Monday, March 24, 2014

Free Lunches

There has been a lot of talk lately about free lunches.  It has been talk filled with innuendo, condemnation and, for some, an appeal to everyday Americans to voice their disapproval of those receiving these free lunches.

I did some research today and found some shocking statistics.  Based on this research, I add my name to the list of those who call for our legislators to enact laws which will greatly reduce the dependence of many people on freebies from the American taxpayer.

Unfortunately, this call may fall on deaf ears as our Congressional representatives themselves would be on my list of those who should no longer get free lunches.  You see, in addition to their $174,000 per year salary (for 113 days of work - you can google that), they receive a per diem expense which covers shelter and food.  The food portion is around $45 per day, much higher than the cost of the school lunch that so many of the GOP seem to want to eliminate. 

But the real kings of free lunches reside in the business world.  The following link details the actual amount of money an average family pays towards the social safety net that accounts for programs like SNAP ($6) as compared to what it costs the American taxpayer for corporate welfare which the author of the article tabs at $6000 per family.

To be fair, I read some other articles which debunked some of the areas listed in this article, but even those that might be deemed more business friendly, or, at least less left-leaning, place the number in the $2200 area.

In other words, those hypocrites you see crying on C-SPAN (during House and Senate hearings) and on Fox TV who claim that America is going bankrupt due to all those taking freebies are correct; but way off the mark when it comes to who the free loaders really are. 

The sad news is that much of this rape of the American tax base is legal due to all the tax breaks openly stated and hidden in our convoluted tax code.  For instance, did you know that liquor distillers get a tax break for creating flavored vodka? To the tune of $1 billion?

What I find even more galling, if that is possible, is that the lunches, dinners, trips, gifts, etc that the lobbyists use to tilt the rules of our economic system in their favor are tax deductible.  That's right, every time a Congressman eats for free, travels for free, opens a free gift or just takes a huge check for their next campaign, results in a tax deduction for the company making the legal bribe, and an increase in the tax burden on the middle class. 

Not to mention all the "business" meals, sports events, trips, etc that businesses write off in pursuit of sales, in pursuit of business, in pursuit of their profit.  All used to reduce their taxes. 

I once heard a TV pundit say that the American business community is all about capitalism on the way up, but shared sacrifice (socialism) on the way down.  They all want the fruits of their work to remain in their baskets, with as little sharing as possible when the sun is shining and money is flowing but are the first to use their tax breaks to offset poor management decisions, poor marketing plans, poor expansion efforts when the going gets tough. 

At this point, some of you might be screaming -- flat tax!!!.

Be careful of this.  A flat tax might result in the elimination of huge corporations paying no taxes, but it might also increase the tax rate of those in the middle class that use the mortgage deduction and education credit.  I favor tax rates that have a floor.  Since we all know that there are some hugely profitable corporations that pay little or no taxes, that there are very few corporations and wealthy individuals that pay the actual top tax rate, let's stop debating raising or lowering the rates.  In fact, it is all a diversion anyway, since those crying that our top tax rate is so high know that actual tax rates are much lower but like to use it as a political tool to claim that the DEMS always want to raise taxes. 

A floor tax system would be simple to enact and understand.

Regardless of the actual top tax rate, 33, 36, 39%, whatever it may be, the floor rate for that bracket would be 20%, no less.  (Or 18 or whatever we can decide is fair).  The next rate, which I believe is 28% would have a floor of 15%, or so.  And so on.  Deductions could still be taken, but only as far as the "floor" rate for that tax bracket. 

Finally, let's make sure we fully understand why so many of American children need free school lunches and why so many American citizens, old and young need a strong safety net embodied in programs like SNAP.  Income inequality in the form of inordinate pay for the top 5% of wage earners as compared to the remaining 95% of American workers, unequal pay for the same work which still hampers women in the workforce, and the power wielded by those who control a disproportionate amount or influence over our elected officials.

