Sunday, October 16, 2011

About Higher Taxes and Regulation

So let me get this straight, higher taxes and more regulation are bad for business? But I feel so much wealthier when my net pay is lower because my taxes are higher!
And when it's more difficult for me to do what I do best, I magically do better than ever!

Monday, August 22, 2011

About an Anguished Ramble

I shouldn't be writing this. First, I learned some bad news. Second, I took comfort in a pint of Vodka.

That said, I'm rather inebriated and emotionally exhausted. Before you critique my arguments, take these points into consideration.

My father died when I was five years old. He died of cancer, which he developed due to exposure to the chemicals in Agent Orange. He wasn't a soldier; he was a forester. As I understand it, his job involved regrowing timber from clear-cut areas. One of the first things in order was to kill undergrowth in order to foster samplings. One of the barrels filled with the herbicide leaked into the bed of his pickup truck. He cleaned it himself without special equipment because he did not know how dangerous the materials were.

I remember my father being sick. I recall his hair falling out in clumps from the chemotherapy, but I didn't know the first thing about chemotherapy or cancer. I remember how often he was in the hospital, and I remember having to be good around him because he was so unwell. I remember all the people in our living room on the day that he died. They were all so quiet, but I didn't understand the gravity of the situation.

In retrospect, given the medicine of the early 1980s, my father had no real chance. My Uncle Dan donated bone marrow, but that wasn't enough. My Uncle Steve prayed everyday that God would shower my father with His grace, but it was all for naught.

Years after my father's death, I learned the story of it. Two people were present: my Uncle Steve and my mother.

My Uncle Steve had been in a car crash years earlier and suffered brain damage. He had his wits, but to this day he suffers vocal and motor limitations. Before his accident, he had been a man of the moment. Drugs, alcohol, and a good time were pretty much what he looked forward to. In a way, his accident saved him because it humbled him. He came to know God and to believe in Jesus' redemptive powers. To him, the accident had been a wake up call, and he was now awake.

Armed with his faith, my Uncle Steve decided that he would pray and that the Lord, in all His love and power, would hear his prayers. He prayed for my father, and he stood by my father's sickbed more than anyone besides my mother.

While my father laid on his deathbed--no one knew at the time exactly how soon the end would come--, my mother and my Uncle Steve were by his side. At some point, he asked my Uncle Steve to go and locate some ice cream. My uncle obliged. While my father laid there with just my mother, he expressed his fears and his grief to her.

He knew what was coming.

His breathing had been labored, but it became worse. I don't know what his last words were--I've either been too young or too--I don't know if I've been too afraid, too embarrassed, or what--to ask, but I like to think that he told my mother how much he loved her and that he had full faith in her ability to care for his children.

He died before my uncle could return with the ice cream.

For obvious reasons, this was a pivotal moment in my life. Nevertheless, I haven't thought enough about what it meant to my uncle. My Uncle Steve had prayed with all his might that God would show mercy on him. He'd had faith in the efficacy of prayer. But for what? My father suffered and died despite the prayers of many.

I don't know what kind of soul-searching my Uncle Steve did in the aftermath of my father's death, but I don't remember a day when he wasn't a devout Christian. He must have been devastated. He must have been out of his wits, for a moment. But in the end, he must also have understood that God's Will is often beyond our understanding.

And he accepted that.

Now my Uncle Steve has cancer. He hasn't drank a beer or smoked anything since his accident. He's always tried to eat healthy: lots of fiber, fewer sugars and fats. Still, he has cancer.

While my father knew that he would leave behind two children as his legacy, my Uncle Steve has never been married. He's been somewhat a recluse, due mostly to his handicap--people often assume that he's drunk because of his slurred speech and awkward motor skills. He has his brother, my Uncle Dan, and his sister, my Aunt Kellee, but I have this terrible sense that he feels that he's about to die alone.

Yes, I know that he's not going to die straightaway. He's already scheduled for chemotherapy. Nevertheless, he must know that the end in sight. His cancer is "treatable, but not curable," whatever that means. Isn't that pretty much the rule for all cancers? The thing is that it has spread from his gall bladder to his liver and lungs. I think that means stage 4 cancer, and the doctors are more concerned with "buying time" than with eliminating the cancer.

