Preventing mass murder: stop sensationalizing crime and “control”

opposeIn the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that rocked a small upscale town in Connecticut that took the lives of 27 innocent people, including many small children, Americans and the media are once again renewing their calls for more restrictive gun control.  Government regulations, they claim, will somehow prevent the next massacre.

Human nature, unfortunately, makes this issue far more complex. The theory is simple: if more stringent controls on guns are enacted, fewer guns will be in the hands of criminals, and thus, fewer mass murders.  But what so many Americans fail to recognize is criminals – by definition – do not abide by laws.  We have a theory whose most basic premise is altogether wrong.

A cursory look at our nation’s drug laws draw an accurate picture of what happens when governments attempt to regulate away complex problems.  When government attempts to stifle an action, that action is quickly taken underground.  Drug cartels are notorious for building sophisticated and efficient mechanisms for moving and selling narcotics all over the world underneath the purview of government.  Do drug laws in the United States prevent Americans from smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine?  Of course not.

Let’s bring this concept back to the topic of guns.  If gun ownership is restricted, will that prevent Americans from obtaining and owning guns?  Again, of course not.  To combat government regulations, the gun trade will be taken underground, and when that happens, there is no regulation, no control and no oversight.  The result of the underground distribution of guns is scary.  When guns are used in a crime, the government will have a much tougher time tracing the source of the gun because the weapon was transported and obtained through unofficial channels.  Drugs work the same way.

Gun controls hurt our nation’s ability to track guns, to identify patterns and to properly bring to justice those who are responsible for helping criminals commit crimes.  Gun control is the last thing Americans should be focusing on if they truly want to prevent the next senseless massacre of innocent people in the United States.

The solution: quit sensationalizing murder.  The Connecticut tragedy has occupied news channels all over the world for days as media figureheads jam microphones into the faces of those affected and plaster pictures of the shooter on television for the entire world to see.  It is like a movie.

And the next killer sees this.  You can be sure that this weekend, as our media continued to hype the murder, the next one was being planned by some “troubled” youth who wants to be remembered as an evil criminal rather than what he truly is, a nobody and a drain on society.  The next “quiet, yet highly intelligent” monster wants his name and face recognizable by everyone in the United States too.

Ask yourself a question: What’s the name of the killer in the Connecticut shooting massacre?  Chances are, you quickly said Adam Lanza.  Now, what’s the name of a 6-year-old child who had their life taken from them at the hands of this madman?  Chances are, you cannot name a single victim.  But even if you could, far more cannot.  That is the problem.

Double or triple prison sentences for crimes that involve guns.  Quit turning real life tragedies into murder-mystery films.  Stop focusing on the criminal and start remembering the victims.  Real and meaningful reform does not come at the hands of career politicians, government bureaucrats and useless legislation.  True progress starts in society; let’s stop tolerating the sensationalizing of senseless murder.

A nation of taxation: How tax complexity crushes your freedom

A copy of the US tax code. (left)

Taxes. Who doesn’t love to gripe about how high or how unfair our taxes are in the United States? The problem, however, doesn’t just lie in how much we are taxed (too much) but also the reason why we are taxed – and those reasons are not always what you think.

The government devotes a significant amount of effort into fooling you to believe that you are not paying as much in taxes as you truly are, not to mention obscuring how much everyone else is paying (or not paying as the case may be) in taxes. If you had any doubt as to the web of tax code complexity, one only needs to look at the number of pages in just our Federal Income Tax Rules — a staggering 73,608 pages as of 2012 (according to the Cato Institute). Yes, you read that right - 73,608 pages.

Now, compare that number to the mere 400 pages it took in 1913; surely this suggests our basic method of obtaining money (working and investing) has drastically changed in the past 100 years,  Thus, we need more laws to fairly capture that — right?

Just consider this: due to the sheer complexity of the federal income tax, complete with deductions, credits, penalties, exemptions, different schedules, filing status’ and other variables, no one is sure of what anyone else is paying. Worse yet, in order to comply with our current federal income tax, Americans can expect virtually no privacy. Your business has no privacy. There is a price tag attached to everything, and everyone, in your life. Then there’s the rising cost of compliance by spending time filing, or paying someone to file, your returns. Even then, are you ever sure that you did it 100% correctly?

