Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Tax Rebate that isn't.

In politics, what do you call giving $300 in tax money to people who don't pay taxes?

A Tax Rebate:

(The Associated press via Yahoo)

Individuals who pay income taxes would get up to $600, working couples $1,200 and those with children an additional $300 per child under the agreement. Workers who make at least $3,000 but don't pay taxes would get $300 rebates.

All is not lost however, Republicans in Washington are
pleased that the bulk of the rebates — more than 70 percent, according to an analysis by Congress' Joint Tax Committee — would go to individuals who pay taxes.

Wow, so much to be thankful for, 70% is an actual rebate in this rebate and only 30% of the money isn't a rebate (a return of money you sent to Washington), it's an out-and-out handout (Of your money to someone that didn't pay any income tax in).

At least so far we've escaped some of the dumber attempts to stimulate the economy:
Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to drop increases in food stamp and unemployment benefits during a Wednesday meeting in exchange for gaining the rebates of at least $300 for almost everyone earning a paycheck, including those who make too little to pay income taxes.

How an increase in food stamps stimulates an economy in a useful manner is perplexing, as is increasing unemployment benefits - you want people working and buying stuff, not sitting on the dole, and for that you need business to grow and hire employees.

But not to worry the Democrats may be able to wrangle these back into the final bill:
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee Chairman, said leaving out the unemployment extension was "a mistake," as he announced plans to craft a separate stimulus package in the Senate starting next week.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said the goal is to send the package to the White House by Feb. 15 for President Bush's signature. Reid said senators would want to look at add-ons including the unemployment extension and possibly money for highway projects.

The highway projects I can get behind as highways are at least useful and certainly can use much repair, and this will hopefully crowd out some of the useless pork but i have my doubts.

The plan started well and made sense:
Bush has supported larger rebates of $800-$1,600, but his plan would have left out 30 million working households who earn paychecks but don't make enough to pay income tax, according to calculations by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center
Well yes, if you don't pay income taxes, why should you get an income tax refund?

Unfortunately the bill has a few poison pills that may saddle us all with even greater debt and more future crises:
To address the mortgage crisis, the package also raises the limits on Federal Housing Administration loans and home mortgages that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase to as high as $725,000 in high-cost areas. Those are considerable boosts over the current FHA limit of $362,000 and the $417,000 cap for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's loan purchases.
Can you say watch the government swoop in to buy up even bigger worthless loans or loans on the brink of foreclosure that they couldn't buy before -- the result of irresponsible buyers and mortgagees and thus relieve them both of responsibility? A nice government bailout if you can get it but not if you're a responsible person, did not buy more house than you can afford and you're about to watch the irresponsible be rewarded at your expense.

Now for the understatement of the article
Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, were likely to be restless over tax rebates going to those without income tax liability.

Gee, ya think?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

A Very Cool Map replacing the names of United State's individual state names with countries that have GDPs equivalent to those states.

As you guessed from the title of this post by now, Michigan is tied with a certain South American country whose name begins with A.

Another coincidence, both have had less than stellar female leaders who were wildly popular with some.

It could have been worse, with the way the economy is going down here we could have been listed as Zimbabwe.

Sault St Marie Locks Close for the Winter

While this typically wouldn't have been an item of interest to me last year, since i've been scuba diving and reading about Great Lakes Shipwrecks, the closure of the locks for the winter is interesting news.

Soo Locks close until March 25

And another year of shipping on the Great Lakes ends.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Michigan 2008 Primary Results

The Free Press is calling the Republican Primary for Romney and the Democrat primary for Hillary (big surprise there), even though
only a small percentage of votes were officially counted, the Free Press called the race for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who grew up in Bloomfield Hills, based on exit polls.

Most likely, they're right. Romney had to win Michigan and it looks like according to the Freep he did, especially as it seems he put the most work into the State. But it will be interesting to see if the Free Press has proclaimed that Dewey just beat Truman but we'll see what happens.

To see the Michigan Secretary of State's results see this Secretary of State's excellent website.

Michigan 2008 Primary

Today was the Michigan Primary.

With an inauspicious slow start with a snowstorm to cause delay and joy in traffic the primary began.

I decided to vote after work given that it was hard enough to dig out and get to work. So the family after dinner pikled in the car and off we went to vote.

Turnout was quite light at the precinct, with no waiting or lines to speak of. We did have to show picture ID, an idea whose time has long since come. Luckily we both were who we said we were and we received our ballots.

