I generally try to leave religion out of this blog. Religion is a deeply personal matter and I’ve always tried to respect that. While I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a Christian, I also realize that our great nation has people of many faiths (and some with no faith, although I find that puzzling) and not everyone shares identical beliefs. My original intent here was to discuss politics and sports. It has since evolved primarily a political blog (I still blog about sports; you can catch my writing at Zell’s) and one aimed at policy matters. But as you may be aware, I recently suffered a setback in my battle with Crohn’s Disease and spent some time in the hospital. Such stays allow you a chance to reflect on things more deeply than you might otherwise, and as a result of that reflection I decided I cannot stay silent on the sudden intrusion (and misrepresentation of Scripture) in political discourse.
One of the tag lines that liberals love to toss around is “what would Jesus do?” The intent, of course, is to paint conservative thought as mean, bullying and anti-Christian. In a world where Scripture is often used to further political ends, conservatives are just as guilty as liberals, of course. But the sad reality is that the archetype of liberal thought loves to use misguided perceptions of Christ’s teachings in an attempt to show conservatives as hypocritical.. Two recent events are incredible examples of just how liberal political use of Scripture has perverted its lessons and meaning.
The first was the President’s invocation of Luke 12:48 in his National Prayer Breakfast speech on February 2. He said,
“I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”
This gave me pause at the time. The President claims to be a Christian, yet used this particular verse to justify raising taxes in the name of charity? There are plenty of verses regarding the concept of charity. 1 Timothy 1:5 is an excellent example of the Christian view of charity, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” But since the verse is a description of charity not mandated by government but rather as a demonstration of faith, it hardly fit the political bill.
See the reason the particular verse cited by the President made me sit up and take particular notice is that it has nothing do with charity or taxation. It is part of a parable Christ was telling the disciples regarding the types of punishment that would be meted out during the Second Coming. The parable begins in verse 42, in response to a question from Peter. Jesus had just told the disciples the parable of the Thief in the Night, which he used to describe the timing of the Second Coming, and Peter asks in 12:41 if Jesus is only telling this parable to believers or to all people. Christ then describes how Christians are held to a higher standard than non-believers. While all men will be held accountable for their sins on Judgment Day, believers who purposely misled the unfaithful through their actions will receive a special punishment. That is what he is referring to in 12:47-8, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
I was, and remain, deeply puzzled by the President’s misuse of this piece of Scripture. There are only two possibilities for him to use it in the context he did. Either he is not a Christian, or he has been seriously misinformed regarding one of the most important passages in the Bible. If the former, so be it – but he shouldn’t suggest he understands the meaning behind words that hold no particular relevance to him. If the latter, he should seek a new church, one that actually hews to Scripture and do so immediately.
The other odd policy decision regarding faith that made headlines was the President’s seemingly insane attempt at forcing Catholics and others to accept mandated birth control, in direct contravention to their doctrine. I am not Catholic – many of their teachings I cannot find Scriptural reference for (such as the veneration of saints). Yet, I still found the method he arrived at the decision to be puzzling. Catholics believe contraception to be a sin and there is a Scriptural basis for this doctrine (Geneses 1:28 and Leviticus 15:16, in particular). So why was it so difficult for the President to make the exception he made on Friday part of the original HHS decree, especially when the Catholics in his administration warned him beforehand that such move would essentially be sticking his thumb in the eyes of all people of faith? Again, the only answer I can come up with is that the President, his protestation to the contrary, is either not a man of faith or has received seriously deficient spiritual counsel.
This brings me back to the beginning of my post. What would Jesus do? Jesus was not apolitical – the Romans would have cared less about him if he were. No doubt, Jesus would have been fired up at the President for misrepresenting his teaching. Given that Christ was first given to instruction of those who should know better, he would have asked the President to define how he could simultaneously claim to be a man of faith, and in the same moment blaspheme? That would have been very akin to his questioning of the Pharisees over their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:41-46).
So, I’ll now sit back and wait to hear replies, either from the President or his liberal supporters. I suspect, that much as the Pharisees were unable to answer Jesus, I won’t hear a peep from the liberal masses.
Every once in a while, a bolt from the blue comes along and provides you with instant clarity. I just had one.
