Most Americans spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours attempting, not always successfully, to do their tax returns. We spend almost $30 billion paying accountants to fill out the complicated forms, and by some estimates we devote $110 billion of our own labor just keeping track of all the necessary records and paperwork. Americans pay about 85 percent of the taxes they owe, better than in most countries, but the shortfall is still a drain on the Treasury (and the rich seem to find a way to avoid taxes legally). Is this costly, demoralizing struggle between the IRS and the rest of us really necessary?
The short answer is no. There is a way to relieve almost all Americans of the annual April 15 nightmare. What’s more, it’s a necessary first step toward a plan to cut the looming federal deficit. The time is right for thoroughgoing tax reform—a true clean slate—that will bring in more revenue while giving the public a greater sense of fairness. The reforms we propose will even allow most people to take home more pay than they do now.
The place to start is to cut almost everyone’s payroll and income taxes by half. Yes, you read that right. Cut most tax rates, which now run from 10 to 39 percent, by half. All individual taxes would be collected through company withholding taxes on compensation (salary, bonus, deferred payments, etc.) and investment income (dividends, interest, capital gains, rents) to individuals. The very rich—those making more than $2 million a year—would still pay a top tax rate of 30 percent on earned income. The rate on investment income would be 15 percent. The result: individuals would not have to file tax returns, most Americans would take home more pay than they do now, the tax base would be broadened, and the AMT—the alternative minimum tax, which sweeps up more taxpayers every year—would be eliminated.
Too good to be true? There’s no free lunch. The revenue lost to the government—roughly half of all personal federal taxes—has to come from someplace else. The best fix is to eliminate all deductions and exemptions for individual taxpayers—all those tax breaks that were intended to promote economic activity or serve worthy social goals but have ended up creating myriad unfair outcomes. It’s true that the wealthiest 1 percent currently pays about 18 percent of all taxes. Still, thanks to clever tax dodges, the top 400 income earners pay an average tax rate of 16.6 percent; megabillionaire Warren Buffett notes that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.
Johnson faces Dave Westlake in the September Republican primary. The winner will take on 18 year incumbent Democrat Senator Russ Feingold.
In my humble opinion, should the November election turn on economic issues, the Republicans will win (Feingold’s 30 years in the political world is a liability in this scenario). On the other hand, should the election turn on debates, Russ will be tough to beat.
I hope we have a serious competitor to Herb Kohl…..
Last Friday was a scramble for government security personnel and independent privacy advocates, and should also have stood out to anyone concerned with the growth of online commerce, civic action, and social networking. The U.S. government’s Office of Management and Budget, which is the locus of President Obama’s drive toward transparency and open government, popped out three major initiatives that combine to potentially change the landscape for online identity and privacy, not only within government but across the Internet.
In this blog I’ll summarize the impacts of all three documents, as well as the next steps that I see necessary in these areas. The documents (all distributed as PDFs, which is not the easiest format to draw commentary) are:
A discussion draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Comments can be viewed and entered on a feedback site.
An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies.
An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Agency Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications.
These documents are not long, but the complexity of the policy areas they address ensure that no blog could cover everything of importance, nor could a single commentator like me provide a well-rounded view. I’ll focus on the changes they make to policies that are known to require change, with a “job well done” pat on the back. In highlighting gaps and omissions, I’ll deliberately swim around the shoals that others have loudly pointed to already, focusing instead on problems that I believe deserve more attention.
I’ve appreciated a number of Russ’s votes, but found his recent vote to kill the Washington, DC voucher program unpalatable. No K-12 program is perfect, but given the very challenging District K-12 climate, it is difficult to see the status quo improving on its own.
WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.
Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
“To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none… The cause-creating drive is thus conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear…” Friedrich Nietzsche
“Any explanation is better than none.” And the simpler, it seems in the investment game, the better. “The markets went up because oil went down,” we are told, except when it went up there was another reason for the movement of the markets. We all intuitively know that things are far more complicated than that. But as Nietzsche noted, dealing with the unknown can be disturbing, so we look for the simple explanation.
“Ah,” we tell ourselves, “I know why that happened.” With an explanation firmly in hand, we now feel we know something. And the behavioral psychologists note that this state actually releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. We become literally addicted to the simple explanation. The fact that what we “know” (the explanation for the unknowable) is irrelevant or even wrong is not important to the chemical release. And thus we look for reasons.
