16 April 2010

When in doubt, just get more people to gamble.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported recently that State Representative Paul Costa (D-Wilkins) has proposed legislation that would enable the state to plug a massive hole in the transportation budget with tax revenues gained from the legalization of video poker machines. Mr. Costa’s idea is further proof that once the barrier to legalized gambling was broken in Pennsylvania, the flood of casinos, proposed casinos and now gambling machines permeating local neighborhoods that many predicted has come to pass.

Anyone who has step foot in bar in Pennsylvania has seen these machines for years. Although signs might warn that they are merely for entertainment, not gambling, any regular customer quickly learns that he, or she, can receive payment from the bartender if they win. As such, the machines occupied a place of legal limbo for many years- the state would make the occasional raid on an establishment and confiscate machines if gambling was observed, but mostly just looked the other way. Now that Pennsylvania, like many other states, is faced with massive deficits, lawmakers are turning to gambling in order to close the revenue gap. Pennsylvania has gone very quickly from a state that had little legalized gambling (mostly off track betting) to one that has approved a raft of new casinos, planned casinos, and now legalized machines in non-casino locations.

From my point of view, I could care less if people gambled or not. Although I consider it a waste of time and money, I have to admit to filling out the occasional March Madness bracket and buying a powerball ticket when the prize amount reaches ridiculous levels. Live and let live, as long as it isn’t hurting me. My opposition arises, however, when it appears that the state is taking a lazy shortcut to raise revenue (instead of, God forbid, cutting the state budget) that preys primarily on the poor and elderly. Who will be the primary customers for video poker machines in bars ? Professionals ? Tradesmen ? No, it will primarily come from down and out people drinking in the middle of the day and praying to hit a jackpot big enough to get them through the end of the week. State sponsored and approved gambling is the ultimate regressive tax being paid by people that can least afford it. In many cases because these people may also receive public assistance, their gambling revenues provide the ultimate means of recycling- money from taxpayer “A” is given to taxpayer “B” by the state “PA.” Tax payer “B” blows the money on gambling and the money is returned in the form of gambling machine taxes back to “PA.” The state “PA” then uses said tax money to build an even larger bureaucracy to monitor gambling in the state and passes another hefty chunk to assorted political strap hangers and flunkies in the construction business who are contracted to fix our decrepit infrastructure.

While we are at it, let’s quit using the euphemism “revenues” when it applies to gambling. They aren’t revenues, they are losses. Money lost by citizens who can’t afford to lose anything. Although we like to think they are just the occasional customer that enjoys playing a machine while drinking a beer on a Saturday afternoon, we need to admit that the primary customer for this type of enterprise is the degenerate gambler (quite possibly an alcoholic to boot) that is blowing everything he or she has on the slim hope that they will hit it big. Quite often, the degenerate gambler is in turn stealing from friends and family, or their place of employment, in order to support their habit. Families are destroyed, relationships shattered, children are neglected- hey, but at least we can fix more potholes on I-80 (the grand old lady of Pennsylvania highway construction incompetence.)

I think the legislature should next consider offering our fellow citizens their own player's cards so that they can qualify for a massive state funded buffet in Harrisburg.

15 April 2010

Happy April 15th

14 April 2010

Lysander Spooner on Taxation

I have been reading quite a bit of Lysander Spooner's works lately. He was a 19th century abolitionist, anarchist, proponent of natural law and entrepreneur- sort of a civil war era renaissance man. When I read Spooner, the words seem to jump off the page and his arguments are clear and easily followed- unlike the muddied and mind numbing treatises of many European anarchists. Spooner's philosophy of individualistic anarchism is also culturally more aligned with my background and upbringing and favors a pacifistic spread of ideas through debate and education rather than by the gun and revolution.

In honor of tax day tomorrow, here is an excerpt on taxation in the U.S. from Spooner's "No Treason." Spooner compares the methods of tax collection by the state with the methods of the common highway robber. Not surprisingly, the robber comes off as a more sympathetic character-

"It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected.

But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life." And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector," and that he takes men's money against their will, merely to enable him to "protect" those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign," on account of the "protection" he affords you. He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villanies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves "the government," are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.

If you would like to learn more about Lysander Spooner, and read more of his works, I highly recommend going here.

13 April 2010

Movie Review- Hot Tub Time Machine

I fondly remember the 80's. For me, it was the decade in which I entered my teens and enjoyed all kinds of new experiences- driving for the first time, high school, prom, joining the Army and going to college. These ten formative years also encompassed many important firsts in my life- first time I got laid, first time I almost died of alcohol poisoning, first time in a strip bar, first time I woke up drunk in the bushes beneath a Holiday Inn sign....well, you get the point. The 1980's covered by life from age 13 through 23 and looking back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, were some pretty damn fun years. No responsibilities, at least until I was in the Army, then no responsibilities right after that when I went to college besides dragging my ass into class at the crack of noon.

Since I heard that Hot Tub Time Machine was based on a group of friends travelling back into time to this most holy of decades, I persuaded my wife to go see it on our first night out without kids in about 50 odd years. It was crude, sophmoric, obnoxious, juvenile and really, really funny. We both enjoyed it immensely from wardrobe nods to the neon clothing of the 80's to the soundtrack that made me drift back to days of yore. Hearing "Safety Dance" at one point in the movie brought back a wave of nostalgia that is probably similar to a Woodstock veteran hearing "Purple Haze." John Cusack and Craig Robinson were excellent as two of the three friends but it was Rob Corddry as Lou, the semi-suicidal alcoholic manic depressive who steals the show. In a line that all guys loyal to their idiot friends will understand, Cusack and Robinson describe Lou as "he may be an asshole- but he's our asshole."

All in all, a good film. Next time I go to the movies (probably around 2025) I'll post another review.

12 April 2010

RIP Upper Big Branch Miners

A good piece from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette regarding the recent mine disaster in West Virginia and the public perception of miners and the mining industry. The author is correct that it only seems when disaster strikes that the public appreciates the sacrifice of miners, their communities and families. Like many other poor states that are rich in natural resources, West Virginia, and Appalachia in general, has been raped for generations by greedy corporations that have scarred the land and exploited the populace as labor for this incredibly dangerous profession. Like the very coal itself, the profits of their labor has been exported away from their communities and enjoyed instead in far away places like Wall Street. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend viewing Harlan County USA, an excellent film on the 1973 miners strike in Harlan, Kentucky to put it all into perspective.

11 April 2010

They Read Me ! They Really Read Me !

Despite the fact that few, if any comments are posted here (except for my old pal The Snick who lives in the land of coffee, grunge music and chicks with hairy legs) I found out this week that lots of people actually visit this site. Through the wonders of some analytics software, I found that people from 14 different states, and 5 foreign countries, actually visited this site since Wednesday. I also found out that my visitors spend between 5 and 9 minutes reading my ramblings and most of the new users found my blog through search engines. More amazingly, most of my visits are from repeat users. So, thanks for stopping by. Visits to this site lead to advertising revenue that I donate to Buddhist charities so every click counts.