Often heard is the story of how Al Capone was brought down. Everyone assumed he was guilty of racketeering, extortion, and murder — but there was no solid evidence that would result in a conviction in a court of law. In the end, the District Attorney’s office turned to the IRS and caught him on tax evasion. That story is always told as if it’s karma or a badge of honor by the justice system for being creative instead of what it truly is: the scary reality that if you can’t honestly convict someone of a crime, you can always fall back on the convoluted and invasive income tax code to arrest them. Are you really sure of every return you’ve filed in the past seven years?  Are you truly confident in its accuracy?

And that’s just one form of taxation the government levies.  Other ways the government taxes the individual:

  1. State income tax
  2. Local income tax
  3. Employee social security tax (your employer pays the other half)
  4. Employee Medicare tax (your employer pays the other half)
  5. Property taxes
  6. Road toll charges
  7. State sales tax
  8. Driver’s license renewal fee
  9. TV Cable/Satellite fees & taxes
  10. Federal telephone surtax, excise tax, and universal surcharge
  11. Federal inheritance tax
  12. Gas/electric bill fees & taxes
  13. Water/sewer fees & taxes
  14. Car Registrations
  15. and the list goes on and on

Between the complicated big taxes, the myriad of small taxes, and the literally endless list of fees (which are taxes) — does anyone here actually know what exact dollar amount they are paying in total? How about specific amounts to the federal, state, and local governments? Is your Medicare tax higher or lower than your state income tax? How about an idea of what your neighbors pay?

Couldn’t come up with an exact figure for any of it? Neither could I and the government likes it that way. Politicians love complexity in the system because it confuses Americans into assuming their tax liability is correct.  Furthermore, they want you to think someone else is getting away with not paying their fair share (the rich?) and we should raise their taxes – but remember, you are also getting away with something, so you should continue to vote for them. They play this game from the very poor to the very rich and no one is immune. So that percentage of income tax you think you pay is, in reality, a small portion of the overall tax burden you contribute to on a daily basis.

When all is taken into account, the average American pays nearly 30% of their total income in taxes through all the various income, sales, and other taxes levied by the federal, state, and local governments. That means if you started working on January 1st, you would not start earning money for yourself till nearly the end of April. (http://taxfoundation.org/tax-topics/tax-freedom-day) You pay more for government than you do on housing, food, clothing, and gasoline combined.

You may have noticed that the federal income tax only makes up about 1/3 of that 30%, or about 10% of the total. If it weren’t for all the deductions and credits, this would be much higher and the average American family would be paying something more akin to 35-45% in total taxes — which naturally would have a horribly deadening effect upon our economy. This is well known by politicians and is the reason behind why they put these deductions there in the first place. So the real question becomes not why they are putting the deductions in place but why are our tax rates so high that we need these deductions and credits to function? The answer is simple: to fool you and let them continue to hike your taxes up higher and higher in vague and confusing ways to continue the ever-expanding government of dependence.

Not mad enough? Part 2 will cover the abuse of our tax code and why congress imposes all these taxes — and it’s not always just about the money.

Regardless of the fiscal cliff, U.S. taxpayers will face higher taxes

MoneyIt has largely gone unnoticed amidst the hullabaloo surrounding the fiscal cliff, but regardless of what happens with the cliff negotiations, taxes are going up next year. The president may be calling for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes by 2022 in exchange for not driving the country over the cliff, but that does not count Obamacare, which will impose an additional $1 trillion in new or increased taxes over the next ten years, a big portion of which take effect in 2013. Continue reading

More than 100 federal government workers hired each day

Although many in the private sector continue to struggle their way through economic uncertainty, the federal government appears to be thriving.  Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, the federal government has hired an average of 101 workers each and every day, totaling 143,000 additional workers drawing taxpayer money as salaries.

This makes for the largest ever federal payroll in history.

According to a report published by the Cato Institute, not only are the number of federal workers increasing, but their compensation is, too, faster – much faster – than their average counterparts working for organizations in the private sector.  “The federal workforce has become an elite island of secure and high-paid workers, separated from the ocean of average American workers competing in the global economy. It is time for some restraint,” the Cato report said.

But that is not all.  Let’s take into account health care packages that are provided to federal workers.  The report also stated: “When benefits such as health care and pensions are included, the federal compensation advantage over private workers is even larger, according to the BEA data. In 2010, federal worker compensation averaged $126,141, or double the private-sector average of $62,757.”

