25 July 2010

So Crazy, It Just Might Work

While I am a left leaning sort of guy, I am aware that human nature is not nearly as benign as many lefties tend to think. People can be mean, selfish, hostile, even evil. Especially so, when the consequences of their acts are separated from the acts themselves. If sex produced children in a week, for example, people (meaning men) would have a lot less sex. The nine months wait is long enough to lose track of cause and effect.

This same pattern is true in government. The massive deficit we have now has deep roots in the tax rebate we got almost ten years ago. (Remember the check?) The surplus was bad, remember? Give it back to the people, remember? Then came the calamity of 9/11, and in three years we were spending lots of money on two wars.

And yet, did we raise taxes to pay for those wars?

No, we lowered them again, taxes being bad and all that. So we started spending money we did not have, way back in 2002. And now we seem to have forgotten all that. By one estimate (click on the link) the cost of the wars accounts for more than half of the discretionary spending Congress appropriates.

Now, if we are serious about reducing the deficit, there are two ways to do that. One is raise taxes.

OMG! Taxes!

OK, then reduce spending. When you look at the chart, where would you start?

Tough choices. And we would not have to make such a tough choice if we knew what it would cost when we made it. So I have an idea. It's a crazy idea, but it might just work.

War Taxes. What if we could only go to war if we created a tax to pay for that war? I think we need a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to levy a separate and distinct tax any time they approve military intervention.

Your pay stub would have boxes for income tax, social security (FICA) and war. Your W2 and 1040 would include special calculations to figure your war tax along with your income tax. Everyone would know their stake, responsibility, whether they were in the services or not.

War costs money. Far more than the Depression, World War II bloated the federal government. At the height of the war, almost 40% of the GNP was flowing through the government. It happened in the Civil War as well, the first time an income tax was approved.

But if we had to pay for it personally, through a distinct tax that would grow every time the cost went up, at least we might see it when it happens. And who knows, we might actually question the sunshine patriots in Congress who are always willing to fight to very last drop of someone else's blood or the last farthing in someone else's purse.

I know. It will never happen. But maybe it should.

24 July 2010

How Legal Are You?

Here's a Switch, but as old proverb does say, "Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows." Evangelicals are lining up with our (foreign, Muslim, read "too black" to be one of us) president on immigration. Yep, it's true. You can read about in the (secular, liberal biased, and therefore unfair and unbalanced) New York Times.

In some ways, the flap over Arizona and 'illegal immigrants' has revealed the pulsing xenophonic heart of the Tea Party movement, which raises real issues but is partly propelled by fear that borders on paranoia. That its constituents are whiter, older, male'er than the rest of the population not only belies its claim to be the voice of the people but shows the driving fear of us older white male'er folks (yes, I fit that demographic) that we are being 'overrun' by 'outsiders,' meaning darker, younger, female'er folks. I could also include straight and middle class but that would make my post too long and messy.

(Is it purely accidental, btw, that the anger about illegal immigrants comes so close on the heels of the 'birther' movement that insists the president is himself illegal?)

So yay for Arizona for showing us how some big hearted Americans can also be small minded at the same time. And yay for the NAACP for calling the Tea Party on its closeted racism. And yay for Mr. Breitbart for being journalistic scum and proud of it. You go guys, and eventually the nausea and disgust will more than offset the momentary if actual appeal of the so called Tea Party.

This also means that those of us who are OK with a less white, less male, less straight America can also be Christians, and how cool is that? St. Paul said that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. That's what I call a Christian America. So as far as I can tell the Tea Party is both unamerican and unchristian.

If you think there is something wrong about all this, meaning the growing demonization of 'illegal immigrants' I invite you to drop in on "Wear Your Papers," on Facebook. July 29th is when the Arizona law goes into effect. This virtual event asks people to wear inverted blue triangles that day, which was what the German Reich required of alien workers.

But if you choose not to do that, I invite you to carry your passport that day, which is the gold standard of legality. What, you don't have a passport? We 'naturals' are allowed to go around with them. Even legal aliens have to carry their papers even now. But why should people believe you are a natural born citizen?

