Almost Christmas, and Other Reflections

So I stayed up late last night to finish and efile my taxes. Filing the taxes always fills me with the same warm glow I feel after Christmas. In both cases, I cheer myself thinking it will be a whole year before I have to deal with it again.

So today’s the day the True Believers will take to the streets to protest the marginal tax rate rising 3 percent for millionaires. Joan Walsh points out that most of the people who will show up for the tea parties have just had their taxes reduced. Walsh writes,

Of course, the real irony, maybe even tragedy, of the Tea Party movement is the fact that it’s Obama who kept a campaign promise and lowered taxes on roughly 95 percent of American taxpayers. How many folks attending the protests do you expect will know that? There may even be a significant percentage of Tea Partiers who could be penalized by high-balance fees by the credit card companies or who might ultimately need help with their mortgages. Sucks to be those guys! Expect the president to spend much of April 15 talking about his tax cuts and other assistance for struggling, middle-income Americans. Let’s hope his message gets through, even to some of the Tea Party attendees. There’s still so much class-unconsciousness going on.

I am reminded of the mass insanity that struck New Jersey in the 1990s. When Democrat James Florio became governor in January 1990, he faced (to his surprise, I understand) a nasty $600 million budget deficit left him by outgoing Republican Thomas Kean. The state Supreme Court also had issued an order to equalize spending between suburban and city schools, and obeying the order required finding a whole lot o’ money to send to city schools.

So to raise revenues, Florio proposed a 1 percent sales tax hike plus a rise in income tax. The income tax increase was progressive, beginning with a small rate increase for individuals making $55,000 (it’s 1990, remember) and rising to a very big tax increase for those in the very top income bracket.

As a result, the whole state went ballistic. “Dump Florio” bumper stickers bloomed on vehicles all across New Jersey, including old clunkers being driven by people whose income almost certainly was below $55,000. I remember the woman who was my manager at the time actually circulated a petition among employees calling for Florio’s ouster, which no doubt was against company policy, but no one she supervised would have been affected by the income tax hike; just her.

At one point I realized this woman’s clerical assistant was in terrible distress worrying how she was going to pay the awful income taxes. I told her that her taxes weren’t going up (the salary scale at that company was fairly standard; people in her position made $18,000-20,000). She didn’t believe me. I found a newspaper article that explained the tax rates. She was stunned and relieved, but then asked why everyone was making such a fuss. You tell me, I said.

The answer was, of course, that people in the top income brackets (who really did get a big increase) have a really big microphone. No doubt some smart Republican political operatives were “helping” generate hysteria to bring down the new Democratic governor. People who got most of their news from radio, television and other people just heard there was a big tax increase and went marching against it. One fellow who was “promoted” (again, one saw many manipulative hands behind this) as the head of the anti-tax movement not only lacked the income to be affected, but reporters noticed that his kids’ school system was among those that would benefit from increased state aid. To this day the guy probably doesn’t realize he was being used.

Later that year, the Republicans came very close to ousting U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ). Bradley stayed out of the New Jersey state tax issue, neither defending nor criticizing, and Christine Todd Whitman ran against him almost entirely on the question of why Bradley was not speaking out against Jim Florio’s taxes. And she damn near beat him. This put Whitman on the map politically, and she became governor of New Jersey in 1994. I say again, there were some smart political operatives in the shadows, whipping up tax hysteria as a wedge issue.

Anyway, regarding today’s planned “tea parties” — I hope no one is stupid enough to show up to counter-protest. Yes, righties crashed plenty of anti-war and anti-Bush marches and rallies. But the Rightbots already see themselves as victims and martyrs being oppressed by the evil forces of Libruhlism, and taunting them just reinforces their cherished sense of victimhood. You can taunt them here all you like, of course.

19 thoughts on “Almost Christmas, and Other Reflections

  1. I think it’s important to understand that while these rallies are ostensibly about taxes – and for the big money people who organize them, they are – but for the Faux News viewers who show up, I’m sure it’s just an occasion to vent against the government and the libruls they’ve been programmed to hate. It’s a chance for the big money people to create a mob they can then shape further. And I hope the DHS is taking notes and photos of the real crazies this will draw out of the woodwork.

    Your story about the players + saps in New Jersey was interesting. I’m reminded of how Republicans used Enron and the energy crisis it spawned to bring down Gray Davis, governor of California a few years ago. Not that Davis was perfect, but it was so obvious how Republican operatives jerked the rug out from under Davis, and he came crashing to the floor.

  2. You are accurate in your rundown of New Jersey’s recent history. You raise a key point in mentioning that the N.J. Supreme Court made a ruling that required balance between suburban and urban schools, which still stands today.

    The problem, as I witnessed for many years when I taught in a N.J. urban school system, was that the money funneled to the urban districts was used mainly to grow the size of the school bureaucracy and to give hefty pay increases to the oldest teachers that had been employed the longest, regardless of how effective or dedicated they were.