Yesterday, I noted this quote from the Partisan-in-Chief: “Republican policies are an approach to government that will fundamentally cripple America.” I thought Obama was simply trying to stir up the radical left with that oddball statement. After all, Republicans may be trying to streamline government (and dragging the Democrats along, kicking and screaming) but they’re hardly out to cripple the nation.
And then I realized he made that statement at a LinkedIn open house. And followed that up over the weekend by telling the Congressional Black Caucus to ”Shake it off. Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.”
It seems our post-partisan, post-racial President is ready to not only toss aside post-partisanship in an attempt to hold onto power. He’s now throwing away the idea that we’re one nation, ideally color blind. Yes, he’s out there riling up the black community by (1) scaring them into thinking Whitey Republican is going to take away their jobs (although, with real unemployment in the black community hovering around 37%, there aren’t that many to take and (2) Whitey Republican is going to cripple their America. You know, the one the rest of us refer to as the welfare state but the one the liberals love to think of as the “real” America. The Promised Land in the Genesis song where everything comes easy, you just hold out your hand.”
I said yesterday that this election strikes me as a battle for the soul of the United States of America. After further reflection, I think that may be the greatest bit of understatement in my life. This isn’t a battle. It is an all-out WAR.
A positive development in our politics is that attention is finally turning to the debt and the annual deficit. In case you aren’t aware of the raw numbers, the deficit for the past two years has ballooned to more than an aggregated $3 trillion. That has raised the national debt to more than $14 trillion – or, about $123,000 for every household in the United States. I give President Obama credit for finally listening to the nation and recognizing the seriousness of the problem. It marks a dramatic turn for him, seeing as how he spent more in his first two years in office than his predecessor did in eight.
In his speech last week, the President didn’t mince words: he expects the “wealthy” to pay substantially more than they currently do while he continues to spend like a drunken sailor on things only a drunken politician would consider necessary. Lo, the blogosphere and networks have focused on the President’s new Medicare proposal (more on that tomorrow) and how yes, the “rich” should pay more. After all, the argument goes, the middle class is paying higher rates than the wealthy and that is just unfair. It certainly seems a winning political argument; after all, who isn’t for soaking the rich?
This makes for good sound bites and good politics, but bad policy. I realize that in some regions the Democrats definition of “wealthy” (a family earning $250,000/year) might make sense. But in others, $250,000 per year is simply middle class. Upper middle class, to be sure, but hardly wealthy. In the New York metro area, a family easily achieves a combined $250,000 in income with two public sector workers. It is even easier to reach if one person sells cars and the other works in the local bodega. The same holds true for San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major metro areas around the country. This is really a call to arms in class warfare, the destructive political game played by Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt, with disastrous effects for the nation – though those effects weren’t felt until decades later. Even liberal icon FDR understood the dangers of the game and generally shied away from playing it.
Fortunately, the IRS keeps records on the truly wealthy and the rest of us. The latest data they have is from 2007; but since the one tax policy liberals love to hate – the “Bush Tax Cuts” were already in effect – it makes a good statistical reference point. You can find it here. In it, the IRS keeps tabs on the 400 wealthiest taxpayers in the country and compares their rates to the rest of the taxpaying public. They began tracking the data in 1992, so we have a 15 year window in the way tax policy evolved through both the Bush and Clinton eras.
At first blush, it seems as though liberals may be on to something. The IRS calculated the effective tax rate on the top 400 earners as 26.38% in 1992, rising to a high of 29.93% by 1995, and then steadily dropping to 16.62% by 2007. But statistics are wonderful things; anyone can quote a number out of context to prove an argument and this is exactly what the liberal media is doing.
First, I give credit to the IRS for doing what nobody to the left of center has bothered doing in their arguments. Their numbers reflect 1990 dollars ,thereby accounting for inflation (in mathematical terms, they normalized values). So, if the truly wealthy were paying lower effective rates, then the government should have been taking in less money from them, right? Not so fast: in 1992, the IRS collected about $4.5 trillion; by 2007 that figure rose to $14.5 trillion. Why? Well, in 1992 not a single one of those 400 returns reflected an effective tax rate over 31%. By 2007, even with the hated “Bush Tax Cuts”, 55% of the top 400 had an effective tax rate of at least 35%. The lower overall tax rate for these taxpayers is reflected in the fact that 35 of them paid no tax – an effective rate of 0%.
