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We the People

A Government by the People

Silly me. I always thought that our government was by the people and for the people. A couple years ago, I wrote to representative Sue Myrick on some issue, and in response received a canned letter saying that she would always vote this way. I don’t recall the issue. But to hear from an elected representative that she would always vote in a particular way is disturbing.

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We the People

Talk About Opressive Taxation

Does it seem odd to anyone that the Internal Revenue Service has a budget of something more than $10 billion? What’s worse is that this budget apparently isn’t enough to keep the whole thing running, as the organization now plans to reduce the help that they offer to taxpayers.

That’s right, folks. The IRS will be closing service centers, cutting back on call center hours and completely eliminating the Tele-File system to submit simpler returns, which was last year used by 3.8 million taxpayers.

Not only do they continue to add complexity to a code that is already so far beyond complex that a number of full-time industries exist solely to provide assistance with this chore, now they are going to offer even less help in performing it.

Since 1943, the government has determined that reaching into our paychecks and taking the money before we even get it is the best way at the money. And they are right.

How many of you would balk at writing a check for thousands of dollars each year to the government? Yet it is not so much an issue when that check is broken up into 12 (monthly), 26 (bi-weekly) or 52 (weekly) easy payments, that you never even see.

I understand that taxes are required to run the government, and I really don’t even have a problem with that. I do have a problem with it when they take the money before we get it, then make it criminal to question them about it and finally make it more and more difficult to even know how to figure it out for ourselves.

The current tax code is a myriad of laws that wind in and out of each other so that no normal, sane person can understand them. This code is enforced by the fear of being questioned by the IRS about how we didn’t adhere to this subpoint or that exception.

How can anyone think this is a good idea?

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We the People

Time for a Sanity Check

“Let’s be clear: Children under the age of 21 cannot procure alcohol; children under the age of 18 cannot vote; children under the age of 15 cannot drive; but a child aged 14 can enter into a legally binding union with another child in North Carolina — if the girl is pregnant. And it’s the committed gay couples we need to worry about?”

Well said, Ms. Flaxman.

This is the sort of thing that I just don’t get. Whether you are for or against same-sex marriage, surely it’s clear that getting the government involved is not a good thing. There’s a point where we just need to buckle up and be responsible for our own actions, rather than hoping the government will legislate it. Doing that is just asking for trouble.

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We the People

Checks and Balances

Our country was formed on a series of checks and balances. For good reason, it was decided that each branch of the government would operate independently of the others. In this way, it was assumed, no single branch – or single person – could wield too much power. While this is certainly up for debate, I for one am glad that it works as well as it does.

House Republican leader Tom DeLay warned that lawmakers “will look at an arrogant and out-of-control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president”, and that sounds to me like he’s just tiffed that the judicial branch of government did what they were supposed to do – uphold the law. And that they have done, regardless of what wackos like Mr. DeLay think about it.

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We the People

Social Security Reform

With all the recent talk about reforming Social Security, it is only natural that the plans of three Texas counties will come into the spotlight. I’ve talked about them before. Over a year ago. Guess that makes me a progressive thinker or something. Regardless, this article has some good points when looking at those plans as a model.

First and foremost, if you withdraw money, you will have less when you retire. Does anyone really need to be told this basic fact? One retiree on one of these plans currently receives far less from the local plan than she would have if she was in Social Security. But that’s because she took some money out of the plan while she was still working. Apparently the plan no longer allows withdrawals.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Social Security is designed as a safety net. It’s not designed to handle any and every bill you encounter as a retiree, and pay for you to continue life in the way to which you’ve grown accustomed. If you want to do that, try saving some money on your own to supplement Social Security.

The word is security, folks. That means that you can be secure that you’ll have something. It doesn’t say that you’ll be well off, or be able to pay the mortgage on your McMansion, but instead that you’ll have a lifeline from which to draw.

Frankly, I think the reform is looking in the wrong direction. Too many people have come to feel that Social Security is indeed a source of income for later years, and that couldn’t be more wrong. To change this perception, let the government build standard housing for seniors, where they can have their housing and food needs met, and where they can even receive medical care. Then drop Social Security entirely.

If people are unable to save for themselves, give them something. I’m all for that. I’m a giving person. But why give them everything?

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We the People

Addressing Social Security

I read another article on the Social Security debacle yesterday. This one talks about protecting the income of people over a certain threshold. That’s nice, but let’s face it – many of us will never meet the threshold anyway. So what do we care?

What I don’t get is why people can’t see the truly big picture. Moving money into individual accounts may be a lovely PR move, and make for some wonderful sound bites, but it isn’t going to help anything in the long run. The reason is that the system wasn’t designed to work that way. It was designed as a safety net of sorts, not an investment system.