    It was frustrating as hell to see politically-connected hacks on the administrative payroll, all-but-useless $1,000-per-day consultants, and long-ago burned out teachers who created a black hole into which tax dollars were sucked (and continue to be as we speak).

    And there really is no solution I have seen put forth that will rectify this situation. Try as he might, Mayor Cory Booker has seen how difficult it is to bring reforming change to the Newark schools.

    And this is not even mentioning the needs and issues which so many students bring into the classroom, and how difficult this makes it for everyone that has to attend these schools.

    Season Four of the HBO series ‘The Wire’ depicted wonderfully what it is like being a kid in one of these schools, as well as the frustrations involved for those with the smarts and commitment to be effective in the urban classroom.

  3. I wouldn’t be blaming the teachers for these problems.

    I DO wonder when a little true class consciousness will start operating. But then, when you have millions who sit around all day, all night watching our bread and circuses TV news “reports”, what can you hope for?

  4. It’s just a continuation of people not asking questions and taking information for granted. You CAN fool some of the people all of the time!

  5. Matt Taibbi, in a recent column, called this “peasant behavior”. It’s as good a description as I’ve heard. Bow and scrape to the people who are sucking the marrow out of your bones and put the hate on some theoretical “other” who’s either blameless or just as victimized.

    I really would like to just laugh at the teabaggers and the rest of the wingers stomping their feet and holding their breath, but they’re so bleeping misguided and willfully stupid that my impulse is more to try and slap some sense into them.

    Talk about a fool’s mission.

  6. Sunny Jim, my hat’s off to you for your teaching experience. As a society we make a lot of noise about how heroic you all are, but we never seem to back it up with anything concrete to help teachers in the classroom.

    And if what you saw really resembled the world of “Mister Prezbo,” Dukie, Namond et al… wow. Here’s to the teachers, the diehard principals, and also the students who make it safely out into the world.

  7. I have a question on the tax “hikes”. I talked to a customer in the liquor store yesterday and he asked me if I was going to the tea party (an hour away). I said, “No, why would I? My taxes won’t be raised” “Yes they will,” he said, “after Obama and the dems let the tax relief laws expire”. “Uh, no” I said (good comeback, Jen).

    Then he claimed that his wife, an accountant, says their taxes are going up $2500 per year. I don’t know if she’s self employed, but he works at the foundry, which supplies Aspen houses with iron balustrades and door knockers. I would guess he makes less than $30K (low wages out here) and she makes lesss than $50K so they are not $250K earners.

    My question is, What could he possibly be talking about? When I asked him, he mumbled about hidden taxes, meaning property tax, cigarette, etc. He is totally convinced that the democrats are going to stick it to him and me.

    Second question: What short arguments can one use on misinformed individuals to stem the flood of grumblings against the democrats (at least the tax lies)? I am not thrilled with everything dems do, or how the bailout is being handled, but people are mistaken on the taxes, or am I?

  8. Jennifer – I would ask anyone complaining about taxes, some specifics about their situation, as it relates to the Obama plan. I’d politely ask, “may I ask, are you making over $250,000 a year?” If the answer is No, then I would reply that “Your taxes shouldn’t go up at all. They should go down in fact”. If complainer starts objecting, I would put on a serious look and simply say “I think you’re really wrong about this” and leave it at that.

    Unless you’re a tax attorney or from the IRS, it’s really hard to refute arguments about taxation, which admittedly is an extremely complex subject. In my view, the best we can do is to plant doubt in someone’s mind. Putting on the serious look, and speaking honestly and directly “I think you’re wrong about this” is a good way to handle it, IMO.

    If the complainer is in fact making over $250 K, the rebuttal is two fold. Many people don’t understand that their own income is taxed at different levels. I forget the gradations (someone who knows taxes can clarify), but under the Obama plan, only amounts earned $250 K and up will be taxed at an increased rate, from 35 to 39 percent. And so someone making $279 K a year is only seeing $279 K minus $250 K = $29K being taxed at the newer, higher rate. A 4 % increase on 29K is $1160. Big whoop, for someone in this income bracket. It’s amazing how many well paid professionals don’t understand this, and they fall for Republican propaganda.

    The other prong is to remind people that the top tax rate under Reagan (for part of his term) was 50%. Under Nixon it was 70%, and Eisenhower, 90%. And so what Obama is proposing is hardly radical. I’d also remind people that for years, Republicans practiced “something for nothing” governance – constantly slashing taxes while expanding government, running up gigantic unsustainable debts. The bills are now due. It’s that simple.

    What never gets discussed is what we are paying taxes for. My beef is the ginormous military budget, which is bigger than the next ten countries combined. This includes Russia and China. If these teabaggers want something to protest, I’d say it’s the fact that we can afford a zillion dollar military but their kids will have go without a doctor. Or a decent education. You don’t want to get me started on this… Such is the enormity of the mindfuck we’re dealing with.

