Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Many Thanks

to everyone who has been linking to this site.

I'd like to single out Steve Hart (no relation) at http://www.theopinionmill.com/ who shares a distinct desire to see honesty returned to politics (if it was every truly there).

I'm also more than a bit happy to see that the Corzine Connection has linked to me. I fully support Mr. Corzine's run for the Governorship. If anyone with the Senator likes what they see here - let me say bluntly that I am looking for employment.

Thanks to everyone else who has been coming and posting comments. For those who come and don't post comments, you are surely welcome, too.


Don't Sleep Until You Read This

Warning - some "bad" words are used. Put away your sensibilities, prepare to have your faith threatened and strengthened, then read this


Legislating from the Jury Box

If there’s a more serious job a common person can do that sitting on a jury, I can’t think of it. You quite literally hold a person’s life in your hands. Not only are you judging the person on trial, but also the victim, their families, and everyone who knows them.

This was brought home to be a few years ago when my brother was arrested for domestic violence. Despite testimony that showed his accuser too drunk to know who was in the room with her and further testimony that put my brother in the next county at the time of the attack, he came very close to being convicted and spending a significant amount of time in prison. As it was he spent several months locked in a county jail awaiting trial.

I’m thankful that at least some of the jurors put aside their feelings and judged the case according to the facts. The result was a hung jury – which is only slightly better than a guilty verdict. The district attorney, who had actually paid his attacker to come to court, was set to re-try the case. My brother did what too many poor men are forced to do when they can’t come up with the ten thousand dollars necessary to hire an attorney – he let the public defender cut a plea bargain for him.

Despite all of this, my brother is fortunate. He will soon be off of probation and can go about his life as a free man – albeit one with a hell of a bad memory never far from the front of his mind. Some men are not so lucky. The rhetoric used to describe anyone who has been accused of a crime makes sure that there is a permanent stigma attached to them regardless of what the jury says. Ten thousand dollars is a high price to pay for a shot at clearing your name.

The problem is that some people simply insist on bringing other experiences and knowledge into the jurors’ deliberation room. That is a violation of the entire principal of trial by jury and justice before the law. Such a problem was taken up by the Colorado Supreme Court recently when it overturned the death penalty handed down in the case of Robert Harlan. It seems that some of the jurors had written Bible verses down and snuck them into the deliberation room to influence the rest of the jury to come back with the penalty they preferred.

It worked. Reading “an eye for an eye” endlessly and locking up the jury until they all agreed ensured that Robert Harlan was sentenced to death. Fortunately, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that introducing non-legal matter into the deliberations invalidated the verdict. Harlan will now spend his life in prison rather than be put to death because a minority believed they knew better than the law what to do with his case.

I do support the death penalty – in theory. However, if it is to be used, it should never be because a juror was browbeaten into submission. I also support using Christian principals for helping you in all decisions you face. However, I do not support using only part of the Bible to justify an action. The Bible must be taken hermeneutically – which is a big way of saying that every part of it must be in perfect agreement with every other part. Sneaking in a few verses that back up your pre-determined verdict is not the way a Christian should behave.

I’ll even go further and say that those jurors who went around the legal system should be charged with abuse of power. It would be one thing if they had sent a note to the judge and asked if they could use the Bible. They didn’t because they knew they’d be turned down. Instead, they betrayed their public trust and put themselves above the rule of law. I’m sure they are now screaming to high Heaven about “judges legislating from the bench”.

Of course, this isn’t what happened. The judges merely prevented them from subverting democracy by legislating from the jury room. For too many people today, simply enforcing the law fairly is now considered to be an infringement of their rights. This sprouts from the irresponsible ideology of selfishness known as Objectivism that holds any action that restrains an individual as being wrong. It is a godless theory and one that is responsible for destroying the moral fabric of the country.

At least for now, we can find some comfort in judges that believe in equality and the rule of law. God help us if we lose them, too.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Would Jesus Flip the Switch?

The replies I received on the William Payton case made me do some hard thinking. Is it possible for a just society to have a death penalty? There are two answers to that: one is political and one is theological. My belief is that the political should be derived from the Bible, but not dictated by it. Theology should guide politics, but it should not define politics.
Looking to the Bible, then, we find the Old Testament has many instances where death is not only seen as morally right as an option, but it is the only morally right option allowed. While I do not want to see anyone impose the Law of Moses on modern society, it does give us some insight on how God looks at man’s life. It is precious, yes, but it can also be forfeit righteously.
As Christians, we like to think all that was changed by Jesus. His great commandments were “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “love each other as I have loved you”. He taught forgiveness, not retribution. He told his followers to settle any issue with their neighbors before it went to the courts. If they want the shirt off your back, give them your pants as well.
It is important to realize, however, that Jesus was not setting out a political discourse. He was directing individuals on how to behave in their dealings with one another. He did not say, “If a thief takes your wallet, give him your ATM card as well.” Nor did he say, “If a man slays your wife, open your daughter’s door to him as well.” He was not talking about settling criminal behavior with total forgiveness.
When the Pharisees sought to trick him, they brought him a woman who they accused of adultery. The penalty for this under Mosaic Law was death – not only for the woman, but for the man as well. When Jesus saw that no man was charged, he demanded that her accusers provide proof of her actions. They fell away, and Jesus did not say the woman was forgiven, but “I find no fault in you, either.” In other words, it takes two to tango and I’m not going to find fault with only one of the dancers. With no evidence, Jesus refused to convict.
It is significant that there is no record of Jesus participating in a stoning and many instances of him stopping them. It is also significant that he did not speak against the death penalty of his day. Rather, he intervened on behalf of those who were singled out for it because of their place in society. You should not be executed because you are poor, black, female, or ugly. Execution should be reserved only for the guilty – even if they are pretty, white, and wealthy.
There are crimes so heinous that they demand the death of the one who acted. Jesus said plainly that we should pluck out an evil eye or chop off an evil hand. If society is the body of mankind, then those who murder innocents are the evil limbs we should prune. It is a cold blooded manner of viewing the world, but the world is a cold blooded place.
I believe there is ample room in a liberal theology of Christianity to approve of a very limited use of the death penalty. William Payton lived on death row for twenty-four years and had plenty of time to repent and save his soul. Karla Faye Tucker lived on death row fourteen years and also had plenty of time to repent and save her soul. That is mercy. It is an infinite amount more merciful than the warning any of their victims had.
The method of their death will also be much more merciful than that of their victims. Payton snuck into the room of a fellow boarding house dweller and raped her before stabbing her with a butcher knife. He then went to the owner of the house’s room and stabbed her in her sleep while her ten year old son watched. When he screamed, Payton stabbed him so hard he snapped the knife blade. He then went downstairs to get anther knife and finish the job. Tucker used a pick axe to kill a man who had let oil drip onto her carpet and his one-night-stand girlfriend. Tucker claimed she had an orgasm every time she sank the pick axe into her victims.
Both of these people claim they are now Christians and work inside prison to lead others to Christ. It’s valuable work that should be applauded. I’m certain that Jesus will credit them with their efforts. I suppose you could argue that it was worth having such a slow and tortuous process to allow them to find salvation and share it with others.
Tucker’s last words were “I am going to be face to face with Jesus now.” Compared to the screams of horror each of the victims spent their last seconds releasing, this is much more mercy than either Tucker or Payton deserve in this world.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Batter UP! Carol Marsh Fights for the Little Guy

In New Jersey, dirty politics is about as noteworthy as pollution. It’s a huge problem that effects all of us, but it simply happens too often to take much notice. Until, that is, someone steps up for the little guy and slaps the ball into the bleachers.
That someone is currently sitting on the Hoboken City Council and goes by the name of Carol Marsh. She was elected four years ago and charged with the public trust of making the City Council become a zealous guardian of the aggregate interest. She has struggled valiantly. Not only did she help keep taxes down, but she also fought to curb spending. Apparently she understands that you can’t hold down revenue and raise spending.
Unfortunately, Mayor David Roberts does not understand this. It isn’t that Mr. Roberts is a bad guy – there is a lot to like about the former firefighter. He just hasn’t been that good of a mayor. Since his election four years ago, spending has increased almost fifty percent to where his budget under proposal now reaches seventy-four million dollars. This is in a town that is spread out over only one square mile! By my calculations, Mayor Roberts is proposing to spend about three dollars per square foot of Hoboken.
The problem is that Hoboken simply doesn’t have the money to pay for this much government. Since New Jersey law bans municipalities from acting like the federal government and mandates that they have a balanced budget, you would think that this would mean that Mayor Roberts would have to cut some of the fat in his budget. You’d be wrong.
What his plan entails is simply selling off municipal facilities. If the facilities were not in use, this might be a good idea. However, the plan he now has before the City Council is to sell the parking garage where city vehicles are housed. The more than seven million dollars the sale will rake in will allow him to continue spending as if there is no tomorrow. Part of that spending, of course, is leasing back the same building he just sold. This is like taking out a second mortgage to pay your electric bill.
The only thing stopping him is the minority members on the City Council, including Carol Marsh, would have to vote to sell the garage – and she isn’t willing to do it. Instead, she is mounting her own campaign to win the mayor’s seat in the upcoming May election. She has put together a top notch crew to support her as well. They include Ines Garcia-Keim, Tony Soares, and Brian Urbano.
Each of these wonderful people are willing to put themselves into the public spotlight in order to fight for the working men and women of Hoboken. Soares is already a member of the City Council and has stood shoulder to shoulder with Marsh in her fight to give Hoboken the government it deserves. Garcia-Keim is a founding Board Member of the Hoboken Charter School and has worked as an advocate for protecting Hoboken through the Fund for a Better Waterfront, the Hoboken Historical Society, and the Quality of Life Coalition. Urbano is also an activist who has used his legal talents to push for Pay-to-Play legislation that would cut down on the ability of corrupt politicians to reward greedy patrons.
One of the surprising developments has been the opposition’s willingness to throw any mud possible at this quartet of giant-slayers. Urbano was even called a Republican at one point (and that is a very dirty word in this heavily Democratic county) despite the fact that he provided an extensive amount of legal assistance to the Kerry campaign and has been endorsed locally by Democracy For America – started by Howard Dean to help finance municipal politicians that support Democratic principals.
If Urbano and Marsh are traitors to the Democratic Party, then it is only because the Hudson County Democratic Party must be more interested in enriching their friends than in upholding the sacred trust of public office. Traitors like these we need more of. Perhaps if we get enough of them we can actually turn holding a government office into an honorable profession again.

