Friday, March 29, 2013

Paul of the Bible was a Believer-In-Government Kinda Guy

Do you remember that whole "birth-control" thing that gripped the news as the Obama Administration was attempting to assert that Catholic employers had to supply birth control?  I remember this story a fair bit because I was thinking to myself, "What about persons who are not Catholic?"  So, I remember the statements about government that Paul made throughout the New Testament, and decided to invoke them to make a point.

Here's my discussion about "The Church" issue. Jesus said in Matt 22:15-22 (paraphrased), when talking to the Pharisees, they questioned him "Teacher, how do you feel about paying taxes to Caesar?" and sensing their hypocrisy, he responded, "Who's face is on the denaris?" They answered "Caesar's." Then he replied "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, render unto God, that which is God's." They were amazed and left him.

The point of that story is that Christ understood also, that religious and temporal authorities cannot be so intertwined that "spiritual authority" is the dispenser of civil authority. So in that context, the individual is responsible for his or her morality. The Church itself has an obligation to follow the temporal law as it's written while imparting the values of "The Church" to it's believers, but leaving the believers to stumble, fall, and ultimately learn.

Romans 13 (New Living Translation)

1 Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. 2 So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. 3 For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. 4 The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. 5 So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. 6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due. 8 Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God's law.

So the Church's assertion that they don't have to follow the law even if it conflicts with their "doctrine" is itself an invalid argument. As Paul plainly said, follow the law as it is God's law, and no where in the Old OR New testament is there ANY reference to contraception. Just one single reference in the old testament about God striking down someone for pulling out of a woman and letting his seed spill on the ground which is also the SOLE basis of the stance against contraception.  That circumstance is not within the context of any Levitical law. It was a specific, unique circumstance that occurred one time.  It is a Cherry-picked verse, and the Catholic Church should reconsider it's position on this issue.  The Church is not responsible for policing the acts of it's members OR it's NON-BELIEVING employees it employs. In that very nature, that is authoritarianism to it's extreme, and forcing a doctrinal belief on those who are not a practicing member of the faith and that is VERY immoral by far. Pay what the government says to pay, but let them decide to use it or not. Because the sin of an action is ultimately the individual's decision and the consequences are theirs to bear alone.

Love Is Our Call, Our Mission, Our Purpose

While we should always confess the wrongs we do to anyone we do them to, this time of you affords us the convictions and opportunities to deeply criticize ourselves and to renew ourselves, manifested in the form of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christian belief and spirituality. It is the very essence of Christian Faith, it is the foundation of Christianity's entire purpose for being. If you have wronged someone, if you have hurt someone, whether they're even aware of it or not, take a few moments, and ask their forgiveness, confess your wrongs, and reconcile your differences in peace and love and genuine brotherhood/sisterhood.

Friends, this is the weekend that we have designated that we remember that three major events happened. Christ was hung, killed, then rose. And with that rising, fulfilled the law's bounty on our lives, and afforded us grace and forgiveness. And the only thing that we've been asked to do in to "Do unto others."

Fellow human beings, whether you're a Bible-belt Southern Baptist or a Pagan, a Unitarian Universalist, a Scientologist, or a Mormon, Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, a Methodist, an Atheist or Agnostic, or whatever you have chosen to designate yourself as. One thing we all share in common, is that "Doing unto others" and "Loving your Neighbor" IS the greatest love that can exist and the only love that can save us as a culture, a nation, and even a world.

Every single person who sees this status, Please PLEASE watch "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers." It is SO appropriate for this Good Friday, and for the upcoming celebration of The Lord's Crucifixion.

Mat 5:1-18
(1) And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
(2) And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
(3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(4) Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
(5) Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
(6) Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
(7) Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
(8) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
(9) Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
(10) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(11) Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
(12) Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
(13) Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
(14) Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
(15) Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
(16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
(17) Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
(18) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Blessings, prayers, hopes, and all around good juju to all of you. Have a totally blessed Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, or just Sunday.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

War Holds Us Back From Progress

I've played a couple of different simulator games in my life, but no game offered one of the most probable advances of human kind than Civilization 5, which is the first in the series that I've ever played.  So apparently  for the seasoned players, Civ 5 was the worst, but anyway, I digress. 

