August 30, 2006

Cowardly Lion Identified

The truth is out there. The Cowardly Lion of the US Senate who placed a secret hold a secret hold on legislation designed to create greater transparency in government spending is none other than Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens.

Stevens claims to have put a hold on the bill so that a cost benefit analysis could be conducted. I think it more likely that he's just pissed about all the heat he took over the Gravina Island bridge project.

The cost benefit analysis is pretty simple. Creating the database - even for the government - should cost considerably less than the $320 million Stevens earmarked for the Bridge to Nowhere. The benefit of transparent access to government spending is approaching infinite. (Unless of course you are a member of congress and need the benefit of earmarks to help buy your re-eledction).

It is yet another example of political hypocrisy that the earmark spending Stevens is trying to protect is typically done without the debate and analysis he is insisting on for this bill.

See Transterrial Musing for slightly more complete cons/benefit analysis.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 09:20 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment


August 29, 2006

Congress Shall Make No Law...

That John McCain is considered not only front runner, but perceived by many as having a virtual lock on the 2008 presidential nomination is appalling.

Mark Trapscott spells out why rather clearly.

With a 3-3 vote featuring Democrat commissioners supporting the silencing of political speech against congressional incumbents and Republican commissioners in favoring of allowing it, the Federal Elections Commission has now made it official - As required by the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, there can be no paid political broadcast ads criticizing incumbent Members of Congress for the two months prior to the Nov. 7 election.
This is the ultimate form of Incumbent Protection Act, short of repealing elections.
If this holds up and there is a significant curtailment of speech in the 2006 election McCain should just plan on naming Russ Fiengold as his running mate. He will not be able to escape the stain of the McCain/Fiengold partnership.

Trapscott said it well:

...no conservative, libertarian or honest liberal can support him for the White House.
There no NO room for compromise on this issue. Either you believe in the First Amendment right to freedom of speech or you don't.

In addition to renewing my firm commitment to oppose John McCain's nomination and if necessary work against his election, it is also a good time to reaffirm the pledge I took back in March 2005 and have displayed on this site's banner ever since.

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

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FariTax Blog Burst

by Julie of Degree of Madness

Follow-up on last week's Blogburst about the outside collection agencies the IRS is employing to collect delinquent taxes.

On August 23, this was the headline: IRS Warns Against Phony Debt Collectors.

The IRS warned taxpayers Wednesday not to be duped by scammers posing as private debt collectors the agency has hired to chase unpaid tax debts.

The program isn't even in place yet and concerns are already being raised, and not just by this Blogburst writer.
The Internal Revenue Service designed the debt collection program to minimize that risk "because we know what it's like out there with regard to identity theft nowadays," said Brady Bennett, IRS Director of Collections.
The IRS designed the program to minimize the risk. Well that's comforting. The IRS is looking out for you.

And this article addresses something I wasn't sure about and that is whether the private collection agencies would have access to social security numbers. They will.

The IRS plans to give the collection agencies basic identifying and account information about the chosen taxpayers, including their names, addresses and Social Security numbers. The agencies do not have access to tax returns.
Also from the article:

Identity thieves have posed as IRS agents in "phishing" schemes that use the tax agency's logo to lure victims. The e-mail schemes are designed to dupe taxpayers into revealing personal financial information.
The IRS does not communicate with taxpayers through e-mail, and it will not e-mail taxpayers about debts turned over to private collectors. The IRS also does not ask taxpayers for any passwords or PIN numbers that would allow the agency to access bank or credit card accounts.
Bennett also cautioned taxpayers chosen for the debt collection effort to make any check or money order payable to the U.S. Treasury, not a private company, and to send the money to the IRS. The collection agencies have been told to provide addresses to the taxpayers they contact.
This is all well and good but the IRS cautioning taxpayers via articles such as this probably won't be very widely read. Is the IRS planning to contact taxpayers directly to advise them of this program? I've not received anything from them. And from the first line of the article, "The IRS warned taxpayers", how did they warn them? By telling the AP?

I read some of the comments last week on blogs that posted the Blogburst. One commenter responded to the statement I made about our tax information being private by suggesting that since the government knows our tax information it is not private. Good point, but that doesn't mean I want them passing it out to employees of private companies. And if we had the Fair Tax the government would know much less about our private financial information. KnightHawk at PoliPundit had some really good responses to some of the questions raised. There were some good questions raised and worth a look.

Now on to this week's blogburst.

Our representatives in Congress are finally getting the message that Americans are "fed up" with the current tax code. The question is, how do we fix it?

I contacted my (Alabama) Senators and Representative in Washington to let them know of my support for the Fair Tax. Three letters, three different responses. Congressman Spencer Bachus (6th district) is a co-sponsor of the Fair Tax Act of 2005, H.R. 25. Good news. Senator Jeff Sessions has not endorsed any specific proposal for reform, but does agree something has to be done about the tax code. From his letter: "Most taxpayers that I talk to are not only fed up with the complexity of the tax code, but the enormous tax burden that has been placed on them." Senator Richard Shelby supports "a flat tax, as opposed to a national sales tax". I wanted to address Senator Shelby's position because I believe his concerns about the Fair Tax are probably shared by many on Capitol Hill.

