Regions & Religion: Donations, Charities, Tax Credits, etc

A typical piece of data that is often mentioned is that the most religious states donate the most money. There is a nice mapping of this by region from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

A map showing that donors in Southern states give 5.2% of their discretionary income to charity, compared to 4.5% in the West, 4.3% in the Midwest, and 4.0% in the Northeast

But if giving to churches is excluded. it is actually the Northeast that gives more to charity:

A map showing that donors in Northeast give 1.4% of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to 1.1% in the West, 0.9% in the Midwest, and 0.9% in the South

Of course, it is more complicated than this. The above example is a case of why one should be careful of reading too much into data before understanding the details.

* * * *

In another article at this site, they discussed different demographics, policies and other issues. For example, they mentioned tax credits:

“The reasons for the discrepancies are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity: At least 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors, often in the hopes of stimulating giving at the same time that lawmakers are adopting big cuts in government services.” [ . . . ]

“Tax incentives matter. State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.”

It’s interesting that they brought up Arizona. I just read an article about that state—Give to Charity, Turn a Profit by David Cay Johnston:

“Arizona taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal returns can turn a profit by giving to charity, thanks to a system of state tax credits.”

Is giving to charity in order to gain tax credits or even gain profit actually charity in any meaningful sense?

* * * *

In response to various articles at that site, here is what was brought up in the comments:

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-1090852348

The lead article gives some insight:

“When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4….”

http://philanthropy.com/article/Generosity-in-All-of-Americas/133673/#comment-721993905

It really comes down to what “giving” means. Tithing to your church or donating to your favorite PAC is a bit different than giving to your local homeless shelter,

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-1019563286

The article is misleading by including tithing in the totals. The average church gives 3% of its proceeds to non church outlets. The other 97% is spent on the parsonage and salaries of principal leaders, church upkeep, mortgages, missionaries who evangelize primarily and other church related functions. The people who do not attend the church but benefit from money received through the church is only 3% of the take. That number is hard to verify because of the non-reporting exclusion that only churches (as charities) receive. However conversations with various financial officers will verify the statistic. 

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-1091764233

This is statistical idiocy. It says NOTHING about who actually gives. Maybe it is the case that the liberals in the red states are actually the givers? Also remember all states are about 50/50 red and blue anyway.

First, only a third of Democrats identify as liberal with another third identifying as moderate and the other third identifying with conservative.

Second, most Southerners identify with the Democratic Party, but because of disenfranchisement (voting purges, long polling lines in poor neighborhoods, etc) the vast majority of Southerners don’t vote.

Third, the poor in all states and regions who lean more toward Democrats and vote more for Democrats are being excluded from this data.

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-627022019

Seems like there is also more poverty in the red states making a higher need for charity there.

That is what few don’t understand. Red states have the most social problems and so need more charity to deal with those social problems. Blue states tend to spend their money on programs to prevent social problems before they begin or alleviate social problems before they become too bad. All that liberal government spending makes private charity less necessary. Even so, the Northeast gives the most to private charities (while the South gives the most to churches).

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-1188304259

This ignores that the red states in question already start out with weaker wages and social safety nets. Liberal kindness shows more readily by realizing that poverty is a social problem needing social addressing by greater tax provision. It is the reason charitable contributions tend to be lower in Europe than the US, but typically still have lower poverty rates.

Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, SC, Idaho, Arkansas, and Georgia
(in the top ten), all have poverty rates in the approx. 15 – 20% range. States like Vermont, Massachusetts,Connecticut, Wisconsin, NH (lowest rate in the country) and NJ (2nd lowest rate) have poverty rates of approx. 6 – 10 %:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-625994270

That may be true, the Blues DO pay much more in taxes, are more wealthy, and receive less per dollar in from the Gov vs. the reds who receive more per dollar in taxes paid.

but it doesn’t explain the imbalance of secular Northeastern giving in much greater amounts to secular charity. There are certainly a greater amount and variety of charitable organizations in the NE compared to the South…

Perhaps since the reds receive more Fed money, they can free up the people to give to their churches more?

