President Barack Obama announces the head of the US tax agency has quit, after it emerged his staff singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Originally posted here: US tax chief resigns amid scandal
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President Barack Obama announces the head of the US tax agency has quit, after it emerged his staff singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Originally posted here: US tax chief resigns amid scandal
Dr. Michael Kosdon Utilizes Conservative Dental Techniques to Cosmetically Enhance Smiles and Provide Natural-Looking Results for His New York Dentistry Patients
Levy has raised around £1.6tn but has become a headache for business with hopes for a cheap and simple EU tax in the past
Pink Floyd had just released The Dark Side of the Moon and the doors of the London Stock Exchange were finally open to female members when Conservative chancellor Anthony Barber introduced the nation to value added tax.
Imposed as a condition of Britain’s joining the common market, VAT is 40 years old on Monday and it has so far raised £1.6tn for the public purse, according to a study by the accountancy company Deloitte.
Designed by French tax expert Maurice Lauré in the postwar years and first levied in the UK on April Fools’ Day 1973, VAT is now the government’s third largest source of revenue after income tax and national insurance.
But what started out as a simple, easy to collect tax – a low, flat rate imposed on most goods and services – has become increasingly complex, with exemptions for everything from children’s clothes to Jaffa Cakes.
“The initial idealistic hope that it would be a simple tax, easy to apply, has constantly been eroded because there are always special lobbies,” said Deloitte tax expert Daniel Lyons. “Politics and economics got in the way of simplicity.”
Today, many of life’s essentials are not liable for VAT, including water, eggs, fish, milk, butter, cheese, newspapers, books, nuts, prescription medicines, cold sandwiches, tea, coffee, cooking oil and cereals. Other goods and services including zoos, burials, antiques and TV licences are simply exempt.
VAT was a European replacement for the purchase tax, which was charged at different rates according to the luxuriousness of an item. The new levy, a flat 10% on most goods and services, was in theory simpler to administer.
Paid by the buyer but collected by the seller, it is still one of the cheapest taxes for HM Revenue & Customs to administer because it requires businesses to act as tax collector.
It even had its own, user-friendly tribunal, where business owners could represent themselves when pleading their case.
But just one year in, Labour chancellor Denis Healey began to muddy the waters. He reduced the standard rate to 8%, but introduced a higher rate of 12.5% for petrol and some luxury goods, doubling the upper rate later that year to 25% before lowering it in 1976.
In 1979, the higher rate was abolished and the standard rate increased to 15%, where it remained until Conservative chancellor Norman Lamont increased it to 17.5% in 1991. Lamont also imposed an 8% rate on domestic fuel and power, which had previously been zero-rated.
The 1997 general election swept Labour to power and with it came a new series of tweaks and exemptions. Gordon Brown brought domestic fuel and power down to 5%, and knocked money off the rate for home insulation materials. He applied his own moral stamp, with VAT reductions on nicotine gum and other stop-smoking products, along
The Conservative MP Tim Yeo says the government is guilty of a “decade of neglect of nuclear policy”.
Read more: AUDIO: ‘Decade of neglect of nuclear policy’
Barack Obama laid out a plan to restore growth and rescue the middle class, adopting a tougher approach for his second term
The presidency of Barack Obama has been a lesson in American civics for the rest of the world and perhaps for many Americans themselves. We have learned that the most powerful man in the world is not that powerful. We have learned that he can be frustrated on an almost daily basis, and that even his most heartfelt appeals for help can be, and have been, routinely spurned.
We have grasped that even the most effective rhetoric, words that sway the nation, may not sway a stubborn opposition. We have seen the inheritor of Lincoln’s office, at the very moment when a new and commanding film is reminding Americans of the achievements of one of their greatest presidents, struggling to craft compromises with grudging and ungiving opponents, and often failing to do so.
President Obama’s speeches were at first accorded a special deference, not because he is a gifted orator, although he is, but because they were seen as having a predictive quality. They were, it seemed, about what he was going to do for America and for the rest of us. But as time passed their wishful character became more apparent. The president got a number of important things done in his first term, notably in pulling America back from the brink of economic collapse, but much of his agenda languished. Will it be the same story with the two speeches, the inaugural last month and the state of the union this week, in which he sets out his ambitions for his final term?