From his letter:

I support a flat tax, as opposed to a national sales tax, because I believe that the flat tax encourages savings in a more effective manner without leaving the federal budget vulnerable to fluctuations in our economy. Under a flat tax, government revenues would not fluctuate as severely because of changes in the economy as they would with a national sales tax. This is the same problem that many state budgets are facing today because they depend too much on sales taxes.
I'm not really sure about the "encourages savings in a more effective manner", but his concern about the fluctuations in the economy is interesting. In other words, if our economy slows down the government should not have to slow down. Changes, I'm assuming he means negative changes, in the economy would surely affect the taxpayer but he would get no relief from Uncle Sam. While the taxpayer's personal economy fluctuates (downward), the government keeps right on spending. To me, this would be a good argument for the Fair Tax. If the American taxpayer had to cut back and budget better, why not the federal government? But according to a study by American Farm Bureau, #9 in the Fair Tax FAQ, consumption is a more reliable source of revenue anyway.

Is consumption a reliable source of revenue? Yes, in fact, consumption is a more stable source of revenue than income. A recent study by American Farm Bureau economist Ross Korves shows the FairTax base is less variable than the income tax base. Why? Because during difficult times due to loss of a job or an inability to work, people may not have as much income, or may have no income at all. They borrow funds or use savings. They may not have earnings, but they still continue to consume.

Another argument from Senator Shelby:

Additionally, a flat tax better protects poor and low-income Americans because they are not forced to overpay taxes through their daily purchases, and then wait until the end of the month for a rebate check, as many national sales tax plans have proposed. These Americans need this money immediately to pay their bills and meet their needs. Under my proposal, the "Tax Simplification Act," low-income Americans would not have to pay for these distortions in the first place because of a personal deduction that would apply to all Americans.
The Fair Tax proposes a "prebate", paid at the beginning of the month. And low-income Americans would have the same advantage as everyone else, no deductions from their paychecks for federal withholding or social security and Medicare. This is important. Even if the low-income American has no federal tax withheld, the social security and Medicare taxes will still be deducted under the Flat Tax. Currently it is 7.65% and everyone pays the same regardless of income bracket.

Please follow this link for Senator Shelby's proposal for a flat tax. It certainly would be better than the current system, but it doesn't get rid of the IRS, it does not eliminate the corporate tax which is a huge plus for the Fair Tax, and it doesn't get rid of the social security and Medicare tax. The Fair Tax does.

The FairTax Blogburst is jointly produced by Terry of The Right Track Blog and Jonathan of Publius Rendezvous. If you would like to host the weekly postings on your blog, please e-mail Terry. You will be added to our mailing list and blogroll.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 01:11 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 26, 2006

Global Warming Explained

Dafydd at Big Lizards has finally figured out global warming and explained it in way that even I can understand. Simply stated whatever happens is caused by global warming. (Which is caused by George W. Bush).

Read and understand.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 02:48 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 25, 2006

Non-Proliferation?

In what sort of dream world did we ever believe that the world - with the help of the overwhelmingly inefective United Nations - ever really think that we could stop the spread of nuclear technology? We may have managed to slow it down a little. Made it a little more difficult. But stop it. Forever.

It was never going to happen.

In Japan five executives of precision instrument maker Mitutoyo were arrested on charges of illegally exporting equipment that could be used in making nuclear weapons to Malaysia.

The equipment is described as "coordinate measuring machines" that make it possible to manufacture mechanical parts to very precise specifications. While the devices have perfectly safe industrial uses, it is their ability to help in the manufacture specialized equipment required for nuclear bomb making that makes their export tightly regulated. The executives were arrested for exporting the devices without proper licensing.

The likely recipient of the equipment was a company called Scomi Precision Engineering. Scomi has been linked to Pakistani nuclear secrets dealer A.Q. Khan.

Japanese news papers are reporting that one of the Mitutoyo devices was found in Libya when that country abandoned its nuclear program shortly after the beginning of the war in Iraq. It is believed that the device came to Libya by way of Dubai on an Iranian ship.

When people in Japan - the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack - are willing to traffic in this kind of equipment then there really isn't much hope of stopping whoever wants the bomb from getting the bomb.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 01:49 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


Size Apparently Matters

For Polar Bears at least.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 10:57 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment


Fighting for Survival

Neal Boortz points to the controversy surrounding the latest version of the CBS reality show Survivor. In order to generate a little controversy and pull their ratings out of the downward spiral brought on by the over-saturation of the reality show market, CBS has decided to play the race card.

There will be four racial teams at the start of the show: Asian, Hispanic, black, and white.

No doubt this will generate the kind of outrage and controversy that CBS is counting on to boost their sagging ratings.

I can't predict which team will be the ultimate winner - and in the end who gives a rats a$$. But I do know this, the Caucasian team will finish no better than third. Last would be too obvious, and any better would be criticized as racist.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 06:01 AM | No Comments | Add Comment


The Lamont Effect

Think the Ned Lamont versus Joe Lieberman primary battle represents only a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party? Think again.

The Washington Post reports that Connecticut Republican Congressman Christopher Shays has walked away from his support for the war in Iraq.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), once an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq, said yesterday that the Bush administration should set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops. He added that most of the withdrawal could take place next year.
Shays, who faces a tough reelection campaign because of his previous support for President Bush's war policies, made his comments after completing his 14th trip to Iraq this week.
In an effort to preserve his political hide in the wake of the Connecticut Democratic primary, Shays has done a Full Lamontey.
He said he found a "noticeable lack of political will" among Iraqis "to move in what I would call a timely fashion" and concluded that Iraqi officials would act with greater urgency if the United States this fall set a timetable for withdrawal.
"My view is that it may be that the only way we are able to encourage some political will on the part of Iraqis is to have a timeline for troop withdrawal," Shays said from London in a conference call with reporters. "A timeline of when the bulk of heavy lifting is in the hands of the Iraqis."
Shays is one of only a few congressional Republicans supporting a timetable for ending U.S. involvement in the Iraq fighting, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 U.S. troops and an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 Iraqi civilians. Bush reaffirmed this week his opposition to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. "Leaving before the job was done would be a disaster," he warned
I think the "noticable lack of political will" is probably more evident in the office of the Shays campaign than the halls of the Iraqi government. Shays wants to send a message to the Iraqis that amounts to "You haven't been ably to undo decades of damage and fear of government institutions in less than a year. You haven't been able to bring an end to a centuries old religious conflict in less than a year. You haven't haven't shown the political will to crack down ruthlessly and enforce order strictly. Therefore in order to motivate you to get the job done, we're withdrawing our support on the following date." Nice.

