April 2004
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Month April 2004

Why I’m happy to pay taxes

I have a good friend who’s a libertarian, so I’m led periodically to reflect on whether there’s a point to the minimalist notion on taxes and government. And since Thursday was Tax Day….

Analyzing how my income taxes are used is a daunting task, if you’ve ever looked at the Federal Budget. So instead, I happened to see my property tax bill last night, sitting in a pile on my desk. I set for myself the task of determining whether I feel like I’m getting full value for my property tax dollar.

I’ll pay $109 this year for the Port of Seattle. That includes the airport, which I use several times a month on average. Over the course of the year, I make around 20 trips, maybe more. That’s about $5.45 per trip to avail myself of the airport services. Not too bad. And that’s if I disregard the other Port services that might benefit me indirectly (e.g., shipment of goods which boosts the local economy). So I think this is a bargain.

I’ll pay $103 this year for emergency medical services. I’m hopeful I won’t need an EMT this year (gotta remember to exercise!) but this is cheap insurance at $8.58 per month.

King County will get $619 from me, to support public safety (in the form of prosecutors, courts, and jails), manage elections, provide social and health services, and run the parks system. Again, not too bad. According to the KC website, about 68% of this money goes to criminal justice, so I’m paying approximately $421 this year for safety from crime, in addition to the contributions made by the city and state police.

By far the biggest chunks go for the City of Seattle ($1452) and State of Washington ($1190). In the absence of any income tax in Washington, this money is pretty much my contribution to roads, city and state government, fire district management, the state university and community college systems, and innumerable other public services.

The interesting one is the $1020 I pay this year for local schools. Given that I’m single and have no children, there’s an argument that I should resent paying a thousand bucks a year for services I don’t use. But I think that’s a specious argument because indirectly I do use the schools. I expect to hire educated people for my company. I expect to do business with other companies that have reasonably functional, educated employees. I hope for a strong local economy, which means we’ll need better educated workers so that we can fill knowledge worker jobs instead of fast-food jobs. So whether I have kids or not, $1020 is the investment I make in the future of our region. Again, viewed as an investment, I’m happy to pay it.

I live in a state without a state income tax. Thus, my roughly $4600 goes to cover virtually every local, county, and state service I consume, as well as educating our youth. That’s $12.60 per day for fire, police, the courts, government (including lawmaking and other democratic processes), schools, parks, non-federal contributions to roads and transportation, and local efforts for environmental conservation.

Sound like a lot? Well, clearly this isn’t a “pennies a day” argument. $12.60 is nothing to sneeze at. The proper comparison, however, would be the costs of getting all of those services if privatized. I don’t really know what that would cost, but I’m betting that the sum total of all the bills for roads/transportation/airport, criminal justice, fire and emergency services, social services, education, and governance would vastly exceed the $384/month I currently pay in the form of property taxes.

The net result is that after thinking about how my property taxes are used, I’m pretty happy. Sure, the individual governments could be run more efficiently, and perform better, but that’s a separate issue.

(and yes, if you’re really clever, you can figure out the assessed value of my house from this post. :)

I reiterate: how is this a functional Palestinian state?

Reading today’s news that Sharon hopes to gain U.S. support for its plan to hold onto contested West Bank lands, I was reminded of an earlier post and the question I asked then. How is it possible for the Palestinians to have a state if the land involved is fragmented into a series of discontiguous pieces, surrounded by fences and interpenetrated by Israeli settlements?

How is it possible for the Palestinian state to construct infrastructure? Protect itself? Create a free flow of people and commerce within its own borders? Look at the map of Israeli options in July of 2003. This isn’t a country. How will a Palestinian state construct and maintain roads between the discontiguous pieces of the West Bank, let alone across to Gaza? How about power? water? sewage?

I’m no expert on the Middle East, but frankly, this plan seems to rely on the fact that the voting public (in both countries) hasn’t looked at a detailed map of the West Bank. What’s proposed isn’t a Palestinian sovereign nation, it’s a series of enclaves that look suspiciously like Native American reservations, or the “Bantustans” of Apartheid-era South Africa. It’s hard to conclude that Sharon’s plan is sincere about Palestinian sovereignty — if he was, he’d work to create a contiguous block of land which could fulfill the usual definition of a nation-state. As it is, the swiss-cheese nature of current proposals lead me to conclude that Israel and the U.S. aren’t really committed to a two-state settlement; they’re committed to an Israeli nation and a host of small reservations where Palestinians can be responsible for themselves economically but without the resources needed to achieve that goal.

