I Just Bought a Drone

Tuesday night, while the Good Wife and I slept, our checking account was ransacked by the Internal Revenue Service. This is where our (personal) record amount of federal taxes will eventually end up.

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The Internal Revenue Service needs reinventing. Could there be a worse name? It sounds like something from an Eastern Bloc dystopian novel. How about the Public Commons or the Public Commons Service? Now the most dreaded sentence in the English language will be, “Hi, I’m from the Public Commons Service.”

Granted, that’s barely scratching the surface of what’s wrong with the PCS. The main problem with our tax system is once our checking account is raided, we have next to no say over where our federal tax dollars go (apart from voting for two senators and a congressional representative). For example, despite being anti-war educators, 27.7% of our federal taxes go to the military (defense and military benefits + veteran benefits) while 1.32% goes to education. We’re forced to help purchase drones, when we’d much rather help purchase improved teacher salaries.

At the same time, our hawkish neighbors might compensate for our military stinginess by designating far more than their 27.7% for the Pentagon. And of course, our other neighbor, Dan, Dan, The Transportation Man, would significantly increase his 2.65% transportation contribution.

A few significant improvements would result from this experiment in direct financial democracy. 1) Complaining about tax rates would decline. 2A) Government departments and programs would have to explain to the public why they’re deserving of a greater percentage of the total revenue available. And 2B) The more they could demonstrate fiscal responsibility, the more support they’d gain.

Admittedly, these ideas won’t slow the accelerating gap between the Haves and Have Nots. On April 15th, I listened to a panel of tax experts discuss tax reform on the Diane Rehm Show. I was much more intrigued by the tone of the discussion than the details of their ideas. The tone was, “Our tax system is so complex that improving it by simplifying it is impossible, but I’m happy to play along with your national audience anyways.”

As anyone who has tried to improve K-12 schooling, reduce global warming, reduce money’s influence in politics, or eradicate drugs and crime from their community will tell you, those who have a vested interest in the status quo benefit greatly from a sense of overwhelming complexity. Reformers, whether tax or otherwise, can’t wrap their arms around the whole problem, and therefore, don’t know where to begin making changes. Eventually they try piecemeal reforms. Before those reforms take hold, people’s patience runs out. Gradually, everyone and everything reverts back to “normal”. With each passing year or decade, what’s viewed as “normal” becomes more deeply entrenched, making significant change even more difficult.

Tax reformers have lots of good ideas including deductions they’d tweak or eliminate altogether. But they can’t see the forest because of the trees. Their ultimate challenge is to convince the public that simplifying and improving our tax system is possible.

 

 

 

 

Mitt’s Grand Idea—Let’s Spend More on Defense

This is written for the three independent voters—one in Montana, one in Vermont, and the other in Oregon—that will most likely decide the 2012 presidential election.

Completely lost in the weekend “Mormonism is a cult” hubbub, is a much more serious two-part problem. Mitt Romeny is a liar and in serious denial about our nation’s finances.

Indira A.R. Lakshmanan reporting for Bloomberg Business on October 8th:

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of bowing to global adversaries and promised, if elected, to boost America’s military strength by expanding the Navy and missile defenses.

“America must lead the world, or someone else will,” Romney said, reprising the argument from his 2010 book, “No Apology,” that U.S. military strength and leadership are essential to deterring tyrants and keeping world peace. “In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world.”

Note to Mitt: “Our century” was the Twentieth. We’re in decline in large part because we’re spending way too much on Medicare and defense.

Romney pledged in his first 100 days in the White House to boost naval shipbuilding, deploy Navy carriers to deter Iran’s suspected military ambitions. . . and invest heavily in missile defense and cybersecurity.

At The Citadel and Oct. 6 aboard a World War II aircraft carrier in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Romney repeatedly said Obama is slashing defense spending and gutting missile defense, assertions that are contradicted by official data.

According to government figures, military spending under Obama is higher than it was under former President George W. Bush. Total Defense Department budget authority for non-war and war spending increased 3.6 percent from fiscal year 2009 to 2010, according to Pentagon budget data. Obama requested $708 billion in budget authority for war and non-war spending in fiscal 2011, an increase of 2.5 percent. 

Romney showed “once again that he is willing to say anything, regardless of the facts, to get elected,” Obama’s re- election campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail.

The former Massachusetts governor on Oct. 6 released a list of foreign policy advisers, including many who served former President George W. Bush and advocated the invasion of Iraq. Several had supported so-called enhanced interrogation techniques or rendition of terrorism suspects to third countries, including former State Department counter-terrorism coordinator Cofer Black, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

Aboard the USS Yorktown Oct. 6, Romney called for reinforcing the Navy and Air Force and adding 100,000 active- duty troops to reduce battlefield rotations.

One U.S. service member costs the government $100,000 per year on average, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, meaning Romney’s plan would cost $10 billion per year, or $100 billion over the 10-year timeframe for reducing the nation’s deficit. 

Echoing a theme of American exceptionalism that was a favored Bush motif, Romney asserted that “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers.”

Yes we most definitely are destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers.

Romney told listeners that he would ensure U.S. “leadership in multilateral organizations and alliances.” Romney has previously swiped at Obama for “leading from behind,” a reference to the White House’s push for NATO to take joint ownership of the military support campaign that allowed Libyan rebels to oust Qaddafi.

So this is what it’s come to, both sides competing to be the “Defense” party. I’ll spend more than you. No you won’t. Meanwhile, that frees up all the “follower nations” to use their finite economic resources to rebuild their infrastructure, strengthen their education systems, and improve their public health systems. Which in turn will enable them to close the economic gap with us even more quickly.

And to think some people are more worried about Mormonism’s multiple heavens and belief that Jesus visited the Americas.

This “my defense budget is larger than yours” bullshit makes me long for a third party. Since that’s not likely, I guess the only thing that “global military superpower” weary fiscal conservatives like me can do is support the side that will increase defense spending the least.