Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Our NSF Government



On the outside, underneath the wall
All the money couldn’t buy
You’re mistaken, no one’s standing there
For the record, no one tried
Oh, I try to
What if we give it away?
—R.E.M., What if We Give It Away?


I know I’ve hit this before, but because I have yet to hear anyone, particularly among the GOP Presidential candidates, articulate and explain the point very clearly, I’ll keep banging away. 

Thomas Jefferson famously warned us:

A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.

Well, let’s just put that into practice for a second.

As a starting point, let’s recognize that the U.S. federal government currently spends at about a $3.6 trillion dollar annual clip.  That’s $3,600,000,000,000 spent per year.  Now, with all the haggling over the supercommittee and resolving the growing debt and annual spending deficit, there’s been considerable debate over whether, and to what extent, we should reduce spending vs. increasing revenues.  But what no one seems to be able to say out loud in this discussion is that the problem cannot be that we don’t raise enough revenue, because as a matter of basic mathematics there simply isn’t enough revenue to be raised, even if you allow the government to take it all.

Raise taxes on the rich!  We are the 99%!

OK.  Let’s say we do that, in the interest of making sure the rich pay their fair share.  Consider the following.  As I’ve pointed out previously, if you took those making $1 million and above—that’s the top 0.17% of tax returns, for you “occupiers”—and taxed them at 100%, according to the IRS you’d generate about $735 billion.  And just so we don’t get into any unnecessary debates over deductions and credits and loopholes, that’s based on 2009 total income figures.  In other words, I’m not talking about adjusted gross income (as I have in prior posts), and I’m not talking about taxing income above $1 million; I’m talking about taking every dime they made.  No credits.  No deductions.  Do that, take it all, and you’d fund a grand total of 20% of total federal spending.

Ah, but, Rusty, you know perfectly well that you don’t need $1 million to be rich!  You’re not making enough of the wealthy pay their fair share.

Quite right.  Let’s expand our experiment to everyone making $500,000 and above.  That more than doubles our base to the top roughly 0.5% of total tax returns.  Tax that total income at 100%—again, take very last nickel.  You’d generate less than $1.1 trillion, or less than 30% of total federal spending.  You’ll have to do better than that if you want to correct the deficit problem by increasing revenues.  We could drop down to everyone making $200,000 or more—that’s about 2.8% of total returns, so we’re now dipping into the upper income levels of the 99%.  The federal government could take every penny made by everyone making $200,000 or more, and still that would generate less than $2 trillion, or a little better than half of what it spends.  Taxing the rich ain’t gonna get you there, because they don’t make enough money, even if you take it all.

But, but, how can that be if we’re just making them pay their fair share?

How indeed.

Taking everything from the wealthy doesn’t get it done.  So we have to start dipping into the sacred “middle class.”  Clearly we can’t tax the middle class at 100%.  That would be unfair and just silly, right?  But what if we took, say, half of what they earn?  We could raise taxes to 50% on all income for those making between $50,000 and $200,000, and keep the tax at 100% for the “wealthy” as discussed above.  That would net you about $3.9 trillion, enough to cover current federal spending—but just barely, and just for now.  But this, of course, is a moot exercise, because nobody’s going to let you tax a unionized teacher or government clerk making $50,000 a year at 50%.  And taxing at those rates immediately adds about a third of the population to those already below the poverty level—over 4 million filers would go directly to ZERO income net of taxes, and even millionaires need something to live on.  Even for someone like Paul Krugman this is obviously not a practical solution to anything.

But what if we just dictated a livable wage and taxed everything above that?  For example, let’s say we decide in our infinite wisdom that the current median income of about $50,000 is really all anyone needs for a decent standard of living, and the rest they earn above that should be committed to the common good.  So, every dollar earned above $50,000 is taxed at 100%.  You could do that, and you’d generate about $3.6 trillion, or just enough to cover current spending. 

Of course, for 50 large a year you may be able to hire a barista at your local Starbucks, but good luck getting Jay-Z to cut a record.

Or Michael Moore to make a movie. 

Or a doctor to treat you (even if you have federally-funded health insurance).

Signing an NBA point guard?  Fuggheddaboudit. 

Most of us in professions where incomes tend to exceed the $50,000 threshold by any significant margin would quit altogether, or would work part of the year until we earned our $49,999, then take vacation for the rest (for those needing a more detailed explanation, read Atlas Shrugged), thus eliminating most if not all of the wealthy tax base altogether.  In other words, there would cease to be any high wage earners to tax, because there would no longer be anything to be gained by working more to earn more.  Real revenue under this system would end up being substantially less than I describe here, and certainly wouldn’t come anywhere near covering existing spending levels. 