Civilization 5 is a game where you choose a civilization out of about 12-15 cultures, and you advance that culture through research and through culture, to a victory of varying kinds.  So for example, you can launch a rocket to space to win, or become elected by the world to win by diplomacy or conquer the world the old-fashioned way.  But what struck me, is that the advancement of mankind is always stifled by conflict.  And in particular, conflict where weapons are manufactured on a massive scale.  One thing that always seems to make a game difficult to win is when I am constantly bombarded with attacks by my neighbors.  Sometimes if you have aggressive neighbors, you become their primary target and they attempt to make war with you at every available opportunity.  This causes your game progress to slow if you’re looking to win by way other than military.  But even if you’re pursing a military victory, you still need enough time between wars to recover, rebuild and build up. 

So where am I going with this?  Where I’m going is that war is a retardant to progress.  We as a society and as a world will find it increasingly difficult to move forward towards new technologies and new discoveries as long as we continue to fight with one another.  The perptuance of war is what stifles our ability to grow and learn and provide for our fellow man.  The defense industry, while making many discoveries relating to warfare, doesn't serve man as a whole.  It serves itself.  War is good for those who profit from it, and those who profit from it are generally the types of individuals who probably should not be making decisions that affect large numbers of people.  The Defense Industry’s Industrial Complex is one of the main culprits as to why our nation has fallen behind other westernized nations in areas like social welfare and the rights of minorities and women. 

The defense industry has grown not just into an aspect of our society that is regular, but an aspect of our lives that is present, that perpetuates it’s own values.  Much of that served in the way of entertainment, video games, movies, and other mediums where the subtle messages of militarism, war, and conflict are reverberated in our society.  It needs to end, so we can move on and become a productive world citizen.  If there’s to be a threat to our existence, then we must, with courage, face that threat as it materializes.  It’s not a threat we should face a lone, but together, united with our European brothers and sisters, our Canadian brothers and sisters, and our Aussie brothers and sisters, as well as any other nation that shares our values for freedom and the end of oppression.  War is too easily tolerated, and it shouldn't be.  It should be disgusted, perceived as vile, and detestable.  It should be exercised cautiously, with great hesitation and only after every avenue of diplomacy is exhausted.

Conservative Christianity Fails Christ

Gay rights is not about snuffing your right to object to homosexual relationships's about prohibiting the right of Gays and Lesbians to engage in the public sphere w/o the fear of harassment, abuse, assault, and to engage in the civil institutions which, ideally do not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of any characteristic which is not reasonable and justified. The court will decide whether being LGBT is justified as an excuse to discriminate. Obviously I do not. However if you're a "Christian" and you assert that you don't want to serve because he's gay or her because she's Lesbian or him because he had sex with a woman that wasn't his wife or her because she had sex with someone that wasn't her husband...then you are bad...and you are bad because you are a hypocrite. 

Jesus served tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, the poorest, and everyone else who desired his help. You are the expression of Christ on this Earth. As you walk day to day, proclaiming to walk as Christ walked, you have NO justification to discriminate for ANY reason WHATSOEVER! You are a hypocrite if you discriminate, you are a hypocrite if you refuse to serve, or scorn, or judge, or outright hate. There IS NO JUSTIFICATION for you when you say "I LOVE GOD" on Sunday, then go to your business and say, I HATE GAYS, GET OUT OF MY SHOP. HOW NARROW MINDED OF YOU. What a detestable display of hypocrisy that is so sour that it makes my stomach raw with irritation and and my heart ache with despair.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gay Marriage and You

What does it mean to be "gay-married?"  Well, I hate to break it to you, but it's just as boring as your marriage likely is, except you have a partner of the same sex.  We sleep together (non-sexually and sexually both), we play together, we cry together, we scheme together, we contemplate life and existence together, we watch movies, hold hands, embrace and snuggle, we comfort each other, we console each other when we're down, and we care together.

