Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Student Loans and the IRS

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

There's nothing complicated about student loans.  You already knew that, didn't you?  If you want to go to college or any number of other schools you can save, borrow, get a scholarship or subsidy or go to work to pay the institution that grants you admission.  Simple.

The health care bill eliminated banks from the student lending industry and the costs and fees they charged student borrowers.  The gummint is taking over the industry, changing some of the repayment rules (to its own detriment, one should note, but that could change) and keeping the profits to pay the costs of its health care legislation.  If there are any, that is, after the gummint eschews those fees and charges.

Think about it.  The gummint decided to take over a (gummint-funded) private industry, renounced certain of its profit centers and intends for any remaining profits to be used to pay for its health care bill.

This requires a profound suspension of disbelief: 
  • First, that the gummint should supplant any private industry in a non-national security field. 

  • Second, that the gummint can run the industry better than the people who were already running it at a profit that could be taxed, keeping in mind that the parts that generated profits no longer exist.

  • Third, that it is in the best interest of the American citizenry that gummint should compete in the private sector.

  • Fourth, that the gummint won't use its lending authority to control which students will be allowed to go to which schools.

What vital national programs has the gummint run well and within budget?  Medicare, Social Security, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Chrysler?  Well, no.  Then why should we accept that they can run student lending (or health care or anything else) better than the people who are already running it?

When someone neglects to repay a student loan, who's going to collect the unpaid debt?  The Health Care Bill, of which the Education Bill is a part, already provides for the IRS to enforce its provisions and it allows the disclosure of previously confidential tax information to health care administrators.

May I suggest that the IRS might be well-suited and amply staffed, with its new enforcement employees, to collect delinquent student loans?  There are precedents.  The collection of delinquent child support payments is just one.  (Oh, you didn't know about that one?)

The problem is that the IRS is very often incompetent and chronically bumbling.  There were very good reasons that Congress devoted much of 1998 to investigating its massive internal failures and incompetencies.  

Recently the Sacramento IRS office sent two employees to visit a local car wash because of unpaid tax of two cents (yes, $0.02) and accrued penalties and interest of a couple hundred bucks.  These are the folks you want to enforce health care premiums and collect student loans?

Or have you heard differently?

* * * * *

Quis custodiet ipso custodes.

Sin Taxes

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

Sin taxes are taxes on popular activities that are thought to be socially undesirable but too much in demand to prohibit.  Tobacco and alcohol are examples.  Pot will soon join them.  (Hello, ArnieS)

What's the point of sin taxes?  Revenue, sure, but what about behavior modification?  The 18th Amendment raised behavior modification to a Constitutional level; no manufacture, sale, transportation, import or export of alcohol.  How did that work out?  What some deem undesirable behavior is completely normal to others, not requiring modification.  Heavy taxation replaced legislated temperance.

One of the problems with sin tax revenue streams is that they can dry up.   Gambling and alcohol taxes in a down economy, for instance.  Problem is, gummint budgets count on them not to dry up and plan their expenditures accordingly.

Here's an example:  Washington, DC, imposed a tax on disposable paper or plastic grocery bags, a nickel per.  It's popular to sell new taxes with the idea that the revenue will go to a needy cause and in this case it's the "newly-created Astoria River Clean-Up Fund." 

DC officials estimated the tax would generate $10 mil for the fund over four years.  Oops.  Behavior modification worked this time, probably because there are easy alternatives to traditional grocery bags.  Disposable bag use dropped from 22.9 mil in Jan. '09 to 3 mil in Jan. '10.  Projected revenue deficit using current figures = $3 mil in four years.

Less plastic waste, good.  Less than planned revenue, maybe not so good.  The DC council is going to have to choose between cutting back the newly-created river clean-up campaign or finding new ways to fund it.  Cutting back on gummint spending or finding new ways to fund it.  Which do you think is more likely?

The gummint counts on you to keep on smoking, drinking, driving, gambling and putting your bagels in plastic bags.  If gummint can tax enough stuff and behavior then there will be sufficient revenue to do whatever it wants to do.  At least that's the plan.

But hey, DC newly-created a river fund and newly-created another tax to pay for it and the heck with schools.  I wonder whose relatives and friends and contributors got newly-created jobs with the fund.

Crack cocaine is out of control in DC.  (See Councilman Barry's arrest record.)  How about a newly-created DC crack tax aimed at both revenue and behavior modification?  Good luck with that. 