So, a big YES to reducing the free lunch mentality that permeates America, specifically the American business community.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Science, Fiction and Fact

A week or so ago, I watched an old sci-fi movie, circa 1958, with my wife.  It featured horrible special effects and an unrealistic story line about manned missions to Mars.  Of course, it was made 55 years ago, so it should come as no surprise that the science was outdated, but we also noted that on the flight back to earth, from Mars, all the meals were served by the female scientists.  The women were clearly treated as equals, scientifically, but still expected to clean up after dinner and serve the men coffee. 

I also recently read a Smithsonian article about Carl Sagan, in anticipation of the new Cosmos series.
It dawned on me, that Sagan spent a considerable amount of his time in an attempt to bring the study of space, as well as an understanding of the vastness of the universe to the common man, especially the children of the 70's and 80's.

Additionally, I recently watched the HBO special called Questioning Darwin which included interviews from scientists defending evolution, as well as discussions with people who believe in the bible as scientific fact.

The 50's science fiction movie made me think about how far our technology has come.  While we have not landed a man on Mars, we did make it to the moon.  More importantly, the advances in  communication, whether it be via cell phones, the internet, twitter or the other various social media, have changed our world in ways we are still coping with and understanding.  The Carl Sagan piece made me think how upset Sagan would be at the state of science in America today.  From climate change deniers to bible-as-science-fact supporters there seems to be an attack on the research and accomplishments of science.  The HBO series about Darwin made me wonder if those who would take us back to the 1800's as regards to evolution, are as willing to do the same in the area of communication and medicine.  Do those who believe the bible is a science book, eschew cell phones and computers because they are not in the bible?  Do they seek cures for cancer and heart disease in Genesis as well or seek out the best medical advice of the day?

Fortunately, I watched the second part of the new Cosmos series last night.  The new host, a man with a clear and personal memory of Carl Sagan's passion for science, presented a wonderful defense of evolution as fact.  The episode made me think that Sagan would have been proud of this episode, and that I was wrong it my initial thought that Carl would be demoralized at the attacks of science.  He would have doubled his efforts!  And perhaps he wouldn't have waited so long to do it.

The beauty of the evolution episode of the new Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, is that it presented the theory of evolution, not as a replacement for those who believe in the Genesis story, but as an updated version of that story.  Just as we might tell a young child that the stork brings babies until they are old enough to understand the biology of conception, the Genesis story attempts to explain to mankind not "old" enough to understand the true story of the beginning.  It is a story created to simplify the complexity and the mystery of the universe to a people that could not fathom the discoveries that science, the scientific method and the telescope would provide us today. 

Science, space, the universe, the meaning of life.  All challenging topics, even scary.  Carl Sagan thought that the best way to remove the veil of mystery, the fear of doubt and uncertainty, was through education, discussion, exploration.  He challenged us to accompany him on his space and time travels even when we might not understand fully, or not get it all right away. 

Perhaps that is the rub.  Some feel it is OK to not get it right away, to have to think about something more deeply; to use our brains.  Others prefer to chalk it all up to God, take it on faith, let someone else do the thinking for them.  Simple answers even for the most profound questions.  But where does that take us?

How small of a step is it from discounting the scientific evidence of evolution to discounting science as a discipline to be avoided, feared?  How small of a step is it from ignoring the overwhelming evidence that our planetary climate is being altered to ignoring other such warnings about poisoning our air, ground water, food? 

In the Questioning Darwin documentary, a bible as fact devotee longed for a time when parents, schools and religion taught children the same things, operated as a tripod of support.  His opinion, clearly, was that schools were no longer part of that support team; that public education was at odds with parental and religious influences.  I can't say for sure that that time actually existed or exists only in the rose colored glasses of this person, but I do know that when I went to parochial elementary school, we learned about our Catholic religion as well as evolution.  It was never explained how the two could co-exist, but knowledge of neither invalidated the other. 

Perhaps then, it is today's bible as fact advocates who have left the tripod of support for a single legged chair.  In so doing, they have sentenced their children to a wobbly support structure at best, and a sad day at worst when their one-legged chair fails to support them as they navigate their personal travels through time and space.