That’s crazy talk.  You don’t need to tax the middle class, and you’re leaving out corporations.  Tax the millionaires and the evil corporations!  People before profits!

OK.  The most current IRS data for corporations is 2008, so it’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison.  But for 2008, corporations had net income of not quite $1.9 trillion.  You could tax that at 100%, and add that to taxing all the million-dollar earners at 100% as discussed above.  You could take every red cent made by the corporations and millionaires, and it would only generate about $2.7 trillion, still leaving you nearly a trillion dollars short of covering everything the federal government spends.  Never mind what would happen to business development in the U.S. if the corporate tax rate went to 100%.  No, adding corporations to the mix doesn’t get you where you need to be, either.

Slice it however you want.  You can talk about raising taxes to close the deficit until the cows come home.  The basic point remains, and it’s not complicated:  At any practical level there simply isn’t enough revenue in this country to cover federal spending at its current levels, even if you taxed it all.  Like Monopoly, there’s only so much money in the box, and the District is waaaaaayyyy over the limit.

Apparently a government can be big enough to give you everything you want.  But it can’t pay for it all, even if it takes everything you and everybody else has.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Spending Jones



“Every single time it gets harder.  Money, money, money, money, money!  We can't keep doing this, Bob!  We appreciate what you did in the old days, but those days are over.
—Bud Luckey as the voice of Rick Dicker in The Incredibles


OK, so the unconstitutional “debt supercommittee” failed to come up with the required $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by its self-imposed November 21 deadline.

Shocking.

The only thing shocking here is that anyone thinks that that failure matters much, other than giving Obama and the Democrats precisely the political ammo they wanted heading into the 2012 election cycle.  The truth is, as I previously posted here, even had the supercommittee managed to find some combination of cuts and revenue to trim the target amount, spread over 10 years it wasn’t going to make a material difference in light of a budget that is projected to amount to some $44 trillion over that time.  $44 trillion, $42.8 trillion:  I don't see a real distinction there.

Let me point out what even Republicans in the District can’t bring themselves to acknowledge at any serious level:

We spend too damn much money.  Period.

You can talk all you want about “fair shares” and increasing revenues by taxing the rich.  The simple fact is that we have become totally—and perhaps hopelessly—addicted to borrowing and spending money WE.  DO.  NOT.  HAVE.  One need only look to Europe to see where this ultimately leads, as after 100 years of profligate borrowing/spending on a massive infrastructure of social programs and government freebies, the tab is now coming due.  Given that our “enlightened” friends across the pond are now even taking official positions like “water doesn't hydrate,” I think we have to accept the fact that they are simply too far gone now to be saved.  And if we don’t get our fiscal house in order, we are not long for the same fate.

If you don’t believe me—and if you can stomach it—check out the national debt clock.  As I type this, the total national debt stands at north of $15 trillion (you can add to that another $3 trillion or so in state and local debt), and it is increasing at a pace of about $25,000 a second.  But let’s consider some details behind that gross figure.

The total U.S. National Debt stands at $133,606 per taxpayer, and $48,088 per citizen.  It is now more than 100% of GDP—that’s approaching Greece territory (120%), friends—meaning the federal government alone owes more than we as a nation produce.  Combined annual federal, state, and local spending is 46.55% of GDP, which means that nearly half of what we produce each year is consumed by government.  With total annual revenues at only 30.88% of GDP, you can see that at all levels, government is spending half again as much as it takes in.


We have to add to this spending the growing unfunded liability obligations associated with our massive entitlement edifice.  These are the future commitments to pay benefits under the Social Security, Medicare, and prescription drug (Medicare part D) programs over and above the projected revenue for those programs.  At present, those commitments total $116.5 TRILLION, or $1,035,246 per taxpayer.

The unavoidable truth is we have made promises to ourselves that we simply cannot afford to keep.  And the problem isn’t just government spending.  As individuals we are also living way beyond our means.  Consider that total personal debt—mortgages, credit cards, and personal loans—in the U.S. stands at $15.9 trillion.  That’s $51,168 per person, which becomes a serious problem when we realize that the median U.S. income per household is just under $50,000 a year.  Even if government didn’t take and spend a dime, on average we owe more than we make. 

