Rules?

In a spectacular finish Sunday the Pittsburg Steelers proved they could win by almost miraculously staying inside the lines. In instance after instance, however, the nominees of the Obama administration keep proving they don’t have the same skills.

To tell the truth I was rooting for the Cardinals. And, let's face it, if you take away two plays where it seemed like angels must have been interfereing in the affairs of sport, the guys in red had the better game. Ah, but those two plays... James Harrison stepped in front of an ill-advised Curt Warner pass at Pittsburg's goal and proceeded , in an improbable fusion of ballet and burlesque, to return the ball 100 yards for a Pittsburg touchdown capped in a head-first tackle in which ball and player all managed to land a bare, but discernable, hair's breadth inside the endzone.

The second play was the culmination of a desperate last-minute drive in which Ben Roethlisberger made the escape routines of Harry Houdini look like work of a rank amateur. That drive closed with a pass thrown literally to the only spot where success was even remotely possible. Even then Santonio Holmes had to make a perfect catch, covered by three Steelers, and then perfectly plant both toes in the last six rapidly fading inches of endzone turf, to secure victory.

When it was all over and the replays from dozens of angles had gone over and back we, even we Cardinals rooters, had to admit it was fair and square. Nobody felt the need to ignore football's rules to make success possible for either team.

Would that such were the case for the tax laws of the land for appointees of the Obama administration. Tim Geithner IS Treasury Secretary now, inspite of blowing off thirty-five thousand dollars of taxes for the better part of a decade. Would I be given such latitude? You can't make me believe I would. Tom Daschle will very probably soon be Health and Human Services Secretary in spite of having felt it unnessesary to pay $128,000 in taxes on the "gift" of a limousine and driver from a longtime donor and friend. Ignoring the size of the gift itself if those were only the amounts of taxes he could owe, and ignoring the level of influence gifts of such lavishness imply the donors will have won, what does this kind of legal fuzzy logic say about how difficult these tax laws are DESIGNED to be to follow for non-royalty like you and me?

Tom Daschle helped to CREATE these tax laws, for goodness sakes!

OK, if you're keeping score, neither the guy who will now be administering tax policy nor the guy who will be in charge of redesigning one seventh of the U.S. economy has demonstrated a capacity to live within the rules you and I are required, under pain of criminal prosecution, to live by.

If, as the Obama administration seems determined to show, that does not mean they are unqualified to lead us at least we can hope it means they will be changing the rules to make it easier for us to know where the goal lines and sidelines really are. If that fond hope comes true let's hope as well that Obama can pick bureaucrats as well as he picks football winners.

Posted by Lee Emmerich Jamison at February 2, 2009 10:59 AM
Comments
Comment #274766

Just think about the ratio of people who are scrutinized that turn up with tax issues. Maybe there would be a windfall if we hired an army of IRS agents and looked at everyone who has income not reported on a WW-2.

I bet you don’t like that idea. You’d rather attribute everything to Obama appointing crooks.

Posted by: Schwamp at February 2, 2009 11:34 AM
Comment #274767

Who set up so many arcane tax rules with so many loopholes? I think simplifying taxes is something both sides can agree on. In the meantime, we need absolutely the best people we can get working on the economy, and yeah, the irony that these people can’t figure out their taxes isn’t lost on me.


Posted by: Max at February 2, 2009 11:40 AM
Comment #274770

I vote that all who hold political office, whether elected, appointed or running for office, get yearly audits by the IRS. From the most local to the highest offices.

Start with them, then move on to the highest earners, the CEO’s etc. I suspect we could save some money and it would pay for itself. Perhaps a commission to evaluate what are the most abused loopholes and make recommendations to close them. For members of the commission I would suggest normal taxpayers. No politicians, no government employees, no business owners.