You can contribute to the Marsh for Mayor effort here

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hanging Justice on a Cross

In case you haven’t seen it for some time, the scales of justice are hung from the hands of a blind woman – not a crucifix.
The symbolic nature of what is included and missing is not a mistake. Jesus offered absolution for all crimes – sin – through willingly taking it upon himself. Lady Justice merely offers to weigh the facts of a case and to be blind to all else. That the two are very different could not be more apparent yet many people try and find a synthesis of the two that suits their particular needs.
One way of doing this is to claim that the crucifix trumps the scales of justice. This was what happened in the case of William Payton where attempts were made to overturn his conviction and death sentence based on the fact that he converted to Christianity after his crime. Exactly why someone should be excused from the just sentence of his crime for converting afterwards is never really discussed. Perhaps it is supposed to be inherently understood that Christians should not be executed for crimes they committed before they became Christians. If so, I must have missed it.
This is why I insist that a liberal theology of Christianity would allow our morality to be our guide. To simply impose a New Testament Biblical version of theocracy would indeed entitle Mr. Payton to his freedom for his conversion. After all, if Jesus can forgive his sins, then why can man not do the same? If Mr. Payton is forgiven, and his sins are set apart from him as east is from west, then it would be morally wrong to kill him.
The purpose of a prison ministry should not be finding a way to get people out of prison. The purpose should be saving their souls, even if their bodies are damned. For those who will get out, it should help focus them on preparing for a Christian life afterwards. For those who will die there, it should focus on comforting them with the knowledge that even their heinous crimes can be forgiven by God.
That’s the crux of the matter. The crimes are forgiven by God – not man. Nor should they be. I am generally a forgiving person and can learn to live with almost any slight that I have been dealt. However, someone who rapes my wife or daughter or kills any member of my family has earned by enmity as long as I am on this earth. It is not merely about wanting to revenge myself on someone who wronged me – although I will admit that part of me would welcome the opportunity. It is also about protecting the rest of the community.
The vast majority of deaths are mistakes – either committed in foolishness or passion. I’m willing to accept that a person can learn to be careful or control their emotions better. However, the law already acknowledges this by the creation of manslaughter and second-degree murder. Someone who willingly takes another person’s life and is guilty of first-degree murder is simply someone who is too dangerous to society to be turned back out on the streets. I’ve often wondered how the parole board would feel about some of the people they release renting a room from them. Somehow, I think that would trigger a much stronger review of cases.
It is also a fact that someone who commits a sexual crime is almost sure to do so again if they get the opportunity. One of my many jobs was working for a psychologist who contracted for a behavioral therapy program for sexual offenders. His professional opinion, after almost forty years of this work, was that it was better to offer these individuals a “357 cure”. That’s where you shoot them in the back of the head with a 357 until they stop twitching. Why we consider rape a lower crime than murder, I simply don’t understand.
As Christians, I think we have a duty to those who are incarcerated. That duty is to carry the word of God to them and work to save their immortal soul. However, when we start trying to impose the forgiveness of Jesus onto the justice system, we have ceased doing the work of God. Christians do not deserve a special place in society for their faith. If they are able to, they should earn one on an individual basis.

Milestones and Thanks

My thanks to everyone who has been dropping by. This week has been the most productive in my short history. Since Monday, over a hundred people have visited this blog. That includes over eighty first-time visitors (most of whom are only surfing through), but also an average of sixteen return visitors a day. In addition, more people are beginning to feel comfortable posting comments. Thanks to Joan, Street Philosopher, Progressive Traditionalist, and several anonymous posters. A great big thank-you to No More Apples, who has twice linked to my posts.
In the grand scale of things, this is a very small step. It is encouraging, though. It’s a milestone. I’ve always believed that there were more people out there like me. It’s nice to know I wasn’t deluded.
I’ll also use this time to point out that you can email posts to whoever you like by clicking on the mail icon at the bottom of each post. Any of you bloggers who know how I can allow readers to opt-in to an auto-update feature, please let me know.
From the bottom of my heart – thank you all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

where would Jesus park?

It is disheartening for someone like me. I try my best to show that Christianity can be a modern and enlightened religion. I try to show that Christians do not put themselves above the rest of society. I also try to show that Christians are as deserving of respect as any other group. Then I read about things like this.
I don’t usually go to church. I do, however, live within a few hundred yards of two churches. One of them has a parking lot that is much too small for the number of worshipers and the other has no parking lot at all. For either of them to expand parking is beyond the question – just the price of real estate in Jersey City makes it a non-option. What this means is that Sunday mornings around here sometimes resemble a parking lot – especially when you consider the municipal park across the street has an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, and a couple of little league baseball parks.
Sharing parking is just one fact of life in the big city. In general, residential areas are not metered, although some places have special resident parking stickers that they pay extra for to guarantee they can park their cars. Building cities around economic hubs ensures that a dearth of parking will exist at the exact times when people will try and use them. If I can’t find parking on my street, I have to use the metered spots around the corner. I don’t even get a break for being a resident.
I don’t know who Fernando Ferrer is, but he’s making a stupid argument. Parking meters are simply a means of making sure that everyone has equal access to sparse parking. They are not a form of taxation and the churches are not being singled out. He is simply trying to make political hay by being divisive. He deserves all the scorn that can possibly be heaped upon him for doing so. It would be one thing to push for a parking meter free Sunday for everyone. Claiming people in church have a more legitimate claim to parking than everyone else is simply infantile. (I, for one, wonder how the parking cop is supposed to know if a certain car belongs to someone inside a church or not.)
I personally think that Raving Atheist is probably taking some license with the quotes from the politicians in his blog. Mayor Bloomberg has, like every other politician, been extraordinarily nice to people who go to church. I honestly can imagine him telling someone to shove a vote up her ass, but perhaps AR was hearing off the record remarks. If so, they probably should have remained off the record. It is also possible that he simply means to write sarcastically and attributes his own feelings to others. Whether they were actually made by the politicians or if the meaning of their words was extrapolated to a more volatile prose is really irrelevant to me.
What is important to me is the way it reveals how some people view the community of faith. What is going to be surprising to some is that I am somewhat supportive of this view. At least, I understand what he is complaining about. We actually have a common cause in exposing people who are trying to use their religion as an excuse for preferential treatment. I have no problem denouncing someone who claims they are being discriminated against simply because they are being treated like everyone else.
Reading the news stories that AR links to, it seems like the Mayor is already doing more than he has to do. He offered to put in two-hour meters around the church so church-goers can pay their parking and not worry about having to run out and feed the meter. I think the churches in question may actually be missing an opportunity to show how a community of faith can work to everyone’s good. They should open a parking-meter ministry and take turns dropping quarters into parking meters for people otherwise occupied. I’m sure there are a few people who would appreciate it.
Of course, if you are really looking for solutions rather than problems, the church could raise money to pay for car-pooling. This would help alleviate the parking problem and still get everyone to church. Perhaps a church van would be helpful for this. Honestly, there are about a dozen ways to solve the problem I can come up with off the top of my head. None of them entail standing up and demanding special treatment from the government.
Jesus taught, “render unto Caesar that who Caesar provides”. In this case, Caesar is named “Bloomberg”. If you want to use the streets he is responsible for maintaining, you better follow his rules.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dying and Living Consistently

