The Rhyme of the Ancient Democrat

All is in flux, nothing is stationary. … You could not step into the same river twice.

— Heraclitus, 5th century B.C.

What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is no new thing under the sun. 

Ecclesiastes 1:9

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

— attributed (probably falsely) to Mark Twain

This week’s featured post, “Do We Still Have to Worry About the McGovern Problem?” considers what lessons (if any) the landslide losses of 1972, 1984, and 1988 have for the Bernie Sanders candidacy in 2016.

This week everybody was talking about taxes

Or at least worrying about them. Today is the deadline for filing 2015’s federal income tax forms. If you’re missing it, don’t kick yourself, just get it done. You might have to pay a penalty, but you won’t go to jail.

Every year, Tax Day sets everyone wondering if there isn’t some better way to do this. It’s not just the money that gets siphoned off into the tax-prep industry, it’s all the time and stress that goes into the process. Sales tax just happens without you needing to fret about it. Property tax is a bill you pay — costly, maybe, but pretty straightforward. Income tax is an ordeal.

For Republicans like Steve Forbes, the resentment Tax Day raises is a chance to push a flat tax, which would be a gold mine for very rich people like Steve Forbes, but wouldn’t make taxes simpler for ordinary folks. (Flattening the tax just changes the numbers in the tax table. Every change that actually would simplify your taxes could be done without flattening the tax rates.)

But Elizabeth Warren has a plan that would make a real difference.

On Wednesday, she introduced a bill that would let people with simple taxes file for free without filling out a return — essentially, the IRS would do people’s taxes for them. Bernie Sanders is a co-sponsor; his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, said she supports the bill, too.

For a very large number of people, the 1040 just collects a lot of information the IRS already knows: It gets the same 1099 and W-2 reports that you do, and you told them last year how many dependents you have. It could run all that through its computers and send you a return. You could OK it and be done, or, if you wanted to take advantage of some deduction they don’t know about, you could submit an amendment.

Why isn’t this a no-brainer for Congress? Three reasons:

  • If you really want the pro-plutocracy flat tax, you want to hold genuine tax simplification hostage. Make people believe that a flat tax is the only answer to their pain.
  • The people who would benefit most from Warren’s plan are ordinary Americans who have no lobbyists.
  • The tax-planning and accounting industries are solidly against this kind of reform, and they do have lobbyists.

Tax Day is also a good time to review how money flows through the federal government. One factor that significantly dumbs down political discourse in the United States is that so few people have a clear idea how the government raises money or what it spends money on. (It’s amazing how many people think we could slash government spending by cutting foreign aid and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Here’s where the money came from in FY 2015, which ended last October.

Individual income is the tax you’re paying now. Payroll taxes are mainly Social Security and Medicare taxes.

And here’s where it went:

The difference between the two — around $450 billion, or 12% of total spending — was the deficit. Healthcare, Social Security, Defense, and interest on the national debt are pretty obvious, and among them account for 71% of spending. Other Mandatory is stuff like Food Stamps and unemployment compensation.

Non-Defense Discretionary is everything people ordinarily think about when they talk about cutting government spending. It’s only 16%, and includes everything from keeping the National Parks open to NASA to disaster relief.

but I was thinking about a bookstore in Asheville

An op-ed in Thursday’s NYT reminded me what a blunt instrument a boycott is. The owner of Malaprop’s Bookstore asked: “Why Should My Store Be Boycotted Over a Law That I Despise?” Malaprop’s has had to cancel author events, and out-of-state customers have been avoiding Asheville while North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law HB 2 remains in effect.

This made me stop and think, because Asheville is a place I like to visit. I have a red coffee mug with the Malaprop’s logo on one side and “Eat. Sleep. Read.” on the other. Last December, a chunk of “Small-Government Freedom vs. Big-Government Rights” was written while sitting in Malaprop’s cafe section, drinking a Fire Distinguisher (a chili, cayenne, and cinnamon mocha), and using their wifi. (Yeah, I was in the South when I wrote that.)

Asheville as a whole is an unfortunate target, since it’s the cool, intellectual, artsy part of North Carolina. It’s Thomas Wolfe‘s “Altamont”, the home he couldn’t go back to after writing Look Homeward, Angel. And Asheville isn’t happy about the new law. The Asheville City Council has called for HB 2’s repeal. A parody news story says “Entire Fucking City of Asheville Moving Out of North Carolina“.

So yes, it’s a shame Asheville is catching flak for the bigots’ law. And yet … that’s kind of the point. Would the Asheville City Council have taken such a strong position on HB 2 without a boycott?

A law like HB 2 passes because a lot of the people who ought to know better believe that it isn’t really their problem. The boycott is the rest of us saying, “No, it is your problem.” I hope that all over the state, Carolinians who otherwise don’t prioritize LGBT rights, and who shrug and say “What can you do?” whenever the Christian Taliban pushes something through their legislature, are now saying: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

I’m sorry the boycott is hurting such a cute and pleasant independent bookstore, but HB 2 is hurting a lot of innocent people. And while North Carolina figures out how to fix this, I’ll be looking forward to the next time I can sit in Malaprop’s with a stack of new books on the table, drink some ridiculous coffee concoction, and write a blog post. But don’t look for me there anytime soon.

