Tuesday, September 29, 2009

His piece is bigger!

An AP article posted on Yahoo today reports the income gap is widening between the richest and the poorest in the nation. This should come as a surprise to no one, since it’s a lot easier to go broke when you only had $50 to begin with. It takes longer to go through $50,000. It goes on to say median incomes fell $2,000, poverty jumped to 13.2% (an eleven year high), and food stamps families went up 13% last year. The article ends with, “The findings come as the federal government considers new regulations to rein in executive pay at companies in which it has invested. President Barack Obama also typically cites the need for higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for health care overhaul and other measures, arguing that the wealthy have disproportionately benefited from tax cuts during the Bush administration.”
Remember when we all watched endless slide shows and specials, telling us about the victims of 9/11? Do you remember seeing all those faces, reading all those names, feeling sick in your heart for their families? Did anyone ever talk about whether they were CEO’s or janitors? Did anyone care about what income level they were at? Nope. All that mattered was their lives had value, and their lives were lost. For just a few weeks, we didn’t care so much about class lines. We were united in our grief, and then united in our fury.
Ever since Andrew Jackson, the first “common man” to win the office of president, politicians in this country have been quick to point out our economic differences. Politicians of all stripes drone on and on about this idea of the “average American” and the “common man” and are quick to point out that some people live above or below that average. In times of economic crisis, it’s easy to lay the blame on people who have a lot of money. It seems unfair that they have a lot and you have a little. It seems unfair that the pinch will hit them last. It seems unfair that some keep their jobs and some lose them. Here’s my question: Does the Declaration of Independence, Constitution or Bill of Rights promise anyone that things will always be fair? We have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit to happiness—do we have the right to prosperity? Do we have rights to economic equality? It seems we have equal opportunity with unequal results. Is that right?
I think it’s a misnomer that we declare that “all men are created equal.” It’s not true. Some people have talents in business, and they do very well. Others have talents in speaking, or science, or writing, or working with people. Some are born to wealthy families and some are not. Some are born to families that value education and some are not. Some are born to parents who want them, and some are not. We come here unequal, different in almost every way. What makes us equal is the standing we have in the government. If you still have representation in the government, if you exercise your right to vote, you have an equal standing.
Some think that in order to rectify the wrong of an unequal distribution of wealth is to tax it away from those who earn it. How is that fair? Why is it unfair for some to make more money than others, but it’s not unfair for some to pay for all? The fairest tax would be a flat tax with no deductions. Everyone pays the same, without exception. Then no one is picked on, and the man whose 11% amounts to $13,200 makes up for the man whose 11% is $1,320.
We can’t let the politicians bring us into bitter class warfare. It’s their way of hiding the fact that they are doing nothing to help us. Demand common sense, and accept the fact that democracy and capitalism don’t guarantee that life is fair or equal in every way, and it shouldn’t. If God didn’t see fit to make us all the same, I don’t trust the federal government to do so, and it most certainly isn’t their job to do so. Don’t become distracted by fighting with each other instead of demanding meaningful change, and quit crying like my two year old when he doesn’t get the same stuff as his five year old brother, “It’s not fair!” To you I say what I say to him, “Tough. Life isn’t fair.”

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pope on a rope...

Good news! No on one expects you to govern yourself or have any self control! This total abandonment of culpability seems to be the underlying message in the huge outpouring of criticism to the Pope’s remarks on condom use in Africa in March. According to an AP article, the Pope told his bishops in Africa the condoms were aggravating, rather than containing the continent’s raging AIDS problem. He called on congregations “to defend vigorously the essential values of the African family… [be] eager to promote a better understanding of the nature, dignity, and role of marriage….” Alain Fogue, a spokesman for MOCPAT, a group that campaigns for AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa, asked, “Is the Pope living in the 21st century?” He goes on to say, “The people will not follow what the Pope is saying. He lives in Heaven and we are on Earth. “