Terry Schiavo is dying. No matter whether you think this is premature or past due that fact remains. The further fact of the matter is that any shred of decency the woman once had has long been stripped away from her. The very process that sought to protect her – and both sides can legitimately claim that as their goal – has turned her into a mockery of herself and made a cause of a person.
In an ideal world, we would all die peacefully. We would be surrounded by family and friends and they would bear witness as the grace of saints descends upon us. The peace that passes all understanding would soften the lines in our faces and our eyes would be bright with hope as we passed away. A few tears would be shed by those who will miss us. Then everyone would embrace and agree that we are in a better place and go about celebrating the wonder of our life by gathering and rejoicing in our Savior’s promise.
This, of course, is not that world.
Terry Schiavo is not surrounded by family because her family is busy being dragged from one court room to another. Instead of spending their time loving her by remembering the joy of her life, they are locking themselves into a straightjacket fashioned by the manner of her death. Instead of turning to each other for comfort, they are turning on each other in blame.
These wounds will not heal quickly. They go much too deep and have ripped out far too much of the hope that forces us onward. No one around her will ever think of death as escaping from a cruel world into the arms of her Savior. No, they will see death as a battle to be fought and doomed to end in failure. There will be no hope in their view of death, only despair.
My personal belief is that it is the morally right thing to do to let her body die. It is also my personal belief that it is morally wrong to do so by simply removing nourishment. It is true that the few extra days of medical bills are not needed, but money is a poor reason to argue for someone’s life. The real reason is that it is a person that we are dealing with, and, in those cases when it is necessary to end a life, it should be done with dignity and mercy.
I am not so naïve as to believe that this will miraculously open a “national dialogue” on the right to die. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the two sides of the political matter will be even further apart and do everything possible to vilify the other side. It would do us well to remember at this time that Satan began as an angel who saw himself above the rest of the angels, and eventually above God. It would do us well to ratchet down the rhetoric and ratchet up the commitment to each other.
What I do hope is that, regardless of the political outcome, individuals use this example – this horrible example – as a reason to speak to each other about what their life means and what they want from it. I hope that husbands and wives embrace and promise to respect each other’s wishes about when the proper time to hold them ends and the proper time to release them begins. Those of us with elderly parents should use the opportunity to consider the same questions regarding their lives.
Those of us who believe that it should be possible to refuse medical treatment and chose a dignified death that does not ruin our heirs economically should use this as a time to discuss exact measures that would allow that to happen. Those of us who believe that life is so precious that it should be defended beyond any economic reckoning should begin to discuss exactly how it is possible to do so. Both sides should find common ground on how it is possible to provide adequate medical care for those of us who are not yet in such condition to no longer make our own decisions.
If both sides can agree that human life is precious and deserves dignity, not only throughout life, but in death as well, then this is the only course of action we can honestly take. We cannot continue to turn our mercy on and off like a spigot. One family in Florida is ruined because we do not have the spine to demand a consistent implementation of this belief. That is one too many.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More on Schiavo

Here are some other places to check for their take on this case:

Ono's Thoughts


I'm a Christian, too


Obsidian Wings

No More Apples

Can we have some spine?

As if I had any doubts, the actions of Congress and the President have proven to me that there is no such thing as a Conservative in the Republican Party. Worse (I actually never really favored Conservatives anyway), there is no one with a brain left in their head to actually think through the ramifications of what they are making law.
I must again claim willing ignorance in the case of Terry Schiavo. Simply put, I have too many other things going on to dig into her life. I do know that she is being kept alive by a feeding tube, but can breathe on her own. I’m not sure exactly what is medically considered “a continually vegetative state” or whatever they want to call it this week.
What I see is a Republican Party that is going to great lengths to extend their power into the personal lives of families. My wife and I have discussed what we want to happen should we be unable to be healed and return to a full life – we both want our physical life to be terminated. The Republican Party, however, believes that my wife and I are unable to make such a determination. Apparently, my wife and I will have to hire an attorney 24/7 to make sure all of our discussions are properly documented for future litigation.
The problem with the Republican Party “defending life” to this extreme is that they simply are not thinking about what it means beyond this case. If Terry Schiavo has a right to her life, even if she doesn’t want it, then every other person on earth has the same right to the life they do want. For the federal government to step in now only makes sense if they are ready to step into every single life and guarantee that no one every goes hungry or without medical care. This expense of this proposition is staggering.
The problem is also that it fails to address two propositions that might actually make the case about a humanitarian effort. The first one is that there is no way a doctor can legally hasten Mrs. Schiavo’s death. Rather than granting her the same humane death that the State of Florida uses to execute heinous criminals, she must starve to death. Why should a man who kidnaps, rapes, tortures, and kills a seven-year-old girl be granted greater mercy than a woman whose only fault was a dietary imbalance and no immediate access to health care?
The second is the possibility that human stem cells might hold a cure for Mrs. Schiavo. My understanding is that her cerebral cortex is damaged. One of the possible uses for stem cells is to rebuild such damage. How can we say that Mrs. Schiavo has a right to live, but not a right to a treatment that would help her become fully functional? Again, a man who kidnaps, rapes, tortures, and kills a seven-year-old girl will be offered rehabilitative care if he is injured in prison – why should an innocent woman be any different?
The only reasonable answer to these questions is that they don’t really care about Mrs. Schiavo as a person – they only care about her as a cause. Anyone who really didn’t want to see her suffer would seek either her full rehabilitation or her merciful death. There is no reasonable way to defend the idea that she can die – but only through the most painful method available.
To argue that the legislation only applies to this case is simply false as well. If the government’s ability to interfere in this case is upheld, then it holds that right for every case. The only question that remains is how to determine to which cases it should apply.
I understand that it must be hard to let go of your child – and I pray that I never have to make that decision. I don’t blame Mrs. Schiavo’s parents any more than I do Mr. Schiavo. Both are simply trying to do what they believe someone they love would want. I do blame, first the Florida legislature and governor, and now the federal Congress and President for not having the personal strength to look into the family’s eyes and say, “I agree with you, but this is not a case for the federal government.”
Strength of character, it seems, is still in short supply in Washington.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Apologies and Request

My apologies for the lack of posts for the last few days. I'm now preparing to present a scholarly paper at a professional conference, read several lengthy works in preparation of moderating a panel at the same conference, prepare for a comprehensive exam in American politics, hammer out a dissertation proposal, gather information and sources for a paper on theoretical roots of religion in the Enlightenment and another on the qualitative use of rhetoric as an indication of political ideology in taxation policy. Oh yeah, I'm also trying to help a local grassroots organization get off the ground (although they did just fine without me), tie into a few other movements afoot in the area, work at a federal Senator's office twice a week, keep house, do the laundry, clean up after the pukey cat, and still find enough time to be a decent husband to a wife who is way way way way more understanding and loving that I ever had right to hope for (I love you, baby).

I've also taken it upon myself to submit at least one op-ed per week for publication, maintain a daily blog entry, and continue to work as chief Democratic moderator at the Unitedstates.com bulletin board.

Um, to be fair, I also like to spend some time playing City of Heroes.

I'll try and do better. If you do find me not posting, please click on someone in the blog list. Honestly, I suggest clicking a few of them anyway. Not all of them update daily, but they are generally of good quality. Some of them are even funny.

Thanks everyone for the support and encouragement.


Death, Dying, and Prayers.

As a Christian, I have no fear of death. I’m not racing to get there as quickly as possible, but I have faith that when I die there will be no need to have feared it. I can’t pretend to know what Heaven will be like, but I’m hoping it will have biscuits and gravy for breakfast, chicken fried steak for lunch and bar-b-q brisket for dinner.
Why I do fear is the manner in which I will die. A few years back, I made a list of all the people I had known that were now dead. It was a morbid and sobering exercise. Some of them died peacefully – like my grandpa who went to sleep and never woke up. Some of them died horribly – like my friend in Florida who got up one night to see what a noise was and ended up being murdered with a butcher knife.
The worst death I know of, though, is one that I watched over a span of time. My mother remarried when I was in eighth grade and her husband, Fred, was the first man who ever really tried to be a father to me. My view of him ranged from emulation and adoration to hatred and contempt. I suppose that is what it often means to be a teenager. I would not, however, wish his manner of dying on anyone.
Fred was a dialysis patient. He had lost his kidneys to disease after a horse fell on top of him. He lived almost twice as long as kidney patients were supposed to live back then and, for the most part, he was a great guy. He was a tough old bastard and I admire the way he fought back against his disability. It can’t be easy to feel your body filling up with waste over the weekend while you wait for your turn for dialysis. I can’t say he managed it with grace, but he did breathe life into the “do not go softly into that good night” line.
During Christmas break of my senior year in high school, I rode a greyhound bus down to my uncle’s for the holidays. I ended up coming back ahead of schedule because Fred had yet another heart attack and Mom needed help with the livestock. I spent the next several weeks going to school, tending livestock, and watching Mom go back and forth between the farm and the hospital in some kind of vain hope that her activity would breathe life back into her husband.
Fred’s brother was deaf from birth, and his family learned to finger-spell so they could communicate with him. I learned it from Fred, which turned out to be a sort of damnation for me. The last few weeks he spent in the hospital, Fred was on just about every machine known to man. After he tried several times to yank out his IV, breathing tube, feeding tube, and God only knows what else, they tied his hands to the bed rail. The only way he could communicate with all the tubes shoved down his mouth was by finger-spelling.
I stood there, not quite eighteen, and watched this man that had formed so much of my opinion of what a man should be as his eyes glazed over a bit more day by day with fear. When I was there, he would shift his eyes back and forth quickly to get my attention and look down at his hands. I stood there and read his fingers out loud for the doctors and nurses.
“R – A – T – S,” I said, watching him point at the ceiling then close his eyes as a fearful tear dripped down his face.
“C – E – I – L – I – N – G,” I said slowly. I looked up and didn’t see anything. He jerked his hand against the rail to get me to look down again.
“M – O – U – T – H.”
The nurse stared at me and I throat closed so tight I could barely speak. “He says the rats on the ceiling are falling in his mouth.” He nodded vigorously, shook his whole body and moaned. The tears streamed down from both his eyes. Mine, too.
I did that over and over for a couple of weeks until his body got too weak even for the machine to force it to work. I watched as his eyes lost all light and his body grew horrifyingly still. Mom held his hand and whispered, “I’m here,” until either me or my brother Will - I’m not sure which one it was - pulled her away from his lifeless shell.
I’ve thought about this scene too many times in my life. It comes back to me every time I see a loved one dying. It has been a living, breathing companion over the last few weeks as the courts and legislatures debate the fate of Terry Schiavo. I won’t pretend to know all the facts, and I really don’t care. I only hope that she isn’t aware of what is going on around her. I really can’t imagine a more horrific prison than being in an unresponsive body that refuses to die.
My most heartfelt prayer is that I never come to that. Right behind it is the prayer that if I do, someone will put a gun to my head and keep pulling the trigger until there are no more bullets left to fire. Mercy killing or murder won’t matter to me. Whether or not God can forgive someone for such an action I can’t say. For my part, there will be nothing to forgive.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Realistically Teaching about Sex