One more important thing we do together....we LOVE together, just like hetero-couples.  Without love, no relationship can stand.  Without love, it's fraudulent...and without love, it's empty.  It's the same for both hetero and homosexual couples alike.  So tomorrow, when we hear arguments before the gang of nine justices in The US Supreme Court, remember that this is about issues that will determine our place in society.  All homosexual couples want is to be equal with our straight brothers and sisters.  We want to come to your home and have coffee, we want our kids to play with your kids and vice versa.  We want to hold hands with you in solidarity and brotherhood/sisterhood.  We want to uplift you in the bad times, and hope you'll uplift us in our bad times.  We want to commune with you in all walks of life, where seeing two men or two women together is just like seeing you and your wife or you and your husband.  We want to express our love openly, outside, in the sunlight, and not buried in a car in an alley where we have a few moments of privacy and peace.  We need to come out of those dark places where you drive us, and embrace you in love.

We want to heal centuries of wounds caused by the intolerance of our ancestors and move together as a culture, as a nation, and as humans.  The greatest words spoken: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."  Those sacred and unique words spoken are all we ask for.  And we desire, more than everything in the entire reconciliation.  Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called "Children of God."

We want to file our taxes together, put our families on our insurances, give our estate to our children, provide survivor social security to our families, to be able to divorce if necessary, to visit each other in the hospital, make decisions for our children in emergencies, be free from harassment, be free to be us, and to be free from discrimination which is unjust, hateful, and cruel in the most serious way.

Please walk in solidarity with me, with us, with everyone who supports us, and pray, meditate, contemplate, ponder, consider, and deeply think about the matter before the court tomorrow.  Being gay is not a sin, it's not molestation, it's not dirty or wicked, or abominable or most of all, NOT demonic posession.  Its biology, it's chemistry, it's psychology.  It's a state of mind, it's a physical configuration within the brain, and it's most definitely NOT a choice.  Go ask any homosexual, and they will tell you exactly the same thing.  And if you don't believe them, then you are asserting that we all are lying or confused.  The only confusion here is yours.  The only ignorance is yours, and the only person who can change you.  So make the change and learn about a unique group of people who's minority status spans ALL cultures of humanity, and over 250 individual species of animals in this world.  The only difference between you and I like men and not women.  That's it...that's all, and that's the ONLY thing.

Blessings and love to everyone, and I wish you a very good night.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Washington State has a Revenue Problem

Washington State's revenue collection system was founded on the basis that it has a lot of land.  For decades, farm owners would be considered some of the wealthiest people for generations, producing a huge amount of food that is used both domestically and exported abroad.  In 2011, Washington had a Gross State Product of $355 Billion in economic output.  That's a huge number for a state of our size.  However, of that $355 Billion (US Bureau of Economic Analysis), Washington only collects a small fraction of that output in revenue.  In FY 2011, Washington collected only $17.4 Billion in taxes (US Census Bureau) which is only a meager 4.8%.  For a state such as ours, we should be collecting a significant amount more of revenue to fund the priorities that matter to Washingtonians.  As a state that prides itself on social justice issues as well as being in severe need of internal infrastructure improvement and expansion, it's important we fund these priorities by reassessing the kinds and sources of revenue we collect.  The per-capita annual salary for Washington is approximately $44,000 per year, the average annual salary is about $49,000 and a median annual salary of $55,000 (Office of Financial Management).  For a state that has a moderately strong middle class, we seem to be lacking in the area of revenue collection.

There are several reasons why our state is lagging behind in infrastructure and development.  One such reason is because of the lack of progressivity of our tax system.  The tax system currently in place does not distribute the tax burden in a way that maximizes revenue collection.  The state currently uses a one-size-fits-all tax code that collects revenue without taking incomes into account. The state taxes that account for the largest shares of revenue are the following: The Business and Occupation Tax, the Sales Tax, the Property Tax, and The Use Tax.

The Use Tax is a tax which basically states that if you own it, and you didn't buy it here, you have to pay tax for the right to own it.  Items which you pay sales tax on are exempt from the Use Tax.  Businesses often are required to pay this more than the average citizen, as businesses are subject to more inspection by the Department of Revenue and are required to keep detailed records of all their transactions.

The Sales tax, like the Use Tax is a tax based on the value of a purchase.  If you buy a non-prepared-food item, there is a 7.9% tax levied against the item at the time of purchase from a business.  So for a $1.00 item, you pay $0.08 tax.

The property tax is an annual tax levied against your property value, and that tax is adjusted by the value of your property each year.  There are means of protesting the county's reassessment of your property value, but usually the estimate comes below the market price by a few thousand per year.