The most amusing part of the boycott happened last Monday when the porn site xHamster announced it was blocking access to computers with North Carolina IP addresses. This could be more effective than you might think. Studies suggest that Bible Belt states consume more online porn than more liberal, less religious states. It’s that whole repression/rebellion cycle.

and the intersection of religion, law, and absurdity

According to a federal judge, Pastafarianism, the worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

is not a ‘religion’ within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence. It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education.

I more or less agree in this particular case, in which a prisoner is asking the prison administration to make allowances for his Pastafarian practices. But if I were a judge, I wouldn’t have much confidence that I could in general draw a line that neatly separated “real” religions from ridiculous systems that people are just having fun with. Imagine, say, a group teaching that people require an absurd deity to properly respond to the absurdity of the human condition. The practitioners themselves might not be able to draw a line between the serious and unserious parts of their faith.

Wednesday David Corn recalled the time in 2007 when Ted Cruz, then state solicitor general, defended a Texas law banning the sale of dildos and vibrators. His office submitted a brief to a federal court claiming that Texas had a legitimate interest in discouraging “autonomous sex” and denying any

substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.

In response, Cruz’ Princeton roommate Craig Mazen (who has dogged him before) tweeted:

Ted Cruz thinks people don’t have a right to “stimulate their genitals.” I was his college roommate. This would be a new belief of his.

To me, masturbation looks like an issue where Cruz — who claims to be “a Christian first, American second” — may not be taking the Bible literally enough. Particularly Ecclesiastes 9:10 which says:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

And if your hand needs to amplify its might with battery-powered tools, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

John Kasich is supposed to be the nice, considerate Republican candidate. But in this video, shot in a Jewish bookstore, we see him “goysplaining” various pieces of the Old Testament to Talmud students, who politely refrain from telling him what a jerk he’s being when he asks them if they know about Joseph and Joshua. I was reminded of the time Rand Paul thought he could teach Howard University students about black history.

Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill to declare the Bible to be the official state book.

If we believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance. If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book.

That seems simple enough, but supporters of the bill are going to try to override the veto. To me, the vetoed bill is an example of dominance politics, a phrase I picked up from Josh Marshall, who uses it a little differently. This bill isn’t about solving any substantive problem of the citizens of Tennessee. It’s about one group of citizens proving to the others that they are on top and can grind everybody else’s noses in the dirt.

Mississippi now allows firearms in churches. Gov. Bryant signed the “Church Protection Act” Friday. Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength.” But just in case that isn’t enough, you might want to pack heat.

However, if you have a favorite gun, I’d recommend leave it at home, because the Psalm continues: “He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire.” I don’t know what He would do to a Glock, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be pretty.

and you might also be interested in

All the recent polls that RCP keeps track of have Clinton and Trump up by double digits for tomorrow’s New York primary. According to Nate Silver, Clinton continues to run ahead of her minimum winning pace, while Trump is running behind.

You would never know it from watching the news reports, but there’s been a protest going on all week in front of the Capitol. About 900 Democracy Spring protesters have been arrested, including Lawrence Lessig.

I love this video criticizing Senate Republicans for refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “I only do my job when I feel like it. That’s why I stand with the Senate.”

Paul Ryan is having the same problems that undermined John Boehner’s speakership, and with the same people, the so-called Freedom Caucus. Friday, the House missed its deadline for passing a FY 2017 budget. Because of the deal Boehner passed on his way out the door, this failure doesn’t necessarily put us on track for an across-the-board government shutdown in October. But it bodes ill for the appropriations bills that the committees should start producing in May. If any of them don’t pass by October, the corresponding segments of the government will shut down.

Digby has a fantasy: Sarah Palin on TV at the Republican Convention. Maybe she’ll compare herself to Bill Nye again, or just go off on another incoherent ramble.

David Neiwert’s Orcinus blog is marking Confederate Heritage Month by blowing away all the soft-focus Gone-With-the-Wind myths about the Confederacy. If Mississippi wants us to spend this month remembering the Confederacy, Neiwert wants to make sure we remember it as the horror it really was.

So far he has discussed such topics as lynching, slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, just how brutal Confederate slavery was, how a slavery-defending war got sold to whites too poor to own slaves, the Andersonville POW camp, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s massacre of black soldiers trying to surrender, the KKK, and who the carpetbaggers really were.

Speaking of Forrest, who in addition to being a war criminal was also the first Grand Wizard of the KKK, the effort to remove his bust from the Tennessee State Capitol has turned into a general law defining a memorial-removal process, which looks like it could tie the whole thing up for a long time. Meanwhile, the bust remains on display.

and let’s close with a pop culture mash-up

Whitney Avalon has a whole series of Princess Rap Battles on YouTube. My favorite so far: Malificent vs. Daenerys.

