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Archive for December, 2010

It has been about 2,000 years since the man we now call Jesus, but whose Jewish name was most likely Yehoshua or Yeshua, lived in the land of Judea (from which we derive the word Jew). There are an endless number of theology books that have been written about his teachings and a very large number of churches created, all of which profess to know his true message. The problem is that these churches tend to disagree, some almost completely, about exactly what he said and what he meant by the words he said. The issue is compounded by the fact that he wrote nothing himself and the major sources of information about his teachings , the Gospels, were written long after he died.

This much we do know: he lived and taught in the land of Judea. He ran afoul of both the Jewish leadership and the Roman leadership of the land and he was executed by the government of the Roman Empire for what we would today call treason. It seems that he had somehow acquired the title “King of the Jews” and, of course there could only be one king in the Roman Empire, and that was Caesar. He had also drawn the ire of the Jewish theocracy by teaching that the religious laws of the land were not the laws of God and need not be followed. Furthermore, he went around forgiving people who had broken the religious laws of Judea, thus robbing the priests and leaders of the Judea of their power over the people. For a theocracy, either Jewish or Roman, (and they were both theocracies) this was an unforgivable sin.

For centuries after his death his followers were persecuted by the Roman Empire in an attempt to quell the growth of the movement he had started. It was only when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared tolerance for Christians in the year 313 than the attitude of the Empire began to change. It wasn’t too long afterward that Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire and all the laws of the Roman Catholic Church were incorporated into the laws of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had become a worldwide theocracy. Over the centuries many of the old Judean theocracy laws were included in “Christian” teachings, and “Christian” theocracies eventually came to Europe, first as part of the Roman Empire and later as Protestant “Christian” theocracies, such as England. The mixing of public law and religious laws eventually followed the Puritans to America and became part of American life with Christian prayers being said in public schools at the start of the school day, Christian holidays becoming state holidays, and so forth. It was accepted as normal by the people. The question is this: is this what Jesus had in mind? Is this why he was willing to die by Roman torture? The answer, of course, is no.

At the core of the New Testament story is the continual adversarial relationship between the theocracy of Judea and the teaching of Jesus. The reason for this is the nature of theocracies: they impose their will upon the people under threat of punishment by God. All you have to do is convince the people that your government is in touch with God and you have total control of the people. This method of control has worked well for thousands of years, not only for the Christian countries, but for countries that espouse other religions too. The initial teaching of Jesus was simple – the government does not speak for God.

However, as time went on and Jesus fell under heavy criticism from the religious leaders of  Judea, he also rebuked their teachings. It wasn’t long before he was teaching that neither the government nor the priests speak for God. Well then, you might ask, who does? The response of Jesus  to this is what he told his followers: I will send a counselor to you, the Holy Spirit of God, who will advise you about what is right or wrong. When Jesus was gone there would be no priest or governor to interpret the will of God because each person will be informed directly by the Spirit of God. Or, as Jesus also stated, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.

The key message of Jesus was not that he was establishing a new religion, it was that men do not need the established religions in order to be in contact with God. His words were the words of treason against all theocracies. His words were the words of freedom for all individuals. His words were the rejection of the existence of any theocracy or priest – there was no need for an intermediary between you and God – in fact, this would be the only way you could ever experience God. You have to do it yourself. That was his message.

Now, 2,000 years later, as millions, perhaps billions celebrate Christmas, it is worth remembering that this man who gave his life for his message of defiance to theocracies was striking a blow for all of us to be free of religious leaders, like the present Pope, who say that pedophilia is OK, or other leaders of other religions who call for “Holy Wars”, or others who call for you to give 10% of your money to them because God wants you to, or those who say you must be a virgin, or those who say you must not eat this or you must not wear those clothes, or those who say you must not think this or say that. The list goes on and on of “religious” people who would control you, who tell you they speak for God, when of course they do not.

