Why We Pay Taxes

People are missing the point about taxes and why the rich should pay more.  Taxes serve two functions:

  1. To fund the government so that it can provide the services that are most efficiently and effectively done centrally
  1. As payment for the privilege of living and working in the state and country of this, the greatest nation

To the first point, items like law enforcement, defense, education policy, health care, energy production and management, the coordination of relationships between individual states, and relationships with other nations need to be managed by a single entity.  To have each state negotiate, coordinate and manage these efforts on their own is wasteful and redundant.

To the second point, we all benefit from living in the United States, even if we are unemployed, poor, and undereducated.  For proof we have only to look around at the conditions that the poor and disenfranchised live under in other countries and we can see that our least advantaged citizens fare better here than they would in many other countries.

We all bear a responsibility for, and benefit from, what this country provides for its citizens.  At one end of the spectrum, starvation is rare, and few of us lack drinking water and shelter.  At the other end of the spectrum, we provide the environment in which people can prosper through hard work and determination (and sometimes, dumb luck).  That environment includes the embrace of free market capitalism; freedom of expression, speech and the free exchange of ideas; freedom of spiritual (some might say religious) pursuit (or not) as one pleases; the freedom to grow (literally and figuratively) as individuals and a society; and freedom of mobility that allows us to chase our dreams wherever they may take us.

But there is a cost to those privileges:

When there is tension between the needs of the few and the many, the many must prevail.  This is the price we pay for avoiding dictatorship and oligarchy, and for having a military that is subservient to civilian rule.  It is why we have anti-trust and anti-corruption regulations.  It is why we are a nation of laws, not anarchy.  It is why we adhere to Biblical admonitions to care for the poor.

We must be willing to hear, consider and act on the ideas and opinions of others.  Gridlock and entrenchment limit progress and growth.  Cooperation and a willingness to try new things are cornerstones to peace and prosperity.  Where would we be if people had rejected once radical ideas like democracy, mass production, farming (as opposed to hunting and gathering), and collaboration?

For the rich to earn their riches, they must stand at the back of the line.  When you buy a TV set, you go into a store, pay your money, and walk out with a new set.  The workers who built the set have already been paid, the shippers who transported the set have been paid, and the clerks who displayed the set and placed it in the back of your car have been paid, all before you made your purchase.  The factory and store owners only make money when they make the sale, and for that risk they deserve the highest reward.

If the rich were at the front of the line, as Trickle Down economists insist, the process would be reversed.  You would pay your money; the store owner would take a cut and send the rest to the factory.  The factory owner would take a cut and send some to the workers who build the set.  The rest would go to the shipper to deliver your new set, and to the retail employees to load it into your car.  That would be insane.  Economies trickle up, not down.

In order to maximize individual and national prosperity, all Americans must reach their potential.  This means that education and opportunity must be maximized for each one of us.  In order for economies to trickle up to their fullest potential, all of us need to be producing as much as we can, adding value to the economy.  And this requires that we all receive an education commensurate with our aptitudes, and opportunities in line with our skills and abilities.  Only under this scenario will the rich get even richer, the poor move into the middle class, and the middle class get to improve their positions.  Anything less is a recipe for decline.

The more one benefits from the privileges, the more one owes.  What all this boils down to is risk reduction.  Living in the U.S. ensures that our intellectual capital is protected, our security is assured at home and at work, our food and water supplies are safe, our workforce is ready and available, our markets are able to afford our products and services, and our ability to come up with the next best thing is nurtured.

These privileges should not be taken for granted nor should they be free.  They should be paid for commensurate with the degree to which we benefit.


The Power of Two

If you deposit a penny in the bank and make a deal where they will double your account every day for a month (31 days), you will earn more than $10,700,000.

So let’s suppose for a moment that one conservative and one liberal person agree to send each other one letter or email a month on policy or any other topic.  Each month they also agree to recruit just one person each, a conservative and liberal, who begin their own conversation.  And they, in turn, recruit two more people each month to begin a dialog.

The first month there will just be two people.  At the end of the second month, there will be four.  In 6 months, there will be 64.  At the end of the first year, there will be 4,096 people, all engaged in correspondence about race.