Remember, it is not the job of government to "newly create" projects when they sniff a possible new sin tax.  That's backwards, and their budgets are already under water.  It's YOUR money, even when it's in their hands.  You have entrusted it to them to spend it wisely and effectively and it's your job to see that they do.  If they don't, you know what to do.

* * * * *

What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?

Marion Barry

It was an awful lease for the city, but now we've put a cap of $610 million on the costs.

Marion Barry (again... really)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eunuch Tax Collectors

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

[Caution:  Ugly fact follows]
There are at least 350,000 eunuchs in the Indian city of Delhi.   
[End of ugly fact.  Discussion of same follows.]

350,000!!!  Who knew?  Can anyone tell me why the human gelding industry exists?  Are there so many harems that still need looking after?  Can that many parents be so desperate as to geld their sons so that they can be street entertainers?  Fact is, the eunuchs exist and the city doesn't know what to do with them.  Why the city thinks it has do something is best left for another day.

The City of Delhi now has the answer to the Eunuch Question. 
They're going to give them conscience money, a monthly Eunuch Allowance of 1,000 rupees.  It isn't much, around $22 Ameribux/month.  The poverty rate as defined by the Indian gummint is $11 or less a month so $22 is a living wage by gummint standardsI don't think I'd sign up just for the money but the city saw a problem and did something about it.  Something dumb, maybe, but something.  Still, that's USD $7,700,000/month that Delhi didn't used to have in its budget.  $7.7 mil Ameribux a month.  India.  Think about it.

[Chuck, where is this going? ... Just a sec.] 

Being a eunuch isn't a great life opportunity, we can probably agree on that.  However, I am at a loss to see how it is inherently career-limiting.  I mean, wouldn't employers have to know before they could discriminate against a eunuch?  I've had a lot of jobs and job interviews and never has an interviewer said "Drop 'em and let's 'ave us a look-see."

Delhi city councilman Malti Verma says "It's our responsibility as public representatives to help them."  It is?  When did that start, yesterday?  Delhi.  Why did they single out eunuchs to help?  It's not like they stand out in crowds.  

One other thing.  They've found jobs for them, too.  "Doing what?" you may ask in your innocence.

Drum roll:  They're going to be TAX COLLECTORS!  [OMG!]

This  isn't about the rich irony of the city's job offering.  No, you expect better of me (but I may develop the theme in my book.)  Turns out, it is not peculiarly American to define a previously unknown problem and then try to buy a solution without ever addressing the problem itself.  Here (in America, that is) we define people without health insurance as a problem (some are, some aren't) that we can fix by giving them all free health insurance.  Free to them, paid for by you, like Free Mexican Food.

Failing banks that you don't patronize?  Give 'em $3/4 tril.  Failing private insurance companies?  Bail 'em out, then force 'em out of business.  Car companies that can't sell their own products?  Buy 'em out at grossly inflated prices.  Student loan firms?  Abolish them and step into the lending vacuum they leave and put it in the health care bill so that we don't forget.  There's no problem so big that you can't satisfy yourself by spending other people's money.  Satisfy, but not solve.

The point is, eunuchs or AIG, the solutions are NOT to throw money at problems and hope they go away.  They won't.  Rather, it is to address the problem itself, not just its symptoms.  Take eunuchs, for instance (please).  Delhi has chronic  and massive poverty and unemployment problems.  If you're a eunuch, now you get a job AND a stipend.  Daily Double!!!  Don't be too surprised if they get more eunuchs.

San Francisco has a chronic homeless problem.  They provide free shelters AND a monthly stipend and more to homeless people.  The result has been more homeless in SF, not less.  Ring up another Double!!!

Here's the deal with health care in America now.  You'll get it whether or not you pay your premium.  If you don't pay up the IRS may later impose and try to collect a fine (a tricky problem with the poor, that) which will be less than your premium would have been, plus you have to start paying or the same thing will happen again next year.

If you receive medical care and you're uninsured, same thing happens.  You get fined and you have to start paying your premiums unless the gummint pays for you anyway.  The thing is, there are already 11 mil people who are eligible for existing health care assistance who haven't bothered to sign up for it yet.  Why would a new law get them to sign up when the old ones didn't?  Look for more uninsureds or, best case, no significant reduction in their numbers.  

So why the bill in the first place except that it redistributes money and maybe that's all that was ever intended?