My Uncle Steve taught me to appreciate history. He had many books and was always up for a discussion. He taught me to appreciate classic rock. We took a month-long camping trip during the summer in which I turned 13, and the whole time we listened to cassette tapes of everything from Jim Croce through Lynyrd Skynyrd. Through my Uncle Steve, I learned the lesson that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade.

Regarding my current profession, three people have been the most influential: Jim Lockerbie, Thomas Conner, and my Uncle Steve. I admire my Uncle Steve, and I've much to say to him, but I don't know what to say. I remember the last time I saw my grandfather--Uncle Steve's dad. I was on the way to the airport with my wife and two children, and we stopped by the hospital so that I could say farewell to my grandpa. I think the both of us knew that we'd never see each other again. I wept like a child when the doctors took him to whatever test or treatment they were performing, and for the first time in my memory, I saw my grandfather cry.

My grandfather died of cancer a few months later. I had the plane ticket to come see him one last time, and he died a few hours before my plane took off.

I'd say "God damn cancer," but to me it seems more like "God uses cancer." Now I can take that in two ways. First, I can take it as God uses cancer to screw with people, to make their final weeks dreadful and to milk anguish from all loved ones. Another way is to say that God knows everything. He understands that we grieve, but he knows the big picture that we do not. I could try to fathom it and explain it in this post, but that would be fruitless. I could no more explain God's omniscience than I could explain the deepest mysteries of quantum physics. Heck, at least a physicist can try to explain quantum physics. Ask a priest about God's Will, and you end up with more questions and doubt than you started with.

I'd like to wrap this up now because it's a rambling mess. Many whom I've loved have died of cancer. My father, his father, my maternal grandmother, my wife's grandfather, and more. Praying hard won't cure cancer. My Uncle will live for a year, a few years, many years, or he may die soon. My prayers won't matter. As much as this fact irks me, I must confess that I cannot claim to know a better way. I am weak. I pray not because it will accomplish my will but because my will is insufficient.

Here then, is my prayer:

Lord, do what you must with my Uncle Steve. He is a good man, and he is beloved by many. If you must take him slowly and with great pain, keep us clear headed. Send us comfort in a random song on the radio. Cool our tempers with a soft breeze. Give him the strength that he needs, and give me and my family the strength that we need. In short, help him first, but then help me.

Thy Will be done.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

About Killing Al Quaeda

An interesting question that we should ask: When our government kills an Al Quaeda militant, is the US really one enemy down? When a predator drone wipes out ten mushahadeen, is the US really ten dead bodies closer to victory?

If the answer is "No, not really," then I think our current policy is destined to fail.

About Christian Charity--Does Socialism Follow Jesus' Teachings?

Too many people armed only with scriptures written thousands of years ago claim to understand God's will and know "exactly" how we should behave socially and politically.

When the last books of the New Testament were written, slavery was acceptable and monarchy was the preferred form of government.

The most important lessons from the bible are, for the most part, not literally applicable to us. To better understand, we need to cut through the history, discriminate between what was present and relevant then and what is present and relevant now. We must read the subtext, and therein lies the difficulty.

For instance, many socialists claim that Jesus, with his message of charity for the weak and needy, would have advocated programs such as social security, medicaid, and medicare. Isn't it Christian to help the elderly, the poor, and the sick?

But social security, medicaid, and medicare all rely upon the violent, coercive powers of government to redistribute wealth involuntarily from the productive to the non-productive. Does love of one's neighbor come from the barrel of a gun?

Others, and I count myself among them, consider Jesus' proclamations to be calls to individual action. I should help the elderly, the sick, those weaker than I am.

According to the socialist model, my property is forcibly taken from me and (lacking major corruption), delivered to those in need. The first caveat, of course, is that socialism breeds corruption and inefficiency. The formula for helping people in this way ends up hurting more. The second caveat is that a man who pays his taxes is not charitable. He does so in order to avoid being harmed. Jesus did not say, "Blessed are the shirkers and those who cower before might." There's simply no charity in the socialist system.