Assuming no one backs out, at the end of the second year – just 24 months into the effort – there could be close to 17 million people writing their counterparts.  Two months later virtually every man, woman and child could be engaged in the conversation.  Policy, racism, women’s issues, homosexuality, geopolitics, the environment…the results could be transformative.

Just two people are needed to begin this revolution.  Will you be one of them?

Recovering From The Legacy Of Slavery

150 years after the supposed end of slavery, we find that it still shapes the way most African Americans and Caucasian Americans think about, and act around, each other.  We – at least those of us that believe in evolution – tend to forget that our ancestors were all Africans, and slaves and their descendents are our relatives, albeit many times removed.  Belief in social justice and the application of good manners have gotten us all this far, but we are now essentially stuck, whites not knowing how to get beyond slavery and blacks not knowing how to heal from it.  Whites try as hard as they can not to offend blacks, and blacks see much of their lives through a lens of racism.   Both are on tenterhooks.

So here we are, stuck in the middle of the seven stages of grief:


When Africans were put on slave ships, they must have experienced the first stage of grief.  Sold, in some cases by their African friends or enemies, they likely suffered from some form of PTSD; shock at what was being done to them and denial that anyone could do such a thing.                                                                                           


As the shock of slavery wore off, it was replaced by unimaginable pain and suffering.  While I would in no way condone the institution of slavery, the roots of American culture were sown in the pain and grief of slaves and former slaves.  African and African American contributions to American art, music, literature, science, medicine, law, the humanities, and architecture have made us what we are today.  I find it ironic that peoples brought here against their will ended up defining our lives and our culture.


Frustration gave way to anger, especially when Emancipation turned out to be a sham.  For decades after the Civil War, African American anger burned, held barely in check by the forces of violence and economics.  These forces served to enslave peoples just as effectively as shackles forged of iron and steel.

When anger didn’t produce the desired results, African Americans and their advocates began to bargain for freedom and equality.  No one embodies the conflicting eddies of the transition from anger to bargaining more notably than Malcolm X, and no one reflects the bargaining position more clearly than Dr. Martin Luther King.  But thousands of others also deserve the credit – and tributes – that have been heaped upon these two iconic men.


 And so here we are, stuck between stage three and stage four.  Whites think African Americans should be getting on with their lives.  African Americans need closure and can not find a way to get it.  No amount of dialog can help the children of former slaves “get over it,” and no amount of reparations are sufficient to make up for past and ongoing repression.  We are poised to finally come to grips with the true magnitude of the loss and suffering, but no one can clearly articulate a path along which we can all move forward.

The conversation needs to be about where we are and what it means, and there is no work being done to determine and implement solutions.  The reason: we are trying to find global relief to individual pain.  Only through a one on one dialog between individual black and white people will we begin to understand and accept each other.   Until every white person truly understands what it’s like to be black in America, and until every African American believes that whites do “get it,” we’ll be stuck right here.


In truth, a large part of the answer lies with education.  Only through education can we build mutual respect, achieve economic equality, understand and appreciate the history and plights of others, and find the common ground that will enable all of us to come together.

But education is too often used as a tool to keep us from repairing the rifts between people.  Basing education funding on local taxes, and the act of educating on teachers willing to work in the community, we ensure that poor schools stay poor, that disadvantaged students stay disadvantaged, and disenfranchised communities stay disenfranchised.

The myth of equal school funding as a panacea is just that: a myth.  What equal funding does is maintain the status quo, keeping good schools good and bad schools bad.  We need reparative funding: resources allocated to the poorest schools that will lift their students out of poverty, give them hope and fulfill their dreams.  While some descry this as socialism, they do so only to deny the have-nots access to the American Dream.  They who protest have a vested interest in perpetuating what amounts to an American caste system.

The second key is to teach whites true black history.  Not just a module or two during Black History Month, or mentions of George Washington Carver and Booker T Washington in history books, but a fully integrated curriculum.  And that includes Native Americans,  Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.

Whites have been educating black people for a long time…it’s time for black people to educate whites.


 Equal education (as opposed to equal schools) is the foundation on which we can finally abolish our caste system.  Equal primary and secondary education that treats all contributions by all races, genders and ethnicities as equals will level the playing field when applying to college and for jobs.  It will form the basis for a dialog among and between us, mutual respect, and create equal opportunities for economic growth.