Mr. Fogue isn’t the only one up in arms over the Pope suggesting that people have some self-control and lead lives of decency and structure. He was also criticized by France, Germany, the UN AIDS-fighting agency, and a British medical journal. Belgium actually lodged a formal protest. These countries and groups insist the comments are “unacceptable,” “irresponsible and dangerous,” and “a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life.”
I’m so glad I live in an age and time when no one expects anything from me. It is unreasonable and dangerous to ask that I don’t treat my body like an Econolodge, letting anybody who has $35 come and stay and trash the place. It is outdated to even consider that virtue before marriage and complete fidelity afterward would even begin to scratch the surface of the AIDS problem. My gosh, this is the 21st century! “The flesh is weak,” as Mr. Fogue so creatively points out. It’s weak and it can’t be trusted. Latex, in contrast, is strong, reliable, and always ready when you need it.

I’m used to the media and critics scorning every word that comes out of Salt Lake City. I know they make fun of the “Christian Right” and the evangelical movement. I never thought there would be such huge media criticism of the Pope! That guy is huge! He’s rich! He’s powerful! He has some really impressive hats and Prada shoes! What a sad commentary on our morals, our values, and our complete abandonment of God’s plan for his children when the Pope can’t express Church doctrine without coming under fire. Points do have to go to the Pontiff for criticizing the media right back, saying the backlash has been, “used by some groups with a clear intent to intimidate, as if to dissuade the Pope from expressing himself on certain themes of obvious moral relevance and from teaching the Church’s doctrine.” The message from Rome seems to be, “The truth hurts doesn’t it? Your way of life created the problem. Don’t get mad at me for doing my job and pointing that out.” That’s why I really like Pope Benedict XVI—he’s not messing around.

As time goes on and it becomes less and less acceptable to even suggest that people control themselves or be responsible for the consequences of their actions, I hope all of us being laughed at and scorned will band together and continue to declare what’s right and what’s true despite all the naysayers. When we still “live in Heaven,” and Mr. Fogue and his fellows in scorn live…not in heaven…those of us who have stood our ground will know what’s really weak, what’s really reliable, and what’s really “unacceptable.”

And because we are nice, we will not point and laugh, though we will kind of want to.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Playing dress up with schizophrenics

In just a few weeks, President Obama has amazed me more times than I anticipated. His administration is off to a great start…if by great you mean colossally bad.

First of all, Obama has clearly never watched American Idol. One of the dumbest things you can do is choose to sing a song that was ever sung by Whitney Houston. She set the bar too high, and you will almost invariably wind up looking horribly amateurish. Ditto for Presidents. If a president regularly ranks in the top five every year, you’ll have a tough act to follow. Obama seems to think he is some kind of amalgam of Lincoln, FDR, and JKF. Certainly if you’re going to find examples to follow, three of the most beloved presidents in US history are probably a good bet. However, Lincoln preserved the union, FDR presided over the worst war in modern history, and JFK had the good fortune of being assassinated (it’s done wonders for his popularity). Unless Obama plans to go to war with South Carolina, invade France (which I may support-France sucks) or die young, I wouldn’t make obvious comparisons. Obama only has two years before people start talking about the next election. What’s he going to do if the economy hasn’t magically turned around by then? What if his “fireside chats” and sympathetic letter reading have somehow failed to solve in two years a problem 15 years in the making? What if his cabinet of rivals has not given him the mystical key to solving all the problems of modern democracy. What if he spends all my money, and my children’s money, and my grandchildren’s money, and I am no better off than I was before the age of “Camelot?” I’ll tell you: no reelection for you Mr. Obama. We’re all going red, not green-and certainly not blue.

