The Rittenhouse American Experience

The verdict is in—not guilty on all counts.

It appears the jury delivered a fair verdict, considering the law as it now stands. Questions remain whether that law is just, or whether it should it be overturned by vote? And, how to interpret and justify the responses of the Left and Right, before, during, and after the trial?

In my opinion, the law is not fair and just. We should not condone the rights of citizens of any age to carry automatic weapons into our streets to protect from whatever or whomever they object to. This right is entirely separate from a legitimate right to have a weapon in your home to protect your family. Had Kyle Rittenhouse not gone out into the night with an AR-15, two men would still be alive and a third uninjured. In my opinion, his undertaking should be strictly limited to our police.

The responses which have dominated television news for weeks are perhaps not surprising, considering our political polarization. Considering the heightened emphasis on personal freedom vs. the collective good. Considering the ardor of Republicans and Conservatives after recent state election wins, in which the issue of personal freedom has been dominant.  This has been so clearly illustrated with parental rights overriding those of teachers in our schools. In that context, teachers are seen as a form of government—albeit local government the objectors themselves elected from their own neighborhoods, but still government. We are living in an American age in which there is widespread distrust of institutions of all forms.

The 1619 project has been characterized as attempting to redefine white America as the villain under whose rule blacks have been systematically subjugated for centuries—a designation white America doesn’t like. Any form of “critical race theory” being taught in our schools is also to be stopped. One might ask whether this is symptomatic of white supremacy still reigning? Fox argues the Rittenhouse scenario has nothing to do with racism, but in fact, Rittenhouse went out into a mob which was incensed over a policeman shooting a black man—clearly a racist situation. What was his mission? Which side was he on—Black Lives Matter or Law and Order? We don’t know, but since the protesters were mostly incensed at the shooting, it would appear Rittenhouse viewed those protestors on the side of the black man as dangerous—dangerous enough to justify his AR-15. His victims were not black, but this was a racist situation, and he had a view.

The trial has turned into a national referendum on personal freedom vs. the collective good: Those for Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted of these numerous charges see him as entirely within his rights to take a loaded automatic weapon and go out into the night, into a potential mob scene environment, and set about to protect personal property (of someone who did not even ask for such protection). These supporters apparently feel it is perfectly acceptable for citizens to act as armed vigilantes whenever they individually deem it necessary.

Those on the other side (my side) are incredulous that a 17-year-old should find it acceptable to take on a vigilante role under such dangerous conditions. To those on this side, it’s simple: Two people would be alive and a third uninjured, had this young man just stayed home, or at least had he gone out without such a weapon. He could have asked police to be sure to watch the business he alleges he set out to protect. 

No surprise, Fox News hits repeatedly daily on Rittenhouse’s rights to do this, heady with the discovery that personal freedom has turned out to a lightning rod issue, a hot populist issue, just as immigration was for Trump in 2016. Parental rights, and personal freedom can be seen under the umbrella of individualism. Individualism—the belief that we are each independent agents, extends to the right that we each have the right to protect ours (Rittenhouse’s neighborhood), just as we had to do in colonial America, when there was no other law enforcement. 

Individualism has been shown to be extreme in the American fabric. No other developed nation shows such lack of regard for the common good. It extends to the view that every person should make it on his/her own—no help is needed. One’s failures are only attributable to his/her lack of ambition or talent, and not to their poverty or skin color, their neighborhood, their parents, or any other. The US welfare system is the worst of the major developed nations of the world. Republicans are finding it no matter of conscience to vote virtually unanimously against both the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better bill—characterizing them as socialist. These are a far cry from socialism. See the analyses of David Brooks and Larry Summers.

Enough said: The Rittenhouse verdict is fair. The law is unfair. The vitriol in support of personal freedoms can sound heroic to our masses, but where is our recognition of the importance of our common good, of the value of our institutions, of our elected government at all levels? Where is our conscience? Where is our heart?

Tax the Rich-Please

As Democrats in Congress sort out the final details of their landmark Build Back Better Act, a bill packed full of aid for American families and long-overdue tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations, they appear poised to make a significant last-minute mistake that will undermine both the positive economic and political impacts of the bill. If Democrats want their bill to be a success, they cannot lift the SALT cap.

In their sweeping 2017 rewrite of the tax code that handed over billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations and individuals, Republicans in Congress and President Trump included a provision that capped the once limitless deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) on federal returns at $10,000 dollars. Although the cap was initially created as a punitive attack against the GOP’s political adversaries in coastal blue states, it has ended up being one of the few pieces of the bill worth preserving.