Commentary on Fallujah from Raed

Raed posted this on the Fallujah situation today. Especially given that he’s on the spot, it worth a read:

The first official body count said that 518 Iraqis were killed, including 167 women and 56 children under the age of five. The Iraqi Red Crescent said that another 5000 families ran away from the town.

Dozens of American soldiers were also injured and killed.

So, what did we achieve?
What did Bush and his administration achieve?
What did the Iraqi and the American people achieve?
….
When Bush decided to start his “War on Terrorism”, secular people (including myself) didn’t feel offended at all; I mean… that was OUR war, the war in which we spent years of our lives fighting against fundamentalism and extremism in our countries.
But after a couple of years, I can say that the Bush administration war was the best chance for extremists to gaiin more popularity and to have a louder voice in our communities.

The shadows of the unpleasant events of Falluja will affect the image of the American Army in Iraq… it will only increasing the anger of Iraqis, and help more extremist right winged leaders dominate the political mood.

For God’s sake, didn’t anyone think of starting a survey to attempt to predict what this war might cause from a socio-cultural perspective? A survey to compare the anger and hatred of both Arabs’ and Americans’ “regular Joes” before and after the war of Iraq??

After spending a month reading and re-reading Christopher Hitchens’ essays in support of the war in Iraq, half-persuaded by the relentless logic of how we’re keeping a humanitarian promise to the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples, it’s hard to read on-the-ground descriptions of what’s happening and not conclude that even if we could have helped Iraq, as Hitchens claims, that it’s not really turning out that way. And sadly, the politics of the election force a set of dynamics on the issue which limit our options for truly making things right. I rack my brain but I have no idea how we can fix this.

Vieux Telegraphe 2001

Finally opened a half-bottle of the 2001 Vieux Telegraphe, since I hadn’t tried it since it was released. The wine is a fine, deep red color, but without the opacity and purplish rim of the 1998 and other “massive” vintages. In character it seems a finer, more elegant wine than 1998 or 1999.

The nose has a ripe, wild Syrah character to it, replaced by a deeper pit fruit element (like plum?) which is characteristic of VT, along with a flinty, mineral streak on the palate. The palate also has a bit of the herbal salty garrigue element I like, but only a touch at this point. It also seems a bit “hot” on the palate — not unexpected in a “big” year like 2001 but normally the 14% alcohol is hidden behind more tannin and raw power.

The Aug. 6, 2001 PDB Revealed

The White House released the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing today (Saturday is a slow news day). The PDB is about 1.5 pages long, and has three redacted portions, each referring to the intelligence source in question. Given that the 9-11 Commission has seen the original, classified PDB and could easily cry “foul” if there are major discrepancies, we can safely assume that what we’ve got is the real document.

And, honestly, it’s incredibly difficult to see what the fuss over declassifying this is all about — other than the precedent which might be set by releasing redacted PDB’s, there’s virtually nothing in this document that we don’t already know. I’m only half joking, but one does have to wonder what the hell we get for our intelligence budget dollar if this is what the president reads every morning?

Condi Rice, in referring to the document as “historical” is skating that fine line between truth and fiction (or less generously, lies). Sure, the document has some history in it, but is it “historical” to say:

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a … (redacted portion) … service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Shaykh” ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

(highlighting added)

Obviously, this isn’t “historical” given the normal meaning of that term. Simply put, the document does indicate that threats were reported to the president in August of 2001. The only plausible explanation of why this has been kept so secret (and why Rice had to be virtually compelled to testify) is that it demonstrates unambiguously that Bush had indications that attack planning was afoot within the United States in mid-2001. He and his advisors didn’t completely ignore the problem, but it’s also crystal clear that they didn’t exactly put it at the top of the stack. The interesting thing here is the lengths that the Administration has gone to in order to keep this fact secret rather than acknowledging it and moving on.

How much vacation does this guy get, anyway?

The President is on vacation again. Nor is this a rare occurrence. According to today’s Washington Post:

This is Bush’s 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.

Jeez, how much vacation time comes with this job? Seriously, this is virtually unprecedented as far as I can determine. Sure, the guy travels with an armada of communications technologies and dedicated planes, and probably can govern from anywhere on the planet. Sure, it’s a demanding job. But demanding jobs aren’t exactly unique in today’s competitive economy. But an average of 70 days a year at his ranch, not counting Kennebunkport or Camp David?

How’s your two weeks a year looking in comparison? Heck, I’m thinking about running in 2008 just to get some time off.

But isn’t it a bit hard to reconcile the notion that we’re fighting our generation’s defining battles (in Iraq and against terrorism globally), with the fact that the leader in this war has spent 40% of his time not in his office?