When you combine government and personal spending, the total U.S. debt approaches $54.5 trillion, or a staggering $660,503 per family.  Sooner or later, all that debt will come due—I’ve preached it before, and it’s one of those things that’s easy to forget: borrowed money has to be paid back.

This is a situation that requires drastic changes in our lifestyle.  I can’t speak to personal spending habits other than we all need to reconsider whether we really need a flatscreen TV in every room and a new car every 3 years.  But at the government level it requires serious cuts at levels exponentially higher than those the supercommittee was charged with making.  Real reform is going to be painful, and it’s not politically expedient, but someone has to have the courage to hold our collective nose and make us take our medicine.  Let me offer a couple of suggestions.

1.         Phase out Social Security

While I’d like to say simply cancel it, you can’t tell someone already living on the system or someone who is close to retirement and who has planned all their life to be able to depend on social security: too bad for you.  It has to be phased out over time, and yes, that means that there are going to have to be some of us who pay into the system who will get little or none of that money back.  But given enough time, you can and should plan for that. I propose that we first begin ratcheting back the eligibility age; starting with those born in 1951 eligibility is raised to 66, then raise it every couple of years until beginning with those born in 1960 the eligibility age is 70.

Second, beginning with those born in 1961, we progressively reduce the benefits levels they will ultimately receive—say, 5 percentage points a year—such that those born in 1980 or later will receive 0 benefits, meaning by 2050 there will be no new recipients.  As a tradeoff for that, those born in 1980 or later would only contribute at 30% of the current rate.  For those born earlier, contribution percentages would reduce over time; the idea is that those who expect to draw more from the system would contribute more into the system.  Everyone is going to take something of a haircut, but it’s the most equitable way to eliminate the problem.

2.         Cut the government

I would also suggest DRAMATIC cuts to the government itself.  Consider the following:
  • Cut by 75% International programs (read: foreign aid) and the departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, and EPA.  This results in savings of approximately $412 billion.
  • Cut by 33% the budgets for Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid.  This results in savings of approximately $534 billion.  For those of you concerned about Defense cuts, this would still leave a budget of just under $500 billion, which would still be about the same as the annual defense budgets for the rest of the world's top ten military spenders—including China—combined.
  • Eliminate 100% of the waste identified by the CBO, and the stupid pork spending about which I have previously posted.  This results in an additional $130 billion in savings.
  • Reduce the remaining budget by 15% across the board.  This saves another $165 billion. 

These cuts reduce federal spending by approximately $1.25 trillion per year, not over 10.  The resulting remaining federal budget is about $2.15 trillion, which is nearly $150 billion less than current annual revenues.  Apply half that difference to paying down the debt, and the debt is eliminated in roughly 20 years.  Return the rest to the taxpayers.

Just a suggestion.

******************************
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cinco De Mayo Outweighs The American Flag


You got a problem?
The problem is you!
—Sex Pistols, Problem

Ladies and Gentlemen, Common Sense has left the building.

As a young lawyer, I learned very quickly that in a letter from opposing counsel, nothing good comes after “Rusty, . . .”  Similarly, when during my drive home last Thursday I caught Mark Levin’s opening monologue, and the first thing out of his mouth after introducing himself was “A federal judge has ruled . . .” I knew we were in trouble. 

Ugh.

Levin went on to report on a ruling from U.S. Chief District Judge James Ware—an appointee of the first Bush administration, the same folks that gave us David Souter (uhhh, thankyouverymuch)—in which Judge Ware dismissed a suit filed on behalf of students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California (about 10 miles southeast of San Jose).  It seems that these students chose to wear t-shirts bearing images of the American flag on May 5, 2010 (a/k/a “Cinco de Mayo”).  Citing fears for their safety, school officials told the students they had to turn their shirts inside-out—in other words, hide the American flag—or be sent home. 

Judge Ware ruled that the students’ First Amendment rights were not violated by the school’s actions, and that the school was entitled to take action where students were in danger or there was a risk of disruptions to actual learning.  In his ruling, he noted that the students wearing American flags were at risk, but those wearing Mexican flags colors were not, and that “[a]ll students whose safety was in jeopardy were treated equally.”  So, if I understand correctly, when loyal Americans are put in danger on U.S. soil during the celebration of a foreign pseudo-holiday, it’s the loyal Americans that we’re going to punish.


¿Que la chinga?

