The news media and punditry are aflutter recording and dissecting the much-touted First 100 Days of the Obama Administration. Analyses range from supplicating adoration to vitriolic condemnation. I regard the 100 Day watermark as an artificial and largely meaningless political unit of measure, however I can’t pass up the opportunity it provides to slow down and take the administration’s pulse. The metaphor is apt.

President Obama has been almost manic in his pace of governing. With energy I’m sure he hopes appears energetic and fresh but may in fact be haphazard and frenzied, he has tackled numerous issues and demonstrated a significant shift from the policies of the Bush administration, some good, and some bad. But the political rock star may find himself burning out if he keeps spending political capital at his current pace, something that is being tacitly acknowledged by his administration’s recently expanding "back burner" list of issues the president does not consider a priority (among them gun-control and international trade reform).

His biggest domestic accomplishments to date have been the passage of the much-debated stimulus plan and the massive budget that immediately followed. The president was firm in his support for these mammoth spending measures and as a result he betrayed his campaign promises of "fiscal responsibility" and frightened already skittish moderate Democrats in Congress. Token demonstrations, such as the laughable Fiscal Responsibility Summit and his demand for the members of his Cabinet to cut $100 million in spending (which would cut the projected 2009 deficit by a paltry .006%) have done little to reverse his new spendthrift image.

In foreign policy, he has begun his promised global outreach, opening dialogue with hostile leaders in both hemispheres. His infamous handshake with Chavez and silence during tag-team haranguing of US policy by a collection of South American thugs during a summit has not sat well with many. Nor was he helped when Fidel Castro flatly stamped out the hopes of many of both the American right and left of an opening of Cuba when he stated that the communist nation would not reciprocate Obama’s goodwill gestures by releasing political prisoners. North Korea has grown more aggressive and less cooperative, launching a missile, ejecting nuclear inspectors and withdrawing from multilateral talks.

The president has released memos detailing enhanced interrogation techniques that has generated fierce debate. Whether you agree with the release of these memos or not, it was politically an ill-advised battle to pick. Already the hypocrisy of his own party is being exposed as leading Democrats who both knew of and approved the techniques in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks are now demanding prosecutions for Bush administration officials who implemented them (see here). Additionally, he has made himself and his party vulnerable to a significant backlash should another attack occur on American soil.

Republicans, for whom innumerable obituaries were written following Obama’s election, are now finding limited traction with which to regain strength. Where once the stated policy of the GOP was to refrain from attacking Obama due to his popularity and instead focus on assailing Congressional Democrats, Republican leaders are now becoming more aggressive toward the president as he becomes more and more entangled in the brambles he himself has sown.

Furthermore, George Will has rightly pointed out that Obama may not be doing himself any favors with his insistence on remaining in the faces of the American public 24/7 (see here). Once considered a brilliant and fresh tactic of creating transparency and accessibility, his regular internet addresses and public appearances may instead be tiring Americans with already short attention spans out. The Obama mystique, consequently, is unraveling more rapidly than most pundits had predicted. This, combined with his insistence on spreading himself thin politically as well, may set the tone for the rest of his first term.

Still on the docket: health care reform, entitlement reform (including social security), education reform, renewed nuclear disarmament talks with Russia, and much much more. While Obama’s approval ratings remain above 60%, he cannot continue at his current pace and expect to get much done with the remainder of his first term.




Fair denizens of the interweb, I shall, as ever, endeavor to be brief in today's submission. Ultimately, I am sure to fail. Already I've squandered three sentences; but I digress. What I would like to do is begin with a simple thought experiment for you:

Imagine your favorite vice, it need not be destructive or deviant (though it certainly could be if you like) - a fine ice cream treat, a good book and comfortable chair, chewing a hangnail, whatever you will.

