A Tax Plan I Can Support…

I’d like to share a few thoughts on the subject of taxes because, of course, many of us have just ponied up to Uncle Sam.  I’m not anti-tax.  Mostly, I disagree with my conservative brethren about taxes because I know they represent the life blood of our government.  Sure, taxes suck but lack of income for important things sucks more.

There’s always the chorus of “I don’t want my taxes going to…” whatever.  I get that.  I don’t want MY taxes being used for the Military-Industrial Complex.  (“Military-Industrial Complex” is a euphemism for “corporate military”.)  I think George Carlin gets credit for the comment that the United States is an oil company with an army.  He was right…

Planned Parenthood is under attack by conservatives because up to three percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities include abortions.  Conservatives like to pretend they oppose abortion.  They don’t, in practice.  If actions speak louder than words – and they do – conservatives prefer abortion over teaching children where babies come from and providing the tools to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  You know how I know?  Planned Parenthood is under attack by conservatives because up to three percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities include abortions.  Ninety-seven percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities go to preventing unwanted pregnancies – and, therefore, abortions.  Really, it’s right there in the name: PLANNED Parenthood, see?

So I’d like to reform our tax system.  Not in the “give the overburdened rich people a break” pseudo-reform we hear about so often these days.  I’d like to allow people to direct their taxes to various areas of government concern.  If I could, I’d set up several categories, say six or so.  As part of their filings, people would include percentages to each category for their tax dollars.

Okay, so you have, say, ‘Infrastructure’, ‘Education’, ‘Military’, ‘Law Enforcement’, ‘Health Care’ (Medicare for all, of course), and ‘Social Services’.  (Naturally, we’d have to fight about which categories we’d use and what falls under where…)  The government would have to scrape off say, ten percent of each tax dollar for the general fund but after that, tax money goes to where tax money is directed and that’s the amount that area has to work with…no more.

Are you a hardcore ‘Law and Order’, “My country, right or wrong” type who had ‘other priorities’ when it was YOUR turn to serve?  You might put 50% on ‘Law Enforcement’ and 50% on ‘Military’.  Are you some bleeding heart hippie liberal?  Maybe you’d do 33% each to ‘Education’, ‘Health Care’, and ‘Social Services’.

The truth is, I think if people found themselves truly responsible for such decisions, they’d make some choices that would even surprise themselves.  For example, we have this false idea that conservatives support the military and liberals don’t.  But I don’t know any liberals who would like to see foreign countries overrun the US.  I think liberals would throw a bit on the ‘Military’ pile.  My example, above, didn’t put any money into ‘Infrastructure’ but I’d bet most of us would throw a bit in that direction, too.

There would be some early mistakes, of course, as we try to figure out how this system works in practical application.  Initially, I might under-fund ‘Military’, certain that right-wing hawks will give their all (metaphorically, at least) to the military.  We might over-do the ‘Infrastructure’ for a few years – at least until our roads are navigable and our water drinkable again.  I don’t think it would take long, though, before people started to figure it out and make appropriate adjustments.  For all the recent talk of police abuse, I’d STILL rather live in a society with police than without police, so I’d add a bit to ‘Law Enforcement’.

It  would take a couple of years but pretty soon government spending would reflect the will of the people.  The military-industrial complex couldn’t take more than they have available and I’d bet our public schools would be in MUCH better condition.  How DOES America feel about ‘Social Services’?  Given the option, would we pay more to feed poor American children than to bomb foreign children?  I think we would.

Oh, there’s one more thing: war.  Whenever people make plans about these kinds of things, they often include an exception for war.  “Okay, we’ll give everything to the poor – unless there’s a war, then the rich get to keep it all!”  Bad plan.  The United States is ALWAYS at war or, at least, in “conflict”.  So we would have to add a ‘Conflict Tax’, an additional tax that only kicks in when America is in a conflict somewhere in the world.  It would be a top-down tax.  That is, rich people would pay more.

Is that terrible?  We’re told every time some politician fires off rockets that we had no choice.  The fight is “existential”.  If our very survival depends on the outcome of the fight, people should do everything they can to protect the country, right?  Since it will be poor people doing the fighting and dying, the very least the rich can do is pay for the thing.

