Monday, January 30, 2012

An Unfair Tax System is Unfair—However the Money is Made

Play ball.  Play fair.  Keep the money game honest and fair.  It seems that our tax system is not.

If a multimillionaire pays a less tax-rate than the average middleclass American, no matter how the money was made (assuming legality), it’s unfair and unjust, period!

Yes, taxes are necessary.  No great nation can exist without taxing its people.  But a really great nation will tax its people equitably.  The very rich and powerful will get no special breaks.  In a truly great nation, the middleclass is not overloaded with an unfair share of the tax burden.  Yet that is exactly what is happening here in America.  This must change.

Mitt Romney was proud to say that he paid a lot of tax dollars.  Good for him.  But he made millions!  Yet, he paid a tax-rate of only 15%.  How many middleclass Americans can say the same?  The typical American will never make the millions Romney has made yet regularly and consistently pay out at a much higher tax-rate than Romney.  This is not right and it is not just.

Let’s be consistent.  Perhaps we should have the state charge the multimillionaire only 3% sales tax while the rest of us pay 6%?  Maybe we should also make a new law that says multimillionaires are to pay reduced rates at theaters and restaurants; the law could guarantee that multimillionaires are to get a 15-20% break on these items while the middleclass must pay full-fare.  Come now, let’s be consistent about this.

No?  Then the tax system needs adjusting.  It shouldn’t matter exactly how the money was made.  A millionaire who makes multimillion dollars per year should be paying a tax-rate at least equal to (if not more-than but certainly not less-than) that of the average middleclass American who makes only a few tens of thousands per year.

We’re talking about economic justice.  We’re talking about everyone carrying a just and fair share of the tax burden.  Millionaires receive the same benefit from our public streets, lighting, and services as the average American does.  Millionaires receive the same benefit from our police and military protection as the average American does (or perhaps more so).  Millionaires should therefore be paying-in to the public-pot at the same rate (if not a higher rate) as most Americans do, certainly not less!

I understand that Mitt Romney paid what the present tax-law required of him.  He paid no more and no less.  There was no tax-fraud.  No lying and cheating on his income-tax returns.  And he’s proud of it.  Fine, but is he also proud of the tax-system that allowed him to pay down at a lower tax rate, despite his millions?  Is he also proud of the fact that most Americans who are scraping-by day-by-day, week-by-week, are paying taxes at a much higher tax-rate than he does?  Is he willing to change the tax-system to make it more equitable to the average American?

Millionaires, give us a break!  Millionaires certainly do not need more perks and tax breaks than the average middleclass American is able to get.  Play fair!  Be just!  Do what’s right.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Newt Gingrich Vilifies Media for his Transgressions, as if he’s the Victim?!

Forgive and forget!  That’s what Newt Gingrich wants, when it comes to his personal sexual life and marital infidelities.  Okay, fair enough; but, is that the approach he used with Bill Clinton, at the time that Bill’s infidelities were exposed.  Certainly not!  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Is it not?

Mr. Gingrich has a double standard and it goes something like this: If your political enemy, such as a Bill Clinton, is caught in an infidelity, throw the book at him, use the media to call him a good-for-nothing-scoundrel, worse than dirt, publicly denounce, condemn, and try to ostracize and banish him as unworthy of holding public office.  BUT, if Mr. Gingrich himself is caught with his pants down: Media, don’t you dare ask questions!  Don’t you dare scrutinize me or hold me accountable or otherwise bring attention to my personal sexual life.  How dare you even think it!

Is this not double-standard hypocrisy?  And if it is, why did Mr. Gingrich’s defensive (almost holier-than-thou) reaction to the question of his marital infidelities get such popular applause?  Politics is not about ethics or morality, or righteousness and justice, or even truth.  That’s why.

For example, when a candidate is sure that he has no moral failure threatening to expose him, he freely uses such terms as family values and moral character and respect for tradition.  But the same candidate will then speak of conversion and forgiveness, and a right to privacy, lambasting the media for indecency and lack of respect if they dare ask about skeletons in the closet that are exposed.

