31 October 2008
Joe the Plumber
I support taxing any business that nets $250,000 a year.
This Republican ruse of Joe the Plummer as an example of the average middle class American is just another deceitful method to sway public opinion away from Barack Obama's taxation plans. Obama's Administration would not tax Joe's business if his gross income was $250,000 because his costs of doing business might be $225,000 that year. Joe's taxable income for his plumbing business would be only $25,000 and would be exempt from federal income taxes. On the other hand, if Joe's revenues were $450.000 and his costs of doing busness were $200,000, Joe would have cleared a quarter of a million dollars that year--which is pretty good--and would be subject to income tax under Obama's tax program.
If McCain and Palin really want to be agents of change in Washington, they should drop their facile lies about themselves and their opponents. George Bush and Dick Cheney have lied to us and to the world for eight years. If McCain and Palin cannot win without lying, how much change should we expect?
When the state constitution established a populist method for amending its contents, California was much less developed and its population was small when compared to the Eastern states. Unlike the federal Constitution of 1787, Californians have had the ability to vote on any proposals to amend the state constitution without having been voted on by the legislature or signed into law by the governor.
I think that at the time it was written, this populist provision was a very good idea so that the citizens could direct the affairs of government directly. It's a very democratic ideal for the governed to correct or to direct the elected officials.
In the 160-plus years since Californians wrote our state constitution, the population, economy and world position for cultural ideas, ocean and land transporation of goods and general use of the state's resources have changed so much that the use of Propositions on the ballot is now a powerful tool of special interest groups who cannot influence their elected representatives.
For instance, Proposition 1A asks voters to approve adding to the state's budget obligations $19.4 billion through a bond issue. The persons drafting Proposition 1A make it seem that the voters will receive in return a high-speed, bullet train connecting Sacramento, San Francisco Bay cities, Los Angeles and San Diego. That's a good thing and we need better means of quickly moving between major cities than the airways or highways now provide. This is not was Proposition 1A will do if passed. This item intends for the state to establish a railroad trust fund of almost $10 billion that will not add one engine, rail or car to the high speed train project. These funds will continue to pay for environmental studies, for local municipalities to construct their interfaces for passengers and, if there is any money left, to pay a portion of the actual train itself. This bond issue would cost $670 million each year for 30 years, while the train itself is estimated to cost tax payers $1 billion per year in operating costs. The annual $billion cost would be offset by ticket revenues (big assumption) at least in part. Where will the rest of the operating funds come from?
Make no mistake, Proposition 1A and the subsequent funding of the train system itself will eliminate millions of dollars each year that could be used for health care, education, police and fire services, corrections department facilities, infrastructure construction for replacing petroleum and coal as energy sources, and for bringing the state's water distribution system up to date as well as our road systems. First rule of budgeting is to pay our interest payments on the capital we borrowed.
Proposition 2 asks voters to close down the cages and barns that the food industry uses to produce great quantities of meat and fowl products for our tables. Due to the business need to maximize output within limited real estate holdings, many producers have constructed pens and cages, in which animals and birds being raised for use as food products, that severely constrain any movement by the animals and to contain as many animals as possible. Proponents of Proposition 2 would make such industry practices illegal by requiring free range periods and less confining stalls for feeding. I like this Proposition because I see a possible outcome of re-establishing the role of the family farm for our food supply. I also project humanizing emotions onto the animals (without any reason other than I've always done so). Current processing practices are dehumanizing and destroy the integrity of the animals.
Proposition 3 wants the state to issue almost a $billion for support and new facilities of children's hospitals around the state. I seriously doubt that all children's hospitals will have equal access to these funds. My skepticism comes from having voted the same dollar amount down when Oakland's Children's Hospital wanted the city property owners to pay for its ambitious expansion plans. I see no reason for public funds to go to a private enterprise unless concommitant ownership participation goes with it. I voted against the children in the campaign commercials urging passage.
Proposition 4 is pure nosiness and legitimatizing of puritanical chastisement at a time when personal responsibility and emotional support come from outside the parental sphere of influence--otherwise, why did the girl have unsafe sex? We don't need the government interfering with the patient-physician decision making. Sheesh, why don't the proponents mind the railroad tie in their eyes first. That should keep them working on themselves for the rest of their lives without screwing up anyone else's. And, why is it always the woman who has to comply with notification requirements and interference between patient and physician?