JMHO

Posted by: womanmarine at February 2, 2009 11:54 AM
Comment #274772

I agree with womanmarine until we get a fair flat tax.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at February 2, 2009 12:03 PM
Comment #274773

Rodney Brown-
Which pretty much means you agree with her from now to doomsday.

But, independent of that, I think that’s a marvellous idea.

Lee Jamison-
First, they paid the back taxes, and did not fight the findings. Second, there’s no evidence either person deliberately set out to deceive anybody about what they owe.

This is what your people are reduced to nitpicking about, more or less.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 2, 2009 12:17 PM
Comment #274775

Stephen,
A combined total in excess of $160,000 is not nitpicking. There are people in federal prison for less.

Second, some people are obviously more equal than others.

Third, the rules are too hard for the people who made them to live by. How are we mere human beings who can’t pay thousands of dollars for tax lawyers in addition to accountants supposed to run the gauntlet?

Fourth, issues like this cast a pall on Obama’s vetting process for the most responsible jobs in government.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 2, 2009 12:30 PM
Comment #274777

I also think it would behoove congress to give back the pay raise they just gave themselves. I emailed my thoughts on this to the appropriate congressmen.

Barack Obama has frozen the wages of senior white house staff. Good for him.

Posted by: womanmarine at February 2, 2009 12:41 PM
Comment #274788

I think that before the IRS charges ANYONE, or puts ANYONE in prison, they give them a chance to pay the tax they owe plus fees and penalties. The only ones who are charged initially, are those who’s efforts at tax evasion are clearly criminally intended and abusive. Charges are placed against the first group only if they refuse to pay, or deny they owe. Both gentlemen accepted their errors, admitted culpability and paid what they owed. I had my pay garnished once when I, in ignorance and oversight, failed to pay my self-employment tax. I was not a criminal, was not criminally charged, and paid what I owed. No jail time for me either.

Posted by: Marysdude at February 2, 2009 2:15 PM
Comment #274789

>I vote that all who hold political office, whether elected, appointed or running for office, get yearly audits by the IRS. From the most local to the highest offices.
Posted by: womanmarine at February 2, 2009 11:54 AM

womanmarine,

Thanks for the suggestion…I just sent my message to the White House about what you said.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Anyone else interested in letting the administration know what you think about it can link here.

Posted by: Marysdude at February 2, 2009 2:29 PM
Comment #274791

Marysdude,

I do admit that the feds will allow one to pay the taxes one owes. What is distressing is how vast the field of provisions is and how easily someone, even someone like Tom Daschle who helped construct the taxation edifice, can run afoul of them. I don’t think he was skirting regulations with criminal intent, for example.

When government seeks to use taxation to micromanage behavior it risks discouraging even very useful behaviors. It simply becomes too difficult for us to know when we’ve done something “wrong”.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 2, 2009 2:57 PM
Comment #274799

Lee, given the depth and complexity of our laws, I would venture to say that there are virtually NO AMERICAN CITIZENS in the country today over the age of 30 who have not violated one or more of our laws, either intentionally or inadvertently.

More than 65% of all drivers on our freeways can be observed on any day intentionally violating our speed limit laws.

So, let’s put to rest the notion that any President has an obligation to fill thousands of government positions with personnel whose history is squeaky clean regarding our nation’s laws.

That said, you can and do make a fair argument that Obama’s choices need to instill confidence in those choices and respect for our laws. Obama CANNOT make the argument that Daschle is the ONLY qualified person for this job. Nor can he make the argument that other candidates are not available whose record on federal law and taxes is cleaner than Daschle’s. Hence, I accede to your argument on Daschle.

Geithner is another story. Obama CAN make the argument that he knows of no one else with Geithner’s education, career experience, and Obama’s confidence whose record on federal law and taxes is cleaner than Geithner’s. You don’t have to buy that argument, but, it is far more valid an argument than Obama’s defense of Daschle for Health and Human Services.

You are right to insist that Democrats follow the rules, for no other reason than Reid, Pelosi, and Obama have pledged to do so in the campaign of 2008.