Now imagine you have, by some happy accident, moved to a town in which exactly half the people share your favorite vice. Not too shabby, you've got immediate grounds for friendship with half the people in town. But let's say exactly half the people in this town have a favorite vice that is exactly that thing that annoys you most. Now here's the kicker - the two halves overlap, so half of the people who like what you like also do what you hate. Imagine also, that these are the only two factors that matter to you and everyone else in the town, and none of you are able to move out (remember, this is a thought experiment). So there are four distinct types of neighbors in this little town, and you're all stuck with each other.

People you like = 25%

People you should like but annoy you = 25%

People you don't care about either way = 25%

People who only annoy you = 25%

Well now your happy relationship with half the town has been reduced to a happy relationship with one-fourth. What's worse, there's a full fourth of the town that you really can't stand (those nail-chewing troglodytes!).

Now, imagine you are talking with some friends, one of whom is a politician - maybe the mayor, or on city council, whatever. Since you're all bona-fide members of the fine-ice-cream-treat-loving-non-nail-chewing sect in town, you feel comfortable expressing your frustration about the town's apparent propensity for munching on keratinous growths. “If only,” you complain, “it were possible to get everybody to stop biting their nails.”

Your politician friend perks up, “Why, all we'd have to do is pass a law against nail-biting. Only half the town bites their nails anyway, so it shouldn't be too hard, and then we could be friends with half the town, instead of only a fourth of it. What's even better, we wouldn't have to dislike anybody. The idea practically sells itself!”

So you and your politician friend set about devising a way that you can create a law that will effectively outlaw nail-biting. You recognize that not everybody who hates nail-biters necessarily believes that nail-biting should be forbidden, though. So you'll have to make the law seem fair enough to appease the ice-cream eaters who don't want to punish the nail-biters, since they bite their nails too. You'll also want to hedge your bets by making some of the neutral folks see the advantage of your law.

After long debate, you decide that you will paint society as the victim, in order to appeal to everyone's better motives. Nail biting is unsanitary, and passes disease, you will argue (whether this is true or not is immaterial, it is a reasonable conclusion that's easily believed). Even worse, you say, children of nail-biters will tend to bite their own nails too, making the next generation sicker as well!

Oh, the humanity!

So, with good victims to protect, now you need to appeal to fairness. Jail time will be out of the question, since nail-chewing is not currently a crime, and you'd never convince people that it's bad enough to warrant a stay in jail (at least not the first time you introduce the law). I'll leave the decision to you as to what is the best way to be fair:

a) require that anyone caught chewing their nails be forced to wear a bright red headband when out in public

b) require that anyone who chews their nails pay a “chewage tax” of $10/day any day they chew

c) distribute free nail clippers and files at the local department of health and in schools and hospitals, simultaneously running advertising campaigns that explain the terrors of nail biting

d) chop off everybody's nails and burn their cuticles so nobody ever has nails again.

Remember, you've been able to show that nail-biting is not only annoying, but is also harmful (the veracity of your claim is irrelevant, you only need convince people that it's true). You also can benefit personally from making fewer people chew their nails.

Okay, make your decision before you move on. Write it down.

Let's examine each of these possibilities now:

a) This is a social incentive against nail-chewing. The costs are low, and you do nothing to address whether people bite their nails in the privacy of their homes, but you certainly expect that fewer people will be caught biting their nails in public if they have to wear those stupid red headbands. You won't make any more friends this way, but you'll be less annoyed all the time.

b) This is an economic incentive against the habit. You'll bring in lots of revenue, which could be used to fund the schools, or pay for a plan like c). Of course, some people will be able to afford the tax and keep on chewing, but the majority of people can't spare an extra $3650 per year, so they might rein in the habit. Then again, they might just cut back on public chewing.

c) This is a negative social incentive like a), but is cleverly disguised as a social-benefit program. The program will probably cost money, and is unlikely to be helpful on its own. However, it's easy to argue the upside of providing free services that address a sinister issue like fingernail-chewing. It's also hardest to call unfair, as it leaves nail-chewers with no excuse for not stopping their dirty habit.
You've provided ample free resources to help them kick the habit.

d) This is a powerful preemptive move. There's little room left for choice, but you've absolutely solved the problem. What's better, it's perfectly fair, in that it treats everybody equally. Your town can be happy again.

