The United States raises revenue through a variety of taxes that are fragmented or “disaggregated” into multiple components. Although most Americans think of taxes primarily in terms of the income tax, its lesser known cousin, the payroll tax, produces nearly identical revenues while falling disproportionately on the poor and middle-class. Disaggregating the tax system into several component taxes thus conceals the true aggregate tax burden on taxpayers. This misleading effect is exaggerated because the media and politicians focus on the income tax while ignoring the equally significant payroll tax.
Communicating ethnic animosity through humor has long been an American tradition. As early as the seventeenth century, Americans have utilized racial jokes to ridicule the culture, dialect, dress, and traditions of each new wave of immigrants. Images of “little black Sambo,” “the drunken Irishman,” and “the stupid Pole” have helped to define which ethnic groups are accepted and which remain on the fringe of society. Although racial jokes convey a wide variety of messages ranging from friendly teasing to flagrant racism, when channeling racism and hostility they comprise one of the greatest weapons in the “repertory of the human mind.” Furthermore, while many dismiss jokes as a nonserious form of communication, racial jokes historically have played an important role in the development of American race relations.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, major American companies had entire departments staffed with hundreds of—sociological specialists who were charged with monitoring the private behavior of company employees—often in their homes—to make sure they did not drink too much, had appropriate sex lives, kept their houses clean, and used their leisure time properly. Worker privacy and autonomy has made tremendous advances since that time, but even today employers continue to take actions against employees whose off-the-job behavior they find objectionable. Recent examples of employee—offenses include cohabitating with a partner outside of marriage, smoking, drinking, motor-cycling, and even having a high cholesterol level.
In recognition of the fearsome powers faced by defendants, the criminal justice system has built into it a multitude of counterbalancing defendants’ rights. There exists, however, a special breed of criminal trial involving a third and even weaker voice, a voice that may not even be heard during the trial. Criminal defendants who claim they committed acts of violence only in self-defense place their victims on trial – sometimes rightfully, sometimes to avoid well-deserved guilt. The wealth of protections afforded to criminal defendants give them wide latitude to attack victims who do not enjoy such robust protections.
The use of abusive tax shelters by major corporations has been called “‘the most serious compliance issue threatening the American tax system . . . .’” Losses to the Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) are estimated to range anywhere from $7 billion to $30 billion per year. Meanwhile, corporate profits have risen 23.5% while their corresponding tax obligations rose by only 7.7%. Personal income taxes, on the other hand, are up 44%, which represents 79% of the total federal income tax and is estimated to increase to 85% by the year 2004. Also astounding is that the corporate tax-to-profit ratio has dropped between 1.5% and 2.9%, roughly translating into a decrease in corporate income tax receipts between $13 and $24 billion. Although the decrease in corporate tax receipts is unlikely to be attributed to a single cause, many commentators point to the growing acceptance of abusive tax shelters by large corporations as a major contributor.
Persistently low voter turnout in the United States continues to disappoint lovers of democracy. When scarcely half of the population of eligible voters turns out for a presidential election once every four years – to say nothing of midterm congressional elections or local elections – it becomes difficult to defend American democracy as truly representative. Instead, the will of the active voters, who constitute a stark minority of the eligible voting population, ultimately determines the electoral outcome. This regrettable situation is not the essence of a participatory democracy.
Although low turnout might easily be blamed on an American electoral lethargy, it could also be understood as a failure of the American electoral structure to motivate voter turnout. Accepting that premise as fact, it becomes possible to treat declining voter turnout as an opportunity to reconsider what has until now been a staple of American democracy: voluntary voting.
Hollywood is an impersonal, uncaring, and unforgiving place, and artists need the sophisticated assistance of third parties to help them locate employment opportunities and to assist them in making career decisions. This is where talent agents and personal managers step in. Agents and managers represent artists, and their collective role in the entertainment industry is straightforward. According to agent Joel Dean, they “try to put [artists and producers] together to make a match . . . . It couldn’t be simpler.”
To be more specific, agents procure employment for talent. Their job is to get the artists they represent as much work as possible. Managers, on the other hand, shape artists’ careers. Their job is to serve their clients in an advisory capacity and to counsel them on the career options that have been made available to them through their agents. When looked at this way, things seem very black-and-white: Agents present artists with employment opportunities, and managers suggest which of those opportunities artists should accept.
It was often said of K’ung Fu-tse: “If the mat was not straight, the master would not sit.” This is surely an outlook with which many American lawyers, and those who deal with them, are familiar today. Though there is, of course, something to be said for keeping the mat straight, especially in an area as specific and particular as the law, the refusal to sit because of minor discrepancies can lead to tired legs and a bad temper. In the legal context, this means that certain “mat-straightening” practices can lead to inefficient procedure, incomprehensible or purposeless laws, and, at worst, miscarriages of justice.
The American legal system, descended as it is from Hebraic, Roman, and British law, is, in spite of the genius of its framers, at times hopelessly mired in the muck of mat-straightening when it should be concerned with simply sitting and getting down to the business of justice. This is due not so much to flaws in the basic structure of the law, but to the immense over-complexity that is largely (though certainly not solely) a phenomenon of the modern era. These days, it seems that the simple purpose of the law has been completely obscured by the practice of it. Fortunately, though much of Western legal scholarship has ignored or simply not recognized this trend toward unnecessary complexity, in the East, particularly in China, political and social philosophers have been dealing with this exact kind of excessive insistence on convolution and bureaucracy for thousands of years. They know it as Confucianism.
In 1924, proponents of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) believed arbitration was an amicable way to resolve disputes between business professionals: Arbitration “preserves business friendships. . . . It raises business standards. It maintains business honor.” This indeed may be true, but judicial opinions interpreting the FAA have transcended the realm of legal reasoning, becoming hostile and antagonistic not toward a party’s improper action, but toward judges.
Whether and to what extent multidisciplinary practices should be allowed in the United States has recently been described as the “‘most important issue facing the legal profession today.’” Multidisciplinary practices, or “MDPs,” emerged as an important ethical issue more than ten years ago when the accounting profession began to offer businesses a wide variety of professional services they had not traditionally offered. Consulting and other professional service firms followed suit, and began promoting services similar to those traditionally offered by law firms. The growth of these nonlegal firms led such firms to hire an increasing number of lawyers. Not surprisingly, this trend raised concerns about the unauthorized practice of law, conflicts of interest, and lawyer independence. Since the distinctions between legal and nonlegal professions have become muddled, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) has devoted significant resources to addressing the MDP issue.