My problem here isn't really with Judge Ware.  You'll find I'm not a fan of an all-encompassing First Amendment.  It was never intended to mean anyone can say anything anywhere in any way that they want (you listening, 99%?).  On a legal level, Ware's decision is probably correct--note, his decision is NOT that students can't wear American flag t-shirts; it's that the school is permitted to enforce a dress restriction in the name of safety and order.  My problem is with the idiocy at the school that got us to this point.


Let’s get something straight up front.  If you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, that’s fine.  I don’t care.  But let’s understand what Cinco de Mayo is, because I’ll bet you dollars to donuts most of you don’t know, and in fact I’ll bet you 8 in 10 of the students actually celebrating it at Live Oak High School—where a full 20% of the student body as a whole can’t speak English—will get it wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) is not Mexican Independence Day similar to our 4th of July; that would be September 16, for those who are interested.  Rather, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican militia victory over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  It was a relatively insignificant battle in a war the Mexicans ultimately lost, so the celebration is kind of like if the Sioux Nations threw a huge kegger on June 26 to celebrate defeating Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn (maybe they do that, I have no idea).  And here’s the dirty little secret:  outside of Puebla itself, “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t really celebrated in Mexico at all.  Celebration of the event is really a U.S. phenomenon, and its rise in popularity in the last couple of decades has actually been driven mostly by beer importers as a means of increasing sales.  Call it an opportunity to share Mexican culture if you want, but don’t call it a major Mexican holiday, because it isn’t.

But here’s where it really stinks.  If Cinco de Mayo is really intended as a communications point and culture-sharing opportunity—as its proponents like to say it is—why were students wearing American flags in danger?  The entire premise of Judge Ware’s ruling is that the school is entitled to take action to protect students who are in danger, and to prevent the disruption of learning.  But who’s putting students at risk?  Who’s threatening to disrupt classes?  Judge Ware specifically noted that there was no evidence that kids wearing Mexican flags were at any risk at all.  While he meant this observation to bolster the case that the school’s decision to get rid of the American flags wasn’t discriminatory, it speaks volumes about what’s wrong here: 

The kids wearing the American flags weren’t the problem.

Clearly the problem at Live Oak High is that those students choosing to celebrate Cinco de Mayo were taking it and themselves a little too seriously and were threatening or inflicting some kind of violent retribution on those they saw as disrespecting them.  So why is it that the solution here wasn’t to, I don’t know, toss out the kids threatening or engaging in the violence?  Have we become such politically-correct pussies that we’ll punish innocent Americans before we’ll risk the charge of racism that would inevitably result from taking action against those who actually perpetrate the violence?

I get it that America is The Great Melting Pot.  We’re all immigrants (you might make an exception for my Cherokee forbears, but that’s a different article).  And I’m OK if you want to celebrate some of your culture and heritage from the old country.  But notice you don’t see similar behavior coming from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  Or Oktoberfest.  Or Chinese New Year. 

The problem arises when we cross the line from preserving culture to aggressive foreign nationalism.  A few generations ago, people immigrated to this country because they wanted to be Americans.  Yes, they continued to speak the old language at home.  Yes, they set up shops that sold their ethnic food, and they continued with some of the old traditions.  But they also worked to assimilate and actually become Americans.  They learned English.  They flew the American flag outside their homes and businesses.  They might have been Americans of German, or Irish, or Mexican descent, but they were Americans. 

What we see now, however, is an increasing number who don’t come here to be Americans; they want to be Mexicans (or Chinese, or Pakistanis, or what have you) living in the U.S.  You may not see much of this depending on where you live; I am inundated with it in Texas.  My local grocer has to post signs reading “Se aceptan WIC” (we accept food stamps) because too many make no attempt to learn English.  Homes, businesses, and vehicles are adorned with the flags of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and the like—which would be fine, except they are never paired with the American flag.  When the Mexican national soccer team plays the U.S. team in Houston, it is far and away a “home game” for El Tricolor.  There is little or no effort to assimilate, because these people simply have no interest in actually being Americans, and this is the attitude that breeds the issue with violence over Cinco de Mayo.  Celebration of this minor non-holiday ceases to be simply a culture-sharing opportunity and instead becomes a sticking point of Mexican national pride, and at that point you’ve taken it too far. 

If you’re of Mexican heritage and you want to celebrate May 5 as a way of preserving some of that heritage, great; let’s break out the mariachis and have a few cervezas.  But if you can’t do it without starting a fight because someone else is wearing an American flag, I submit you need to take it somewhere else because the problem is you.   