So what's the best way to address the issue of fingernail-chewing? Have you changed your mind from what you wrote down? You can change your answer now, if you like, but I'll present some downsides to each option, so choose carefully

a) This treatment is not perfectly equitable, as it treats some people differently from others (you might argue that that's the point). What's worse, this is potentially a self-segregating solution. You might find that instead of a town of otherwise similar people who variously annoy each other, your town will be divided into the red- headband side of town, and the no-headband side of town. While the division might not be that immediate, or that drastic, social segregation occurs easily, and is likely to be expedited by this sort of measure.

b) This option could be unfair because you are imposing a fee on a behavior that is perfectly legal. Certainly, people could avoid the fee by not chewing their nails in public, but if they have been chewing their nails for years and enduring nothing worse than the angry glares of non-chewers, it is more than a little arbitrary to suddenly decide that they should pay (literally) for their habit. Some people might even like chewing so much that they don't stop at all, despite the fact that they can't afford the tax. That could drive people into poverty simply because they don't want to stop chewing their nails. Maybe that's their fault - but perhaps the moral burden is shifted to you for having passed the law.

c) This is superficially a fair solution, especially if the costs are paid by a plan like b). Then again, that would mean a fair plan is funded by a less-fair plan, but issues of relationship like that are beyond the scope of this experiment. The real problem here is that taxpayer money is being put towards a cause that is of debatable merit, and the final result is the least effective of any of the options. This is a bit of a money-pit, and what you gain in fairness you lose in effectiveness. In fact, you and your politician buddy might only tack on an option like c) as an afterthought, in order to buy a few more of the “neutral” votes. It's unlikely that this is going to be your primary method for combating fingernail-chewing. It's just not dramatic enough, you know?

d) This is a brilliantly fair solution. Everybody has their rights infringed in equal measure. The problem is, most everybody would balk at the idea of state-mandated cosmetic surgery. To gain support for this sort of measure, you'd have to make the perceived risk of nail- chewing far greater than the tangible harm caused by forcing people to have their nails surgically removed. Good luck with that one.

There's another option that I didn't give you, of course; and you may have thought of it yourself. It's the option you never hear about in the press; the option precious few politicians ever embrace privately, let alone publicly. Yet, it is the one that is guaranteed to be absolutely fair, causes no additional harm to anyone, and costs nothing to implement.

e) You could do nothing at all. This is the “conservative” solution, and possibly the best one. The problem is, people thrive on perceptions of fear and urgent calls for change. It's in our nature - I suspect that our ancient ancestors survived as well as they did because they learned to be paranoid, angry, mob-oriented little apelings. If there's only one tiger in your primeval forest, you're not in much danger from it. But you feel a lot safer assuming the tiger is behind every tree, just waiting for you.

And when you get home safely, you can pat yourself on the back for being so wise and cautions. Nobody has to know the tiger was 30 miles away at the time, sleeping contentedly. So let's look at some modern “tigers” that we've legislated against, I'll even include the methods used.

Guns - b) (though there's a loud minority that really is pushing for d))

Alcohol - b) and c)

Illegal narcotics - b) c) and d)

Smoking - b) and c), in many areas a) as well

“Unhealthy” foods - c), often b) or a). d) is appearing as well (ban on trans-fats, anyone?)

The list goes on.

The things all these have in common? The extent of their public harm is open for debate, though the perceived harm is universally high. All of them have also been legislated against through outright bans, social incentives, or taxes and fines. And all of them are vices. I proposed chewing fingernails as an obviously innocuous example, but what if I'd proposed religion (a personal choice with historically destructive tendencies), or charity (a potentially economically damaging activity that likely benefits the donor more than the donee).

