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Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

In case it’s not clear in my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I did enjoy it. The event’s crowd control was nonexistent and the AV was inadequate, so my group opted to watch it from the cozy confines of Elephant & Castle on nearby Pennsylvania Avenue.  The pub had all of the energy of the Mall, but with better seating and refreshments.

“We live now in hard times, not end times”, declared Jon Stewart to an overflowing crowd of some 200,000 ironic-sign-toting fans on the National Mall in Washington, DC. “We can have animus and not be enemies.”

Stewart, the smart and popular host of “The Daily Show”, a satirical news programme, was addressing the many who had come for his October 30th “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”, which he co-hosted with Stephen Colbert, the star of the faux conservative spin-off show, “The Colbert Report”. But despite such a grand assembly ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, the event was surprisingly apolitical. After hours of entertainingly neglecting the concerns held by most voters, Stewart finally turned serious. His target? The media.

“The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder,” he announced.

Amid Stewart’s scorn for punditry, he managed to squander an opportunity to address the problems he claims the media spin-cycle distorts. The result was a “Rally to Shift the Blame“, laments David Carr of the New York Times, who went on to write that “media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election’s closing days, and no American governing institution—not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court—seems to be above petty partisan bickering.” In a rally dedicated to restoring sanity, Stewart let himself be distracted by a symptom instead of a root cause of America’s current bout of manic depression.

As someone hosting a rally of hundreds of thousands of people in the nation’s capital, Stewart had the platform and even the obligation to say more than he did.

Click here to read the rest of my rally review (with a real T-Paine reference!) on More Intelligent Life or to make a comment.

Photo credit: lizstless (via Flickr)

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This is my second post on a topic of my choice for The Prospect‘s writing test. The first is here.

If you had asked me last week what lessons the US can learn from the Greek crisis, I would have only said, “don’t ask Goldman for debt advice.” Then over the weekend I read an insightful dispatch from Suzanne Daley in Athens:

In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools.

So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area—a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates—and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools.

That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here, points to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here.

It sounds like Greece is finally beginning to address the corrosive influence tax evasion and loopholes have had on both its battered budget and frayed social contract.

Tax evasion—long a favorite pastime in parts of southern Europe—is essentially an abdication of an individual’s commitment to society. Taxpayers provide revenue to the government, which in return provides public goods and services that markets fail to adequately produce. For example, most governments create transportation infrastructure and regulate water utilities. In Athens, the wealthiest citizens have upset this equation. They drive home along winding suburban streets and bask in pools filled with clean, subsidized municipal water—both of which are paid for in larger part by more honest (or audited) Greeks. The remainder of the balance has been paid for with unsustainable loads of foreign debt. As Daley notes, Greece “may be losing as much as $30 billion a year to tax evasion—a figure that would have gone a long way to solving its debt problems.”

Loopholes in Greece are less insidious, but also problematic. They exempt politicians’ favored constituencies from paying the full cost of the federal services they receive. Easily and inconspicuously slipped into law as an amendment to an unrelated bill, a tax giveaway then becomes maddeningly difficult to repeal. The beneficiaries will go all out to defend a targeted advantage most taxpayers are not even aware had been granted. Daley highlights one successfully repealed license to steal: Greek newsstand owners could avoid auditing by simply declaring an income of 12,000 euros (about $15,900). Any additional income was essentially tax-free.

All this lost tax revenue has added up. As Will Hutton reported in February, “uncollected tax runs at 13.6% of national output per year—more than the deficit.” No longer able to cheaply finance their growing sovereign debt on the skittish bond markets, Greek leaders have been forced to strengthen the country’s tax code. Unlike the cuts to wages, pensions, and public services that Prime Minister Papandreou’s Socialist government has been forced to make, this politically unpopular move will broadly benefit Greek society.

Although it may not be as flagrant or pervasive, America also suffers from tax evasion and a gamed tax code. (more…)

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For The American Prospect‘s excellent (and highly competitive) fellowship program I had to submit two article critiques and a critique of their group blog TAPPED, among much else. This article critique was assigned, the second critique is of an article I selected for myself. I’m still waiting–with fingers crossed–to hear back from the Prospect.

To improve the lot of the lowest, we must increase the taxes on those at the top.

Little more than a year after Wall Street’s bad bets brought the world economy crashing down, NYU Professor Dalton Conley told American Prospect readers, “don’t blame the billionaires.” This might have struck some as audacious after the implosion of the global economy, the cleaning up of which has disproportionately benefited the very same billionaire bankers who played such a central role in engineering the collapse.

Yet Conley was merely reiterating what was then and now conventional wisdom about the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. In a June 2006 issue featuring a special report on American income inequality, The Economist editorialized, “government should not be looking for ways to haul the rich down. Rather, it should help others, especially the extremely poor, to climb up.”  Two Brookings Institution scholars echoed this sentiment in a recent Huffington Post column, “America Needs More Economic Mobility.” This viewpoint overlooks one key question: Is it possible for the inequality of wealth and income to reach such a level that it inherently limits the economic opportunity open to those at the bottom?
(more…)

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