The true war on religion

February 19, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Campaign, Religion 

(This is a reprint of an editorial I wrote for the Missourian. The original editorial can be found here. The full text of the article is below.)

The war on religion manifests itself in many forms. When pharmacists refuse to sell birth control, they are imposing their religious beliefs on others. When I walk into a store, I should be able to buy anything that the store sells. To illustrate, suppose I decide that I want to buy some beer in a grocery store. When I am checking out, the clerk refuses to sell me the beer because drinking alcohol is against his religion. Both should spark outrage at the seller.

And this shows the true war on religion in the United States — the attempt by some to impose their religious beliefs on everybody else.

This issue often manifests itself in the politics of reproduction. Whenever someone tries to limit access to abortion or impose medically unnecessary rules to restrict abortion, they are attempting to impose their religious beliefs on others. When somebody tries to restrict access to birth control, they are also imposing their religious beliefs on others.

When there is a moral issue, who gets to decide? Some people and religions believe abortion is murder because life begins at conception. Other people and religions believe life begins at birth. Should one group have the right to impose their will on others by outlawing abortions? Or turn the question around: Should one group have the right to force women to have abortions in certain circumstances? In either case, if you allow one, then the other is possible with a change in policy. Abortion could be banned or forced, depending on the group in charge.

The individual’s right to make the decision is asserted when the state is not allowed to prevent or force abortions.

Should there be restrictions on a person’s ability to purchase or use contraception? The 99 percent of women who use birth control at some point in their lives might say no.

When the Republican presidential candidates are pontificating about the war on religion, they are right that there is a war. They are wrong about who is waging it. The candidates are actually waging the war because they are attempting to impose their religious beliefs on others. Preventing unplanned pregnancies is good public policy and will help reduce abortions. It is ironic that these same candidates who are against abortion are supporting a policy that will likely cause abortions to increase.

Preventing gay marriage is another example of some trying to impose their religious belief on others. Marriage by the state is a civil contract that provides for certain benefits and responsibilities between two people. If two men or two women want to enter this contract, they should have that right, just as they would for any other contract. At the same time, if any clergy do not want to perform gay marriages for religious reasons, that should be their right. Religious freedom is preserved, and none are forced to violate their beliefs.

If some are allowed to impose their views on others, where does it end? The choices must be left to the individual, not the state. Otherwise, we will have some imposing their religious beliefs on others. That war must be avoided.

How to help the poor and everybody else

February 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Economy, Education, Health Care, Jobs, Poverty 

In my previous posting, “What Poverty Program,” I explained why the Republican presidential candidates policies would hurt the poor, which of course leaves the obvious question, what policies would help the poor.

For someone who is poor, the first priority is to ensure that food, clothing and shelter needs are met. In the U.S., there are 33 million adults and 17 million children who suffer from hunger. Homelessness affects 656,000 people on any given day.

The next basic need is health care. Health care costs are a tremendous burden on both the poor and middle-class. Medical expenses cause more than 60 percent of the bankruptcies in the United States.

Currently, there are about 50 million people without health insurance causing about 50,000 unnecessary deaths in this country. According to the Congressional Budget Office, even at its best, the Affordable Care Act will leave about 23 million uninsured causing about 23,000 unnecessary deaths.

The U.S. has the most expensive health care costs of any nation. Our costs are 45 percent higher as a function of GDP than any other nation, and our per capita expenses are almost 50 percent greater.

A single-payer health care system will resolve these problems and reduce costs. Every other industrialized nation that has a single-payer system covers everybody for less money. Bankruptcies due to health care costs are not a problem in these countries.

Education could use some changes. A good start would be to increase funding to levels before the recession so laid-off teachers could be hired back. Next commit to keeping classes sizes small, around 15 to 20 students.

More importantly, we could give the students the same benefits as prisoners, or as one superintendent in Michigan said:

Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?

The nation should also commit to providing free college education for any student accepted into an institution of higher learning. This would prevent students being saddled with a large debt when they graduate. This would free up money for more productive endeavors, such as purchasing products, investments, or entrepreneurship, rather than paying off student loans.

The school buildings themselves could use improvement. These buildings and the rest of our infrastructure need rebuilding. The American Society of Civil Engineers says our infrastructure is close to a failing state, and requires $2.2 trillion over five years to renovate. Rebuilding our infrastructure would create jobs, and could provide the impetus to invigorate the economy.

The above proposals would help the poor and everybody else. CNN’s Global Public Square host Fareed Zakaria summed it up this way when he said:

In other words, the big shift in the United States over the past two decades has not been a rise in regulations and taxation but rather a decline in investment, in physical and human capital. … [And] investment is the crucial locomotive of long-term growth.

That surge in investment [after World War II] by people and government produced a generation of growth after the war. If we want the next generation of growth, we need a similarly serious strategy of investment.

