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Sorry tea-baggers, Tom sets the record straight when it comes to those tax arguments, er, mythology

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The history of Latin America after World War II basically consists of the United States having propped up an endless series of tinhorn fascist dictators (Somoza, Pinochet, Noriega, and on and on). All these bloodsuckers had to do was promise our government that they would be staunchly anti-Communist and the U.S. would shower them with money and grant them carte blanche to rape, pillage and plunder their own countrymen blind.

Here in Arizona (and, to be fair, in other parts of the country, as well), we have a somewhat analogous situation. There is a significant portion of our society who will allow the state legislature (and governor) to break the law, ignore the Constitution and gleefully strangle the life out of a once-proud public-school system. In exchange, all the elected professional deadbeats have to do is promise not to raise taxes.

You want to systematically degrade Arizona's public schools to the point where they are the laughingstock of America? That's okay with us as long as you don't raise taxes. You want to use state funds to help your rich friends send their kids to exclusive private schools? Knock yourself out; just don't raise taxes. You want to ignore your oath of office, openly defy court orders, flip off the state constitution and refuse to do the job that you were elected to do? Look, I've told you before. You can slap my mama, expose yourself to nuns, and sell small children on eBay. It's all good as long as you don't raise my taxes.

Last year, during the election season, I went to a tea party-type rally. You know the scene—anti-government, anti-tax, anti-Obama. It wasn't hard for me to mingle; I certainly look the part—white, overweight, bad wardrobe. I pretty much look like I was conceived at WalMart. Anyway, I just love those people. They'll tell you, "I hate Barack Obama more than I hate any other person who ever got elected in the history of America ... but it has nothing to do with race."

Leaving race out of it—would that they could!—I don't understand the vitriol. You can't possibly say that Obama is the worst, not as long as Richard Nixon is still on the list. (Or Jimmy Carter, for that matter.) You don't like what Obama has done in terms of social programs? Then you should be much angrier with Lyndon Johnson. You're not happy with what Obama has done with people who are in this country illegally? Then you should despise Ronald Reagan, who granted amnesty for 10 million such people back in the 1980s. You're upset about the budget deficit? How about focusing your anger on President Dick Cheney, who waged costly wars in two different countries without even thinking about raising enough tax revenue to pay for them?

(I know that Cheney wasn't actually the President. Sorta.)

Anyway, I'm at this event and I went over to the we hate taxes pavilion (not its real name). There was a group of people standing around, with this one guy pretty much dominating the conversation. I waited until he came up for air and then introduced (and identified) myself. I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. (It's really weird; I'm generally able to talk to people without their automatically wanting to punch me in the face. That urge may come later, although I have never actually been punched in the face.)

I told the guy (his name was Dan) that while I was fairly certain that his reflex response would be "Too damned high!," I would appreciate a more precise answer. Here's how it went:

Do you know at what rate your income is taxed by the federal government? "It's about 20 percent." (Wrong. There are seven different tax rates, depending on income level. Twenty percent is not one of them.)

How about by the state? "It's five percent." (Wrong. The maximum amount is 4.54 percent, making it the 11th lowest in the country and that includes the seven states that have no state income tax whatsoever.)

Where does Arizona's sales tax rank in the country? "It's in the top 10." (It's actually 28th.)

And on and on it went. (I'll be honest. I looked up those numbers before I left the house. Nobody, not even the most strident tax protestor, knows that stuff.)

Unfortunately, this is a rather pervasive attitude these days. There are people who (quite sincerely) believe that they are under the thumb of an oppressive (and perhaps even evil) tax system. There is no reasoning with them, despite the fact that we, as Arizonans, are somewhat under-taxed compared to other states; and we, as Americans, are wildly under-taxed compared to other countries.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said that "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." Unfortunately, some people just can't grasp that notion.

Finally, I asked Dan if he would be willing to pay an extra 10 percent in taxes for five years if it would help totally eradicate cancer in the U.S. He couldn't bring himself to say yes. That's not surprising, really. Just a couple years ago, Arizonans were asked if they would kick in a paltry one percent to keep their schools from sinking below those of Mississippi. We all know what the answer was.

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