Next, the election has addled Obama’s brain. He seems to think you can do two opposite things at once. On Monday, Obama pledged to dramatically slash our skyrocketing deficit, seemingly minutes after signing a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill. I half expect him to promise to have a press conference announcing his intention to have his cake and eat it too. How in the world to you jack up the deficit while simultaneously slashing it? "We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences,” says the Commander-in-Chief. I agree. So who’s going to pay for my stimulus package and all the bailouts we’ve been forking over? Rich people. Everyone knows they don’t pay taxes. Just for the sake of argument, I’d like to compare my tax return to my mother-in-laws. I live in a $35-$50,000 tax bracket. She lives in a $75-$100,000 tax bracket. She makes easily double what I do. I get a tax refund every year. What with the EIC and tuition credits, the government pays me more than they took out in taxes for a whole year-three times more. She doesn’t get a tax return. Ever. She and my father-in-law often owe taxes at the end of the year. My point is this: what are poor people complaining about? YOU DON”T PAY TAXES! The government already pays you to get married, and have kids, and go to school and all kinds of other things you were going to do anyway. Rich people pay taxes. Even if they get out of some of them, they still pay way more than I do. So basically, by hiking their taxes up, we make them middle class too, only they don’t get paid for it. Yeah. That’s fair. Go ahead, climb the ladder of success-under Obama’s America, it turns out the ladder is an escalator-you’re not going anywhere.

If it sounds like I want Obama to fail, please believe me when I say I really don’t want him to go down in history as the beginning of the end. I don’t think he’s allied with the devil (I’ve read that on the Internet-I don’t like him but I’m not crazy). I actually think he’s a good, principled man and I very much admire his commitment to his wife and children. It’s just that he’s trying to do good-and a government isn’t meant to do good. It’s supposed to create an environment where the citizenry can do good. He’s going to wind up a sad little man wearing Lincoln’s stove pipe hat, FDR’s leg-braces flashing JFK’s signature smile while he chases his tail all the way back home to Illinois, with a country no better off, and more than a little disillusioned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why adulterers should be eaten by ants...

We seem to live in a society that is rapidly progressing to an almost Caligulan free-for-all; we can do whatever we want to get what we want as long as we don't get caught. Even if we do get caught, we seem to think some fast talking will make consequences go away. The governor of Illinois thought he could sell a vacant senate seat-he got caught and now he's trying to spin the consequences of his actions into a civil rights struggle for the common man. At least once a year for the past 10 we've heard of a powerful man-a politition, a minister, a business tycoon-who gets caught having sex with the wrong people, people who are not only NOT his wife, but also NOT women. The only thing that helps the irritation of being presumed so stupid we would all buy the incredibly lame excuses they throw at us, is the comedic pathos of a moron talking too much, way too late. Society needs rules to have order. People disregard the rules, you get all kinds of messy consequences: we don't trust politicians, evangelists are more than a little suspect, and we are less surprised than we ought to be when we hear that so-and-so are getting a divorce because one of them cheated. That's why I was so interested to learn about ants.

Ants have a rigid social structure and heirarchy. You can imagine how complicated it could get if a poplation that big was constantly competing against each other to mate, to protect their young, to get the resources needed to feed their young...its actually a little too easy to imagine. In ant colonies, there is only one female, the queen, who has the genetic mettle to produce strong and productive offspring that will benefit the entire colony. She only mates for one brief period in her life, storing all the sperm she could ever need during those, um, "encounters." Once she's mated, she doesn't get to mate anymore. Of course, the other ants sometimes get a little more excited than is strictly necessary when your whole life is devoted to moving crumbs. The other ants can sense both a male's arousal, and a female's fecundity. Not only do the other members of the colony attack if they catch rank and file ants mating, they attack if they're even thinking about it! Now that is some justice system!

The scientist who ran the study had this to say: "The idea that social harmony is dependent on strict systems to prevent and punish cheating seems to apply to most successful societies."

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that we ought to emulate ants in all the ways they control the chaos-I don't love communism or socialism, I think the idea of objectively picking the fittest female to carry one the species is more than a little creepy, and execution for fornicators is probably a little much. However, I do think its time to consider the reason everything from our economy to our government to our own families are in chaos for a very simple reason: too many of us believe we are above the rules, or the rules are obsolete. We don't believe our choices have far-reaching consequences. Now our economy is wrecked by selfish, hedonistic jerks and an attitude that can't wait for luxuries we can't afford. Our government is run by a bunch of great thinkers who believe we can throw money on a fire to put it out. Our homes, our families, our communities are a mess, because we only want what WE want, and all others be damned.

Ants aren't the smartest creatures. They have 250,000 nuerons in their tiny ant brains. An adult human brain has more than 100 billion. Ants get it. What's our problem?