**************************
EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 50th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  Thanks to those of you who have kept up and been so encouraging.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Something’s Shameful, Professor



Galloway:  Why do you hate them so much?
Weinberg:  They beat up on a weakling; that’s all they did.  The rest is just smoke-filled coffeehouse crap.  They tortured and tormented a weaker kid.  They didn’t like him, so they killed him.  And why?  Because he couldn’t run very fast.
Why do you like them so much?
Galloway:  Because they stand on a wall, and they say, “Nothing’s gonna hurt you tonight.  Not on my watch.”
—Demi Moore as Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway, and Kevin Pollack as Lieutenant Sam Weinberg in A Few Good Men


Some are heroes.  Some are, well, not.

Suffolk University School of Law Constitutional Law professor Michael Avery sent a five paragraph email  to his faculty colleagues last week, blasting as “shameful” a school-wide drive for “care packages” to be sent to soldiers and marines deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to Avery:

I think it is shameful that it is perceived as legitimate to solicit in an academic institution for support for men and women who have gone overseas to kill other human beings.”

He went on to explain that sympathy for troops in harm’s way is “not particularly rational in today’s world.” 

When challenged, he will no doubt defend his statements as the exercise of his God-given right to free speech under the First Amendment, and probably invoke some tired axiom about universities and academic freedom.  Hell, he may even bring up tenure.

It’s too bad he forgets where all that comes from.

I will leave aside any discussion of the merits of the policies we’ve adopted with respect to military action in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, which really misses the point here.  Professor Avery’s statement that it’s “shameful” to send support to men and women who have gone overseas to kill other people makes it sound as though those men and women got together like some rogue gang of street thugs and decided on their own to go do that.  In effect, he’s calling our soldiers and marines murderers, and therefore sending a care package—or otherwise supporting them as human beings—is tantamount to aiding and abetting murder.  Apparently Professor Avery didn’t get the memo that the Army and Marines don’t actually make policy decisions on where, when, or for how long they are deployed.  Apparently Professor Avery didn’t learn one of the fundamental lessons of Vietnam about the harm and divisiveness that is caused when we fail to distinguish between our opposition to the policy and the men and women who are the mere instruments of that policy.  These people don’t make decisions; they do their job.

To publicly campaign against soliciting a few personal comforts—a bottle of sunscreen, a roll of toilet paper, a box of cookies—to send to soldiers and marines off in some Godforsaken hellhole doing what they’ve been ordered to do by policymakers they’ve never met is simply despicable.  As we all know, a few of those men and women will never return.  Many more who do will come back horribly disfigured.  Disagree with the war all you want; but to take it out on a 20 year old Pfc who hadn’t even been born when we first became involved in the Persian Gulf, and who was 10 years old when the current conflict began is, well:

Shameful.

A little background—as published on the Suffolk University School of Law website—on Professor Avery sheds some not-so-surprising light on who he is and where he’s coming from.  This is essentially a career Northeastern academic who received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Yale.  He attended the University of Moscow from 1968-69 (that’ll come as some interesting news to those of you who spent some of that time on an all-expense-paid trip to Southeast Asia courtesy of Uncle Sam).  He’s spent the last 35 years as a member or leader of a string of ACLU-type organizations, and has also worked in something called the “Political Justice Workshop” at Yale.

Since the mid-1970s, Professor Avery has also been a frequent lecturer on the subjects of “police accountability” and “police misconduct.”  Avery’s publications include (full citations available in his online Suffolk University bio—I’m sure they’re scintillating reading for those of you who are interested):

  • Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation
  • Obstacles to Litigating Civil Claims for Wrongful Conviction: An Overview
  • The Constitutionality of Warrantless Electronic Surveillance of Suspected Foreign Threats to the National Security of the United States
  • Paying for Silence: The Liability of Police Officers under Section 1983 for Suppressing Exculpatory Evidence
  • Unreasonable Seizures of Unreasonable People: Defining the Totality of Circumstances Relevant to Assessing the Police Use of Force Against Emotionally Disturbed People
  • Police Chases: More Deadly than a Speeding Bullet?

This is a guy who appears to have made it a significant part of his life’s work to make it as difficult as possible for the people charged with ensuring the safety and security of this country to do their jobs.  One wonders if he goes to sleep at night with the voice in his head chanting:

We’re gonna free ya, Mumia, Abu-Jamal!
Brick by brick, and wall by wall!