As a Pastor and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am the first to encourage and support grace, mercy, forgiveness, and respect for a person in dealing with his or her short comings, failings, and sins.  Christ came to save and redeem not to condemn and destroy (John 3:17).  But to claim these truths and principles for one’s self while disregarding these same truths and principles for one’s political opponent is the height of duplicity and hypocrisy.  In short, if Mr. Gingrich is to claim grace, mercy, and forgiveness for himself regarding his marital mishaps, than he should have also done the same for Bill Clinton back when.

But this is politics.  And in politics vociferous sentiments of faith and avowed claims to devout sanctity is fast and cheap.  Every politician would love to have total control of his public image—please see me as I present myself, not as I really am.  The fact is that no politician wants his personal life overly scrutinized, for no one lives a perfect life without blemish or fault.  That’s fine.  But then please be consistent and don’t use one standard for yourself and another one for your political opponent.  If you’re going to go after your opponent’s personal life (sex, marriage, wayward children, whatever), then don’t claim foul when your own personal life is also exposed and scrutinized.

This attitude should be held by we-the-people at large.  If we are going to overlook the personal discrepancies of our favorite candidate, then prepare to do the same for the opposing candidate.  It’s only just, fair, and right.  And that’s what we want, isn’t it, what’s right, fair, just?  Not going to happen!  No, what we seem to really want is for our candidate to win—at any cost—even if morality, ethics, goodness, righteousness, and truth must be trashed.

In the political arena politicians and voters alike, are like kids in the backyard with a water hose and plenty of dirt, soon enough they’re covered with mud.  And we love it.  So let’s not blame the Media.  The Media is an instrument used by all sides, left, right, and center.  When the Media-spotlight favors our candidate, we say, “Now that’s good reporting.”  When the Media-spotlight reveals blemishes on our favored candidate, we call it “Yellow Journalism! Distasteful, unfair, slanted.”  It seems that we voters are as bad as the politicians themselves.  The political truth is that politics is a dirty business.  And that’s the one thing we can all agree on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Follow the Money in the Political Process

Politics!  The Republican Primaries are here, it’s an election year.  Money is flowing.  The usual suspects: s/he who has the most money is most likely the one that will win.

Corporations are officially persons.  Large, wealthy, and therefore powerfully influential Business Corporations can spend as much money as they want, as “private persons,” to back their candidate, endorse their policies, and promote their political platform and cause.

Politicians are not indebted to you, me, or any of us—the average voter on the street.  If they were, we would have had the lifting of the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest of Americans by now—something most Americans want to see happen.

No, it takes money to get elected, big money.  Special interest groups with money, Big Company Lobbyists, they are the ones that have the ears of our politicians—of both parties—and they are the ones that get what they want from our politicians, no matter who gets elected.

A democracy is not a true democracy if big money controls the political voice, the electoral process and its legislative outcomes.  And more and more that is exactly what is happening within the American political system.

Note this: According to Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, our economic crisis is basically the result of politically engineered inequality.  See their book: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.  I saw these authors interviewed on Bill Moyer’s program (Moyers & Company).  This interview is very much worth watching.

That being the case, it tells us that there is hope.  Because it tells us that the crisis just didn’t happen by virtue of pure economic causes, that is, economic forces beyond our control or above our reach.  The crisis was caused by bad, politically motivated, economic policies and legislative decisions made by politicians who were backed by aggregates of powerfully wealthy special interest groups.  Therefore we can change this.  We the people can rise up and demand better.  We can demand that changes be made to the system, such as re-regulate, and such as disempower the high-roller money-backers and reclaim the people’s power.  We-the-people can get America back on the right track.  How?

Follow the money.  Demand transparency.  Take note of who gives the money to our politicians (directly & indirectly).  Take note as to how our politicians receive money (directly & indirectly) and how they spend it?  Take note: whom and why is Big Money backing, and note the political/legislative benefits that Big Money spenders get in return?