Overall, the truly wealthy combined to pay 2.05% of the taxes in 2007, nearly double the 1.04% they contributed in 1992. In actual dollars, they contributed nearly $23 billion of the government’s total tax take of $1.1 trillion. Those who make up this class are certainly already paying their share and the administrations attempts to paint them as sore winners can only result in flat out class warfare.
We do have a revenue problem, since we’re spending more than 4 times what the government is taking in. A better focus would be on the 45% of Americans who currently do not pay any income tax. Certainly, if you’re gross income is below the poverty line for your region, you shouldn’t be expected to pay, but I doubt 45% of Americans are living in poverty. That certainly seems much fairer and also guarantees that those currently benefiting from living here also gain equity in the system.
However, I doubt we’re going to find $1.6 trillion in revenue by asking everyone to pay their taxes. We still need deep spending cuts just to get the 2012 budget balanced. Tune in as I tackle those issues throughout the week.
There are numerous reports circulating on the web that Fidel Castro has seen the light. According to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Castro told him “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”
Huh? What? The leader of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest communist dictatorship admitting communism doesn’t work?
Shock value aside, you have to wonder if (a) Fidel is losing his mind or (b) he’s finally seen the light.
Here’s guessing (b). A little later in the article, Goldberg reports his interpreter said, “I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”
That’s a WHOA moment if ever there was one. One of the last communist dictators on earth acknowledging government control of the economy doesn’t work. In case you’re wondering, even though Cuba has instituted some economic reforms the country is hardly a bastion of capitalsim. The typical worker earns $20 a month. In the same article, Goldberg describes how the Havana Aquarium was opened especially for Fidel. Just so he could watch a dolphin show. Oh, and all the employees “volunteered” to work on their day off, including the aquarium’s director (who happens to be a – hold onto your hat – nuclear physicist.) You can’t make this stuff up.
The question that went unasked in the article is, if the leader of the Cuban revolution realizes that the socialist model failed, why hasn’t the Democratic Party here in the USA? For that matter, why hasn’t our President? This report came out on the same day that President Obama looked to Trotsky and Lenin for political inspiration. He invoked class warfare (tax hikes on the wealthy) and suggested stronger government intervention in key industries is needed to get America back to work. It’s kind of sad, actually, that the last great communist dictator understands what the leader of the free world fails to grasp.
Of course, if Obama and the Democrats get their way, we could wind up with the one thing Cuba can lord over us Americans economically: full employment. Of course, we’ll all earn $20 a month. Oh, and we’ll all have to “voluntarily” give up our days off whenever the President wants to watch a dolphin show.
Besides, who doesn’t want a 1958 Chevrolet in the driveway?
One of the more intriguing topics to come up for debate in this election cycle is the issue of “Park51,” more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Despite President Obama’s insistence that his presidency would represent an ascension past the culture wars that have defined American politics since the founding of the nation, this has become the flashpoint issue for 2010.
Like most cultural issues, this one pits two core American values in opposition to one another: our first amendment rights to congregate freely and the freedom from having one group impose its values on any other, as described in the ninth amendment.
Under the First Amendment, the members of the Cordoba Initiative certainly have the right to peaceably assemble, to worship their god and to disseminate information about their beliefs. Those are their stated reasons for wanting to build their edifice virtually on top of the Twin Towers site. They say that they want to foster an understanding of Islam as a religion of peace, not terror. In other words, by building on the site they have selected they hope to heal the wounds many feel are directly causal from an intractable religious dogma that preaches the destruction of all things and people not Muslim. In the Cordoba’s view, that opinion of Islam is distorted and incorrect. But in their attempted healing gesture, they are demonstrating an incredible callousness towards the very society they hope to inform.