And the gargantuan rule breaking is not by Daschle or Geithner, but, in the pork spending of this stimulus bill which BYPASSES Democrats pledge to PayGo rules. Increasing our national debt for parochial Democratic wish lists is precisely what Democrats campaigned they would not do. If you want to go after rule breaking, this is a target which wears much larger on Democrats backs, than Obama’s cabinet choices to date.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2009 4:00 PM
Comment #274801

Hey David,

Education, including sex education, is not pork. Studies suggest that for every dollar we invest into sex education we will save 5 in the years ahead. That’s about the best investment we can make right now.

I know you think ALL the money should be allocated to short term jobs, but then what happens after the short term fix wears off? Geithner has said that Japan’s biggest mistake during their recession was to start and then stop support. This bill needs to accomplish many, many things, but in a way they are all tied together.

Honestly, there are some things about this bill I don’t like either. I think the tax cuts make up waaay too much of the bill. But perfect is the enemy of good. I would rather get a good bill in motion now than wait several months for a perfect one, and I think most economists would agree.

Posted by: Max at February 2, 2009 4:26 PM
Comment #274806

Lee,

You don’t hear very many, left, right, or middle who think our tax code shouldn’t be re-written. We do have major differences on where to go with it, i.e., ‘fair’ tax, ‘flat’ tax or modified ‘progressive’ tax, but, during this economic meltdown may not be the best place to do the re-writing.

I have no idea if either of the gentlemen mentioned held out taxes deliberately, but again, this may not be the best time to send them to jail. We have some major work ahead of us…the question should be…can these two help us BEFORE we send them up?

Posted by: Marysdude at February 2, 2009 4:53 PM
Comment #274812

Hey Max, you said: “Education, including sex education, is not pork.”

Yes it is, when government is working to double the national debt yet again in the purported effort to stem an impending Depression.

ANY spending which does not address national security or the impending Depression can arguably be justifiably labelled PORK, because it wastes national debt on priorities which are NOT ESSENTIAL to saving the nation from economic collapse.

Do you not read a word of what d.a.n, writes? He is absolutely right you know, the national debt is the second highest priority and next crisis to be faced after the first priority of this vicious cycle of recession plunging us toward Depression.

You said we need to invest in long term jobs too. Sorry, sex education DOES NOT FIT THAT BILL. It is therefore, pork spending, as in unnecessary at this time and failing to meet the priorities of the nation and her people at this time, which is to save jobs and the economy while preserving her sovereignty as well.

Wasn’t it Hitler who made an art form of dismissing the little details for the grand scheme? A grand scheme which failed because of those little details? Think about it.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2009 5:44 PM
Comment #274813

Lee Jamison-
This isn’t corruption, it’s problems with the accountant. Some scrutiny is deserved and necessary, but if they do the accountable, decent thing and renumerate what they owe, then it should only be a bump in the road, unless we’re talking some extreme failure to pay taxes.

Another thing: if you make the argument that the problem here is that the tax code is too complicated for mortal men to bear, it concedes the moral weight of the failure to keep up. If you go the other way, you must argue that the tax code can be followed, and therefore should be followed by respectable citizens to a T.

And of course, if you argue for the general illegitimacy of the tax law, you weaken the case for failure to follow that tax code being a moral evil, and make it pointless to argue about the complexity of the law. What does it matter whether it is simple or complex, if it’s not legitimate?

My view? Tax law’s legitimate, if a bit complicated in places. Before we get around to simplifying, we have to deal with it as is. So far, nobody’s revealed criminal conduct to deliberately evade paying taxes, and it seems like both cases can be chalked up to the mistakes of accountants. It’s an embarrassment, not a scandal.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 2, 2009 5:50 PM
Comment #274817

This is amusing, especially Stephen trying to defend the non-lobbyist, oops sorry I forgot about the limo I’ve been riding in former Senator. But in the end I do think Obama should have his man even if it’s Tom.