Don’t forget that giving to the church is also self-serving as it can be ascribed as an “insurance policy” to get into “heaven”….

http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Politics-of-Giving/133609/#comment-626981942

The giving was determined from median disposable income — that is money after taxes, mortgage or rent, groceries, utilities, car payments, etc.  In other words, what do people do with the money that remains after paying for necessities?

So whether or not a state is a net payer or a net receiver would not affect giving as a percentage of median disposable income.The primary reason Red States receive more federal money is for defense-related purposes — Red States are disproportionately represented in the armed services.  Blue States pay residents in Red States to fight in die in wars.

http://philanthropy.com/article/America-s-Geographic-Giving/133591/#comment-625246428

Interesting study, but note that it doesn’t count all those who give to charity but don’t own homes so can’t itemize deductions. I assume that because of this, people with lower incomes who don’t itemize and those who live in high-cost cities (less home-owners and more renters) are not included. I would be curious to see how that skews the data, as the states they list as the “most generous” probably have much lower property values, higher home ownership, and more people able to itemize their charitable deductions.

Personally I am not surprised to hear about New Hampshire, the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die” has no sales tax, and no motorcycle helmet laws ; )

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624344330

“Because of discrepancies in the data for people with income below $50,000, The Chronicle’s study includes only taxpayers who reported incomes of $50,000 or more.”

Is that gross income of $50,000 or an AGI of $50,000? Is there any data for tax filers who don’t itemize? If not (and it seems not) out of the total universe of filers, how many filers were excluded and how many were included in the study? Without that data, and for each level of aggregation, it’s hard to believe any of the findings.

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624120412

This study excluded more than half the taxpayers in the nation (those making less than fifty thousand a year). It also did not inlcude charitable donations not included in tax deductions. I rarely (if ever) include charitable donations in my tax records. I think the study doesn’t do a  very good job on who does, and doesn’t give. Not even in terms of pure dollar amounts, much less in terms of percent of income. Would christ admire the multi-millionare who gave in public, and got a tax deduction more, or the women who gave her last penny to help others?

http://philanthropy.com/article/Sharing-the-Wealth-How-the/133605/#comment-645728915

What’s not included here is the fact that many ‘high net worth’ individuals donate massively to their children’s private schools, ‘gala’ events with $1,000 per plate dinners, etc.  This is ‘returned’ to them in the form of lowered tuition, social connections/status, food/drink/entertainment, etc. So, those who malign the ‘blue’ states need to provide data showing that this website data is quantified with the ‘net return’ to people who can afford to donate extensively to pass-through organizations and ‘party’ opportunities. 

http://philanthropy.com/article/Generosity-in-the-States/133707/#comment-1019578560

It is a bad system which actually creates the need for charity in the first place. Most givers of charity don’t realize that a system which creates or allows the need for charity to exist, is a bad system which must be replaced with a system that takes care of everyone’s needs without the need for charity at all. Charity is a way for some people to feel good about themselves, while supporting a totally evil system. Charity is a way of allowing people to pat themselves on the back for throwing crumbs to the poor while keeping more than their fair share for themselves and while supporting a system which actually needs the existence of the poor in order for the system to continue its own existence.

It is the system which creates poverty. And, it is the idea that some people actually deserve more than other people do, which helps to keep this evil and vile and criminal system in place. But, it is not true that some people deserve more than others, or that some people have more of a right to be here than others do.

The simple fact that a particular person IS here, is proof that that person deserves to be here, or that person simply would not be here. No sentient being is required by the universe, to earn their keep or justify their existence on this planet. The resources on this planet belong to everyone equally, and are meant to be shared equally with all.

No society or system can justify the existence of poverty by throwing crumbs at the poor and calling it charity. The poor cannot be justifiably blamed for their own poverty…only the system can be blamed.

http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667/#comment-624441217

Note that donations to the hateful American Family Association are tax-deductible, donations to the ACLU are not. Determining charity based on the tax code’s bias toward religious causes will (of course!) skew the results toward making religious people appear more charitable than they are. What’s worse is that this false result will be dished out against the “evil atheists” in the next “charitable” religious fundraiser rally, right? 