He laid out a plan to restore growth and rescue the American middle class, by investing in education and in energy and other infrastructural programmes, and backing innovations in modernising technology. But he did not confine himself to the middle-class plight, also proposing measures, like an increase in the minimum wage, to help the underpaid and unemployed. This is the modestly interventionist programme on which he campaigned and one which he said would not increase “our deficit by a single dime”. Yet it was instantly denounced by Republicans as meaning more “big government” and more spending. In the same vein of renewal and long overdue reform, Obama called on lawmakers to overcome their differences to establish fairer and more realistic rules about immigration, to create a better voting system, to adopt a more active approach to climate change, and to bring in real gun controls. Republicans are open to progress on the first and opposed or ambivalent on all the others.
Obama’s overall strategy is clear: he seeks to crush Republican obstructionism between the hammer of his own renewed resolve and the anvil of a public opinion that he believes is on his side and can be further won over to it in the coming months. His programme is not radical. From a European point of view it looks more like common sense than socialism, even in the diminished meaning of that word today. His hope must be that most Americans will continue to see it that way, and that their views will eventually erode the position of the Republican hardliners in Congress.
After all, something happens to even obdurate politicians when they grasp that citizens are not going to vote for them. After the farce of the Republican presidential selection and the missteps that marked Mitt Romney’s campaign, the more intelligent men and women in the party know they are out of touch with key constituencies such as Hispanics, women, gay people, and many of the young.
They can fix on the objective of wrecking Obama’s second term and then hoping to obfuscate the reasons for it, perhaps repeating their midterm success last time. Or they can trim, offering Obama some support and retaining some themselves. But the remaking of America’s conservative party, captured as it has been by delusional and extreme views, is going to be a long business, if indeed it can be done at all. Obama cannot wait for a better American conservative party to emerge. He tried the bipartisan approach the first time round. This time he is taking a tougher approach. Let us hope it works.
They parasitise us from above. But landowners and the Tory party’s idle rich are spared the fairest and simplest of taxes
You can learn as much about a country from its silences as you can from its obsessions. The issues politicians do not discuss are as telling and decisive as those they do. While the government’s cuts beggar the vulnerable and gut public services, it’s time to talk about the turns not taken, the opportunities foregone: the taxes which could have spared us every turn of the screw.
The extent of the forgetting is extraordinary. Take, for example, capital gains tax. Before the election, the Liberal Democrats promised to raise it from 18% to “the same rates as income” (in other words a top rate of 50%), to ensure that private equity bosses were no longer paying lower rates of tax than their office cleaners. It made sense, as it would have removed the bosses’ incentive to collect their earnings as capital. Despite a powerful economic case, the government refused to raise the top rate above 28%. The Lib Dems protested for a day or two, and have remained silent ever since. In the parliamentary debate about cuts to social security, this missed opportunity wasn’t mentioned once.
But at least that tax has risen. In just two and a half years, the government has cut the rate of corporation tax three times – from 28% in 2010 to 21% next year. George Osborne, the chancellor, boasted last month that this “is the lowest rate of any major western economy”: he is consciously setting up a destructive competition with other nations, creating new excuses further to reduce the British rate.
Labour’s near-silence on this issue is easily explained. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who were often as keen as the Conservatives to appease corporate power, the rate was reduced from 33% to 28%. Prefiguring Osborne’s boast, in 1999 Brown bragged that the rate he had set was “the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere, including Japan and the United States”. What a legacy for a Labour government.
As for a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions, after an initial flutter of interest you are now more likely to hear the call of the jubjub bird in the House of Commons. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a tax rate of just 0.01% would raise £25bn a year, rendering void many of the chamber’s earnest debates about the devastating cuts. Silence also surrounds the notion of a windfall tax on extreme wealth. And to say that Professor Greg Philo’s arresting idea of transferring the national debt to those who possess assets worth £1m or more has failed to ignite the flame of passion in parliament would not overstate the case.