Of course Shays doesn't seem all that concerned with the message this is sending to the enemy. The message they see is, "The Iraqi government is ineffective and is only able to survive with the help of the US military. But the US military is going to be out of here soon. All we need to do is cool our heals, rebuild our strength, and as soon as the Yankees are gone we can roll over their puppet government and Iraq will be ours." Not really the sort of signal we need to be sending.

Shays should have taken a page from Lieberman's book and stood by his position instead of giving way to the cut and run faction running rampant in Connecticut. With Republicans like him, what do we need Democrats like Lieberman for?

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Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 04:32 AM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 24, 2006

The Cowardly Lion

It is sometimes necessary in matters of national security that government or portions of the government act in secret. But there are certain matters of government that should be open and transparent. One of those areas - with some national security exceptions - is how the government spends our money. To this end Senators Tom Coburn,( R-OK), and Barack Obama, {D-IL) introduced legislation that would create a searchable database of government spending.

The goal of the legislation is to shine a light on the practice of earmarks. Money that members of congress funnel to home state projects that are not debated or voted on by congress. this is not sensitive top-secret national security stuff. This is roads, bridges, museums, bike paths and other projects common referred to as Pork. In truth it is nothing more than government funded campaign spending.

So what happened to legislation that promised to make Pork public?

The measure had been unanimously passed in a voice vote last month by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It was on the fast track for floor action before Congress recessed Aug. 4 when someone put a hold on the measure.
Now the bill is in political limbo. Under Senate rules, unless the senator who placed the hold decides to lift it, the bill will not be brought up for a vote.
One of the lions of the senate decided to block the legislation, but did not have the courage to do so publicly.

Now this points to two problems that need to be addressed. The Pork database legislation and the procedural maneuver if the "secret hold."

The first step is to identify the cowardly lion who placed the secret hold on the legislation and publicly humiliate him or her into allowing the legislation to come to a vote.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 06:42 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment


August 23, 2006

The End of Conflict

Is there any possibility of a solution to the constant state of crisis in the Middle East? I don't know. But I do believe that in the near future the crisis will end. And it will not end well.

Thomas Sowell summed up the situation well writing:

What kind of people provide a market for videotaped beheadings of innocent hostages? What kind of people would throw an old man in a wheelchair off a cruise liner into the sea, simply because he was Jewish? What kind of people would fly planes into buildings to vent their hate at the cost of their own lives?
These are the kinds of people we are talking about getting nuclear weapons.
What I fear it will take to bring an end to the constant fighting and terrorism in the Middle East is a conflict on a scale that we can now only imagine in our worst nightmares.

The August 22 deadline for Iran’s response to UN Security Council demands that they end enrichment of uranium passed with Iran issuing a counter proposal for negotiations. Iran clearly has no intention of stopping its development of nuclear weapons, and this latest proposal is nothing more than an effort to stall for time and hold of the likely toothless security council sanctions they face.

No one really knows how close the Iranians are to having a nuclear weapon. The Iranians have repeatedly denied UN inspectors access to key nuclear facilities. However if they think that setting up a bogus round of negotiations that will buy them enough time, they must be close. And if the negotiations manage to come to sort of agreement, it will no doubt be as successful as the agreement that was supposed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

Iran will get the bomb, and they will get it soon.

During the cold war the world was spared the horror of nuclear war by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. The deterrence was based on each side's faith in the other’s rational evaluation of the ramifications of launching a nuclear attack. In the Middle East, the question is will M.A.D. work when one side is mad? I don't think it will.

I don't think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to scare anyone. I don't think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to deter anyone. I think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to kill.

Iran's proxy army in Lebanon waged war by pointing Iranian supplied unguided missiles at Israeli civilian targets and pulling the trigger. When they acquire a nuclear weapon they will use it. I do not think that Israel will hesitate for even the slightest moment to respond. The resulting death and destruction will dwarf anything mankind has done to each other before. The global cost will be beyond estimation.

Perhaps then, if the rest of the world manages not to blow itself up, those who see death, destruction and terror not as not only a means but as an end in itself can be made to understand that there is a better way.

Can this be prevented? The chances are very small. The two nations with the capacity to put an end to Iran's nuclear development, the U.S. and Israel, seem to lack the political will to take the kind of action necessary.