So why should we celebrate Christmas? Because in doing so we celebrate the life of a true hero of the world who 2,000 years ago stood up and defied the Roman Empire and the Jewish theocracy, and sacrificed his life, on behalf of every one of us. He  spoke out on behalf of freedom and the ability of each man to know God without the assistance of any other man.

We should celebrate the life of Jesus because he taught us that we are free of theocracies, because the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the Spirit of God, is already within all of us.

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I expect that everyone would agree that in order for a country, state, or city to function it needs money.  For millenia these entities have obtained money, and still do, via a variety of charges imposed on the people in these locales. We usually call these charges “taxes”.  Over the centuries many types of taxes have been created: income taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, road use taxes, automobile taxes, boat taxes, sales taxes, poll taxes, Social Security taxes, value added taxes, financial transaction taxes, capital gains taxes, and so forth. There seems to be a semi-infinite list of the different types of taxes.  Why?

Indeed. Why do we need so many types of taxes? The fact is we don’t. The reason we have all these different types of taxes is that governments generally become corrupt and one special interest group or another gains an upper hand and uses their power to shift the tax burden to another, less powerful group of people. After a few centuries of this process we are left we a rat’s nest of taxes that manages to tax the some dollars over and over again, while other dollars never get taxed at all. There has never been a better demonstration of the power of special interests and oligarchs.

The solution is a single tax that is fair for all people and raises sufficient money so that the country, state, or city can perform its functions appropriately. The answer is not the so-called “Fair Tax” – a deliberate and viciously deceptive misnomer if there ever was one. That miserable concept is in fact one of the most unfair tax concepts ever created. It is simply another example of how the wealthy oligarchs of this country try to impose their merciless will upon the average person. The “Fair Tax” is nothing more than a national sales tax. The problem with this is that it taxes everything you buy: bread, milk, clothing, newspapers, gasoline, medical care, school supplies – everything you need to live – at the same rate as it taxes the playthings of the extraordinarily wealthy –  things like 10 carat diamonds, 100 foot yachts, thirty room mansions, and so forth. So what’s wrong with that? The problem is that even the fabulously wealthy don’t buy a lot of those items so these things don’t produce a lot of tax revenue.  Most of the budgetary needs of the cities and states have to be made up from the sales of bread and milk and so forth. In this way the poor and indigent, the vast numbers of people living paycheck to pay check, and the families struggling to just get by pay pretty much the same tax as the wealthiest billionaires on most days. It is, in fact, “The Unfair Tax”.

The fairest tax of all is the graduated income tax: it is a tax that taxes small incomes very lightly and massive incomes heavily. Those who can pay the most do so and those who cannot afford to pay anything don’t pay anything. Beyond being extraordinarily fair, the graduated income tax has another potential: it can, by itself, pay all the expenses of the budget of a state, city, or country. And that is a very good thing.

Consider our present situation. You have a job and maybe you make $1,000 a month. You pay $100 income tax per month. Then you take your money and you go out and by gas for you car. Suppose you buy $10 worth of gas. You only really get $9 worth of gas because the other dollar is for the gasoline tax – and really, it’s just a tax upon the money you have already paid an income tax upon! Then you go to the grocery store and buy food. Same thing. Then you buy clothes.  Same thing – you pay taxes on money that has already been taxed. Then you get your property tax bill in the mail. You’ve already paid for your house (with money that was taxed) and now you have to pay a tax again based upon how much you paid for the house. Your money that was already taxed is being taxed again – and it will be taxed again next year, and the year after, and the year after. Indefinitely.

Our entire system of commerce contains taxes upon money that has already been taxed at least once. It is the poor and middle class who suffer the most from this system because, proportionally, they have a much larger tax burden than the wealthy who have written all sorts of income tax, and other tax exemptions, for themselves into law and then pay only a small percentage of their income for the necessities of life – after all, they don’t worry about a sales tax on food because you can only eat so many hamburgers, even if you are a billionaire.

