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Archive for July 23rd, 2010

In his Chicago Tribune column, Steve Champman suggests that the TSA’s bureaucratic inefficiency does more harm than good, especially if we place any value of liberty.
Get rid of the no-fly list entirely. For that matter, get rid of the requirement that passengers provide government-approved identification just to go from one place to another. Americans have a constitutionally protected right, recognized by the Supreme Court, to travel freely. They also have the right not to be subject to unreasonable searches and other government intrusions. But in the blind pursuit of safety, we have swallowed restrictions on travel and infringements on privacy we would never tolerate elsewhere. The no-fly list is a punishment in search of a crime. As Richard Sobel, a director of the Cyber Privacy Project and a scholar at Northwestern University, points out, it inflicts a penalty without a trial or any other form of due process. The TSA doesn’t say what it takes to get on the list, and it doesn’t make it crystal clear how to get off. If it acts in an arbitrary or malicious way, the victim has little recourse except appealing to the agency’s better angels. But the whole idea behind the list doesn’t make much sense. Supposedly, we have hundreds or even thousands of U.S. residents who are too dangerous to be allowed on a plane — but safe enough to be trusted in all sorts of other places (subway trains, sports venues, shopping malls, skyscrapers) where someone carrying a bomb or a gun could wreak havoc. If those on the list are truly dangerous, the government should arrest and prosecute them, with their guilt decided by courts. If they are not dangerous enough to arrest, they should have the same freedom to travel as everyone else. We don’t prohibit all ex-convicts from flying. How can we justify barring people convicted of nothing? …Not so many years ago, Sobel notes, you could show up without a reservation or a ticket at Washington’s National Airport (now Reagan National Airport), walk onto the hourly shuttle to LaGuardia, take a seat and pay your fare in cash. No one knew who you were, and no one cared.

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In the future, all dictionary publishers should get rid of their existing definitions for “hypocrisy” and replace them with a photo of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He’s just been caught committing the horrible sin of saving his family more than $500,000 by domiciling his new yacht in Rhode Island (which is a tax haven for such luxuries) rather than his home state. Or at least Senator Kerry says that tax planning is a horrible sin with conducted by “Benedict Arnold” companies and facilitated by those wicked tax havens. But I guess that it’s not such a bad thing when Senator Kerry is protecting his wealth. For the rest of us peasants, it’s our job to meekly get in line and submit to whatever taxes Senator Kerry graciously decides to impose.
Sen. John Kerry, who has repeatedly voted to raise taxes while in Congress, dodged a whopping six-figure state tax bill on his new multimillion-dollar yacht by mooring her in Newport, R.I. Isabel – Kerry’s luxe, 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage – was designed by Rhode Island boat designer Ted Fontaine. But instead of berthing the vessel in Nantucket, where the senator summers with the missus, Teresa Heinz, Isabel’s hailing port is listed as “Newport” on her stern. Could the reason be that the Ocean State repealed its Boat Sales and Use Tax back in 1993, making the tiny state to the south a haven – like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Nassau – for tax-skirting luxury yacht owners? Cash-strapped Massachusetts still collects a 6.25 percent sales tax and an annual excise tax on yachts. Sources say Isabel sold for something in the neighborhood of $7 million, meaning Kerry saved approximately $437,500 in sales tax and an annual excise tax of about $70,000. …state Department of Revenue spokesguy Bob Bliss confirmed the senator “is under no obligation to pay the commonwealth sales tax.”

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The Wall Street Journal ponders the mini-tax revolt among some Democrats, ranging from Kent Conrad in the Senate to Jerrold Nadler in the House, who are suddenly making arguments that it would be a bad idea to allow higher tax rates in 2011 (because the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts automatically expire).
 
I’m not holding my breath waiting for good results. Almost all of the Democrat “tax cutters” are making flawed Keynesian arguments, so they don’t even understand why it’s a good idea to focus on lowering marginal tax rates. But the WSJ’s editorial makes a good point about accepting good policy even if it’s based on bad analysis. But since extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would require the support of almost 20 Democrat Senators and 40 Democrat Congressmen, I’m afraid it’s a moot issue – especially since the Obama White House is dominated by the hate-n-envy class-warfare crowd.

The revelation that tax increases could hurt the economy has recently been heard from Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and, most surprising, even from Kent Conrad of North Dakota. On a scale of unlikely events, this is like the Pope coming out against celibacy. As Senate Budget Chairman, Mr. Conrad has rarely seen a tax increase he didn’t like, but this week he averred that “As a general rule, you don’t want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn.” …Even Jerrold Nadler, a liberal from central casting, is worrying publicly that the tax hike will hit his New York constituents too hard. And he’s certainly right given that the combined top state and federal income tax rate will be close to 54% in 2011 in New York City. Mr. Nadler is proposing—seriously—to adjust the income tax brackets based on regional cost of living so fewer New Yorkers pay the rates …These are hardly supply-side conversions, but they’re a start. The economic recovery is far from robust, and socking it with one of the largest tax increases in history in January is not going to make anyone more eager to invest or create new jobs. Even Lord Keynes opposed raising taxes in a recession, and good Keynesian Democrats like the late economist Walter Heller persuaded JFK to cut tax rates in the 1960s. Those cuts kicked off that decade’s economic boom. Only in the age of Obama have Democrats convinced themselves that the best “stimulus” is higher spending and higher taxes. …even if all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent, the share of national output that goes toward federal income taxes will in every year stay well above the post-World War II average of 8.2%. Income tax receipts will rise gradually to 10% of GDP, even with the current tax rates intact, because as the economy grows the progressive tax code takes a larger share. If tax increases weaken the economy, revenues won’t increase as fast as Democrats hope and the deficit won’t fall by as much in any case. Which brings us back to the Speaker, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Mr. Obama, who remain prisoners of their spend-and-tax dogma. Even as the Democratic tax revolt broke into the open yesterday morning, the White House rolled out Mr. Geithner to declare that the tax increases will arrive as scheduled. So the same Mr. Geithner who says the economy is weak enough that we must have new spending “stimulus” says it is strong enough to endure a huge tax increase.

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