The Business and Occupation Tax is a tax levied against gross receipts for a given business annually.  For example, if a business grosses $1,000,000 in sales, and the B&O tax for the business' type is 3%, then the state would receive $30,000 in tax revenue.  The rate varies based on the business' activity and type.

The above taxes all have a single thing in common...they disproportionately tax all income groups improperly.  The way Washington can solve it's revenue problems and bring the state back out of deficits and respond thoughtfully to the State Supreme Court's ruling that education must be fully funded as per State Constitutional Mandate, the state should explore retiring this archaic tax code which, in the day it was created, was appropriate for the time.  Furthermore, the state must challenge the assertion that the State Constitution prohibits an income tax.  I assert, personally, that income is property.  If you're a working person, then I would likely be right in assuming that your wages/income is your property, correct?  Now what keeps striking down the State's attempts at an income tax is the provision that taxes must be uniform in regards to a property type.  So, for example, property cannot be taxed at 4% of market value on this area, but then another property be taxed at 6% in another area by the State Government (counties may increase this for their revenue needs of course.)  The State Constitution didn't account for a tax on income, I would argue, and when The State Constitution was written, I personally believe that the creators of the document saw land as being the primary source of funding for public expenditures and wrote the constitution to maximize revenue from this source.

But today, with Washington moving more and more metropolitan and less agrarian, such a revenue system is unsustainable, and is now tied to an asset that shifts in value in the market cycle, causing severe revenue shocks to the State Budget when such cycles happen.  Further, there is a social justice argument to be had against a property tax.  For example, many farms in our state are barely squeaking by and have profit margins that are paper thin.  While burdened heavily by B&O and Use Taxes, they are also burdened by a severely harsh property tax which is levied on all the farmland they possess.  This presents a serious threat to a family farm which depends on land to exist.  In a time where property taxes are no longer the primary source of funding, it's important that we consider retiring the tax, as property taxes do not represent the income of a said farm or individual or family.  The property tax, in today's economy now represents an annual lease from the state.  Individuals who've

In regards to the B&O Tax, Sales Tax, and Use Tax, the source of problems with these revenue sources is that the tax is levied indiscriminately.  What that means is the following: 1) That it does not take individual financial circumstances into account when levying the tax...meaning that the single mom making $20k/year with three kids pays the same tax rate and amount as a person who makes $100,000/year.  Granted the person making $100k/year is going to make more monetarily, the effective tax rate is sharply lower than the one making $20k/year.

The same argument can be made for business incomes.  Business gross receipts is by far the worst part of a business income balance sheet to shave a tax off.  A business' gross receipts does not give a full picture as to the profitability of a business.  To shave 10% off the top of a business' gross receipts (when you account for the lost markup from the sales tax, the 8% paid for Use Taxes, and the 0.9-2.9% for the B&O tax, this is about what is lost).  A Mom and Pop small business who squeaks out a meager $20-$30k in annual receipts  should not pay the same rate of tax as a company that is, say like Walmart or Boeing, who reap billions a year in annual sales.  Furthermore, a tax on net profits after all other taxes is the best way to ensure that we're taxing fairly and in a reasonable way.

Progressive income taxes are the way we ensure we give people and businesses a chance.  They allow start-ups to push through the most turbulent times of their business, the first five years, and provide them a means of building their networks and name recognition.  Further, they don't tax heavily during times where we're struggling, whether that be a shock to supplies of raw materials or fuel, or a nation-wide recession where everyone is equally hurting.  Ensuring businesses and people both are not paying taxes from money they don't have ensures we'll have a stable, strong, consistent rate of growth for the long-term, and that people will feel their contribution to society is both fair and justified.

It's important that the effective tax increase for individuals who's disposable income is large, while decreasing for individuals who's disposable income is either low, or non-existent.  How fair is it for a homeless person to pay 8% sales tax on an item he may need to get back on his feet, or for a hot meal from a food place after a day of panhandling?  How fair is it for the effective tax rate on someone making $1,000,000/year to have an effective tax rate of that less than a single-parent with three kids?  And how fair is it for a business who is losing money to be burdened with another liability created simply by their investments, purchases and their sales which have not materialized into the profits they are seeking.  And how fair is it for a multinational corporation who set up shop in our state to get out of paying a fair and reasonable tax on their earned profits?  The system does not create this level of fairness and justice, and needs serious reform if we're to solve the revenue problems facing our state.

