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Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Games We Play: Payroll Tax Cut

Obama wishes to extend the payroll tax cut. The Republicans, the party of tax cuts, wishes to prevent this. Why? Of course, to make Obama look bad, thus giving the GOP an edge in the next election. Here is my reasoning.

Leaving aside for the moment whether we agree that this is the GOP motive, can we say that the GOP has some other reasoning for eliminating a very popular reduction in taxation? Well, they would, and do, say that a tax reduction is indeed needed for the middle classes in this time of recession, but that we need to pay for this so that the deficit is not increased--and they don't mean to pay for it with another tax increase on the rich. Because a tax increase on the rich--I mean, the job creators--would be bad for the economy. You see, the GOP states that increased taxes reduce the economic engine. Tax decreases improve the, let us say, the economic mpg. Tax reductions pay for themselves, in other words, by increasing efficiency, letting people spend as they will.

Well, if payroll taxes are reduced, that would increase the economy and pay for itself. Why vote it down with some excuse that we now suddenly need to pay for it? Do tax cuts pay for themselves or don't they?

There is only one reason for the GOP to come out against the tax cut for the middle classes: to make Obama look bad. They are willing to harm this country for their own pathetic grab for power.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Politics of Religion

The other day I was listening to WBUR with Tom Ashbrook. Someone called in and I thought his comment deserved respect and some more thought. His comment was basically this: The Mormon church has allowed its two candidates for U.S. president to behave in a normal, thoughtful, civil way, while the rest of the candidates (speaking only of those receiving media attention), who happen to be protestant with two Catholics (Gingrich and Santorum), are allowed free reign to be, well, less so.

He is wrong in one way--I'll get to that later--but he is right in his general understanding of the state of the Christian church. It is true that the Christian churches haven't exactly held the candidates collective toes to the fire, in terms of honesty and directness.

And I'm not talking about Herman Cain's recent problems, with allegations of philandering. Those are allegations; nothing is legally proven, whether you view 60-80 texts a day to a woman as moral proof or not. I'm talking about what the candidates are saying and doing. I'm talking about comparing what a candidate states to what they previously stated. I'm talking about hypocrisy, something that Jesus had quite a bit to say, it seems to me.

Jesus was rather preoccupied with the hypocrisy of his day, calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees for not exactly living up to the terms of their agreement with God. Here's a little primer on what Christ had to say regarding the hypocrites of his day:

Matt 6:5, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

Matt 22:18, "But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?"

Matt 23:13, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

Obviously, hypocrisy isn't something terribly cherished by Christ. Neither is an over emphasis on wealth and the creation of wealth. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9,10; I particularly like the OT 2 Kings 23:35--Tax in proportion to wealth. Ouch!) How about Matt 19:24, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

But we know all this. We understand that God is concerned with the poor, not the rich. For every reference to the poor in the Bible there is, well, there are no references to the rights of the rich in the Bible.

So why doesn't the Church speak out against those who pursue personal gain--election, which includes all the perks of elected office including stock purchase rights for insider information--at the expense of the poor? Why doesn't the Church speak out for Occupy Wall St? Oh, I know some brave parson out there may have, but the Church is largely silent. When a candidate lies, on record, about his record, about his past, perhaps about some fellow candidate, what does the church say about this? Nothing. It is as silent as the media, which hems and haws about "he said," "she said," or "it appears that some believe it to be deceptive." What would Christ have said? "Liar! Hypocrite!" would have been heard around the globe.

The Church often will even defend those within a certain political party, viewing itself as a virtual arm of that organization's legions. The problem with that is obvious. Politics is a dirty game. When getting in bed with a prostitute, there are two sinners involved.

Now to Romney. Remember the caller who felt so disposed to allow the Mormon community a pass on this regard? No so fast. Romney out and out lied in a recent add when his people "quoted" Obama quoting McCain. And Romney's people admitted that they were being deceptive. Did the Mormon church come out against their favorite son? Not that I have seen. It seems the Mormons can play the game of dirty politics as well as Christians.

To paraphrase Robin Meyers, a minister now in Oklahoma and author of Why the Christian Right is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto, the church needs to get out of the politics of electing candidates. It needs to get back to the business of responding to the Gospel of Christ. It has been in the barn of politics for so long it now stinks of dung. Hypocrite, heal thyself.

Christianity has no political arm. Or it shouldn't. It is in the interest of the Church to fulfill the ideals of Christ, to love one one love's oneself. To be concerned for your neighbor: Does it concern you that your neighbor is going bankrupt just because he/she is sick? Or perhaps they are dying now because they no longer have health insurance? Or their mortgage hasn't been paid because of a recession? Or this, or that? Or do you believe that going into the election booth and pulling the lever for someone of a certain party makes you somehow religious, and devout?

Here, from the Times Union's "Voices of Faith" column, December 3rd, 2011, written by Barbara DiTommaso, director of the Commission on Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany:
Biblical justice is not the justice of laws, courts and the penal system. Rather, it is the living out of human solidarity, the reality that there is one human family, and we are responsible for each other's welfare.

Well said.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Evangelicals and the GOP

Slate's latest article on Newt Gingrich claims that the evangelical right can forgive and forget Newt's past sinning ways.

Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa FAMiLY Leader, says
“There’s been a sincere life change for Newt Gingrich...Since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity. He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

What's wrong with a little forgiveness among Christians, after all? Nothing. Forgiveness, you might say, is our bread and...butter. But this forgiveness thing, at least for evangelicals, is tempered by something else: change of life, and a change of actions.

Well, you might say, Newt's been on the wagon for ten years. No more philandering ways. Calista's got a hold on him and he doesn't seem to be straying. Wasn't King David an adulterer (and murderer) but didn't God forgive him? But ask yourself this: Are we only talking about sexual sin here? Sin comes in a variety of colors. There's the red light sin of the bordello, the green stained sin of jealousy, the yellow stained sin of dirty politics, and the dark stained sin of hypocrisy. There's probably as many sins as there are colors. More.

To an evangelical a sin is a sin. One isn't of a higher (or lower) order than any other. To say that Newt is a fine and dandy Christian with a fine and dandy character...just because he no longer struts his stuff with young interns is to forget his other foibles. Didn't Newt just say he wasn't a lobbyist? Mmmm. But calling yourself a historian and getting paid mucho pesetas to do this "historical" work sounds pretty bogus. Sounds like he's lying, in other words. If lying is too difficult a word to pronounce among evangelicals, then how about just saying Newt is just being dishonest. Newt being Newt, in other words.

OK, and how about his hypocrisy? Denouncing politicians enabling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the Dartmouth debate...while he himself had been working for them! Libya, Global Warming, and the individual mandate for health insurance: all flip-flops. As Ron Paul states in a recent campaign ad, Gingrich is a serial hypocrite. That doesn't sound like a good Christian to me. So why do evangelicals feel they can look beyond all that? Beats me.

Jennifer Rubin recently wrote of Gingrich in the Washington Post:
Gingrich’s serial adultery and his current hypocrisy suggest not a immoral man, but an amoral one. Rules, shame, punishment, consistency and transparency are abstractions for him, tools to be wielded against political opponents while his own supposed brilliance and patriotism exempt him from the standards that mere pols must follow. Really, is this a person whose values and judgment you’d trust to manage a charity or hold a leadership position in your church, let alone occupy the Oval Office?

That Gingrich has confessed to some wrongdoings in his past affairs on a call-in radio show with James Dobson does not wash away all of this man's sins and make them white as snow. "Go and sin no more," Jesus told the adulteress. Evangelicals out there, please take note that this applies to the adulterer as well.