Lee, you asked in an earlier article why Gethnier is so special, and in my mind the answer is that the President wants him. That’s good enough. Advise and consent should be held to highest standard, and as long as these guys clear up their, uh, mistakes, then that should be it. I know that both parties have played politics with these confirmations in the past, but that doesn’t make it right.

Looks like the “culture of corruption” is being moved over to the Democratic side these days. I won’t even throw that rock and just say that they are, for the most part, all crooks.

Posted by: George at February 2, 2009 6:08 PM
Comment #274821

Max and David,

What sort of spending would not be pork? That which creates opportunities for Americans to create goods and services for everyone more efficiently. More than half of our workforce was involved in farming in 1900. Less than five percent is today. That does not mean 45% of the population is unemployed today, though.

All of us live better because those people CAN’T work on the farm. They got out and produced other goods and services that enriched all our lives. We can all eat better than ever before (not that we all do, mind you), and for less of our income, even though fewer people than ever are involved in this crucial industry.

Everything about the process of getting food from farm to table has become more efficient. Most conservatives will decry government spending on medicine. I will too if it is done as poorly as Medicare and Medicaid have been run so far, but it is none the less possible for more of the people doing jobs in the medical field to be doing stuff directly related to medicine if administrative foolishness can be eliminated. That could mean fewer people tied up in the economy with the process of delivering medical care. Fewer mouths to feed can mean lower cost if it is done well.

Will it be done well? Don’t know. I’m in the early stages of filing a complaint with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy over outrageous handling of prescriptions by a Dallas-area mail-in Pharmacy. This sort of pharmacy is what we’ve been told by the government would make delivery of medicine more efficient. My experience has been that it has put my wife’s health, even her life, at risk. I can’t even have a civilized face to face conversation with the company because it appears it is the company’s policy that their telephone representatives are supposed to lie, (yeah, I have it documented.) if necessary to make customers comfortable on the phone.

The great danger of Government spending is that it will go primarily to the social contacts of the party in power, whoever that is. Obama wanted to spend money “saving money”, as Nancy Pelosi put it, by reducing the number of live human births. The abortion community is a social constituency of the Democratic Party so when Democrats are in power they will horrify many of us, putting the blood of totally innocent human beings on our hands by making us pay to murder them. (Funny how the more directly a government is involved with the nurturing of a constituency their constituencies become a burden on government…)

Conservatives did the same thing when they were in power.

Both sides prove their stupidity by playing Porker Reciprocity.

I applaud efforts to move us to alternative fuels because the people producing those fuels will, at least at first, be mostly in America. The supplies they produce will be far more stable and secure. Improving our power grid (a subset of alternative energy investment) will do the same thing. Entrepreneurial solutions in education, from pre-K to college will also pay huge dividends. Investing in hard sciences and science education will also do the same.

None of those is pork.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 2, 2009 6:39 PM
Comment #274836

Lee said: “All of us live better because those people CAN’T work on the farm.”

You are not taking into account the whole picture, Lee. WE are ALL vastly more dependent on foreign imports and the good will of other nations and even terrorists, for our quality of life today, PRECISELY because we have given up our claim to grow our own food, create our own energy, and live within our own means of income regarding our spending.

Quality of life is not necessarily better today than when 45% of Americans worked on farms, if quality of life is measured in terms of family cohesion, family values, and family self-reliance, and general levels of psychological fulfillment, pride, and happiness.

Yes, we live longer as a result of medical technology and dietary knowledge and choice, but, vastly more American elderly are living in poverty and fear of their financial situation than when we were a far more agrarian society and our farming families cared and provided well for their seniors.

Such comparisons of the good old days or the better present days, are impossible to quantify and compare overall. Life was different then than now. Then, people worked in order to live. Today, far more people live in order to work. Many would not call that progress.