If the leadership of this country really wanted to give a boost to the economy they would scrap our present complex system of national, state, and local taxes and create a single, sole, nationally controlled graduated income tax – and then outlaw all other forms of taxation. The government would then distribute these tax dollars to various states and cities in a manner proportional to their population so they can perform their functions of government. Such a tax would be fair and useful for the common good.

But we will never do that because, despite the fact that we vote for senators and representatives, we live in an oligarchy. Even our now corrupt Supreme Court rules that wealthy, and inanimate, corporations have the same free speech rights as living people – a ruling that defies sanity but allows the wealthy owners of these corporations to drown out the voice of the individual citizen. We live in a society where lobbyists carry bags of money to our elected officials, and they, in turn, create legislation on demand – for a fee. We live in a society where the financial burden of paying for the expenses of the country is placed squarely upon the poor and the middle class while many of the most wealthy pay nothing – yes, nothing – in taxes. And our Congress likes it that way.

A single, fair, graduated income tax is all this nation needs to function. Furthermore, the lifting of all sales, excise, transaction, property and other taxes upon commerce would produce a gigantic stimulus for our economy. There is, however, only one problem with my dream of having only one truly fair tax for all.

It will never happen.

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Ask anyone who has ever bought a used car. Negotiation is an art, a skill. It is not something that is innate. It is not something they teach you at Harvard. It’s something you learn from experience, from buying and selling merchandise on a daily basis in a bazaar or other situation where the buying and selling is brisk. Just travel to Asia and the Middle East if you want to see how it is done. Most Americans who wander into these areas as tourists are prime targets for merchants who happily charge tourists ten times or more the usual selling price for goods.

Which brings me to President Obama. My advise to the President: don’t plan any vacations to the Middle East or Asia – unless you plan to bring a lot of money. The recent “deal” the President agreed to with the Republican Party concerning taxes is evidence enough – when it comes to bargaining, the man is a neophyte, a rank beginner, a bumbling, misguided, do-gooder who has no idea or stomach for tough negotiations. He says he got a good deal for the American people, but in reality all he got was exactly what the Republicans want.  Perhaps President Obama needs to be taken aside by one of his advisors and told the truth: “Mr. President, when it comes to negotiating, you just don’t have the right stuff. ”

I hear that Donald Trump is now considering a run for the Presidency. Would he make a good negotiator? Probably, but I would guess he would be a Republican negotiator and their lineup is already pretty strong. Just look at the implacable faces of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. (By the way, I know he pronounces his name sort of like “Baynor”, but shouldn’t it be “Boner”? Or is it more like the Germanic sounding “Burner”? Just a thought…) Look at the eyes of these people – their slack expressions – their humorless gaze. There isn’t an ounce of compassion or caring in either man. Obama is trying to deal with cold fish, sharks. He doesn’t realize that sharks don’t make deals with minnows –  they eat them. It’s amazing that a man can reach the Presidency and still be so naive. I’m sure George Bush knew the score – so did Cheney. They never, for a heartbeat, thought about deals or compromises. They just made up laws, declared emergencies, did whatever it took to get their way; and as for Congress, they were told to just get out of the way – and they did, without a peep.

Recently, Donald Trump said that he might consider running for President. Hey, we had a Republican movie star President already, right? Remember Ronald Reagan? He didn’t destroy the country’s economy – at least not totally anyway. So, if it’s a choice between Sarah and the Donald – who would you choose? Maybe, if the Republicans bring on the Donald, the Democrats should also turn to Hollywood. I’m thinking William Shatner here.  Would he make a good negotiator? Just listen to his Priceline commercials. What other qualifications would he need? He knows how the game is played – “No!” he shouts to foolish neophyte negotiators.  “Lower! Lower!” Shatner has learned to be a tough Negotiator, and he always wins! But our poor, polite, Harvard educated President doesn’t. He just doesn’t have the tough negotiating experience. He doesn’t know how to negotiate, and he doesn’t know when he is getting a really bad deal.