According to our alternate model, men can demonstrate their devotion to Jesus' teachings by acting according to their free will.

Should the old version of the story be true, when we die and meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, which will be the more valid petition: "I paid my taxes," or "I gave of my own free will"?

So the trick to Christian theology isn't to say "This and this happened and in ancient Judea would have resulted in that and that, therefore the same should be true for us."

The trick to Christian theology is to strike at the meaning of Jesus' teachings, God's will itself, if you're a believer.

If you're not a believer, then you've already discounted this post. Alas.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

About God's Will

It is upsetting to submit in prayer "Thy will be done." We don't often pray for God's will but for our own.

At the same time, it can be comforting to know that His will indeed will be done, and-- whether we know it or not--it is for the best.

If God is omniscient, he knows more than I do or ever can. I must admit this when I'm at a crossroads of faith. I must rest assured that no matter the hardship for me or another whom I love, it is part of something bigger than I can fathom.

I don't have to like God's will in a temporal way. In prayer I might even submit a list of grievances. I think God understands and forgives such insolence. Nevertheless, despite my misgivings I should end every prayer with "Thy will be done."

In the end, His will is superior to mine, whether I like it or not.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

The federal government can relieve much of its burden by ceding much of its unconstitutional powers to the states. Simply because an issue concerns us all does not cause it to fall under federal jurisdiction. This is a union of states--states created the union by ratifying the constitution--and the states can be left to themselves to deal with important issues. Consider only a few examples.

Murder, rape, and assault are heinous crimes that should be punished in all states. This doesn't mean that the federal government should have jurisdiction over them, and it doesn't The states themselves enact laws against such crimes and enforce them. Since states differ from each other, they may approach and punish these crimes differently--per the will of their people. For instance, there is no death penalty in Michigan, but in other states--think Texas--murder is often punished by a death sentence. This does not mean that Michigan is softer on murder than is Texas. It simply means that Michiganders do not see capital punishment as the best way to deal with convicted murderers.

The Constitution's tenth amendment states clearly that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government belong to the states. Therefore, the feds do not prosecute murderers for murder, rapists for rape, or assailants for assault. Nevertheless, over time the federal government has assumed powers that are not constitutional, and they have done so on the grounds that the issues are vital to all Americans. As Ted Logan would say, this argument is bogus. Murder, rape, and assault are issues vital to all Americans.

Consider a few issues considered so important that the constitution must be violated, and think how states themselves could easily (and most likely less expensively and more efficiently--since states differ from each other).

1.) Education. Making sure that our youngest generation is literate and capable of being productive members of society is important. Nevertheless, a quick reading of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution informs us that Congress lacks any power over the subject. According to the 10th Amendment, that means that states or individuals themselves should be responsible for education. The federal government spends billions on education, but it educates no one. All education is done on the state or private level. The Department of Education should be abolished, and the people of the states should be able to determine for themselves what their children need. This would save the federal government billions every year, which translates into trillions over time.

2.) The Environment. It is important that people do not so ruin the environment that it becomes inhospitable to human life. I don't know anyone who would argue against that. Nevertheless, it is not a job for the federal government. Rules regarding drilling for oil in Alaska should not involve votes from Illinois. Regulations intended to preserve the spotted owl in Washington State should not involve Floridians. California leads the way with reckless environmental policies. Let them test for themselves what happens when property rights are thrown asunder. Let the rest of us develop our own policies that suit our own needs and do not render us victims of other people's ideas. The Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.

3.) The Department of Agriculture. Agriculture is necessary for life. Without access to good food, we're in trouble. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the federal government needs to regulate who and how our foods are produced, distributed, and consumed. States in which agriculture is important know what they need to produce quality crops and meats. Federal regulators assume that Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 gives them the right to "regulate" agricultural commerce because it often crosses state lines. This is a loose construction that ignores the reason for the so-called "Commerce Clause." The Constitution's framers created AI.S8.C3 in order to prevent states from trade-wars via tariffs. That's it. Every federal power over business that has been justified by the commerce clause--except for those that prevented states from limiting trade between each other--is unconstitutional. Let consumers and the states decide who makes their food, who sells it, and what's worth buying. Abolish the Department of Agriculture.