You'd want to string me up for suggesting we should fine people for attending church, or that we should ban all charitable giving. But religion and charity are no less protected by the constitution than are guns, or greasy foods. Many would even claim that at least some narcotics are protected by the constitution (though current law says otherwise).

The point is, next time you are getting ready to vote for a measure to limit the freedom of someone else because “they're harming themselves” or “you have to think of the children” or “it just plain annoys me”, stop and put yourself in the shoes of the people you're legislating against. What if our town wasn't legislating against nail-chewing, but against ice cream sundae eating? What if the arguments in favor of the legislation were just as compelling, but you happened to like eating ice cream? Would you want the angry majority forcing you to live by their rules? I doubt it.

And once again, I fail at brevity.




As all the major news outlets have been swift to report, a multitude of western leaders staged a walkout during Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s address to a UN Conference on Racism. The protest was sparked by the content of the Iranian President’s comments which were, mordantly so, racist in nature towards Israel.

On behalf of the world, we get it. You do not like Israel. You feel that Israel is itself racist toward the Palestinian people. Such is evident by the concluding statements of the 2001 Durban Conference that stated the same. Yet in light of these views, what good does it do to make openly racist comments at a conference on racism? Hypocritical, irascible words do not make the case for your publicly stated position on Israel. Quite the contrary, they betray your unwillingness at working towards a solution.

The organizers of the conference expressed their dismay that the United States did not attend a forum devoted to fighting racial prejudice and xenophobia. Yet Ahmadinejad’s words have certainly more than justified the boycott. I give credit to President Obama for expressing his personal support for the cause of ending racism, but publicly declaring that this conference does not provide an opportunity to meet such a goal.

At the end of the day, it saddens me to see opportunities to address real issues squandered and politicized, as is the case with the 2009 Durban Conference. Much of the hardship that the key stakeholders in this conference face today are due to the specter of racism, yet these leaders are too shortsighted, or self interested, to address it.



There was an outstanding article penned by Jim Burkee in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel (of all places) that is among the first I’ve seen that really recognizes the rise of the young conservative movement for exactly what it is. You can read the piece here, and I’ll be making it a permanent fixture on the sidebar. Burkee’s analysis floored me with its precision; it felt as if he was talking specifically about the Children of the Revolution.

The heart and soul of his article is that Gen-Yers have been taken for granted politically by both parties. Democrats and liberals assume that our generation is tucked safely in their pocket. Republicans write us off as liberals with little if any grasp of fiscal policy. Burkee argues that our generation, weened on the ultimate expression of unfettered liberty, the Internet, is more libertarian than liberal. Indeed, our primary concern is freedom. Consistent freedom. And as yet, neither major political party is offering it. Gen-Yers tend to be more liberal on social issues, such as legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, but favor limited government, smaller taxes and conservative fiscal policy, such as the privatization of social security. We regard all politicians with suspicion.

The first party to recognize our generation for what it is and approach us on our terms stands to seize the political high ground. But both have a long way to go if they intend to do so.



The Department of Homeland Security has issued an "intelligence" report dated 07APR09 that discusses their belief that the country faces a heightened threat from "rightwing extremists." I have read the DHS assessment and am simultaneously amused, disgusted and terrified. But the most important take-away from this report, which you can and should read here, is that it contains little to no hard data, merely speculation based upon repeated references to domestic terrorist activity in the 1990s. Indeed, it cops to this fact in the opening line, stating, "The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence…" Its definition of "rightwing extremism" is also vaguely articulated as "broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." You’ll note that nowhere in the DHS definition is the mention of the adherence to violence as a means to achieve political goals. According to the DHS, I am a rightwing extremist and subject to suspicion as I in large measure reject "federal authority in favor of state or local authority," …as did Thomas Jefferson.

I do recognize that rightwing extremism of a violent stripe does exist, has existed and has resulted in acts of domestic terrorism, such as the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. White supremacists, fundamentalist groups and others do have a track record of murder, rioting and violence in general and warrant scrutiny. But to release an intelligence assessment that lumps rational conservatives in with those despicable sects as a potential threat to the national security of the United States is offensive and alarming, to say the least.