The inherent problem in Social Security is that it’s run by the government as a pay-as-you-go system. It’s not designed to build wealth, but rather to re-distribute it to those in need. As I pay in, someone else takes out. While most financial wisdom would have you deposit your money in your account and then take it out to spend, that is simply not the way that this system works.

As such, I am not completely sure where I stand on it. I hate paying money for an “investment” that, in all likelihood, will be at least severely diminished when the time comes for me to draw on it. But as I mentioned, this is not an investment. It’s a security net for those who can’t, or don’t, save for themselves. And because of that, I have some sympathy.

I still don’t have sympathy for people who choose to ignore their responsibilities, but I can understand the system more from that angle than from looking at it as an invesmtent. The problem is still that the government probably isn’t the best choice to run such a system. There is simply no need to have the government involved in every aspect of our lives.

And even if they should choose some wonderfully “safe” vehicles for these individual accounts, what happens if they don’t quite work out? Oops. Back in the same system we have now. Perhaps worse. Namely, that we pay in money, which is then spent by another area of the government. In turn, that other area gives the Social Security Administration IOUs in the form of Treasury investments, to be paid back at a later date (ie, when people retire and draw on the funds).

Does anyone see the problem? The problem is that money is coming in, then being spent, then coming magically from another area to cover the promises of the Social Security program. It’s like a giant Ponzi scheme. So long as more and more people are paying in, then those cashing out are able to get their benefits. But what happens when the payers start dropping in comparison to the payees? You have a serious money problem.

I don’t think the solution is to invent another method of dealing with the current program. The solution is to scrap the program we have and build something different, because this plan doesn’t work, no matter how you tinker with it. And while we’re at it, perhaps we could scrap the tax code as well and replace it with something much simpler.

Of course, both prospects ride on the government shirinking to perform more efficiently. It’s probably unlikely that that will happen anytime in the near future. It’s like a cancer that just grows and grows and grows. One day, I hope everyone will see what a mess it has become and realize that change is needed. Hopefully that will happen soon.

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We the People

Social Security and You

Social Security may or may not be worth saving. Much as with Girl Scout Cookies, the issue is probably one of framing.

To be quite clear: The Social Security program isn’t an investment. I think that’s the most difficult concept for me to get through my head. I’m not socking away money so that I’ll have it later when I retire. I’m providing it so that the government can give it to someone else.

While I don’t necessarily have a problem with giving to those less fortunate, I really dislike that we’re absolutely forced to do so. You simply cannot opt-out of Social Security. On occasion, you may be able to get off a spammer’s mailing list. Not Social Security. Once you’re in, you’re in for good.

I can understand the concept behind the program – providing a safety net of sorts for people who are unable to provide their own. What really torks me, though, is that it’s one more example (in a growing list of them) of how our country is governed to the least common denominator.

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We the People

Government Machinations

Let me get this straight. We finally get Iraq to the point where they hold elections. Now, some people (admittedly, a journalist, but it wouldn’t surprise me if politicians felt the same) think that the person they are likely to elect is a bad choice? That’s it. Give them the opportunity to pick their leader. They do, decide they picked the wrong one. Give me a break. And people wonder why I think we might not have the best argument for being involved in Iraq.

Speaking of the middle east… The big D (that’s Dubya, not Dallas) has decided that invading Iran is a bad idea. I don’t really have anything to say about this. I just wanted to record it, so that in a few months or so, if he should change his mind, I’ll be able to come back and find it easily.

There actually was an interesting idea proposed recently for dealing with the mess of Social Security. It seems that Paul O’Neill (the treasury guy, not the Yankee) thinks the government ought to just give every person $2K per year for their own account. I actually like that someone proposed a new idea. But the numbers in the end won’t be any better than the current plan, and the money still has to come from somewhere. That’s what I don’t get. Do people just not understand that whatever the government gives away, they have to get from somewhere first? And that that somewhere is their very own pocket? I’d prefer to just keep my pocket lined, thank you very much.

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In Our World We the People

Why Is It So Hard?

The Problem: Some people want to see a female president, implying that we just ought to put one there, without, say, a vote on the subject. As if it’s time for quotas in government. Can’t we get over that hump already?

My Proposal: You want a woman in office, get the support of a political party, major or minor, foot the bill, run the race, and get the votes. Though I don’t necessarily agree with the current political system in our country, I at least recognize that it’s better than the alternative – namely being stuck with whatever trend du jour happens to strike everyone’s fancy.

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We the People

Social Security Silliness

We have been married for very nearly two years, and in that time we had never bothered to update my wife’s name on her Social Security card. I’m sure this is probably something that we could be fined for doing, but we just never got around to it. Everything else? Absolutely. But not that little blue card.

So we went to the web site of the Social Security Administration to find out what we needed to do. We found a very helpful page that gave us all the information we needed. What’s more, it sounded like a relatively painless process. That would be a nice change when dealing with the government. Alas, it was not to be.