Embarrassingly enough, earlier in the year it was revealed that more than 30 of Obama’s own highly paid executive aids had over $833,000  in back taxes, and it is estimated that thousands of federal workers are “behind” in their taxes.

In summary, we have a taxpayer-supported public sector that is growing beyond what the economy can demonstrably allow, compensation that blows the private sector out of the water, and top-level government employees who apparently have a hard time paying their taxes.

How about that “fair share” debate again, eh?

Forget the fiscal cliff, entitlements are the bigger American problem

Amid the fury over looming tax increases known as the “fiscal cliff” that promise to discourage investment and punish economic success, it is important to recognize the bigger problem with government debt and fiscal irresponsibility: entitlements.

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Daniel Mitchell said it well, who argues that the entitlement culture supported by the U.S.’s welfare state is a much larger issue that stands at the base of our economic worry.

“A lot of people get upset about the national debt, which is somewhere between $11 trillion and $16 trillion, depending on whether you include money the government owes itself. Those are big numbers — but if you add up the amount of money that the government is promising to spend for entitlement programs in the future and compare that figure to the amount of revenue that the government projects it will collect for those programs, the cumulative shortfall is more than $100 trillion,” wrote Mitchell.

Those are numbers that, unfortunately, make the fiscal cliff look like small potatoes.  More than $100 trillion blown on feel-good entitlement programs that – not so amazingly – encourage dependence on the federal government for, well, everything.  This, of course, includes flat screen televisions, high-speed Internet, cell phones and other expensive luxury items and electronic gadgets that are often owned by those on the public doll.

How will the government respond to this kind of astronomical spending?  Raise taxes, of course.  Increase revenue.  Another fiscal cliff, and more gouging of the wealthy in this country that will surely force entrepreneurs to look for a home for their business elsewhere – or at least a home for their money in offshore savings accounts.  Honestly, can you blame them?

“Unfortunately, the longer we wait to fix the problem, the harder it will be to solve. More and more Americans will become trapped into lives of government dependency over time, the private economy will be too suffocated by taxes to create jobs, and we could wind up like Greece – with the majority of the voting-age population determined to support the status quo.”

Sadly, Americans already support the status quo.  Despite poll after poll indicating frustration and fundamental distrust of government, Americans robotically flocked to the voting booths and pulled the lever for the very same politicians in 2012, the same Washington power structure, the same nonsense.  We are already there. The United States has already hit the point where dependence on government supersedes the power of reform.

Compared to that, Mitchell said, the fiscal cliff is a walk in the park.

Unemployment insurance or stealth welfare?

As Congress debates yet another extension of Federal Unemployment Benefits, perhaps it is time to examine the system itself and gain a bit of perspective.

No one disagrees that Unemployment Insurance is a necessary safety net – providing a means to continue functioning when a job ends and to allow for a search for new employment.  Unemployment Insurance is set up as a STATE run program, providing a minimal income for a set period of time.   The maximum payout varies by state, but here in the heartland this maximum benefit is around $300 a week.  The maximum term of benefits is 26 weeks, or 6 months.

This is true insurance.  Premiums are paid by employers thru a tax, and benefits are paid out when circumstances warrant a claim – up to the maximum benefit.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits are not intended to be an income replacement for a job!  They are a supplement to allow the unemployed worker some minimal income to allow him to eat while he seeks another job.  After 6 months, the benefits are maxed out and expire.

This is a reasonable system.  No one will starve while seeking work.  And since the benefit amount is based on earned income over the previous x number of months… someone eligible for the maximum benefit will have earned significantly more than that benefit amount while working.  There is INCENTIVE to seek to return to work to maintain the standard of living!  (During my last short stint collecting unemployment benefits… the sum total of monthly benefits barely paid my monthly mortgage!  I was INCENTED to seek another job, as my other expenses ate well into my savings!)

Things get muddled when the FEDERAL government steps in.

During times of high national unemployment, the Feds institute “extended benefits”.  This is NOT Unemployment Insurance.  No premiums are paid or collected for these benefits.  The program is ADMINISTERED by the states but the benefits are simply expenditures of the Federal Budget.

The currently expiring benefits have run through SEVERAL extensions.  For one’s benefits to be expiring now, they’d have had to be collecting unemployment thru nearly the entire Obama Presidency!