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  • Joe Irvin Conover  On April 18, 2016 at 11:45 am

    I believe the tax deadline was Monday, April 18?

  • NWB  On April 18, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I sympathize with Asheville, North Carolina, but they have the dismaying happenstance of laying down with an unwelcome dog and picking up fleas. It can be said of Asheville what is said about Austin, Texas: Austin is a wonderful city, but unfortunately it is surrounded by Texas.

  • JJ  On April 18, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    I haven’t read the bill, but based on your description, I love Warren’s “Simple Tax Filing” bill. All three of your “Why isn’t this a no-brainer for Congress” points are variations on the theme of “because congress has it’s attention on the people who fund political campaigns, not on the people it the states and districts that they are supposed to represent.” This is another example of a #moneyinpolitics problem.

  • TyphoidMary  On April 19, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    It’s not just the hip coffeeshops in Asheville that get hurt by the boycott, though. I live in North Carolina; let me tell you, Asheville will be fine. What I worry about are the marginalized populations in the rest of North Carolina, or the smaller progressive communities (they are definitely out there). Whether we like it or not, a state boycott also hurts the progressive individuals and businesses in the state. That’s why I always encourage folks who are boycotting to look at orgs in the state doing good work and donate to them as well/instead. I can understand that people my still decide that a boycott is the most effective way to encourage change, but it’s not so simple as saying, “Hey, maybe all those progressives in Asheville will start noticing now!” The rest of us progressives have already noticed. We HAVE been speaking out against HB2, but that doesn’t protect our businesses from a state-wide boycott.

    Ultimately, I appreciate that it is hard to know how to support progressive causes in red states; I think I just landed in a slightly different place than you, and wanted to share as somebody living in NC. Thanks for your consistent thoughtfulness and thoroughness here. I look forward to your posts every week!

  • Kate Rohde  On April 20, 2016 at 1:14 am

    I also disagree with refusing to go to states whose legal actions are wrong. The places and people most harmed are usually the progressive areas while the conservatives in more rural and small town areas are unaffected. In NC case, they had already passed anti-discrimination laws which were then overturned by the state. But states become more progressive through contact and influence of other people, not through isolation. Progressives in conservative areas are bucked up and energized by the company of likeminded folks. The first state boycott, for the ERA, did not yield a single new state to the ratification of the ERA. Boycotts generally have to be targeted (buses, grapes, etc.) and widely observed to be effective. I am fine with removing investment in particular products or businesses that are morally problematic but not with travel and interpersonal contact. Even during the boycott of South Africa the emphasis was on commerce, not travel (although there are some things that crossover). I don’t remember consternation when Paul Simon was involved, artistically, with Black South Africans during the Boycott there. And UU’s had a much larger affect in a visible protest in Arizona than they did in other places they decided to “boycott” for GA. No one much noticed that they didn’t show up. I also think a refusal to show up anyplace where sin is happening leaves you limited travel options — maybe the basement?

  • travc  On April 23, 2016 at 1:11 am

    Just to give credit where it is due…
    Back in the 2004 Dem primary, Wesley Clark proposed the same sort of “If your taxes are simple (majority of people), you don’t need to file any forms” idea. They already have the relevant info anyway, and if you don’t trust their calculations, you are free to do the calculations yourself.

    PS: The only bumper-sticker I ever used was a Clark04 one. I never did take it off… A somewhat subtle declaration of “not my fault” 😉

    • weeklysift  On April 23, 2016 at 8:51 am

      In 04 went to a couple of Clark townhalls and thought he was a very impressive candidate. A real townhall meeting, where the candidate faces questions from undecided voters, tells you a lot about a candidate. Some only know their talking points, and so they have to shift every answer back to them. Others can take on whatever question you asked. Clark was in the second category.

      I wasn’t blogging yet in 2004, but I put a report on Clark on my website.

  • travc  On April 23, 2016 at 2:00 am

    A note about “other mandatory” spending…
    Much (I think most) of that can be thought of as “automatic economic stabilizers” that redistribute money to places that are doing badly from places that are not doing as badly. Obviously, this slice of the pie gets bigger when the economy is doing worse.
    “Redistribute!?” I hear you thinking. Yep. These are a big reason why we don’t talk about trouble in the ‘dollar zone’ and Florida’s economy didn’t come to resemble Greece at the height of the Great Recession. If you want the US to have a single currency, then we need to have a single economy… and to do that, we actually do need to redistribute a bit between places with differing competitiveness/productivity. Oh, and not having kids starving in the gutters is generally considered a good thing too.

  • mysanal  On April 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    “But if I were a judge, I wouldn’t have much confidence that I could in general draw a line that neatly separated “real” religions from ridiculous systems that people are just having fun with. Imagine, say, a group teaching that people require an absurd deity to properly respond to the absurdity of the human condition. The practitioners themselves might not be able to draw a line between the serious and unserious parts of their faith.”

    We already have that. It’s called Discordianism.

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