Posts Tagged ‘Taxation’

IRS ‘hard drive crashes continue as we speak’—Really?!

Posted on September 29, 2014 at 11.12 am

This week, I look at the dangerous precedent the IRS’ hard drive excuse sets for government accountability:

Of course, for many people, distaste for the IRS kicked into high gear with the news that the agency hassled conservative/tea party and even progressivepolitical groups with unfair delays and scrutiny. The government can’t handle criticism, it seems, and the IRS decided to make life miserable for any organization that didn’t adequately bow before the system.

At the center of this scandal is Lois Lerner, the high-ranking IRS agent whorepeatedly refused to testify about her role in this corruption by pleading the Fifth. Because of her silence (only recently broken with protestations of innocence), an archive of tens of thousands of her emails is the one clear source of evidence to determine wrongdoing in the political targeting debacle.

So, inevitably since this is the government we’re talking about, many of those emails are missing.

For months now, we’ve heard excuse after excuse and story after story about these elusive emails. Back in June, the IRS claimed that the emails were gone because of limited email storage space and a computer crash back in 2011.

Since then, new revelations and accusations have been all over the map. In one statement, the IRS suggested that the emails are not missing after all, but it would be a lot of work to find them. Reports have surfaced that the emails could have been saved on a government-wide backup service, but the IRS says no such service exists. Meanwhile, the agency continues to announce the loss of more and more emails in what can only be described as highly convenient circumstances for corrupt IRS employees.

Oh, and did I mention that a Department of Justice attorney who has represented the IRS was apparently himself involved in the original corruption?

I must admit I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the IRS scandal until recently. I tend to be more interested in foreign policy and civil liberties issues, and it’s not like my feelings about the IRS could get much more negative anyway, amirite?

But then I saw this headline: Koskinen: “Hard Drive Crashes Continue as We Speak”

I mean, really? Really?!

Read the whole thing here.

Where did your tax dollars go?

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 11.57 am
11th 2 p.m.

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. — Mark Twain

Last year I shared this image, the Heritage Foundation‘s chart for 2012 explaining where your tax dollar goes. It got almost 800 notes, because it’s a great graphic way to demonstrate what our government does with our money. I noticed this morning that it was getting a few additional reblogs thanks to today being Tax Day, so I thought I’d share an updated chart.

As it turned out, I’d already found and saved the very similar chart for 2013 made by the National Priorities Project (NPP), the graphic at the top of this post. When I uploaded it, I took a minute to compare the two versions. Both Heritage’s image for 2012 and NPP’s image for 2013 use the same clever design, but I immediately noticed that the similarities stop there. And when I dug up Heritage’s chart for 2013 and NPP’s far more chaotic version from 2012, the differences became even more telling.

See, all these charts are informative, but they’re made with different agendas in mind.Heritage is a conservative think tank, and as the ACA (Obamacare) has gone into effect since their 2012 graphic, their focus has shifted even more strongly to highlighting entitlement spending. Note that big bracket they’ve added, and how “Income security, Veterans’ benefits” was retitled “Income security and other benefits,” a subtle shift which will make that spending feel more wasteful to Heritage’s typically anti-welfare, pro-military audience. Military spending, meanwhile, is dubbed “National defense” — a label I’d say isn’t quite accurate in our age of endless war — and calculated in a way which makes it seem quite small compared to the social programs.

Then there’s the NPP, which is a nonpartisan transparency organization that leans left. In both of their charts, military spending is labeled as just that, and it’s also calculated in a way which makes it the largest portion of the budget. Veterans’ benefits, health care spending, unemployment benefits, housing benefits, and food benefits are all chopped up into different sections, making social welfare spending look like a smaller slice of the pie than it really is. (The interest on the national debt also plays a much larger role in NPP’s charts than Heritage’s, a difference which I presume comes from Heritage’s use of “net interest.”)

So what’s the takeaway here? Well, there are a few:

1. No matter which chart you use, one thing is clear: Our government spends a heck of a lot of money that we don’t have.

2. The vast bulk of it goes to military spending and entitlement programs. Within each of those categories, there is plenty of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and corruption of all sorts.

3. While I don’t believe any of these charts were intentionally designed to be deceptive (there are multiple, legitimate ways to slice up these spending categories), each presents the information with a certain bias. Bias is NOT a bad thing (see more on that here), but it can be dangerous if we’re not aware of its presence. Last year, I posted Heritage’s chart uncritically. I don’t think anything too terrible happened as a result, but looking at their updated chart this year (especially compared to NPP’s differently-biased graphics) indicates that was not the best choice.

4. ALWAYS use multiple sources. Last year I didn’t look for other sources on this, because the proportions are generally correct. It’s typically fairly safe to think of Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and military spending each taking about 25% of our spending, with the rest going to other programs and interest on the debt. That’s a very rough estimate, but it’s a good guide to see if charts like these are anywhere close to reality.

Beyond that general estimate, though, we need more sources. Unless you’re a math and budget genius, check multiple versions of these calculations, which inevitably simplify very complex information into a very small space.

Personally, I think this graphic, though least visually interesting, is probably the most valuable. It’s from the Tax Foundation, which is more interested in lowering taxes and spending overall than making any particular part of the spending look more ominous than it is (note: it’s all pretty ominous). This chart slices up $100 instead of $1, but the idea is the same. And here you’ll note something of a mediating position which lines up pretty closely with my 25% x 3 approximation.

The White House, the New York TimesCNBC, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and plenty of other organizations with widely varying agendas have put out their own versions of these charts. Being able to find and compare these different calculations is a huge advantage of the internet.

So, where do your tax dollars go? Well, you figure it out. Probably somewhere you don’t like. Happy Tax Day…or something like that.

Taxing like it’s 1999

Posted on December 14, 2012 at 3.04 pm

</p>
<p>There is a lot of talk about going back to Clinton-era tax rates to achieve fiscal solvency. But how about going back to Clinton-era spending levels, too? [&#8230;]<br />
When Clinton left office in January 2001, total spending was close to $2 trillion, and the federal government registered a surplus of $142 billion in real terms. In fiscal 2012, federal spending was $3.2 trillion, and our deficit was $1.1 trillion.</p>
<p>I was a kid when Clinton was in office, but I was old enough to remember lots of anger at &#8220;Slick Willy.&#8221; Now, I&#8217;d wager, there are quite a few erstwhile Clinton haters who are suddenly feeling nostalgic for the late 90s.<br />
I don&#8217;t want taxes to go up, of course, but for this much of a spending cut it just might be worth it. More info here.

There is a lot of talk about going back to Clinton-era tax rates to achieve fiscal solvency. But how about going back to Clinton-era spending levels, too? […]

When Clinton left office in January 2001, total spending was close to $2 trillion, and the federal government registered a surplus of $142 billion in real terms. In fiscal 2012, federal spending was $3.2 trillion, and our deficit was $1.1 trillion.

I was a kid when Clinton was in office, but I was old enough to remember lots of anger at “Slick Willy.” Now, I’d wager, there are quite a few erstwhile Clinton haters who are suddenly feeling nostalgic for the late 90s.

I don’t want taxes to go up, of course, but for this much of a spending cut it just might be worth it. More info here.