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Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 03:43 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


FairTax Blog Burst - IRS Is A Nightmare

by Julie of Degree of Madness

If you owe back taxes to the federal government, the next call asking you to pay may come not from an Internal Revenue Service officer, but from a private debt collector.
Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers - each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes - to three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers. (link)
So now, private firms will have access to our tax information, or at minimum how much you (may or may not) owe to Uncle Sam. Our tax information is private. Or it was up until now.
Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers – each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes – to three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers. (my emphasis).
And the IRS isn't too particular about the business ethics of the firms they select to receive our tax data:
One of the three companies selected by the I.R.S. is a law firm in Austin, Tex., where a former partner, Juan Peña, admitted in 2002 that he paid bribes to win a collection contract from the city of San Antonio. He went to jail for the crime.
Last month the same law firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, was again in the news. One of its competitors, Municipal Services Bureau, also of Austin, sued Brownsville, Tex., charging that the city improperly gave the Linebarger firm a collections contract that it suggested was influenced by campaign contributions to two city commissioners.
And how will these debt collectors be paid? They will receive 25% of what they collect. Whether or not the tax bill is accurate or actually owed at all (the IRS is in a league of its own when it comes to mistakes, errors and general incompetence), will not be the concern of these collectors.

And the privacy issue is not insignificant. It's not clear whether these firms will be given the taxpayer social security number, but:

Private collectors will have authority to set up installment payment agreements, and gather financial information about those targeted, presumably to assess their ability to pay or to locate assets that might be attached.
Private collectors will have the authority to gather our personal financial information. Authority handed over to them by the federal government. Most everyone is aware of the aggressive, heavy-handed methods of collections agencies. I guess a partnership with the IRS just makes sense. A marriage made in heaven, so to speak.

The federal government already has too much access to our private financial information. And the ability of the IRS to audit at will, with no constraints or accountability is something we should not tolerate. And should not be forced to tolerate. And now private firms can get in on the action. And profit from it. At our expense.

There are so many good reasons to support the Fair Tax. Preventing the IRS from giving our private financial information to outside firms is just one more.


With the Fair Tax, the IRS will be abolished. No other tax plan under consideration abolishes the IRS. This is important. The IRS operates under the "guilty until proven innocent" theory. And however unjust that may be, that's the way it is. It will never change. The IRS has power that most politicians only dream about. And IRS abuses are legend. And most of the abuses never make the headlines. They are relatively small in nature but very significant to those involved.


The convoluted tax code is an outrage. The enforcer is an even greater outrage. Leave your Constitutional rights at the door when the IRS shows up, 'cause you no longer have any. The IRS has virtually free will to demand access to every single detail of your financial life. With no probable cause.


Some things just can't be reformed. Our tax code is one of them. The IRS is another. With the Fair Tax, we will all pay our fair share, but we won't have to give up our privacy, or our sanity, to do it.


The FairTax Blogburst is jointly produced by Terry of The Right Track Blog and Jonathan of Publius Rendezvous. If you would like to host the weekly postings on your blog, please e-mail Terry. You will be added to our mailing list and blogroll.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 01:45 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


Tar and Feathers

(Full Disclosure: I am listed as a contributing author to eTalkinghead.com and do still post there occassionally.)

There is a particular type of blog post that really bothers me. I call it the Tar and Feathers technique.

It's really very simple to do. Pick any issue of even modest political controversy (which these days could be whether or not the sun rises in the east) and head of to a few well known sites on the fringe of either political side. Read through the relevant posts, and especially the comments. Pick the most outrageous nonsense you can find and site that as representative of what "the other side" is saying.

When conservatives do it, they tend to go to the Democratic Undergound or the Daily Kos. Liberals tend to start at Free Republic. If you were going to do it to the Libertarians, you would start at Hit & Run.

At eTalkingHead, John McDonald delivers a well executed example of the Tar and Feather technique in Judge Taylor Gets "Fringed". He makes a couple of minor errors though. First in the headline he lets slip that the sources that spark his outrage are on the conservative fringe. Later in the piece he repeats the error when he describes some comments as "from the outlying edges of the real fringe." The Tar and Feather is a little more effective if don't label your sources as "fringe."

The comments that McDonald quotes are indeed outrageous, even comically so. Unfortunately he provides neither a source nor a link so that his readers could a - verify that someone other than McDonald actually wrote those things and b - give his readers the opportunity to address the comments at the source.

He did do an excellent job with another aspect of the Tar and Feather Technique. He gave no hint of the existence of reasonable, thoughtful criticism of the NSA surveillance decision. No hint of the work done at Powerline. No acknowledgment of this New York Times piece by Ann Althouse. There is of course no mention of any of the analysis done over at The Volokh Conspiracy. While you can get away with outing some of your sources as fringe - particularly if you don't bother to identify most of them - making note that some people on the other side are not insane really defeats the whole purpose of the post.

The Tar and Feather technique is powerfully seductive. Find a few over the top, outrageously stupid comments and hold forth on them with righteous indignation. McDonald is certainly not the only practitioner of the Tar and Feather technique, nor is it a tactic unique to one side of the political spectrum. It is an intellectually dishonest shortcut for reason and argument. And it sucks.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 08:34 AM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 18, 2006

Shameless Self Promotional Blegging

Multi-talented blogger seeking supplemental income is willing to trade design skills for cold hard cash - or some electronic equivalent! Because I wouldn't expect anyone to buy design services sight unseen, wander over to this site to take a look at my resume and portfolio.

No job is too small, no budget too large.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 01:06 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment


August 17, 2006

The Progressive Democrats' Sales Tax

Reprinted with permission from Running in Circles


by Connor Carney


I consider myself to be fairly liberal on most issues. So some of you might be surprised that I am about to take a position thatís usually the providence of hardcore conservatives. I support HR25 - the Fair Tax Act of 2005.


Yeah. The one that would replace virtually the entire tax system with a 23% sales tax.