 

Cost of War

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

 ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

1 Soldier or 20 Schools?
By Nicholas D. Kristof

In the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised to invest in a global education fund. Since then, he seems to have forgotten the idea — even though he is spending enough every five weeks in Afghanistan to ensure that practically every child on our planet gets a primary education.

We won our nation’s independence for $2.4 billion in today’s money, the Congressional Research Service report said. That was good value, considering that we now fritter the same amount every nine days in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama, isn’t it time to rebalance our priorities?

I’ve known these kinds of statistics for a long time, but the comparisons help to put the abstract numbers into practical terms. I always wonder why it is that conservatives see it as a patriotic duty to support the military at all costs even when the cost is high… in terms of money spent and in terms of loss of moral high ground and loss of global goodwill. Why is it that data like this tends to only make sense to liberals? Why shouldn’t conservatives care about making the world a better place, about actually helping the Afghanistan people rather than merely bombing them into oblivion?

(By the way, when I speak of liberals I’m not equating them to Democrats. Most Americans, including most Democrats, identify as conservatives. It’s liberals, whether Democrats or Independents, who were the most critical of Bush on his wanting to start wars and who are now the most critical of Obama for wanting to continue those wars.)

The cost of such wars wouldn’t be too high if the end result was worthy. I’d be more than happy if all my tax money was spent on building schools for poor people instead of bombing the homes of poor people. Even if you’re selfish and hate the idea of helping poor people in other countries, then why not bring our troops home and use the money to help the poor in our own country? Or even if you hate all poor people including those in the US, why not spend the money on building infrastructure or for loans to small business owners?

The worst part is that the cost isn’t just money. In our War against Terror, we’ve merely created more terrorists who will have to be fought in the future by the next generations. Also, US veterans come back with severe disabilities, brain trauma, PTSD, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, homelessness, and violent tendencies. To put it simply, war fucks people up. No one is a winner in war.

You want to know why wars go on? There is the wealth elite who makes massive profits off of war. Military contracts are probably the single largest industry in the entire US economy. This is what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex. And guess what? The children of these wealthy elite aren’t the soldiers dying in foreign lands. It’s the children of the poor and the working class who are dying for the profits of the wealthy elite.

I understand that the wealthy elite want to maintain their power and increase their profits. That is normal human behavior. They are acting in their own self-interst. What I don’t understand is why do the American people (in particular, conservatives) continually believe the lies and propaganda? When will the American people wake up? Why does the average American want to pay into the wealthy elite’s profit-making so that the wealthy elite can send their children off to die killing the children of poor working class people in other countries?

Tell me that Bill Maher is wrong when he says Americans are stupid. I want to believe Americans aren’t stupid, I honestly must say that any American who believed the rationalizations Bush gave for going to war is a complete and utter retard. If you supported Bush in his warmongering, you are fucking worthless. It’s because people who simply do what they’re told and don’t question that the world is so fucked up.

I hope that one day Americans will know all the misery they’ve caused around the world by toppling democratically elected leaders and supporting oppressive governments, by bombing innocent people. I hope one day that Americans personally experience all of the horror they’ve inflicted on others. I can promise you that if Americans ever do experience the same amount of suffering that the US military and CIA has caused, the 9/11 terrorist attack will seem like child’s play.

There would be a lot less suffering in the world if people had to experience the same suffering they cause others. Just imagine if wealthy politicians and capitalists had to experience the suffering the poor parent feels when their child is brought home in a body bag. Just imagine if the soldier had to feel the suffering of all the people disabled from the bomb he dropped, had to feel the suffering of the child who lost her father. Just imagine if the American people had to feel all the suffering of the people living under oppressive regimes supported by their tax-funded government, had to feel the suffering of people living in war zones created by the US military.

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Cenk Uygur has been slowly breaking into the mainstream for a while. He now has his own segment on Ratigan’s show.

It’s interesting that Cenk Uygur used to be a Republican. This makes obvious why he left the Republican party.

The question I wonder about is: What is the motivation for Republicans being for and Democrats being against tax cuts for the rich? Many like to argue that both parties are in the pocket of the wealthy elite. But if that were the case, Democrat politicians should support tax cuts for the rich as much as Republicans do.

