Sunday, February 27, 2011

End of a Column -- commentary

This columnn was my final column with the Jonesboro Sun. I intend to continue posting columns here from time to time.

As all things end, it is time to say a fond farewell to this column. Those of us blessed with attention deficit sooner or later find something that distracts us from whatever useful and enjoyable activity we are engaged in and we find ourselves off on some new adventure. And so, it has happened again.

Pearl and I just returned from a couple of weeks in Mesa, Arizona, where among other things, I finished the motorcycle ride which I started two years ago and that put me in the hospital for 60 days. We shared a toast to recovery with my riding partner, Fast Eddie Copeman, and his wife, Loretta, from Calgary. We then flew to Seattle for four days for the gathering of the Grove clan and my mother’s memorial service.

When we arrived back in Jonesboro, there was an advertisement in the Jonesboro Sun. The Paragould paper was looking for a general assignment reporter. I have been substitute teaching, substitute bus driving, and driving a charter bus for a local company to supplement my retirement income, but mostly to break up the dullness of retirement. Though each of these activities was okay, they didn’t offer much of a challenge.

I looked at the ad for a reporter and thought back on my days in the newsroom from 1968 to 1970. They were interesting, creative times and the more I thought about it, the more the idea intrigued me. There were some things I like about the newsroom. No two days were ever the same. There was always a good bit of commotion and clutter to satisfy the attention deficit. It was interesting to write the town’s raw history and deadlines forced me to get something done. The only thing I didn’t like was the poverty reporters endure. Newspapers are notoriously low pay. So, when a much larger distraction came my way, I shelved the career and chased after it. The irony was that some of the distractions involved even worse poverty

Now that I’m retired following a lifetime of distractions, pay ceases to be an issue. I decided to toss my application in the hopper and see what happens, though I was only willing to make a 12 to 15 month commitment. Our son recently moved from Houston, Texas, to Gig Harbor, Washington. We realize if we are going to have time with our grandkids, we are going to have to move back to the Northwest. We hope to do this in the spring of 2012.

I was offered the job, took it, and here is how it affects this column: The Sun has a policy that reporters are not allowed to write columns. I assume this is to keep the news reporting separate from opinion writing, as it should be. Both the Jonesboro and Paragould papers are owned by the Paxton Media Group and both of them share the work of reporters through the Paxton News Bureau. For the Sun to continue my column would violate their policy.

I have enjoyed writing this column and must thank Editor Roy Ockert for paying me to do something I would probably have done for nothing. When I was invited to write it, my first task was to create a bank of 10 columns that would insure I would not have to miss deadlines and would always have a column, even during periods of writer’s block, which never happened.

That bank has never run dry and as I leave, I still have several columns which I will post periodically on my blog I also can brag that I never missed a deadline in three years, even while lying in the hospital. I intend to continue writing columns and posting them on my blog.

Several times in my life my attention deficit has led me to do-overs. Twenty years after college, I found myself back in college working on an MFA in writing. Twenty-one years after I thoroughly messed up a military career, I found myself back in the military as a navy reservist and then an Army National Guardsman where I managed to get good conduct and commendation medals instead of reprimands. Writing this column was another do-over as I first wrote a column for the “Coeur d’ Alene Press” in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, back in 1969.

I am approaching this opportunity as another do-over. Each do-over has been better than the original and I am betting this one will be also. I say a big thank you to those of you who have emailed me concerning the column and those who have encouraged me with positive comments when I would see you about the town. It has been an adventure of a different type. Thank you all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taxation and Evil -- commentary

With a new congress in session, we are going to hear a lot about the terrible “T” word – taxes. We will also hear words like “fair share” and “tax the rich.” Since taxes are a necessary evil, there should be an ongoing discussion about both the necessary and the evil part.

To save myself a lot of frustration, I began long ago to look at my pay as being only that part of my check left after taxes were withheld and went about my business. I had friends who had gotten into the anti tax movement, and it consumed their lives, leaving them poorer in the end. However, my approach has also left me poorer.

Consider the evil part first. Let me make a comparison here. In a previous column I talked about war and its main purpose being to maim and kill people. A government at war is a way to legitimize killing which in another context would be called murder. Because of this, it should be done only after careful consideration and only after there is no other rational alternative.

In the same way, taxation is a way to legitimize theft and because of this it is evil. As such it should only be done after careful consideration. The Robin Hood story might have been entertaining reading when we were kids, but the idea of stealing from the rich is wrong, even if we give it to the poor.

In its simplest, rawest terms, taxation is armed robbery. Since you and I don’t push the issue, we never see the gun that backs up the IRS, but my friend who did two years in a federal pen for failure to pay up or the one who lost his house to the IRS understand this well.

So, that is the evil side of the issue, but none of us can deny the necessity of taxation. Our country must be defended, our cities must be policed, and we must have some way to deliver justice to those who have been wronged. These things must be paid for and since we all benefit from them, we should all pay for them. But what about taxation when it is used to achieve social ends? The further you get away from taxation for defense, policing, and jurisprudence, the more the evil and less the necessity.

If you get too much evil and not enough necessity you have a real moral problem. Taxation is at its most evil form when used simply for redistribution of wealth. This is the Robin Hood myth that it is alright to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Can you justify theft just because the person being stolen from has plenty left after you are done?

How far can we go and still me moral? Take our highways and roads for example. They are built with tax dollars, but most of those dollars are taken in the form of fuel taxes from those who use the roads.

What about education? We do want an educated citizenry and so we don’t feel too badly about being taxed for this, but to what extent? There comes a point where the benefits go only to the person receiving them. Most of the social service benefits go only to the recipient.

So, how do we justify this so the theft looks legit? There is a saying that has been attributed to a number of sources: no democracy is safe once the people discover they can vote themselves money from the public largess. I will add to that, nor when the politicians discover they can buy votes from the same. This leads to a moral morass. I hear politicians like Governor Mike Huckabee proposing flat tax schemes. It is an idea that will never happen because our tax structure is a primary tool for social engineering and politicians are not going to give up that tool.

We could go on and talk about public funding of the arts, the building of sports stadiums, and on and on. It is one thing to extract money at the point of a gun to support the court house or the police force but quite another to pay an artist for something most of us would not buy and hang in our own homes.

Much of what we do with taxes seems good. I look at people playing in the city park next to my house and think what a great facility the city has built to enhance the quality of our lives. However, we had to take money from somebody to do it. When we promote taxing Peter to buy something for Paul, we should always ask if it is necessary. Necessity helps make evil feel a little more right.