Lee said: “Everything about the process of getting food from farm to table has become more efficient.”

Is it less efficient to grow and know the quality of your food than to import it or buy it from others and fear for its potential toxic or contaminated qualities? You are wrong, Lee. NOT everything about the process is better nor even more efficient. The most efficient way to insure quality and safety is to produce your own food.

Ethanol subsidies ARE PORK. First, the fertilizer to grow the crops comes from, you guessed it, some OIL byproducts. Second, until celulosic ethanol is a cost competitive alternative, ethanol drives the prices of food and food inflation higher at a time when 10’s of millions of Americans are trying desperately to stretch their dollars further and further for the basics. Third, ethanol is significantly less efficient an energy source for locomotion than gasoline, requiring more fuel per mile than gasoline. And Ethanol remains an air polluting source of energy.

“Investing in hard sciences and science education will also do the same.”

Yes, something we can agree on 100%.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2009 10:32 PM
Comment #274845

David R. Remer-
Corn Ethanol may be better than thought, due to more efficent plant designs and better hybrid breeds.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 3, 2009 1:01 AM
Comment #274848

DR
“Pork barrel is infrastructure spelled backwards”
Tip O’Neal

If by pork barrel you mean projects that representitives have been pushing for funding for then you are correct. Thats their job. The people of those districts have determined that they need whatever particular project might be and urge their congress people to try and secure funding for them,often on a federal or state match with local funding. There is nothing illegitimate about that at all. These projects are also often more “shovel ready”. Earmarks are a differnt story. We know who placed the “pork barrel”.
PS. Its called “pork barrel” when its a project in someone eleses disrict. When its in ours, its called a much needed and long overdue investment.
Altogether the stimulus package is positive. Its supposed to spend money. Lets just hope it spends enough and in the right places to succeed in getting the economy moving again. If you want to critisise with some validity,considering the depression economic paradigm we are in, knock it for too many tax breaks.

Posted by: bills at February 3, 2009 5:30 AM
Comment #274860

David,

We can also agree that corn-based ethanol subsidies are pork. I have never supported them. I do strongly support research into cellulosic ethanol, especially varieties that might use the waste products of other industries, such as spent sugar cane.

That, as a part of efficiency, we import more food does not necessarily mean the food is not safer than it once was. Recall that it was Teddy Roosevelt, having read Upton Sinclair’s description of the turn-of-the-century meat packing industry in the U.S., who felt it necessary to start government inspections of food products. There are no “good old days” in food processing, and food poisoning, by a plethora of other names, was one of the leading causes of death until the 1920s.

We could also learn lessons from the past. Mortality rates in the U.S. plummeted from the 1910s to the 1930s from the adoption of very strict sanitation policies, government enforced, in everything from food packing to hospitals to schools. We’ve become lax in the age of antibiotics even as we breed super staph germs WITH careless use of antibiotics.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 3, 2009 11:43 AM
Comment #274876

””“Corn Ethanol may be better than we thought, due to more efficent plant designs and better hybrid breeds”” Ethanol has a lot less energy BTU Content than gas and a whole lot less than Biodiesel , Corn is a food stock, And as i seen last year they grow it where they once grew Wheat and wheat needs no irrigation and they had to irrigate the corn in much of that land. Then the wheat harvest was low and the prices shot up sky high for both. Ethanol has a place but it will never run the Big trucks and Trains and the beast’s of Burdens. I like the Chevy Volt with a tiny motor to charge the batteries after driving 40-60 miles ethanol would work fine there. or drive it during the day for 40-60 miles and plug it in Night with a 230 volt outlet and charge in 4 hours.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at February 3, 2009 2:14 PM
Comment #274888

bills said: “If by pork barrel you mean projects that representitives have been pushing for funding for then you are correct. Thats their job.”

A very traditional duopoly party view that has gotten us 11 trillion dollars in debt.

