Friday, November 09, 2012

The Life Unexamined Is Not Worth Living

I have to admit, I am stunned at the stubborn refusal of GOP party leaders to engage in any sort of self-examination after their defeat at the polls. In a very short time, the new electoral strategy for the Republican Party has emerged -- "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Gerrymander the electoral vote to reduce the Democratic share; repeal the Voting Rights Act, in order to deny voting rights to minorities without interference by annoying laws; implement Jim Crow laws again, targeted to prevent the poor from voting; restrict access to the polls by reducing the number of polling stations and the hours they are open.
Fundamentally, to vote Republican means supporting these tactics to deny the vote to as many citizens as it takes, in order to let Republican candidates win elections:  because they can't win on the issues. It's as plain as the face in the mirror: you voted for these leaders and you send them the money to pay the bills.
Your plans may work in the short term. Here's a big bite of reality sandwich: the number of Democrats is increasing every year; the number of Republicans is decreasing. The party of the white is inexorably becoming the minority party. Do you think that, when non-whites become the majority of citizens, they should treat you the way you treated them? Should they gerrymander your votes into insignificance, and deny you the rights and privileges of citizenship, the way you have done to them?
In politics, turn about is fair play. Your calendars are marked with a day of reckoning and keeping that appointment is not optional. I don't think you're going to have a good feeling, coming out of that meeting.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Who Are The Sheep?

President Obama: The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future. I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country – goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as President of the United States.

Candidate Romney: If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future.

What is the difference between these two pledges?  In the first, the President tells listeners that they are themselves responsible for the success or failure of the nation's economy and society.  The choice is with the people who live here.  In the second, the candidate tells listeners that he will do it -- he will "restore America."  Obama says "we," Romney says "I."

Voters next week have a choice between a President who is telling them that we have to work together to solve our country's problems and a President who will solve those problems for them.

Now, who are the sheep? The people stepping up, accepting their own responsibilities in the success of the enterprise, accepting the challenge to "choose that future;" or the people lounging on their couches, turning the project over to the candidate, letting him do the work "to restore that America"? The people who get out and solve problems, or the people who wait to be told what to do? The people who ask questions, or the people who just accept whatever the candidate tells them? The people who say, "What can I do to help?"; or the people who say, "What's in it for me?"

Who are the sheep?

Monday, September 24, 2012


 The following is the text of a Mission Moment I gave at church on 23 September 2012.

The numbers have become numbing and meaningless. 1.29 billion people living in absolute poverty. Which is defined as “... the state of severe deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, Education and information.” Destitution. 15% of Americans live below the nationally defined poverty line. The poverty line in America is an income of $23,000 a year for a family of four. Which is an income of $1916/month.

Could you live on $1916 a month? What would you have to give up? Your car? Your house? Your cable TV sports package?

Poverty is a way of life. Poor people are not sitting at the kitchen table working out possible ways to get out of poverty. When you're dog-tired from working whatever job you can; and overwhelmed with figuring out how to find clothes for your kids or how to Pay the electricity bill; and putting catsup on your spaghetti for dinner; and feeling the shame of having holes in your clothes, clothes that you don't have the money to replace; you're not reading Atlas Shrugged and scheming how to make a million bucks.

Or, maybe you are. Because scheming is all you have – no job prospects, no future but the present. $5 worth of lottery tickets every week, to keep the dream alive. Because winning the lottery represents the only hope you have for getting out of this cesshole of a life.

I've been poor. I have lived that life. I've shared my room with cockroaches. I've walked through the snow to the food stamp office in shoes with my toes showing through and my “winter coat” out at elbows. I've stood in line at the Department of Agriculture food giveaways and been grateful for a 5-lb block of American cheese, even though I detest the taste of American cheese. And I've looked at the electricity bill in despair, with no money to pay it; and gone to a friend's house to use the phone, because I couldn't afford one. And tried unsuccessfully to persuade a prospective employer that my lack of a phone and lack of a car would not prevent me from being a reliable employee.

These days, that's all behind me and I live the life of Riley. Living in a comfortable house, driving a luxury car, buying subscriptions to expensive magazines, eating restaurant food several times a week, keeping the thermostat turned up in winter time. Dish Network. High-speed internet. A fancy-sounding job title and business cards to go with it. But, I remember.

It was the gov't that helped me when I needed help. I had nobody else to turn to. Now, in these heady days of wealth and comfort, I want to be the somebody that was not there when I needed them. And I am asking that all of you think about that $1916 a month, and think about the billion of people living on $1.25 a day and open your wallets and purses and look at their contents and remember. Remember that the money therein is a gift from God – and share that gift. Help me, and together, let's be the somebody who lifted someone, somewhere out of the stinking pit of poverty – even if only for a day, make somebody's present brighter than yesterday.

Gandhi said, “What you do is insignificant, but you must do it.” And somebody posted a photograph on Facebook, a photograph of a sign that reads “You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Let's live – let's really live – as Christians.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Comparison of Tax Rates, 1967 and 2011

According to memory, my father was making around $10,000 salary in his job at Bell Aerospace in 1967.  I might be totally off in that recollection, but that year I was making 75¢ an hour working on a nearby farm, so ten grand would have been a goodly sum of money at the time.
Using the BLS's CPI Inflation Calculator, that salary today would be $68,800.
Let's compare tax rates for my Dad making $10,000 a year and someone making the corresponding $68,800 a year in 2011.
Using the Tax Foundation's Federal Income Tax Brackets 1913-2011, I can create the following simple table.

Marginal Tax Rate
$8,000 - $12,000
$17,000 - $69,000

So, if I were making the equivalent amount of money as my father was making 45 years ago, I would be paying a marginal tax rate 32% lower than what he was paying ((22-15)/22).
For the purposes of this thought experiment, I make the convenient assumption that this dollar is net.  I will make the observation that tax payers in 1967 had many more deductions available (e.g., credit card interest) than are available today.
The fundamental point is that taxpayers who are falling in the center of the curve ("Neither the tip of fortune's cap/ Nor the soles of her shoes") are paying a significantly smaller percentage of income for Federal tax today than they would have been paying for equivalent income 45 years ago.
TEA Party?  Too much whine with the cheese.

Evolution of the First Amendment

Madison's original text
The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.
The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
Version passed by House of Representatives
Congress shall make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed.  The Freedom of Speech, and of the Press, and the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and consult for their common good, and to apply to the government for a redress of grievances, shall not be infringed.
Version passed by Senate
Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition to the government for a redress of grievances.
Final text passed out of joint committee and sent for ratification
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.