But the loudest silence surrounds the issue of property taxes. The most expensive flat in that favourite central London haunt of the international super-rich, One Hyde Park, cost £135m. The owner pays £1,369 in council tax, or 0.001% of its value. Last year the Independent revealed that the Sultan of Brunei pays only £32 a month more for his pleasure dome in Kensington Palace Gardens than some of the poorest people in the same London borough. A mansion tax – slapped down by David Cameron in October – is only the beginning of what the owners of such places should pay. For the simplest, fairest and least avoidable levy is one that the major parties simply will not contemplate. It’s called land value tax.
The term is a misnomer. It’s not really a tax. It’s a return to the public of the benefits we have donated to the landlords. When land rises in value, the government and the people deliver a great unearned gift to those who happen to own it.
In 1909 a dangerous subversive explained the issue thus. “Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived … the unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.”
Who was this firebrand? Winston Churchill. As Churchill, Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, those who own the land skim wealth from everyone else, without exertion or enterprise. They “levy a toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry”. A land value tax would recoup this toll.
It would have a number of other benefits. It stops the speculative land hoarding that prevents homes from being built. It ensures that the most valuable real estate – in city centres – is developed first, discouraging urban sprawl. It prevents speculative property bubbles, of the kind that have recently trashed the economies of Ireland, Spain and other nations, and that make rents and first homes so hard to afford. Because it does not affect the supply of land (they stopped making it some time ago), it cannot cause the rents that people must pay to the landlords to be raised. It is easy to calculate and hard to avoid: you can’t hide your land in London in a secret account in the Cayman Islands. And it could probably discharge the entire deficit.
It is altogether remarkable, in these straitened and inequitable times, that land value tax is not at the heart of the current political debate. Perhaps it is a sign of how powerful the rent-seeking class in Britain has become. While the silence surrounding this obvious solution exposes Labour’s limitations, it also exposes the contradiction at the heart of the Conservative party. The Conservatives claim, in David Cameron’s words, to be “the party of enterprise”. But those who benefit most from its policies are those who are rich already. It is, in reality, the party of rent.
This is where the debate about workers and shirkers, strivers and skivers should have led. The skivers and shirkers sucking the money out of your pockets are not the recipients of social security demonised by the Daily Mail and the Conservative party, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest claimants. We are being parasitised from above, not below, and the tax system should reflect this.
A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com
On Sunday morning talk shows, representatives from both parties suggest shift in tone that may help reach agreement
Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed confidence Sunday that a deal to avert the fiscal cliff could be reached, as the man who will need to sign off on the agreement looked toward a higher authority for additional help.
Touring a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok, President Barack Obama was overheard discussing crucial talks to stave off the looming tax hikes and spending cuts with state secretary Hillary Clinton and their monk guide.
“We’re working on this budget, we’re going to need a lot of prayer for that,” he joked, prompting laughter from all concerned.
But back in the US, the mood was a little more optimistic. In a series of interviews Sunday, representatives of both parties appeared to acknowledge a willingness to find compromise, even if significant hurdles remain.
Congress has until the end of the year to hammer out a compromise or risk triggering the so-called fiscal cliff – a toxic mix of swingeing cuts and tax increases that could derail the still delicate US economic recovery.
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Dick Durbin, the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, said: “What I hear is a perceptible change in rhetoric from the other side.”
He added: “And what it is is an invitation for our side to basically sit down and say: ‘What can we do for this country?’”
Likewise, senior Republican House representative Tom Price, appeared to suggest that progress had been made. He and his colleagues recognised the need to generate more in tax revenue, he told CNN.
“The two sides have identified the tax revenue that we’re willing to discuss, and now it’s time to talk about spending reductions,” Price, a leading conservative, said.
But the road ahead is unlikely to be easy. The gulf remains between the two parties when it comes to individual tax increases on the wealthy.
Price stood by the argument that such a move would lead to job losses. Instead, the Republicans want to generate more revenue through the closing of loopholes. In addition, any uptake in tax needed to be paired with spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Obama was repeatedly warned that he will not sign off on a deal that doesn’t include a raise in the tax rate for America’s super rich.