Interestingly we did overhear some people asking for Democrat ballots, even though those ballots were the truncated sort not listing many of the candidates as the candidates had refused to be on the ballot because Michigan moved its primary to January, against party rules.

Given the push Romney has been making here in Michigan, including multiple computer generated calls to my house leading up to election day. its not surprising he's pushing hard here. Note to Romney - if you've got to call at all hours, at least vary the message, the same one every time is not endearing. So no vote for you.

McCain of course has been anointed and endorsed by the Detroit Free Press as the Republican most likely to act like a Democrat.

I voted for Fred Thompson in a case of heart winning over head as I think he'd be the best possible Republican candidate, but I do wish he was fighting harder and acting like he wanted to win it. Hopefully I helped keep him competitive.

Political Stalking Horse?

Thought: Ron Paul is a Republican stalking horse designed to discredit libertarians and make them look like blithering nut cases, and thus remove them and small government advocates to the margins.


Update In response to Scott's worry in the comments that it was an undigested bit of beef -


'Twas not a bit of undigested beef. Like Ebenezer, I too was visited by three ghosts:

The Ghost of Ron Paul Newsletters Past

The Ghost of Ron Paul Truther and Stormfront supported Present

The Ghost of America's Future - Ron Paul wasn't the president nor did he show up having much of an effect so it was a short visit indeed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

McCain appeals to Democrats in Michigan to put him in the lead in the primary

Great, we knew McCain was the Democrat's choice for Republican leadership but he really doesn't need to go out and confirm it.

As noted in the Detroit News:
McCain hopes his appeal to independents and moderate Democrats would encourage them to vote in the GOP contest, and he leads those voters, who make up about one in six likely Republican primary voters. About one in 11 voters made up their minds after McCain's victory in last Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and he leads among them 2-to-1.

Indeed, McCain is the left-leaning Detroit Free Press' candidate of choice in the Republican primary:
The Free Press endorsed Sen. John McCain last Sunday as the best hope on the Republican side for both Michigan and the nation.

McCain's actions in the senate - his push for campaign finance reform, his "Gang of 14" to appease the Democrats in blocking Republican judges and other actions make him a shoe-in as the Democrat's choice to run against them int he election as he's more like them than not.

Given that Democrats in Michigan do not have a real primary this year, the expectation is they will register in the Republican Primary. The question is who will these cross-overs vote for. My best bets for who they'll go for:

a) McCain - he's the closest to a Democrat and a win for him gives them a comfy liberal in GOP's clothing to run against.

b) Ron Paul - a win for Paul would make Michigan Republicans look like blithering, conspiracy-theory spouting, idiots.

c) Huckabee - a win for Huck would make Michigan Republicans look like big-government, big spending, religious fundamentalist, idiots.

Anyone else have a better guess? Tuesday should be interesting.

Amazing Book on Great Lakes Wreck Diving

If you want a fast-paced, cannot-put-it-down book on how many of the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes were found you need to read the book Shipwreck Hunter

Its a great book that goes into some of the early SCUBA based exploration of the Great Lakes focusing on David Trotter's Underwater Research Associates' crack crew of intrepid ship-finders. These guys find more ships out there than anyone else and they're very good at what they do.

However the book also describes the great risks these divers took before and then when tri-mix diving was in its infancy, and the bends hits and even greater tragedy that befell one of their team members on a dive that where everything that could go wrong, did.

Filled with great accounts of the finding of a multitude of wrecks and their histories, and the first book to describe the SCUBA descent of two divers to the Edmund Fitzgerald - a 500 foot dive that is the deepest wreck dive ever made in the Great Lakes, the book simply cannot be put down and I read it over this weekend.

If you're interested in scuba diving, technical diving and Great Lakes wreck diving, this is the book for you.

Bush DOJ does it again and not in a good way

As noted by Instapundit, Bush DOJ betrays gun rights. Instapundit recounts a report from David Hardy Of Arms and the Law that the Bush DOJ has just filed an amicus brief in the Heller case that should hardly give any gun owner cause for joy or support for the GOP. While the amicus brief holds the Second Amendment to be an individual right, it argues for such a low level of scrutiny -including the possibility of complete bans being acceptable -- as to make the right meaningless.

As Mr. Hardy writes:
the GOP operated on two principles: screw your friends and appease your enemies. Yup.

It seems the GOP still operates on the same, except change "appease your enemies" to "cravenly lick their enemies' boots and ask, "please sir may I have another?""

