A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, May 28, 2012

In Memoriam

I've been thinking about what "remembering" does for us.  Memorial day started as a way to remember both the Union and Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the civil war.  I think that's a powerful statement about remembering the cost of war for both sides - a way to find the common humanity and realize that your enemies felt the pain of losing loved ones, too.

Remembering those who have fallen in the service also honors the values that led to that sacrifice - it honors courage, bravery, and selflessness.  I think it's great when our society can recognize those values as good.  I read this poem for the first time this weekend - it's part of what inspired the holiday we know as Memorial Day.

The Blue And The Gray
Francis Miles Finch (1827-1907)

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray

These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day
Under the laurel, the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray.

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement-day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So with an equal splendor,
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment -day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won:
Under the sod adn the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

It's a common trope that "that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us."  Memorial Day is a reminder of that - that brave men and women are willing to die to protect our freedom to argue about politics, to exercise our religion, and to have our constitutional rights.  When we think back on the origins of the holiday, it reminds us that even out of a horrible and bloody civil war can come good.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Do We Care About?

What is important to you?  What do you think about, day in and day out?  I watched part of one my favorite TV shows this morning and during work it was all I could think about!  "How will it end?" I wondered.  Yet if you asked me about the conference talk or scriptures I read this morning, I would have trouble remembering whose talk it was or any of the salient points.

When people look at Mormon society, what is it they think that we care about?  Do we care about goodness, mercy, justice?  Do we value those who are spurned by society as outcasts?  Do we realize that the whole need no physician, but they that are sick do?

When citizens of other countries look at America, what do they see?  Do they see a nation of selfish, self-serving mercenaries, looking out for number one?  What do we want them to see?

But after all, it's not about what we want to "look like" - because appearances can be faked, and surfaces can be polished to hide horrible things.  This is about what kind of nation we want to BE on the inside - deep down in our soul.  Do we want to be a nation and society that spends money on bombs, bullets, and bastions?  Or do we want to be a society that spends money on building - building people up and building something better?
World Defense Spending during 2010 (courtesy of thinkprogress.org)

How can we build people up?  By choosing to put our public dollars not into expensive weaponry systems, but into programs that serve the "least among us" - those programs that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and liberate the captive.  We need to serve those who are physically hungry for nourishment or emotionally hungry for companionship.  We should clothe the naked who are without clothes and the naked who are without dignity or a way to provide for themselves.  We can liberate the captive in a prison built of stone or of ignorance.

WE can do this - as a society, if we choose to.  Some people think that it is forcing charity for a government to participate in programs that seek to alleviate poverty and ignorance.  But I think how we spend our public dollars says a lot about the public - what do we care about?  Do we care about the abused, forgotten, and downtrodden?  Or do we care about feeding the beast known as the defense industrial complex by throwing more and more money into defense spending?  I believe we can come together as a community and as a country to say that we want to help the poor.

Mitt Romney caught a lot of flak for saying that he didn't care about poor people.  But do you?  Do you vote for politicians and policies which build bombs or which build bridges?

One of the few things I learned in my class on Isaiah (true confession: I had a bad attitude about the teacher) was that one of the groups that Isaiah regards with the most contempt is those who do not care for the widows, the fatherless, and the poor.  Here's just one example of Isaiah's description of those who have turned their backs on God:

"Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;  To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!  And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?" (Isaiah 10:1-3)
Or in other words, the extra money that you save by paying lower taxes will perish with you.  We should labor together to build a society that is kinder to those who are inevitably left behind by the steamroller of capitalism instead of using so much money on machines that destroy.  Well, at least that is this woman's opinion.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Goodnight, My Someone

Tomorrow I get to go see "The Music Man" at one of my favorite local theaters.  One of the many great songs from that show is "Goodnight, My Someone," which Marian sings to her unknown love.  Each of us who haven't yet found true love can relate.  So, I thought I would share it with you tonight, may you find love and hope and all the happiness you so richly deserve!

This e-card is, perhaps, a modern day version of that song:


Monday, May 7, 2012

Taxman, Yeah, Yeah, He's a Taxman

I know you have all been waiting in breathless anticipation of part 2 of my evaluation of Mitt Romney's tax plan(s).  Well, wait no longer!  Pull up your beverage of choice (you know, the one that helps you stay awake) and join me for an exciting conclusion.  You can read part one here.

