Thursday, November 1, 2012

American Politics: A History of Invective, Chicanery, and No-holds-barred Mudslinging

Every presidential campaign season I ruminate on the history of American politics, and since we’re coming down to the wire in the current race, I thought this would be a timely—and lively—topic for discussion. We hear a lot of complaints about personal attack ads and dirty tricks, including from the politicians who are guilty of using them. But you don’t have to do much digging to discover that political chicanery is a time-honored American tradition that has been exercised with glee since America was still a collection of British colonies on the course toward revolution. So let’s take a quick tour of some of the more egregious examples from our nation’s history.

Political parties didn’t exist in this country until we were well on the way to revolution. At that point, the division between those who supported the British and those who opposed them spawned the Loyalists, or Tories, and the Patriots, or Whigs. There was no such thing as neutrality between the two points of view. Anyone who didn’t support one side was automatically consigned to the opposition. Where Patriots held sway, mobs often forced Loyalists out of their homes, denying them legal counsel and trial. Loyalists might be jailed, have their property confiscated, their citizenship revoked, and even be exiled. Where Loyalists held power, Patriots suffered similar treatment. At times someone of the wrong political persuasion was even tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Mobs played a big part in colonial politics, particularly in Boston, where Dr. Joseph Warren helped to refine mob rule into an art form. But mobs were a force to be reckoned with throughout the colonies. In June 1775, one placed the home of New Hampshire’s last royal governor, John Wentworth, under siege, demanding he turn over his guest, John Fenton, who had urged acceptance of the latest British proposals to avert the crisis. When Fenton understandably refused to comply, the crowd wheeled a cannon in front of the mansion and beat on the walls with clubs until the hapless offender finally gave himself up. Fearing for his and his family’s safety, that night the governor fled with his wife and young child to the fort in Portsmouth harbor, ending decades of British rule in that colony. Nothing like the direct approach to changing your government!

From America's earliest days as a democracy, name-calling and character assassination has been a highly popular tactic, such as when DavyCrockett accused Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s corsets. In 1828, when John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson vied for president, Jackson’s campaign nicknamed Adams The Pimp, based on a rumor that as the American ambassador to Russia he had forced a young woman into an affair with a Russian nobleman. Adams’ supporters responded by circulating a pamphlet claiming that Jackson's mother had been a prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers, and that Jackson was the offspring of her marriage to a mulatto!

The name-calling in the 1800 presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, however, takes the prize for no-holds-barred mudslinging. Some of the charges and counter-charges are cited in this hilarious YouTube video. And you thought our modern politics is outrageous!

In 1840, American politician Thomas Elder wrote to a friend that “Passion and prejudice properly aroused and directed do about as well as principle and reason in any party contest.” Every campaign season we see the proof of that claim!

Cross posted from the Colonial Quills blog.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New American Revolution

Patrick Henry Protesting Stamp Act

You know . . . I now fully understand how our Founders felt when they were dealing with the unfair taxation, restriction of trade, and violation of personal rights, privacy, and property George III imposed on them. As a small business owner who’s simply trying to stay afloat when the money coming in isn’t equal to the expenses going out and I find myself negatively impacted every single day by the failed policies of a government I’m increasingly coming to view as the enemy, I’m on the verge of agitating for a new American Revolution.


I’m not smiling.

Excuse me if I sound just a bit radical, but it seems like every other month I get a notice from my friendly state revenue office or county assessor demanding yet another report, with corresponding tax assessment and bill. Another arrived today, one that somehow I’ve never received before and am apparently delinquent in. Don’t know how I passed under their radar scope—it wasn’t intentional; I didn’t know this one existed—but they’ve found me now. Every time I turn around there’s more tax paperwork and another bill. But as they point out, your tax preparer or accountant will have the info. Yeah, and I have to pay him to figure it up.

What makes it worse and lit the tinder to this tirade is that at this time of year I’m slogging through the process of putting together everything needed to file my taxes. I just finished figuring up and sending out the 1099s, which have to be mailed by January 31. I have to pay for the forms and envelopes and do all this work to help the government tax anyone and everyone I ever employed in any capacity whatsoever. And then I have to pay my accountant to filter through all the paperwork, crunch all the numbers, and determine what I owe the government or, if I’m lucky—or unlucky, since it means I had a loss—what the government owes me. The amount of time and money we Americans spend working for “our” federal, state, and local governments, only to then pay for the privilege, is enraging.

I could be investing all that time and money in growing my business. And putting a few people to work. Multiply that by all the other businesses in this country, most of which have whole departments dedicated to handling the taxes necessary to maintain this bloated superstructure we call the U.S. Government.