It is time to get serious about investing in our human capital and infrastructure to ensure the long-term economic growth of our country. Everybody would benefit from these investments.

What Poverty Program

All the Republican presidential candidates advocate the same trickle-down policies that produced only 1.08 million jobs during George W. Bush’s presidency. They advocate lower taxes mainly for the wealthy, unregulated markets and less spending. Such policies have not and would not help the poor or the country.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been receiving much criticism for his statement, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Romney went on to say, “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

One day later, Romney backtracked by saying, “It was a misstatement. I misspoke.” I agree he misspoke when he said that he cares about poor people. The Republican presidential candidates policies demonstrate they have no concern for the poor.

Romney himself has proposed spending cuts that would greatly reduce the safety net for the poor. He meant to say, if it ain’t broke, break it.

Like his other policies, Romney’s tax plan hurts the poor. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center showed that poor families would pay slightly more, around $140, while millionaires would gain more than $145,000 in reduced taxes.

Rick Santorum advocates policies that would “reform welfare to the point that it would offer no welfare at all.” Santorum’s would cut taxes for most Americans, but like Romney’s tax plan, most of the benefits go to the wealthy.

When Newt Gingrich is busy excoriating Romney for his lack of concern, he neglects to mention his own callousness.  Gingrich has said that, “Really poor children … have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works.” He also says that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and poor children should work as janitors in the schools they attend.

Gingrich’s tax plan is even worse that Romney’s in some ways. The rich would gain more than $600,000. Since, Gingrich does not tax capital gains, dividends, or interest income, somebody like Romney could end up paying no income taxes

In addition, the Republican candidates have railed against the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The ACA, despite it faults, does make health more affordable and available, which of course, helps poor people. (A single-payer system would save more lives, cost less, and make health care affordable for all, but that is another blog entry or editorial.)

Rick Tyler, with the pro Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, illustrated the candidates’ indifference to the poor during an interview on MSNBC. Lawrence O’Donnell asked Tyler, “You say that Republican anti-poverty programs have worked. Please name me the Republican anti-poverty policy that has lifted people out of poverty and tell me how many people were lifted out of poverty by Republican policy?”

Eventually, Tyler’s responded by saying, “Lower taxes, more freedom, less government, and free enterprise. That’s the program.” He was unable to name even one specific program deliberately designed by Republicans to help the poor.

During a slow economy, austerity combined with tax cuts for the wealthy is the wrong approach. We need programs that help the poor instead of programs that hurt the poor and benefit the rich.

Just Good Business

February 5, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Economy, Health Care 

Imagine that you are the CEO of a company that has 50,000 employees with a 15 billion dollar budget. Your safety record has not been good, and you are looking to improve it. You have three options:

  • Current: Keep the current option and spend 17.4 percent or $2.6 billion on safety. With this option, 50 employees will die in workplace accidents.
  • Option ACA: Spend the same amount as the previous option, but improved procedures would reduce the number of workplace deaths to 23 people.
  • Option SP: Improve procedures and spend only 12 percent or $1.8 billion on safety. There would be no deaths from workplace accidents.
Table 1: Safety options
Options Percent of budget for safety Annual amount spent on safety Workplace deaths
Current 17.4% $2.6 billion 50
Option ACA 17.4% $2.6 billion 23
Option SP 12.0% $1.8 billion 0

The obvious choice is Option SP, which is just good business.

When the numbers are adjusted, the above describes the current health care situation in the United States. The budget becomes the Gross Domestic Product of the United States, $15 trillion. Plug in the amount of GDP the U.S. spends on health care, 17.4 percent, which is the highest of any nation. The next highest amount is 12 percent. Then:

  • Currently, 50 million people lack health insurance, which will cause about 50,000 deaths.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Affordable Care Act would leave 23 million people uninsured. This would cause about 23,000 deaths.
  • There would be zero deaths due to lack of insurance.
Table 2: Health care costs and estimates of uninsured deaths
Options Percent of GDP spent on health care Annual amount spent on health care (actual or estimated) Uninsured deaths caused by lack of health insurance
Current 17.4% $2.6 trillion 50,000
ACA 17.4% $2.6 trillion 23,000 (when ACA fully implemented)
Single-payer 12.0% $1.8 trillion 0

A single-payer system would cover everybody at less cost. The savings would be $800 million more than the other options, and no lives would be loss.

Single-payer is just good business.

Source of income should not matter cartoon

January 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Campaign, Taxes 

This was the editorial cartoon by Ed Stein that appeared in the Missourian newspaper with my editorial, “Source of income should not matter for taxes,” on Tuesday, Jan 31. It was the perfect compliment.

Satirical 1040 tax form

 

Source of income should not matter for taxes

January 30, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Campaign, Taxes 

(This is a reprint of an editorial I wrote for the Missourian. The original editorial can be found here. The full text of the article is below.)

