Alex Joffe: Listening to Saddam
In some ways Saddam, secularist and Arab nationalist, contrasted profoundly with Iran's current theocratic leaders; but there are ominous similarities. For Saddam as for the mullahs, Israel was the "one who raped our land," the "despised entity," the entity "rejected by humanity and by the nation." Zionists, Israelis, and Jews were undifferentiated. Saddam thought the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were to be carefully studied as an invaluable historical record of the global Jewish Zionist conspiracy. He believed Israel was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Zionists were responsible for reviving Pharaonic civilization in Egypt and Phoenician civilization in Lebanon in order to "break up the fabric of Arab nations." For Saddam, anti-Semitism was not simply an expedient or cover but a central organizing principle of life and thought.
His other motivating forces were regional rivalry and ideological politics. Saddam's grasping for leadership of the Arab world and the Palestinian cause brought him into constant conflict with his brother kings. He repeatedly expressed his hatred of Egypt's Mubarak and the Saudis' King Fahd, his compete distrust of Qaddafi, and his loathing of Arafat. Gangland-style assassination plots were proposed. The slaughter of Gulf Arabs was described as a "blessing." The killing of Iranians—Saddam was convinced that Israel would give Iran biological weapons for use against Iraq—was a "sacred duty."
Does any of this define "madness"? Is it simply an extreme case of bounded rationality among decision-makers limited by their personalities, experiences, and available information? In perhaps their most important revelation, the transcripts show that Saddam could be deterred by threats of force; but no amount of persuasion or explanation could have changed his mind about the Jews or his mission against them. His visceral anti-Semitism—not merely suspicion regarding Israel as a regional hegemon or concern for the Palestinians—was profound. The same is indisputably the case with Iran. Whether this is defined as rational or irrational is irrelevant. The important thing is to take it seriously.
FP: It’s the viscerality of Arab anti-Semitism and the effort to which they go to libel Israel for atrocious but inexistent crimes (with the cooperation of the Western media) that has resonance in an increasingly ignorant and cowardly West in decline. It reignites historic anti-Semitism in Europe and creates it in the US, demonstrating that scapegoating the Jews in crisis is a universal instinct.
James Stewart: Paying Far More Than 13.9%: A Taxpayer’s Lament
“There’s not a whole lot you can do about any of that,” Mr. Willens said. “Capital gains and investment income taxes are capped at 15 percent, so the larger the percentage of your income attributable to those items, the lower your tax rate will be. Could you convert some of your ordinary income into tax-favored income? It’s very hard for someone in your circumstances.”
Leonard Burman, a tax expert and a professor of public affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, agreed. “The fact is, if you’re working for a living, it’s not possible. What you need is some carried interest, but that’s going to be pretty hard for someone like you. Maybe you could get The New York Times to pay you in stock options.”
Both agreed that I could move from New York to somewhere like Alaska, Nevada or South Dakota, the states with the lowest state tax burdens, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group.
Both singled out the unfairness of the alternative minimum tax, originally enacted to ensure that the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes, but which has increasingly hit middle-class taxpayers while having little or no effect on the ultra-wealthy. The A.M.T. added just $233,000, or 8 percent, to Mr. Romney’s federal tax bill. It added 40 percent to mine. According to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution, 51.7 percent of taxpayers reporting incomes of $200,000 to $500,000 paid the alternative minimum tax in 2012, while just 41.6 percent of taxpayers reporting more than $1 million did.
And the Republican candidates, Mr. Burman said, are “basically advocating tax cuts for rich people. Their proposals are even more regressive than the Bush tax cuts and current law. And they’re all in complete denial about the budget situation.” According to the Center for Tax Policy, Mr. Romney’s tax proposals would lower federal tax revenue by $600 billion in 2015, and would increase after-tax income for those earning more than $1 million by 14.5 percent, the largest gain for any income level. According to the Urban Institute’s resident fellow Howard Gleckman, Mr. Gingrich’s even more generous tax proposals would lower federal tax revenue by nearly $1.3 trillion in 2015.
The solution, according to Mr. Burman, is relatively straightforward: a return to the principles of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 championed by Ronald Reagan. “Broaden the base, lower overall tax rates, and tax capital gains and unearned income at the same level as ordinary income,” Mr. Burman said.
FP: When pigs fly. The tax code is written by those with speculation income, not by those who work, because the former own the politicians. Rewarding speculation (and fraud) and cronies rather than work and productive investment is a major reason for American decline.
JAMES FREEMAN: Will Buffett Avoid the Buffett Rule?
Billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett is once again thrilling the political class by volunteering other people to pay higher taxes. Long-time observers recall his opposition to former President George W. Bush's efforts to reduce the tax rate on dividends. Since Berkshire pays no dividends, Mr. Buffett had little at stake but enjoyed the opportunity to pose as if he were a rich guy eager to cough up more dough to Washington.
In the current debate, President Obama is pushing the "Buffett Rule" to ensure that high-income earners pay higher tax rates. But even if it's enacted, don't expect the Buffett Rule to have much impact on Mr. Buffett. By an amazing coincidence, the sage of Omaha is already positioned to shield most of his rising wealth from such a tax.
Political journalists who don't read the business press are the most likely to be duped by Mr. Buffett's pose as a public-spirited billionaire happy to pay more to support the government…
This brings us to the Buffett Rule, which at its heart is a way to raise taxes on dividends and capital gains. Berkshire still doesn't pay a dividend, and as for capital gains taxes, well, Mr. Buffett has already made clear that he'll largely avoid them by transferring his fortune to the Gates Foundation and to charitable trusts controlled by his family. In fact, at the 2010 Berkshire annual shareholders meeting, according to Dow Jones Newswires, Mr. Buffett urged attendees to "follow my tax dodging example" and give away their wealth. Democrats in Washington may enjoy using Mr. Buffett as cover to raise taxes, just as long as they understand that he won't necessarily be paying them.
FP: This follows articles in the media that demonstrated Buffett invested in businesses benefitting from government largesse and then lobbied for that spending (and is thus a crony capitalist). In a society kept gullible by a collapsed education system that produces a public ignorant and unable to reason critically and independently and is indoctrinated with an illusion of productive capitalism that does not exist, the Romneys. Soroses and Buffets readily fool the masses with the help with a corrupt and ignorant media. Beware self-serving altruists.
Oded Tyrah: Politics is not reality TV
Without proper experience Yair Lapid could cause great damage to the PMO.
FP: Welcome to the Western club of empty-headed, self-centered celebrity politicians.
Ayala Keyssar Sugarmen: Israeli Jews and tradition
Most Israeli Jews believe Israel can observe Jewish law and be democratic.
FP: They want to believe. More wishful thinking.