Thursday, August 26, 2004

I'm back

I took a self-imposed hiatus to get my breath and my bearings. I didn't like the way my blog was developing. It was a little too Rush Limbaugh/Randi Rhodes for my taste (and yes, I used them on purpose). So I am hoping that I can be more independent from here on.

The first issue I noticed today was, of course, the Census Bureau poverty report. Good luck on finding it online, as most sites have already shuffled it off in the news cycle.

As a nation, we should be embarrassed by it.

In the wealthiest nation on earth, 35.9 million Americans live in poverty. That is over 12.5% of the US population. Their aggregate share of national income has fallen 1/10 of a percent from 2003 to 3.4%. And most distressing, almost 18% of children in the US live below the poverty line. That's 12.9 million kids.

So what do we do? Let me state I am not advocating a Marxist redistributive society. But, we have an obligation as a society to do something about this. So let's start with the obvious.

The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2004 is $18,850. Which is nuts. Show me the family of four that can make it on $20,000 a year and I'll eat a phone book. That is an artificially low number. I would say it should be $25,000. So, first we raise the poverty levels to common-sense totals.

Then what? Well, although the poorest in our country do not pay federal taxes, they do pay state, Social Security and Medicare taxes. In Maine (where I live), the highest tax rate kicks in at $17,000! This is ridiculous. These people need food on the table, rather than paying money into poorly-run federal programs. So the second step is to make all income below the poverty line completely tax free. That means if a family of four makes $25,000, they keep all $25,000 of it. And frankly, I'd extend the federal tax-free part to all income levels. It'd be a great boost to the economy, and create more jobs, without being a major drain on federal revenue. Not that the government couldn't use it.

Ah yes, jobs. Another facet of our poverty problem is that as people try to get off the welfare rolls into real jobs, they are denied the benefits they once had. Problem is, the sum total of those benefits add up to more than the job pays. This forces them back onto the welfare rolls. Which is insane. So, the third step is to have federal benefits granted on a sliding scale relative to income. This way, the single parent with three kids who has benefits worth $30,000 and a job that pays $20,000 will keep the $10,000 differential. Which makes sense since the government still saves $20,000! Hello? Am I the only one who has thought of this?

So how do we pay for all this? Well, the sliding benefits scale would save some cash that could be funnelled back into the system. But there will be a drop-off in federal revenue from the new tax-free levels. Where do we get the excess cash?

Social Security. This program is a complete boondoggle. Somehow it is actually over-funded and under-capitalized at the same time, which is one hell of a trick. But there are two issues that stand out. First, the S.S. tax cuts off at $86,500 (i believe). Second, there is no means testing. So wealthy retirees get these federal benefits they don't need.

So, the fourth step is to institute a new level where a lower S.S. tax of 4% kicks back in. Say around $200,000 or so. And yes, this rubs against my anti-tax bone in a BIG way. But we have an obligation to help the less fortunate, damnit! And it won't be the end of civilization if some CEO who makes $3,000,000 loses an extra $120,000. Especially if it means hard-working lower income citizens can lead a better life.

And the fifth step is means testing for Social Security. There are seniors who are comfortably retired who do not need the money but are still drawing it. Is it fair to take this away from them? Maybe not, but who ever said life is fair?

I don't know if these steps who greatly, or even somewhat, aleviate the poverty problem in America. But it'd be a start. And it would be more than we have done up to now.

As a final note, it's issues like these that make my back bristle when President Bush talks about being a Christian. Christian ethos demands we help those less fortunate. "If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well." "As you do unto the least of my children, you do unto me." And what has he done for the poorest in America? Not much. If you want to screw the working poor, that's fine. But don't talk about Jesus and God anymore, because you're basically trampling all over their message.

The other thing today was Canadian in origin. Specifically, MP Carolyn Parrish. You remember her, right? She called Americans "bastards" at the start of the Iraq war. Well, she's at it again. This time, we are "idiots." This in reference to plans over a missile defense system. From her own mouth:

"We are not joining the coalition of the idiots. We are joining the coalition of the wise."

And in explaining herself later to reporters:

"They tortured people in Iraq, they (the Iraqis) have no weapons of mass destruction. Could somebody explain to me whether you think they're idiots or geniuses?"

Okay. US policy is fair game for debate, whether it's missile defense (a good idea worth exploring) or Iraq (Bush has f'ed it up big time). But Ms. Parrish is, once again, way over the line. Taking that oh-so superior smug attitude some Candians adopt when talking about the United States.

Fine. So, Ms. Parrish, how do you feel about a nation whose peacekeepers tortured numerous Somalis and even killed one, which resulted in the disbanding of an Airborne regiment?

How do you feel about a nation that regularly consorts with Cuba, a massive human rights violator that, according to Human Rights Watch:

...is a one-party state that restricts nearly all avenues of political dissent. The government severely curtails basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement, and to a fair trial. While it has long sought to silence its critics by using short term-detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, threats, surveillance, criminal prosecutions, politically motivated dismissals from employment, and other forms of harassment, the government's intolerance of dissenting voices intensified considerably in 2003.

This doesn't include the jailing and torture of homosexuals.

How do you feel about a country whose former Prime Minister tries to negotiate oil deals with Iran, A vicious, repressive theocratic dictatorship? Or that these dealings are going on after Iranian police beat and killed one of the journalists from the Prime Minister's country?

Of course, the country is Canada. How's that glass house suiting you, Ms. Parrish? Hope those skeletons stay in the closet.

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