For a society as obsessed with sex as America is, we are woefully inadequate in preparing our children for living a healthy sexual life. The rate of teen pregnancies is appalling – especially considering that it is twice as high as the UK and nine times as high as Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Moreover, American teenagers become sexually active close to a year earlier than teens in the UK, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. This is true despite the US government spending billions on abstinence-only education programs.
From a general review of professional literature on sexual education, my best guess is that abstinence-only education convinces teens to delay their first sexual intercourse by a few months, perhaps even as much as a year. I, for one, am the first one in line to say that convincing a sixteen-year-old girl to wait another year is a good thing. I don’t think it’s good enough, though.
The same studies show that after that slight delay in their first sexual experience, teens who have had abstinence-only education tend to have as many sex partners as those with no sexual education at all. The big difference is that you see about a twenty percent or more drop in the percentage of sexually active kids who use any form of contraception. A program that delays sexual activity for a year only to place kids at a greater risk of STDs and pregnancy is nothing to cheer about.
Abstinence-first education is another matter. A comprehensive abstinence first program will stress that all forms of birth control are fallible other than abstinence. It will also stress that abstinence is the only way to be 100% sure that you will not contract an STD. Most programs stress a holistic approach to sexuality, meaning that it includes components for spiritual concerns, parental involvement, peer pressure refusal, and personal esteem. The result is an even greater delay in the first sexual encounter and an increased use of multiple methods of birth control.
Here’s the kicker. It has to be provided within a year prior to the person’s first sexual activity. This means that it would have to be an age-appropriate part of the curriculum from the time kids begin hitting puberty through the end of schooling. I stress “age-appropriate” because I don’t want anyone thinking I am advocating showing pornography in sixth grade. At the same time, we should not act like knowing where babies come from and the manner in which the human body develops is somehow evil or beyond the grasp of a sixth grader.
As a Christian, I understand that the Bible teaches sex outside of marriage is a sin. I accept this. However, my goal as a Christian is not to somehow stop people from sinning (an impossible goal) but to convince them that, even in their sin, that God loves them and wants to forgive their failings. I cannot do this to a dead person. Therefore, it is perfectly within my Christian ethics to teach kids how to use prophylactics (anyone embarrassed if I call a rubber a rubber?).
As a humanitarian and a liberal, my goal for society is to alleviate the worst social conditions – including poverty, hunger, and disease. Teaching a young person to behave responsibly with regards to their sexual urges is perfectly aligned with this goal. Teenage mothers have a much higher rate of dropping out of high school or college. This links them, for the most part, to low paying jobs. It is, in fact, one of the hardest links in the chain of poverty to break.
But the truth of the matter is that sexual health is ultimately about making responsible decisions about what to do with and to your body. We have to make it clear that abstinence is 100% effective – even if it makes us sound un-cool or trite or stupid. We have to make it clear that any move from that safety involves risks. There are ways to lessen the risks, but once taken a risk cannot be given back.
We have to move away from putting our heads in the sand because we are uncomfortable with our teenagers doing exactly what we did at their age. If nothing else, speaking honestly and educating young people realistically about sexuality will gain their trust and respect. As a parent, those are two gifts from my children that I value above all else.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Give the Cashier a Piece of the Crop

Somewhere today, a worker is working. In return for his work, his boss gives him a certain amount of pay. If the worker is productive enough, his boss will be able to make a profit by charging slightly more for the finished product than what he pays the worker to make it. This is a good thing.
In a complex economy, things get harder to trace. Which worker is producing the exact proper amount and how to maximize profit are topics that have business gurus raking in the bucks at the bargain book rack. The basic truth remains: the worker gets paid slightly less than the market value of the item. It’s a Biblical principle called, “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.
Actually, Paul puts it this way, “It is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.' ...the plowman should plow and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop." (I Cor. 9:9-10; cf. Deut. 25:4). In the days when practically everyone was involved in farming or was at least close enough to it to see it at work, everyone understood what he meant. In a modern economy, it might not be so clear.
What it means, in simple terms, is that the boss should not get fat and rich off of the labors of his employees. It’s fine to earn a decent living. However, the plowman is entitled to a share of the crop. You might say that the computer programmer – or cashier – is entitled to a share of the profits.
Our economy is simply not geared this way. What we have is a system where the employer tells you how much you are going to receive. If you’re engaged in certain professions, you may have some limited ability to negotiate your salary. If you’re lucky, your company might cut you in with profit-sharing and/or bonuses. This still falls short of the Biblical imperative.
Since it was last raised in 1997, the real purchasing power of the minimum wage has been eroded by about eighty cents – about fifteen percent of the take. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, the minimum wage would now stand at $8.69. This means that in today’s dollars, a minimum wage worker gets paid about forty-one percent less than what was needed to keep pace with inflation.
Meanwhile, the lowest amount needed to break into the top five percent of household income in the United States (the floor for the top five percent) has risen by $65,044 after adjusting for inflation – an increase of seventy-three percent.
But those statistics mask the real problem. There is literally no limit on how much money someone can make. If I stand in a room with Bill Gates, on average everyone in the room is a billionaire. If you stick a doctor working eighty hours a week making $160,000 with a bunch of CEOs, the average income goes through the roof. Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott took home $22,991,599 in 2004 - including a $4.2 million bonus. For Mr. Scott, every hour of his work schedule he earns more than the equivalent of a minimum wage worker’s yearly wage. If he were to turn that money back over to the company, they could do one of the following: buy health insurance for more than eleven thousand workers, pay one year of daycare for over five thousand working moms, give 875 part-time workers a full-time job with benefits, or enroll twenty thousand workers in a pension plan.
The average worker at Wal-Mart makes $25,501 a year – which is substantially above minimum wage. However, once you figure that it takes nine hundred and one “average” workers to equal Mr. Scott’s pay, you start to see how skewed things really are. If you include Mr. Scott, then start adding only “average” workers until the entire compensation equals the “average” worker’s pay, you will add upwards of twenty-three thousand “average” workers. By including Mr. Scott’s astronomical pay in the equation, Wal-Mart employees look like they’re getting a much better deal than they really are.
Let’s be clear. I have no idea what Mr. Scott’s job entails. I have no idea how many hours he works. However, every dollar he takes home is built on the sweat of one of his “average” or minimum wage workers. According to the Bible, he owes them part of the money he is taking home. Every plowman earns a part of the crop – and every cashier earns a part of Mr. Scott’s $4.2 million bonus.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Who pays for your food?

My wife, like most Americans I suppose, thinks of the local grocery store when she talks about where we get our food. I know differently. I was raised in rural West Texas and Eastern New Mexico amid huge farms of cotton, soybeans, sunflowers, peanuts, and maize and quite a few cattle ranches. I know what it’s like to sit down at a table that is laden with food that was brought forth from the earth by your own sweat and God’s grace.
Anyone who takes their life from the land also knows what its like to loose it to the land. No man can predict the weather and rain usually comes in two amounts: too much or not enough. Still, the vast majority of America’s more than two million farms make it without any direct monetary aid from the federal government. Only about one-third of all farms in the past eight years have received federal subsidies. Of this amount, eighty percent received a total of less than seven thousand dollars – less than a thousand dollars per year.
While eighty percent of the farms on the bottom of the scale split thirteen percent of the federal aid, the top one percent receives twenty-three percent of it. Some thirty thousand mostly corporate agribusinesses have received over a million dollars each on average in the same eight year period. In 2003 alone, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation received subsidies in the excess of eleven million dollars. That was down from 2002 when they raked in fifteen million dollars in free government money.
Nor was Pilgrim’s Pride having financial problems. According to the company’s own documents, they posted sales of $2.6 billion in 2003, up from $2.5 billion in 2002. The net income in 2003 – the profit – was fifty-six million dollars. Since eleven million of that was government money, it was really only forty-five million dollars. This was the same year that Pilgrim’s Pride bought out ConAgra’s chicken industry, as well. To be fair, in 2002 Pilgrim’s Pride only made fourteen million dollars – which after you take back the government’s money would make it a loss of one million dollars – due in large part to avian flu scares and recalls of turkey products.
So, naturally, when the Republican controlled Congress starts looking for somewhere to cut spending, they automatically look at companies like Pilgrim’s Pride, right? Actually, they are intent on maintaining those subsidies and cutting nutritional aid to poor people instead. It seems like a perversion of common sense to give Pilgrim’s Pride several million to make turkey and chicken products; then turn around take more millions out of the hands of people who would actually buy those products.
This is not simply a “cut waste and fraud” type of cutting. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia freely admits that fraud in food stamps and nutritional supplement programs is already on the decline. This is despite the fact that only three-fifths of the people who could qualify for food assistance apply for it. In other words, we would have to increase spending by two-thirds to give everyone who needs it the current level of inadequate assistance for food.
To qualify for food stamps, a family of four had to have a gross income of less than $1,994 and a net income of less than $1,534. They could then receive a maximum amount of $471 worth of food assistance. If you work it out, that’s only $3.88 per person per day.
Perhaps the problem is that poor people simply don’t give Republicans enough money. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has donated over $670,000 in soft money to Republicans. In return, they received eleven million dollars in subsidies in 2003 and fifteen million in subsidies in 2002. That isn’t a bad return for the money. Lonnie Pilgrim, who named the company after himself, hasn’t been shy about supporting Republicans, either. Pete Sessions, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Trent Lott, and George W. Bush have all found Mr. Pilgrim to be exceedingly generous.
The Bible teaches us to be generous to the poor, not the rich. The Republican tendency to spray wealth upon the wealthy people that support them and beat up the little guy is nothing more than a full-scale machine. It has to be stopped.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Crucifying a Democratic Mayor by Any Means