Where is the intelligence assessment speculating that far-left radicals may present a security threat in light of the Wall Street collapse? Why is the federal government not just as publicly casting a suspicious eye on anti-capitalist radicals, anarchists and others on the far-left fringe who might use the economic collapse as a recruiting tool just as handily as far-right groups? How can we not conclude that this intelligence assessment is politically motivated?

I can cast my gaze back and see a linear chain of events that makes this DHS assessment chilling. The bi-partisan push for the PATRIOT Act, supported primarily by Republicans but also the sitting Democrat president, Barack Obama, gives the federal government wide latitude to spy on US citizens that are perceived as a national security threat. Republicans short-sightedly favored the PATRIOT Act because they wanted to catch jihadists. Liberals and leftists may now see its value as a political tool. Perhaps I’m falling too deeply into conspiracy theory here (another sign of rightwing extremism according to the DHS), but when you can’t count the threats to your liberty without using your toes, you find yourself gazing into the abyss.

I entreat you to read this assessment if you haven’t already. All conservatives should know that some of their core beliefs (opposition to onerous federal authority, support of gun rights and the integrity of immigration law) are being lumped in with racism and economic protectionism as dangerous to American security. I can’t think of anything more sadly ironic.



After Hariolor’s proffered abolition of taxation and certainly not to be outdone, I offer an alternative “crazy tax plan,” one that, like Hariolor’s, will certainly never gain traction but embodies a similar, Old Man Waterfall sort of democratic spirit. Like the Hariolor plan, this option would represent a significant shift from a representative republic to a direct democracy, which of course comes with risks. But I have always viewed the democratization of taxes and spending as merely an extension of the free market into government, which is always a good thing.
Think of this tax plan, which I’ll unilaterally dub the “Tax Buffet” plan, as a sort of 401K for investment in government services. First of all, it would require the institution of a flat income tax, which is simply a percentage of your annual earnings. For simplicity’s sake, let’s set it at 15% across the board (in reality it would probably need to be two rates, similar to the proposed Taxpayer Choice Act). Now let’s establish some critical figures. According to the US Census Bureau, there are roughly 180 million Americans between the ages of 20-64, within which fall the vast majority of wage-earners. Additionally, the median annual personal income in the United States is around $30,000.
The Tax Buffet plan would have 7% of the total 15% an individual/household is taxed go directly into federal coffers to be spent exclusively at the discretion and whim of Congress. Given the figures established above, that 7% of every tax-paying American’s income would amount to around $378 billion, which is a little over half of what the federal government spends on Defense alone ($650 billion).
Now here comes the 401K analogy. The remaining 8% of that 15%, which comes to roughly $480 billion, would be allocated by the taxpayer to federal programs of their choice, as delineated on a FY (For Year) Federal Budget Allocation Sheet (or something). This sheet, which would become part of the standardized tax forms completed by all taxpayers and submitted to the IRS, would perhaps be drafted up by the Government Accountability Office with input from the US Congress. The form would break out federal spending into clear-cut categories (Defense, Education, Infrastructure, Entitlements, etc) and permit the taxpayer to pick and choose which programs over half of their tax dollars go to fund. They can allocate in increments as small as half a percent and of course choose to contribute zero tax dollars to certain programs altogether.
By this method of taxation, the federal government is allowed a minimum of $378 billion to play with at their discretion, be it on social engineering or beefed-up defense. The remaining $480 billion in revenue, however, must be spent in accordance with the individual tax payer’s wishes. Oversight on the part of the GAO would of course be required in order to ensure compliance and no sleight of hand by the IRS or Congress. If the majority of Americans want their money to go to pay for entitlement programs, then so be it. It’s their money to invest as they wish. Likewise, the minority who oppose those entitlements will have the satisfaction of knowing their money went to pay for national defense instead. The Tax Buffet plan would turn a system that currently resembles a mafia protection racket into something more akin to actual private sector investment.
Due to some of the complexities involved, however, this plan has a few issues. It would be difficult to ensure that taxpayer allocated money does not end up paying for pork barrel spending or earmarks attached to appropriations in the category they chose to subsidize. The oversight will be critical to be sure, but there is also a high risk that lawmakers will get up to shenanigans by finding “grey areas,” in which their entitlement initiatives may get lumped in with infrastructure due to some creative language (for examples see the stimulus bill). Additionally, as this plan is more democratic than republican (note the lower-case first letters), it runs the risk of disenfranchising a minority of the population altogether, particularly lower income Americans, who are only able to allocate a comparatively small amount to the federal programs of their choice, whereas wealthy tax payers can bring in more money to their favorite government initiatives. In this way, it may end up that the richest Americans, who represent a smaller segment of the population, balloon defense spending while the majority of Americans see the programs of their choice dwarfed despite their contributions.
However the benefits of such a tax policy far outweigh the negatives, in my view. Government will be forced to pitch programs directly to the American taxpayer. There will be no guessing as to what the will of the people is when they vote with their money.




