Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Georgians Are Stupid

say Georgia Republicans.

This has been the Republican party's tactic for wooing voters around the nation, and I'm sorry to say it works very well in the State of Georgia. Once-educated readers who once rolled their eyes at terms like "Ministry of Truth" and "joycamp" now believe wholeheartedly in laws named "Clear Skies Initiative" or "No Child Left Behind" or "Fair Tax". And seeing how these simple, yet effective, diversions enrich them and their cronies, modern Republicans are emboldened to milk the public for everything they can get.
Which brings us to an unfortunate op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Free Login) by state Representative Mark Burkhalter (R-North Fulton). What's unfortunate about the guest column is not that he is not identified as a partisan Republican lawmaker, at least online. It is not that the AJC printed no "Equal Time" column or at least tried to balance out spin with facts. Burkhalter didn't control these things. Those are just byproducts of a shoddy newspaper.
No, what is most unfortunate is that Burkhalter takes an idea that might actually have merit, and tries to sell it on a gullible Georgia by using misdirection, false innuendo, and a few outright lies. The column in question breaks down Burkhalter's objections to Georgia's ad valorem property tax. Unlike many states, Georgia taxes not only owners of real estate, but owners of vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, and airplanes, on an annual basis. Every year, when you pay $25 for registration in your state, I pay a hundred or a few hundred dollars (depending on the value of my car) in ad valorem tax. It's a tough pill to swallow every year because it's not a hidden tax that nickels and dimes you throughout the year. It hits you once a year on your birthday.
That being said, it's not cheap to maintain roads. And an ad valorem tax is far more progressive than a gas tax or a road toll. It affects the people who are most able to pay the most. And it's not like the income tax, which doesn't take into account your expenses. The ad valorem tax only really charges people who are buying expensive new luxury cars. Why new? Because as the car becomes a used car, its value drops precipitously, and the ad valorem tax follows suit.
But it's costing Burkhalter money. And it's costing his donors money. So he's pushing hard to get rid of it. But all getting rid of it is likely to do is raise gas taxes to replace the revenue. So he and his rich friends save money on their Infinitis while the 1972 Pontiac driver sees his gasoline bill rise to compensate. Burkhalter's words are telling: "Government shouldn't punish citizens because they choose to own a car or truck." So much for the Republican party being the party of personal responsibility. Taxes aren't punishment. They're our dues for living in the United States. They are the user fees charged to make sure the $60,000 vehicle in your 4-car garage has pothole-free roads to travel on. And more importantly, that your fresh vegetables make it from the illegal immigrant picker in Florida to your local Whole Foods in time for your wife to cook them for dinner. And don't dismiss this as an anti-money rant. I've purchased new cars and paid the resulting tax bill. I've taken responsibility for my actions. After all, I could have chosen to get old, used cars. But since I acknowledge that my actions have consequences, I pay the tax gladly.
Burkhalter also feels drivers already pay enough. They have to pay for "state and federal taxes on gasoline; excise tax on gasoline; sales tax on vehicle purchases; tire disposal fees; mandatory smog inspections; and fees for driver's licenses." Earth to Mark! These fees all help mitigate the costs involved with owning a vehicle made from toxic materials that spews other toxic materials into the air. Perhaps we can get rid of the tire disposal fee in lieu of using the Burkhalter's backyard as a tire dump? It keeps coming back to the lack of personal responsibility Republicans have and their ardent desire to get the populace to pay for their lifestyle choices.
Burkhalter finishes his grand argument with a straw man. "Government doesn't dare tax other personal items such as jewelry, furniture, computers or tools. There is no reason to tax something as essential as our vehicles." When my kids develop asthma because of your jewelry, we'll talk. When thousands of computers are causing the state to pay millions of dollars to ease congestion on the road, we'll talk. When the wood from your furniture is being purchased from terrorist and dictatorial states that threaten our national security, we'll talk.
Representative Burkhalter, treat Georgians like adults. Who knows? One day they may even act like them.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Onward Christian Militants

     I don't know why so many of my posts seem to center around wanna-be American theocrats. Maybe it's because they've been so prominent lately. Maybe it's because in the death throes of the Bush disaster, er, presidency, they are preparing a fresh assault on religious freedom. Or maybe it's because they are stubbornly failing to recognize that the American public's patience with them is starting to grow thin. Really, there's only so much trashing you can do of basic American freedoms before the average American wakes up and yells "Sit the hell down - I can't see my football game!"
     So anyway, it's April, which means two things. 1) It's been a month since my last post. How low have I fallen that my once-daily blog has become a monthly? 2) It's time for the annual running of the religiots who think the Easter Bunny is the only thing holding civilized society together.
     I've recently moved from Norcross, GA to Dekalb County, GA. This means a few things for me. My commute is a lot shorter. The supermarkets sell more Kosher food. Cynthia McKinney is my Representative. And I get a local weekly newspaper called the Dunwoody Crier. And this week, the bottom half of the front page was plastered with a South Park-ian bunny who looks scared for his life below the headline, "'Spring bunny' almost trumps Easter at Perimeter Mall" "by Cathy Cobbs". Wow. Thank goodness for Cathy Cobbs. Otherwise we might not have known that Easter was ever in such danger. As the managing editor of The Crier, I'm sure she knows this is Big News. OK - I'm being facetious. Nothing happens in Dunwoody. Really. It's got to be tough to fill your paper with enough copy so you can sell ads when there's nothing to write. Still, it doesn't excuse irresponsible rabble-rousing.
     The story starts out with a reference to the ubiquitous, mysterious "some" people. Cobbs wrote, "In what some believe is another attempt to remove a religious connotation from holidays...". Translation: "In what I want you to believe.." Cobbs interviewed 2 people, the sole complainant Sherry Pettitt and the suckup marketing manager of the mall, Lisa Shepherd. It was Sherry Pettitt who got the whole ball rolling in fact. She was so upset to see how badly Christians were being persecuted in front of Dillards that she sent emails to a dozen news publications.
     Originally, according to the mall, they were not celebrating Easter at all. The bunny was there to help celebrate spring. As someone who eats lunch in the Perimeter Mall food court, I can attest that springtime at the mall is distinct from other times. People who were staying indoors during the cold weather start flooding the food court and departments stores once the mercury stays in the 70's and 80's. Too bad they didn't know that the rabbit is now the property of militant Christians and must only be used to celebrate Easter. (All rabbits are hereby named "Easter Bunny") And failure to celebrate Easter is nothing less than a vicious attack on Christians. God help you if you try to be inclusive. A 1996 survey found that 13% of the residents of Dunwoody and neighboring Sandy Springs were Jewish. Add that to the people who are Muslim, atheist, or adhere to another religion, and you have a sizeable population that doesn't identify with Easter.
     So what do Sherry Pettitt and her cabal of religious extremists say to Perimeter Mall's statement that "many backgrounds, cultures and religions do not celebrate the Easter holidah and Perimeter Mall wants our springtime children's character to be familiar and appealing to all shoppers"? She says, "I am sick of it!"
     I'm just dying to bump into this woman at Publix or Target.