I read about it most recently in an unnecessarily hostile editorial by Matthew Holmes. Truth be told, his article did nothing to convince me that the tax is a good thing. But it convinced me to wade through the full text of the legislation, and I've decided that not only is the Fair Tax Act justifiable, it is the ideal legislation for progressive Democrats. I'll explain why.


Defining "Progressive"


I used the word "progressive" up there in my introduction. Exactly what that term means can be a little shaky sometimes, but when we're talking about tax code, it has a pretty clear meaning: people with more money shoulder more of the tax burden. Using this definition, sales taxes are usually something progressives would avoid, since they often hit the poor the hardest. Most sales taxes make life considerably harder for the impoverished, because they increase the cost of basic necessities, making it harder for people to get by.


A National Luxury Tax


This proposal isn't like that. The secret lies in Title II, Sections 301-303, a provision called the "family consumption allowance." These provisions allow families to purchase necessities without paying taxes on them. ("Family" means "1 or more family members sharing a common residence").


This exemption does something interesting: it means that the government would only get taxes from the sales of nonessentials - things that the impoverished, by definition, don't buy. By allowing essential products to be purchased without the tax, it turns the "national sales tax" into something more like a "national luxury tax".


In other words, people who spend most of their money on things like food, clothing, and medicine end up paying almost none of the tax burden, while people who spend a greater percentage of their income on luxuries pay a greater percentage of the tax burden. People who donít have very much money almost uniformly fall into the former group, while people with lots of money almost uniformly fall into the latter group. People with more money shoulder more of the tax burdenóitís as progressive as is gets.


Helping the Needy


The family consumption allowance is a rebate, mailed monthly by the Social Security Administration to families of 1 or more(?!?). According to IIß301, the amount of the rebate check is equal to the product of the tax rate and the poverty level.


Using this definition, families making (and thus spending) less than the poverty level could conceivably receive more money in their rebate check than the actual sales tax rate.


This is a similar concept to the Earned Income Tax Credit currently administered by the IRS, with a few exceptions. Unlike the EITC, it the consumption allowance can be claimed by the unemployed. The consumption allowance would also require a lot less paperwork than the EITCójust names, address, proof of citizenship, etc. That's a good thing for families who are especially time-constrained or people who are poorly educated. And statistics show that such families are exactly the ones who would need such a credit the most.


Tax Evasion


Of course, the Fair Tax Act would also virtually eliminate tax evasion. Right now, companies can move their assets offshore and avoid paying U.S. taxes on them. Some people, particularly business executives and accountants, consider it to be good business.


I, along with most Democrats, consider this to be tax evasion. The Fair Tax Act would put an end to it. The Act would mandate that anything sold in the United States would incur U.S. taxes. There's really no way to outsource that. Businesses couldn't get around it by moving production to China, or by moving their income to Bermuda. If they want to sell their product in America (and they all do), it will be taxed.


There are no less than a thousand articles out there that deal with the tax evasion issue, so I won't say much more about it, but corporate tax evasion is contrary to the spirit of a progressive tax system. It's currently legal in many forms, thanks to loopholes in our indecipherably complex tax code. That's bad, and this would put an end to it.


Illegal Immigration


The Act would also provide a serious new tool in the attempt to end illegal immigration. It wouldn't involve any weapons or border guards or checkpoints or fences - and it wouldn't cost the government a single extra cent. Again, it has to do with the consumption allowance that I talked about a few paragraphs back.


See, only citizens are eligible for the credit. That effectively increases the cost of living for illegal aliens (okay, okay, "undocumented immigrants") by 23% (assuming, of course, that they live under the ceiling for such a credit, which I'm just guessing that most do.


Since the primary motivations for the border jumpers are economic, this throws a wrench in the whole concept of entering the country illegally. It gets at the reasons that illegal immigrants are trying to come into Americaówhich is exactly what a lot of Democrats have been saying we should do all along.


Where Does All The Money Go?


The budget of the IRS is currently over ten billion dollars per year, plus the equivalent of a hundred thousand federal employees. Let's think about that for a moment: ten billion dollars and a hundred thousand people - what could we do with that?


Some of it, of course, would go to the collection agencies established in IIIß302, but not nearly the scale of the IRS. For one thing, there's a lot of administrative overhead that gets out of the way because the new Federal Sales Tax Bureau would, for states that already implement sales tax, be working with an infrastructure that is mostly already in place.


So let's look at what we could do with the money, and with those employees. Let's assume that a high school can accommodate 2400 students for 3 million dollars a year. That's an average - in some places it costs more, in some places less, but it's a fairly realistic estimate. $10 billion would cover the entire cost of operating over three thousand high schools - that's the total cost of educating 7,200,000 students.


And that doesnít include the agency's hundred thousand employees. Let's say we divided them evenly among the states and put them to work in DMV offices. Anybody who has ever applied for a driver's license can appreciate the notion of having 2000 extra people in the DMV office. We could do that, in addition to the school thing, for no more than we are already paying just to operate the IRS.


No Tax Cuts for the Rich


The income tax and payroll tax systems that HR25 would replace have not been working out too well for progressives in the past four years. Why? Because the systems we have in place are too obscure. How many people even know what it means to "tighten the tax brackets?" How many people even realize that their income is not all taxed at the same rate?


The simple fact is, George Bush's "tax cuts for the rich" that were so offensive to the idea of a progressive tax system were only possible because the tax system is so unbelievably complex. Under the system that HR25 proposes, targeting tax cuts at the top 1% of income earners would be not only politically impossible, but literally impossible. Why? Because the system inherently gets a greater percentage from those with more disposable income. (See the section above, "A National Luxury Tax").