Remember, McDonalds is hiring, and pays more than $250 a week!  If someone has been out of work for 2 years, they COULD get a job flipping burgers for about the same money that unemployment provides.  But WHY WOULD someone who is content to live at that level of income work 40 hrs a week for the kind of money the Feds are giving away for them to sit on their cans?

To be sure, there are people who are NOT content to live on unemployment.  Myself, for example! During that last stint of unemployment I mentioned, I was unable to find full time work in my field of expertise, but I DID find and ACCEPT a part-time position!  Since I am an IT professional, my part time job nets me, after taxes, significantly more than unemployment benefits pay, though HALF the income I had been earning!  I am one of the UNDER-EMPLOYED not recorded on the nations employment statistics… but I am a productive worker, paying taxes and meeting my obligations and expenses – though barely – as I continue to seek a suitable career enhancing position!

The Feds have done enough for the “long-term unemployed”.  As they drain federal coffers, they have DIS-incented millions of potential CONTRIBUTORS to the nation’s economy.  Workers will not take jobs they consider “below them” when they can continue to collect taxpayer funded subsidy.  They will not work 40 hrs at a job that will only minimally improve their lot over what the Feds give them for nothing.  The Feds CREATE the long-term unemployment problem!

Necessity is a great motivator.  When the benefits expire, these people WILL go out and accept available employment to meet their needs and those of their families.  It is time for the mamby-pamby spoiled brat children that make up a goodly portion of the American Population to find out what it is to take a menial subsistence job that is “below them” and be responsible for themselves.  The Depression created innovation.  The Depression created character.  And the children of the Depression became the “Greatest Generation”.

The “Great Society” spawned the “ME Generation”… and these people have become spoiled, lazy, entitled and unproductive.

The Safety Net exists at the State Level.  In extreme times, a single extension of an additional 26 weeks might be justifiable.  But to extend these benefits ad infinitum is simply the creation of another Welfare program, without calling it so.  It is another case of the productive funding and subsidizing the unproductive.

The time has come for Congress to say ENOUGH.

There should be no extension of Federal Unemployment Benefits.  Congress must begin to show SOME accountability with the tax dollars they appropriate from the productive people of this nation.  And it is time for the American People to start being accountable for their own actions, and responsible for their own outcomes.

Bob Costas exploits Belcher tragedy to espouse gun control

In another “palm to head” moment with a national celebrity who seems determined to make a fool out of himself, NBC anchor Bob Costas took advantage of the recent tragedy involving Kansas City Chief’s player Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide to support more restrictive gun control among the American populace.

What’s more?  Costas did not attempt to make his laughably mindless argument himself.  Instead, he pointed to a well-known Kansas City writer Jason Whitlock to do that for him.

“Our current gun culture,” Whitlock wrote, “ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”

My favorite part of the argument comes at the end, where Whitlock argued that had Belcher not possessed a gun, both Belcher and his girlfriend (who was shot several times by the football star) would still be alive.

Never mind the fact that the majority of domestic dispute deaths are caused by strangulation or severe beating.  Apparently, Belcher didn’t have a knife or sharp object in the house, nor did Belcher possess the strength to end the life of his girlfriend with his bear hands.  According to Whitlock, and supported by sports celebrity Bob Costas, the gun is what killed the two.  The gun is a murderer.

Still waiting for the gun to be brought up on charges.

Perhaps Bob Costas should stick to broadcasting sports rather than mindlessly pointing out to millions of television viewers that his political and emotional leanings outweigh the power of his brain.  If Costas supports a completely disarmed society, that’s fine – nobody cares.  But when you use your pulpit on national television to espouse lazy postulations about a topic that clearly is outside the commentator’s sweet spot, you’re bringing bad publicity to your network and demonstrating once again how weak emotionally-driven arguments stand against reason.

The minute we begin to embrace “War on Drugs”-like regulations against guns is the minute we have lost the battle that we’re supposedly fighting.  If guns are criminalized, only criminals will have guns – unregistered, no background checks, no gun registration or tracking, no paper-trail, nothing.  It’s like the wild west.  How, under even the most creative explanation, could this possibly make any of us safer?

Gun control is not about making Americans safer, is it?  Restrictive controls on guns helps no one.  In fact, it turns our so-called “gun culture” far more dangerous, putting law-abiding citizens of our nation at risk, once again, for the purposes of political expediency.

On the bright side for Costas, it definitely looks like the sports commentator has a career waiting for him at MSNBC.