I will issue an apology for this post up front. I am going to be flirting with some logical fallacies in posing my questions (somewhat rhetorical). I do so only because I have yet to come up with a better way to start the conversation. So I say the questions are somewhat rhetorical because I do feel they do need an answer at some point, but I don’t think they can be answered simply, nor could someone answer them in a short conversation. However, we should be thinking about these questions.
My first question has to do with taxing the rich because of income inequality. I thought about this when I saw this tweet and the accompanying NPR story where the federal reserve is stating income inequality hurts growth. There can be some economic truth to this. I won’t detail it, but let’s assume the truth in the fed reserve statement that income inequality can hurt growth. The immediate response to this is we should tax the rich more to redistribute that money back to the lower and middle class to make the income more equal. This is where I have a problem. Are we really a free country when we have government deciding how much stuff is too much stuff?
(I am separating this since this is somewhat a straw man argument, but meant to provoke thought) If someone has a billion dollars, should we maybe tax their new income at 98% since they don’t really need it, where as maybe we could tax someone just coming out of bankruptcy 0% to help them get ahead? What about if you own a speed boat, a fishing boat, and a pontoon boat? Maybe we should tax you more because you don’t really need 3 boats? Maybe you should pay a fee every year if you own another freezer other than the one on your fridge since you can afford extra food and electricity, you must have extra money. You see how absurd these scenarios are, but that is the point. It might not sound absurd to charge a billionaire more than you, but it is so dangerous to let government with the power of force decide that. What happens when they decide it is a million dollars? $500,000? $150,000? $90,000? What if they decide 300% of minimum wage starts requiring equalization, so at $45,000 they start taking 50, 60, 80% of your income? That is my point, no one can tell me what level is fair, why it is fair, and even if it really even sounds fair once you start putting it that way.
The other part about income equalization is our income inequality is entirely our fault. We have become so entitled to anything and everything we want that we have made the rich very rich. I have blogged on this on a couple of occasions; we have the power to tax the rich. We will have to give up some convenience, perhaps put off some purchases. We might even feel a little pinch in our pocketbook for a little while, but if we buy local, bank local, save money, grow gardens, buy union, buy USA made and avoid those large corporations as much as possible, we would quickly transform our economy and put more money back in the hands of the middle class. When we say the rich are too rich and expect the government to take away their wealth, we are asking the government to take away money from someone by force that we all gave to them voluntarily by buying their products. If you don’t want someone to be rich, don’t buy from someone who is rich.
My other question about taxes in general is how much is enough? We have an aging population, so all of us are going to have to realize that we may have to go with a little less to take care of them. It is simply a matter of fact. Since we produce less in the US, we have less. Our population is aging, and has more needs. They are going to have to spend their savings on their care. People of my generation, we are going to have to help them, save for ourselves, and likely work longer than our parents. We have to change our entitlement mentality and realize we are going to have to sacrifice more for our parents, or grandparents, and our children. But how much of that should be done by the government? And how much do they need?
This is a bit of a straw man question as well because it isn’t easy for someone to answer. But if there is anything I can’t stand is how angry the liberals get with me when I ask them this question. It is an honest question. You can’t take all of a rich person’s money. You can’t take all of my money. We shouldn’t even take most of a person’s money. We should take only what is necessary, and that should be applied judiciously. Not because the rich can’t pay, but because we voluntarily gave the money to the rich by purchasing their product, it is unfair for us to then go reclaim our money by force through the government. So how much should we tax the rich without putting the freedom of the American Dream of becoming rich in jeopardy?
And Now For Something Completely Different
I wanted to put this in because I am often told I am too hard on the liberals. However, I found one of my favorite conservative libertarians falling victim to a myriad of logical fallacies recently, and it is only right I call him out on it.
Jason Lewis does a national radio show out of the Twin Cities. He is not quite as harsh as alot of other conservative radio hosts, so I have listened to him for about 6 months now and have found him entertaining and also educational. He does have a good grasp on economics and tends not to fall into the social issue agenda much as he feels those are issues left to the states to decide as he is a big states’ rights person. However, because of his long-time relationship with the Republican Party, he has become friends with Michele Bachmann. He actually was the one who introduced her at her event formally announcing her presidential run. I have serious concerns as this has clouded his judgement.
The big issue I take with Michele Bachmann is her intellectual dishonesty. I personally do not believe in a personal god, but because the case for god is an unknown I don’t have a problem with people having a faith or believing in religion. I do however have a problem when people who claim to be intellectual cannot reconcile religion and science. Ms. Bachmann believes that intelligent design should be taught in science classes. Even the Catholics have been able to reconcile the biblical story and the theory of evolution, but many Christians still want to deny decades of science and believe their non-scientist pastor that the earth is only 6000 years old and that we just appeared instantly on earth.
