Today’s the big day, so I hope you get your taxes postmarked by midnight (I prefer to submit mine online), and unlike myself, I hope you get a refund! But just think, once it’s done, you don’t have to do them for another year.
Here’s a cold reality that none of the presidential candidates want to tell you: A shrinking number of Americans are bearing an ever bigger share of the nation’s income tax burden. Is that fair? is it sticking the rich with what they deserve? Or is it a sign of a growing social problem? As you file your tax return, and as the candidates cite assorted half-truths about U.S. taxes, those questions are worth our attention – as long as we face the surprising facts.
The first surprise for most people is the large proportion of Americans who actually get money back – not a refund, but a net payment-through the income tax system is huge. In 2005 (the most recent year available for the data), the bottom 40% of Americans by income had, in the aggregate, an effective tax rate that is negative: Their households receive more money through the income tax system, largely from the earned income tax credit, than they paid.
That means that the number of people who actually pay America’s income taxes-totally almost $1 trillion in 2005-is surprisingly small. Of those who filed returns(themselves a subset of the population), just half accounted for 97% of the Treasury’s total income tax revenue. The top half’s share of total payments has been growing steadily for the past 20 years. The top 10% of taxpayers kicked in 70% of the total income tax. And the famous top %1 paid almost 40% of all income tax, a proportion that has jumped dramatically since 1986.
Wait a minute. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rail against President Bush’s “tax cuts for the rich.” How does that square with the growing share of total tax paid by the wealthy? Are the richest Americans paying so much because they’re actually getting clobbered with a higher tax rates? No. Their effective tax rate – the total tax they pay as a percentage of their income – has declined substantially. The top 1% paid an effective tax rate of 23% in 2005, down from 27.5% in 2001.
So if the rich are paying more income tax, yet are being taxed at a lower rate, there can be only one explanation. Their incomes must be growing fast, much faster than the rest of the population’s. That is what is happening. Backing in 1985, an income of $119.000 got you into the top %1 club. By 2005 it took $365,000 to get you into the club. Those numbers are not adjusted for inflation; if corrected it turns out the price of admission still rose by 72%. By contrast the inflation adjusted definition of a median taxpayer-that is someone in the 50th percentile did not budge.
Now lets consider some of the recent heated tax controversies of recent years. Did Bush cut taxes for the rich? Yes. But he cut taxes for the poor even more. If we look at the measure that really matters, the change in effective tax rates, the bottom 50% got a much bigger tax cut than the top 1%. Did the dollar value of Bush’s tax cuts go mostly to the wealthy? Absolutely. It could hardly be otherwise. Since the well-off pay the overwhelming majority of taxes, any tax cut with a prayer of influencing the economy would have to go mostly to them. You could completely eliminate income taxes for the bottom half of the population and the Treasury would hardly notice.
The real issues here are clear. One is having a shrinking minority of citizens pay most of Washington’s bills. Social cohesion falls apart. The majority who pay nothing resent those with higher incomes; the minority who pay heavily resent those who don’t pay.
More fundamental is why some people’s incomes are growing so much faster than other people’s incomes. That, and not taxes is what the supposed tax debate is really about. Which candidate will make a substantive proposal for dealing with the issue, including how low-income citizens can get some of the earning power now going heavily to better educated. It’s a lot more complicated than changing the income tax rates.
As I explained to Christopher yesterday, the Academy Awards is to me as the World Cup is to him. I was trying to convey how much I like watching the Oscars and his response was… “But the World Cup happens every four years and the Oscars happen every year. You should liken it more to the Superbowl.”
Okay… whatever gets the point across, right?
I love the dresses, the red carpet, the interviews, the stars being themselves. I love seeing the movies that get nominated even though the Academy is hardly exempt from choosing the winners on a political basis rather than the merits of the film alone. But I love to see the craft of writing and directing and acting all come together to make something great. Did I mention the dresses?
I did see all the movies nominated for best picture this year, so I thought I’d give you my opinion on each one. While this year’s nominees pale in comparison to most years as far as I’m concerned, and nothing really stood out to me as deserving of “Best Picture,” here’s my quick take…
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
While I think Daniel Day Lewis certainly deserves the Oscar for best male actor in a leading a role for his performance in this film, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the movie itself. My general opinion on 2 1/2 hour movies is that they probably could have been told in 2 hours and someone (namely the producers) were too in love with the movie to cut the fat. The film is basically a character study about a man obsessed with success and competition (Christopher could relate ), an obsession which ultimately leads to his professional, personal, and psychological downfall. Will it win best picture? I’m not predicting it will… nor do I think it deserves it.