Mitt Romney may not have intended it, but he is providing another good reason to be rich: the low tax rate. First, there was the $10,000 bet in the Republican debate on Dec. 10. It must be great to be able to wager that much money as nonchalantly as most people bet a six-pack of beer.

Then on Jan. 17, Romney said that his $374,327 in speaking fees over one year is “not that much.” Earth to Romney, these fees alone put you in the top 1 percent of income, and more than likely 98 percent of the population would be thrilled to make that much money.

Romney might be able to afford $10,000 bets because of his low tax rate. Romney reluctantly released his tax returns on Tuesday. He paid about $3 million in taxes on income of about $21.7 million, for an effective rate of 13.9 percent in 2010. The difference between that rate and the top rate of 35 percent would allow Romney to lose 456 wagers.

Unlike Romney, investment guru Warren Buffett willingly revealed his income and tax rate back in August. Buffet wrote in “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich,” he made about $40 million and paid 17.4 percent in taxes. His employees paid taxes at rates from 33 percent to 41 percent on salaries around $60,000. Romney’s and Buffett’s compensation was more than 360 times what these employees made, yet their tax rate was about half.

Buffett has been advocating many years for a fairer tax system. In October 2007, he offered the following challenge:

I’ll bet a million dollars against any member of the Forbes 400 who challenges me that the average [tax rate] for the Forbes 400 will be less than the average [tax rate] of their receptionists. So, … I’ll give ‘em an 800 number. They can call me. And the million will go to whichever charity the winner designates.

He remains unchallenged.

A few months ago, President Barack Obama advocated getting rid of this unfair tax quirk law and applying the Buffett Rule — “that people making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay.”

The current regressive tax system, Buffett’s proposal and Obama’s advocacy generate a more fundamental question. Why does source of income matter when determining tax rates?

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (Social Security and Medicare) taxes are examples of a higher tax burden imposed on one source of income: wages. Can anybody explain why it is fair to charge most wage earners an extra 5.65 percent on their incomes? Why not put the extra burden on capital gains or dividend income? Just to be totally arbitrary, why not put the burden on people whose surnames begin with the letters A through F?

It’s not even a matter of coddling the super-rich, although that is happening. It is a simple matter of fairness. Someone who makes $60,000 should not be paying a larger percentage of their income in taxes than someone who makes $20 million or $40 million.

It is time to change the tax code and set rates strictly on amount of income. Income source should be irrelevant. Otherwise, exceptions could always be added that force lower paid wage earners to pay higher rates.

A system based on amount of income would have several advantages. Such a system would simplify the tax code. Different tax rates for different sources of income would not be required. A proposal to add a tax exception to correct an inequity caused by a previous tax exception would be unnecessary.

Social Security and Medicare funding could be maintained by allocating a percentage of tax revenue to these programs, thus ending the highly regressive FICA taxes on individuals and making payroll processing easier. This same method could be used to eliminate FICA taxes on businesses.

In addition, the government would need to remove business tax loopholes and tax breaks so that all profitable companies actually pay income taxes. Perhaps the most egregious example is General Electric Co. In 2010, GE made $14.2 billion in profit, yet paid no federal income taxes.

For too long, wage earners have been subjected to unfair, regressive taxes on their wages while some millionaires and billionaires have been favored with much lower tax rates than their wage-earning counterparts. It is time to level the tax paying playing field by having tax rates determined only by the amount of income. Such a system would establish a tax system that is more equitable and progressive.

Employees who made $60,000 could buy about 1,800 six-packs if their tax rate was 13.9 percent instead of 35 percent. Unfortunately, at their current high tax rate, they can’t afford to drown their sorrows.

Tax Rates

January 25, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Campaign, Taxes 

On Tuesday (Jan. 24), The Daily Show skewered Mitt Romney on his low tax rate of about 14 percent. Romney made $42.6 million over two years.

 

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

 

For comparison purposes, Warren Buffet made about $40 million and paid 17.4 percent in taxes while his employees paid taxes at rates from 30 percent to 41 percent on salaries around $60,000.

Romney says about his low tax rate, “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”

As Jon Stewart says, “No, but you might want one who think that’s wrong,” which captures the essence of the problem.

In a future posting, I will comment on how to modify the tax code so that millionaires would never have a tax rate less than somebody who makes around $50,000.

Senator Blunt’s Health Care Hypocrisy

January 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Care 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) underwent outpatient surgery on Thursday. He had a stent placed in a coronary artery.

As a conservative Republican, Blunt has railed against the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” as the conservative critics like to call it. These same critics have yet to propose any other viable solutions that will make health care more affordable or prevent the 45,000 deaths per year due to lack of health care.

Blunt said he is “a strong believer in the life-saving importance of early detection, and I encourage everyone to be proactive about their preventive screenings.”