Nine states are considering Arizona like laws. Say you get pulled over for speeding. They could ask for your papers. A driver's license is not good enough. Passports are the standard. As Karl Malden used to say, "What will you do?" How will you prove your legitimacy if asked?

Of course, you won't be stopped. You don't look illegal, right? For now, that is.

21 July 2010

Xray Vision Anyone?

Treading uphill all the way, I digest the accumulated news at the gym in the mornings. And this article caught my eye.

Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

Aside from all the Good Guy cred, what got my attention was how the company plans to succeed by marketing its virtue as well as its product. Like Fair Trade Coffee, which I buy, Knights Apparel is telling me its product costs more because it pays more to its workers.

In some ways this is a lot like the appeal of organic food to health puritans, who do not want to sully their bodies with icky bits. But in another sense it is a kind of transparency.

When Upton Sinclair showed the true nature of the meat packing industry in his book "The Jungle" back in 1906, people learned the true nature of what they were eating, something so grotesque and disgusting that it moved the federal government to act, resulting in the FDA of today. Ralph Nader did the same thing with "Unsafe at Any Speed," which revealed the dangers of the Chevrolet Corvair and the disregard of the automobile industry to safety.

When we know not only the price of something, but the process involved in making it, we may elect to spend more if it is safer for us, or more honorably made. Of course, if we do not know where something comes from - food, drugs, clothing, cars - we can only choose based on what we can perceive such as price and personal experience.

I wonder what it would be like if all our stuff came with provenance, with a knowledge of how it was made and of what and by whom. Price matters. Quality matters. These we know. Decency matters too, and fairness as well, I think. At least I hope so.

16 July 2010

Still Feeling Creepy...

Even more so actually. Here is what I saw yesterday, and you tell me if this is not troubling.

13 July 2010

Cleaning Up

Being a sluggish fellow, meaning inclined to indolence, things pile up in my home office. (I maintain a semblance of order at my church where appearances matter) This week I am going through the books on my shelves here, about 55 linear feet of space.

When I moved in, books went anywhere just to get them out of boxes. Over the intervening five years stuff has moved about a bit, and so it was getting a mite chaotic. Two nights ago, feeling a gust of industry blowing me along, I decided to sort them and reorganize them.

This, of course, turned into a review of my study success and failure rate. On my green arm chair are the books I have read in the last year or two, most of them at least. Maybe you'll find them interesting. In no particular order...

Theodore Rex (about TR)
The Courtier and the Heretic (about Leibniz and Spinoza)
Undaunted Courage (the Lewis and Clark Expedition) Stephen Ambrose
A Hundred Years of Solitude by G G Marquez
Mozart a Biography by Solomon
Pop 485 by Michael Perry
Byzantium by Michael Angold
Austerlitz by W G Sebald
The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo
Hard Green by Peter Huber
Christianity and the Social Crisis by W Rauschenbusch
Colored People by Henry Louis Gates
Nothing Like It In The World (Transcontinental Railway) Stephen Ambrose
The Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust
Paradise Lost, by John Milton
The Odyssey, Homer, the Fagles translation
The Purgatorio, Dante, Hollander version
The Making of American Liberal Theology, 3 vols. by G Dorrien (almost done!)
The Five Books of Moses by Robert Altman
The Cambridge Commentary on Isaiah, 2 vols.
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

Long on history, classics and religion. Short on novels and modern literature. And not nearly enough at that. I am working on a bio of Beethoven right now so can't take credit for that. And suspect that there are others I have set down somewhere and don't remember off hand. Still, not a very impressive list in terms of length.

But people seem interested in what clergy and other putatively educated people read, so there it is. Next time I'll share books on my office shelf that need to be read, handsome gifts among them, and not a complete list at that. But in case you haven't figured it out, I will never read all the books I have. Sad but far better than having more time than books, I would say.