Cantor Lying with a Straight Face

Here is a boring and stupid video. There isn’t much point in watching except it’s a representative example of Republican behavior (see commentary below).

Cantor, with a straight face, does nothing but lie and mislead. This is common behavior for Republicans because they know the facts don’t support their ideology and their own self-interest.

There are two other things about this video.

First, it sounds like he is talking down to a child. I’ve noticed that some Republicans talk this way when they’re trying to get a message to the voters. It sounds mean, but it seems like Republicans such as Cantor think their constituents are lacking in intelligence and have a child-like mentality.

Second, this video sounds like a campaign ad. I’m wondering why the mainstream media airs campaign ads for free. Why is it rare for the media to confront politicians about their lies and misinformation?

Basically, no useful facts are being shared in this video, no rational argument is being made, no insightful criticism is being offereed. It’s just typical GOP talking points.

Attack on the IRS: Rightwing Terrorism?

Here is my appraisal of Joe Stack’s plane attack on the IRS building.  I’ve only begun to look at in more detail.  I’ve watched some news reports and read some of the details in the suicide note.  My tentative conclusions stated here might change based on further research or they might not.

Was the kamikaze pilot a rightwing terroritst?  Well, let’s break it down.

Was he a terrorist? That is a complex question.  There are many definitions that I’ve seen.  By some official definitions, he would be categorized as a terrorist.  By other official definitions, he wouldn’t be categorized as a terrorist.  So, I’m going to simplify it with more specific questions.

Did he copy the actions of those deemed terrorists?  Yes.  The method wasn’t original.  Obviously, his actions remind everyone of 9/11.  It probably was even intentional that he copied the method of terrorists.  This guy, like the 9/11 terrorists, both perceived the US government as corrupt.  In protesting this perceived corrupt governmenet, this guy, like the 9/11 terrorists, attacked a symbol of the economic power of the US government.  He used a similar violent method to make a similar statement of violent protest.

Did he cause terror?  Yes, most definitely yes.  The people in that building were terrorized.  IRS workers across the country now will go to work everyday in a state of fear.  This is similar to how, since the killing of Dr. Tiller, family planning doctors will go to work everyday in fear or else out of fear quit their jobs and not go to work at all.  Terrorism is effective in that it causes terror… that is why it’s called terrorism.

Did he intened to cause terror?  Probably.  HIs act of protest was intentionally violent and violence causes terror.  It’s probably safe to assume that he understood that his causing violence would cause terror.  I don’t know if he intended terror per se.  He may not have thought of himself as a terrorist, but he did intend retribution.  His purpose seemed to be to cause suffering on those he deemed to have caused his own suffering.  The intention of terror seems implied in both the note and the act.  It’s hard to know his precise intentions, but that is equally true of the 9/11 terrorists.  We aren’t reluctant to call Muslims terrorists even when they leave no note about their intentions.

To me, determining it was terrorism is simple.  It was an act that intentionally caused terror.  Terrorism is as terrorism does.  I, however, understand why others don’t consider it terrorism.  Joe Stack wasn’t a part of a terrorist group.  My response to that is terrorism isn’t limited to collective action.  Also, an argument can be made that this act of violence resonates with other recent acts of violence that were motivated by fear and hatred of government.  The same atmosphere of fear-mongering about the government (Beck being the most extreme example) contributes to people on the edge going whole hog over the edge (Beck about sends me over the edge on occasion).  Violent speech doesn’t directly cause violent action, but it makes it more likely.  The political polarization in general creates a mood of conflict that impacts the entire country (not just Beckheads and Tea Partiers).

More interesting to me is determining the ideology that motivated this particular act of violence.  My most specific interest is in wondering if there is a connection to the other acts of violence from this past year.  A lot of the violence recently has seemed correlated to a particular worldview of social and/or fiscal conservatism.  So…

Was he rightwinger?  At first, I thought yes.  I guess it depends on how rightwing is defined, but it can’t be denied he espoused at least some of what is typically labelled as rightwing ideology.  His criticisms of the IRS resonate with fiscal conservatism and would be right at home on a sign carried in a Tea Party protest.  That said, I haven’t heard of any evidence that he was a part of the Tea Party movement or any other specific movements.  He did belong to a group at one time that discussed tax law.  The important point is whether he became extreme in his viewpoint simply through his own experience or by being influenced by others.  Besides movements or groups, I’d like to know what news sources he read and if there were any place on the web where he regularly commented.