Negotiating is all about bluffing. Who will walk away? Who will give in? How much does the other side really want it? How much do I want to give up? It’s about risk. It’s about taking chances. Will the other side walk away from a deal? What if they do, can I live with that? Apparently, Obama was afraid the other side would walk away from the very first moment, and he was afraid of what would happen if they did – more afraid than the Republicans were. The question is would they really have walked away – or at the last minute would they have made a real deal? It seems we’ll never know now.

There is, however, one thing I do know: if I ever go out to buy a used car, I will never ask President Obama to come and help me negotiate the price – but William Shatner?

In a heartbeat.

 

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It seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, that’s where the money is.  As of 2007, 85% of all the wealth in America was owned by 20% of the population. Indeed, just 1% owned almost 43% of America’s entire financial wealth. Yet, to hear the Republican Tea Party talk you would think that these people are starving and just couldn’t bear to pay another penny in taxes. They say they are already taxed to the max and, instead, they say we should tax the poor because there are so many of them. Now, as the Bush tax cuts are about to expire, the party of the 1% is holding the country hostage refusing to do business with the President unless he caves in and agrees to extend the Bush tax cuts.

The question is this: will President Obama cave yet again? Well, if history is any indication the answer would be “yes”. Meanwhile, the party of the rich has just allowed the unemployment compensation for the poor people who have lost their jobs to expire. Just in time for Christmas. Can anyone spell Ebenezer Scrooge? Today’s Republican Tea Party is no longer the Party of Lincoln. It is the Party of the stingy, heartless, greedy, businessman who doesn’t give a rat’s behind about the common man, the poor, the starving, the immigrant, the sick, or the dying. They are the bankers and insurance people who created the worldwide economic catastrophe through their avarice and neglect for our country’s financial health. They are the destroyers of people’s lives, homes, and families – and they want EVERYTHING YOU OWN.

And yet, so many Americans vote for them, again and again – people who are not rich and never will be. People who, but for the grace of God, have not yet lost their home and income, rally for the Republican Tea Party. It is inexplicable. One can only believe that the ability of the Republican Tea Party to deceive American citizens is unrivaled in the history of this country. Their ability to convince the people to vote against their own best interests and their ability to maintain this support, even while they seek to destroy every effort the government makes to help these people, is difficult to comprehend. Why would anyone vote for a Party that almost destroyed the economy only two years ago? Why would any person who doesn’t make at least a million dollars a year vote for a Party that seeks to have millionaires pay almost no tax (or in some cases zero tax) and then shift the majority of the tax burden to people who make less than a million dollars?

But there we are. The Republican Tea Party has shown that they will use the power they have, even though they are in the minority, to prevent the government from helping the people unless they (the rich) get favored tax treatment. The Republican Tea Party cares little about the people of America – it is simply and solely and single mindedly, the Party of the wealthy. And, it seems, it is now the wealthy – the 1% who have an ungodly amount of wealth – who now call the shots. It is they who rule. We have become a true oligarchy.

If there is one thing we should ask President Obama and the Democrats to do, it is this: stand firm. Do not cave in again. Give the Republican Tea Party a taste of their own medicine and introduce new tax laws that would tax only the rich. Tax their wealth with massive property taxes, and tax their incomes with 90% tax rates. Write tax laws that say anyone who falls into the bottom 75% of income earners pays zero tax, and let the entire tax burden of the country fall upon the rich because they can most afford it, and they are the ones who have benefited the most from living in this country. Now, it’s payback time. And as for that old Republican Tea Party lie that says it is the wealth of these rich people that creates jobs, think about this: they wouldn’t have all that money if it was being used to create jobs. The simple fact is that the rich do not use their money to create  jobs for you; they use their money to make more money because that is their only true goal and concern. They are of one mind, and they do not care about you or this country enough to actually pay their fair share of taxes. In fact they will fight against it to their dying breath.

There is only one solution to America’s financial problems.

Tax the rich! That’s where the money is.

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