Only then can we aspire to engage each other in working through our issues and reconstructing the country around the words and values espoused in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution:

  • that all men (and women) are created equal,
  • that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,
  • that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and
  • that together we can form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.


During this, the last of the seven stages we learn to accept what has happened to us as a country and agree to move forward together.  But accepting reality doesn’t mean that we all find joy and happiness overnight.  Given all that we have been through, it will take time.

Which is where hope comes into the picture.  Lin Yutang once said:”Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”

Federal Budget Deficit Reduction: A 12 Step Program

Like the rest of you, I’m tired of all the Washington posturing and political wrangling.  It’s time our elected officials put country before party or their own interests.  To that end, I offer the following 12 step program as a starting point for dealing with the bloated federal budget:

  1. Means test federal subsidy recipients, especially companies and industries, including farms; maintain subsidies to low income and vital industry recipients that need it.  Limit farm subsidies to small, family farms.
  2. Means test Social Security and Medicare recipients; maintain payments to people with below mean U.S. income, sliding scale the rest.  High income retirees and those with significant assets do not get Social Security and must pay for Medicare coverage.
  3. Mandate that all Internet purchases include the payment of state and local sales taxes; make credit card companies responsible for setting up and administering the system.  This channels more money to the states who will rely less on the federal government for revenue.
  4. Channel civil court punitive damage awards to state and federal governments, not to the plaintiff.  These penalties are levied on behalf of the people and should benefit the people.
  5. Increase taxes on consumables – especially on premium grades of gasoline, tobacco, gambling, coal and oil energy production, alcohol, and luxury items like diamond jewelry and yachts
  6. Refinance the national debt by encouraging all Americans to hold national debt obligations like savings bonds, and reduce as much as possible our foreign debt holders.  We used to encourage people to buy savings bonds as part of a payroll deduction plan and we need to go back to that effort.
  7. Eliminate the futures markets and prohibit the speculative trading of future commodity contracts.
  8. Get market prices for all federal assets, from mining on public lands to broadcasting airwaves.  Market developable property owned by the government and not otherwise needed or preserved, especially beachfront/waterfront and downtown locations.  Finally, convert the Interstate system to toll roads.
  9. Expand the federal pharmaceutical R&D program and earn royalties in perpetuity for each discovery paid for all or in part with federal funds.
  10. Convert the military industrial complex into the world’s largest science based R&D and production/manufacturing engine for everything from energy and transportation to food production and greenhouse gas reduction.
  11. Hasten the transition to a cashless economy.  This will generate billions in currently uncollected taxes (and from the huge underground economy), and it potentially eliminates the U.S. Mint and the costs of minting currency.  Also place a one cent tax on every electronic transaction (paid for by banks and ISO/Gateways, not merchants or consumers).  Critics will cry Big Brother, but we need to be able to control our currency better.
  12. Mandate that when people (or their spouses if they are married) die, the first thing their estate does is pay off their per capita share(s) of the national debt.

The Obsolescence of Military Power

At some point in the future, we will no longer need a military.

Too often our thoughts about the future are formed in the context of the past, and this can serve to limit our thinking. For examples we need only look back at how skeptical our forefathers and mothers were about the horse and buggy being replaced by the automobile, radio by television, the calculator and typewriter by the computer, or printed newspapers by the Internet.

As a people, we are so accustomed to having – and needing – a military that our discussions surrounding our offensive capabilities, a strong defense and waging war always take our need for a military as a given.

And so the question is: how will we know when it’s no longer necessary to have a force?

Therein lies the rub. In almost every way, the military is self-perpetuating, as Joseph Heller brilliantly portrayed in Catch-22, and President Eisenhower warned us in the 1950s. After all, if China has a large military, then so must we. And by having a large military, we make sure that China keeps their army big, remaining a threat to us, and thus justifying our own build up.

What if the only reason that we all have a military is because our neighbors have one? If the only true justification for each of us to have a military is defensive, then the original rationale for having one in the first place – to defend ourselves from aggression – is gone. How will we know when that point has been reached?