Demand economic justice and fair play.  Our financial system should not favor the rich.  Remember the Titanic: when it comes to the value of life, the wealthy should have no special privileges.  All class levels deserve the right to a life-jacket and equal access to a life-boat.  By the same token, all classes deserve fair-play in our economic policies and just access to our economic potential within this great nation.

And finally, stay engaged in the political process, make your voice heard.  Do NOT give-in or give-up.  Write, vote, and speak out!  Somehow we must make our politicians more accountable to we-the-people rather than to powerful lobbyists and Big Money people or Major Corporations who call themselves “persons” so as to throw their financial weight behind politicians, who will favor them over against the average citizen on the street, people like you and me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Enough of Political Spin!

Did I hear the news correctly?  It seems that, according to Rick Santorum, our latest drop in unemployment is due to “optimism that Republicans will take over the White House.”  Did Rick Santorum really say that?  Really?  Here’s what I say: Rick, Get Real!

Spin, spin, spin, and more spin, a lot of talk with very little substance, a lot of facts with very little meaning, a  lot of testifying and swearing-in with very little truth-telling.

As a voting citizen, I am tired of this.  Aren’t you?  Exaggerated claims for one’s self and innuendo and over-the-top accusations against one’s opponents.  We want substance and thoughtful honest rational exchange, not just lambasting one’s opponent.  We want real answers to serious questions.  We want solid observations and genuine assessments made of true realities.

Here’s an example.  My reading and understanding of history tells me that once powerful nations in the past were actually weakened, made less secure and more vulnerable to possible defeat, because of military over-extension.  That is, great historical nations ruined themselves precisely because of pro-longed wars, over extended defense forces, and the severe tax-burden that military spending placed upon its populace.  In my mind, a slimmed down, leaner meaner defense force is stronger than a fat, sluggish, overburdened, and overtaxing military giant.  You know the story of David and Goliath.  And great was Goliath’s fall.  Let us not ignore the wisdom of the ages.  So, I for one am not ready to buy into a simplistic sound-bite ad-attack that simply assumes that reducing our military/defense budget, de-facto weakens us.  But, will we hear or see honest and intelligent rational presentations on this or any other significant national issue?  I think not.  This is irritating to me, because we should.

What we will hear is assumptions and presumptions without explanation or real rationale.  What we are going to hear is personal and slanderous digs and attacks.  What we are going to hear is general self-adulation in behalf of one’s party and person and sweeping severe denunciation of their opponents: We’ve got it all figured out; they’re totally ignorant.  We’ve got it all right; they’re absolutely wrong.  We’re for the American people; they’re against the American people, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Politicians, Get Real! We want no more empty shallow spin, positive or negative.  We want real content and honest grappling with the issues.  Enough of your bombastic and exaggerated claims to grandiosity and your vicious mean-spirited trashing of your opponent!  Substance, content, a reasoned and explained rationale, that’s what we want.  Don’t take your opponent’s words out of context.  Don’t show us an edited, sleight-of-hand portion of the picture.  Paint the picture as it really is.  Stop editing reality so as to only favor yourself or your own party.  Alas!  I know.  The reality is, in the world of politics cheap mudslinging, dirty tricks, the distortion of facts and telling little white lies, work.  Politics is politics.  What a shame.