I’ve only skimmed his letter, but the conclusion at the end does create a bit of uncertainty about his actual criticism and the ideology that motivated it.

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according
to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each
according to his greed.

Before I looked at the letter, someone mentioned his statement about communism but didn’t offer the specific quote.  I assumed it was the typical rightwinger preaching of anti-conmmunism.  I was clearly wrong.  I still don’t know what it means.

(Note: It’s unclear that Stack was a communist or was even basing his argument on communism. Comparative statements like the one Stack made have a varied history. One writer at Newsweek thinks it probably originated from Henry Fairlie who considered himself a conservative, but of course conservatives disagree with this connection because they don’t think Fairlie was a real conservative as he didn’t worship Reagan.)

Conservatives are fond of saying that liberals who turn to conservativsm have been “mugged by reality”.  However, Joe Stack seems to have been a man who tried to make it in the world of capitalism (the pillar of modern conservatism) and was mugged by reality.  Stack came to an interesting conclusion.  It wasn’t simply the IRS that was at fault.  Apparently, he was arguing that big government and big business were to blame (and he shared the blame with big religion as well).  That isn’t exactly rightwinger or leftwinger.  That is more in the territory of between libertarianism and anarchism.

I’m still a bit confused.  I heard Joe Stack was a small business owner.  Many small business owners are Republican or Libertarian (even when socially liberal).  Mr. Stack very well might’ve been a conservative at one time.  Maybe his protest was against the conservative ideal of free market capitalism which he thought had failed him… just a theory but it could explain a lot.  Despite the ideology, Republican politcians aren’t any more likely to help the small business owner than are Democratic politicians and so it’s understandable that a small business owner might become dissatisfied with mainstream conservatism.  He seemed to be embittered about the whole system and the IRS was just a symbolic target.  He wasn’t attacking anyone in particular.  He attacked a building… a building that symbolized the institution of the IRS, of the government, of the entire socio-political system.

Okay.  I was definitely wrong in thinking he was just a rightwing extremist, but he isn’t a leftwing extremist either.  So, what is he?  The problem is that our language is limited when it comes to labelling the ideologies of people.  I’ll have to read more of the letter to see if I can determine his views.  My suspicion is that he was a libertarian who started leaning socialist as the system failed to help him.  If so, does his letter portray him as more of a socialist libertarian or a libertarian socialist?  And was he actually a proponent of communism or simply using communist ideology as a convenient criticism of capitalist ideology?

His ‘communist’ statement, especially in context of his anti-government sentiments, isn’t that far off from what some anarchists preach.  Anarchism tends to be socialist if it focuses on the worker class and tends to be capitalist if it focuses on the owner class.  I assume he was being critical of our corporatocracy, but he may not have been against ‘capitalism’ as defined by some anarchist-leaning libertarians.  I don’t know if it ultimately matters.  I’m just curious if he was critical of our present capitalist system because he wished a true capitalist system would replace it or because he thought the entire basis of capitalism was faulty.  There is a big difference between the two.

Let me add one further question.

Does Joe Stack’s violent act discredit the message of protest and criticism?  No.  This is no different than the fact that the 9/11 terrorists didn’t discredit all Muslims around the world.  Every group has extremists, but it should be pointed out that certain groups are more prone to violent extremism than others.  Those who criticize the government for reasons of anti-taxation (and right to bear arms) tend to be more violent in their protests than environmentalists for whatever reason.  This often seems like a right/left divide (similar to pro-lifers being more violent than pro-choicers), but in this case no particular ideological movement can be blamed and discredited. 