  9. Moonbat,
    Yes, thanks for the advise. It’s good, although a indistinct mmhmm might work for me too, out here in Bushland. Bush was the savior, the war was justified and necessary and the dems are going to take away our guns! Mmmhmmm. I just heard that they are going to raise the tax on microbrews from 2 to 52 dollars a barrel. MmmmHmmm?

  10. He mumbled about hidden taxes, meaning property tax, cigarette, etc.

    I could be wrong, but most of those “hidden taxes” are levied by state legislatures or other local authorities, no? I don’t smoke, so I have no idea if there’s a federal tobacco tax; but I have never heard of a federal “property tax.” There is no federal sales tax, either, but that could be one of the lies the right-wing manipulators are spreading… “IT”S COMING, SHEEPLE!!!”, etc.

    Simply put, the tea-party folk have the burden of proof here. Isn’t it a fair response to say, “I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to have any specifics. There are a lot of false rumors going around, and when there are no specifics, it’s reasonable to suspect I’m hearing one of those rumors” ?

  11. I think the best thing that can happen is if the tea baggers are completely and totally ignored by the rest of us.

    I personally have more important things today than worry about people too stupid to know what is good for them. I paid taxes this year; but, there was a reason why and I understand it. It will probably be the last time in my life I will ever have to pay taxes. I put my checks in the mail to the State of Maryland and to the Federal Government on April 2. I now live in the State of Washington with no income tax. Hallelujah! Retired life is so nice, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. Tacoma, Washington, is where I grew up and home area of my Tribe–the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. The weather is so much nicer here, too.

  12. “I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to have any specifics. There are a lot of false rumors going around, and when there are no specifics, it’s reasonable to suspect I’m hearing one of those rumors” ?

    Oh man, I’m memorizing that!

    Fed cigarette taxes took a hike April 1. Loose leaf tobacco almost doubled in price. The problem is that these taxes disproportionately hurt the impoverished. Nicotine addiction doesn’t go away because a pack of ciggies costs $6. I sell them, I don’t smoke them, but it’s hard on my customers.

    As for retiring-I don’t think that’s going to happen in my lifetime.

  13. Since the tea baggers don’t like the income TAX CUT Democratic President Obama is giving them, perhaps we should support going back to the income tax rate under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

    The tax rate under Republican President Eisenhower was effectively 90% for earnings over $3.2 million.

    Now that would freak out the tea baggers corporate lobbyists….

  14. In 1984 I worked for the Atlanta Journal Contitution when Carter ran against Reagan. It was before the internet but some of the newspapers staff had home access at 2400 baud to the last 10 years of newspaper articleusinig 24 x 80 text monitors. So I researched and knew the salary levels at which one would benefit most from either candidates plans.

    Same thing happened…staunch conservatives whined about tax inceases without knowing that they would get a tax cut. I had some fun with that…even printed the articles for them.

    Quite a few of them were in such a state of denial that they refused to believe. That was the era of the “young Republicans”, a new wave of types that voted against their own interests for the first time.

    The more things change the more they stay the same….

  15. T-bag/Tax-day 2009 marks the bifurcation of American experience. This day exposes in real terms there are separate and irreconcilable histories at work simultaneously dividing the public irrevocably, exactly like the issue of slavery once did. There are two languages being spoken, neither translatable to or understandable by the other. America has once again become a house divided against itself. The difference being once there was a west and future to look forward to; now insurmountable debt and wage slavery, the riches of economic promise were low hanging fruit and have all been consumed long ago.

    As the mines, minerals and farms have been depleted, so too have the minds. The concoction that passes for education is better mirrored as the desired results of propaganda. Fantasies have replaced discipline, herding poses as individual freedom, the sound of another drummer’s echos have long ceased reverberating in public discourse. The tools necessary for the conduct of a Republic lay rusted, unused, and buried in the litter of hedonic self concern. The hope of future has become displaced by a myth of the past; the memory of from where we came, we cannot rightfully recall.

    We have lost as well the ability to hear each other.

  16. Bonnie, wow, don’t see too many people from the East Coast retiring in Tacoma. Maybe you’ll start a trend. I grew up in north Seattle and live and teach in Wisconsin these days. Have periodically looked at teaching jobs in Washington state but they can’t come close to the salary and benefits I get from Bucky (name of the mascot for the Wisconsin Badgers). It’s that no income tax thing that makes it difficult for Washington schools to attract and keep teachers. I will follow in your footsteps (not Tacoma, though) and look forward to spending the golden years watching the twilight sunset behind the Olympic Mts. Truly spectacular if you’ve never seen it.

  17. I’ve seen the Olympic Mountains many a day, buckyblue–yes, very spectacular! The one thing that I have enjoyed the most since being home is seeing Mount Rainier every day. I never had any thing that beautiful to look at in Maryland EVERY day. This is a great place for retirement.

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