Where Jason Lewis goes wrong is he tried to compare it to the teaching of climate change. He calls climate change a “faith-based” movement in which only one side is taught in schools and even though “the science” says otherwise we don’t let that science in the class. But we can’t let a little bit of “faith-based” theory into the biology classroom. This fails on a couple of levels. First, climate change is not a “faith-based” movement. It is a working theory in the scientific community. I will grant him that the role of humans can be exaggerated (i.e. a political agenda) in the classroom. Mr. Lewis admits he is not a scientist, so he doesn’t understand that the issue is still being studied and debated, and thus it should be presented that way in the classroom. Evolution is different. Although very minor details such as biological classifications are being debated and new discoveries do sometimes shift the evolutionary tree slightly, the overall theory is sound and has held up for 150 years through thousands of examples. There is no controversy in the theme. The same with the age of the earth. There are some details and questions on the scales of a few million years, but that amounts to less than 1% of the 4 billion year age of the earth.
So, Mr. Lewis – although I have normally trusted your logic, you are failing miserably in your support of Michele Bachmann. She does have fairly sound economic policy and seems like a nice person, but she also has admitted an underlying social agenda and religious agenda that undermines her intellectual integrity. It is one thing to have faith to guide you, it is another to have faith to lead you. The entire premise of her campaign is illogical, and I hope before too long you will see that to and not let your friendship with her blind you to that fact.
I was tweeting pretty heavily tonight, mostly trying to understand both sides of the gay marriage amendment here in Minnesota. Early this morning, the measure passed and will appear on the ballot in 2012. I once again want to point out how both sides have really failed to clearly define government’s role on this subject. I also want to point out the arguments for and against the amendment that I have yet to get an answer to.
Typically, this is an issue that falls along party lines. The Democrats in the Minnesota House gave passionate speeches, some shedding tears and talking about discrimination. It is not personal discrimination as I see it. A gay couple with some planning can enter into a contract with each other that would be able to mimic a marriage as the law in Minnesota treats it. The name of the contract is different (it couldn’t be called a marriage contract), but it would still act much like a marriage. So in reality, it is the definition that is taken away.
This is, however, is contract discrimination. Marriage is defined in Minnesota as, “Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman…” First, imagine if you inserted a race description before man and/or woman. Those races excluded from the law could still enter a contract as up above, but for the government to pick and choose what type of people can enter this specially defined “civil contract” is outside of the very essence of the United States Constitution which gives us the freedom to associate with who we wish. The argument that a gay couple could draw up a contract that mirrors marriage law cannot cover all things because other laws refer to marriage specifically. Also, if marriage law changes, the contract wouldn’t automatically adjust to those changes. The DFL in Minnesota should have argued it from this more specific point.
I also find the emotional outpouring from the Democrats a bit disingenuous. The law was modified in 1977 to include the phrase “…between a man and a woman…” It was further modified in 1997 to add another phrase “… Lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex…” If the democrats were so concerned about the rights for homosexual couples, why didn’t they do something to remove this language for the many sessions where they held a majority? It concerns me that their passion is a political points passion, and not a genuine concern for gay couples.
From the conservative side, I heard a few different arguments. A couple of Twitter users had civil discussions with me 140 characters at a time, but I found some of my questions went unanswered. The main argument was “let the voters of Minnesota decide.” That was probably the strongest argument. The issue I have is it is so specific and if the amendment fails, it doesn’t change the existing law nor does it prevent it from coming up again. This argument seems to really be an attempt to mask the religious motivation for proposing this amendment.
One Twitter user wrote, “The gay marriage crowd has it’s work cut out convincing people that sand is food,” referring to the assertion that homosexuality is “unnatural” biologically. This is what you might call a “straw man” argument. If one were to extend this idea, should we ban everything that is not biologically natural? Should it be illegal to eat sand? It is readily apparent that arguing from this position is silly. Homosexuality is very common in the animal kingdom. The only counter-argument I saw to this was that animals have also been known to advance on inanimate objects. While that fact is true, it doesn’t negate the occurrence in nature, including in humans long before Christianity. Humans have also come up with things such as the love doll. Do we ban those as well? My point here is that sex outside of procreation does exist. Note: I did use Wikipedia links here because they are good summaries of large subjects.
Another argument used studies showing kids do best when they have a mom and dad at home as parents. The studies are too many to link here, but those studies are very weak correlations and often done as surveys. We just don’t have enough good data to make a comparison between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples. Also, since kids of homosexual couples are often because of adoption (yes, there are a few surrogates, etc), are we not improving that child’s situation? Even if it could be proved a heterosexual couple was better, wouldn’t having a pair of loving parents still be an improvement over no parents? A recent study showed that kids of homosexual couples attend college at a higher rate and graduate at a higher rate than the general population. The protecting the kids argument is very weak at best.