What they forgot is that for most Americans, our only exposure to Islam is what we’ve seen on TV, and foremost among those images is the image of the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground – and the Muslim world celebrating the wound inflicted upon the “Great Satan.” 9/11 was not an attack by one nation on another – unlike any assault since the Middle Ages; this was purely a religious war being waged by Muslims acting in the name of Allah. Even if the impression upon our nation is incorrect and this is merely one sect of the religion striking out at their perceived enemy, there are better ways to inform the American public than by pouring salt into the wound. Of course, it isn’t the first time the leader of the Cordoba sect has demonstrated an incredible lack of sense when speaking to the his adopted country: this is the same Imam who, in the days immediately after 9/11, essentially blamed the US for the attack. He is also on record attacking Israel and defending Hamas, to the point of helping sponsor the June provocation.
By refusing to reconsider their position, the Cordoba Initiative ignored the nation they are hoping to educate and thereby, gain further assimilation. It shouldn’t be that difficult for them: suppose a group of extremist Lutherans attacked Mecca? And then the Catholic Church built a large cathedral on the site? Would the Islamic world understand the differences between Christianity, radical Lutheranism and Catholicism? Most likely not – and the local bishop would be considered an idiot if he were to expect any local support.
By stepping into the middle of this muddle, the President turned up the heat on the issue. Perhaps he meant to. Perhaps he miscalculated. Either way, the mosque became definitive of a larger issue; namely, how does a subset of American culture successfully integrate into the mainstream? Is it through legal channels or gradual acceptance? It seems the left wing of the American body politic, as it often does, chose the method of legality: of asserting one constitutional right over another. In so doing, both they and the Cordoba’s have turned their mosque into a temple of rights vs. right and given the nation a new wedge issue. By embracing the intransigent side of the debate, the President has assured his party will bear yet another millstone on their way to the November elections.
There’s been a lot of talk lately, from both the left and the right, that most of the jobs lost in the current recession are lost forever. Robert Reich is a well-respected former Labor Secretary for President Clinton. In his article The Future of American Jobs, he contends that American jobs were permanently lost to a pair of factors: technology and outsourcing. Technology allows companies to increase employee efficiency (more employee productivity at lower labor costs); outsourcing is enabled by technology that enables foreign workers to remain competitive with Americans and can be closely monitored using new technologies. Although philosophically opposed to Reich, James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation reaches the same many of the same conclusions in Reduced Investment and Job Creation to Blame for High Unemployment. The only difference in these two articles is that Reich focuses on job losses, while Sherk focuses on job creation. But in both articles, the authors contend that both near- and long-term unemployment will remain at or near 8%. ( I wrote about the disappearing jobs phenomenon earlier this month)
There are many causes for this, of course, beginning with the fact that United States (and most of the developed world) began moving earnestly away from labor-intensive manufacturing economies towards knowledge-based service economies in the late 1970′s. Although well aware of this, nobody did much to prepare the citizenry for this fundamental economic change. Much as the US experienced a dramatic cultural and demographic shift in the late 19th century as we moved from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy, we are experiencing the same now. Policies over the past 30 years at both the federal and state level, rather than focusing on restructuring education and employment policies, were largely concentrated on sparing the status quo. Although the days of a high-school dropout being able to get a well-paying job for life at the local manufacturing plant ended a generation ago, we’ve continued to subsidize both the labor unions (who rely on perpetuating this myth) and the educational systems (whose labor unions and administrators have been resistant to changing the formulas they’ve worked under for 6 generations). As a result, we have a large segment of the population that is ill-suited for the type of work the modern economy provides.
Both liberals and conservatives in this country (and other Western nations) are calling for a return to 20th century economies. Liberals believe that the US can return to a manufacturing-based economy, if only certain policies are enacted. Some of these include: engaging in protectionist trade policy (apply punitive tariffs on goods produced in low-age countries); requiring a percentage of all goods sold in the US to be produced in American factories and tightening labor and banking regulations to “protect” the American worker. Conservatives are championing reduced immigration, business credits and lower taxes as the way to spur manufacturing growth. Both of these approaches – or any combination thereof – is wrong, immoral and ill-conceived. They are intended primarily to appease the 60% of Americans whose jobs will disappear or have disappeared in the past three decades.