Today we discuss Governor Romney's plans for corporate taxes.  These are taxes paid by businesses which are organized as corporations.  I should note that this is probably most "big businesses" that are household names, but not all businesses are organized as corporations.  Your local businesses down the street may operate as partnerships or pass-through entities, and they are taxed based on the individual tax rates of those who own them.  So this tax plan would not apply to them.

[Begin tangent] Some people have a problem with taxing corporations because they view it as double taxation - the income is taxed once when it is earned by the corporation and again when it is distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends.  Suffice it to say, I do not really buy this argument, because I think corporations (while not people, ahem, Governor Romney) do need to contribute to society, and the benefits they enjoy (an educated workforce, enforcement of contracts by law, a highway system, among others) are all things that they should pay for.  But we will assume for purposes of this post, that corporate taxation is likely to continue to exist [End Tangent].

Governor Romney's corporate tax plan has four parts, let's examine each of them.

Part One: "Cut the corporate rate to 25%."  My question: why?  The top statutory rate is currently 35%, but VERY few corporations actually pay tax at this rate.  There are so many ways around this that corporate taxes paid are actually significantly lower than the relatively high rate would suggest.  Why make a low rate even lower?  What loopholes are you going to close to make this possible?  Lowering the rate will lower the amount of tax collected, so you've got to offset that by stopping some of the tax breaks to industries that are favored in the current tax system.  Governor Romney's website doesn't elaborate on this, but he needs to find a way to pay for this.

Part Two: "Strengthen and make permanent the R&D credit."  The R&D credit is a tax credit that reduces the tax bill of companies that invest in Research and Development in the U.S. by building labs and employing engineers and scientists here.  This makes sense to me, and I agree with this - having an research & development credit encourages businesses to build labs and employ people in this country, and encourages innovation.  If companies are going to make a multi-million dollar investment, they want the certainty that this tax credit will be available to them over the long term.  Right now the R&D credit is haphazardly renewed whenever Congress can find the time to do it on a year-by-year basis.  A long-term R&D credit would, I think, be a good idea.  President Obama has also signed on to this - so they actually do agree on something!

Part Three: "Switch to a territorial tax system."  I'm conflicted about this.  Currently the U.S. is one of the few countries which employs a worldwide tax system.  That is, if you are incorporated (organized) in the U.S., you eventually pay tax on your worldwide income.  You can keep profits offshore, but when they are repatriated (i.e. brought back to the U.S.) you pay tax.  People argue that the U.S. is unfairly burdening corporations with U.S. taxes on their worldwide income.  However, through tax accounting magic (stupid tax accountants!), many companies can hide income that really relates to the U.S. offshore, so it's argued that it should all be taxed in its "home" country.  This one I'm holding out as undecided, but until we can come up with a system that better allocates income between countries, I'm going to be skeptical of any "tax holiday" that lets companies bring back money to the U.S. and skip the taxes due.

Part Four: "Repeal the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax."  The AMT, as its known, is levied at a lower rate than regular taxes but requires companies to addback certain items - so if a company isn't paying regular tax in a year, it may very well have to pay a little bit of AMT.  This is a disagree from me, which is surprising because I am all for getting rid of the individual minimum tax.  However, I think that the corporate AMT requires corporations to pay at least a little bit of tax in most years.  As I noted above, I think corporations get a lot of advantages in our society, and they should pay the price for these benefits.  Corporate AMT provides a carryforward benefit - so if you pay AMT, and in the future your tax bill rises above the AMT threshold, you get to reduce tax in future years.  What can I say, I'm a Democrat who has an inherent anti-corporate bias, so I'm okay with the corporate AMT.  Let the hypocrite allegations begin.

So overall, somewhat of a mixed bag on taxes for Romney.  Both candidates, however, need to do a better job of explaining the costs and benefits of their tax policies - for every tax "goodie" we receive (or someone else receives) there is a cost - usually higher rates overall.  Obama and Romney need to have a frank discussion of trade-offs.  Sigh.  Why do I feel like an intelligent conversation is the LAST thing that's going to happen this election cycle?