Thursday, April 16, 2009

A taxing day

It was great fun watching how the various cable news channels (why are they called networks if there's only one station?) covered Wednesday's tax protests around the country. As in, were they really watching the same events?

Fox News was treating it as if it were the Bicentennial or some other event of that stature, jumping from site to site around the country with anchors on the scene. In fact, anchor Glenn Beck's report was even played over loudspeakers to the crowd so that his lines could receive applause and cheers. (By the way, I haven't watched Beck for more than a few minutes, but based on Wednesday I'd say the tone of his rhetoric matches his new employer, Fox, much better than his old employer, CNN.)

Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC seemed to be ignoring or downplaying the rallies as much as possible. At night, when the more opinionated crews come on, MSNBC had a case of the giggles at times in getting to say the world "teabagging" on the air while making fun of the rallies. Then did a report on how immature MSNBC and CNN were in their coverage. I'd say they all acted like six-year-olds, but that would be unfair ... to six-year-olds. No doubt about it -- this was a very strange day of news broadcasting.

Based on what I saw and what I read in news reports, it was difficult to know what exactly was being protested here, and who was doing it. Some people were Ron Paul backers, who would like most of government to just go away. Some were voters who were shall we say disappointed with the outcome of last fall's Presidential election. Others are genuinely concerned about such issues as high taxes and the national debt.

Sounds like a good time to make some points about taxes in this country:

* As a wise man once said, a balanced budget has no natural constituency in Congress. Lobbyists and interest groups are happy to push their particular points through, but it's a little more difficult for a group to simply urge legislators to only spend what they take in -- as in "Let's get behind ... doing nothing."

* Americans often want lower taxes but don't want to pay for it. They want their garbage picked up, their children educated, and their roads plowed and paid, but actually paying for it hits a nerve of some sort. That's often reflected in budgets too. What's the percentage of years that we've had deficit spending out of the last 35 or so? 33?

* If you want the IRS to collect taxes more fairly during a time of increasing deficits, wouldn't you hire a lot more people to serve as watchdogs on the process and audit more people? Instead, we've cut back on that area, thus allowing more deductions to slip through loopholes and making the tax burden more unfair and not less. This seems like the equivalent of laying of policemen when the town is hit with a crime wave.

* Is this really the time to complain about deficit spending? We're in the biggest recession since the early 1980's at least, and unemployment is headed toward double digits. When the federal government tried direct stimulus payments last year, citizens did the logical thing in many cases and paid down their debts with the money. That did little to stimulate anything, except for the bankers. So, we're funding government problems that help infrastructure and put people to work. If the government had a fund balance to use, you'd say it was using the money that it had saved for a rainy day ... and it's raining hard. But since it doesn't, it's just printing more money -- which may lead to inflation down the road, but deflation probably is a more dangerous alternative right now.

* And let's see if I'm reading an argument from some correctly. When times are good, we should put the excess tax revenues back in the hands of the people by cutting taxes. When times are bad, we need to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. When exactly does the bumpy road on Elmwood Ave. get paved under that philosophy?

It would be nice to establish priorities and make some tough decisions for a change. That sort of political courage would be worth watching on any news channel.

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