Monday, August 02, 2004

Taxes and Sleeper Holds

Ponderings while waiting for the Phils to phinally phire Larry phucking Bowa...

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire site notes that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has written a book. Titled "Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics," I only hope it describes how it might feel to live life as Tom DeLay's political hand puppet... does it interfere with digestion, for instance? But apparently instead it includes a policy prescription sure to play well in the "Red States": abolish the IRS.

I note this only because it's a perfect example of the gigantic bait and switch Thomas Frank describes in "What's the Matter With Kansas?" which I picked up from last week. Frank shows in great detail how firebreathing populist conservatives, motivated by their impotent culture-based rage, half-willfully advance an economic agenda that runs directly counter to their own material interests. You might remember how the Gingrich Congress conducted hearings on IRS (mis)conduct a few years back that were sort of the right-wing analogue of Stalinist show trials: leveraging horror stories about abuses of power perpetrated against middle-class taxpayers, they then passed a law that pretty much made it impossible for the agency to mount an effective effort against tax cheats. The main beneficiaries, of course, were those at the top end of the income spectrum who had access to the sort of hired expertise that knows every loophole. Incredibly, audits are now more common for low-income recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit than for those who pull down six figures and up. As Molly Ivins puts it in the article linked above:

The decline in auditing rich people and corporations actually started 14 years ago. Then, audits of the working poor increased by 48.6 percent in 2001. Those applying for the EITC have a one in 47 chance of getting audited, while those making more than $100,000 have a one in 208 chance. In 1988, that number was one in 9, according to the Institute for Public Affairs.

The PW piece cites Matt Drudge--whom I will not link to here--as reporting the rumor that abolishing the IRS would constitute the domestic centerpiece of Bush's second term, were the electorate or Supreme Court or voting machine executives able to inflict such a nightmare upon us. There really is no limit to the irrationality of these guys.

And gruff old Dennis Hastert, erstwhile wrestling coach and ostensible defender of midwestern values, will lead the parade. Jonathan Franzen, the obnoxious but undeniably gifted author of "The Corrections" among other novels, wrote a bemused but somewhat sympathetic profile on Hastert last year for the New Yorker; the piece is worth checking out just to see how skilled the right wing is at attaching a reactionary economic agenda to a reassuring mainstream facade. The article doesn't seem to be online, but this interview with Franzen gives the gist of it.

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