Most Republican lawmakers have signed a pledge, thrust under their nose by conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, that in effect handcuffs them to a “no tax increase” policy.
Getting some conservatives to break that promise may take more than a simple appeal to a higher authority, Obama may find.
Tea Party says Romney was too moderate while leaders like Marco Rubio urge outreach to minorities as path to success
The election may yet be remembered less as the day Mitt Romney lost the presidency and more as the day the Republican party died, at least in the shape that has existed for decades.
The post-mortem into Tuesday’s disastrous election results was already under way Wednesday. There was near consensus that the party needs a drastic overhaul. Does it move further to the right or to centre? Does it reach out to women, the young and minorities, eating into the Democratic coalition?
Some conservatives, especially those from the Tea Party, argued for a shift further to the right, saying that first John McCain in 2008 and then Romney this year were too moderate, both Rinos (“Republican in name only”).
In an early taste of the blood-letting to come, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he and figures such as Karl Rove – George W Bush’s former strategist and co-founder of the Super Pac Crossroads – had been wrong in focusing on the economy. The party needed a rethink, to reach out to Latinos and other ethnic groups. “Unless we do that we’re going to be a minority party,” Gingrich said.
The party has been and remains overwhelmingly male, old affluent and white.
It has survived as an election fighting machine for so long only because of what Republicans describe as the southern strategy. That strategy is dependent on a guaranteed bloc of support among whites in southern states the party has enjoyed since the 1960s civil rights era. Throw in Christian evangelicals and others from the mid-west and the mountain states, and there was an election-winning combination.
But, as Tuesday night showed, that no longer works. Not only did the Republicans fail to take the White House, they also failed for the second time in two years to take the Senate. The latter is almost as bitter a disappointment as the failure to win the presidential race.
The chances are the shape of a new-look Republican party will not be decided by Gingrich or Rove or others of that older generation but the younger one, figures such as Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who gave the stand-out speech at the Republican convention in Tampa this year. He is already a front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination.
In a statement released yesterday, Rubio identified two targets. The first was that the Republicans had to expand its reach, to be seen as the party of not just the affluent but as the party that helps people become upwardly mobile.
Like Gingrich, he called for outreach to ethnic minorities. “The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them,” Rubio said.
He is well-placed to make the argument as a Latino himself, the son of Cuban immigrants.
The party has to not just appeal to Latinos but to begin to take at least some of the African American vote too from the Democrats. As well as addressing its failure among ethnic groups, the other priority is to address the alienation of gay and female voters.
But the shift to a new-look party will not be easy. Relations between establishment Republicans and the newer Tea Party activists threaten to become messy. Within minutes of the result being announced, Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, blamed the loss not on the changing demographics or social issues but on the candidate.
“What we got was a weak, moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican party,”
Martin said. “The presidential loss is unequivocally on them.”
The Tea Party had a bad election again, with its more outlandish candidates having failed at the ballot box, but it is not finished yet, and it will have a say in what the new Republican party looks like.
The prime issues for the Tea Party are not so much as social as small government, a policy that has a big appeal throughout the country, especially in the mid-west and the mountain states, as well as cutting the deficit and lowering taxes. Above all, like Martin, it is anti-establishment.
A Tea Party activist, Evelyn Zur, from Parker, Colorado, is fully behind the idea of reaching out to Latinos and African Americans; he sported a T-shirt at a recent rally saying “Black and Conservative Are Not Mutually Exclusive”. Zur resented the way the Tea Party is demonised as racist. She argued there is a space for conservative views among blacks in urban areas who have fared badly under the Democrats. She also sees the move as pragmatic. “Blacks and browns are going to be majority so Republicans have got to get them aboard,” she said.
One of the younger generation of Republicans who will have a say in the reshaping of the party, Henry Barbour, nephew of the former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, shares the view that the party has to reach out to Latinos, blacks, women and the young. Some of the candidates the party put up came across as “hostile”, he said, adding that he did not have to name them.