In contemplating the answer, we can see how we will likely have a military long after the actual need has passed. After all, aggression, conflict and war have been part of humanity since the beginning.

But the balance of power is shifting. At the dawn of humanity, power and survival were dependent on drinking, eating, and sleeping in safety. As we evolved, power and survival were based on which individual was stronger, then which group was stronger. But in the 18th and 19th centuries a subtle change began to occur with the Industrial Revolution, and its impact on the engine of commerce.

What dictates power and survival today? We are close to the end of a shift from military strength to economic strength. People and groups with money are thriving. Companies have gone multinational. The old triumvirate of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches – is becoming less powerful. The emerging triumvirate that will run the world are Government, Business, and, thanks in part to media and the Internet, the Citizenry. We can already see the checks and balances in this new system beginning to work themselves out in society, where it appears that the Citizenry may be at least equal in power. Witness events like the Orange Revolution, the rise of the peasant classes in Latin America, the Arab Spring, and our own Tea Party movement.

Our power in the world, then, stems not from our B-2 bombers and Humvees, but from our ability to produce and consume. Under this world view, since production and consumption are typically coming from different source countries, we are becoming intertwined in ways that no military action could have produced. China will not attack us since it would mean economic ruin. We will not attack China because Americans won’t be able to buy Coach bags and Target clothing.

How can we know when that time has arrived? What if that time has already passed?

The force that is making war and the military obsolete – economics – is also the force that will replace it. As countries, especially neighboring ones, become interdependent economically, their differences will become less territorial and more market based. Countries and their markets will form coalitions and partnerships, resulting in a spider web of interconnectedness that will make war unthinkable.

Already, we have found that the military is expensive, and I would argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unaffordable, in both financial and human terms. We are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit international partners to help us fund military activities, and to recruit soldiers into our armed forces. In fact, our military “partners” are cutting their military funding, putting more of the burden on our shoulders.

The Swiss have known this for years. If the powerful have their treasure in Swiss banks, this will protect the neutrality of Switzerland. World War II proved the validity of their premise.

From nuclear deterrent to market deterrent. From Shock and Awe to Cash and Carry.

We can’t have a situation where everyone else disarms first – the hardcore states will never go for it if they are not last. And those that are secure enough to do so on their own will do so and spend those dollars on other programs, as much of Europe is doing.

The only possible solution is that we must all do it at the same time. Which leaves us with designing a process that will effect a mutually agreed upon result: total disarmament. A process that begins with a non aggression pact and a period during which military assets are essentially frozen, followed by a gradual and proportionate reduction to zero.

In concert with this must be a corresponding increase in commerce between neighboring and regional states, and with economic superpowers: North America, Europe, and northern and eastern Asia including India. We must build a strong, world-wide middle class; it is the key to political stability in this new world order.

How to kill the Left: A blueprint for conservative domination of the political spectrum in the U.S.

Create far right news media and position it as centrist

In the days of broadcast TV, CBS News was always the conservative option in news.  Dan Rather’s ascendancy to the anchor desk, and the entry of Fox News (and positioning themselves as centrists) has had the effect of pushing all other broadcast news to the left…in some cases the far left.  CNN, once thought of as an impartial middle has also suffered and is now, too, seen as leftist.

Dilute the power of media in general – use the Internet and cable television to splinter the media markets

Cable television and the Internet have given voice to many more positions and perspectives than were ever possible under the dominance of the Big Three broadcast networks.  This has enabled conservatives to splinter audiences and reduce the impact of news on the population.

Use reality TV programming to reduce the amount of scripted programming available, and by extension, reducing the number of outlets for leftist propaganda

Television writers are, for the most part, liberal.  The proliferation of reality, lifestyle and documentary style programming and networks has changed the funding of television and made scripted shows by comparison more expensive.  Couple that with smaller audiences and you have a recipe for reduced influence as costs rise and audiences and ad revenues fall.

Deregulate financial institutions to precipitate a fiscal crisis

The deregulation of the financial industries was destined to produce two things: a greater gap between rich/powerful and the poor/middle class/powerless, and the over extension of financial services.  These have combined to produce a financial meltdown, which benefits the right.   The right wants to continue this pattern since it keeps the population fearful and helps to control their voting patterns.

