. With the current composition of the House, and the Republican primary climate (witness the meteorotic rise (and let me be the first to predict the fall) of Donald Trump's political ambitions), they wield undue leverage. I hate it. But I live with it because that's the price of admission for living in our Democracy. And I love our system; all its messiness notwithstanding we are somehow able to hold this crazy ship together and move forwards. That, to me, is a modern miracle that is every bit as complex and contradictory as nature (and the Gospel), and well worth our time to understand and appreciate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Health Care and the Budget

On the one hand I tip my hat to Republican Paul Ryan for actually submitting a proposal for the federal budget which addresses some of the important issues that are looming.  On the other hand he did a really bad job.  So it's a mixed bag.

The fundamental problem is that he puts fiscal responsibility squarely on the backs of the poor and elderly, mostly by slashing Medicare and Medicaid and lowering taxes on the rich.  Nor does his plan address "defense" spending, which is a subject we've addressed before here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Speedy and Public Trial by Jury

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from The Economist
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."  -- 6th Amendment

This seems pretty straightforward, right?  I believe the historical impetus for this addition to the Bill of Rights was the fact that kings and rulers were accusing the people of crimes and convicting them without a trial by jury, without witnesses, without due process of law, essentially without any safeguards or protections whatsoever against corruption and unchecked power.  The founders wisely ensured that if government has the ability to deprive a person of property, freedom, or life (which it does) then the Constitution should require that the government has to submit to certain safeguards against the abuse of that power.  I believe those on both the political right and left can feel good about that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

March Madness

March was a crazy month:

1) For the 3rd time in history, no number one ranked team made it to the Final Four, and my fourth favorite team from Utah played well. Props to Jimmer for the award.

2) Former lobbyists rush back to Washington to get jobs working for the people they used to proposition, and coincidentally work on legislation that benefits their former employers.

3) Wisconsin eliminated collective bargaining for public employees. New Jersey teachers' health benefits become the target of the latest anti-whatever campaign.

4) The rebellion in Libya escalated to a full on war.

5) Japan endured an earthquake, a tsunami, and nuclear fallout.

I didn't list the above in any particular order of significance or impact, and there are definitely a number of additional events that could be added to my short list. One of these items also squirms out of the frozen tundra of Michigan politics – an emergency manager bill. This one completely baffles me.

From what I understand, the bill (already passed by the state senate and house) gives the governor the power to declare "financial emergency" in a school district, or even in a town. In doing so he would then appoint an emergency manager empowered "to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services." Imagine that, an appointed henchman can walk into some district and go carte blanche on the place.

It gets better. Apparently the bill provides for no public oversight or input – not only was an amendment proposing monthly public updates voted down, but all action by the Manager is omitted from public overturn. Oh, and there is no cap on the financial compensation given to the Manager for his/her service. I find it ironic that an overseer, brought in for the express purpose of correcting financial misappropriation is exempt from personal budget.

Like Jacob S., every time I start to get on the State's rights train, something like this pops up and terrifies me. How can a state legislator pass a law like this without having a vote by the public?