And it scares the crap out of me that this is who’s teaching the Constitution.

I understand, Professor Avery, that you hate George W. Bush down to the last atom of your DNA.  But what, exactly, do you have to say to the single mother whose only child is now a Lance Corporal stationed at a firebase outside Kandahar?  Is it his fault he’s there?  Because you hate Bush and his “illegal wars,” should we decline to send that young marine a prepaid phone card so he can call home?

What do you have to say to Mrs. August Cabrera, who last Friday--Veteran's Day-- buried her husband, Army Lt. Col. David Cabrera, and received a last love letter from him four days after she learned he had been killed in a convoy bombing?  Huh, Professor?  Was he some rogue criminal undeserving of our support?  You want to tell that to his four kids?

What is your message, Professor Avery, for 22 year old Marine Corporal Tyler Southern, who lost both legs and an arm to an IED?  Should we shun him because he "[went] overseas to kill other human beings"?

Or how about Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline, who had his face burned off and lost a hand, and yet has had the tenacity to pick himself up and become a standup comedian and motivational speaker.  Do you have the stones, Professor, to look Sergeant Henline in the eyes and tell him that his service to this country was something so wrong and so immoral that it would have been shameful and irrational for Americans to provide him and his fellow troops with personal support?

I would rather you just said “Thank you,” and went on your way.  Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.  Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Readers, I want to know what you think about this.  Better yet, let some of those who matter know what you think, and get some of your buddies to join in: 

Suffolk University
8 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA  02108-2770

Suffolk University Law School
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA  02108-4977
(617) 573-8000

And consider making a donation of time, money, or both to one or more of the following organizations supporting our wounded Veterans (h/t Huffington Post for compiling the list).  I’ll leave it to you whether to make it in honor of Professor Avery.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Taxing Christmas


You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous, super-naus!
You’re a crooked, jerky jockey,
And you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch!
—Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas!



I am not even making this up.

Last week the Obama administration announced it would impose a 15-cent per tree tax on freaking Christmas trees!!!  That’s right, Cindy-Lou, the new tax is part of a program administered through the Department of Agriculture—the Christmas Tree Promotion Board—aimed at “promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace.”

It’s unclear against whom, exactly, the Christmas tree industry needs to evaluate its marketplace position against, or why it needs federal government help to do it.  I can only assume that our need to generate jobs is so urgent that it is necessary to make this kind of investment so that we don’t lag behind the Chinese in this emerging industry of the future.  Where are the separation-of-church-and-state zombies when you need them?  Or even better the enviro-Nazis?

You mean the federal government is promoting the cutting down of Christmas trees?!?!  Where is the red-speckled one-testicled tree ferret supposed to live now?  Ohhhh, the planet’s going to hell!!!

Although I'm given to understand that the adminstration has since delayed implementing this fee, it nevertheless raises a number of interesting issues.  One is simply the practical question of how you’re going to administer this thing.  I have no idea how we define a “Christmas tree”—we have a number of nurseries where I live that sell a variety of trees year-round, and also sell “Christmas trees” in the Fall; if they sell a live oak in December, is that a “Christmas tree” such that the tax is owed?  What if they sell a Scotch pine in June?  And who is going to do the counting and collecting?  Somehow this reeks of a cancerous bureaucracy, with hoards of newly-minted federal employees dished out to go make the rounds.  One can see the operating costs alone dwarfing the revenue that will be generated.

Some things never change in the District.

The second issue is that this thing is a tax (and, it bears mentioning, a discriminatory tax on Christians, at that—where’s the tax on menorahs, or burqas, or atheist Vegan tofu?).  A tax created from whole cloth by an administrative order from an agency of the executive branch.  In other words, it’s a tax imposed by the President.  I’m scraping through my copy of the Constitution, and damned if I can find that power anywhere.  I see Article I, Section 7, which says that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives[.]”  I see Article I, Section 8, which says that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises[.]”  But I don’t see anything in Article II—or anywhere else—authorizing the President to assess or collect a tax.

Sigh.  Are we sure this guy was a professor of Constitutional Law?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tax, however, is the way it came about.  As noted above, this tax is supposed to go to fund the activities of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.  Now, let’s leave aside the obvious joke—er, point—that the District has demonstrated itself pathologically incapable of avoiding dipping into “dedicated” revenues to supplement its spending from general revenues, and focus on the process.  Apparently this Christmas Tree agency is an outgrowth of several years of effort by some in the industry to gain federal promotional assistance.  But the problem they were having is there weren’t enough industry members voluntarily contributing enough money to make it work.  So the Board has to step in with a mandatory assessment.  In other words, not enough of the Christmas tree industry had enough interest in government promotional help to pay for it, so the government is going to compel participation and financial support by force. 