What is the solution?

The solution is a comprehensive, restructuring of the tax code which abolishes the Sales Tax, B&O tax, and Use Tax, and tying the property tax amount paid to a graduated payment scale...meaning that as your income rises, the amount of the full rate on property you pay is adjusted.  For example, if the property tax rate is 2% of market value, and your value is set at $100,000.  The graduated system would be based on how far above the poverty line you are.  So if your annual income for your household is at or above 100% of the poverty line, you begin paying tax on your property, with 200% being the point where you pay the full 2% tax and 100% being zero property tax.  The rate of tax stays the same, but the effective tax changes with your income, taking into account, as pragmatically as possible, the circumstances within your household.

In regards to the income tax, the income tax should be graduated but still simple.  For personal incomes, the system should be matter of fact and straight forward.  To borrow some insight from Steve Forbes, an income exemption equal to State Minimum Wage times 40 times 52 would be the income tax exemption.  This represents someone working at minimum wage full time.  If you earn less than this, you should not pay taxes of any kind, because it's likely you do not have enough income to survive on your own.  This also creates a threshold for families earning minimum wage to save and eventually work their way out of a minimum wage job through saving and thrift...a kind of income buffer between taxation and the bare minimum.  Other qualities of our system would be the prohibition of refundable tax credits.  The reasoning behind this is because it creates incentive to cheat to get money back, and it burdens the Department of Revenue with servicing a program that would fall under the Department of Social and Health Services.  The revenue collection mechanism of a political entity should not be the deliverer of welfare benefits.  If the state deems it necessary to create an income support program, it should do so, so that the collection of these benefits are not dependent on filing taxes.  The only refund one should receive would be the one where they pay taxes into the system, and no other.

For business income taxes, the tax should be applied against a business' profits after taxes, overhead, and other material costs are accounted for.  No business should ever pay tax if they are losing money, and no business should be losing money as the result of a tax liability, which the sales and B&O tax create.  It is extremely harmful to tax a business before the other costs which demonstrate its loss or profit is shown.

The potential for growth under this system is astounding and great.  Businesses would flock here to set up shop.  Even though we have a high minimum wage, the simplified tax liabilities and simplistic means of compliance would contribute greatly to the economic environment of the state and appeal to larger companies setting up shop here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Greater Good of All

Malachi 3:1-5

1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

It's so important to remember that the Lord speaks to us in many ways. Many times, it's easy to forget that our actions will be judged in the end...and when you're judged, how do you plan to answer the Lord's inquiries? 

On another subject, when we examine political parties and their causes, let's look at the things they view as important. Function, intent, and context matter. Republicans claim that they are the party of Christians...they claim they care about the poor and working class, while at the same time, we see from the evidence that the party does not. Now don't get me wrong...there are A LOT of very generous Republicans out there, and I applaud them for their generosity, and believe they truly desire the world that Adam Smith described, which was natural liberty through moral living. I believe in this ideal too, bu the real world has taught me better. Part of me wonders, however, if Adam Smith was speaking very idealistically, and was envisioning a form of personal governance that was described by Biblical texts in the context of "The 1000 year reign" or something to that affect...where man is perfectly moral and fair, and labor isn't cheated by the lowest possible price. Where exchange is mutual and beneficial to all. But anyway, I digress...when you look at the ideologies of the political parties, and you read what they're about...then you look at the actions they're trying to take, remember that government is FOR THE PEOPLE more than anything else. A government that doesn't care about it's people, that leaves them hanging in a cruel world filled with vultures and roaring beasts that seek to consume them like they're part of the Darwinian food chain, are no friend to the working class or to the poor. 

Put yourself into the position of the poor for a moment. When you see a poor person begging for handouts so they can survive...what is your first thought? Is it "get a job." or "he's just gonna buy booze or drugs." or perhaps it's "Why doesn't he go to Social Services." And I'll admit...sometimes I think those things too, and it's something I am working on in myself. But sometimes, it's easier and more powerful for us as a nation to systematically solve the problems causing homelessness rather than to put a band-aid on it by giving. 