There is an alternative approach. Federal spending for national needs, and state and local spending for local and state needs. If this far too common sensical approach to federal spending fails your support, you passed the test for true partisanship defense and apologetic thinking.

Ethanol federal subsidies for a few midwestern state’s dozen or so corporate farmers subverts the stability and survivability of the federal government fiscal position and the nation’s future economic viability. It is pork. It doesn’t further the nation’s long term needs.

If Ethanol were such a great idea, the private sector should be able to make a profit from it WITHOUT federal subsidies. It is obviously not such a great idea, because it is, in fact, PORK spending, deficit adding, national debt growing spending which fails to lower the overall cost of transportation fuel for the consumers.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 3, 2009 3:46 PM
Comment #274889

Lee said: “We can also agree that corn-based ethanol subsidies are pork. I have never supported them. I do strongly support research into cellulosic ethanol, especially varieties that might use the waste products of other industries, such as spent sugar cane.”

Yep. We are of very like mind on these issues.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 3, 2009 3:48 PM
Comment #274890

GM claims the Volt delivers triple-digit fuel economy and can travel up to 640 miles without a fuel fill-up or a plug in battery recharge. That’s on E85! 85% ethanol and 15% Gas Darn Good,hydrogen is in the works.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at February 3, 2009 3:50 PM
Comment #274898

Some may find this article way off subject however I share it as an example of what can happen in this country if PO and congress don’t get this stimulus program right…the first time. Our economy must recover, and do so quickly. Any spending that doesn’t directly lead to the beginning of economic recovery in the near term will only make any action by China more difficult for us.

Read the entire article and then imagine the Chinese governments response if they face even more violence and unrest among their billions of people. Surely there will be a huge cost to the United States if China is forced to take drastic action.

All comments appreciated.

Violent unrest rocks China as crisis hits

The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability, writes Michael Sheridan in Hong Kong

Link: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article5627687.ece

Violent unrest rocks China as crisis hits

The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability, writes Michael Sheridan in Hong Kong

Posted by: Jim M at February 3, 2009 6:40 PM
Comment #274918

Jim M, this concern over the internal stability of China is neither new nor unanticipated. I and others have been warning of this for years.

That said, China’s government aired the throwing of the shoe at President Hui at Cambridge Univ., and the effect on the Chinese people was praise upon Hui for his response, which was very positive toward America and future relations between our nations.

Of course, the implication for America is to stress the absolute need of America to rescue its faltering economy and make the necessary reforms to embark upon a path toward halting all new borrowing from China and paying down what we owe them. Dependence on China for government spending is no less fraught with danger to our economic future than depending on OPEC for our energy is. Some would argue, more dangerous than OPEC, though, I don’t buy it. But, dependency of our entire economy upon a single nation whose own future is fraught with perils, is just plain unacceptable and must be remedied as soon as possible.

Of course, a recession threatening depression is not the time to be addressing paying down national debt, or even putting a halt to deficit spending. But, it is imperative that every deficit dollar spent is focused like a laser on achieving the greatest bang for the buck in moving us closer to that time when halting deficit spending and paying down the debt becomes a reality.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 3, 2009 11:45 PM
Comment #274937

David says-

If Ethanol were such a great idea, the private sector should be able to make a profit from it WITHOUT federal subsidies. It is obviously not such a great idea, because it is, in fact, PORK spending, deficit adding, national debt growing spending which fails to lower the overall cost of transportation fuel for the consumers.
Wait a minute! Why do we subsidize anything, then? The initial research on microwaves was intensely expensive, occupying some of the brightest physicists in the world. Even so it was twenty five years before people started putting the technology to work in ordinary households making cooking more convenient, and a whole set of products viable.

I like this example because, of course, the original research into microwaves was for the production of RADAR. Heating food was simply a bit of serendipity that BECAME the big money maker. Do the fundamental science and the commercial possibilities will just accidentally reveal themselves.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at February 4, 2009 10:02 AM
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