That’s just wrong.

The form I received today is the “Tangible Personal Property Schedule for Reporting Commercial and Industrial Personal Property (with “Due March 1” in big, bold red letters at the top). I’m advised that:

“In accordance with state guidelines [their emphasis] and in an effort to comply with a recent federal court ruling [my emphasis], we must request the following information regarding your business personal property. [Business personal property??? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?] Please submit a depreciations schedule/current fixed asset listing or small business item listing. See brief definition below.”

There follows a whole page. Plus another legal-sized page printed front and back with instructions. What I’m thinking isn’t fit to print.

For my business license—which the previous county clerk told me I didn’t need, but the current county clerk decided I did and fined me for being in arrears—just figuring out what category a publishing house belongs to was mind boggling. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.

Here are the instructions on this form.

“Report all personal property owned by you and used or held for use in your business or profession as of January 1, including items fully depreciated on your accounting records. Do not report inventories of merchandise held for sale or exchange or finished goods in the hands of the manufacturer. Personal property leased or rented and used in your business must be reported on Part III of this schedule and not in this section. A separate schedule should be filed for each business location. List the total original cost to you for each group below by year acquired in the REVISED COST column. If COST ON FILE is printed on the schedule, you need only report new cost totals resulting from acquisition or disposition of property in the REVISED COST column. Alternative Reporting for Small Accounts—If you believe the depreciated value of your property is $1,000 or less you may use the small accounts certification (reverse side) as an alternative to reporting detail costs below. With this certification, subject to audit [my emphasis], your assessment per this schedule will be set at $300.”

Did you understand that? You have to supply an itemized list of everything you own that you ever use for business, down to the paperclips and staples, so they can tax you on it. And I already paid almost 10% sales tax on all of it!!

This includes: “Group 1. furniture, fixtures, general equipment, and all other property not listed in another group. Group 2: computers, copiers, peripherals, fax machines, and tools. Group 3: molds, dies, and jigs. Group 4: aircraft, towers, and boats. Group 5: manufacturing machinery. Group 6: billboards, tanks, and pipelines. Group 7: scrap property. [Oh, they don’t actually tax you on that, but you have to report it anyway!] Group 8: raw materials and supplies. Group 9: vehicles. Group 10: construction in process.” Nicely: “If your personal vehicle is being used for business less than 50%, please note that on the schedule and do not report it.” Huh??? Ah . . . how do you report something without actually reporting it? Sorry. I’m an editor . . .

Now, you can get around doing an itemized list if you file the small accounts certification. But what do you bet the odds are that they’ll audit you? Plus you have to check the box that verifies: “By checking the box at left, I certify that the total depreciated value of my property (all groups) is $1,000 or less. I understand this certification is subject to penalties for perjury and I may be subject to statutory penalty and cost if this certification is proven false.” Proven false. Nothing said about making an honest mistake. Irrelevant anyway since you’d be ahead of the game to ignore this option and invest the time and effort up front to inventory everything you own in order to make sure you didn’t miss something they might penalize you for.

Can you believe this??? George III had NOTHING on the U.S. Government. Our Founders must be turning over in their graves. Believe me, I’ve studied the truly objectionable British policies that finally drove our Founders over the edge, and we would have been better off just goin’ with it. Whatever. They’re 3,000 miles away across the ocean. What can they really do? Give ’em their pound of flesh, make an appearance of compliance, do what you gotta do . . . and then go on about your business. What they don’t know won’t bite ya.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t object to paying for essential government services. In fact, I’m glad to. Our lives are a whole lot better for police and fire protection, good roads, schools, communications systems, and many other real benefits our tax dollars provide. But things have gotten waaaayyyy out of hand. I want value for my money. I don’t want it to go into somebody’s pocket under the table or to pay for a bloated government bureaucracy that stifles incentive and growth and drags people down instead of lifting them up.

What bothers me the most is that a whole lot of precious blood was shed during the Revolution, and we’re in a worse situation now than our ancestors even envisioned then. Our government makes British rule in the 18th century look like an amateur act. And they’re right here in our laps! You can run, but ya can’t hide.

Well, honey, we can sure vote ’em out and keep on doing it until the representatives we put in Congress and the Oval Office sit up and take notice and begin doing what we elected them to do instead of taking advantage of their positions to line their own nests and/or advance agendas the majority of us don’t agree with.

It’s past time for a new day to dawn. I don’t know about you, but TEA Party, here I come!

Leave a comment and let me know what you think! Let’s talk!