Friday, April 29, 2011

Whatsoever Things are Lovely

Jeff St Easter by paynehollow
Jeff St Easter, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

I've lately been in another discussion on marriage equity at another blog. This time, I've taken up the POSITIVE biblical and rational case for marriage as it relates to hetero- and homosexuality. I re-post them here.

First, I review the FIVE VERSES in the whole Bible that seem to touch on homosexuality and point out why those discussions, as interesting as they might be, are moot in this discussion. That is followed by the rational, biblical defense of marriage equity for all...

1. THREE verses/passages in the WHOLE BIBLE seem to say fairly clearly that some form of homosexuality is wrong: Levititcus 18, Lev. 20 and Romans 1. The hunch from my side – given the obvious context – is that these THREE PASSAGES are all speaking specifically of some form of pagan ritualistic sex practices, NOT any and all homosexual practices.

The hunch from the other side – given that this is how they’ve traditionally interpreted it – is that it IS speaking of any and all forms of homosexuality.

2. TWO additional verses (in the WHOLE BIBLE) refer to Paul’s made up word of “arsenokoitai” – literally “man-bed.” The hunch from my side of the fence is that, frankly, we don’t know WHAT Paul is referencing in these two passages. There was a Greek word for homosexual, so it does not appear to be referencing any and all forms of homosexuality, but we just don’t know what it is referencing. We have ideas, but just can't know for sure.

The hunch from the other side is that it IS referencing any and all forms of homosexuality.

3. The point is - and it's a HUGE POINT - I can NOT prove my hunch is the ONE TRUE, APPROVED-BY-GOD-ALMIGHTY (tm) interpretation of these passages. And THEY can NOT prove THEIR hunch, either. We could go around all day talking about the various reasons why we think yes or no, but at the end of the day, I can’t prove that MY HUNCHES on these five verses are correct AND, NEITHER CAN THEY.

Neither side can “prove” our hunches on the interpretation of these passages is “right.”

4. So, is that the end of the topic, then? An unsatisfying, “we can’t tell”?

I don’t think so.

On the POSITIVE side of the defense of marriage rights for all, we see that the Bible tells us...

“Finally, friends, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The Bible tells us...

“But the fruit of the Spirit [of God] is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

While we can’t say authoritatively WHAT God’s opinion is about gay marriage, since God hasn’t told any of us; while we can’t prove definitively that these five verses in the whole Bible are speaking negatively of ALL homosexual practices or just certain ones, we can say with GREAT confidence that those things that are good, true, faithful, forgiving, gracious, loving, pure, etc ARE good things.

And, carrying on, we can say with great confidence that a healthy marriage – one in which two individuals LOVE each other, RESPECT each other, are FAITHFUL, MERCIFUL, GRACIOUS, KIND to each other – that these things ARE GOOD THINGS.
Where is the rational argument against two adults being monogamous, loving and faithful to one another? Would it be better to be polyamorous and unfaithful to each other? No! There is no sound rational argument against commitment, love and fidelity that I have ever heard.

At the very least, it would seem the anti-gay marriage crowd would have to concede that marriage between all folk is a MUCH BETTER solution than licentiousness and polyamory. EVEN IF you are of the tribe that thinks homosexual practices in any form are a moral wrong, it would seem you’d have to concede that marriage would at least be a step in the right direction.

And just a reminder: The topic here is NOT Dan Trabue. It would seem wise, respectful and adult to stick to the topic. It would seem obviously moral to refrain from slander which we KNOW is wrong in your defense of your position on marriage equity, which is what the question is.

I point that out because almost without fail, the ad hom attacks come, instead of rational defenses on the topic at hand. I welcome the one and will reject, point out and/or mock the other.

It almost makes you wonder if they know they have no rational defense for their position so they MUST stoop to attempts at character assassination?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Easter blessings from the tribe at Jeff St Baptist Community...

Not many years their rounds shall roll
Each moment brings it nigh
And all your glories stand revealed
To our admiring eye
You wheels of nature speed your course,
You mortal powers decay
Fast as you bring the night of death
You bring eternal day

~from "Florence," by Crooked Still

Friday, April 22, 2011

Confrontation Monday!