4.) The Food and Drug Administration. See comments above. Abolish the FDA.

Of course, the bulk of federal spending is on social security, medicare, and the military-industrial complex. The first two are clearly unconstitutional and should be abolished. Let states and families take care of their elderly. Federal spending on the military is, technically, constitutional, but that's not the issue here. If we did nothing more than reduce the federal government's regulatory powers (and thus its spending habits), we wouldn't be looking at either the fiscal or monetary mess that we presently are facing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

About Three Reckonings

To suggest that there is a "reckoning" in the near future is to state the obvious but vaguely.

This society has a cultural reckoning demonstrated by the popularity of programming such as The Jersey Shore and other unscripted television. This week on the Bachelor, the bachelor faces a tough decision, and all relationships are "amazing." Comedy Central's South Park, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Tosh.0 are probably the best written shows on television. Ask yourself what they each have in common: they lampoon our bankrupt culture.

Popular music is mere imitation of what was uninspired twenty-five years ago. Lady Gaga's schtick was disingenuous and old when Madonna shocked us all by making out with black Jesus. The Jonas Brothers have run their course, so now it's time to squeeze every dollar of every microsecond of Justin Bieber's fifteen minutes of fame before it's on to the next teen pop idol.

Michael Bay is a fine example of what's happened to cinema. Screw plot. To hell with character development. Let's just blow up a bunch of shit. Alien robots that double as product placement revenues from General Motors is just icing on the cake (in the original Transformers, Bumblebee was a VW bug).

Social Networking consumes our time with trivial matters expressed in terrible grammar and "in-ovative $pelling" (4sh0). Nevertheless, it's too new--or perhaps I'm still too much of a novice--and its potential to bring people together in meaningful ways makes me reluctant to pass final judgment for the time being.

We also face a political reckoning. The two major parties are corrupt, morally and philosophically defunct instruments of theft and tyranny. While many will admit that we need a third party to come to the rescue, they also suggest that voting for third-party candidates is a waste of time. Our modern elections are the epitome of choosing between the lesser of two evils. Several seasons ago, a South Park episode brilliantly satirized the situation when the boys were expected to vote for a new school mascot. The choices were a turd sandwich and a giant douche. When one of the boys refused to vote because he hated both choices, the community insulted and ostracized him--as if he was the problem. We have a Nobel Peace Prize winning president who has just authorized the unconstitutional use of force to intervene in another sovereign country's internal affairs. Obama's "Change We Can Believe In" has proven to be an echo of the cynical proverb: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Perhaps the economic reckoning is the most pressing and fearsome of all. The federal government's spending is worse than insane and out of control. Considering the ultimate consequences of our fiscal and monetary policies, it is downright evil. The previous election saw a bunch of turd sandwiches replaced by a bunch of giant douches, especially when you consider that the amount of budget cuts suggested by (supposed) fiscal conservatives do not even match the increased spending. They suggest cutting in the billions while spending increases in the trillions. I'm neither a mathematician nor an economist, but I can see the the problem with that. Our debt is a threat to our livelihoods--I'm not even talking about prosperity; I'm talking about our ability to eke out a living of any kind--, and our very sovereignty. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the second witch predicted: "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." In Macbeth, she referred to the protagonist himself. To us, that something wicked will take the form of unprecedented taxation or hyperinflation, followed by starvation, and quite possibly large-scale violence.

I'm not the first to point any of these reckonings out, and I'm not hoping to be lauded as insightful. What I've said has been better put by others, but this has been weighing on me for some time now. I'm also not the first to point out the similarities between our current situation and the period leading up to the decline of the Roman Empire. See Gibbon if you don't believe me (though I think that he exaggerated the role of Christianity in Rome's fall).

The world will not end in 2012, but we may be on the threshold of something too close for comfort.

Bill of Rights