The Republican Machine is trying to make sure that Florida stays a red state. If it was through legitimate means, that would be fine. However, the Florida Republican Machine is using the official tools of government to further their political cause. Where I’m from, this is called “corruption”.
The problem revolves around Mr. Ezzie Thomas, a retired television repairman and a man of some stature in Orlando’s black community. Last year he made the unfortunate mistake of working for a Democrat – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his campaign manager Patricia Beatty Phillips. Mr. Thomas was hired by Phillips, with Dyer’s consent, as a GOTV (get out the vote) consultant. His job was to convince Black voters that Dyer was worth waiting in line to cast a vote on election day, or at least worth filling out an absentee vote.
For a bit of history, Dyer took over as mayor when Florida Republican Machine Governor JEB Bush appointed three time mayor Glenda Hood to the vacant Secretary of State position. The position was vacant because Florida Republican Machine lackey Katherine Harris had left her office in the middle of an investigation over how she had illegally used state resources in her position as head of the George W. Bush 2000 campaign. You might recognize another name from this machine – new Senator Mel Martinez who was elevated to HUD Secretary by a thankful George W. Bush.
Martinez and Hood left behind a surprise deficit of $23 million deficit and managed to shift money around, make a few hard cuts, and turned it into a $3.5 million surplus. This should sound familiar because it’s what Democrats have become very good at – fixing Republican screw-ups. It’s actually the reverse of what has happened at the federal level where a Republican turned a surplus into a deficit.
Amazingly, Republicans’ mismanagement cost them the election, with Buddy Dyer getting 234 more votes than were needed for a runoff election. That means he beat his opponent by almost 5,000 votes. Or, to phrase it differently, almost 5,000 more Orlandoans thought a budget surplus rather than a deficit was a good thing. Dyer’s Florida Republican Machine cry-baby opponent immediately filed a complaint and a civil lawsuit against the mayor. He cried so loud that his big brother filed a criminal lawsuit over the same matter. For those of you that are counting, that’s three lawsuits filed over a MAYOR’S election.
The initial investigation was closed due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing – then suddenly reopened this week by Florida Republican Machine special prosecutor (remember Ken Starr) Brad King. Within days, an indictment was handed down, and Florida Republican Machine Governor JEB Bush had suspended Buddy Dyer as Mayor (as is required by Florida law for a public official under indictment) and Florida Republican Machine Councilman and mayor pro tem Ernest Page quickly stated that the council would meet within a week and set a new special election – which Dyer would not be able to participate in because of the indictment.
At issue is whether or not Mr. Thomas (remember Mr. Thomas?) illegally collected absentee ballots. Mayor Dyer has repeatedly stated that he did pay Mr. Thomas $10,000 as a GOTV consultant, but he did not have knowledge or oversee Mr. Thomas’s direct actions. Ms. Phillips concurs. The Florida Republican Machine doesn’t care. They just want to make sure that a Republican gets to be mayor of this town of 186,000 people – even if they have to cheat to do it.
As for Mr. Thomas, he simply says that he did what he was paid to do – help convince Black people to vote for Mayor Dyer. This was the same thing that he was hired by Glenda Hood (former mayor and new Secretary of State – remember?) to do. It is also the same thing he was hired by Senator Mel Martinez to do. The moral of the story – it’s good to work for Republicans and help them get elected, but if you do the same for Democrats we’ll put your butt in jail.
Having some bit of experience around political offices, I’m sure that Mayor Dyer and Ms. Phillips had no direct knowledge of how Mr. Thomas operated. I don’t know if Mr. Thomas violated any laws. Neither does the city-council who will try to oust him and have a jury-rigged election. State law declares that such action should only be taken if Mayor Dyer is convicted. This is nothing but a politically motivated power-grab by the Florida Republican Machine.
If the Democrats had any power in Washington, they could call for a federal investigation. As it is, Floridians must simply sit back and take it. They have to take the Mayor that the Florida Republican Machine decides they should have. This is just another example of how the National Republican Machine is making a move on key localities to shore up its ability to rig the next round of federal elections.

Friday, March 11, 2005

What is Liberty?

If a man exists totally on his own, way out on the prairie, then he is in a natural state of freedom. This is the image that the Conservative movement was built upon – that a man is naturally free and all imposition upon him by society is inherently evil. However, let’s be clear about what that naturally free man would be like.
Everything he wears, he would have to have made himself. This means that he is likely clad in ill-fitted skins, stitched together with sinew. He can’t afford to build a house, because he is dependent on migratory herds for meat. Perhaps he fishes in the larger rivers that are his constant boundaries because he cannot exist for long without water. He might be able to use an animal bladder for a sort of canteen so he can make the long treks between rivers more comfortably.
When it rains, he gets wet. When it snows, he shivers. He is little better than an animal, taking what he can for his survival and wasting a good deal of his bounty because he simply cannot carry it all. He is free – if freedom means being enslaved to your physical needs every day of your life.
Compare this to the man who lives in a village. He bakes bread, and it tastes a lot better than anyone else’s in the village. Pretty soon, all he does is bake bread. However, it’s a primitive economy built on barter, so he ends up with countless things he doesn’t need just to make sure that he has what he does need. When he talks to his friends, he finds that this is just the way of the world apparently because everyone lives like this.
The village thrives and eventually they elect a mayor to help keep order and make a few decisions about what to do about the neighboring village. In order for the mayor to live, everyone agrees to give him a percentage of what they make. The baker now takes the mayor a loaf of bread every day, whether he needs it or not, because that’s the amount he is supposed to pay. Since the mayor doesn’t like bread, it piles up in his house.
One day he is looking at the stacks of bread, and he decides that he would rather have less bread and more chairs. However, the carpenter already has more than enough bread. The mayor thinks and thinks and since he is a wise man, he eventually invents money. Now, rather than wasting time coming to an agreement about how many loaves of bread are worth one chair, everyone can simply peg their product to the currency. Commerce thrives and the people are happy.
Now the mayor tells the baker, “I hate your bread. Give me three coins every day (the cost of a loaf of bread) and we’ll call it even.” The baker agrees and now has an extra loaf of bread to sell, which means that he pays his tax for free. Since it doesn’t take the baker his entire existence to make enough bread to buy his necessities, he suddenly finds that he has “free time”. Since no one tells him what he has to do with this time, he has truly invented a time when he is totally free of all demands.
All demands except for those agreed upon by the villagers. Despite his ability to start fires, the baker cannot go around setting fires in other people’s homes. His freedom is limited, but he is free to find places to start fires that will not get him into trouble. He may even use his riches to buy a barrel and light fire after fire after fire because he has the money, the time, and the desire to do it without harming anyone else.
The great mistake of Conservative philosophy is that they see freedom as being enshrined in the individual. Freedom is actually a social construct and the more money a man can accumulate the more true freedom he has. This is a simple, irrefutable fact. Because freedom is derived from society, anyone partaking of it must agree to the social contract – which is basically the rule of law.
It is the liberal concept of equality before the law that allows society to function. It is not absolute equality, but the fact that no man (or woman) is allowed to accumulate enough power and/or money so as to be beyond the reach of the law. Putting one man beyond the law – exempting one man from justice – puts that man as the master of society with everyone else functioning as his slave. Society is nothing more but a collection of mindless minions dancing on strings to maintain his privilege.
No one should be above the law. Political friends should not be a ticket to a free ride. Accumulated wealth or popularity should not be a free ride. The law should apply to everyone. Anything else is not a function of a just system.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Going Softly with a DVD

