Monday, March 6, 2017

Regulation Is Protection, Taxation Is Civilization

It's not as though I'm usually happy these days, given our hell-in-a-handbasket government. But today there was a new pile of reality to cope with even before President Turnip signed his new Muslim ban. Much of it is federal malevolence, but Minnesota has its own version happening in our legislature.

I spent Thursday afternoon at our state Capitol protesting the then-pending votes on a state law preempting local control of things like minimum wages or sick leave policies. This bill, which comes straight from ALEC, passed both houses on a completely party-line vote.

The next day, the same Republican legislators voted to loosen state controls on fireworks generally, but allowed municipalities to have local control of sales and use. No irony seen there.

Now our legislature is taking up a number of bills to drop all restrictions on the right to carry a gun, concealed or not, ban gun-free zones (except at gun shops, shooting ranges, and hunting areas, what?), and also to eliminate the duty to retreat before shooting another human being. We already know that states that pass stand-your-ground laws experience increases in shootings. I've been proud that Minnesota has turned back laws like this in the past. I can only hope the governor will veto these as well.

On the federal level, the New York Times ran an extensive listing of regulations that have been overturned in the past six weeks, many using an obscure 1996 law called the Congressional Review Act. Some of the changes:

  • Your internet service provider no longer needs to take reasonable measures to make sure your information is not stolen or accidentally released.
  • Wall Street bankers can make high-risk trades with your money without possibility of punishment.
  • Hunters can go back to using lead shot on federal lands, which is known to poison wild life.
  • Mileage standards for cars are being rolled back.
  • Drug marketing will have even less oversight.
  • Coal companies can now dump their waste into waterways.
  • Federal contractors no longer have to report when they violate wage, safety, or civil rights laws.
  • The oil industry can now hide their bribes because they won't have to disclose payments to foreign governments.
  • Your financial advisers can once again do what's best for them instead of what's best for you.
  • Industrial-scale farms, maybe jealous of the coal mine owners, also got a clean water rule killed.
Regulation = protection, as George Lakoff says. We need to reframe from the dominant business speak, which talks about "regulatory onslaught," to the idea of people being protected from corporate malfeasance.

And then there's the IRS.

Much of our federal budget deficit would disappear if we just properly collected taxes that are owed. According to the New York Times, the 2016 budget deficit was $587 billion, while the average amount of unpaid taxes from 2008 to 2010 averaged $458 billion per year.

So what will we do, under the cheeto administration? Defund the IRS, of course, so they can collect even less.

Staffing levels at the agency, and therefore the number of audits, have already declined 30 percent since 2010 because of the budget sequester. Trump proposes to slash the IRS budget another 14 percent. He doesn't care that customer service has declined greatly (which irritates the hell out of people, let me tell you), or that the IRS is behind on updating its systems to prevent hacking, let alone that people are not paying the taxes they owe.

The IRS is a perfect target for the new Washington cabal, combining Trump's personal hatred of taxes with Republican demonization of taxation as the funder of common benefits to society. Their actions reveal their denial of an important bit of reality: that the very existence of civilization depends on shared funding.

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