You WILL be promoted, by God, whether you like it or not.  Now shut up and pay.

This is how unions work.  And Mafia wise guys.  RICO, anyone?

But consider what happens if we start expanding that concept to other industries.  Let’s say the UAW convinces the Obama administration—I know, that link is a stretch, but stick with me here—to set up a board under the Department of Transportation or Department of Commerce to research and promote the U.S. auto industry’s position in the marketplace; say, the Commission on Responsible Automobile Promotion.  And one of the things they want it to do is run a half-billion dollar ad campaign.  Ford says no thank you, we’re doing fine with our own ads.  So GM and Chrysler go to CRAP and say they need a $125/car fee assessed on all domestic sales (roughly the proportionate equivalent of a 15-cent tax on the average Christmas tree price of $36).  Voila!  Based on 2010 sales numbers, GM and Chrysler just got about a $230 million advertising subsidy from Ford at the point of a federal gun.

Worse, what happens when the Obama administration sees it can unilaterally impose this tax for a specific purpose—a tax on a consumer item that will undoubtedly flow through to the purchase price—and no one says anything about it?  Bear in mind that in Obama we have a President desperate to raise additional jack to fund his unprecedented spending spree, and who is increasingly willing to step beyond his Constitutional authority to act when he sees Congress isn’t.  If a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees is OK, why not a 15-cent tax on everything?  (that, by the way, would be a federal sales tax, kids)  Why, you’ll hardly even notice it.  And, of course, once 15 cents is OK, all bets are off and the sky is really the limit (which is one of the fundamental problems with Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 sound bite).  Good luck getting that horse back in the barn.

Yet another reason I’m glad I have an artificial tree (made in the U.S.A., thank you).

Welcome Christmas come this way
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas Pay!
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas trees are in our grasp
So long as we have funds to tax
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Christmas trees will only be
If Obama collects the fee
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas Pay
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Welcome Christmas while we stand
All in line with cash in hand
Fahoo fores, dahoo dores
Welcome, welcome Christmas Pay!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ron Paul The Appeaser



Taylor:        This is a tempest in a teacup.  Much ado about nothing.  For crying out loud, man, this isn’t brain surgery.  Don’t get crazy over this, Dick.  We’re only talking about a damn deejay.
Dickerson:   Sir, there is no such thing as “only” anymore.  Not now.  Not in Saigon.
—Noble Willingham as General Taylor and J.T. Walsh as Sergeant Major Dickerson in Good Morning, Vietnam


I finally had to quit listening to Mike Church’s satellite radio show on my way in to work.  King Dude used to be a highlight of my mornings, but he’s devolved into nothing but a three-hour shill for Ron Paul, and frankly Church is approaching Chris Matthews “thrill up my leg” territory in terms of the disturbing level of attachment he exhibits for this candidate.

I recognize there isn’t going to be a perfect candidate to run against Obama, and I am the first to admit that I like a lot of what I hear from Congressman Paul.  His stances on the Fed, government spending, originalist construction of the Constitution, and the application of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are, in my judgment, right on the money.  But where I disagree with Paul, I find him not only wrong but downright dangerous.

Case in point:  Iran.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report this week outlining the state of its knowledge on Iran’s nuclear progress.  Confirming what the rest of us already basically knew, the report says that some of Iran’s work in this regard is specific to nuclear weapons, despite Tehran’s insistence that all it is doing is trying to develop a peaceful atomic energy program.

Yet Congressman Paul took to the Sunday morning shows last weekend to stake out his position that rather than sanctioning Iran (much less taking more decisive action) over its nuclear ambitions, we should be extending the olive branch and courting friendship with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.  This is consistent with Paul’s longtime “non-interventionist” (some might say “isolationist”) stance that the U.S. should essentially withdraw its military from the entire planet and never engage in foreign conflict.  According to Paul, Iran poses no credible threat to anybody, and because there’s never been any “evidence” that Iran’s nuclear ambitions present any risk we should accept at face value Ahmedinejad’s denials that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Even Obama isn’t this na├»ve.

Right?