I’ll tell you this: I suspect that if people could direct their taxes to the areas of greatest concern to themselves, this country would be a MUCH better place to live.  And if the rich people had to pay for their “conflicts”, I suspect we’d see far fewer of them…

Am I wrong or am I right?

Agnostic or Atheist?

I’m an Atheist.  I don’t mind writing those shocking words because I’m comfortable with my position.  I’m not evangelical.  I don’t need you to be an Atheist.  I won’t come knocking on your door handing out tracts.  I’m not militant.  Even though in God I don’t trust I don’t mind touching money.  When some little old lady “blesses” me, I don’t feel the need to blast her.  I know she’s just wishing me well in language she understands and I can live with that.  I’ve even been known to return the sentiment, as a well wish I know she’ll appreciate.

I confess, I wasn’t always like that.  Back in high school, I used to seek out religious people for a good debate.  I thought I was helping them to see the folly of their silly beliefs.  I realized at some point it was more like kicking the crutches out from under a disabled person.  So, I stopped.  I still hold that organized religion has done more harm than good for/to humankind and I can still defend my position should someone feel the need but I don’t need to seek them out…

It’s funny, though.  It’s quite common, when people hear me say I’m an Atheist, to try to “save my soul”.  Commonly, this takes on one of two tacks.  Sometimes, they’ll take the “just in case” position.  You know the one.  “Shouldn’t you just SAY you believe in case you’re wrong?”

Um, the story is that your god is omniscient.  That means he knows everything, right?  That means he would know I was fibbing, one of the BIG no-no’s of religion.  Even if he didn’t have that extra “know everything” edge, any god that could be so easily fooled…probably isn’t worthy of worship, you know?  I’m pretty sure I’d need my gods to be, at the very least, smarter than me.  It’s not THAT high a bar – a god should be able to manage it…

The other common tactic people use is to try to “move” me off of atheism toward agnosticism.  Sometimes people will call atheism a religion.  By definition, it isn’t and I find those people the most obnoxious on the subject.  I think they’re trying to be, too.  They’re the same kind of obnoxious I was back in high school when I was trolling for believers…

Sometimes, they’ll simply deny atheism even exists.  As the argument goes, if I can’t absolutely state with 100% certainty that no god exists, I’m not atheist, I’m agnostic and since I can’t prove god doesn’t exist, the very best (worst?) I could be is agnostic.  It’s a silly position, really.  Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof and I hold that the existence of an invisible cloud being that bestows and denies requests on whims is the extraordinary claim.  The burden of “proof” falls to the believer.

I was recently in one such exchange with a person who tried to sprinkle in a bit of science.  Physics, he suggested, currently holds there are as many as twenty-two different dimensions and since I couldn’t possibly prove that no gods exist in any of those dimensions…BAM!  I’m agnostic.  (His words…)  I replied that my position is, basically, that I’ve never seen anything that would cause me to take the story seriously in this dimension or any other so…BAM!  Still atheist…

The exchange, though, put me on a thought path I hadn’t actually considered before.  Atheism exists, even if theists don’t like it.  But agnosticism?  Hmmm.  ‘Agnostic’ means one who doesn’t know; the opposite of Gnostic, one who knows.  For all the talk of “proof” and “knowing” that’s not what religion is about.  The best summation on the topic I know comes from Archie Bunker.  Yes, the 1970’s television show blue-collar bigot, THAT Archie Bunker.  “Faith means believing in something you’d have to be crazy to believe in!”

He’s right, right?  Faith doesn’t demand proof but it requires belief.  A person who says they “don’t know” is saying they don’t automatically believe; that they’d like a bit of evidence to help sway their opinion.  But faith doesn’t allow for that.  With faith, you either do or you don’t.  You’re either in or your out.  The question, “Do you believe?” only has two possible answers, yes or no.  A hand shoots up at the back of the class.  “But what if I don’t know?”  Well, then you have to check ‘no’.  The only people who get to check the ‘yes’ box are the people who are certain they believe.  If you’re ‘not sure’, you’re a ‘no’.

I’ll tell you this: I was a bit surprised by the epiphany.  Theists and Gnostics exist.  Atheists exist.  But there’s no such thing as an agnostic!  “Not sure” and “just in case” equate to “no”, like it or not…

Dem Wars…

When Dumb Donald took power, I consoled myself with the notion that the Democrats need only take back three seats in the Senate and he’d be thwarted.  Not completely, of course, but at least conservatives wouldn’t have free rein to ride roughshod over everything I think is important in a civilized society.

Now I’m less certain.  I’ve been a little startled by what I’ve been seeing in social media ever since Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez started their “Come Together” tour.  Some people don’t seem to taking the point.  They don’t even seem interested in the message.

Look, I get it.  Purist party loyalists are furious Bernie ran, preferring their own narrative that had he stayed out, Hillary would be President today.  Independents are furious about the discrepancies of the race – the DNC was supposed to facilitate, not manipulate, the primary.  They believe, likewise, that if Bernie had been given a fair chance, he would be President today.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  Yesterday’s news.  We can spend the rest of our lives pounding each other over the head with what we think might have happened, could have happened, should have happened if only…whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters are those three seats in the Senate.

But the sniping continues.  Tom IS the DNC (read: status quo).  Bernie isn’t even in the party!  My understanding is that people have been abandoning the major political parties in droves.  That suggests Democrats, alone, can’t get the job done but then, neither can Independents.  We need each other.

From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look much like Bernie and Tom like each other.  But they’re still out there, together, calling for unity.  They’re doing it because they know that focusing on what happened yesterday can only harm efforts for tomorrow – and tomorrow is more important than yesterday.

I’m not suggesting that anyone “get over it”.  Keep your wound, whichever wound you’re nursing.  Take it out at night.  Pet it, cuddle it, seek comfort from it.  But then put it away.  Don’t allow it to take your focus off the bigger picture.  I’ll do the same.  Let us stop antagonizing each other with details that matter not a whit to anything we face coming at us from the front because I’ll tell you this: the only way we’re going to save our society from devolving into the “Trump Dump” is to work together…

Housing In the “Free Market”…

monopoly with writing

I was planning on writing this same idea when I happened across this meme on Facebook.  The meme is credited to the Democratic Socialists of America.  (I STILL hold that ‘Democratic Socialist’ is a stupid name for an economic system.  I’m STILL pushing for ‘Social Capitalism’ instead…)

Nomenclature aside, the meme perfectly captures what bothers me most about so-called “Free Market Capitalism”.  In one picture and a few words the meme proves there’s no such thing as a “free market” and I say it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.

The thing most free marketeers don’t understand is that the system known as the poorly named ‘Democratic Socialism’ was pioneered in the United States by one Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He didn’t call it that, of course.  He called it the ‘New Deal’.  It was the New Deal that made America great, not the free market.

Regulations helped control behaviors that had previously destabilized the economy, ultimately culminating in the Great Depression, on a regular basis.  High taxes on the wealthy caused wealthy people to reinvest rather than just throw more money on their already colossal individual piles.  (Piles they don’t “earn”, no matter what they tell you…)

You see, Capitalism, left to its own devices, consumes itself.  I’ll give you just one example.  Have you ever heard of a R.E.I.T.?  (It’s pronounced “reet”.)  That’s a Real Estate Investment Trust.  They pool money they get from people with resources and use it, as the name suggests, to buy up real estate.  It’s not a bad idea if you’re buying strip malls and office buildings or even apartment complexes.  But now they’ve set their sights on single-family homes.  By “now”, I mean over the last few years.

Social scientists have long known that having people own their own homes makes a community more stable.  Once folks put down roots they are invested in the area.  They want nice roads and good schools.  They work and shop in the local area.  People want to live in a nice place so they’re willing to help make it and keep it a nice place.  In short, people owning their own homes is good for the society as a whole.

These days, owning your own home has moved well beyond the reach of most people.  According to the local paper where I live, the median home price, as of April 13, 2017, is $639,000!  The story says the reason is “tight inventory”.  We’re told there’s not enough new building going on so people are competing for the small number of houses.  This, in turn, means people are making offers, sometimes all cash offers, over the asking price…no matter how high the asking price!

How do people do that?  How does a work-a-day Joe make an offer OVER $639,000 for a 3 bedroom, 2 bath tract house?  I don’t think he does.  I think R.E.I.T.S do.  They have massive amounts of money.  They don’t care how much they pay for a property as they intend to rent it out.  (Which, in turn, causes the rental market to explode in cost.)

It’s a practice that artificially inflates the value of a house.  People who DO manage to buy, want to keep that value, naturally.  Should the market “correct” itself, they find themselves “under water” in their deal.  The banks are motivated to maintain the artificial values because they know that if people find themselves too far under water, they walk away in what’s known as “strategic default”.

Real estate people I know all pretend they don’t know what I’m talking about…never even heard of a R.E.I.T.  It’s hard to blame them.  Think of the return on the sale of a $639,000 house!  Capitalism at its finest.  And the sad part is, it IS Capitalism at its finest which, unfortunately, equals society at its worst.

Sure, it’s contributing to homelessness, pushing people out of the markets and out of the area they may have grown up in.  It’s destabilizing entire communities.  But it’s generating profit and Capitalism has no other goal.  As a microcosm, R.E.I.T.S are a fundamental example of Capitalism consuming itself.

But ask yourself: how long can this continue?  We’re well past the point where people can choose where to live around here.  IF you can find a place you can afford, you can stay.  If not, you leave – or move into the streets.  Homelessness is rampant.  (As a sidebar: one of the things John Adams noted on his first visit to France – only a few years before the French revolution – was the number of “beggars” in the streets…)

Free market Capitalism dictates people should do nothing; let the market straighten itself out.  But the wreckage to individuals and to the society as a whole in the meantime is far to dear a price to pay just so rich people can get richer.

I have a better idea: prevent R.E.I.T.S from buying single family homes.  Worse for them but better for the communities they’re currently ravaging, require them to divest all single family holdings in an excruciatingly short period of time, say six months.

I’ll tell you this: I can write radical things like that because I know it’s never going to happen.  The flood of inventory hitting the market at once would crash the artificially inflated value of homes almost overnight.  The truth is, it would only represent a correction and as a bonus would induce a concurrent correction to rental prices.  But none of the people who have been profiting from the status quo would be at all happy the gravy train was ending…

Where My Cons At?

I’ve noticed that things have quieted down significantly on my Facebook page.  What once was a steady stream of conservative…um…input, has dropped off to a trickle and been replaced by cute kitty videos and such.

I’ve spent a little time (very little) trying to figure out what happened.  Where did they go?  I’ve narrowed it down to a few possibilities:

  1. Not even conservatives want to defend Donald Trump so they’re keeping a low profile…
  2. Conservatives know that they’ve finally succeeded in destroying this once-great nation so there’s nothing left worth arguing about…
  3. The implementation of Facebook’s new “Fake News” identifier has taken the wind from conservative sails…

The list is not intended to be exhaustive…

Yesterday Guiding Tomorrow…

This once-great nation was first established under the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles called for a weak central government with a strong emphasis on states rights.  It lasted about ten years before failing.  The time came to replace the Articles of Confederation and the members of the Continental Congress looked at other governments around the world.  They had the advantage of history to guide decisions they were making about the future…

When Alexander Hamilton was establishing the economy of the United States after the Constitution we all recognize today was created, he looked again to historical examples.  He was able to pick and choose the parts that worked well and discard things that hadn’t been as successful…

These days, I find myself using the same techniques to try and divine the future and offer up some ideas that I think might help in the next iteration of the United States.  If the inference is that the United States 1.0 has failed, I believe it.  I can explain but that’s not what I’m on about today.  For now, suffice to say there’s going to be trouble in the country.  Big trouble.  It’s a prediction of history.  My concern, here, is that when it happens, I fear the uprising will throw the baby out with the bath water by which I mean they may decide that, because the Constitution failed, they should go in some other direction.

But I think our Constitution was very well done.  It didn’t fail so much as it was “undone.”  As it happens, it needs only a few tweaks here and there to correct the errors that allowed the selfish few to bring it down.  The problem, as I see it, is one of those that have existed since time began: everyone thinks of themselves as ethical and upright.  This means the Congress critters of the late 18th century were not concerned enough about instituting controls over themselves or certain protections which have proven necessary over time.

So I’ve looked outward and backward and attempted to pick and choose ideas that will help when it comes time to start again.  I’ll give you an example.  After years of study and consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that the loss of the independent media in America was the single most important victory for the privileged elite who mean to turn this country into their own personal fiefdoms.  They managed it by simply buying most of the media outlets.  Now we don’t get actual news anymore.  Now we get “infotainment” and there’s nothing people can do about it…because of the First Amendment.  You see, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech but freedom of speech includes freedom to lie.

I wouldn’t change that for individuals but accurate information is vital to the survival of a free society.  Unethical individuals have proven, now, that the destruction of accuracy in media equates to the destruction of the Republic.  It might seem as though the balance  – individual freedom of speech vs a requirement for honesty in news – is too difficult to achieve but look at one small addition to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  Notwithstanding this guarantee, any organization that purports to be a news agency may not deliver false or misleading information.

One sentence.  It’s not even MY sentence.  I borrowed it from a successful model: Canada.  It does nothing to stop the Rush Limbaughs of the world and it shouldn’t.  Opinions are opinions and everyone has one but news…well, that’s important.  When websites or Russians or whomever flood social media with “fake news” it would be nice to have a place to go for REAL news; actual journalism, investigative reporting, that kind of thing.

A rule that requires news organizations to be honest is a rule that protects the Republic.  Yes, Fox “News” might have to change their name but not their content.  OR, their content if not their name but that’s exactly the point.  I hold that ANY source that pretends to be “news” but delivers misleading and/or outright false information is harmful to America.

I’ll tell you this:  I’ve given this idea a great deal of thought.  I know some will say it’s a bad idea but I can’t escape the notion that the people who will say so are the very same people who want to lie to you for their own benefit…

Am I wrong or am I right?

Paths to Destruction…

Bad day all around, eh?  Trump orders attack on Syria, Republicans order attack on the Constitution.

I saw video of the gas attacks on civilians on ‘Vice News Tonight.’  Heartbreaking.  Unconscionable.  Unimaginable.  Any other words you can come up with that mean “assault on the civilized mind”.  I think Trump’s response was pure emotion.  On the one hand, I’m forced to admit, I kind of like that he was so outraged by the murder of innocents that he felt compelled to act.  My own, initial emotional reaction was the same: stop this now!  But my intellect tells me I’m wrong to feel that way, to feel good about a “feel good” response.  Because on the other hand, I don’t think it was a measured, well-thought-out action.  It was JUST an emotional response.

You get stung by a bee.  In the moment, it might feel good to “retaliate” by using a stick to whack the hive.  Intellectually, though, bad move.  You discover exactly HOW bad only after you strike.  How many “bee stings” has 45 generated with his emotional, not intellectual, answer?

My understanding (if one can understand the Syrian conflict) is that part of the reason the US has taken a more cautious approach in the past is because we don’t know who all the players are, let alone what they’re trying to do.  The one piece of information we DO have is that Russia backs Assad in Syria.  Do we now find ourselves in a proxy war with Russia?  Only time will tell.

There’s this: if it’s true the Russians have information that would be damaging to Trump, something like this might certainly be a catalyst to bringing it out…

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Speaking of destruction, the coup seems complete now.  Republicans – who only retain the power they have by cheating (gerrymandering, to be specific) – have turned a dishonorable, intentional blind eye to the abuses of the so-called “President” because he’s one of “theirs”.  They’ve allowed him to nominate an ideologue candidate for the “Supreme Court” to fill a stolen seat.  Now, they’ve invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to install the nominee who shouldn’t be.

So, by my count, the Presidency is rigged.  (If nothing else, Trump is guilty of violating the emoluments clause.)  The Congress is rigged.  (See the aforementioned gerrymandering.)  The “Supreme Court” is rigged.  (Clarence Thomas committed perjury and Neil Gorsuch sits in a stolen seat.)  The American press is rigged.  (In service to the American aristocracy.)

So where do we turn?  What’s left?  How do the American people fight back against this now very UN-American government?  In my head, I keep hearing John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Shit, man…