This was something I posted at my church blog on Monday that I've decided to post here, as well, since it touches on some common themes we discuss here...

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.

He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves*, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

~Mark 11

*Doves - the offering specifically mentioned by Jesus - were the offering required to be paid by the poor folk, who'd often bring in their own doves, only to find out they were not "pure" enough for a sacrifice and thus, the poor were forced to pay more - that they couldn't afford - in order to be in God's Temple. Thus, the "den of robbers" charge, especially insofar as they were ripping off especially the poor, who could least afford it.

It is this action that was at least one of the final straws for the religious authorities that drove them to plan Jesus' execution by the state.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

True Cost of Driving Cars

My Bike by paynehollow
My Bike, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

[A reprint from a previous post, with updated numbers, in honor of the pending Earth Day. Thoughts on saving the planet AND saving money by cutting back on driving...]

On the actual Cost of Cars...

Owning a car cost (on average) $8,588 per a year in 2010 according to AAA. That's figuring in gas, repairs, insurance, car costs, etc.


This is up from $6,890/year on average (according to [a now missing] article back in 2004). Wow. Costs are rising quickly.

Here's a website that calculates your personal expenses - telling you how much you're paying a month for the privilege of owning a car and how much you'd be saving if you didn't have a car:

And here's another that calculates your direct costs to drive a car along with your expenses occurred indirectly (accidents, road costs, pollutions costs, lost time costs, etc).

(This site includes the little factoid that, if I did NOT own a car and invested that savings instead - beginning at the age of 25 - that I could have saved $1 million + by retirement age. Or I could easily pay for my children to go to college.)

According to that last website, my wife and I are spending a little under $7,000/year for our car.

Let me go ahead and say $7,000 for the purpose of my following illustration.

Now, if we work 250 days (5 day workweek x 50 weeks) a year, that means we're paying $28/work day for owning a car (7000/250). That means, if you make $9/hour, you have to work 3 hours every day to pay for that car. if you make $14/hour, you're working 1 1/2 hours to pay for it.

I bring this up because I want to make the case for walking/biking/busing places instead of driving. Some people look at me and say, "You're spending 1 1/2 hours walking to work and back home! That's great if you can work it out, but how do you have the time to do so??!!"

The answer is, because I'm not working 1 1/2-2 hours to pay for a car. In fact, by the time you figure that if I drove, I'd be spending 1/2 hour to get to and from work, then I'm coming out with at least 1/2 hour MORE free time than the person in my situation who drives. More still, if that person also later drives to a gym (where they pay MORE money) to exercise.

Want a million dollars? Want to pay for your kids' college? Want to SAVE time?

Sell that car. Or, at least consider it. It's not the time saver you might think it is. And for folk working at minimum wage (where paying for a car might take closer to HALF your workday!!), give it a serious consideration.

Or just take a walk or a bike ride for the sheer joy of it.

Happy Earth Day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama and Jefferson

Fair Play Fire Co by paynehollow
Fair Play Fire Co, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

President Obama has announced his plan for reducing the deficit and it involves some of the cuts I mentioned in my previous post, but also, a promise of progressive taxation...

The president is likely to repeat his broad contention that he stands with middle-class Americans and believes the wealthy need to bear more of the burden of caring for the elderly and less fortunate, stances he says are reflected in his deficit plan.

On this point, Obama is in agreement with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith and other supporters of a progressive taxation scheme.

According to these folk from our history...

“Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometric progression as they rise.”

~Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785

"The collection of taxes... has been as yet only by duties on consumption. As these fall principally on the rich, it is a general desire to make them contribute the whole money we want, if possible. And we have a hope that they will furnish enough for the expenses of government and the interest of our whole public debt, foreign and domestic."

~Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Moustier, 1790

"The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied. ... Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, etc., the farmer [ie, working class/poor] will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings."

~Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1811

"The great mass of the articles on which impost is paid is foreign luxuries, purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly prefer its continuance and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of federal powers."

~Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806

"The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

"the expense of defending the society, and that of supporting the dignity of the chief magistrate, are both laid out for the general benefit of the whole society. It is reasonable, therefore, that they should be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society, all the different members contributing, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities..."

