Archive for February, 2012

Simple answers to simple questions

Borrowing from Duncan Black, we have a simple answer to a simple question. Bob Collins asks if we should give citizens the ability to put measures on the ballot.


This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

All Apologies

I really shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans are ranting and raving about the fact that President Obama apologized for the fact that soldiers accidentally burned copies of the Qur’an in Afghanistan. It’s an election year. Foreign policy is at stake. People who need to make money being talking heads need to make money. Realities like the fact that President Bush apologized or that people in the military agree with the apology don’t matter. There’s a narrative here, even if completely made up, and it must be fed!

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Long before I started working in the retail industry, I supported tax fairness for e-commerce. I buy plenty of things online: the amount of money I’ve spent over the years at Newegg is pretty impressive. At the same time, though, I don’t think that online businesses should have the advantage of not being required to collect sales taxes. More and more people are finally coming around to that concept, even in Minnesota. But it’s really driving a wedge between Republicans, some of whom see this as a level-playing field issue, and some whose blinders are still on “no new taxes” mode.

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Healthcare Agonistes

I didn’t really want to wade into the contraception versus Catholic hierarchy debate because, as a person who was raised Catholic and well aware that the vast majority of Catholics used birth control (only a couple of my friends came from families even half as large as my grandmother’s 10-kid brood), I knew that it was a pretty typical tempest in a teacup. The celibate men who make up the Catholic hierarchy hate birth control, mainstream Catholics don’t, and life goes on. What has changed this dynamic, however, to something supremely idiotic, is the legislation put forward by Republicans to allow any employer to refuse to provide any coverage that goes against their “religious beliefs and moral convictions”. Oklahoma legislators worried about religious laws unduly interfering with our country, take note.

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The Mortgage Deal

The $26 billion mortgage settlement announced recently has several shortcomings. It doesn’t throw any banksters in jail, although apparently that’s still a possibility down the road. It won’t put people illegally foreclosed back in their homes, and the roughly $2,000 such people may get is not going to be enough for a down payment for a new place. It only covers some mortgages. And previous mortgage assistance programs have helped far fewer people than they should have, so there is reason for some pessimism.

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Tax rate update


A short update to the post I had about tax rates a couple days ago: when calculating our tax rate compared to Romney’s, I was unsure if the 13.9% rate was based on Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), or on total income. Turns out it was AGI; if you use gross income, it would be a 10.7% rate, and he paid 17.6% of his taxable income in taxes. For us, the rates are as follows:

Romney Chez Nous
Gross Income 10.7% 16.5%
Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) 13.9% 19.0%
Taxable Income 17.6% 24.9%

In addition, for Gross Income, I’m including all income, even money that was deducted from our taxes for retirement savings, because we pay FICA taxes on that amount.

All in all, the discrepancy is even more obvious. More importantly, though, is how this shows the myriad number of ways to calculate tax rates: the myth that 47% of people “pay no taxes” exemplified that well. I think the most honest, most intuitive calculation is the one on gross income: of all the money I take home, how much do I pay in taxes? I don’t like AGI or taxable income, because that leaves out huge details that matter. Say two (purely hypothetical) families make $100,000 a year, but one family pays $6,000 on $60,000 in taxable income, while the other pays $3,000 on $30,000 in taxable income. They both paid the same 10% rate on taxable income, but one family paid twice as much in real dollars as the other. That’s certainly not the same rate or the same treatment, and it begs the question of why the disparity in taxable income.

If we are to have an honest debate on the complexity of the tax code and the deductions out there that can result in drastically different tax rates for the same income, using easy-to-understand comparisons is required.

Of Tax Rates and Mittens

So Julia and I did our 2011 taxes last night. We came out pretty well all things considered. Not nearly as well as some presidential candidates, but well enough to have no real complaints. Speaking of presidential candidates, however, despite our miniscule income compared to Mitt Romney, we still paid a higher percentage of our income in taxes than he did. Which is, dare I say, a patently ridiculous outcome.

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Passwords, Authentication, and Privilege

Gizmodo has decreed that today, February 1st, is “Change Your Password” day. I wholeheartedly agree, especially if you re-used passwords (which you shouldn’t!). In fact, I’d go further: change your password, and start using a password manager. Did I changed my passwords today? I did not, because I used said password manager. I don’t reuse passwords, and my passwords are all random. So even if one is revealed, it’s not going to make a difference outside of that one website.

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