From the Sifynews article itself, and no surprise to you if you've been paying attention -- "The eunuch community is also happy with the new ruling... But they are not happy with the amount." 

And "It is better late than never.  But the government should also try to increase this amount.  They should at least bring us at par with Group D staffs said Sunita, another eunuch."

Say, haven't we heard talk like that somewhere before?

I couldn't possibly make this stuff up.  I do have one idea:  Maybe the IRS could start recruiting in Delhi.

* * * * * 

Action expresses priorities. -- Mohandas Gandhi

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health and Circuses

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

"...Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions -- everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81, around 100 A.D.

* * * * *

The prez has been in office for 15 months and boy, has it ever been entertaining.  We've seen bankers sent to the dunce corner, auto execs booted out and their companies taken over, insurance companies bailed out of their mistakes, one war won and another escalated, the worst depression since 1929 "narrowly averted" (whatever that means) and communists outed from the White House.  That's entertainment.

Now for the grand finale:  FREE HEALTH CARE!

Well, free in that Someone Who Isn't You (SWIY) will have to pay for it.  And really, if it's free to you then it's completely free, isn't it?  Sadly, no, it isn't free in the sense that sunshine is free.  It's free in the sense of Free Mexican Food, that kind of free.  

The Romans knew about that kind of free.  They got  free bread and circuses and all they had to do was pretend that there were no Barbarians at the gate, come to rob and kill them and sack Rome.  Did you know that they could flood the Colosseum and stage mock sea battles to the death, with hundreds of skewered and drowning men?  Great circuses.  The emperors and the stage hands unions had important stakes in the continuity of circuses.  Their lives and jobs depended on them and they were a LOT more important than the plebs.

Wait.  Does that sound familiar?

The emperors feared the unwashed masses of Rome.   They passed out food to show their concern for the common man and staged spectacular circuses to divert their attention.  The great issues of the day - and the continued existence of Rome itself was already in question - were ignored as long as the people didn't protest... too much.  As long as people were debating their favorite gladiators in the upcoming circus, gathering at huge public sporting events and queuing up for free bread they would be less likely to, say, riot and overthrow the government.  The Romans sold their birthrights, their futures and their souls for some bread and a few afternoons of watching someone else's death-as-entertainment. 

America has been diverted from its core beliefs of the strength of the individual and the sharing of the national burden of whatever kind.  We have been entertained by a 15-month circus of non-stop campaigning for this or that issue, always at the expense of the national treasury, and we're told that nothing will really cost us anything so why not do it?  During this period of entertainment on a grand scale we have managed to lose sight of who we are.  We have accepted that we can have magnificent things like national health care and it will be paid for by SWIY.

But you know that can't work, don't you?  There's no free health care, there's no free Mexican food and BTW, peace isn't free either.

Rome eventually ceased to exist as a player on the world stage.  It lost its means to provide for and protect itself and its citizens.  It succumbed to the wild self-indulgences and promises of its leaders who, while the plebs were wondering whose army was making all that dust on the horizon, moved to Constantinople and took the remaining army with them.

You know all too much about the vote-buying that led to the health care showdown circus.  In a world that was supposed to be "post-partisan", the HC vote was 219-212 along party lines.  They voted while you were watching March Madness.  Or was it gladiators?  Hey, is that gladiator really drowning?

We didn't sell our vote, not exactly, but the folks we elected did.  They sold our vote and we allowed it.  We "abdicated our duties" just as Juvenal wrote and now we "anxiously hope for just two things: bread and circuses."

Pretty smart guy, that Juvenal.

I'm looking for property in Constantinople.  I've heard they've got good bread there.

* * * * *

In times like these it's difficult not to write satire - Juvenal

Friday, March 12, 2010


We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

NB:  The pres has donated his NobelBux to several charities.  Congratulations, Mr. President, on your honorable act.

* * * 

The Armenian Genocide debate continues.  The Swedish Parliament just passed a resolution recognizing the murder campaign as genocide.  The vote was close, 131-130, but the Swedes go the job done.  Predictably, Turkey humphed, recalled its ambassador and canceled a conference.  Now Congress trails the Swedish Parliament in courage and common sense.  Well, yes, maybe they already did.