Homelessness is a systematic problem in society, and requires systematic fixes to solve. Some are cultural, some are political, and some are economic. For poverty and homelessness, it will take a systematic restructuring of the social safety net to get these folks the help they need. Inconsistent, irregular, generosity-based assistance helps a bit, but it's not a permanent solution to the problem because generosity is fleeting, the income is too inconsistent, and the institution itself is usually skating on thin ice constantly balancing it's own existence with the help it gives to others. Tax-payer funded assistance to poverty and homelessness can help us put these people into jobs, homes, and eventually, self-sustaining incomes.For as large a nation as we are, how do we even have as much homeless as we have? How do we boast the best medical system in the world, but have the lowest life-expectancy of of the western nations, and how do we have the largest economy in the known world, but have such an unfair share of the pie being divided up to the people who make that pie in the first place? Down below is a verse that should shed some light. For those who go "Government isn't in the business of charity, or shouldn't be in the business of charity," you may want to look at yourself and say that. Government shouldn't pay for your education either, shouldn't pay for the roads you drive on, the police that protect you, the army that defends you, or the fire department to put your house-fire out. These types of things are things that we as citizens have decided that we should collectively pay for because they're more power in that collectivism than leaving it to individuals. 

There is no Biblical basis for the belief that "welfare" or poverty programs or social programs are evil or immoral or unfair. It's important to remember that if you were in that situation, and had no where to go...where would you go to survive? The answer for you would society. I truly believe that our entire society, for the most part, believes in "do unto others." and "love thy neighbor." I think it's going to take more persuasion that such notions can exist in the political sphere, and should be an integral part of our national system and together as citizens, with a little shared sacrifice and compassion, we can create a system where people don't free fall into street living, where people who are devastated by circumstances beyond their control can get the help they need without having to beg and plead for charity which may or may not be available for them.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Priorities, New Vision, New Direction

With the declining popularity of austerity measures being forced upon the American People by a steadily declining minority, it's time for the moderates and progressives in Washington to being looking at a new and ambitious social agenda.  This current congress will likely go down truly as the do-nothing congress because of it's extreme obstructionism and outright hostility towards the executive branch and the senate both.  With Republicans having successfully cemented their majority for the next 8 years, it's time that we consider pushing forward a socially progressive agenda that emphasizes three things:  Education, Infrastructure, and Fiscal Policy.

1. Education

Education is the cornerstone of the American Dream.  Without one, there is no dream to be had.  This means restoring substantial amounts of lost funding to secondary, vocational, and post-secondary educational levels.  Often times, when budgets get hit, education seems to be the first thing on the chopping block.  We cannot continue to operate a substandard K-12 system, and keep stripping grants, low-cost loans, and work study opportunities to Colleges and Universities everywhere.  Further, we must look past education as a privilege and embrace it as a right.  Any person willing to learn should have the right to learn regardless of ability to pay.  Now, it's a nice dream, but...we must treat higher and post-secondary education as a right instead of privilege.  Treat it like an investment, and not a cost to society.  The cost to society is greater by doing nothing.  We risk becoming a second-rate power in the world, losing our competitiveness, and ruining our ability to be a driving force in the world as both an economic power and a political power.  Education gives us the means of keeping up with the other societies in the world which focus a large percentage of resources into learning and training.  Until we can do the same, we're at risk of losing an entire generation of potential trainees, scientists, teachers, and all other forms of professions because the training facilities and educational resources are not there.  I call for the Federal Government to pay at least 80% of the costs of the first two years of higher education for anyone who wants it.  Further, I call for the government to provide more money for Pell Grants, as well as new grant programs for financially distressed areas of substantially lower income.  I also ask that the age to qualify for Financial Aid be reduced to 20 years old instead of 24, as this creates an undue hardship on middle class families who cannot afford to send their kids to college just as much as the poor now.  I ask the Federal Government to provide funding to states to build more colleges and universities, to build more schools and hire more teachers, and to provide a gateway to success for impoverished areas by creating opportunities for advancement up the economic and social ladder through a series of Urban Renewal and revitalization programs.