So, perhaps the best thing we voters can do is have the same attitude that all consumers should have, especially when making large purchases: “Buyer beware!”  By the same token, Voters beware!  Let us look past the pointed sound-bite, the digs and attacks, and ask, “What’s the real truth here?”  Who really has the better approach, is using the best method, has the most integrity in his/her political behavior, and is offering the most promising vision for this nation—in real honest-to-goodness practical terms?”  Let’s get past all the hype and hoopla.  Go beneath the spin.  Step back, look at the big picture.  Rise above the fray.  Side-step the attacks, and get the real substance of the matter.  Then let’s decide.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lessons Learned from the Sinking of the Titanic, Given its 100th Anniversary This Year

2012!  I think of the Titanic.  Yes, this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

The account of the Titanic’s sinking continues to fascinate new generations.  Why?  Perhaps it is because, as a true story, it succinctly captures human nature and the drama of human life so well, its aspiring hopes, tragic losses, and resilient recoveries, accentuating humanity’s arrogance and smallness as well as its greatness and magnificent potential.  It’s all there, played out in real life and real time, in the sinking of the Titanic.

Lessons learned from the Titanic are still as poignant now as they were then.  What are they?

Lesson one: It’s best not to become overly confident and arrogant in our achievements.  THE UNSINKABLE SHIP!  That’s what the Titanic was called.  “Even God can’t sink her,” someone dared to assert.  Yet it sank on its Maiden Voyage, and fast!

It is a weakness of human nature.  We tend to grow cocky, become overly confident, and begin to act brashly in our successes.  We soon begin to act as if we have become invincible.  We think to ourselves, “I am my own master.  I am in control.  Nothing will stop me.”

Then Reality strikes.  Nature, Life, or God quickly puts us in our place.  A tsunami, an earthquake, a nuclear-plant meltdown, or all three at once reminds us of how small we humans really are, floating on a little ball we call planet earth in this vast great dark Universe.  We learn and re-learn that we are not as in control of things as we’d like to think.  Indeed, even those things which we ourselves have built or have created on our own, may overwhelm us.

Lesson Two: When things go bad, really bad, as in a sinking ship, great souls rise to the occasion while lesser souls reveal their hidden monstrosity.  There are the Great Souls unseen and unrecognized, being low on the economic social stratum, then there are the undetected small souls hiding behind their great wealth and power.

Small Souls?  Haughty, arrogant, self-centered, me-first types who have little consideration and respect for the want and needs of others but make a lot of noise and fuss to bring attention to their owns needs, often getting their own wants taken care of at other’s expense.

A sinking ship quickly reveals who-is-who: Great Souls immediately begin to rise while small souls rapidly descend.  And we realize that the wealthy and elite of First Class, as such, don’t really deserve to be given priority in a rescue operation?  Human life is human life, and all deserve an equal chance at being rescued.  We soon learn that it’s not about economic class, education, or talent; it’s about spirit and soul, inner character, and nobility of heart.

Of course there are many more lessons than these two.  But these two will suffice for the moment.  If anything, we might say that we hopefully have re-learned these two lessons from the events of 2011.

Applying Lesson One: Hubris!  Our arrogance is, has been and always will be our downfall.  We succeed, become wealthy, powerful, and conquer the world and begin to think that we can in fact have everything our way unabated.  We begin to rely more and more on sheer strength and power to force our will and get our way, and then boom!  The ceiling drops on our heads; the floor falls from beneath our feet and in utter shame and humiliation, with unimaginable grief and heartache we are stopped in our tracks.  Forces way beyond our capacity to control have taken over and we are doomed.  Reality check!  Let’s not get big headed about who we are, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there.  Humble yourself before God and He will exalt you.  (1 Peter 5:6)

Applying Lesson Two: Greed!  To put it personally, all your accumulated wealth makes you no better than I am.  Perhaps you (whoever ‘you’ may be) are wealthy precisely because you are less than I am, more willing to cheat, lie and steal, and more ready to exploit the vulnerable.  You have put profit over principle and have nurtured secrecy over open-honesty.  You have served yourself over-against the needs of others.  But your approach to work, life, and business is a recipe for failure.  In the end, you will be toppled.  For you go too far, take too much, and destroy too many lives along the way—all for sheer greed.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  (1 Timothy 6:10)

Just two headliners from last year serve as reminders of these two lessons: the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.  The question is: will our actions and decisions in 2012 demonstrate that we have adequately learned these lessons?  Time will tell.