"When the toll upon carriages of luxury, upon coaches, post-chaises, &c. is made somewhat higher in proportion to their weight, than upon carriages of necessary use, such as carts, waggons, &c. the indolence and vanity of the rich is made to contribute in a very easy manner to the relief of the poor, by rendering cheaper the transportation of heavy goods to all the different parts of the country."

Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

I've read repeatedly that both Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin were progressive taxation proponents. Although I was finding it more difficult to find good quotes. Here's one...

" a Tax, and perhaps the most equal of all Taxes, since it depreciated in the Hands of the Holders of the Money, and thereby taxed them in proportion to the Sums they hold and the Time they held it, which is generally in proportion to Mens Wealth."

~Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Ruston, October 9, 1780

All of these folk are just in support of the self-evident truism that those who have much can be expected to contribute much. In the words of Jesus, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Now, of course, Jesus was not speaking of taxation. Rather, he was just uttering a reasonable truism, a point that is self-evident and obviously moral to probably most people today.

Some will try to complain, saying, "But Jefferson wasn't speaking of a progressive INCOME tax!" and he wasn't. But that does not change his clear intent (nor does it change that of his colleagues) in support of SOME sort of progressive taxation where proportionally more is paid for by those with more.

It's simply morally reasonable. Self-evident.

All of which to say that Obama is in good company and staking out a morally sound stand in desiring to see a progressive tax scheme. Those who would call it socialism are just being ridiculous. Those who call it "theft" are being duplicitous and ridiculous. Those who suggest it is anti-American are just un-informed.

IF someone wants to argue reasonably against it at all, they could suggest that, while progressive taxation can be a good thing, AT SOME POINT, it becomes too much. And then they could make that argument as to why they think Obama's level of progressive taxation is "too much," but I just don't see how anyone can reasonably argue against progressive taxation in general. Much less, if they are resorting to calling it names lilke "communism" or "theft," which it clearly isn't.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Save! Save! Save!!

So, the Republicans want to cut $100 billion from the federal budget? No problem. Here are my proposals for EASILY reducing federal spending by $300 billion:

1. De-criminalize marijuana (at least) and cut back on the crazy drug war.

The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second.

860,000 people arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2009.


A 1999 study showed that 60,000 individuals were behind bars for marijuana use. This cost taxpayers $1.2 billion.

Nor does it reflect the number of individuals or the amount spent on those who had their probation or parole revoked for marijuana use. In total, in prosecuting and policing individuals with regards to marijuana, between $7 billion and $10 billion was spent — and that’s just last year.


$42 billion? Because that's what our current marijuana laws cost American taxpayers each year, according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September.


Savings: ~$20-50 billion (more, if we expand it beyond just marijuana)

2. End wars in Iraq/Afghanistan...

...according to the Pentagon, the cost of the Afghan War in 2012 will be almost $300 million a day or, for all 365 of them, $107.3 billion. Like anything having to do with American war-fighting, however, such figures regularly turn out to be undercounts. Other estimates for our yearly war costs there go as high as $120-$160 billion.


According to infoplease, we spent $65 billion in Iraq in 2010 and $105 billion in Afghanistan.

End those wars.

Savings: ~$150 billion

3. Other Defense cuts...

As we pointed out earlier this month, the Pentagon could save around $358 billion by the end of 2015 by implementing the following ten measures:

* Terminate the Marine Corps’s expeditionary fighting vehicle
* Permanently reduce the number of U.S. military personnel stated in Europe and Asia
* Redirect the majority of the Department of Defense’s planned efficiency savings toward reducing the baseline defense budget
* Cancel the V-22 Osprey program
* Roll back post-September 11, 2001 efforts to grow the ground forces
* Reduce the number of civilian DOD personnel concomitant with the reduction in military end strength
* Reduce procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
* Reform military personnel policies, including the military health care system for retirees
* Retire and do not replace two existing carrier battle groups and associated air wings
* Update the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defense systems to counter the threats of the 21st century


Savings: ~$100 billion

Three suggestions, saving us somewhere around $300 BILLION a year. Nearly ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in three years.

Sorta makes the silly "Stop funding NPR and save $400 million annually" seem pretty limp and flimsy.

By all means, boys and girls, let's cut our spending. But let's be serious about it.