Get government to overspend, then de-fund leftist programs under the auspices of fiscal responsibility and deficit control

Republicans were glad to allow the Democrats overspend during the Bush years.  They knew the chickens would come home to roost eventually, and they knew their reputation for fiscal conservativeness would absolve them of blame and give them the power to “correct” it.  This led to the potential to gut the very programs that Democratic constituencies rely upon for their political support.

Keep out immigrants

Immigrant populations overwhelmingly vote Democratic, so a reduction in legal immigration and the denial of citizenship to immigrants already here both play to the advantage of conservatives.

Reduce the life expectancy of the poor – reduce the quality of the air and increase the costs of clean water, food, heat, health care, housing, and security

Under the auspices of fiscal discipline, conservatives now have the support they need to gut the Clean Air Act, to increase the cost of clean water, to raise the price of food, to deny heat to less affluent residents of northern climates, to put comprehensive healthcare out of reach for the poor, to relegate the poor to substandard housing, and to force them to live where their security is constantly at risk.  All this serves to force the poor to focus on their immediate needs and keep them out of the polling place.

Deny education to the poor – primary, secondary and post secondary

Reducing funding for education falls disproportionately on the poor as schools are ever more reliant on local property taxes for their funding.  Poor areas have much lower taxes and end up with worsening schools.  In addition, reductions in scholarship programs for higher education for the poor are under assault to keep the poor from pulling themselves out of poverty.

Kill off the unions – erode their power

The unions are among the biggest supporters of liberal politics, and by eroding their power and influence, conservatives rob liberals of financial support.  At the same time, permit corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited dollars in support of conservative candidates, overwhelming the liberal financial base.

Control teachers – use fear and intimidation to reduce their influence over children

Placing teachers under threat enables conservatives to control the content and messaging in the schools.

Force the left to support and defend generally unpopular positions

From gay marriage to abortion, gun control, immigration reform, universal health care, and the redistribution of wealth from the haves to the have-nots, conservatives are positioning liberals as out of step with the rest of the country.

Dis-empower leftist religions

By encouraging more conservative factions to break away from left and center leaning religious institutions, conservatives are condemning the mainstream religions as being out of touch.

Decentralize leftist organizations

Splintering leftist causes into smaller and smaller factions causes them to lose power and influence.  For example, splintering the women’s movement into separate organizations advocating for women’s rights, reproductive rights, children’s advocacy, women’s health, business women, and other niches has reduced their overall influence.

Alienate the masses from the intelligentsia

Positioning the intelligentsia – generally associated with the left – as being against the common person creates animosity.  Those who had been advocating on behalf of the middle class become their adversaries and allows the right to increase the gap between the rich – who disproportionately support the right – and everyone else.

Depress the vote

Since Republican leaning voters turn out in higher percentages than other blocks, depressing the vote disproportionately impacts Democrats running for office.  You can further erode the left by requiring photo IDs at the polling place, reducing the number of polling places, and by using unfamiliar technologies to collect and tabulate the vote.

Increase the cost of necessary commodities

Through speculation and other methods, conservatives have been able to raise the costs of basic needs like fuel, food, transportation, health care, and depress the value of assets like homes.  This disproportionately impacts the poor and middle class and further alienates them from voting.

Control redistricting in the states to maximize power and concentrate left leaning constituencies

Make sure the right is in power every ten years when redistricting takes place.  By ensuring that the right controls the levers of power at the state level, they give themselves the opportunity to control the federal government.

Decrease mobility by forcing people to stay in homes they can’t sell

When the value of homes is in decline, people owe more than their homes are worth.  This robs them of wealth and keeps them from moving to where jobs are…and into Republican strongholds.

By concentrating the left geographically (in the Northeast and West Coast), you minimize their voting power.  Conservatize the South, West and Midwest and you maximize the right’s influence in the House, Senate and state centers of power.

Position the military as an alternative to higher education

By putting higher education out of reach and eliminating programs like VISTA, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, young, especially disadvantaged youth, have little recourse except the military, which turns out more conservatives than liberals.

Empower right leaning institutions

Put feeding and clothing the hungry into the hands of conservative religious institutions and you give the right a powerful tool of influence over the poor and homeless.  Those populations become indebted to the right.