How does an event like a problem in Greece (or elsewhere) affect you, gentle reader? And I mean, affect you down where the rubber hits your road. Not some formula or theory about the velocity of money or the effect of taxes on GDP. That is the question I was posed this week. “I want to understand why you think this is so important,” said a friend of Tiffani. So that is what I will attempt to answer in this week’s missive, as I write a letter to my kids trying to explain the nearly inexplicable.
On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.
Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?
“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.
The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:
At first glance, McLeod’s Tyre Shop in Lucedale, Mississippi, seems an unlikely venue for a political salon. It is a large, spare room, its contents pushed to the corners as if by an invisible centrifugal force, or maybe the weak wind of the ceiling fan. To the right of the entrance, four tyres stand on tiny podiums like sculptures in an art gallery. In the far right-hand corner of the room, a large 1920s stove slumbers beneath a Mississippi State football flag, which Doug McLeod hung to taunt his rivals from Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi. And in the far left-hand corner, a long counter is crowded with well-thumbed copies of every newspaper (local, state and national) from the past two weeks – kindling for starting and settling scores.
“A Mississippi lady once asked me where I went to church. I told her Sacred Heart and she said, ‘Well, we all have to worship somewhere, don’t we?’”
We walk in at the tail end of an argument between four men, just in time for McLeod to jam his finger into one of the newspapers and say, with an air of finality, “And that’s why they should raise interest rates.” McLeod has owned this tyre shop for more than 30 years, and in that time he has established himself as a local character and the shop as a destination: a place where he and others can hold forth. The scene is both chaotic and relaxed, with high-energy McLeod spinning like a top while visitors sit or lean, idling on about all subjects but their tyres.
The men assembled here, in one of the most Republican counties in the American deep south, are conservative. In fact, the latest demographics say they – southern, white males aged over 35 – are the Republican party. Despite differences on many subjects – football, Ford trucks, fiscal policy – they all agree that their interests are not represented in Washington, not by Barack Obama and the Democrats and not even by their own party.
We should remember what it felt like one year ago, as the ability to recall it emotionally will pass and it is an emotional memory as much as anything else. It was a moment rare in a democracy’s history. The feeling was palpable–to supporters and opponents alike–that something important had happened. America had elected, the young candidate promised, a transformational president. And wrapped in a campaign that had produced the biggest influx of new voters and small-dollar contributions in a generation, the claim seemed credible, almost intoxicating, and just in time.
Yet a year into the presidency of Barack Obama, it is already clear that this administration is an opportunity missed. Not because it is too conservative. Not because it is too liberal. But because it is too conventional. Obama has given up the rhetoric of his early campaign–a campaign that promised to “challenge the broken system in Washington” and to “fundamentally change the way Washington works.” Indeed, “fundamental change” is no longer even a hint.
Instead, we are now seeing the consequences of a decision made at the most vulnerable point of Obama’s campaign–just when it seemed that he might really have beaten the party’s presumed nominee. For at that moment, Obama handed the architecture of his new administration over to a team that thought what America needed most was another Bill Clinton. A team chosen by the brother of one of DC’s most powerful lobbyists, and a White House headed by the quintessential DC politician. A team that could envision nothing more than the ordinary politics of Washington–the kind of politics Obama had called “small.” A team whose imagination–politically–is tiny.
These tiny minds–brilliant though they may be in the conventional game of DC–have given up what distinguished Obama’s extraordinary campaign. Not the promise of healthcare reform or global warming legislation–Hillary Clinton had embraced both of those ideas, and every other substantive proposal that Obama advanced. Instead, the passion that Obama inspired grew from the recognition that something fundamental had gone wrong in the way our government functions, and his commitment to reform it.
For Obama once spoke for the anger that has now boiled over in even the blue state Massachusetts–that our government is corrupt; that fundamental change is needed. As he told us, both parties had allowed “lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system.” And “unless we’re willing to challenge [that] broken system…nothing else is going to change.” “The reason” Obama said he was “running for president [was] to challenge that system.” For “if we’re not willing to take up that fight, then real change–change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans–will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo.”