Unlike the current system, the national sales tax would do this without any disparity in the established rates. In other words, the only way that politicians could shift the tax burden away from the rich would be to explicitly give them a lower rate. That, my friends, sits in the dictionary as the cardinal example of "political suicide."


But Shouldn't Businesses Pay Their Fair Share?


One of the more obvious questions that comes up when we talk about replacing our entire tax system with a sales tax is whether it shifts too much of the burden away from business. A few people go so far as to say it shifts the entire burden away from business. And quite honestly, I cannot see how that is the case.


The argument that a sales tax shifts the burden away from businesses is fallacious because it assumes that consumers have unlimited disposable income. I will concede that if you are rich enough to believe that, you should absolutely oppose HR25. Most people I know do not have an unlimited supply of money.


If consumers had unlimited spending money, then the businesses could go on as usual. They'd hang on to their existing margins, pass the entire cost of the tax on to consumers, and the price of everything would go up by 23%. Again, that's assuming that every customer has unlimited money.


In the real world, if the price of almost anything were to actually go up by 23%, they would price almost all of their existing customers out of the market. We're talking a serious hit to their sales. So, we can expect most of them to change things to keep their numbers up-to decrease margins in exchange for increased sales. They don't have to, but those who don't will find that most of their customers can't afford their products. No customers= No income= No business.


There is actually an exception to this. Businesses that cater almost exclusively to the indescribably wealthy could conceivably pass the entire cost of the tax to customers, but keep in mind that that is a relatively small market (and will remain that way), simply because so few consumers fall into the "indescribably wealthy" category.


Conclusion


It's kind of hard to believe that I'm finishing up an 1900-word analysis of the tax code. I mean, who am I to evaluate the complex intricacies of tax law?


Ordinarily I'd defer to the accountants on an issue like this. After all, they've studied economics and spent years of their life working with and around the tax code. They know taxes like some people know their way home from work. I, by comparison, am a rank amateur.


But this is an issue where deferring to accountants is profoundly dumb. The accountants, as people who make their living off of a tax code so complex that only trained professionals can understand it, are inherently biased against a tax code so simple that garbage men can understand it.


And so I don't, in this case, trust the people who I would usually look to for analysis. Instead I've done my own analysis, and I'm liking the prospect of a tax code that even I am able to analyze. Pretty cool.


Like most progressive Democrats, I've learned to be pretty averse to sales taxes. But in this case, we have a proposition that actually bolsters everything that progressives fight for in a tax code. I don't believe that any progressive worthy of the cause can oppose HR25, and those who give any thought to it should wholeheartedly support it.



The FairTax Blogburst is jointly produced by Terry of The Right Track Blog and Jonathan of Publius Rendezvous. If you would like to host the weekly postings on your blog, please e-mail Terry. You will be added to our mailing list and blogroll.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 05:32 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment


Life Guarding

We took a little trip to spend some time with friends down at the shore. Beach days, barbecues, rides on the midway, walks on the boardwalk. A splendid time was had by all. Like all of life though there were lessons to be learned.

First, if you are going fro three days pack enough for two. This will insure that you only bring enough for four.

Second, children at the beach do not require folding chairs - as they do not sit. Ever.

Third, as everyone knows it is possible to get a sunburn on a cloudy day and you should apply sun-block before heading to the beach. You should also remember that the presence of clouds does not eliminate the need to reapply at least once during the day.

Fourth, spending many hours standing in a pounding surf watching the boy child digging away at the edge of the tide, and the girl child trying to master body-surfing will wear out your legs.

Fifth, after trying for many hours over several says a six-year-old boy will not learn on his own that it is impossible to hold back the ocean with a pile of sand.

Sixth, there are many distractions to the the father standing watch in the surf - some lesser some greater. The lesser include the occasional plane flying by with a banner, or the life guard blowing his whistle at someone breaking some rule. The greater distractions come in one-piece or two.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 05:00 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 13, 2006

Traveling Man

Packing everyone, and seemingly everything, into the family truckster and going on vacation. Don't know f I'll have access to the interweb or not. Just in case you don't hear from me for a few days, I want to to go this site and master each technique. You may want a partner to help with some of them!

That should keep you busy until I return.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 03:13 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment


August 12, 2006

Best Possible Outcomes

There is a bit of a debate going on between Paul at Powerline and Ed at Captain's Quarters over the Bush Administration role in the U.N. cease fire resolution in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Paul is critical of the Bush administration and Ed agrees with the role the U.S. played. One of the criticisms of Ed that Paul put foreword is

Ed has bought into the notion that there had to be a UN resolution. That's manifestly not the case, except to the extent that the Bush administration was unwilling to take the heat associated with no resolution.
The problem with this is, that it is not that there had to be a U.N. resolution, is that there was going to be. The question facing the Bush administration was - do we just let a resolution happen and veto it in the Security Council? Do we let a resolution favorable to Hezbollah pass and force Israel to either live with it or reject it? Do we get involved and craft a resolution that is as favorable to Israel as possible, putting the burden of its success or failure squarely on Hezbollah and the Lebanese government?

Diplomatically, the U.S. and Israel were being painted into a corner - in large part through their own actions and statements. U.N. action was inevitable. It was either let a Security Council resolution be another diplomatic/PR victory for Hezbollah or use the U.N. to our and Israel's best advantage. If you examine the resolution passed by the Security Council we clearly succeeded in helping Israel.