The House is getting ready to consider new legislation that will allow anyone to skip over objectionable material in a DVD automatically. Generally, giving parents more control over what their kids see is a good thing. This move, however, is being done in a way that only shows the conservative movement has degenerated from an intellectual opposition to the New Deal into just another political machine, out to reward its cronies.
First, the technology is already available through a company called ClearPlay in Salt Lake City. It isn’t commercially available because deleting entire scenes and changing character lines is a copyright infringement. ClearPlay, it seems, is unwilling to do what every television network has done and pay a copyright fee to the producers of movies they want to edit. ClearPlay is so unwilling to pay its fair share that a group of Hollywood producers threatened a lawsuit over copyright infringement.
Well, ClearPlay no longer has to worry. Their buddies in Congress have given them blanket protection from legal action on copyright infringement. This means that their little box can change any material anyway they desire and there is nothing the owner of the copyright can do about it. In other words, it destroys the entire concept of copyrights.
So what’s wrong with a mother not wanting to show her ten-year-old the murder and violence of “The Pianist” or “Schindler’s List”? Well, for one thing, it is the horror of the callous way in which murder and violence were meted out by the Nazis that makes it so horrible. If your ten-year-old is not able to deal with it, then wait another year to show it to them. Showing them a sensitized version is tantamount to endorsing the claims of the wackos who claim the Holocaust didn’t really happen.
For another thing, once you set this box on your television and it starts censoring things, how are you to know when it is active and when it isn’t? Give it a five second delay and it can delete objectionable material from your live television signal. Now a very small group of people in Salt Lake City can determine which version of the nightly news you see – and how can you tell the difference? Did David Letterman just seriously endorse the Republican Party? Did Harry Reid just say he doesn’t think pedophiles should be punished?
The worst part is what I mentioned first, though. It’s no secret that Hollywood producers are, in general, no friend of the Republican Party. Stripping producers of their legal right to make money off of their product is a direct violation of their Constitutional rights. ClearPlay can now make money off of the works of other people – making them a legal parasite on the backs of truly productive people. It is punishing your political enemies while rewarding those who are your friends.
The fact is that ClearPlay’s technology doesn’t allow anything that parents can’t do already. When I was raising my kids, there were times when I decided “This won’t be shown in my house”. Pretty much every time, my kids were unhappy with me. The only thing it does is allow you to escape responsibility for your choices. By trusting your personal morality to someone else, you don’t have to tell your kids, “That isn’t the kind of show we watch in this house”. They simply go along, oblivious to the fact that they haven’t even seen what they think they are seeing.
Once you train a generation to put its faith in a little box to protect them from “evil” speech and pictures, you have set the foundation for a generation who is ready to give up their freedom. “Protect us from those pictures of planes flying into buildings” and “protect us from the war footage in Iraq” are not so different from “protect us from naked people and dirty words”. I said before that my philosophy requires people to face reality, even when it is uncomfortable – no, especially when it is uncomfortable.
There are definitely programs that I would not allow a child to see. There are some, like “Schindler’s List” that I would allow some kids to see, but only with adult supervision. But when my kid and your kid talk about “Schindler’s List” and the horror of the Holocaust, I want them to be talking about reality – the same reality, not some reality dreamed up by a PG-13 censor. If you don’t want your kids to see something, grow up and tell them, “No” – be a parent for Christ’s sake.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Republicans "Protect" Consumers into Oblivion

Senate Republicans moved one step closer toward putting abortion protesters beyond the grasp of the law. For most of us, if we engage in civil protest and disobedience – like, for instance, yelling “Bush sucks!” at one of the President’s pretend rallies – we run the risk of being fined and imprisoned, or both. Abortion protesters now no longer have to fear that because the Senate has said that they can use bankruptcy to avoid paying those fines. Let’s get this straight – REPUBLICAN Senators made sure abortion protestors can abuse bankruptcy laws in this manner.
This is part of the ongoing debate over the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. True to their nature, Republicans have named the bill directly the opposite of its intent. See, bankruptcy is supposed to protect consumers who become unable to pay their creditors through no fault of their own. For instance, you have a reasonable amount of debt, but one day have a stroke and are unable to work any more. Your disability doesn’t cover the cost of your credit, so you file bankruptcy.
Not any more. The ability of a judge to determine “fair” use of bankruptcy from “abusive” use of credit – like running through the mall and getting instant approval for 29 credit cards and maxing them all out – will be severely curtailed if the Republican measure passes. Abortion protesters, it seems, are more deserving of the protection of the law than those of us who actually work.
Abortion protesters who are wealthy will reap a double dividend. The Senate measure leaves untouched the legal loophole through which wealthy individuals can create a fake trust account – one they maintain control over – which cannot be claimed in bankruptcy proceedings. For those of us who cannot afford to do so, everything we own is fair game to our creditors.
This comes close on the heels of the Senate also rejecting a Democratic amendment that would exempt medical bills from bankruptcy proceedings. This means that for the guy mentioned above that had the stroke, the very same medical bills that forced him into bankruptcy will be an albatross around his neck until the stress kills him. Elderly people will face passing along bankruptcy medical costs to their heirs. That’s the ownership society for you.
The Senate also defeated another Democratic measure that would have allowed caregivers to exempt their assets from a disabled person’s assets when applying for bankruptcy. They also defeated a Democratic amendment that would have put a floor of $75,000 on the exemption allowed for the primary residence of an elderly person. Yet another Democratic amendment would have required credit card companies and lenders to release data concerning the consequences of paying minimum payments. Still another Democratic amendment would have capped interest rates on predatory loans so that interest rates over 1000% would be illegal.
In short, Democratic Senators have repeatedly put forward amendments that would actually crack down on abuse while still protecting consumers. Republican Senators have voted down every single one of them. While both sides have their own data to support their claims, the inclusion of the abortion protester exemption is a baldly political move. It has absolutely no basis in economic theory. The only reason it can be thrown in is because it is so small a consideration on this bill that it will go unnoticed.
All politicians reward their supporters. There is, quite simply, no way to get around this fact. However, this is an attempt to put a core constituency beyond the reach of the law. This country was founded on the basic idea that all laws should apply to all people. The abuse of arbitrary power was a prime motivator for the Revolution. That Republicans now feel secure enough, after gaining only 51% of the vote, to begin insulating their backers from legal restrictions, only shows that they are truly bent on destroying the country.

US Senate Lusts for American Workers

Once again, the American worker got screwed. The US Senate defeated not one, but two proposals that would raise the minimum wage from the current $5.15. The last time the minimum wage was successfully raised was in 1996. Since that time, inflation has eaten eighty cents worth of the purchasing power of that minimum hourly wage. That means a minimum wage worker today really gets $4.35 in 1996 dollars. That is actually only ten cents more than what it was when President Clinton signed the raise.
The deflated value of the minimum wage is one of the primary reasons wage inequality between men and women persists. The minimum wage, in purchasing power, in 2001 was twenty-one percent less than in 1979 and twenty-seven percent less than it was in 1968. The deflated value of the minimum wage is the primary reason why we have a whole class of people termed “the working poor”. If the minimum wage of $1.65 in 1968 had kept pace with inflation, workers would now receive a guaranteed wage of $8.88 an hour.
It is not simply teenage part-time workers that get effected. In fact, only one in fourteen of effected workers are teenagers. Almost two thirds of all minimum wage workers are adults, and four in ten of them are the sole bread winner for their family. Nor is it a small number of workers who would be effected. 7.3 million people work full-time for minimum wage.
The proposal introduced by Senator Ed Kennedy would have raised the minimum wage by $2.10 over the next twenty-six months. Republicans countered with an offer to raise it by only $1.10 over eighteen months. The Democratic bill was defeated by three votes and the Republican bill went down by twenty-three votes. Either way, it’s the working poor that got screwed.
Another $1.10 an hour would have given full-time minimum wage workers $2200 a year. If you do the math, the raise would have pumped over $16 billion into the economy directly into the hands of those who need it most and will put it to the best economic use. From that level, it would have created over $150 billion in overall economic growth – which doesn’t include new jobs that would be created to meet the increased demand from these low-wage workers.
For someone working for minimum wage, $2200 a year is a huge bonus. A family of four spends about $156 per week for groceries – meaning the minimum wage increase would have paid for fourteen weeks of groceries. It would also cover either three months average rent or slightly less than a full year at a community college. In other words, it would give the working poor a way to care for themselves – to be responsible for themselves – without turning to government assistance or charity.
The same old arguments against the minimum wage are being trotted out. They are saying it would force businesses into bankruptcy or cause consumer prices to skyrocket. They can’t have it both ways. Either the higher wages are passed along to consumers or they aren’t. If they are, then each consumer pays a very small percentage of the price of wages. Either way, it will neither cause business closure nor inflation because the fact is that neither position is born out by the facts. The last three hikes in the minimum wage have seen no increase in consumer prices and no change in job creation trends.
In case you’re wondering why the Republican bill got more “nay” votes when it was a lower raise, it has to do with the “business friendly” amendments tacked onto it. Such as allowing employers to determine overtime wages based on working eighty hours over a two week period rather than forty hours per week. This means the Republicans wanted your boss to be able to work you sixty hours one week and not pay overtime simply by cutting your hours the following week.
This is yet another instance of the Republican Party advancing its anti-worker agenda. This is the party that has allowed companies to ship jobs overseas, then added insult to injury by allow “corporate inversions” where companies can avoid taxation simply by opening a post office box in the Bahamas. More work, less pay, less protection – this is the Republican view of a “free market” for your work.
It has to stop. It hurts American families and American businesses. It is immoral. It has no place in our society.