One argument that bordered on offensive was using the rates of STDs in comparison to the general population. It does need to be addressed. My brief search didn’t turn up much for research, but some reading and general knowledge of psychology would lead me to this conclusion: The higher rate is partly due to the continued marginalization of homosexuality. When a person feels they need to hide something, they may not make rational decisions regarding the situation. It would be interesting to look at rates of STDs in countries where gay marriage is legal.
The last argument from conservatives I will address here is homosexual promiscuity. There are some survey studies that have been done that weakly conclude that homosexuals tend to have more partners and tend to be less committed than married couples. What isn’t addressed in this data is: 1) It is hard to get people to be completely truthful, even in an anonymous survey. Perhaps married people feel more shame about their previous partners or are afraid to share the information. And 2) How does not being allowed to marry affect commitment in a homosexual couple. Would married homosexual couples stay more committed knowing they have the contract between them and could lose 1/2 their stuff? The promiscuity argument is weak because the comparison is not equal.
I have a personal plea to make to Republican politicians. I’ve always voted DFL until recently. I voted for the most Republicans I ever have in the last election because I really thought the platform was focused on being fiscally responsible and minimizing government’s interference in our lives. This issue is not what I voted for, it is not high on the priority list, and it is not in the spirit of the Libertarian, non-intrusive government that many of you ran on during the campaign season. You are quickly losing my faith that you will take care of the things that really need to get done.
In my previous blog, I talk about the lack of logic used in this issue. If marriage is indeed a civil contract allowed between two people and a person can be in only one contract at a time, then that contract law needs to be applied equally. Some religious officials are OK with gay marriage. Some religions define marriage as only a man and a woman. We cannot choose which of these religious beliefs to follow, or to me it is in violation of the free exercise clause in the first amendment. The law might not always be fair (i.e. we don’t allow polygamy), but it should be applied equally.
2012 is going to be a very difficult vote. Right now, logic and reason seems to escape anyone in office. Without logic and reason, there is no debate – or at least no progress being made.
Normally when I get fired up about some political topic, it is because of some news story on an issue or some misunderstanding of an issue I see people having in their conversations. However, tonight what has me thinking is the importance of language or word choice. I am in no way claiming I am a spectacular writer or a master of the English language. My issue is when people have time to think about their choice of language and do not choose to correct it, or when someone wants to attack another based on their choice of language without giving them time to correct it.
Note: There are those that have said I tend to be one-sided. While it is true I have a tendency to support Republican policy when it comes to taxes and economic policy, I don’t consider myself Republican. Tonight, I am going to try to show some language concerns from both sides along with a little bit of logic mixed in to address the policies themselves.
Here’s a tweet from a liberal blogger:
Where is the shared sacrifice? Other than all the poor, kids, elderly, mentally & vets get to sacrifice so richest 5% don’t
What bothered me about this tweet was the word sacrifice. To say the groups mentioned in tweet are sacrificing something is wrong. You can’t sacrifice something that is not yours. If you are receiving government aid, and the government sends you less, that is not a sacrifice on your part. A sacrifice would involve voluntarily giving up something which belongs to you. The other side of this is the idea that taxing the rich is somehow a sacrifice. The government takes money through the power of force. If you don’t pay your taxes, they can take your wages or put you in prison. Taxation is not sacrifice. Keep in mind the top 5% of income earners pay 60% of all taxes on the federal level. The bottom 50% of income earners pay no federal taxes.
We could encourage the rich to “pay more” by giving them a reason to do so. Right now because of the AMT, high income people do not get to write off all of their donations to non-profit organization. If we could write a smart tax policy (so they can’t donate to their own charity for example), we could get high income people to give more to those in need, and we cut out the government “middle-man.” That’s a win-win in my opinion.
I think the government should be the one looking at sacrifice. We are spending billions of dollars on rail projects that have yet to prove any decrease in congestion. We bailed out corporations instead of letting them fail and allowing those jobs, products, and services to go to other more successful and efficient companies. The government needs to sacrifice its unlimited spending for political gain and instead find ways to better use the money we give them. Cutting veterans’ benefits over light rail? Energy tax credits over education? We need to stop pleasing everyone and instead get the government doing the most vital things. Let’s make a list of priorities and stick to it. You can’t tax everyone 100%, so let’s agree we pay enough and instead focus on the important thing.
A more controversial topic is the one of the gay marriage amendment proposed in Minnesota. Conservatives say they are ensuring they “defend marriage.” As several liberal blogs have pointed out, many of these legislators are themselves divorced. If marriage is so sacred and in need of protection, then perhaps they should have spent more time making a good decision on getting married and they should have also worked harder to defend their own marriage.
Republicans have failed on a couple of areas of logic here. First is the political play they are making to play to their voter base as some conservative political analysts have said. I for one, along with groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans or the or the Gay Patriot Blog, understand that true conservatism means we stay out of people’s lives, bedrooms, pockets, and everything else. Government isn’t there to rule over us, they are there to make sure our rights are protected.
