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Creative Commons License

 

Local taxes

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.22.23

I have a question about an extremely constrained situation, where lots of normal, reasonable courses of action are off the table. The basic question is: under what circumstances is lowering taxes the most ethical course of action?

Some details: taxes in Texas are extremely regressive, but the overall tax burden is low-ish. According to this, the bottom 20% pays 13% of their income in taxes, the middle 60% pays 9.7% of their income, and the top 20% only pays 3% of their income. The two main taxes are sales tax - 6.25% statewide - and local property taxes, both to the city and the school district. The total state-local tax burden is 8.6%, which is comparatively low - we rank 6th in the country, let alone comparisons with enlightened topless Europe.

Loosely speaking, locally, taxes have stayed flat and appraisals have increased dramatically. The median home value in 2015 was $189K and now it is $344K. (However, there is a state law that your appraisal for tax purposes can't increase more than 10% per year.)

On a $344K home, you're paying $1.133782 per $100 to the school board, $0.603/$100 to the city, and $0.3125/$100 to the county, so you're paying $7049.53 in property taxes per year. I can easily imagine that the kind of person who bought a $189K home in 2015 is very stressed out by having to pay $587.50 a month to the tax collector in 2023.

Next constraint: I want to only focus on city property taxes - that $172.86 portion of the $587 monthly payment. The school and county conversations aren't happening right now.

In addition, raising taxes on the wealthy is off the table, and lowering the sales tax is off the table. (There is a local 2% sales tax as well.)

So the question has to be: are we delivering enough benefit to justify this tax bill? How do you evaluate if a community member is getting enough value from the city to justify this tax bill?

If your government provides free health care or free education, you can compare it to how much it would cost if it were privatized. But how do you measure the value of what community members get from a local government? There's no model for privatized parks, roads, etc that would feel convincing to a random person.

In other words, there are a lot of people that I highly respect who are railing against taxes being super high, and I want to take it seriously. If I'm going to argue that they should shut up and pay their taxes, then I want to have a real argument why. Or conversely, if I'm going to sell out my beliefs about the patriotism of taxes, I want to have a well-reasoned argument about why.



 

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Guest Post: What's to be done with a feeble Justice?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.21.23

Minivet writes: Federal judge, not a justice. But they both get lifetime tenure, which is the underlying issue here.

It reads like a combination of someone imperious and used to getting their way (so, a judge) even as their memory declines, and the more familiar story of the relative who has developed paranoia in close connection with their memory decline.

In a recent episode, Judge Newman indicated that she was not required to comply with a Court rule that requires a judge to circulate votes on opinions within 5 days of receiving a proposed opinion from the judge assigned the opinion. This rule was unanimously adopted by the Court (including Judge Newman) in March 2018. Judge Newman said that she did not have to comply with this rule because Chief Judge Markey told her she could take 30 days to vote. Chief Judge Markey has been dead for 17 years and has not been a member of the Court for 32 years.

...


Judge Newman has become convinced that, when her judicial assistant's computer was moved out of her chambers along with him, files from her chambers were moved along with it. Multiple staff members from the IT Department and the Clerk's Office have explained to her over and over again that all chambers information was stored on her chambers shared network drive, not the hard drive on that computer; that the hard drive on that computer had specifically been checked multiple times and contained none of her chambers information; and that IT could help her locate whatever information she needs. Judge Newman, however, either was unable to understand or refused to accept these explanations.

...

Rather than dispute the specific evidence provided by staff members, Judge Newman insists that none of it indicates any cause for concern and that short of "obvious red lines such as criminal activity or sexual harassment," she is "free to run her chambers as she sees fit"--even if it takes a toll on the health of employees. ... Where an alternative work arrangement was created specifically for the benefit of an employee who had raised concerns about abuse and retaliation by Judge Newman, it is especially inappropriate for Judge Newman to then threaten to fire the employee (and tell others that she would have him arrested and removed from the building) unless he ignores the alternative work arrangement.