(Sorry– this one includes a spoiler)
I pretty much hate period pieces– and I also don’t like movies that have huge time gaps because they bring me out of the story. While this was probably my least favorite of the contenders, I think it has the best chance of winning simply because this is the “type” of film the Academy usually graces with an Oscar. I didn’t find any of the performances to be particularly noteworthy and while the concept of the story itself was good (depressing, but intriguing nonetheless), the “happy” ending followed by the “unbearably depressing” ending left me feeling more irritated than impressed at the lead’s half-assed attempt at atonement.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
(Sorry– spoiler here too)
A typical Coen brothers film– violent, unpredictable, dark. It’s a fun ride while you’re in the thick of it, but unlike FARGO, it leaves you wondering what the point really was. Sure, it reflects a reality where greedy bastards sometimes come out on top and there is no character that’s purely good or purely bad. Everyone’s bad and good, stupid and smart. The person most in control can easily be knocked off his high horse by something as random as flirting with a woman sitting near a pool or not paying attention to a car about to run a red light. The film offers its own sense of justice and morality, where keeping one’s word ranks superior to allowing innocent victims to live. Peppered with incredible performances and dialogue I’m jealous I didn’t come up with, I don’t think it will win best picture, but it’s certainly worth seeing.
Not incredibly original, it felt more like a showcase for George Clooney than anything else. Somewhat ploddy at times, too much effort was spent on poorly integrated subplots, making the film about 15 minutes too long. Don’t get me wrong, Clooney’s certainly easy on the eyes and emerges as a likable protagonist early on, but does it deserve to be remembered along side other Best Picture winners like PLATOON and THE GODFATHER? No. But none of the nominees this year come close. I think the real competition will be between this film and ATONEMENT, even though my personal advice would be to wait until it comes out on DVD. Oh wait… it already has.
My personal favorite of the bunch. A simple story told in an original way, but it’s the only movie I told people I’d go back and watch again in the theater if they wanted someone to go with them. Is it worthy of an Oscar– I don’t think so. It’s a great movie, not an amazing movie, but the writing, Ellen Page’s performance, and the directing all really came together in all the right ways. While Diablo Cody’s rather flippant attitude about her success is annoying to say the least, it’s that persona that had a big part in creating the funny, quippy dialogue and rather immature perspective on life and relationships Juno so lovingly embodies. I left the theater feeling uplifted, which in my opinion, sets this film apart from the others. It didn’t just tell a story, it hooked you emotionally in a way the others didn’t. If it were up to me, I’d give this film the Oscar, but I don’t predict the Academy will view it as Oscar-worthy. I’ll keep my fingers crossed though– just in case.
Now that election season is heating up, I thought I would chime in on what I look for in a president.
Basically all candidates are compared to Andrew Jackson…. if they can’t hold a stick to President Jackson, they won’t get my vote.
When the 1828 election rolled around, a lot of people were terrified when they heard Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson was running. If you’re wondering how a guy I’m calling a bad ass got such a lame nickname, it’s because he used to carry a hickory cane around and beat people senseless with it, and if you’re wondering why he did that, it’s because he was a fucking lunatic.
Former Democratic Senator and Secretary of the Treasurey Albert Gallatin feared a Jackson presidency because of his “habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions.” Or in other words, the man was a loose canon–17th Century Washigton’s answer to Martin Riggs. Sure, he probably didn’t have an irate black lieutenant to answer to, or a weary partner who was too old for this shit, but he most certainly had a death wish.
How do we know? Well, despite everyone’s best efforts, Jackson was elected to the top office, and when he wasn’t busy shaping the Presidency as we know it today, you could find him out back dueling. In case you haven’t been to the 18th century lately, this unmanly sounding activity actually involves standing across from an armed man and shooting at him while he in turn shoots at you. The number of duels that Jackson took part in varies depending on what source you consult; some say 13, while others rank the number somewhere in the 100′s, both of which are entirely too many times for a reasonable human being to stand in front of someone who is strying to kill them with a loaded gun.
On one occasion, he challenged a man named Charles Dickinson to a duel, (the reason behind it wasn’t important, not to us and certainly not to Jackson), and Jackson was even kind enough to give Dickinson the first shot. We’re gonna go ahead and repeat that: In a duel with pistols, Jackson politely volunteers to be shot at first. Dickinson happily obliged and shot Jackson, who proceeded to shake it off like it was a bee sting. When Jackson returned the favor, Dickinson was not so lucky, and that’s why his face isn’t on the twenty. The bullet, by the by, remained in Jackson’s body for 19 years because, we assume, Jackson knew that time spent removing the bullets would just fall under the general category of “time not dueling,” Jackson’s least favorite category.
Greatest Display of Badassedry:
Andrew Jackson was the first president on whom an assassination attempt was made. A man named Richard Lawrence approached Jackson with two pistols both of which, for some reason, misfired. With the possibility of an assassination taken off the table, Jackson proceeded to beat Lawrence near death with his cane until Jackson’s aides pulled him off the assassin.
The guns were inspected afterwards and it was discovered that they were in perfect working order, leading some historians to believe that it was an odds-defying “miracle” that Jackson survived, while we’re pretty sure that the bullets, like everyone else, were simply scared of Jackson.
Most Badass Quote:
“I have only two regrets: I didn’t shoot Henry Clay and I didn’t hang John C. Calhoun.”
That’s right. In a life rich with murdering people for little-to-no reason, Jackson’s only regret was that he didn’t kill quite enough people. People like Calhoun who, it should be noted, was Jackson’s vice president.