25 July 2009

A Sinking Ship

You really can't outrun the truth. For years now, the conservative, mostly Republican, religious right anti-gay advocates have been raising seven different kinds of endless hell (ironically) about gays, gays in relationships, gays raising children, gays and their alleged promiscuity and deviance, gays and their threat to "traditional" marriages and families and education and the world at large. Meanwhile, the scandals have been piling up, most of the subjects having been vocal proponents of and personally fueling, at some time and in some aspect, the anti-gay movement, under one or a combination of its aforementioned themes. Hmmmm....(scratching head, brow furrowed)

It is a fact - not my opinion, not simply conjecture, but fact - that frequently the people who make the most noise have the most to hide. It's even a tactic of war: cause an enormous explosion on one side of the field (in this case, the right) so nobody notices all the sneaking around. Clearly, these people are skilled at the effective employment of this tactic, but so many have fallen - Mark Sanford, Paul Stanley, John Ensign, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard.... There are plenty who have known the truth all along and not been sucked into their loud and colorful displays, but others have doubted, and many swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

I would ask of the latter: Do you still believe it? And if so, why? Seriously, how? Aren't you almost beginning to perceive the depth and volume of the declared convictions even as an indicator of the extent of the "deeply convicted's" own sins? Don't you wonder why, if the bucket they sold to you was so solid and so impenetrable, so fault-less, you've found yourself back at the house with no water and a big, wet trail leading all the way back to the well?

To the true deviants, the cowards and liars whose main motivation is more and more clearly simply to get away with their own transgressions against all of the "institutions" they've claimed to hold so dear, I would say: Go ahead and scream with all the voice you have left. You must be so afraid, and I pity you.

Whose "Best Judgment" is Best?

I've been thinking about the electoral college, the will of "the People," the out-of-control Tennessee legislature shoving guns down all of our throats, and the fact that, for all the bitching and moaning, the voters are the ones who put them there. Does anybody really not understand that, by the way? Why in the name of time do we need TERM LIMITS when they only get to stay if WE re-elect them? How far ahead of the horse can we possibly put the cart?! Good grief, people! This is not rocket science! Would we want to limit the terms of people we thought were doing a great job? Because we have had, all along, the power to "limit the terms" of those we perceive to be making it worse, and we simply refuse to use it.

Voters often complain of feeling like elected officials are too far removed from “real life." That’s absolutely true; voters do have valid reason to feel like that, but who do they think elected the people of whom they have this perception? They didn’t just wander into the offices off the streets. And how is it that “the people” can have this view and the reelection rate of incumbents be so high, like in the U.S. House (usually >95%)?

We cannot (reasonably) hand somebody a solid gold, indestructible “mandate,” specifically to remove themselves from what you call “real life” and go make your decisions for you, keep reaffirming it for them, sometimes for decades, and simultaneously criticize them for doing it. And I’ve actually seen quite a few candidates over the years who were exactly what people keep saying they want, somebody from their own block, or could be, who’s maybe worked as a teacher or a bus driver or something, highly intelligent, knows exactly where to start to really turn some things around. Voters not only do not vote for those people, the people they claim to be their model legislators, in theory; they crucify them. “The people,” media, voters, other politicians, everybody, not only refuse to elect such candidates but mock them endlessly and mercilessly, for daring to even look at public office, for being nothing and nobody, even though nothing and nobody was the order they put in the day before.

Ben Franklin once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Ben Franklin was a very smart man. I wonder if anybody would vote for him today.

With all of this in mind, frankly, I’m not sure I want to give any more power to “the people.” I don’t know that they can be responsible with it. And I hate that, too, that we can’t all be trusted to focus on the greater good, or, taking the subjective quality of "good" out of the equation, to support equality and fairness according to our guiding legal principles and not succumb to our whims and prejudices and such. I'm hoping we get better at the accountability thing, but in the meantime, I don't mind it being tempered with some good, clean constitutional wisdom, even if it means that I don't get everything I want all the time either (keeping the gun-funded Tennessee lawmakers out of the process as much as possible).

We have free speech, and we have the right to elect our leaders, pray to whomever we want (or not), stand in the street and say the president sucks... How bad can it really be, and if it is, how can it not have a whole lot to do with us?