Anyone else have some good spending cuts to make some serious progress in reducing the size of the gov't? Preferably ones that won't cost us MORE in the long run (like cutting the EPA or Education would do) and, also preferably, ones that aren't borne on the backs of the poor, sick, elderly and otherwise marginalized.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Real Costs of Oil

Bike Shirt by paynehollow
Bike Shirt, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Earth Day is a few days away.

The tragic anniversary of the BP Oil "Spill" is also days away.

It's a good time to try to consider the actual costs of oil and gasoline. I've said it before that I think the free market can be a relatively efficient way of managing our business, BUT ONLY if real costs are being paid.

To illustrate: If we have two widget factories producing widgets. Company A can make widgets responsibly - disposing of waste and cleaning up after themselves - at $10/widget and then sell them at a profit at $15/widget.

BUT, Company B discovers they can produce the widgets much more cheaply if they DON'T dispose of their wastes and clean up after themselves responsibly. By cutting corners, they can produce widgets at $5/widget and sell them at a profit for $10/widget, thus undercutting the "more expensive" widget company by Company A.

Additionally, Company B has paid lobbyists to get federal and state subsidies to produce their widgets, thus reducing their costs to $2/widget and allowing for even more profit.

Responsible Company A goes out of business due to the fact that Company B was NOT paying actual costs, nor were their consumers. Not paying actual costs can skew a responsible market.

Looking at just the gov't subsidy angle (what we'd call "welfare," if we were talking of assisting those in actual need) on gas prices, consider...

" examination of the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.

According to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry...

...Oil industry officials say that the tax breaks, which average about $4 billion a year according to various government reports, are a bargain for taxpayers...

...Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, warns that any cut in subsidies will cost jobs...

“We’re giving tax breaks to highly profitable companies to do what they would be doing anyway,” said Sima J. Gandhi, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization. “That’s not an incentive; that’s a giveaway.”

Some of the tax breaks date back nearly a century, when they were intended to encourage exploration in an era of rudimentary technology, when costly investments frequently produced only dry holes. Because of one lingering provision from the Tariff Act of 1913, many small and midsize oil companies based in the United States can claim deductions for the lost value of tapped oil fields far beyond the amount the companies actually paid for the oil rights...

Over the last 10 years, oil companies have also been aggressive in using foreign tax havens. Many rigs, like Deepwater Horizon, are registered in Panama or in the Marshall Islands, where they are subject to lower taxes and less stringent safety and staff regulations. American producers have also aggressively exploited the tax code by opening small offices in low-tax countries. A recent study by Martin A. Sullivan, an economist for the trade publication Tax Analysts, found that the five oil drilling companies that had undergone these “corporate inversions” had saved themselves a total of $4 billion in taxes since 1999...

Despite the public anger at the gulf spill, it is far from certain that Congress will eliminate the tax breaks. As recently as 2005, when windfall profits for energy companies prompted even President George W. Bush — a former Texas oilman himself — to publicly call for an end to incentives, the energy bill he and Congress enacted still included $2.6 billion in oil subsidies. In 2007, after Democrats took control of Congress, a move to end the tax breaks failed."

NY Times

That article cites a $4 billion/year price for oil company subsidies. In This article (in the Rush Limbaugh Letter!) cites a Christian Science Monitor story that places the annual price tag for energy subsidies between $50-100 billion!, with ~$40 billion going to oil/gas companies.

There appears to be a problem in sorting out just how many billions of dollars are going to oil companies (coal companies, gas companies, etc). What counts? Does "free" military protection of oil sources overseas count? Does "free" drilling in public land count?

I'd be curious to know if anyone thinks they have a reliable source for a rough total annual subsidies going to oil and gas companies.

In the meantime, I hope we could agree that giving these sorts of billions of dollars to support an industry skews the cost of oil/gas to make it artificially cheaper than it actually is. Of course, that's not counting the many, even larger ways we under-pay in gas prices, which I'll save for another day (but that include environmental degradation, human costs, health costs, societal costs, etc).

We need a way of getting our prices in the fossil fuel industries to reflect something like actual costs in order to best let the Market do its magic. Ending corporate welfare for wealthy oil/gas industries would be a start.