I’m very critical of big government.  I think the taxation system is unfair.  And I’m certainly not a rightwinger.  This incident is sad because violence is rarely inspiring but more importantly it’s sad because the criticisms themselves get discredited in the mainstream media.  The Tea Party itself will become less credible simply for being ideologically similar to Joe Stack’s criticisms.  But criticisms of the government in general, from both the left and the right, get put in the light of extremism because of this act of terrorism.  Violence isn’t an effective method in getting people to take your message seriously.  Such acts of violence only justifies the government becoming more oppressive in maintaining order.

It’s actually more interesting that he didn’t turn out to be just a typical Tea Party protester.  And I’m glad it’s forcing the media to come to terms with the true political complexity of the American public.  All of this fits into my recent research into different movements and ideologies. 

Despite the GOP and Fox News trying to take control, the Tea Party isn’t a simple rightwing movement.  It includes a fairly wide range of people and interests (although still too narrow to be a truly populist movement).  And if you look at the origins of the Tea Party, you discover Ron Paul followers which touches upon the libertarian party.  Libertarians and independents have been behind all of the diverse protest movements/groups: Peace Protests, Truthers, Birthers.  Et Cetera.  There are white supremacists mixed in here, but there also those who geninely believe in freedom and civil rights for all.  There are militia secessionists involved in many of these protests, but most protesters don’t want violence and many in fact are pacifists.  The media can’t understand this kind of complexity.  Every movement has to be categorized as left or right.  Peace protesters were leftwingers because Republicans said so, and Tea Partiers are rightwing because Democrats say so.  There are ideological differences in these movements, but there also is much crossover.  Ron Paul libertarians were participated in the peace protests and now they’ve participate in the Tea Party protests. 

Joe Stack is even more difficult to categorize than the libertarians.  His complaints is a sampling of the entire range of criticism.  As an extremist, he comes off as a middle-of-the-road average American with gripes against the wealthy and powerful elite.

Here are some interesting articles, blogs, and videos about the topic (or of related topics):

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/us/2010/02/18/ac.mattinlgy.stack.pkg.cnn

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-the-nerd-ferraro/open-letter-to-joe-stack_b_468422.html

http://derekhawkins.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/yes-its-terrorism/

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2010/02/19/terrorism/index.html

http://www.newsweek.com/id/233860

http://open.salon.com/blog/sacrob/2010/02/18/was_joe_stack_going_socialist

http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/82387-muslim-group-wants-government-to-call-austin-plane-attack-terrorism

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louis-klarevas/terrorism-in-texas-why-th_b_469522.html?just_reloaded=1

http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/huh-when-attempting-blow-federal-bui

http://www.news8austin.com/content/your_news/default.asp?ArID=267401

http://www.mediaite.com/online/glenn-beck-responds-to-austin-plane-crash-god-doesnt-send-killers/

http://www.americablog.com/2010/02/scott-brown-links-guy-crashing-plain.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/02/a_scary_tea_party.html

Tea Parties, Smart Mobs, and Generations

Here is a response I gave to someone I know who is fairly conservative.  He feels critical of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in that I agree with him.
As for the tax protests, I hope you don’t mind my typical long response.  I heard about them, but my sources may be a bit biased: The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.  They showed footage of it being heavily promoted by the Fox channel and attended by media stars.  But your point still stands.  Most of the organization probably was done by local people (such as the protest you attended).  And I’m sure the internet played a major role.
 
I don’t know what can and can’t be considered a smart mob.  I’d guess that most protests are (and have been) locally organized, even nation-wide protests.  Technology has made this easier.  I’d guess that almost all of the protests in the last decade or so have been largely based upon personal media connectivity.  Of course, those in power or seeking power would like to co-opt these social mechanisms.  Obama demonstrated how these new social forces can be contained within and guided by the mainstream political process.  Or, to look at it the other way around, maybe these new social forces have co-opted mainstream political processes… the beginnings of mobocracy?  As another example, you should see what Colbert can accomplish with a simple remark to his audience.  He managed, through a vote that NASA held, to get a piece of the space station named after him.
 
I think what was new with the recent tax protests is that it was a nation-wide smart mob that seemed to have been created by conservatives (true conservatives, you might say, not limited to any political party).  Interestingly, the Fox network was extremely critical of protests during the Bush administration (saying such things as if the protesters don’t like America, then they should leave), but now these same people feel that their voices aren’t as easily heard anymore (and now are supporting these protesters that happen to agree with them).  An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some of the previous critics of the Democratic party have slowly become increasingly more critical of the Republican party as well.
 
