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Category: Politics

A Million Dollar Idea
The fantasy of tax reform is always beckoning to politicians on both the left and the right. They are on high alert now, because a moment is approaching during which something major might actually get done about our current tax system. There will be talk of the flat tax again, and the national sales tax, and its cousin the VAT — all of which will shine briefly then die of suffocation in Washington. It is into this vacuum of hopelessness that I would like to introduce my own humble vision of a kinder, saner tax system.

I call it the Million Dollar Idea. It envisions a system under which individuals would be limited to a net income, after taxes, of one million dollars. To enforce the limit, we’d return to a steeply graduated income tax. I see that sliding scale beginning to slide at about $20,000 then get steeper and steeper until it gets to the million dollar mark and hits 100%.

Deductions would be allowed, but I think this might be a good time to rethink that whole system as well. In my view, charitable contributions, including donations to non-political non-profits, should still be honored. I am open to negotiation on other deductions, but the simpler we keep it the better. We must be very careful, in any case, not to allow any loophole that might undermine our goal of limiting income.

I will also negotiate on the million dollar limit. If our leaders, in their wisdom, wanted to make the limit lower, then they would have my blessing. At a million, I think we’re being quite generous. I’m not rich myself, so my point of view might be skewed, but that seems like a very large amount of spending money to have available over the course of a year. Plus, it’s a nice, round number that would work well on a bumper sticker.

If we even need bumper stickers, that is. I am confident that the wisdom and the moral righteousness of the Million Dollar Idea would be immediately evident to most of us. Not only is a tax-free million plenty of money to get by on, I think a lot of people would say that taking more would be a sinful.

Yes, sinful. Greed is still a sin, isn’t it? We tax cigarettes and liquor and marijuana, why not avarice? The current system encourages and rewards greed; that cannot be healthy for our society, much less our immortal souls. Ask Pope Francis; he knows what I’m talking about.

If you’re concerned about how this unusual stricture might affect our economy, you shouldn’t be. There might be a little chaos at first, but that would be just the kind of problem that markets would actually be good at solving. The only pain caused by the new system would be experienced by the rich, and that would be a refreshing change of pace. I’m not certain, come to think of it, that we could even call it pain; a mild tingling sensation would be more like it.

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor would narrow, and maybe — just maybe — we might all begin to see that our fate and fortunes really are tied together. And who knows? A greed tax might just head off the coming revolution and save the lives of a whole lot of investment bankers. You see? Everybody’s a winner.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t such a humble vision after all. I want to revamp the tax code, salvage our free enterprise system, and save the soul of capitalism. Not that Washington cares much about humility. Or greed, for that matter. It’s money that gets the most attention there, and with billions of dollars at stake, I guess the Million Dollar Idea has as much chance as any other tax reform proposal — which is close to none.
The Party's Over
I’m concerned about the Tea Partiers. Yes, in the way you’re thinking, but also in a broader sense. I’m worried about what will happen to these poor wretches after the current ugliness blows over.

Someday soon, they will be thrown overboard by the GOP establishment in a desperate effort to save that party’s foundering ship. Ironically, those same Republican leaders had welcomed them on board for that very purpose in 2008, but now the newcomers have proved to be more trouble than they are worth. Once ejected, these demented creatures will be left to sink or swim on their own, and their prospects for political survival are not bright. They will sink to the bottom like stones.

Even so, they will still be with us…a full quarter of the population, completely at the mercy of their emotions, especially fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of the Other. Are they not clinically insane? And they could rise again, summoned by the next demagogue to come along. That’s why I’m concerned. These people are our fellow citizens, but as we’ve just witnessed, they are dangerous and unpredictable. Like an unexploded bomb. Shouldn’t we do something to, uh, help them? If only to protect ourselves? Even if they are sick puppies, aren’t you supposed to take care of sick puppies?

Maybe Obamacare will help.
Fair Is Fair
Life is unfair. The universe owes us nothing — no particular outcome and no explanation for what it does. That’s just how the universe rolls, and sometimes we end up as road kill.

If the universe has no duty to us, then, should we expect any better from ourselves? I’m going to say yes, and I’ll tell you why: because humans, unlike the universe, have expectations. We do care; that’s why we have governments. Let me suggest, in fact, that the highest aspiration of government should be to make life fair for all of its citizens. It’s not about love, or religion, or a brilliant idea, but rather about simple fairness. The closer our institutions come to giving it to us, the better off we will all be.

It’s an impossible task, of course. We are only human; the all-powerful universe can be unfair if it pleases. But that doesn’t mean we have to be.
Thinking with Your Gun
It may be that the law has no remedy for the injustice done by George Zimmerman. Technically, he may not be guilty of murder or manslaughter or even negligent homicide. He may have a right as a private citizen, under the law, to stalk a teenager late at night while carrying a loaded firearm. Perhaps there is no way to punish a man for shadowing a boy he thinks is suspicious, even though the teenager had a perfect right and reason to be where he was.

And if Trayvon Martin, spooked by this close pursuit, turned to protect himself, well, it is then George’s right to stand his ground and fire his weapon. That is, after all, how the state law reads.

Perhaps the U.S. Attorney, seeing the injustice done in the criminal courts of Florida, will decide to charge that Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated or perhaps that he was the victim of a hate crime. The Martin family may file suit against Zimmerman for their son’s wrongful death. It’s quite possible, however, that none of these efforts will result in justice being done.

There is clearly a racial component to this story, but let’s set that aside for now and view this incident simply as an interaction between two citizens, one carrying a gun and one not. Each was doing what he was lawfully entitled to do. One was going about his business, and the other was making that business his own. Something made George decide to force the issue and play out a script he had written in his head about Trayvon. What’s more, he was prepared to back up his fantasy with a deadly weapon.

I can’t imagine Zimmerman being so brazen as to openly follow someone at night if he weren’t armed. To do so would be to subject himself to the obvious danger that his quarry might turn and confront his stalker. It was the gun that made this foolish idea become reasonable. After all, if things get dicey, you can always shoot your quarry dead.

It is obvious that Trayvon Martin would not have died if there had been no gun. In fact, he wouldn’t have been followed in the first place. It was the gun that emboldened Zimmerman to follow the boy. It was the gun that gave him the will to act on his misguided suspicions. It was the gun that fulfilled its own prophecy and discharged a bullet into Trayvon’s beating heart.

Stupidity is one of the constants of human existence. We are all stupid. Carrying a gun, since it clothes us in feelings of invincibility, magnifies our stupidity. In this case, we see that sometimes the gun can even move to fill the void between our ears and start doing our thinking for us.

Don’t believe the gun advocates. Guns do kill people. The stupid humans are only there to pull the trigger. If it’s justice we’re looking for at the end of this story, then we should move now to keep these weapons out of the hands of stupid people. And that means all of us, citizen.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee