Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Political Ponderings

It's election day in the great state of Maryland, and coincidentally, it's also that time once again when the news has gotten to me badly enough that my thoughts are about to explode. Facebook just doesn't offer me enough space to put out there what I feel I need to put out there. I do try to be non-offensive and stick to expressing my thoughts without being judgey. I also like hearing the other side and other people's explanations for their viewpoints on different issues, so feel free to chime in :)

Here we go!

1) The Great Divide
For having a president who was said to be a "great unifier," America sure is divided in just about every way these days... political parties, class, gender, religion, and race. Sadly, I can think of a current hot-button news item for every single one of those. There's the party line where the parties have become so strongly divided that neither is willing to cooperate on anything. The President puts forth extremely liberal legislation and complains that the "do-nothing" Congress is playing party politics. Republicans put forth an extremely conservative budget proposal and the President claims it's social Darwinism, not to mention other legislation he has announced in advance that he would refuse to sign.

There's the class line where we're told day in and day out ad nauseum about the evil rich in America not paying their "fair share" in taxes. It's conveniently never mentioned that this tiny percentage of the population pays an incredibly disproportionate amount of the nation's tax revenue while about 50% of Americans pay no taxes at all. But it's easy to convince those who make less money and struggle to get by that some rich person is to blame, and that advances certain political agendas.

We also have the "war on women"/"war on religious freedom" ever since the federal government proposed a mandate that religious institutions would have to fund abortions, which some (specifically the Catholic Church) are morally against, by paying for insurance coverage of birth control methods for employees and students. Those in favor claim that opposing the mandate is a "war on women," while those against the mandate see it as a violation of religious freedom. Most people come down on one side or the other of that argument.

Then there is the racial controversy that is growing out of the Trayvon Martin murder case (more on that in a minute). Murders happen in large numbers across the country every single day. Even crimes across racial or ethnic groups happen daily. The difference here is that it is being investigated as a potential racial matter because the accused gunman was Hispanic (or "white-Hispanic" if you read the New York Times) and the victim was African American.

It's pretty disappointing that politicians seem to take advantage of issues like these and blow them up to advance their political agendas. I feel like most Americans (ok, at least the ones I know) are reasonable enough that they'd be willing to compromise on a middle-of-the-road solution to most issues in the name of resolution and moving on. Sadly though, middle-of-the-road doesn't seem to win elections, and thus here we are in an election year... divided.

2) Trayvon Martin Case
There are so many tragedies in this case it's hard to decide where to begin. The obvious greater tragedy is that a child lost his life. It never should have happened. George Zimmerman never should have followed him or confronted him, none of it ever should have happened. If Zimmerman was suspicious of the kid he should have called a non-emergency police number and let them handle it from there. Ugh. Beyond that, the fact that the media has made a circus out of it is also tragic. Between the New York Times initially reporting that George Zimmerman was white- no wait, "white-Hispanic" and NBC editing the 911 recording to make him sound like a total racist, it's hard to say if the public will ever know what really happened. Rather than being innocent until proven guilty, George Zimmerman has already been tried and convicted by the media. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally confused as to how you can shoot and kill someone, admit to it, and not be arrested. I've heard that he was questioned for 5 hours when the incident happened, but it still seems to me that this is a highly suspicious situation. While I agree with many that George Zimmerman should probably be in custody for killing an unarmed teenager who didn't do anything to provoke the incident, I also think that the entire racial aspect is being blown completely out of proportion. Where are all of these protestors, Al Sharpton, President Obama every single day when people are killed senselessly? Why aren't they outraged when a black person kills another black person? Why not protest when a black person kills a white person? I'm fairly certain that the statistics show the number of those crimes far exceeds the number of black people killed by white (or "white-Hispanic") people. Isn't the bottom line that no one should be killing anyone else? Shouldn't we be outraged at any killing? I find it so frustrating that the outrage and outcry and publicity is so selective. This case is being highlighted not because this poor child has lost his life and his parents and family are suffering, but because it advances a political cause. It fans certain flames and stirs emotions among people who will favor one candidate over another. If I were Trayvon's parents, I'd be outraged that my child's murder was being used as a political tool.

3) Haves vs. Have Nots
Every time I post something political on Facebook the discussion boils down to the question- "Why do have nots defend the haves?" I suppose I am considered a "have not" since I'm not filthy rich, although I have everything I need to survive and well beyond. I'm still here, aren't I? So why do I think that the "haves" or the filthy rich should be able to have the money they've earned? My answer is simple - it just makes sense to me. If they're smarter than I am, work harder than I do, have a job that is more highly-skilled or in-demand than mine, then of course they deserve to be paid more. Maybe they're better at managing or investing their money. Does that mean they should be punished by being forced to hand over their money? Why?

I love the school analogy because it's about as close as you can get to the working world. So what if we told students that their grades would be "taxed?" Those with the highest grades would have to give up the most points in order to help out those with the lowest grades, you know, to be "fair." Those with the lowest grades wouldn't have to contribute any points, and those in the middle would make a modest contribution. Just like in the real world, this arrangement punishes success. Would those high-achievers who are probably in higher level courses and doing work that is more challenging than the rest still work as hard to earn all of those points? How about the students at the bottom? If they're earning a low D on their own, but with the points they're given end up with a low C, is there any sense in working harder to improve their own grade? Of course not, then they would just have to start giving away points like everyone else. Now, change that up so that everyone shaves off 3 points from each assignment to go into the pot. You'd probably find the high achievers working extra hard to offset the 3 points, middle achievers likely doing the same, and those at the bottom either working hard to improve their grades or at the very least doing the best they can with the help they're getting. Which sounds more productive?

My question to those who ask why I defend the "haves" is this:
You are a free person living in a free country. Why do you vote to elect those that seek to reduce or restrict your freedom? Why would you choose less freedom?

And with that, it's super late and my brain is on over-drive from writing this. I'd love to hear feedback on this stuff, especially if you have answers to those last questions!


  1. I think that we (more liberal) "have nots" would just like to know that the "haves" were at least taxed at a rate similar to ours. Why was my family taxed at 25% this year while Mitt Romney reports a rate of "around 15%"? I don't want the rich to give up disproportionately more of what they've earned than I do, just a similar percentage. Why is my rate nearly double theirs? Doesn't it seem a little backward that, because the bulk of Romney's income is from capital gains (money he didn't have to work for), he pays a lower overall tax rate than someone who had to bust their hump all year to make the money that they made? I realize that it's not as simple as just instituting one flat tax rate for all (and that different types of income are taxed at different rates, compounding that complexity), but I don't think it's absurd to expect that something be done to help ease the tax burden on the poor and middle class when the uber-rich are being taxed at a significantly lower rate. Making things more equal is not socialism, it's fair and equitable taxation. It's not that I want anyone's money "redistributed" to me, I just think that it would be nice if the government could afford to take less of my hard-earned income because the richer folks were contributing the same proportion of their income as I am.

  2. I am also totally on-board with fair and equitable taxation (a similar if not the same rate for the uber-rich and us regular folks), but rather than hike rates on the wealthy, I'd say lower rates on the middle class. Now, however, we're in a situation where government spending is beyond out of control and we simply can't afford to slash tax revenues. That's where my complaint about the divisive rhetoric comes in- don't try to incite class warfare by making wealthy Americans seem like evil, selfish meanies hiding away in their mansions sniffing piles of money all day and refusing to share (Occupy Wall Street?), when in fact it is our massive government spending that is to blame. We wouldn't need to increase tax revenues if we had a reasonably sized government that could spend within its means. I could even respect the call for raising taxes on the rich if the suits could come out and ask for it humbly and honestly admitting the real issue. But you know, people in hell want ice water too.

  3. We could certainly afford to shrink and streamline the government in order to reduce its revenue and lower middle class taxes - I'm with ya. However, our country is at war (and likely to add another front to that war - Iran - in the not-too-distant future), and currently sporting a TREMENDOUS deficit. The short-term reality is that, regardless of any changes we might try to institute to shrink our government, it will still need more revenue before it needs less. On that kind of scale, changes take an exceedingly long time to implement, and in the meantime we're in a bit of a crisis. I feel that (however unfortunate it may be) it's unrealistic to expect ANY tax cuts in the near future, much less a cut for the largest contributing group - the middle class. That's just our reality for the time being, because what's done is done and it will take time to "fix". I think that the argument is, if the government needs more revenue right now, why not raise taxes on those who have been enjoying a disproportionately low tax rate, rather than raise taxes on the middle class or cut programs for the poor? I completely agree that there are a lot of people who have sought to take the extreme angle and demonize the rich (media spin, at it again), but the bottom-line argument has nothing to do with the rich being "evil" - just the reality that they are a revenue source that has not been equally "tapped". Not because they have so much extra money to give, so we should take more of theirs, but because they haven't even contributed their fair share, relative to the share that the middle class contributes. Taxes have been raised time and again on the middle class without adequately addressing this inequality, and so the 99% are understandably peeved.

  4. I should probably add that I recognize that throwing (more) money at the government seems like a dumb "solution" (or not really a "solution" at all). I think that problem is that tax cuts are the easy part - they're relatively easy to pass in Congress (whose constituents wouldn't enjoy a tax cut?) and it's really just a matter of signing them into law. The reforming and streamlining of our government and the balancing of the budget aspect are the hard parts. I think that historically we've always tended to put the cart before the horse - cut taxes first, and justify it with the promise of various reforms to come (we'll be able to afford it... eventually). Unfortunately, we haven't seemed to be able to get the reforms and budget-balancing done, so we're left with lower taxes and an enormous deficit. For once, it might behoove us to learn from our mistakes and try to tackle the hard work of balancing the budget and getting our house in order FIRST, and then cut taxes when we can actually afford to do so. Now, if we could just get ANYTHING done around here...

  5. Very similar to what I had said, yes, we're in a pickle right now. I don't think the issue is that we've cut taxes and now can't afford those cuts though (not sure if that's what you meant or not). I think it's important to remember that our political leaders are our employees. We hire them by electing them and pay their salaries and give them a certain budget with which to accomplish the tasks we need them to accomplish. Can you imagine if your boss gave you a budget to complete a project and you spent that money primarily on snacks and massages? Would you then have the guts to go to your boss and demand more money for the project by saying, "What's done is done and you'll just have to give me more money if you want the work done."? How crooked is that? First of all you'd be fired. And if you were lucky enough not to be fired, you would certainly not be given more money to squander. All that said, we are certainly in a position where we need more money and the big question/argument/discussion/disagreement is where that money should come from. Some think raising taxes on the rich (who are actually the group that contributes the most monetarily, not sure if that's what you were saying about the middle class or if you were referring to them being the largest group in number of people) is the right answer. To me, raising taxes on the rich is saying that the irresponsibility of the government will just have to be their burden by default of them being wealthy. Why shouldn't government overspending be the responsibility of government to fix? Wealthy Americans didn't make those spending decisions. If we overspent our own budgets it would be our responsibility to fix. We don't turn to our parents or our employers and say- "Well my situation is what it is, and in order for me to continue my weekly sprees at the mall, you're going to have to cover some of my bills." We can easily look at that and realize that it's absurd and the solution is clearly for the spender to stop spending beyond his or her means. I can't figure out why people don't see that when it comes to government spending. And all THAT said, we should probably consider that cutting government spending even by a tiny percentage would still be more effective than enacting the so-called "Buffett rule" that the President supports. It has been shown over and over that even confiscating every cent the millionaires and billionaires earn would barely make a dent in the national debt. Doesn't it seem more "fair" that those responsible for the enormous national debt actually be the ones to give up just a small percent of their spending money rather than ask those who had nothing to do with that spending to give up a considerably higher percentage of their personal income as a solution?Bottom line, I have a problem with our politicians calling on wealthy Americans to foot the bill for their irresponsible spending when they continue to waste money. Like I said before, I might even be able to respect it if they would seriously admit to overspending and commit to correcting that problem. Rather, they make it seem like wealthy Americans and just don't want to share. That gets me. This is not a mess made by wealthy Americans. Get Federal spending under control and then maybe taxpayers wealthy or otherwise would be willing to contribute more in order to get us on the right track.These are just a few links I found on the issue of taxation and the "Buffett Rule."


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