Ever since the ’60s, protesting has been mostly limited to liberals and extremists (or at least that is how it’s often been presented in the media).  This trend is finally shifting (and the media along with it).  I’ve heard the organizing and financing that countered the gay marriage bill in California was largely supported by Mormons.  And now these tea party protests.  It’s interesting that it seems to have taken a community organizing Democratic president to create a social climate that inspires conservatives towards community organized protesting.  Or maybe civic-mindedness is just in the air.
 
The smart mob phenomena is interesting.  I just read an article about Twitter (“Let Them Eat Tweets” by Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times).  In the article, the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling said that “Poor folk love their cellphones!”  The basic idea meaning that those without power and wealth strive for a sense of value through connections and I would add strive to have their voices heard through a collective identity.  This applies to conservatives in two ways.  Many conservatives like yourself feel that the Republican party doesn’t fully represent them and they certainly don’t feel represented by the now in power Democratic party.  So, if you’re a concerned conservative who isn’t as influential (because of a lack of representation… or lack of power and wealth) as you’d like to be, then you’re forced to find new avenues of political action.
I was just thinking about the third party issue.  You might be onto something there.  The traditional two party system has been defined by and hence controlled by traditional media.  With new social dynamics in personal media, this shifts the power and structure of politics.  Prior to discussion boards, blogs, Twitter, and Youtube, the average person had no way to have their voice heard across the nation and across the world.  However, diverse people from diverse places can now organize (easily, quickly and inexpensively).  A party that actually represents the average person might even arise out of all of this.
 
The news industry is being challenged by the internet.  I wonder if this is a sign of shifting socio-political power and influence.  Those who controlled power in the past suddenly realize the game is more complex now.  Monopolies aren’t as easy to maintain as they used to be.  Even so, I wonder whether the power-mongerers will eventually find a way to control and muzzle the new media.  The media conglomerates were the emblem of the modern industrial age (and military-industrial complex?).  Are we entering a new era?  Will there be a new centralizing force of power or is centralized power no longer as viable as it once was?  Political monopolies (e.g., monarchies) lost much of their power in the past few centuries.  What similar historical change might lead industrial monopolies (e.g., international mega-corporations) to a similar demise?  And what kind of democracy might form out of it?
 
I’m also reminded of the protests and patriotism after 9-11 which crossed political lines.  There was a bi-partisan attitude for a while after the terrorist attack.  The families of the twin towers’ victims often weren’t aligning themselves with any party but simply wanted the government to take action.  Although the pro-peace protests were largely supported by liberals (and libertarians), the elected Democratic officials supported the war for the most part.  I spent some time with those involved in the peace protests.  There were people camped out for months.  It was a national protest organized by local citizens that was way more extensive than the tea party protests.  And the internet (before Twitter) was used for much of the organizing.  All these years later, I still receive e-mails from people on the peace camp email list.
 
The problem with protests is that they often don’t do anything more than gain public attention.  Still, in doing that, I suspect they have influence in the long run.  But in the immediate they can be dissatisfying.  I wonder how often protests actually lead to political change.  I suspect that change only ever comes when those in power feel threatened (either by rioting or by being voted out of power).  I’ve always been impressed by a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr.  He said that the only reason white people in power listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail.  Basically, he was saying that the status quo only changes when those in power feel they have no other choice.  Or else, going by Kuhn’s model, you just wait for the older generation to die off which I’m assuming isn’t your personal agenda.
 
There is a big difference, though, between protests now and those of a half century ago.  The media is no longer as monolithic despite the government increasing its ability to control its propagandistic message more tightly.  I’d say the reason for this is that personal media has broken down the wall between producers and consumers of media.  It is now less clear who is an authority to be trusted.  Most present tv reporters aren’t any more knowledgeable than the average intelligent person because many reporters no longer research their own material.  Many reporters are just pretty faces, just talking heads.  Reporters are more like average people now and average people are now better informed (from multiple sources).  Any person who is persuasive, insightful and/or well-informed can gain attention and a following on the internet. 
 