How likely is it that people will get a preventive screening if they do not have heath insurance? Even if they can scrape up the money for a screening, they almost assuredly would not be able to afford any necessary medical treatment, such as having a stent inserted.

Senator Blunt, if you are truly “a strong believer in the life-saving importance of early detection,” either stop complaining about Obamacare or propose a health care system that provides affordable health care for everybody.

In the meantime, as you recover, just be thankful that you have great health insurance largely financed by taxpayers, a benefit that you refuse to extend to other citizens of this country.

 

Resolutions for 2012

January 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Economy, Health Care, Jobs, Taxes 

People are not the only ones who can make resolutions to make themselves better. Nations can do the same. The following resolutions would make our nation better and improve the economy.

Resolution 1: Adopt a single-payer system for health care.

A single-payer system would cover everybody, reduce the nation’s health care costs by more than 40 percent, and prevent medical bankruptcies. Currently, more than 45 million people are uninsured in this country, and 45,000 people die due to lack of health care. By 2019, the Affordable Care Act would reduce the uninsured to 23 million allowing about 23 million deaths from lack of health care, a better, but still imperfect solution. It is time to end the lethal effects of a health care system that relies on private insurance.

Resolution 2: Modify the tax code so that all millionaires pay a higher tax rate than thousandaires, and close loopholes so that profitable companies actually pay taxes.

As Warren Buffet has stated, last year he paid 17.4 percent in taxes on about $40 million while his employees paid anywhere from paid an average of 36 percent on incomes around $60,000. In 2010, General Electric made $14.2 billion in profits, but paid no federal income taxes.

Resolution 3: Our infrastructure will be rebuilt, and taxes will be raised to pay for it.

Our infrastructure’s overall grade of “D” by American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2009 Report Card is unacceptable. The ASCE estimates it will take about $2.2 trillion over five years for the improvements.

Resolution 4: Enact policies that will maintain and create jobs.

We can start with the resolution to rebuild our infrastructure, and provide local and state governments with the necessary funding to keep the number of public employees, especially teachers, fire fighters, and police at pre-2008 levels.

Resolution 5: Make our educational system the best in the world.

According to 2009 study, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 25th in math and 17th in science out of 34 countries. Between budget cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act, the focus has been on making sure that every student meets a basic level of achievement. Our education system will not become superior if we just concentrate on the underachievers. Making education fun and exciting should be a priority so students can naturally excel. We can and must do better, and a good place to start would be by hiring back teachers laid off due to budget cuts.

Resolution 6: Any candidate who does not accept science will be disqualified.

I cannot take any candidate seriously who does not recognize evolution as a valid scientific theory. I find it troubling and discouraging that half of the current Republican presidential candidates do not recognize evolution as a valid scientific theory. Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Rich Santorum have this view. At least Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have expressed limited support for evolution. Jon Huntsman to his credit has expressed strong support for evolution.

When it comes to climate change, all the previously mention candidates disagree with the scientific evidence supporting climate change despite the fact that about 97 percent of climate change specialists think that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

How can we improve our dismal science education ranking when major political figures deny scientific evidence?

Adopting these resolutions would make our nation stronger and provide a solid foundation for future growth.

A Welcome Close to the Iraq War

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Iraq War 

The end of the Iraq War brings a welcome close to a domestic and foreign policy disaster. Some politicians have criticized the president saying that we should not withdraw, and that our interests in the Middle East could be harmed. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) along with presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have advanced some variation of this argument. McCain and Graham voted for the war without voting to fund it.

These politicians display their blatant hypocrisy when they argue to continue the war without explaining how they will pay for it.  After months of complaining about the national debt and excessive government spending, McCain, Graham, Romney and Gingrich owe us that much.

The cost of the Iraq war is staggering, more than 4,470 American soldiers dead and more than 30,180 wounded. More than 100,000 documented civilian deaths and 2.8 million displaced Iraqis. The direct cost of the war is $806 billion, and the total economic cost will be between $3 trillion and $5 trillion. (Just think how many jobs would have been created and how great are roads, bridges and schools would be if that money had been spent on infrastructure.)

In addition, the damage to moral authority of the United States is staggering. The Bush Administration created a false association between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorists attacks. We lied about the weapons of mass destruction. We allowed the use of torture, which has been outlawed in this country since the Revolutionary War. We have ignored international treaties that demand the investigation and prosecution of suspected war criminals. Since former President George W. Bush admitted personally approving waterboarding, an investigation is not only warranted, but also necessary to help regain our international reputation.

The Iraq War did meet the foreign policy goals of one country. Unfortunately, the country is Iran. Our wasteful foray into Iraq accomplished many of Iran’s foreign policy goals at virtually no cost for that country.

From almost any view, the Iraq War has been a disaster for this country. The danger is not ending the war—it is continuing it.

McCain, Graham, Romney and Gingrich, are you listening?

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