It’s disappointing that the Build Back Better Act doesn’t contain more aggressive tax increases on the rich or rollbacks of the Trump tax cuts, but it’s beyond insulting that in the wake of that failure, some Democrats are working to make our tax code more regressive by removing the one progressive tax provision within the 2017 bill. The House’s version of the bill would change the cap from $10,000, an amount that already overwhelmingly affects the well-off, to $80,000, which would give millionaires like me a significant tax break.

But don’t just take my word for it. Estimates by the Tax Policy Center show that raising the SALT cap to $72,500 would significantly benefit wealthy families, with only 1.6% of middle class families seeing a benefit that would average out to a tax cut around $20 dollars. This is simply because many working class and middle class Americans do not make enough to benefit from a high SALT cap deduction. And with the current Democratic plan now at a cap of $80,000 dollars, the benefits are likely to be skewed even farther in favor of the rich. 

As a wealthy individual from a blue state who would directly benefit from an increased cap, let me make one thing clear to Congressional Democrats – I do not want this tax break. Do not raise the SALT cap for my sake. 

In the midst of record breaking wealth inequality the last thing the Democratic party should be doing is working to decrease taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Wealthy individuals like myself are doing better than ever. We’re currently enjoying the boons of a skyrocketing market, exemplified by California’s ongoing record breaking surplus, funded by our capital gains taxes. We don’t need another cut. 

If Democrats are going to insist on changing the SALT cap, there is a targeted approach to adjusting the SALT cap that will ensure relief goes to only those who need it. Last week, Senators Sanders and Menendez introduced a proposal to eliminate the SALT cap for those that make under $400,000 dollars annually, while leaving it intact for anyone making more. Under this plan, working and middle-income folks in California with high property taxes can benefit without giving billionaires a tax cut.

Democrats campaigned on removing tax breaks for the rich and curbing the seemingly exponential growth of wealth inequality. Lifting the SALT cap would be a clear giveaway to wealthy donors and a betrayal of their campaign promises. Democrats are already seen as the party that represents the coastal elites, and if they end their first two years in power by failing to remove a single GOP-enacted tax cut while instead doubling down on a tax break for the rich, then the losses in Virginia will pale in comparison to the disaster waiting for them in the midterms. 

If Democrats want to hold onto the gains they made in the 2020 election, they should be focused on raising taxes on wealthy folks like me, not cutting them. It’s not hyperbole to say that the fate of the party over the next decade could be determined by what our tax code looks like at the end of these negotiations. The American people are fed up with elites always getting their way while they continue to receive the scraps. We are faced with a unique opportunity to unrig our tax code in favor of the 1 percent. I urge Democrats to keep the cap on SALT and continue the fight for tax fairness.  

Ideas I Don’t Like

  • That Americans are the appointed people of God—that we are the new Israel in the New World
  • That Christianity is the only right belief system
  • That the US is only a Christian nation
  • That we are superior to all other countries of the world
  • That we need to maintain the largest military of the world
  • That we need to do all necessary to remain the strongest nation in the world
  • That we tend to idolize or worship those who serve in the military (vs. our teachers)
  • That we need to police the world and control all national behaviors we don’t like
  • That Communism is some sort of dark and evil system which we need to eradicate
  • That personal freedom is more important than the common good 
  • That personal safety via police is more important than fair treatment of our underprivileged
  • That climate change is to be doubted
  • That experts and teachers are not to be trusted with their intelligence—that we can always know better
  • That the underprivileged suffer only because of their lack of ambition, work, or talent
  • And, that those of color deserve no special consideration
  • That no one needs a helping hand—each must do it on his own
  • That immigrants represent a threat and a cost to our country
  • That one race (white) is somehow superior and is threatened by others
  • That our Democracy is without flaws
  • And, that our Constitution is flawless, notwithstanding 300 years have passed
  • That our form of capitalism is also flawless, let the market determine outcomes, no need for government intervention
  • That government is the problem
  • That tax reduction is always the best action
  • That nationalism is better than globalism
  • That dissemination of untruths is ok
  • That inequality is ok, because the successful earned it rightfully, and I hope to do so also
  • That Donald Trump was a good President
  • That Joe Biden is failing in his Presidency

These are some of the troublesome ideas prevalent among significant elements of our society. These are ideas I don’t like, and many of them represent serious dangers to our country. I could say a lot about each of them, but you get the idea.

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