Proposition 5 asks voters to fund increased counseling and treatment resources for persons caught up in their use of street drugs, illegal drugs. As the last major vestige of Prohibition and the Temperance League of the 19th and 20th centuries, the current approach is to stop drug use by incarcerating the user. As with Proposition 4, some people in our society believe it is their right and obligation to control the behavior of other members of our society. As this Proposition 5 states, the purpose of the requested funds is to help someone who wants to stop using drugs. Like the "War on Drugs" the practice of incarcerating non-violent users hasn't affected drug trafficking in the state. Drug use is a public health problem, not an issue that isolation from those "good" citizens who haven't been caught driving while intoxicated or even losing themselves in drug-induced hazes. By assuming that drug users are criminals and confinement among criminals is the appropriate process for improving our society, the proponents do not consider illicit drug use as symptomatic of illness, mental or physical. Although the proposed programs may cost the state $1 billion per year, approximately $1 billion less cost for corrections operations plus avoidance of the $2,5 billion in capital outlays for additional correctional facilities. I voted for this change in priority for counseling and treatment of drug users because use per se is not a crime unless observed by police and because I dislike the notion of punishing shame and illness as a crime.
Proposition 6 intends to limit the power of the Judiciary by specifying sentencing requirements. We elect judges to do that. I doubt the proponents trust judges to adjudicate the law under the state constitution. Concentration camps went away when Japanese Americans were allowed to return to their homes after World War II. We don't need to create concentration camps for people who use illegal drugs.
Proposition 7 establishes requirements for the public and private electrical providers to meet specific reductuion goals by percentage and by year. What's wrong with that? The opponents argue that the Proposition is poorly written. I say it is well-written, without ambiguity or exclusions, including any allowance for additional use of nuclear power generation.
Opponents sat that the cost of electric power will increase; however, they do not state any data over time about the economics of electrical power if one considers the savings achieved by passive energy production or the length of time for the initial capital investments to be recovered through operations. The substantive change to our electrical power infrastructure requires additional money, so why not enable all users to contribute to these additional, start-up and conversion costs? My only quibble with Proposition 7 is that the time frames are too distant.
Proposition 8 should not be necessary in a secular government-led state. Marriage is a sacrament of religions that should not be a delegated function of the state. The California Family Code should be amended to withdraw the delegation of state legal authority to religious organizations. The federal Constitution's amendment 14 established the requirement for equal justice under the law for all citizens. There are sufficient numbers of present and former state officials available to perform the legal function of establishing the legal status of two persons as 'married' and entitled to all the privileges and responsibilities that state law includes.
Within Christianity, some churches do not recognize a valid marriage unless it meets the particular tenets of that church. In the Roman Catholic Orthodox Church [Orthodoxy exists in more churches that those of Russia, Greece and Constantinople.], the church as a religious community is not involved with a marriage except to celebrate it and to acknowledge its sanctity. Two individuals in God's presence form a marriage, thus the prohibition that no man render that which God has joined together. Secular laws came about to protect the property of families under the law. Before that, two children could in all innocence commit to each other in marriage and their respective families had to deal with the consequences for property ownership arising from that marriage. The state's interest in marriage results from the implications of property ownership, inheritances and accountability for children's behavior. None of those implications involve God, so why should the state delegate its power to legitimize marriage to religious leadership?
It also would help if the public discussion of two men or two women getting married if the term 'same gender' rather than 'same sex' were used.
Proposition 9 intends to interject the victims of a convicted criminal into the parole granting process. I think the victims' involvement ended with the trial (probably not emotionally, but in legal terms) and sentencing. Further, there are programs within the state to assist victims to recover from crimes committed against them. To me, the parole process within corrections is complex enough without injecting victim emotions into it.
Proposition 10 in effect changes the state's budget priorities by continuing the subsidies for consumers who purchase alternative energy-fueled products, primarily automobiles. The subsidization extends tax credits that lower state revenues at a time when deficit budgets are a plaque on Sacramento. Sure tax credits are a nice incentive for consumers, but those consumers choose to purchase their products mostly for other reasons. The decision to purchase something for a specific need has already been made without considering the tax break. If the consumer decides to purchase a hybrid-fueled car, the new car will give the consumer a lower cost of ownership without any subsidy via tax credits. With lowered demand for gasoline, state tax revenue will diminish accordingly. So, extending tax credits rewards consumer choice while cutting tax revenues to fund the state's expenditures I think this change in budgeting should remain with the legislature and the governor, the people we elect to perform that job.
Proposition 11 is an attempt to wrest control of redistricting from the legislature and placing responsibility with a new commission. Texas is not the only state to use creative redistricting for the protection of certain politicians from electoral challenge and to change the power dynamics within the legislature in ways the voters have not. I think a commission approach is worth trying. It can't do worse.
