Archive for February, 2010

Who pays what in taxes, and how it’s changed

This site has been host to a lot of discussion in recent months about the changing distribution of wealth in America, the relative tax burden we all bear and how that burden ought to be allocated among income groups. But a lot of that debate has gotten bogged down by citations of slanted or incomplete statistics, or statistics that make it hard to compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges.

So I thought I’d try to set some parameters for the debate by laying out the fairest, most definitive statistics I could find on those topics and offering them as a common ground for discussion. Think of this as an effort to establish a common factual basis for debate, something that has become more and more rare.

As a starting point, let’s look at how much household income is paid in total federal taxes. Again, that’s total taxes paid to the federal government — income taxes, payroll taxes, gasoline taxes, excise taxes, capital gains and corporate taxes, estate taxes, etc. That seems the …

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NYC terror suspect pleads guilty in civilian court

NEW YORK (AP) — A former Denver airport shuttle driver admitted Monday to a plot to bomb the New York City subways, saying he was recruited by al-Qaida in Pakistan for a “martyrdom plan” against the United States.

“I would sacrifice myself to bring attention to what the U.S. military was doing to civilians in Afghanistan,” Najibullah Zazi, 25, told a federal judge in a Brooklyn courtroom.

The Afghan native pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization. He faces a life prison sentence without parole at a sentencing in June….

Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the jailed Zazi recently volunteered information about the bomb plot during a meeting with his attorney and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. The sit-down, known as a proffer session, typically signals that a defendant has begun cooperating in a bid for a plea deal.

One of …

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Obama renews health-care push, eyes way to sidestep filibuster

As promised, President Obama has unveiled his own health-insurance reform proposal three days before Thursday’s scheduled summit with members of Congress, allowing all sides time to study the package and propose their own improvements.

From the New York Times:

But among Republicans leaders, the initial reaction was negative. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, said that Mr. Obama had “crippled the credibility” of Thursday’s meeting by proposing “the same massive government takeover of health care.”

… The bill is intended to achieve Mr. Obama’s broad goals of expanding coverage to the uninsured while driving down health premiums and imposing what the White House calls “common sense rules of the road” for insurers, including ending the unpopular practice of discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. It would offer more money to help cash-strapped states pay for Medicaid over a four-year period, and, in a nod to concerns among the …

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The party that refuses to listen to the generals’ advice

When Gen. David Petraeus spoke in Atlanta recently, he drew a strong turnout from Georgia Republicans. You also heard whisperings from some in the audience that someday, someday, Petraeus might be running for president under the GOP banner.

I very much doubt that would happen. Petraeus is certainly a political general; you don’t excel at a job like his without political skills. But I don’t see Petraeus running for elective office under either party’s banner.

That said, the general has also made clear his disagreement with much of what seems to motivate self-styled “national security conservatives,” who embrace policies based on their appeal to macho instincts rather than their wisdom. Petraeus struck a number of those notes in an appearance Sunday on Meet The Press:

On torture:

“I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten …

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Tiger Woods not ready to leave his bubble

Personally, the most interesting part of Tiger Woods’ media spectacle Friday was Woods’ insistence on exerting total control over the situation. Even as he sought forgiveness and tried to project a sense of chastened humility, he did so in an event that was conducted solely on Tiger’s terms, by Tiger’s rules, within a context that Tiger determined.

It lent a cold, clinical tone to an event dripping with human drama, and in the end the combination was just weird.

Part of that might be attributed to Woods’ profession. In golf, success comes to those who successfully eliminate all variables — physical, mental as well as emotional. Once you control all those outside things, you can better dictate the flight of a small white object over hundreds of yards. Woods’ physical gifts are enormous, but when other golfers discuss his dominance, they reserve their highest praise for the extraordinary focus that he brings to the golf course. That demand for control was clearly on display …

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Some travelin’ music toward the cheating side of town

Elin Woods did not appear at today’s press statement by her husband, Tiger. I don’t blame her; he’s the one who messed up, he’s the one who should clean up that mess.

But if she were to make a statement, I suspect it might go something like this, as delivered by the great Miss Julie London:

That may be the best version of that song I’ve ever heard.

So tonight’s theme? Cheating songs, of course. Broken hearts and lying two-timers.

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I wonder how Ferris Bueller would respond to something like this

Here’s a weird little story out of suburban Philadelphia. School district buys laptops for students. School district secretly installs software that allows it to activate the webcam feature on the laptop. School official allegedly uses feature to spy on 15-year-old boy at home. Lawsuit ensues.

Is this a great country or what?

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“The suit says that in November, assistant principal Lynn Matsko called in sophomore Blake Robbins and told him that he had “engaged in improper behavior in his home,” and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam in his school-issued laptop.

Matsko later told Robbins’ father, Michael, that the district “could remotely activate the webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop . . . at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam” without the knowledge or approval of the laptop’s users, the suit says.

It does not say what improper activity Robbins was accused of or what, if …

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Proposed transportation bill actually looks promising

To tell you the truth, it’s a bit hard to believe.

After years of disappointment and frustration, of false starts, unkept promises and half-baked proposals, state leaders have come up with a realistic means of financing and building much-needed regional transportation infrastructure, including transit projects.

It’s actually a serious, workable, well-thought-out and balanced piece of legislation.

To make things even better, state leaders seem strongly unified in their support for House Bill 1218, which was introduced Tuesday after weeks of negotiation behind closed doors.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, for example, had a big hand in the bill’s creation; his House floor leader is its chief sponsor. House Speaker David Ralston and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts are co-sponsors, which bodes well for its prospects in the House.

On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle also supports the approach and is “looking on it very favorably,” according to his office.

So … pass the thing, …

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Fantasies, wishful thinking fuel right-wing momentum

Marco Rubio, the conservative former speaker of the Florida House, is now leading Gov. Charlie Crist in that state’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Yesterday, Rubio spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, where by all accounts he was a great hit.

“I was standing backstage with tears,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said afterward. “Reminding myself what we have with Marco. What a treasure.”

There weren’t many — or really any — specifics in Rubio’s speech. It was more like a spirited restatement of conservative grudges and resentments. The closest thing to a policy discussion was this:

“Let’s reform the tax code and reduce tax rates across the board.

Let’s eliminate double taxation by abolishing the taxes on capital gains, on dividends, on interest. And while we’re at it, let’s eliminate the one on death, too.

Let’s significantly lower the corporate tax rates so that once again it’s competitive with the rest of the world… And finally, let’s …

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Pilot in Austin IRS attack, Joe Stack, linked to anti-government rant

The pilot who flew a private plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas has been identified by federal officials as Joseph Stack.

A man using that name has also posted a lengthy diatribe against the IRS and the U.S. government. Our fellow Cox newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, has posted the full rant on its website. Here are its concluding paragraphs:

“I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can …

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