Unlike the Tea Party activists, Barbour is mainstream, an influential figure in his native Mississippi and in the Republican party beyond its borders.
The party was and will remain a conservative one, Barbour said, and policies such as opposition to abortion would remain a given. But the part could also learn from the Democrats about better organisation in identifying and getting out voters.
He thinks the party should listen to figures such as his uncle Haley Barbour and former Florida governor Jeb Bush but that the people who will lead the party should be Rubio or Romney’s running-mate Paul Ryan or someone else from that generation.
The main message of the election was the need to be more inclusive. “What we have to do is do is take our message to people who do not historically support us – blacks, Latinos, Asians, the young, people who agree with but we do not sit down with and break bread,” Barbour said. “We either do it or we continue to blow them off.”
The former Conservative deputy prime minister has delivered his report on the state of the economy
Go here to read the rest: Steve Bell on Michael Heseltine’s growth report – cartoon
The former deputy prime minister’s economic report may have been greeted warmly, but it is destined for the long grass
Only a few hours have passed since the publication of Michael Heseltine’s economic-rescue plan, but its likely fate can already be guessed at: it will become a purely political artefact. Lord Heseltine’s report has already served its purpose for the coalition, by signalling how seriously it takes the need to stimulate an economy that has been flatlining for two years. George Osborne has already praised the work of his fellow Conservative as “bursting with ideas”. The document, No Stone Unturned, comes in handy for Ed Miliband too, who yesterday made great play of this verdict from the one-time president of the Board of Trade: “The message I keep hearing is that the UK does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation.”
So far, so routine. The greater disappointment from Lord Heseltine’s analysis is how little it has to offer against what he correctly identifies as an existential economic crisis. This is not because the Conservative heavyweight lacks the ability to identify Britain’s major problems – and, crucially, to frame them in terms appreciable to those on the right. The man who made his name in Toxteth, who bequeathed London with the Jubilee line (and, less happily, the Millennium Dome), understands the need for productive cities. But experience and talent, however substantial, have in this government-commissioned report been badly let down by resources. So much is apparent from the off. Those reviews the government wishes to take seriously are first presented as serious pieces of work. Think of the way then-chancellor Gordon Brown handpicked economist Kate Barker to look into the housing market, or BA boss Rod Eddington to study transport needs. These were researched by civil servants, breathed over by special advisers and garnished with a ministerial foreword. However insipid their contents, these reports came with the imprimatur of Whitehall.
Compare that with yesterday’s publication from Lord Heseltine. Very little coverage of the document actually mentions the look of the thing, which is strange because it is very revealing. The cover of No Stone Unturned is a cartoon of the former conference darling himself shining a torchlight under a boulder. There follows a portrait of the author’s great hero Joseph Chamberlain and a first chapter titled One Man’s Vision. The impression conveyed is not of Whitehall gravitas, but a pamphlet produced by an enthusiastic amateur. Sadly, this is borne out by what follows: a collection of other organisations’ data coupled with a recounted Life and Times of Tarzan.
Many ideas are often reheats of discarded Labour policies. Revivify local enterprise partnerships! By turning them into regional development authorities. Start a national growth council! Just like Mr Brown used to have. And so on. Nothing wrong there: it’s just that these ideas do not go far enough.
The great gamble made by Thatcher and Major and, with less conviction, by Blair and Brown was that if government provided a low-tax, light-regulation environment for business, private-sector jobs would follow. North of the Watford Gap, that hasn’t happened. New Labour had to create public-sector jobs in Swansea, Newcastle and Merseyside to cover for the lack of private-enterprise employment.
Successive administrations have commanded young people to go to university, only for them to find no commensurate job opportunities upon graduation. Meanwhile, London has hogged government attention and infrastructure spending – so that over the next few years Greater London will receive £45.6bn in airport and rail capacity and other hard-helmet work: more than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. The City got a historic bailout – even while this government refused to underwrite a small loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Redressing this imbalance of power between one corner of Britain and the rest of the country will take more than a few committees and a pot of government spare change.