Congressman Paul would have us deal with Iran as Nixon did the Soviet Union and China back in the 1970s.  The problem is, Iran isn’t the USSR or China.  With the Soviets and Chinese, the stakes of MAD were so obviously too high such that it was neither necessary nor advisable to take them on offensively.  Nor were you dealing with rogue states driven by a fanatical and overtly homicidal religious philosophy; the Soviets and Chinese were more interested in making money than in winning hearts and minds for Allah, and neither accepted their political tenets to the point of suicide.

Paul is correct that Iran probably doesn’t present a significant direct threat to the United States.  We’re not in danger of being overrun by hoards of Persians crossing over from Canada and Mexico.  And Iran doesn’t have the capability to hit the U.S. with a missile attack.  But that doesn’t mean Iran—and particularly even the remotest possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran—isn’t a substantial risk to national security and legitimate U.S. interests abroad, and to say otherwise is to ignore the obvious to a degree that should terrify all of us in a prospective Commander-in-Chief.

Iran is well-known as a state sponsor of terrorism.  It provides enormous amounts of money, weapons, and supplies to known terrorist organizations.  People like Hezbollah, the folks who brought you the bombings of the U.S. embassy and marine barracks in Beiruit.  People like Hamas, who routinely break their promises to stop firing rockets and missiles indiscriminately into Israel, and are fond of hiding behind children when they get shot at.  People like Islamic Jihad, a group responsible for numerous suicide bombings and ambush attacks in Israel.  The prospect of one of these groups obtaining an Iranian-made nuclear device, and, say, getting it aboard an airliner bound for the U.S. should be chilling.  But candidate Paul says that risk is negligible, and rather than act pre-emptively we should worry about it when it happens.

Tell that to the families of the 2,977 killed on 9/11.

More substantial is the threat a potential nuclear-armed Iran poses to Israel.  Congressman Paul and his supporters can yell all they want that Iran hasn’t actually attacked anybody, but to do that is to ignore what they’ve made very plain is their intent, which is to eliminate Israel:

May 2008:       “The Zionist regime is dying . . . [R]egional nations hate this fake and criminal regime and [if the] briefest chance is given to regional nations they will destroy it.”  

June 2010:       “[We] will change many issues in the world and mark the final countdown for Israel’s existence.”  

September 2010:  “There is no room for Israel in the Middle East.”  

The threat is not an idle one.  Iran’s Fajr-3, Sajjil, and Shahab-3 missiles can carry multiple independent warheads, and have ranges well in excess of that necessary to reach all of Israel from Iranian soil.  Absent the nuclear threat, the capability to reach Israel with a missile attack doesn’t amount to much more than the ability to poke the bear in the eye.  But with nukes, Iran’s missile arsenal now poses the potential to deliver a knockout blow.

This is a seriously destabilizing development.  Israel already finds herself not only surrounded by enemies on all sides, but with the “Arab Spring” faces the prospect that regimes in places like Egypt and Lebanon could be replaced with hard-line Islamist governments.  Worse, Israel has no reason to expect any serious help from a U.S. administration that has all but turned its back on her.  Obama’s juvenile mistreatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is well-documented.  Tuesday Obama was caught bad-mouthing Netanyahu with French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Sarkosy called Netanyahu a “liar,” and Obama basically responded that “you think you have it bad, I have to deal with the S.O.B. every day.”  Under these circumstances, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is a chance Israel cannot afford to take.  Once that happens, there won’t be any sidelines left on which to sit it out.

Or consider that a nuclear-armed Iran will likely inspire other Arab states—either from possibly misguided fears about Iranian aggression, or in a sophomorish push to be able to say mine’s bigger—to pursue their own.  And there will be little to stop Iran from exporting the technology to other belligerants.

Mr. Ahmedinejad, there’s a Mr. Kim on line one, and a Mr. Mugabe on line two.

What do you suppose will happen in the Middle East when—not if, but when—Israel takes necessary action to defend herself and there is no prospect of U.S. backup?  What do you suppose will happen once Iran’s nukes metastasize to other potentially rogue states or terrorist organizations. What Paul is espousing is an expansion of the non-policy we already have under Obama.  And if history teaches us anything it is that appeasing bullies doesn’t work.

Brace yourselves, kiddos.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

***************************
Keystone XL Pipeline Watch:  77 days since final State Department Report, with still no action by the White House.  I do note that it now appears they are considering alternative routes, which will provide convenient cover to punt until after the election, as I predicted here.