From a Movement to a Machine

Senate Republicans moved one step closer toward putting abortion protesters beyond the grasp of the law. For most of us, if we engage in civil protest and disobedience – like, for instance, yelling “Bush sucks!” at one of the President’s pretend rallies – we run the risk of being fined and imprisoned, or both. Abortion protesters now no longer have to fear that because the Senate has said that they can use bankruptcy to avoid paying those fines. Let’s get this straight – REPUBLICAN Senators made sure abortion protestors can abuse bankruptcy laws in this manner.
This is part of the ongoing debate over the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. True to their nature, Republicans have named the bill directly the opposite of its intent. See, bankruptcy is supposed to protect consumers who become unable to pay their creditors through no fault of their own. For instance, you have a reasonable amount of debt, but one day have a stroke and are unable to work any more. Your disability doesn’t cover the cost of your credit, so you file bankruptcy.
Not any more. The ability of a judge to determine “fair” use of bankruptcy from “abusive” use of credit – like running through the mall and getting instant approval for 29 credit cards and maxing them all out – will be severely curtailed if the Republican measure passes. Abortion protesters, it seems, are more deserving of the protection of the law than those of us who actually work.
Abortion protesters who are wealthy will reap a double dividend. The Senate measure leaves untouched the legal loophole through which wealthy individuals can create a fake trust account – one they maintain control over – which cannot be claimed in bankruptcy proceedings. For those of us who cannot afford to do so, everything we own is fair game to our creditors.
This comes close on the heels of the Senate also rejecting a Democratic amendment that would exempt medical bills from bankruptcy proceedings. This means that for the guy mentioned above that had the stroke, the very same medical bills that forced him into bankruptcy will be an albatross around his neck until the stress kills him. Elderly people will face passing along bankruptcy medical costs to their heirs. That’s the ownership society for you.
The Senate also defeated another Democratic measure that would have allowed caregivers to exempt their assets from a disabled person’s assets when applying for bankruptcy. They also defeated a Democratic amendment that would have put a floor of $75,000 on the exemption allowed for the primary residence of an elderly person. Yet another Democratic amendment would have required credit card companies and lenders to release data concerning the consequences of paying minimum payments. Still another Democratic amendment would have capped interest rates on predatory loans so that interest rates over 1000% would be illegal.
In short, Democratic Senators have repeatedly put forward amendments that would actually crack down on abuse while still protecting consumers. Republican Senators have voted down every single one of them. While both sides have their own data to support their claims, the inclusion of the abortion protester exemption is a baldly political move. It has absolutely no basis in economic theory. The only reason it can be thrown in is because it is so small a consideration on this bill that it will go unnoticed.
All politicians reward their supporters. There is, quite simply, no way to get around this fact. However, this is an attempt to put a core constituency beyond the reach of the law. This country was founded on the basic idea that all laws should apply to all people. The abuse of arbitrary power was a prime motivator for the Revolution. That Republicans now feel secure enough, after gaining only 51% of the vote, to begin insulating their backers from legal restrictions, only shows that they are truly bent on destroying the country.

Monday, March 07, 2005


I stumbled across this today. It's worth a look

Click Here

The Republican Party Grows Up

The Washington Post has some bright news in it today. Apparently the Republican Party is actually worrying about the deficit now. They even quote Senator George Voinovich of Ohio as saying that the President needs to start cutting spending, raise taxes, or provide political cover for those that will have to do so. This is despite the fact that the President continues to irresponsibly call for making the tax cuts of his first term permanent.
President Bush will have a hard time gaining credibility on deficits. After all, he first said his tax cuts wouldn’t create deficits. After it was apparent that he was either straight-out lying or didn’t know what he was talking about, he said the deficits would be small and short term. It is now apparent that the same options were true for that statement as for the “no deficit” statement.
To hold the cost of the tax cuts down to a mere $1.7 trillion (one trillion is one million million) the tax cuts are set to expire in 2010. Extending them an additional five years would cost at least another trillion dollars. This rosy picture is gained from using the White House’s own projections, which leave out such things as the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some projections have the real cost as being as high as five trillion dollars.
In addition to this is an unfunded liability in Social Security of another $1.5 trillion and pending Medicare liabilities of up to $28 trillion. Perhaps when you push a prescription drug plan that alone is responsible for a future deficit of upwards of $7 trillion, another trillion or so is small potatoes. The truth of the matter, however, is that President Bush has recklessly piled up spending while giving generous tax breaks to his wealthy friends. His budget priorities have not only saddled us with an ongoing deficit, but with the reality of continued deficits as far as can be reasonably projected. His plan to cut the deficit in half only works if you leave out about half of the spending.
It seems both infantile and reckless to look at a budget that is deeply in the red and say, “What we need is less money to start with.” There isn’t a working American alive that would attempt to balance his or her personal budget by taking a lower paying job. It is the height of stupidity to believe that we can be better off by making ourselves worse off. Apparently even Republicans are starting to realize this.
Yes, Social Security needs more money to make sure it remains solvent. Medicare needs it even more – especially the President’s cheapskate drug prescription plan that hogties any attempt to get the best deal for drugs. National defense, from the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to putting nuclear material detectors in all of our shipping ports, needs to be paid for. But we cannot continue to increase our federal debt by more than two billion dollars a day. Every American breathing today already owes twenty-six thousand dollars in federal debt. We cannot continue this way.
The time has come for us to grow up. We cannot continue to demand everything and give nothing in return. This is especially true for those of us who have the most. It simply isn’t fair to ask a family who scrapes by on two minimum wage jobs to foot additional taxes while millionaires reap heavy tax cuts on income, dividend, and estates.
The Bible teaches that we are to be good stewards. There is no definition of “good steward” that includes living high while our children foot the bill. At the same time, the Bible teaches to be generous to orphans, widows, and the poor. There is no definition of “generous” that includes saddling them with higher taxes. There is no definition of a “Christian people” that allows us to disregard our responsibility to this magnitude.
It is this last point that is the most telling. President Bush talks a great deal about instilling a sense of responsibility in people. He tells us that his privatized Social Security will create a sense of ownership that will benefit the country. Yet this is a case where his mouth must not know what his hands are doing – talking responsibility while enacting the most irresponsible tax cuts in the history of civilization. It is the equivalent of letting Charles Manson lecture us on the sanctity of human life.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Honoring God's Workers

I wouldn’t change places with Michael Clark for anything. Yet, I find in his quiet example an incarnation of the living compassion Christ calls upon us to offer.
Rev. Clark is the pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Park City, Kansas. That’s the church where Dennis Rader, who now stands accused of being the BTK killer, attended services and worked as the president of the congregation. Rev. Clark is put in the uncomfortable position of being the pastor to an accused serial killer who is also a close acquaintance. He’s the one who is going to visit Mr. Rader in his prison cell. He’s the one who, if anyone does, will hear the confession of a killer.
The actions of Mr. Rader, if suspicions are correct, are beyond comprehension. I’m sure that the actions of Rev. Clark will be beyond the comprehension of many. Even if Rader is found guilty, Clark has stated that he will stand by his parishioner until he is told to leave. While this is truly living the part of the pastor, it is sure to bring controversy. How can he, as a Christian, continue to offer comfort to someone who hurt so many so badly?
The answer, of course, is: how could he not? Christ doesn’t call us to minister to those whose problems are bad, but not too bad. He calls us to minister to the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor, and the most corrupt of the corrupt. Remember that it was a thief who hung next to our Savior and was told, “Today, you will sit with me in Paradise.”
Yes, but BTK was not a thief. He brutally tortured and killed his victims, sometimes taunting police to catch him. A thief who steals to put food in his children’s belly we can understand. This – this is beyond understanding. It is beyond man’s ability to forgive.
That, of course, is why there is Jesus. He bears what we cannot. He forgives what we cannot. He covers, with his own innocent blood, the sin we carry in ours. None of this is our doing. Even the faith that we depend on is a gift from God.
So Rev. Clark laces up his shoes, shrugs on his jacket, and drives to the jail to offer comfort to a man who many will say is not worthy. And they are right. Yet as far as he is from those of us who shudder at his crimes, the distance between us and God is even farther. We are even less worthy of Jesus’ pity than Dennis Rader is of ours.
Yet, somehow, Jesus does love us, and he offers us absolution of our sins. At some point, I’m sure Rev. Clark will remind Mr. Rader than he, too, can find forgiveness in the arms of a loving God. Even though I’m sure Rev. Clark would say that he cannot understand why, Dennis Rader will be offered the chance at redemption. It is, without a doubt, the biggest paradox in Christian theology.
What no one else will know is the toll it will take on Rev. Clark. It is he that will have to look into the eyes of a killer and talk about love. It is he that will go into the presence of someone who preys on weakness and offer himself as a lamb. It is he that will then go back out into the community and weather the stares and the questioning looks. It is he that will bear whatever cross Dennis Rader puts upon his shoulders.
The Bible tells a story of the children of Israel, doing battle with their foes. Moses was to go upon a hill overlooking the battle and raise his hands up to God. As long as Moses’ arms were raised, the children of Israel pushed their enemies back. When he could no longer hold his arms aloft, they fell before the onslaught. Only when Moses’ closest friends held his arms aloft for him could the children of Israel turn the battle permanently.
It is a truth that is observed too rarely that our spiritual leaders need our prayers and our support. If Moses needed his friends to hold up his arms, so will Rev. Clark – if not physically, then spiritually. I don’t know how to contact the Rev. personally, perhaps someone will know someone who will know someone and he will actually see these words. If not, then at least he can feel the comfort of our prayers.