Step to the Right

Push all political institutions/branches of government to the right – courts, legislatures, and executive branches.  This can be done by positioning the right as ultra conservative, dragging the traditional center into what was the right and the traditional left into what was the center.  This also has the effect of positioning Progressives as a fringe political faction.

Divide African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women

By attracting conservative African-Americans, Hispanics and women into the Republican Party and highlighting them, you begin to splinter these traditionally Democratic voting blocks.

Disempower Green movements

Positioning alternative energy as unreliable and insufficient, global warming as hype, and environmental degradation as a solved problem further erodes the power of the left.

Other Tactics

Demonize the left as being out-of-touch socialists; mobilize centrists and independents by finding wedge issues that force them away from the left.

Become advocates for the wealthy to maintain dominance among political contributors.

Focus the attention of the population on the short-term rather than the long-term.

Inflate concerns over safety and security; use fear to make people believe they are vulnerable, then position conservatives as their saviors.

Increase unemployment and keep it high – position anything the left does as ineffective and obstructionist.

Equate pro-business with pro-employment.

Finally, eviscerate Democratic Leadership

Whenever crises create uncertainty and there are a multitude of ways to proceed, paint the left as unsure and wrong.  The Arab Spring, fall of Libya, Israeli/Palestinian peace efforts, Iran and nuclear weapons, North Korean regime change, dealing with Chinese policies, the European debt crisis, and the Great Recession have all been opportunities for the right to challenge the left.  Since we can’t go down multiple paths and see which is better before choosing a course of action, the right can always profess that their way is, or would have been, better, smarter, faster, and less expensive.

In Support of the Separation of Church and God

I believe in the separation of Church and God.

Too often churches and religious movements commandeer God, using God to their exclusive advantage, twisting the words of God to whatever purpose or belief they might have.  Some churches espouse a sometimes thinly veiled liturgy of superiority, mistrust, intolerance, and fear mongering with regard to other faiths and other churches.  It appears that religion deems it in their best interest to point out the differences between faiths and to sow the seeds of uncertainty with regard to an afterlife.

We have seen God’s name invoked in discriminating against gays, the repression and abuse of women, the enslavement of Africans, and the killing of all manner of peoples from holocausts to genocides.  All done under the sanction of religion, but surely not with God’s blessing.

Many religions use God to back up their claim that they are the one true religion, and in turn to sanction these atrocities.  Were it true, and many religions and churches make this claim, the existence of a single true religion implies that God is somehow testing us and that we are in an adversarial relationship with God.  But if that were the case, he could have easily made sure we all worshiped Him the same way from the beginning.

Instead, I believe that God gave us many means to find the True Way: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, even New Age Spiritualism.  Their guidelines on how we should live Life are remarkably similar.  If this is the case, no religion or church is better than any other.  They, like humankind, are all created equal in His eyes

I believe that God sees all of us – believers, agnostics, atheists and secularites – of any gender, faith or race as equal, worthy and blessed.  There are many in each category that try to live their lives in concert with God’s way.  There are also many in each who do not.

Regardless of one’s religion, much has been speculated about with regard to our purpose in life.  For me as a Christian, the answer seems deceptively simple: God and Christ have left us with two guidelines for living our lives: love God, and love your neighbor (that is, all others) as yourself.  Simple to express, but challenging to practice.

By extension, our purpose in life must be to live our lives according to these teachings.  And if we are true to this goal in life, then we must support the desires of others to find their own paths in any way they can.

Which brings me to a key question:  Is our task in life to start from scratch and see how much progress we can make?  While we can certainly learn to love God in a single lifetime, it is the rare person who also learns to love every other person completely.  To do so is to love Hitler, Idi Amin Dada, Stalin, and Pol Pot as we love ourselves.  I, for one, am not nearly there yet.

Or, are our souls reincarnated again and again to take up from where we left off last time as we continue a journey towards spiritual perfection?  It stands to logic that we go through life learning lessons that bring our souls closer to the perfect love of one another, and as this life ends our souls begin another that furthers our progress.  If the true purpose of Life is to learn to live it as God wishes, then we must conclude that this is how He intends for us to do so.