In this decision, a panel of judges has suspended Judge Newman from "hearing cases" for the next year, renewable, for the specific misconduct of refusing a longer neurological exam. But I don't know if that means all her cases will be reassigned, or if she will still work on cases for which all hearings are complete. Not many; it also discusses at length her outlier-low productivity. But rather concerning how bad it was allowed to get while she continued to work and rule.

She has an interesting biography: BA, MA, PhD, and LLB all awarded during the period 1947-1958, clawed into the chemical industry, headed a big firm's patents, trademarks, and licensing department, sat on a range of commissions, then 1984 was appointed a judge for the IP-focused Federal Circuit which had only been created two years before. And then 40 years passed.

Another section has one of the IT guys testifying that she was very quick on the technology uptake when in her 80's. She's now 96.

Heebie's take: yeah, that's wild.



 

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Guest Post - Moral Coordinates

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.20.23

Politicalfootball writes: My ethical development as a young man was shaped largely by Catholicism and Dungeons and Dragons. My foundational texts included the Holy Bible and Elric of Melniboné.

So as an adult, I sometimes place people along two axes: Good vs. Evil and Law vs. Chaos. We might classify Star Trek's Spock as Lawful Good; Darth Vader as Lawful Evil; Robin Hood as Chaotic Good; and Batman's Joker as Chaotic Evil.*

However, witnessing the ongoing evolution of the Lawful Evil Republican Party,** I find myself in need of a different model. I hereby propose a new coordinate plane that places people and institutions along a different set of axes: Decency vs. Degeneracy and Realism vs. Fantasy.

Thus, we expect the next presidential election to pit Decent Realist Joe Biden against Degenerate Fantasist Donald Trump.

Part of the explanatory power of the old D&D model is that it allows us to ponder the potency of Law and the freedom of Chaos without making moral judgments. Likewise, I propose that Realism and Fantasy are appropriately considered separately from Decency and Degeneracy.

Here's how that looks, with various eminent figures placed according to their moral coordinates:

image%20%289%29.png

This chart clarifies behavior that otherwise seems paradoxical. (Yawnoc, for example, recently expressed bewilderment about the appeal of obvious cretins.) The admiration for Donald Trump is rooted in his place on the moral matrix -- a location he shares with his admirers and imitators.

In a rally, Trump once tried to claim credit for the benefits of Covid vaccines. By touting the efficacy of vaccines, he was being realistic. By promoting a life-saving medicine, he was being decent.

And he was booed for good reason. The crowd opposed Trump in support of Trumpism.

Some people are mystified by white evangelicals' adoration of Trump, but once you adopt the correct moral matrix, you can see that Rightwing Jesus resides in the same corner as the former president.

I have a couple of sisters-in-law who are relentlessly decent people who say silly stuff like: "People are basically good." One of them posts quotes on Facebook from such luminaries as Marianne Williamson, Eckhart Tolle and Ram Dass.

I don't know much about those folks, but they all sound like Liberal Jesus to me, and I like Liberal Jesus a lot. He's the guy who famously said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" and other ridiculous bullshit.

So while Trumpists are often vilified for their lack of Realism, what really troubles me is their deficit of Decency.

The truth is, the Truth can only take you so far, and Realists too often denigrate Fantasy. The arc of the moral universe probably bends toward extinction, but I am nonetheless gratified that people are able to convince themselves otherwise.

*As with all sophisticated moral theories, these designations are matters of legitimate debate.

**Republicans have been known to invoke comparisons to Darth Vader as praise.

Heebie's take: This strikes me as a useful framework! I often think about how closely tethered one is to reality, and pros and cons of distancing oneself, and the pain of re-entering reality if one is forced to contemplate reality in an area where you've allowed yourself to drift asea.

For degeneracy vs decency, I would distinguish between private degeneracy and public degeneracy. Is cheating on your spouse but voting well on important measures a decent person or a degenerate person?

It's hard to summarize a person at times.



 

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Ghana

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 09.19.23

Mossy sends in A tale of two cities: Diaspora influx hikes cost of living for Ghanaians, because he knows my hot take on this article is the incisive commentary we all need:

It's actually mostly about one city.



 

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