Monday, April 15, 2013 12:21:49 AM
It's tax season in the US.
My wife and I bought a house last year. Since the US tax code includes special rules and deductions for some housing-related expenses (interest payments in particular), we anticipated our taxes would be more complicated than they have been. So we bought a commercial software package to help us prepare our tax return.
To our surprise, our interest payments are so small (due to a small mortgage on a small house in a down market and ridiculously low interest rates) that they don't even reach the threshold required to take the tax deduction we expected. Our main reason for buying the software is moot.
It's a good problem to have, of course. We're far better off, financially speaking, with small mortgage payments and no tax deduction than we would be with a larger mortgage payment only fractionally offset by a tax deduction.
But it makes me wonder about the whole idea of the tax deduction for mortgage interest in the first place. Supposedly it's intended to encourage home-ownership. But obviously it only works in certain cases, like those involving bigger mortgages and higher interest rates. Do we as a nation really want to specifically encourage our citizens to own either homes that are expensive or which are poor investments (because of high interest rates)?
If we truly believed home-ownership to be an absolute good, wouldn't we encourage everyone, including less-affluent citizens, to own houses they can afford? Wouldn't that be the "all men are created equal" way of going about things?
But in practice it's legal to deduct mortgage interest on up to two houses. Because the only thing better for the country than home-ownership is double-home-ownership, I guess. In practice, the less one actually needs the perk of the mortgage interest deduction, the more valuable it becomes.
Sunday, January 27, 2013 5:46:02 PM
A tiny bit of good news on the insane, out-of-control "Homeland Security" front:
A Virginia man who wrote an abbreviated version of the Fourth Amendment on his body and stripped to his shorts at an airport security screening area won a trial Friday in his lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages for being detained on a disorderly conduct charge.
The judges quoted Benjamin Franklin:
Here, Mr. Tobey engaged in a silent, peaceful protest using the text of our Constitution—he was well within the ambit of First Amendment protections. And while it is tempting to hold that First Amendment rights should acquiesce to national security in this instance, our Forefather Benjamin Franklin warned against such a temptation by opining that those ‘who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’
Here's something that's only just occurring to me now, after all these years, something that indicates just how completely the fearmongers have steered national discourse in the years since 9/11:
Nothing the TSA does has anything to do with "national security." The average passenger plane doesn't contain a diplomatic pouch full of dread state secrets to be plundered. World War Three will not accidentally be touched off by an airplane bombing. The government of the United States will not crumble because a passenger jet is hijacked.
The TSA's job is to guard airplanes. That is, or could be, an important, serious job. But it's not a matter of national security. Every time we hear the term "national security" used in discussion of real or imagined terrorism, we're being ever so slightly lied to. Our thoughts are being subtly re-directed and led astray. Whether co-ordinated or not, the campaign to elevate issues of terrorism to the level of "national security" has been so successful that here, even US Circuit Court judges are buying into that completely false framing.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 2:59:03 PM
...the core of the Grand Old Party has consisted mainly of the rearguard of those who oppose the social and cultural changes the civil rights movement ushered in, and a small band of greedy plutocrats who seek to profit from such intolerance. In recent years, this eclectic group of Republicans has been joined by the Tea Partiers, a collection of small-government, anti-tax, no-compromising political activists. The common strand that laces through all these groups is race: Their membership is nearly all white.
It is this lack of diversity that is plunging the party toward extinction. The Census Bureau has reported that Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities now account for 50.4% of children born in the U.S. By the middle of this century, minorities are projected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites...
-- The Republicans' last hurrah
Well, that's sort of thought provoking, but I found it easy enough to dismiss, too. The Republicans do a lot of marketing research; surely they will invent some new trick to terrify more clueless people into voting against their own interests, I thought.
Then again, there's this map of how the election might have gone if only white males were allowed to vote, as was the case in 1850:
That map, and several others that follow it in the full article, do illustrate that Republican electoral success is really dependent on some shrinking demographics. Of course, this also shows the winner-take-all exaggeration of the electoral college - if a state votes 45% red and 44.9% blue, it turns red on that map.
But the result surprised me. I would not have guessed that feelings about the President, or the election results that follow, would be that skewed by demographics alone. We like to pretend that politics is about policies and "values" and reasoned debate, but it's really about cruder things, emotional things, sometimes ugly things. Maybe we should be happy that any of that map is blue at all.