Citizens of Earth, I have a vision. Not an apocalyptic vision of massive solar coronal ejections bringing civilization to its knees, nor the dystopian diatribes I am so prone to level against the creeping doom of neo-socialist fascism. Nay, this vision is one of shining light, an elusive nova in my mind leading me down dark paths where others fear to tread. Finally it settles on the far horizon of my consciousness, resting over a lowly manger in which my philosophical savior lies - cold, naked and barely formed, but radiating a world-changing potential. Perhaps I exaggerate.

My vision, which likely is not nearly so new as I'd like to hope, given the virtual impossibility of having an original thought in a world where information is so pervasive, is that of a world (or at least a country) without taxation. Let me be clear from the outset - this concept is riddled with practical and philosophical holes, and is still little more than a slimy pupa in my mind, biding its time until it bursts forth as a butterfly of unparalleled magnificence. But incomplete and perilous as its present state may be, I proffer it here in the hopes that the collective wisdom of the blogosphere might prove to be just the heady mix of hormones my brave little changeling needs to complete its metamorphosis.

The concept itself is simple enough, born from having spent the better part of my formative years watching the nascent internet community experiencing the growing pains that accompany any awkward youth.

Within the mix of free content, soulless corporate flotsam, and epic innovation, there exist those foolhardy souls who persist at the sufferance of others. They offer some service, whether a webcomic, instructive video, or merely senseless blathering, and in exchange hold out their hands across the interweb, a bowl labeled “Paypal” grasped between their trembling digits, begging alms from those who would support their good works. The frightening thing is that this is often very effective.

Indeed, this method of virtual begging is so effective that non- profits like charities and political campaigns have made digital freeloading into big business. Clearly, they are onto something.
Though to the modern mind this may seem of little import, I am fascinated by the fact that the apathy of the average American can be pierced by little more than a simple request for an online donation in exchange for the perpetuation of an ostensibly worthy cause. They have stumbled upon some truly Deep Magic.

If this can be so effective for raising funds for causes as mediocre as artists and church picnics, let alone political campaigns, my logic said, then what on earth are we doing paying taxes anymore? And yes, it was logic that led me here, not some wild flight of fancy - allow me to clarify.

Taxes, at their most basic, serve two functions. At least historically, they are primarily a means for a governing entity to raise funds. Their corollary function, which in recent times I would argue is beginning to take precedence, is as a tool of social engineering. Now, as someone who believes strongly in the constitution and the wisdom of our founders, I initially hesitated at the thought of revoking one of the constitutional powers afforded government. At the same time, however, it is certain that our founders would not have imagined the world we live in today. Instant communication, widespread infrastructure, even the size of our population are all staggeringly advanced beyond what our founders had in mind. This is not the world for which the constitution was written.

