Monday, March 25, 2013

Heretical Thoughts on Democracy

In America, Democracy and Capitalism are sacred.  That is, it’s heresy to question either.

Heresy = an opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine; or, any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

“We’re defending Democracy” is always our rallying call for entering a war: “We must maintain our Freedom!”  We say.  Note: we often use these words, “Democracy” and “Freedom,” interchangeably.

For example, fighting for Democracy and Freedom was our justifying rationale for starting and maintaining the war in Iraq: “We’re freeing Iraq from a cruel and vicious dictator; we’re giving the Iraqi people a chance to have a free and democratic government!”  This rallying call became especially important after discovering that Saddam Hussein really did NOT have weapons of mass destruction.  But, ten years later, we’re now asking, “Was it worth it?  Do they have a real and viable democracy?  Are they really free?  Why are we entangled in this mess, still?  What went wrong?”

What we are too polite to ask is, “How could our leaders, the President, Congress, the Senate, as well as highly visible and influential Media talk-show hosts at the time, have been so mistaken, so naïve and foolish, and so shortsighted and blind as they were, to have gotten us in this mess in the first place?”

To this day, there are those who will in effect say “Yes it was worth it.  We made no mistake; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”  Imagine that, thousands of lost lives and a financial cost of almost a trillion dollars later and they’d still say, “Yes, it was worth it.”

Such a response only proves my point.  And the point is this: to question, challenge, or doubt certain aspects or actions respecting our capitalistic and democratic beliefs is tantamount to heresy, and heretics are usually burned at the stake (literally or figuratively).  And so, when it comes to our beliefs about Freedom, Democracy, and Capitalism, e.g., we turn a blind eye with unquestioning faith and suspend all critical analysis.  And our politicians know this.  That’s why, when they want our support, they carefully phrase their causes and their actions in American Civil Religious terms such as “Freedom Fighter,” “Patriot Act,” “In Defense of Liberty and Democracy” etc., and then wrap themselves around the American Flag when so doing.

Now here is my heretical point.  Our particular form of Democracy is not necessarily the best form of government for all peoples in all places at all times.  Besides that, there is no such thing as a pure form of democracy anyway.  Here’s another heresy: We don’t want to admit that it was our shear arrogance—about capitalism, about freedom and democracy, and about our own strength—that entangled us in this resource-depleting and life-draining Iraqi war, and that we are a weaker nation because of it.  (For example, China is now poised to become the number one economic power in the world, moving ahead of the U.S., in just a few years.)

There are two fundamental weaknesses to a democratic system: (1) voters are easily duped, i.e., their votes can be easily bought and sold by this or that (false or misleading) persuasive ad.  And (2), voters can be stubbornly obstinate, shortsighted, and selfishly wrong or misguided; i.e., they’ll vote for immediate gratification while avoiding serious complicated issues, by pushing them off into some vague and distant future, refusing to accept hard and difficult solutions to weighty and difficult problems, until it’s too late.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tax Season and The Art of Taxing

It’s tax season.  Woohoo!

Okay, let’s get real.  We hate paying taxes.  Yet, taxes are a necessary…, no, not evil, a necessary good.  It’s the way a healthy society thrives.

We need good government with good and just laws.  We need a good justice system, military system, educational system; we need good public roads, land, water and air care, and yes, even a good healthcare system.  Government is necessary.  It’s for our good.  And to have this, we need to pay taxes—everyone.

As we all know, there are two sides to government money, the spending side and the taxing side.  They should balance.  It seems they seldom do.   When it comes to government, there always seems to be a shortage of money and overtaxing.

Here’s the problem short and simple: representatives are not elected to deal with the big picture, to do what’s best for the nation as a whole.  They’re elected to take care of their own—local and special interest groups—those who give to their election and re-election campaigns.

Secondly, we ourselves, the average voter on the street, are also not interest in what is best for the nation as a whole.  For example, it may be a wise and good thing for the nation as a whole for the government to cancel certain contracts that feed directly into what Eisenhower called the nation’s military industrial complex; but those who would lose their jobs if this were done, will have none of that and will immediately vote out any representative who would dare think of it.  In short, our real voting attitude goes something like this; “To hell with what’s good for the nation, I want what’s good for me and mine.”

Another problem is the egregiously complicated tax code.  The more complicated a tax system is, the more potential there is for its abuse and misuse.  Not to mention the potential for just plain ole unintended mistakes.

Perhaps our representatives, when adding, changing, or renewing our tax laws, should ask the following questions:

  • Does this tax law keep things simple and uncomplicated?  That is, can anyone with a simple High School education understand its requirements so as to easily comply with its expectations?
  • Is it inclusive enough; that is, does it spread the tax burden in such a way that the majority of taxpayers are paying it, so as to not unfairly favor special interest groups?
  • Then there is the question of social and economic justice.  With respect to the second question above, there is the delicate issue of differences in ability and opportunity.  Those who have more, may indeed have to pay more, while those who have little or nothing may require a helping hand.  Thus a core question is this: is this tax law a fundamentally just one, fair and balanced?

A strong democratic government must have a healthy tax code.  That is, it needs to be short and simple, and should spread the tax burden as fairly as possible—not favoring the rich and powerful—while also being considerate of those who have little or nothing.

It really shouldn’t be that difficult to come up with a fair and just tax code.  But then again, as Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “What is Truth,” implying that Truth is next to impossible to define let alone know; we might also ask, “What is Economic Justice?” which seems just as impossible for us to define and know—though Jesus reply to Pilate suggests that it is our own willful and stubborn hearts that keep us from knowing the Truth (and, I might add, keeps us from realizing true economic justice).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Job Application: Must Disclose Personal Facebook Pages! Is This Right? Is This America?