* * *

They would be lies anywhere else but here.  Lehman Bros. used "accounting gimmicks" to disguise its impending failure, hiding $50 bil in bad - excuse me, "troubled" - loans while begging for ever more money and paying outrageous bonuses.  Ever the spinners, Lehman calls those lies simply "non-culpable errors of business judgment".  Could I make that up?  Guess you could say the same thing about a lot of felony arrests.

It must be a real challenge, hiding $50 bil of bad loans and hoping prospective lenders and creditors won't notice.  How big do your other problems have to be before you try that trick?  Biggest bankruptcy in American history, that's how big.

Today's alert:  Watch the situation in Greece.  Their government did pretty much the same thing - with Goldman Sachs' help.  If Lehman couldn't figure how to avoid bankruptcy it's hard to see how Greece will manage it.  If Greece fails the EU won't be far behind.  Sell your Greek bonds now.

* * *

Correspondent Paul G. recommends George Will's column "As a progressive, Obama hews to the Wilsonian tradition" (you have to sign in first),  and Charles Krauthammer's column "Onward with Obamacare, regardless".  Will is more the professor type, Krauthammer the mud-wrestler.  Both make  interesting points.

* * *

The failures of the health care industry and the complementary failure of the government to oversee it might seduce you into believing that the government should take over.  I disagree but healthy debate should be the key to major legislation.  There hasn't been any real debate.  Had there been, you'd know more than you do.

Let me ask you a question.  Which key economic or social programs have the government run well and within budget?  If you can't think of at least a few then why would you think that government would do a better job running 1/6th of our national economy?  

Don't forget Krauthammer's column

How do you reconcile opposition to "tax cuts for the rich" that actually increase national revenue with a health program that extends government-paid benefits to the same people while draining the treasury?

* * *

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents...

James Madison

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Revisiting the Armenian Genocide

 We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

The 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks is back in the news.  Some in Congress want the US to call it what it was, some don't.  The House Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly voted the matter to the floor Thursday.  You read about the genocide here last April 24.

The prez wants Congress to drop the issue altogether.  (Reminder:  He promised to acknowledge it as genocide during his campaign.)  Turkey recalled its ambassador "for talks", Hillary says it's because we don't want to jeopardize the ongoing Turkey-Armenia reconciliation talks.  The Azeris don't want to disturb the endless Nagorno-Karabakh talks, either.  Say what?

This isn't about US foreign relations, or Nagorno-Karabakh or about the Turkey-Armenia reconciliation talks which are already stalled over the same issue.  Maybe, just maybe, if those talks would give rise to an international body to settle the issue (a precondition to the talks in the first place), then maybe we could wait a little while longer.  BUT THAT AIN'T HAPPENING!  It would embarrass the Turks too much, don'cha know?

Just a few points here:

1.  1,500,000 or so innocent Armenians died in a very short time by order of the Turkish pasha, who wanted to exterminate Armenia, period.  That happened, mass murder with an agenda.  It was witnessed and well documented and that's genocide, folks.

2.  The prez's word is no good on this issue.  He promised one thing and did another.

3.  If the administration can't tell the truth about a foreign catastrophe, why should we believe them when they tell us about our impending domestic catastrophes... and how they saved us from them.  Lucky us, but they spent our children's future to do whatever it is they say they did.  Say, do you remember exactly what that was?

4.  If we're not to call it a genocide, what DO we call it?  "Man-caused disaster" has already been taken (thank you, JanieN).  

We've gone through this same soul-searching (to the extent our national soul still exists) before.  Hitler is supposed to have said "Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?"  OK, point taken, Adolph, but we remember the Holocaust... and we damn you.

Who among us remembers Pol Pot?  Mao?  Mao, maybe, but usually for the Long March or the Little Red Book, not for the worst genocide in history.  Stalin?  Something vaguely reminiscent there but who can place the Ukrainian genocide or the one in Chechnya?  Rwanda?  Does anyone these days even know where Rwanda is?  ("Africa" doesn't count.)  Darfur?  The government of Sudan is sponsoring the Darfur genocide and we're fixated on Toyota's brake problems.  Where did the American moral compass go?

Is it too much to ask of our government that, at the very least, it not do business with genocidal monsters and that it call genocide by its name?  No, today's Turks aren't monsters but there are others who qualify.  The Turks do have a dark past that needs exposure to the light of truth.  Justice will never be done (and forget reparations) but that sad murmuring you hear is the voices of 1.5 million lost souls pleading "Give a name to what happened to me." 

* * * * *

One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.

Joseph Stalin