08 July 2010

Feeling a Little Creepy

It's the Arizona thing. I do get it, that they and others are frustrated with the apparent inability or unwillingness of the federal government to prevent unlawful immigration. Such laws are a form of saying, "Well, if you won't clean up this mess, I'll do it myself," followed by much stomping about to make the point. We've all had those moments, and many of them are righteous.

What makes me feel creepy is how much this reminds me of the uptick in official antisemitism during the Great Depression. I found myself reviewing the history of the rise of Nazism, which grew partly in response to the Depression in Germany.

People there, suffering immense unemployment and financial uncertainty, saw "The Jews" as responsible for their problem. Not only the famous 'cabal of international financiers' imagined in the fictional "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," but ordinary citizens like themselves who because they were different were still felt to be outsiders. These Jews, ordinary people sometimes believed, were taking jobs away from them, meaning real Germans. They used things like schools and hospitals and other tax funded services.

In short, Germans saw Jews as outsiders who were a threat. Hostility to Jews was already there, mind you, although much reduced from medieval levels. But the economic crisis helped rekindle it when people needed a 'villain' to explain their woes.

I see uneasily similar attitudes behind the Arizona law, which like the Nuremberg laws, turned emotional anxiety into official policy. This law is directed at those who 'look' illegal, meaning Mexican. There are unlawful immigrants from all around the world, including blond Canadians and blue eyed Swedes. But is the the Mexicans who are the threat now.

Even after 9/11 states did not pass laws to address racialized xenophobia, so this willingness of local government to make laws based on fear, to put the power of the state in service to something bordering on racial paranoia, is truly distressing.

At least for those of us who know what happens when fear and xenophobia combine. We may not be heading down the road to fascism yet, but this may well signal a return to nativism, Know Nothing politics, and the simplistic tribalism that lay behind Jim Crow for a century. They all had their day in our history, and unless we remember those days more consciously we shall, as Santayana opined, surely repeat them.

03 July 2010

Behind the Times

I love my NYTimes so much that I cannot read them as fast as they come. Yet I fear missing something if I discontinue it. That's why there is a stack if Sunday Magazines behind my rocker.

(Yes, I sit in a rocker, a goose neck rocker inherited from my mother-in-law that needs repairing and reupholstering.)

While I was away at a conference I took some Sunday Magazines with me. While some articles are time urgent, most are not and thus just as pertinent month or two later. Especially the back page, a short essay of about 1000 words written by unknowns or well knowns on something off the beaten path. I love them.

Because I am behind, the one that got my attention today was a back page essay by Betty Fussell on March 28, 2010. It is so right in tone and form that I'll let you read it rather than me tell about it. It's called "Earning Her Food." Please read it and enjoy.

Readers, I would bookmark the Magazine in your browser if you don't subscribe to the atavistic paper edition like me. It's what "Salon" wants to be when it grows up.

(And you can even print out crosswords!)

01 July 2010

O Canada!

Merry, happy, joyous, Canada Day readers.

Despite ten generations of American heritage, my heart is up north today in the nation that somehow manages to have freedom and national health care, low crime and high guns, English and French, democracy and decency.

Over the years I have been there many times, and even sent my son to college there. Few cities are so pleasant and moving as Ottawa, with its parliament buildings perched on bluffs above a great river, a canal that cuts through town, gardens without end and plenty of good beer and hockey as well. Best yet, across the river in Hull is a world class museum and casino. What's not to love?

This particular Canada Day HM ER II is in town and all the flourishes of pageantry that follow her. They may not be as big as we, but by God they know how to put on a show. For those who want a taste, drop by CTV Ottawa and watch the videos.

How about those RCMPs trotting on matched mounts with lances skyward and HM riding in a horse drawn landau. No wonder they had an empire!

I love my country to be sure, but sometimes I think we would be a better country if we were more like our northern neighbors. And if the price is a little atavistic monarchism, then I say, Here Here!

"God save our glorious Queen." says the song, though I think she needs saving less than we do right now.