Proposition 12 requests a $1.8 billion bond obligation to improve services and facilities for California's military service veterans. As a veteran, I think it is worthwhile.
I find it interesting that only two of the twelve propositions were placed on the ballot by tghe legislature. All of the ten others qualified by petition submissions. Of the twelve, I think the least controversial issues are the ones from the legislature. Why doesn't the legislature deal with the other issues? What's up with that?!
Comments on Socialism
Today's Sacramento Times reports that the Secretary of State officially announced a new record in the number of Californians registered to vote next Tuesday: 17.3 million! Still lagging in number with Cairo and Mexico, DF, it is a staggering number of people who will determine how California votes in the Electoral College.
As so many of you may have, I've just about reached my saturation point for this election's campaigns. Because I want to get some other things done today and this weekend, I want to share with you my comments on various items on the ballot. This is the first of a few postings within which I feel compelled to opine.
I voted two weeks ago, so my decision-making ended then, regardless of the election's outcomes. Just for the context of these posts, for the federal offices, I voted a straight Democratic Party ticket. I moved into my current federal district 49, whose incumbent is Darrell Issa-R. I know I don't want him to represent me, nor do I want any Republicans in the State Assembly and Senate for the time being. Anything that can be done to break up the Republican's minority hold on State government should be done. Clearly, party affilliation is more important than running the state. A much larger Democratic legislature majority would be inclined to work much more productively with Governor Schwarznegger.
This afternoon, speaking at a McCain rally in Columbus OH, our dear governor told the audience that he had lived many years of his life under socialism and he saw how it failed to help his country, so he is very much against the socialist programs that Senator Obama wants to implement. [Huge rour from the crowd.] Well hold on for a surprise, folks, many of the U.S.A.'s federal and state programs fall within the definition of 'socialism'. The McCain/Palin campaign is using the term 'socialist' or 'socialism' to generate fear among the electorate. Our current President used fear tactics elicit popular support after 9/11 that have resulted in his horrendous rape of The Constitution and for the killing of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Southwest Asia, including over 5,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lies in the defense of freedom are good lies to his Administration and its supporters.
Socialism 101: "It is collective because society can control production unlike the economic anarchy of capitalism and because production is for the common good rather than for individual profit." Cf. http://home.vicnet.net.au/~dmcm/Articles/nutshell.htm. There are other, more thorough, complex and complicated essays elsewhere about the concept of 'socialism', but this one captures, to me, the hot buttons that create the emotional and often irrational responses among Americans. For instance, 'collective' came to mean the suppression of individual choice and endeavor by the state, as it had in Germany and the Soviet Union during the 1930's. Today, most countries exist in some form of socialism whether their governments aredemocratic (Europe, Japan, Taiwan and most former British Colonies), totalitarian (autocrats of Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Libya, and so forth) or somewhere in between, as in China.
Those of us who lived through the eras of totalitarian socialist states in Germany and in the countries of the USSR witnessed the terrible nature of such regimes that claimed that their actions were done on behalf of all Germans or of all workers. If those two countries are the only knowledge of socialism a person has, then socialism is dehumanizing and must be fought at all costs. Also many Americans perceive that when the government decides what is best for the individual, that government wipes out the underpinnings of the American Dream in which anyone can succeed at their goals using individual ingenuity, creativity, acquiring assets with the support of Divine Providence. "Don't Tread On Me" "Give me liberty or death!" "Remember the Alamo!" are patriotic mottos common to the American history as the world's first democratically determined, republican form of government. Those mottos give sustenance to aspirations and hopes of individuals, not to any collectivist proposition.
What the Libertarians and other die hard individualists decry is any government action that addresses the collective good over individual good. Some states' formal names include the word 'Commonwealth'. If that is not a clue that the common good can include individual good or even supersede individual aspirations, then there is no basis for a society to exist for a Commonwealth of anything.
Whenever I hear a farmer or someone in an agricultural, rural part of the country say how they hate socialism, I think about all of the mortgage loan guarantees, crop price support and exclusionary tariffs that are "socialism in action." Tobacco farmers rely on continued receipt of crop subsidies from the federal government so they can afford to grow tobacco rather than another crop. If HHS issued an edict against all production of cigarettes, snuf and cigars in all states, who would be the first ones marching on Washington? It would be that tobacco farmer whose subsidy had been eliminated. Don't tread on me or the crop I want to grow, even if I cannot afford to grow that crop without federal subsidies.