That we actually got a resolution through the U.N. that was favorable to Israel is cause for celebration not criticism.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 05:43 AM | No Comments | Add Comment


August 11, 2006

Jane's Will and the Coast of Maine

Note: This was written a month or so ago and I have been searching for the envelope full of photos from the trip. I haven’t found them so I am filling in with what pictures I can find online. The photos I am finding of a number of places don't seem to match the descriptions. No doubt the passage of time has affected both the places and the memories. The trip took place in late summer 1986.

A while ago I wrote about how I came to love sailing and Ted asked for more sailing stories. And while I don't know the nature of Ted's thing for sailors, I'm more than happy to oblige. Ted, and the rest of you, will no doubt come to understand the danger in asking a sailor to tell you sailing stories.

Despite my deep love of the water and sailing I have never actually owned my own boat - yet. I have always depended on the boats of others. I guess this makes me sort of a Cato Kalin of sailing. It has worked out well. Race boats have gotten a good crew member. Friends have had someone to bring along who knows what he's doing on the boat. I get to sail.

Such was the case with my friend Philip.

Like most of the stories from my past, this one starts with a woman. I met Philip because he is the brother of my then girlfriend. Though we had broken up buy the time this trip happened.

Philip's Aunt Jane passed away. In her will she left him a little money. Philip used the money to buy a Cape Dory '25 which in her honor he named Jane's Will.

I got a call from Philip one day late in the season. After Labor Day actually. He wanted to take his boat and sail up the coast for a week, but he didn't want to do it alone. My boss was good enough to give me my week vacation with three day's notice so I signed on to go.

Saturday morning we left from the boat's mooring in the in a little summer community called Wyburg, Maine on the New Meadows River. Our destination was Boothbay Harbor.

Boothbay Harbor is the sort of place that most native Mainers avoided between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During the summer it was a tourist destination with crowds and traffic and no place to park. In the off season it was a sleepy costal town with lots of antique shops, gift shops and galleries, a couple of bars worth visiting - and parking.

$12 got us a mooring for the night. Other than the party boat that was cruising the harbor, probably full of locals celebrating a good tourist season and the fact that the tourists had gone, it was quiet and calm.

In the morning I was up just before dawn. There was no activity on shore or on the water. Everything was still. There were several hundred boats in the harbor each one was shifting in the current just enough that a halyard tapped gently against the mast. Each boat produced a slightly different tone. It was like waking up in the middle of giant wind chime.

As the sun rose higher more people began to stir both on the water and on the shore. The magic of the moment faded but the memory hasn't.

The mooring fee included use of a shower facility on shore so we took advantage of that, had a quick breakfast and headed out.

Monhegan Island

Our next destination was only a short sail away. There were three moorings at Monhegan. Two belonged to local fishing boats and the third to a tour boat that made a daily trip from Boothbay. Both of the fishing boats were out so we tied on to one of those.

There were a few houses of permanent residents on the Island, and a few decrepit looking vehicles that were probably ferried to the island in the 60’s. We actually witnessed a few of them in operation. Such mainland niceties as mufflers were long forgotten. I assumed they had breaks but didn’t think testing that theory was a good idea. There is a very nice inn, and a B&B. The main feature is the trails that around the perimeter of the island. (Note: when we visited the guest moorings in the slide show were not available, and the anchorage is not as sheltered as it appears in the photos) By the time we reached the spectacular headlands, I had decided that I wanted to live there.

Then we went back to the boat to have dinner and get some sleep. The one major draw back to visiting the isalnd the way we did is that the three available moorings at Monhegan are completely unprotected. That is they are not tucked into some little sheltered cove. They are right next to the island. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They put them there because the island offers no nice little sheltered cove.

Lying in my berth at night I could see a solitary light on shore through the cabin window. Then the light vanished and I could see the water. The light would reappear briefly before the moon became visible. Then the light. Then the water. The the light. Then the moon. Repeat endlessly.

That night on the mooring off Monhegan is the first and only time in my life that I have ever been sea sick. I spent the night in the cockpit to get some fresh air. I did not sleep. Philip slept like a baby in the forward berth. When he asked if I would rather have breakfast on shore I gave him one of those looks that answers forcefully and with just a hint of an insult to the questioner. So we went to the B+B on the island.

Our next port of call was Matinicus Island. A small fishing village which thankfully had a sheltered harbor. I slept most of the way there having gotten little or no sleep the night before. Philip was good enough to only wake me if he needed to tack or use the head. There were moorings available in the harbor for boats sailing the coast, but judging from the roaring engines and large wakes kicked up by the fisherman leaving in the very early morning, late season boaters might not have been all that welcome.

There really wasn’t much on Matinicus. A dirt air strip. A dozen houses and a church. It seemed to follow the same automotive traditions as Monhegan. But it was beautiful. There was also a little B+B called the Tuck-A-Nuck Lodge. Run by a rather odd little man, it was in the geographic center of the island. Precisely in the only spot on the island where you couldn't see the water.

Outward Bound.

After a peaceful night at Matinicus we set sail for Vinalhaven Island. A large island off Rockport complete with a town and a grocery store. This was a densly populated place in comparison to our previous stops, and seemed to have much higher automotive standards. This was a planned stop because there is not an over abundance of storage on a 25' Cape Dory. We needed food and ice.

We put up for the night in a small cove on nearby Green Island with a dozen other boats anchored for the night. This was the first night we had to rig up the canopy that Philip created for the cockpit. A standard issue hardware store blue tarp and some flexible tent poles. I had actually spent a good part of the first leg of sailing, to Boothbay, sewing channels in the tarp to hold the poles. It worked well in a light rain and few of the other boaters came over to look at the design.