There is also a case to be made that this is a religious intrusion into our personal lives. If you really look at the way marriage is treated in law, it is a standard contract as dictated by law that is between two individuals. A person can only be in one contract at any time, and the way to terminate the contract is also done in a certain set manner. We allow religious figures to execute the contract as well as certain government officials. The only case that conservatives can make on this issue is a religious objection.
When our Constitution was passed, many of these individual rights were somewhat assumed within the common law procedures already in place. The argument against the Bill of Rights was that the Constitution was meant to enumerate powers to the federal government, with all other powers and rights being delegated to state governments or to individuals. Others felt that individual rights needed enumeration to ensure the most vital ones would never be encroached by any government within the United States. The preamble to the Bill of Rights states:
The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
The very first issue raised in the first amendment is religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
So, if a religion feels that gay marriage is OK, is it not in violation of the “free exercise” clause? The counter-argument is one of polygamy. Some religions support polygamy, so should we allow that free practice as well? Here’s where it gets tricky. The government is set up for monogamous marriages only. If you want to be married to multiple people within your religion, that is not the government’s business. However, if you want your marriage contract to be legally recognized by the state, you need to pick which partner with which you will execute that contract. The rest of your partners will be without that contractual protection. It might not fit all religious beliefs, but by allowing any two people to be in a marriage contract it is applying the law equally. That is the essence of the Constitution – fairness.
The other logic this issue fails is the level of importance. Certainly there are people on both sides that are very passionate about this issue. But as we see above, we have a crisis of spending. In Minnesota, we are bound by our Constitution to have a balanced budget so we are not in as much danger. But at the federal level (bold for emphasis) – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone pay out more than the entire federal government take in starting this year. We have much more pressing issues on finding a way to take care of our elderly, our military veterans, our roads and bridges, and other vital government functions to be worried about gay marriage. It just doesn’t belong on our radar at this point when these other issues haven’t been addressed.
Language and logic seem to be lost on the political parties when it comes to the issues. I am at a loss as to how to get the political system changed so we can have real conversation instead of gaming and misusing the language for political gain. I am unsure how to get my representatives to understand logic. I’m also unsure how to get the political extremists to do the same. Until we get back to a certain level of honesty, respect, and logic, I only see a continued regression of our government.
Let me come right out and say it… I don’t believe in a personal god. There is a simple logic behind this belief. Logically, god cannot be omnipotent and omniscient. The logic is that if god were all-knowing of past, present, and future events, then that god would have no need to intervene in events. God would already know if you were going to pray or not, and thus the outcome of some event would already be known by god. Where I feel where most god logic fails is when there is a claim that god is omniscient and omnipotent, and yet gives us free-will. If god already knows the outcome of the future, then we don’t have free-will and no amount of prayer can change the outcome. If god does answer prayers, then god cannot be omnipotent since the need to intervene would indicate the lack of future knowledge.
I still explore my faith, my place in the world, and what it means to be human. I right now have settled on pantheist. The term is fairly knew from a language perspective and an exact meaning is still debated, but it generally means that the universe itself is the higher power. Our existence is the spirit of the universe. I have a right to this opinion. So many people freely express their prayers for various causes and freely speak of a Christian god and Jesus. My beliefs should be treated with the same respect. I do not fault or insult your faith, unless you consider my own reflection on faith to be insulting. Please respect my beliefs. For those that say without religion we would have no sense of right and wrong, ask yourself how many religious figures, religious political figures, or any other public figure who professes a faith in a religion have done something wrong or “sinful.” I certainly haven’t always made good decisions, but I think my friends and family would consider me mostly a good person. I don’t need faith in a Christian god to tell me a basic respect for my fellow humans is right.
Finally, I also want to express my strong dislike for those that portray the United States as a Christian nation. We are not a Christian nation. Although never directly expressed, we can ascertain from historical text that the brilliant minds that formed our country were mostly deists. The words “under god” we not added to the pledge of allegiance until over 50 years after it was written (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance#Addition_of_the_words_.22under_God.22). This is not to say that we don’t share many common threads as Christian beliefs or that good things can come from a religion. We simply don’t need religion to be good.
What had me thinking about this was this article on Elizabeth Edwards. Please read it. It is an excellent insight into her faith and the changes in her life. She talks about tragedy in her own life and how she had to question her faith. Thinking about other world events, such as the recent Cholera outbreak in Haiti, always make me wonder how those who profess a strong faith in an intervening god could believe god would let those children suffer horrible, painful deaths from this disease.
If you are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, or anything else…just try to do good. Do your best to be a good human. We don’t always succeed fighting our animal instincts, but we can overpower them with our intelligence. The universe is a beautiful place, and I will continue to look at that beauty in amazement.