I would like to see the presidential electoral process changed. After we all change our minds and get ourselves straightened out and either elect some of “us” or stop whining about who has the jobs now, we can call some sort of special national constitutional convention and develop a new electoral system that allows for more competition, credits all Americans’ opinions equally (and dismisses them equally on some points), reins in the parties and closes loopholes in campaign finance regulation as a bonus, and write an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that details all of it, specifically enumerating and prohibiting powers as needed. That’d be fun.

Tennessee Taxes

Tennessee collects state income tax on dividends and interest and all sorts of taxes on businesses, and of course, a huge chunk of its revenue comes from sales tax and license fees. It has one of the lower gas and cigarette taxes and pretty low property taxes, too. According to the US Census, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the only states with a lower median income than Tennessee, 2006-2007. The median income here during that time was $41,521. That’s not a lot of money. That means people in Tennessee are not rich, as a population. (Remember that’s only the median because half of the households make less.)

The problem with that is all the complaining about things like state healthcare, college tuition, and the like. Tennessee pays a lot in state employee wages and insurance benefits, and a ton on public welfare, one of their higher expenditures. To have that as a high expenditure in a state with one of the lowest median incomes, one of the highest sales taxes, and such a blindly immovable opposition to a state income tax doesn’t make a bit of sense. To have as a main revenue source something as dependent on the general state of the economy (or perception of it) as sales tax doesn’t make a bit of sense either. To live in a state with such close access to other states with lower sales taxes, when the people with the money can easily drive there to make large purchases (especially when the biggest Tennessee cities lack some really major, cool, high-priced stores you can find as close as Atlanta) doesn’t make a bit of sense. The people without the money, meanwhile, have to spend a huge chunk of their meager incomes on tax on food, clothing, and other general necessities, can’t afford to do enough shopping to really boost the revenue, and apparently frequently enough end up the recipients of the public welfare programs funded by what revenues the state does make.

It’s easy to see the block to a state income tax. The people with the influence, the people who vote, basically, are the people with the money, who benefit the most by not having that tax and having so much control over their vulnerability to the other taxes. The people without the money are trapped here, make paltry little money, have to spend so much of it to survive, are typically less educated, less motivated, etc, don’t vote in as great numbers, therefore have little influence and are guaranteed to never have any. There is a tall, wide, and solid wall here between the haves and have-nots, and the people on the have side like it that way, until they want to bitch about roads and schools and other things they don’t realize they’re costing resources.

I hate the sales tax, and I like balance, so I personally would like to see instituted a state income tax. The 2007 federal tax on that median $41,521 (taxable income, not even counting deductions and exemptions, filing single) was only $6725. That’s not exactly a killer. On the have-not side, say with a $20,000 taxable income, it’s only about $2700. No state income tax sounds great until you do have to come up with college tuition; make a $1000 repair to your car that costs $1100; there’s a serious recession when nobody shops and your state still has to pay for stuff like hospitals and welfare and emergencies and education; or all the roads need work and they raise the gas tax, especially when gas is already $3 or $4 a gallon. Chew on it.

Drive Your Bus

I remember going to the Democratic picnics and such with my mom and stepdad when I was 10 or younger. I didn't have any idea what the importance of any of it was for awhile yet, although I also remember carrying around a piece of paper with "Carter" and "Ford" written at the top and asking people who they preferred and marking it on the paper. I was eight. (I don't think it was nearly so much a possible future as a pollster as simply a deep drive to organize and log and chart and list, that kind of thing.) Anyway, I know that things like the picnics in particular are why I was a Democrat. It was just something we were, instead of being something else, the same as we lived in our house and answered to our names, even though they never made any effort to impress it upon me directly. If I am one now, it's because of my own experiences, although I'm completely uncommitted to the party as a whole and would vote for anybody else in a second whom I thought would do a better job, even if I didn't like them very much as a person, if they weren't much further off of my own philosophy than others; and there have been several people I liked but wouldn't ever want in charge of anything.

I'm not most of the stuff I was "raised" to be (good and bad). I understand that it's basically unavoidable in most cases to avoid being imprinted with the beliefs of the major "forces" in your life, but I still don't ever understand the answer "it's just how I was raised" as a primary reason for one's practices and reflexes (as opposed to "beliefs" and "opinions," which require critical thinking and perspective at some point) that actually make an impact. I feel like at some point we all get our own buses, and if we're not driving them, who is? Buses with no drivers do a lot of damage. It frustrates me.