2.  Infrastructure

Infrastructure investment is exactly that...investment.  It means we spend money now so that future generations don't have to do it in a hasty and expensive manner.  The last major push of infrastructure investment came in the late 40s and early 50s as the post-war era began to take hold and push forward.  Often times, conservatives look at infrastructure investment and balk at the idea of "government" creating jobs.  Well friends, remember that government CAN create jobs, and it does it quite well.  Infrastructure investment is very important to ensure that the greater good of society is provided for both the here-and-now and the future.  Right now as we speak, we have water systems, power grids, railroads, highways and freeways, bridges, public buildings that are all crumbling due to age.  Some of these structures are pushing 50 years old or more.  It's time that we invest in the future by creating the jobs for the here and now.  The initial cost will be large, but the end result will be justified and future generations will benefit from this infrastructure investment when they don't have to waste billions borrowing at high rates and having hasty, shotty work done to patch the holes.  Infrastructure spending puts money in people's pockets NOW when its needed most.  We have millions of unemployed and underemployed right now who'd love a full time income.  The demand created by such investment would lower the unemployment rate sharply because those incomes would create demand for goods and services, creating more jobs and pushing the adding some fuel to the short-term growth of the economy, while shoring up a stuttering recovery that has been jobless and lacking.  Finally, the added infrastructure will encourage expansion in several sectors of the economy.  Especially sectors like manufacturing who depend greatly on a healthy power grid, a sturdy transportation network, and an efficient water system.  By focusing on the short term problems with long term benefits, we help everybody at the same time.  Projects like the high speed rail system would be GREATLY beneficial to the entire nation.

3.  Fiscal Policy

Our fiscal policy must be given an enema.  Too much crap has stuffed up the financial and tax systems, and it's time that we flush it out.  It's important that we embrace stricter regulation on Wall Street, hedge funds, stock trading, and lending.  We cannot, as a society weather another crisis like the one we just had.  Already the banking and financial sectors are clammering to be let off the hook so they can continue their reckless and irresponsible business practices.  Progressives like Elizabeth Warren is already drawing blood after her scathing and direct rebuke of Federal Regulators over them settling out of court too much with the financial industry as opposed to bringing them to trial.  Further, she's also blasted several large banks for funneling money for drug cartels, and finally for receiving tax payer subsidies after they nearly brought the financial sector to it's knees.  Our fiscal and tax policy must include a stronger and more efficient  but more fair income tax, with the top rate increased to 52%, the elimination of deductions for persons making over $1m per year in personal income, a reform to the corporate tax code which reduces their rate in accordance with the increase in the personal rate, clamping down on tax havens and shelters, ending derivatives and speculative trading on borrowed money, taxing investment transactions to discourage irresponsible buying and selling, the elimination of the Social Security income threshold and a reduction of the tax rate to 8.4% instead of the 12.6% and removal of the Medicare income threshold.  We should also tax capital gains, interest, dividends, and other investment return income as regular income, at the standard income tax rate, while also eliminating dividend and capital gains income tax at the corporate level to ensure that it is only taxed when it reaches the investor as personal income.

Other thoughts:

It's important that when we discuss programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are both non-discretionary spending, that we not refer to these widely successful programs as entitlements.  They are not entitlements because we pay into them.  They are pension systems like any other.  Further, with conflicts winding down in the Middle East, it's time we redirect some of the spending we use for the military and use it to fund the ideas above.  Military spending should be cut by $300b per year and redirected to domestic priorities.  Currently, defense spending as a percentage of the entire Federal Budget eats 1/5th of the federal budget and 1/2 of the entire discretionary budget.  It's time we reassess the role that defense spending pays in our society and question harshly whether it's justified.  For me, personally...I feel putting a kid through school is a far more productive investment then paying a military contractor $1 Billion to contemplate cheaper, stronger, and more effective ways to kill people.  I ask the Federal Government to stop settling with financial firms and big business and to actually prosecute people who do illegal things.  Also, I ask the Federal Government fight to repeal the Citizens' United ruling, as corporations are machines created by man to serve mankind.  They are not people and do not have rights.  We must also invest in healthcare, moving away from a for-profit system, and into a more personalized non-profit system, whether it be single-payer, or heavily regulated private insurance...whichever system a state prefers.  Finally, I ask for the reinstatement of import tariffs on all goods that are manufactured in third-world countries to protect domestic industry.  Let the quality of the goods speak for themselves instead of the price.  I also call for an electronics reclamation tax to discourage disposable technology and to encourage quality electronics being sold to American Citizens.