Testing the President's Plan

I decided I’d put the Bush Social Security program to a numbers test. That means setting aside four percent of gross income in an individual account where interest accrues on an annual basis. At retirement, that money is then used to purchase an annuity which pays out benefits. This gives us two parts to look at: the investment and the annuity. Sorry, but you have to follow the math to do this.
As far as the investment goes, I worked with an annual rate of return of 5%. This is actually a pretty ambitious rate of return, but it works to illustrate the point. If you worked for forty years at $6.50 an hour, you would end up with an investment fund that held $65,956.68. If you worked the same amount of time for ten bucks an hour, your investment is worth $101,471.81. If you maxed out your Social Security contribution, which means you made ninety grand per year then you would have an account worth $456,623.15.
Now, let’s see what that investment gets you. There are many kinds of annuities, some that allow the money to be inherited, some that don’t. Some pay out over a specific period of time, some pay out over your entire lifetime. If we are comparing this investment to Social Security, then you have to look at a guaranteed payment for life with no inheritability.
I found a website that calculates the amount of money you would have to invest to make an annuity work for you (http://www.totalreturnannuities.com/). To get a payment of $1000 per month guaranteed for your lifetime (in the state of New Jersey) you would have to invest $152,870. This can easily be seen to be more than anyone who earned less than an average of ten dollars an hour would be able to afford. In fact, you would have to earn an average of $15.15 per hour over a career of forty years.
To actually get what Mr. Bush is promising, an annuity with inheritability, then the same $1000 per month would require that you invest $172,331 to get twenty years of inheritability for your designated beneficiary. To get that in your retirement account, you would have to earn $17.13 an hour for forty years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current average wage for production and non-supervisory, non-farm employees is $15.88. This would then be enough for the average worker to pay for the non-inheritable annuity, but not the inheritable one. This falls short of the promises made by Mr. Bush.
At $15.88 an hour, for a standard two thousand hour week, annual income would be $31,760. This would put this single earner at better than almost forty percent of all American households. The median income, the point where half of the people are above and half are below, is only $26,911. That means that fully half of the 151,880,000 workers in the country are at least $5,000 a year shy of the average worker’s gross pay. These workers would only be able to buy an annuity that provided fifteen years of guaranteed benefits. This is not good news for anyone who might live over the age of 80.
But wait – the news gets worse.
This experiment pretended that you worked for the exact same wage your entire life. This is, obviously, not true. All of us start earning very little and most of us see our earning power slowly rise throughout our working lives. If you work five years at $10.88, five years at $15.88, and five years at $20.88, your average earnings over the fifteen year period is $15.88. This would change the figures above drastically.
I next ran a scenario where a person’s hourly wage is $6.50 for five years, $10.00 for ten years, $18.00 for ten years, $25.00 for ten years, and $27.50 for five years. Social Security contributions were calculated and the resulting personal investment account was worth $138,426.57, rather than the $172,331 had the same flat wage been applied to every year of employment. This is actually enough to guarantee a $1000 benefit for fifteen years.
But wait, it still gets worse.
None of this factors in inflation. Over the last ten years, inflation has varied between one percent and slightly more than three-and-a-half-percent. This is exceptionally low, as the average rate of inflation since 1913 is 3.49%. This means that our five percent rate of return would have to jump to eight and a half percent to give us a constant-dollar return of five percent. If the rate of return were held constant, then we would gain only 1.5% on our investment account. This has a dramatic effect on even the rosiest predictions. The person making $90,000 and maxing out his contribution just saw the amount available to buy an annuity drop from $456,623.15 to $198,294.88.
Don’t feel too sorry, because he can still get the lifetime annuity with 20 years of inheritability. However, the $20.00 an hour wage earner just saw his retirement account drop to $88,131.06. The $10.00 an hour guy now has only $44,065.53. The poor guy slaving for $6.50 an hour has only $28,642.59. The only annuity the $20.00 an hour guy can afford is the five year benefit, and the rest can’t even afford that.
But wait, it gets worse.
Proponents of this system will be quick to point out the Dow average has yielded an average of better than eleven percent. However, this neglects the fact that the 1980s and 1990s were a time like no other in the history of the stock market. While the Dow trades today at around 10,000, it was only during the last twenty years that it saw anything close to it. The Dow broke 2,000 on Jan. 8, 1987. It had taken 14 years to grow a thousand points. On November 14, 1972, the Dow broke 1,000 for the first time – 76 years after it was formed. It would fall below 1,000 within months and not rise above it again until 1976, when it would hover in that vicinity for a few month before plunging. The Dow ended the 1970s trading less than fifty points above where it was traded a decade earlier.
The 1980s and 1990s were fueled by rapid advances in technology – like the personal computer. They were also a time of historically low oil and gas prices. They were a rare historical quirk and it would be prudent to not hope for another period like that one. This is especially true now when the economy is anemic, neither booming nor busting, but just limping along in all directions at once. It is also important to note that oil prices are regularly breaking historic high marks, which means that inflation will begin to rear its ugly head.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Some things you have to see

Surfing through the blogosphere, I found these gems and want to share them:

First, from

Second, from
Real Live Preacher

If you can ge through either one without stopping at least once, you aren't hearing what you're reading.

Special Appeal

The silence from the right concerning our ally’s creation of a modern Sodom is appalling. While they are busy ranting about Kansas couples are denigrated gay men marrying in Boston and not being able to force Muslim children to say Christian prayers in school, a very real and horrible travesty against all laws of man and God has passed beneath their notice.
Mukhtaran Bibi was ordered gang-raped on the spot by a tribal council in Pakistan in 2002. The sentence was carried out by her neighbors and she was forced to walk through the streets of the village naked. The whole idea was to shame her so badly that she would commit suicide. But the Bible teaches us that the fragile container is the one God chooses to strengthen and Mukhtaran defied her village by refusing suicide and pursuing legal action against her rapists.
She won her case and six of her assailants were sentenced to death. The Pakistani government also gave her $8000 in compensation (insert wry remark about punitive legal caps here). Showing an incredible sense of forgiveness and community, she used the money to found two schools in her village: one for boys and one for girls. Thanks to donations from abroad, those schools remain open. Funny, but I never heard Franklin Graham raise money for Mukhtaran’s schools.
A few days ago, a Pakistani appeals court threw out the death sentence of five of the six men convicted for raping Mukhtaran. They will be moving back to the village where she has tried to find meaning in her life. Mercy Corps has agreed to hide Mukhtaran to protect her life. Kudos to Nicholas Kristol of the New York Times for not letting this go totally unnoticed.
Mr. Kristol says that Mukhtaran is a hero, and he is right. If she were only a Christian her persecution would be preached in righteous indignation from every pulpit in this country. She isn’t. She is Muslim and a member of a religion that religious leaders from the right are calling inherently evil and dangerous.
Mukhtaran is not trying to live off of her victimization. She is simply trying to continue the good work she started. I’m asking for everyone to help her.
Here (http://www.mukhtarmai.com/) is a link to the site to help support her schools directly. Here (http://www.mercycorps.org/home/) is a link to Mercy Corps to help defray the cost of their badly needed work. Here (Pakistan@un.int) is the email address for the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN. Here (usa@un.int) is the email to the UN Ambassador for the US. Here (president@whitehouse.gov) is the email of President Bush so you can urge him to put pressure on Pakistan to reform its laws and to protect Mukhtaran from her attackers.
I’m challenging you to show that you care. Click on the envelope button below to spread the word to everyone you know. If you lean liberal politically, you know it’s the right thing to do. If you have ever called yourself Christian, you have no excuse.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Hello? This is Lazarus. Can I have some food?

In a country obsessed with losing weight, it is both ironic and shameful that fully ten percent of American households must deal with hunger on a daily basis. Granted, being hungry in this country does not mean what being hungry in Ethiopia means. We don’t have a problem with starvation. This does not mean that we should not act.
In gross numbers, this means that approximately thirty-three million people just can’t guarantee where they’ll get fed tomorrow. This includes some thirteen million children. You can say that the adults out there going hungry are just paying the price for their decisions in life, but what are you going to say to the children?
Such big problems just don’t lend themselves to charitable influence. Most major cities run food closets that are perennially thin on supplies and sometimes empty altogether. It is the definition of a problem too big to be handled on anything less than a federal level. We should not hesitate to push for a solution.
If we gave each hungry child $100 per month in food benefits, then the cost would be about $15.6 billion annually. Yes, it’s a lot more than I can write a check for, but it is a miniscule part of the federal budget. In fact, the estate tax that is targeted for being, among other things, an insignificant contributor to the budget pulled in over twenty billion in 2003. It would be a simple, and fairly painless, thing to dedicate estate taxes to anti-hunger programs for children.
This would not mean starting new government programs, either. The vast majority of these hungry children could be reached through existing school lunch and breakfast programs. Millions more could be reached by subsidizing meals for Head Start and daycare programs. Channeling the funds through this way would prevent any temptation to use food benefits for other purposes. It would be the surest way to get food into the hungry mouths of children.
The Bible provides a compelling argument for doing this. The Book of Luke gives us the image of Jesus telling the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was a beggar who sat at the rich man’s gate and begged for food while the rich man lived in luxury. When both had died, the rich man looked up from his torment and saw Lazarus at Abraham’s side, enjoying his eternal reward – which I’m sure included a nice kosher meal. Lazarus asked God to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brethren of their wicked ways. God’s reply was, “They have Moses and the prophets. If they do not listen to my words now, they will not believe them from a dead man.”
But it is not just the Bible that holds this view. In “The Gospel of Wealth” Andrew Carnegie castigated the wealthy class that sought to pass considerable wealth to their posterity while ignoring their debt to society. A rich man, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “had a peculiar responsibility to his fellow man”. Both men fought hard to initiate an estate tax to press the wealthy to administering – giving charitably – their wealth while they were alive. Part of the missed message of “A Christmas Carol” is the incredible toll children pay for being poor and hungry.
Alternatively, the income tax could be used. In 2003, over 168,000 people filed with more than one million in income. An additional ten percent surcharge on incomes over one million dollars would more than pay for the program I am proposing. I don’t deny that these people already pay a lot of taxes – they pay at the same rate as someone making only $300,000. However, the additional taxes will be made up very quickly. So you wait until February to buy a new Ferrari rather than November. No one is hurt and thirteen million kids are better off.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. We can ask our Wall Street moguls, sports stars, music and movie stars, and a handful of lawyers to pay just enough to keep our children from starving, or we can take the money from people who are already dead and have proven that you can’t take it with you. Either way, the children win. Better fed children make better students who grow up to be better citizens who have better jobs.
Jesus said we should do it. So did Roosevelt, Carnegie, and Dickens. We can’t wait for a dead man to tell us this is right.

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