Should businesses have the right to demand from their employees and prospective employees that they be given free access to employee’s private and personal Facebook pages and other social media accounts, before being hired, or to maintain one’s employment once hired?  If so, does this not amount to Corporations becoming the ubiquitous Big Brother—always watching, giving no privacy, stripping down personal boundaries?

Are we becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of Total Surveillance—George Orwell’s Big Brother is watching you—presumably for the good of Society, not to mention the good of the State and Company?

For the sake of safety and security, might we not be giving over too much?  Don’t businesses and corporations already have enough power?  Why should they also be given carte blanche access to an employee’s personal life via their Facebook or twitter accounts—access to casual everyday connections, personal though strangely public, communication between family and friends where we are supposedly free to ‘let our hair down’ and ‘be ourselves’?

“If I have nothing to hide, why should I worry,” one might say.  I say, let’s not be naïve.  Individuals have strong opinions, passionate likes and dislikes, and can negatively react towards thoughts and ideas that do not fit their viewpoint.  Corporations, companies, and businesses are no different.  Do we really think that there is no chance that we might not lose a job, fail to gain a promotion or obtain a transfer to a better position as a result of something we may have said on Facebook?  Oh Wait!  It’s already happened.  Been there, done that.  A school teacher loses her job for making pejorative and negative comments about her students on Facebook, out of exasperation.  Can you relate?  Anyone have sympathy for her?

We have a bad day at work, the boss was severely unjust and even oppressive; we say as much on Facebook—to our close friends, family members.  The next day, we’re called into the office.  We’re sacked.  Is this just?  Is it right?  Is there no place within our modern day social-media context where we can safely express our feelings, speak our thoughts, even admit our anger at someone, without repercussion for doing so?  Do we not have a right to social-media privacy, or is that just too much of an oxymoron for us to handle?

What about statements we may have made or may make about politics, about politicians that we like or dislike?  Is it right that we should fail to obtain a job because the company to which we submitted an application also required us to divulge our personal Facebook page, and thus they discover we support politicians who do not support said company with favored tax-break laws?  Is this just?  Is this real freedom of speech?  Is it freedom at all with Business Big Brother watching over us like that?

Of course, criminals, murderers, thieves, enemies and terrorists, they work best at night, behind dark shadows, that is to say, secretively, undercover, incognito, anonymously, on the sly, cloaked in layers of lies.  So we need some transparency and openness.  But we need it on both sides.  The power to know, to see, to uncover, and to force disclosure cannot be all one sided, as if corporations and big business are all innocent and squeaky clean while only lone Individuals are the sole threat to society.  Corporations can abuse and misuse privy information as much as any individual can.

Thus, it seems to me that our lawmakers should give some thought as to limiting how much businesses, companies and corporations can demand access to employee’s Facebook pages, twitter accounts, and so-on, especially as a front-end hiring procedure.  Unless, we really do think that Total Surveillance is the way to go, and we are thus willing to give up all right to privacy, forego all personal boundaries, and discard real freedom of speech.

Monday, March 4, 2013

National Sequester and the Blame Game: Who’s Fault Is It

There are always two sides to a story.  And, if it is about guilt, one side is never absolutely innocent or completely in the wrong.  And so, yes, Democrats AND Republicans are at fault.  Both parties must share the blame for our nation’s financial problems—but not equally.

The fact is that guilt is seldom, if ever, shared equally between two opposing parties.  One side usually tips the scale in the measure of stubbornness, recalcitrance, uncooperativeness, hate, spite, or meanness, or whatever.  In this case, I believe the Republicans are the ones being unjustifiably hardnosed and pigheaded about negotiating.

As I see it, the Republicans in Congress have been more or less inflexible from the get-go.  They want to make Obama look as if he’s the evil, pinched-nosed, obdurate fixated one.  He’s not.  I hear Obama calling for real, rational, and reasonable spending-cuts AND increased means of adding revenue by shoring up tax-loop-holes for the wealthy, for example.  But the Republicans in Congress will have none of it.  Claiming that they’ve already given-in some, they now want to see only cuts!  And we, the average middle-class guy living on Main Street, must pay for it.  That is neither reasonable nor considerate.  Indeed, they now seem glad that the fiscal cliff sequester is here and are downplaying its potential negative effects on the economy.

Most American’s believe Obama’s approach is in fact reasonable and acceptable.  So why are the Republicans in Congress not respecting the majority of Americans?  They say that they stand for a true democracy.  They say that they are for the people.  They say that they are only thinking of what is best for America.  But their actions speak otherwise.  For whom are they really working?  Big money, the powerful, the super-wealthy, who?!

Furthermore, speaking to my brothers and sisters in the Lord, I wonder why so many support the congressional Republican financial agenda when the Bible makes it very clear that we are to be mindful of the poor and needy?  Rightwing Christian Republican conservatives speak so passionately about bringing back moral order, with respect to things like abortion, gay marriage, etc.  Yet, regarding moral issues, the worst that Jesus said for example, regarding the woman caught in adultery was, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the one to cast the first stone” and Woman where are those who condemn you?  Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.  [See John 8:1-11]  But as to the rich, wealthy, and powerful Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Go figure!  [See Matthew 19:16-24]

Note also Micah 6:8, "And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  Likewise in Zechariah: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.  Do not plot evil against each other.”  [See Zechariah 7:1-14]