Steve Brenneman Takes Cheap Shots at War Tax Resisters

I didn’t notice until recently, but back in , a columnist named Steve Brenneman took issue with war tax resisters like me:

If you’re like most others in this country, you’re fed up with the war in Iraq.… However, regardless of how you feel, it is not likely you would take matters as far as some are now doing.

When the war began, David Gross, a technical writer in San Francisco (red flag!), quit his $100,000 a year job so that taxes could not be withheld from his paycheck to help support the war. Since, then, he has been working on an independent contractor basis, earning only about $15,000 a year, and has refused to pay self-employment taxes to the government. (I wonder if Mr. Gross has given any thought to the fact that if he does not contribute to Social Security, he cannot expect to get much out of it when he retires?)

This piece is just lazy writing from start to finish, but that paragraph in particular has three bits of particularly Stupid stupid in it:

  1. “San Francisco (red flag!)” — really? You can’t count on readers who want to use “San Francisco” as an cheap and easy way to be dismissive to figure that out for themselves, so you have to flag it for them?
  2. “earning only about $15,000 a year” — this one isn’t Stupid, I guess, just lazy. The article Brenneman is responding to (in lieu of doing any actual original reporting), reported that “Gross said he now manages to live on about $15,000 per year…” which was their summary of the larger story, which was that I typically earn about twice that, and put the rest aside in various tax-sheltered ways.
  3. Finally, Brenneman wonders if I’ve given any thought to a “fact” that isn’t a fact at all. Social Security decides your payments based on a formula that doesn’t take into account whether or not you have actually paid what it thinks you owe every year. This may be non-intuitive, but that’s no excuse for prematurely labeling your incorrect intuitions “fact.”

The worst articles about tax resistance are the lazy ones. The columnist spends 30 seconds coming up with three obvious and unsophisticated arguments for why tax resistance is dumb, and then presents them as though the tax resisters were too stupid to have thought of them themselves — when just a few minutes of interviewing or checking the existing literature will show that resisters have confronted those and much more subtle and difficult arguments many times and in many ways. (Memo to reporters: If you wonder whether I have given any thought to your obvious or incorrect objection, drop me a line and ask.)

Anyway, the blather continues:

Mr. Gross is not alone. There’s actually a National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in New York City (red flag!). The committee estimates that some 8,000 to 10,000 people in this country have refused to pay some or all of their taxes because of objections to the war.

Is this a crime? You bet. Is the government doing anything about it? Recent legislation has increased the penalty for filing frivolous tax returns ten-fold. Perhaps these people would be better advised to do what a man in Indiana did in protest to high property taxes. He brought over $12,000 in taxes to the county treasurer’s office in coins and $1 bills and watched them count every penny.

How far away are these tax protestors from the so-called right-wing nut jobs who barricade themselves in compounds out in the woods and defy federal agents to come near? Not as far as they think.

If one man refuses to pay taxes because he opposes the war, can another man refuse to pay taxes because he opposes the National Endowment for the Arts? What about the use of federal funds for AIDS research? What if a couple that never had children opposes the use of tax dollars for education?

It is the height of hubris for those who oppose the war to think they have the right, and in fact consider it their duty, to refuse to pay taxes in protest. This is not democracy in action. It is, rather, the antithesis of democracy. OK, OK, enough with the soapbox.

Are there any words in that column that needed to be written, much less published? The whole thing reads like an entry in a “pull a topic out of a hat and write 400 words on it in five minutes as though you knew what you were talking about” contest. You would be better off just asking whoever is sitting next to you on the bus for their opinion.

Seeing stuff like this get syndicated makes me eager to piss on the grave of the Newspaper.