The next day we spent at Hurricane Island, the Maine home of Outward Bound. We tied up to an empty mooring and checked in with the office to see if we could explore. They gave us almost free reign of the island but asked that we keep to the trails. They told us to stay off the rock climbing and ropes courses. The island was spectacular with a network of well maintained trails. It re-confirmed my resolve to live on a remote island.

We got back to the dock just as a group of Outward Bounders arrived back from running the island. They turned on the outdoor (unheated) shower and were gracious enough to allow us to use some water and some of the dish soap they had on hand.

After the shower everyone lined up on the dock - and again we were invited to join. The ritual was to step up to the edge of the dock shout out your favorite food an jump into the water eight feet or so bellow. I don’t remember what food I yelled; probably something impressive like "PIZZA." I was young then. I do recall that when I got back on the dock I got a stern lecture from the person in charge. She did not approve of my choice of diving head first into unknown waters. The literal application of one of life's great metaphores.

We spent the night in the calm of the outward bound cove to be woken by the beginnings of the Outward Bound day. They get started very early. So we had breakfast and set out to sail around VynalHaven Island to the next night’s stop in Pulpit Harbor.

There was not a lot of wind that day so the sailing was rather easy. Philip took the dingy and motored off to explore the shoreline while I ghosted along. (He got a couple of nice pictures of the boat with me at the tiller desperately trying to keep it moving forward. If only I could find them)


Pulpit Harbor was yet another beautiful stop that gets its name from the uniquely shaped rock that dominates the harbor's entrance. It was also quite a popular stop. There were over 50 boats at anchor that night.

There was one that stood out for it's sheer size and the large Union Jack flying from her stern. We of course took the dingy over to get a closer look at Esprit. To give you hint of the scale and style While we were passing they had open a large hatch and in the stern of the boat they had a small car. I would have figured that if you could afford a sailboat of at least 100 feet you could probably afford to rent a car where ever you went, but I could be wrong.

We got under way early the next morning as we were now on the way home. This part of the trip was less about seeing things than about getting as far down the coast as possible. We were heading for George Head Island. Not much to tell about it except that there was some sort of fish farm there. We arrived and set anchor at dusk. Ate and went to bed.

The wind was up the next day which made for a lively reach toward our final overnight stop at Damriscove Island off Boothbay Harbor. I was on galley duty for lunch and I don’t think I had a more difficult time making a PB&J.

Not much of an island just a little spit of land in the ocean with a lighthouse. Incredibly Beautiful. But unlike our previous Island stay off Boothbay it did provide a sheltered anchorage. It was a very narrow cut into the island that just held the half a dozen boats that pulled in. We had to pull anchor once when someone with knowledge of the place told us that we would likely find ourselves high and dry come low tide.

Our final destination was an easy sail in the forecast conditions so we lingered over breakfast and were rewarded for or sloth.

There was a 40 footer in the cove for the night with two families on board. My guess is that the men on board were brothers. They pulled up their anchor and one of the brothers was at the helm the other was in the bow peering into the water looking for rocks. At one point he began to softly wave to port. The brother driving apparently didn't see any urgency in the gesture. As they were really going too fast for the situation they hit the rock hard.

There was an audible crash and the stern rose about 3 feet out of the water. I don't know how the forward brother managed to stay on the boat. No one was hurt and apparently the boat wasn't damage to the point of taking on water. They backed off the rock and continued on their way. Through the binoculars I could see the brothers continue to shout at each other long after I could no longer hear them.

Our own trip home was uneventful and without shouting.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, though I think maybe we need a bigger boat.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 04:08 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


The Stench of Moral Equivalence

I struggle to find the words to adequately express my disgust with the comments made by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: But, here we have maybe 24 people who have lived in London and England and the free world for all these years that become citizens, subjects of the Crown, and yet, after having gotten to know us, they want to kill themselves to hurt us. Isn’t that an even deeper conundrum here than the chemicals being used in these attacks.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And that, Chris, that last aspect, the willingness to take one’s own life. I always tell people there are guys on our team like that, too. They’re called Army Rangers and Navy Seals and the Special Forces folks and the first responders on 9/11 who went into those buildings knowing, by the way, they weren’t going to come out. So we have players like that on our team.(emphasis added)
How this man can find a moral equivalence between people who deliberately take their own lives in order to kill, maim and destroy and people who risk their lives to save and protects the lives of others is beyond all comprehension.

He has maligned men and women of tremendous honor and courage. People who would march into combat to protect his freedom. People who would rush into a burning building to save his life. People who would do that despite his comparing their heroism to the actions of murderous terrorists.

Those are the kind of players we have on our team and Williams owes them not only his life and his freedom, but an apology.

NOTE: The above has been sent to NBC.

Hat Tip to Hot Air where you can watch this cretin on video.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 01:43 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment


August 10, 2006

Coincidences In the News

I can sometimes understand how the mind of a conspiracy nut works. I can do this because sometimes my mind works that way too. The essential ingredient in cooking up a good theory is the coincidence.

Take the news of the last several days for instance.

2 men are arrested and accused of laundering money for terrorist organizations. They have in their possession $11,000 in cash, airline manifests and 12 cell phones.

Days ago, we learned of 11 young Egyptian men who disappeared from the airport instead of taking their connecting flight.

Today we learn the U.K. broke up a terrorist plot to blow up multiple airliners.

Really it's all just coincidence.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at 12:19 PM | No Comments | Add Comment


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