Then there are the most recent socialist programs implemented by the Bush Administration to provide $700 billion to the financial services corporations when their own efforts and resources were insufficient to maintain the capital funding for our economy.
Social Security (1935) is often viewed as the beginning of American socialism. The Roosevelt Administration created Social Security to alleviate the conditions of the elderly who no longer have incomes or other resource. Today, how many Americans have enough savings to support their costs of living once they have decided to stop working? Many of us rely on the equity or value of our homes as our investment to support us in retirement. When the real estate prices collapsed in 2006, many people found that they owed their bank more than the market value of their homes. In the short term, Social Security stipends may be all that older people have to pay the costs of living. If one does not qualify for Social Security because they are too young, the unemployed discover that there are no employer pensions and no Social Security checks to keep from falling into poverty or depending on relatives and children, churches and synagogues, or what they could obtain by begging.
Since the early 1980's, companies have been underfunding or depleting pension funds for the cash they held. Employees began to increase their take home pay by quitting one job for another with a higher pay rate and employers began to appreciate the additional cash because they did not have to fund as many benefits. Today it seems that only public employees remain with their one employer so that they can receive pensions upon retirement. The competitive employment market now assumes that salaries, not benefits, lure qualified applicants. Employers no longer guarantee designated levels of future benefits, including retirement benefits, because employees value their salaries more than future benefits they may not be around to collect.
In 1965, Social Security added Medicare to its socialist programs to which all employees were entitled upon retirement at age 62 or 65. Since then other safety net programs such as Medicaid, state managed and cost shared with the federal government, veterans health care for some, but not all veterans. Federally funded housing and loan guarantees, savings deposit insurance, regulation of pharmaceuticals, food, air quality, public use areas and parks, the interstate highway system (1949+), stock exchanges, currency and accounting systems represent only some of the programs that fall within the envelope of "socialism."
The Confederacy formed by the former British Colonies failed because there were no political mechanisms to obtain consensus about federal taxes, interstate trade and tariffs, and an army and a navy to protect the Confederation of the United States. The 1787 Constitution created the means of checks and balances that would allow the federal government and the state governments to function within an overarching consensus about America's governmental principles and processes. The defeat of the secessionist states in 1865 finalized the boarders of the American consensus of government.
Dear readers, by now you must know that I have some strong opinions about throwing around the socialist label to cause fear of political opponents in order to elicit support for the candidate who abjures socialism as un-American. Ever since the colonies decided to form a union, we have had socialism in America.
So, please, all of you candidates, drop the fear tactics. Americans love socialist programs and woe to the political figure that tries to eliminate them.
p.s. For those who accept the New Testament or at least the Gospels, try substituting 'community' or 'communitarian' and the ethic of the two Greatest Commandments as declared by Jesus Christ. Even at the occasion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demonstrated the obligation of those who had fish or loaves of bread to share them with the others who were without food. In philosophy, the term 'communitarian' means the group as a whole. Buddhist teachings of the Mahayana way believe that for anyone to advance on the continuum of Enlightment, all must advance together. Thus, there is a common understanding between Christianity and Buddhism about obligations beyond oneself that include obligations to oneself.
Even the most literalist reading of the Gospels reveals God's Will of communitarian ethics and abhorence of individual greed and pride. I think John Calvin missed that part when he developed the concept of the Elect. The Gospel narratives of Jesus' life and teachings reveal the equality of each soul with God in Christ without exception or deeds.
Labels: 2008 election, Buddhism, Gospels, pensions, Social Security, socialism
02 October 2008
I Have Rethought My Position
In the prior posts about the House's defeating of the Administration's bail out plan of $700 million, I was angry at those who voted "no." I was wrong. In fact, I am glad the House defeated that bill and that they will defeat this week's revision.
It began to dawn on me that perhaps I could be on the wrong side of this issue after two events. First, I received Barbara Lee's-D (District 9) in which she explained her "no" vote was due to the lack of explicit steps to relieve the foreclosure and credit crises for individuals. Second, I received the Birk Plan and began to see how it really addresses the issue: the consumers, individuals are the ones who need the infusion of capital, not Wall Street.
I currently vote in District 49, which could not be more different a constituency than District 9 in Oakland. Darrell Issa-R is my representative in the House. He, too, vote against the Administration's bill; however, for other reasons.
I hope the amended bill does not pass the House and I hope the Senate begins to listen to Main Street instead of Wall Street.
Now, it's off to view the Biden/Palin debate.