First of all, thanks to technologies that were not even conceived a century ago, the modern world is more tightly interwoven than at any time in history. When combined with the fact that the days of imperialism ended with WWII, it is now impossible for any nation that relies on exports for economic vitality to successfully engage in protectionist trade policies. Imposing excessive tariffs or limiting imports in any way will, in the end, prove counter-productive as other nations reciprocate the move. Many persons in what we often derisively refer to as the “developing world” consider the steady income provided by manufacturing economies as a vast improvement in their situations. Despite wages that are considered substandard in the west, the mere fact that workers have a steady source of income – and therefore, food and shelter – provides a sense of security previously unknown. This was, by the way, the same attitude that drove many former tenant farmers to migrate to cities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the US and Europe. This was despite the advance knowledge that most would work in conditions that we find abhorrent and for wages that we can’t countenance today. Combined with the interactive nature of modern economies, no nation can afford to block goods coming from these nations.These types of policies were tried during the heights of the Great Depression – the result was over 50 million human beings killed in the greatest conflagration in history. Secondly, imposing inane limits on immigration will rob the US of a tremendous source of energy and vigor, both of which are priceless commodities in the new economy (and I suspect that very vitality is what many are afraid of). Finally, any restructuring of tax and revenue policies that ignore the modern economic realities in favor of a long passed age robs the emerging job market of strength and future generations of Americans of a sorely needed simplified tax code.
So, if the modern economy in the West will not be based on manufacturing, what will we do in the future? Where will the jobs come from? Well, first of all, not all manufacturing will be permanently off-shored. For several reasons (including national defense), there will always be some sort of manufacturing in the US. However, the reality is that as a percentage of employment and average compensation, American manufacturing will never return to the halcyon days of the 1960′s and 70′s. The new economy will be services based and requires a more educated and more flexible workforce than the one that currently exists. I realize that when I say “services” many people conjure visions of hotel maids and McDonald’s cashiers. Those type of jobs have always existed and will always exist, but nobody should think we’ll become a nation of gas station attendants. What I’m referring to by services are the types of positions that require more brain power than brawn power; fields like medicine, technology, research, aerospace, education and banking are all services. All are creating jobs right now. The problem is, their growth is restricted by a lack of skilled workers. It’s a fact that none of your politicians want to talk about, because they know in large part they’re directly responsible for this fact.
The answers about what to do for the next generation of Americans is pretty obvious and I applaud President Obama for starting education initiatives that may prove fruitful. (I’m no fan of the President, but you have to give credit where it’s due). However, there are 2 generations of Americans now in the workforce and a third about to enter, whose citizens are ill-prepared for the current economy. The big question is what do we do about restoring some semblance of full employment, and at tolerable wages now? The first thing is for the labor unions to understand that the world has changed and they need to get with the times. Once, the antagonistic approach between organized labor and business in the US led to a system that worked well, in the contained system that was the US. Once the US was no longer the dominant player in manufacturing, though, the unions failed to keep up with pace of global economics. It is long past time for them to seriously engage foreign governments and labor markets -by working to raise living standards oversees, they can reinforce those standards back home. Secondly, our own politicians need to work in ways that remove the yoke of debt from our collective shoulders. The projected national debt for 2020 equates to $150,000 for every family in the US – or more than 3x the anticipated per family income for that year. That level of debt is unsustainable and is largely driven by “entitlement” spending – Social Security and the new Health Care package. It is past time to revisit how these programs are funded before they drive the entire nation into bankruptcy. Until debt projections are reduced, funding for projects needed to revitalize the economy cannot be pursued. In the same vein, the political class needs to be honest about the limits of government intervention in economic policy – aside from fiscal and tax policy, there really isn’t anything they can do for immediate and sustainable growth. At the moment, fiscal policy is stagnated -interest rates are at zero. That leaves tax policy – which will not unfreeze capital markets. However, by implementing a strategic tax policy in coordination with a debt reduction plan, lawmakers can relax market tensions by demonstrating long-term fiscal sense.
However, even if the various entrenched factions were to begin immediately putting these ideas in action, the near-term effect would be negligible. We would still need high spending on unemployment compensation and other safety net program to prevent our society from devolving into absolute chaos. I would like to add a caveat to this spending, though. One thing obvious to anyone who’s driven any road in Pennsylvania or watched a manhole explode in New York City knows our infrastructure is aging badly. I would offer those receiving government assistance the option of either attending training in a new field or showing up for manual labor repairing our bridges, schools and the like. This recreation of the WPA would at least prevent the nation from just throwing money down a rat-hole.