Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A state of disarray

kw: politics, speeches, president

I am not so quick on my feet. After the president's State of the Union address last evening, I had to sleep on it. Starting an hour ago, I had a look at a few articles and videos about it. I still do not know what to think about most of it.

It was, of course, a campaign speech. There are but forty weeks to go until November 6, and how this gestational period will work out is anybody's guess. Perhaps this is why, while he defended his health care legislation, he didn't spend more than a few seconds on it.

He appealed instead to the middle class, whatever is left of it. To hear him tell it, the country consists of "hard working folks" making minimum wage and "millionaires", now defined as those who earn $1 million yearly, rather than those whose net worth exceeds $1 million. This latter figure describes quite a number of "middle class" folks who have been diligent to build up their 401(k) or IRA, and have a few hundred thousand dollars in home equity built up.

So, targeting the newly-defined millionaires, the President proposed that those earning $1 million or more pay no less than 30% of their gross income in taxes. So many have pointed to Mitt Romney's 15% tax rate last year as "unfair". I don't see how; he paid around $3 million in taxes. He earned several hundred times as much as I did, but he paid almost twice as much of a percent in taxes (my 2010 taxes were 8% of my gross income). My colleagues at work pay between 7% and 9% of their gross income in taxes, and our "admin assistants" (secretaries) pay between nothing and 4%.

Sure, I am in the 28% or 33% tax bracket, but that is only on the last few dollars I make. Half of my income isn't taxed at all, because of deductions like home mortgage and charity, and my pre-tax contributions to a 401(k). Those who make millions can't shield as much of their gross income as I can, so they get taxed more already.

Something the President will never say out loud: The "one percent" at the top of the income ladder already pay 40% of the total income taxes. If we took all their money, it still would not meet the need. So even though I am a Republican, I bridle at the fact that nearly half of working Americans pay no income tax at all, and a few percent of them are paid a kind of welfare called the "earned income tax credit." Call it negative taxation. With the Federal Government typically spending around 22% of the GDP, total taxes, mainly corporate and individual income taxes, have to total this amount to avoid deficits.

Of course, it is also not being mentioned that with the massive bailouts initiated by President Bush and continued by President Obama, the Federal government has been spending more than 100% of GDP in some years. That's how we went from a $1 Trillion national debt to a $14 Trillion national debt in just a few years.

OK, another subject. The President talked about "clean energy". He hesitates to say that we have to use a bunch of dirty energy to create the infrastructure for clean energy. A poster child for clean energy used to be the Sierra SunTower in Lancaster, California. It isn't mentioned much lately, because it is so seldom being operated. It turns out to be too expensive to run full time, so it is only operated for peak times, which are rare in the rather moderate climate of the high desert. And it turns out that the mirrors need frequent cleaning, which takes a lot of water, something in short supply there. I wonder what army of window cleaners they have, to clean more than 26,000 mirrors! Each is the size of a large picture window.

I have mixed feelings about another subject, the use of a "peace dividend" from the end of the Iraq war to engage in "nation building right here at home." Nation building is as much about political challenges as technical ones. The kind of nation building I'd like to see is to pass an amendment that requires every citizen to obey the same laws, abolishing the special retirement plan that exempts Congress from Social Security, and repealing all laws that they themselves are exempt from.

I was kind of hoping for the President to have a Clinton-like laundry list of things he'd like to accomplish. Then I could have something to cheer on. He is a likeable guy and I hate to put him down. But he seems to be paving the way for a big put-down of his own, by being a divisive President rather than a unifier.

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