There was no requirement for the DOJ to submit an amicus brief, and could have quite simply not filed one and not further riled up an active portion of the Republican base in this, an election year. Its not like gun owners are thrilled with Bush to begin with as while he is certainly the lesser of the two evils presented, he's done very little to unwind the damages caused by the Clinton years.

There was certainly no reason for the DOJ to file a brief that holds that a complete ban on firearms could be construed as reasonable and not an infringement of a the individual right, Indeed, if one can completely ban the exercise of a right, it is not much of a right than is it?

Will the Federal Republicans ever learn that betraying their base and constantly trying to out-Democrat the Democrats (massive spending, massively increasing the size of government, corruption and earmarks galore) is no way to remain in power? The Dems still do all of that much better, and the Republicans will only lose votes by continuing to act like this.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Not to say we told you so....

But all of us in the pro-firearms rights at the time did say so, and we were right.

And as finally acknowledged in the Free press, one of the papers that blithely predicted the "old west" and "blood in the streets" and more gun violence we have...Michigan sees fewer gun deaths -- with more permits
Six years after new rules made it much easier to get a license to carry concealed weapons, the number of Michiganders legally packing heat has increased more than six-fold.

But dire predictions about increased violence and bloodshed have largely gone unfulfilled, according to law enforcement officials and, to the extent they can be measured, crime statistics.

The incidence of violent crime in Michigan in the six years since the law went into effect has been, on average, below the rate of the previous six years. The overall incidence of death from firearms, including suicide and accidents, also has declined.

More than 155,000 Michiganders -- about one in every 65 -- are now authorized to carry loaded guns as they go about their everyday affairs, according to Michigan State Police records.

It only took them six years to realize that Michigan is like every other state that has shall issue permits to law abiding citizens. When the law abiding carry firearms there is less violent crime and the responsible law abiding permit holders are not causing blood to flow in the streets and the other hackneyed, cliched, hand-wringing, dire predictions of doom resulting from letting honest citizens carry firearms for protection just do not materialize.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is there any tax the Detroit Free Press doesn't like?

The answer seems to be no.

Indeed, the Freep is pushing for higher gas taxes for road repair.

In Pave the way for better road funding

In it, the Freep editorial enthusiastically states
Task force members ought to entertain any reasonable alternative, including toll roads, substituting a higher sales tax for the gas tax, and odometer taxes that charge motorists for mileage. They must also consider ways to get more money to Michigan's inadequate public transportation systems.
Yes, Michigan's roads are in sorry shape, the result of years of government neglect, environmental conditions, and having some of the heaviest loaded trucks in the country driving on them constantly.

More taxes are not the answer however. We already have some of the most expensive gas in the nation as not only does Federal and the State gas tax raise the cost, buyt Michigan's sales tax is also applied. It would not be difficult to designate the sales tax revenue from gas sales to road construction, which would provide considerable revenue to help alleviate the funding crunch.

Failing that, road repair and construction should be a priority and not only proceeds from the gas tax but other general funds should be designated to repair the roads in order to bolster Michigan's economy and keep goods and people moving in good and safe order. There is already sufficient revenue, what it will take is a decision to apply it to fixing the state's infrastructure - a decision that should have been made long ago but needs to be made and committed to now.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The IRS, the AMT, and YOU

Latest in the ongoing issue of the Alternative Minimum Tax is the latest Congressional semi-action that instead of fixing the problem merely staves off the inevitable creep of the tax as it captures more and more of the middle class.

The AMT as you may or may not know was created to do something when it was "discovered" that in 1969 about 155 very wealthy families had been able to take enough deductions t not pat any taxes. Of course, the AMT not being indexed for inflation hasn't just grabbed the "rich" but now seems to be scooping up more and more of the middle class - with 4 million people getting caught up in it in 2006.

So Congress passed some legislation late in 2007 to prevent the tax from expanding further, but that has now led to a delay in processing 3 million filler's income taxes. Mind you this just made me aware that millions of people have already filed their 2006 taxes - wow.

It is not the IRS' fault that the delay is occurring, but a Congress that doesn't really want the problem fixed and a lack of leadership (and desire) by the President to get this resolved. It would not be impossible to at least begin to fix the problem and instead of an annual band-aid, that expires and is fought over yearly, that a bill is passed to at least index the AMT to hold it where it is and prevent its expansion.

Of course, expanding the AMT gathers much more tax revenue so there's a lack of real motivation on both sides of the aisle to truly fix it rather than just mouthing platitudes about it.