More importantly, most of the dispersion of media info is non-centralized meaning no one is controlling it other than the social dynamics of the mob.  And the news industry doesn’t, for the time being, know how to get the genie back into the bottle.  But technological models are being developed to increase centralized control for profit and power.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the largest (if not the largest) internet company in the world (i.e., Google) has been helping the Chinese government to oppress its own people, and some see evidence that internet providers and browsers are filtering information by how they rank subjects.
 
In the ’60s, the government had agents infiltrate protest organizations and they even actively influenced the protest activities such as encouraging illegal activities (this technique was called COINTELPRO).  Surely there are now agents in the tea party protests and all over the internet.  Is COINTELPRO still being used?  It would seem that it was proven in court to still have been used as late as the ’90s (see Bari vs FBI).  I’ve heard the media follows blogs and Twitter in order to detect emerging news topics.  I don’t doubt that the government does the same in order to detect social change such as determining when and where smart mobs are developing.  On a different note, some media and political watchdogs have observed false “grassroots” organizations created as fronts by corporations in order to manipulate their public image or misdirect attention.  The war of media relations and propaganda is ongoing but the average person doesn’t notice because they’re watching mainstream media which is controlled by vested interests.
 
Will smart mobs defy those seeking to maintain control?  It’s particularly interesting to consider in terms of generational shifts.  The civic-mindedness in the air may be related to the civic-minded Millennial generation coming into power through their massive numbers.  It’s partly because of them that Obama won.  I just watched, from a 2008 presentation, Hais and Winograd speak on C-SPAN  about their book Millennial Makeover.  The authors see a political shift occurring that is directly related to the shift in media.  One of the authors said that the Republican party can be a part of this change, but they can only do so by changing their support for laissez-faire politics (and this was said before the economic downturn). 
 
The Millennials are the force that will outnumber even the Boomers by the 2012 election.  This upcoming political force tends towards more liberal views in terms of civil rights (because they grew up with liberal media such as Barney), but also they tend towards more groupthink (the last Civic generation being GIs who held power during the ’50s).  The Boomers were Idealists which is the generational type that is prone to divisiveness and polarized extremism (which has ruled politics for the last several decades).  The Civic generation tends towards unification and cooperation.  The old divisive political tactics won’t work for much longer (not until the next Idealistic generation that is). 
 
If a third party is to be created, this is the time for such a possibility.  But I don’t know if you’ll like it. 
 
The last Civic generation grew up during the depression and WWII.  This present Civic generation is growing up during the War on Terror and the present economic slump.  If the pattern holds, we’ll have a new high period such as happened in the ’50s.  Strauss and Howe describe the ’50s as having a prospering middle class and collectivist infrastructure.  It was the peaceful glory days of American might and power that Boomers knew as children.  However, it wasn’t a time that is remembered for its spiritual depth and cultural richness.  It was an upbeat and externally focused period.  The ideal of social responsibility was central, but so was the attitude of following the Jones’s.  Also, it wasn’t a time of libertarian values such as small government.  Nor for traditional moral values because traditional community identity waned (along with close connections with extended family) as urbanization increased and because materialism became rampant as society’s enthrallment with technological wonders increased.  However, because of all the social destabilization, there was new emphasis on the nuclear family as being the saving grace and bedrock of society.
 
From my perspective, much of the GI generation seems to correlate with what is going on with Millennials.  But, as always, time will tell.
 
Another interesting factor came up in the C-SPAN video from a question by someone in the crowd.  The person asked about the reliability of information on the web.  One of the authors said that this was mostly an issue for older folks.  Millennials are naturally suspicious of all info and always look for the spin.  That might be something that distinguishes Millennials from the GIs.  In the ’50s people trusted the media with little question because reporters were greatly respected. 
The potential failing of the Millennials is that they trust their peers too much.  Groupthink was a major force in the ’50s, but groupthink could be magnified to detrimental levels in the present world of personal media echo chambers.  The only thing that can counter this is the varied sources of info that is now available.