Now, before you tear into me, let me be clear; I believe most everything in the constitution is durable even today, including taxation. What makes me comfortable making this proposal is that my idea can only serve to weaken government, not to strengthen it. And a change to the constitution that affords more liberty to all Americans is unlikely to be a bad thing.

The idea then, if you haven't figured it out already, is to eliminate taxes in favor of direct donations, made at any time in any dollar amount desired by the citizen. The idea would have to start small, at the level of municipalities, school districts, that sort of thing.
Indeed, at this level many communities are already not far removed from direct begging, the only difference being that public schools and small towns beg for votes in favor of levies or bonds (which become taxes), rather than for direct donations (sometimes it even does reach the level of direct begging!). The citizens of those small towns and school districts, depending on their belief in the quality of stewardship their money has received in the past, are more or less willing to vote to raise their own taxes. The problem is, once taxes are imposed, it can be difficult or impossible to repeal them. After all, who would vote to decrease funding for the children?

The answer, I think, is to make government, eventually at all levels, sing for its supper. Not just once every couple years when the voting cycle comes around, but constantly. This would require that government spending be more transparent, that funds for one purpose cannot be borrowed for another purpose, and that government bookkeeping be more readily accessible to the public and more audit-ready. It would also require a significant learning curve on the part of the voter, as I believe the donations should not be to a general government slush- fund, but should be line-item contributions to the causes individuals feel most worthy. This means that if you like using public roads, you ought to be donating to the fund for your public roads, so too with national infrastructure, defense, education, the list goes on. If you like having it, you'd better be donating to it or it might go away.

Inevitably, as the public gets acquainted with this new way of doing things, they would find parts of their government running critically short of funds. Ideally, the parts that are worthy would be rescued from the brink by concerned voters, while those that are not truly valuable to the voting public would waste away for lack of funding.
You can see where I'm going with this I think, so let's summarize the rest.

A few issues and potential objections I'd like to address, to acknowledge the realities of this situation, in friendly point-by-point format.

This plan may mean the majority of Americans would make few or no donations at all...
While I recognize that this may be true, especially early on, I truly believe that those government functions that cannot be replaced by the private sector or discarded entirely will find the funds they need.
Government will have to be leaner and smarter, but that's fine with me. Besides, most Americans in lower-income brackets, who presumably would be least likely to make significant contributions already pay little to nothing in taxes. In my plan, if a lower-income American can't afford to pay anything in taxes, but has, say, a child in the military, they can contribute all they can afford directly to the military, and need not give anything else.

Budgeting is impossible without general estimates of cash inflows.
Government would be able to estimate the levels of cash inflows based on historical data after a few seasons. Furthermore, I envision governments developing budgets based on estimated costs for programs and projects, then posting those budgets online. Much like any other fundraiser, the public could see in real-time how close a given department of government is to meeting its budget. This creates accountability. If the government is regularly meeting its budget requirements and is unable to complete projects on-time or without excessive cost overruns, you can bet the people will take notice if they contributed that money directly from their own pockets.

The existing tax structure is more effective and reliable.

Nonsense. The existing tax structure is built primarily around arbitrary determinations of fairness and various social engineering projects. Tax compliance costs are huge, and otherwise law-abiding individuals are tempted to become criminals to avoid the absurd and excessive taxation schedules that confront every American who makes more than a couple thousand dollars a year. The economy will improve as Americans can pay themselves and their creditors before they pay Uncle Sam. Private enterprise will have a bigger place in providing community services. Of course, the lawyers and accountants of the tax industry will be righteously irritated, but that's alright. Tax folks are usually pretty smart, they'll find other work.

There are more points and counterpoints I've thought of, many of which you will likely think up as well. As such, I will leave my rant here, and turn over my infant brainchild to your tender mercies. Be gentile, new ideas are fragile, but I believe this one is robust enough to warrant discussion, even if the practical challenges involved with eliminating and replacing the tax code are staggering.