Categories
parenting Politics

So here’s the deal

In the dog days of summer, Washington D.C. is in the hottest place on earth.

This morning the Supreme Court issued their ruling upholding the major points of the Affordable Healthcare Act. (read the ruling, keep up with the New York Times live blog if your heart can handle it.)

By the end of the day both sides will claim victory. Both presidential candidates will make statements. Polls will be taken. Extremists will parade in front of cameras.

God bless America. (Said in a cynical tone.)

Here’s the deal. This isn’t the America I want to live in. This isn’t the America I want my kids dreaming about. This isn’t the America I read about in history books and biographies. United we stand, divided we fall.

Until we decide to unite, we are falling. It’s not the economies fault. It our fault. When we decide we, the people, will move forward. But right now we are stuck in inward-focused circles of bandaid application.

That said, I’m thankful that the courts are stepping in, pulling away from the politics far enough to help us move forward. I actually see today as an amazing day for those with aspirational goals in the legal field. (With the Jerry Sandusky decision last week it’s been a very big 7 days for the courts.) I am intrigued that Bush’s choice for Chief Justice sided with more liberal appointees. I think it shows the strength of Bush’s choice.

I’m tired of the divisions. I’ve got no pride or allegiance to a party. It’s not that I’m unwilling. It’s that I’m bored of it. Division doesn’t get me nearly as excited as forward progress.

I’m not naive. I know politics are brutal. But I don’t think our future as a nation lies in having elected officials stand opposed on everything just for the sake of standing opposed to every view. In this case the irony is really delicious. Obama passed a version of Romney’s law. So Republicans loved it when the conservative governor passed the law in a liberal state. But when the President passed Romney’s law at the federal level it became a liberal against conservative thing. Romney, the original author of the bill, had to stand opposed to his own idea for the sake of winning his parties nomination.

Republicans were for the Affordable Healthcare Act until Democrats were for it. Then they stumbled all over themselves throughout the primaries trying to convince everyone they were against it, and were always against it, even when they were for it in Massachusetts.

That’s what I mean. We need to stop disagreeing simply  for the sake of disagreement. We, the people, aren’t stupid. We hold this truth to be self-evident: Politicians will say whatever it takes to get lobbyists to write them checks. 

But this check of disagreement is being cashed by people like you and me. Both parties are guilty for the game is no longer Republicans vs. Democrats, but rich vs. poor. National politics has become the rich man’s WWE where both parties put on a show for the sake of getting the redneck’s inside the belt to write them checks.

Again, this isn’t my dream for our country. This isn’t the dream I want my children to aspire to.

I want my kids to see that two people who disagree can come together and make a joint decision for the good of others. Just like mom and dad make compromise after compromise for the sake of our family, I want them to know that compromise is a virtue.

This carries over directly to our faith, doesn’t it? I love that my kids are growing up in a home where mom and dad try to hold loosely to their personal convictions for the sake of the body of Christ. How pathetic would the Gospel be if we only worshipped with people we got along with? How pathetic would it be to only hang out with, be influenced by, and study things from a single perspective. Yes, we are conservative evangelicals. That’s who we are. But we make the conscious, hopeful choice to identify ourselves with Christ more than we identify ourselves with a theological heritage.

For the record: I’m in favor of a nationalized health care system. I’d like to see it illegal for drug companies to market to the public. And I  think all insurance companies should be not-for-profit, like the BlueCross system started as in the 1960s. So I’m not pumped about the decision today because I feel like it’s not the reform that is  truly needed.

Photo credit: Tosh at SCOTUS by Mark Trimble via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
Politics

Taxation by Density

Last week the town of Buford, Wyoming was sold for $900,000. For that price they got an exit from the highway, a small business, some land, and a zip code. With the towns sole resident moving to Colorado… it’s safe to say Buford wasn’t purchased for it’s strong tax base.

The idea that you could buy a whole zip code or even an entire island in this country for the right price got me thinking about our income tax code. There’s a lot of talk about a flat tax or even a minimum tax for the super rich. We all want something that’s fair, and truth be told, we all want to pay as little as possible while reaping massive benefits when we want them.

In reality, we have a system that is exactly like the airline industries baggage fees. We are rewarding people for bad behavior. Airlines charge for bags which forces everyone to cram as much into their carry-on as possible. Then the airlines and passengers complain about overhead baggage space? If they wanted less overhead baggage space they’d make it free to check bags and charge $10 per item for carry-on. Duh.

It’s the same thing with our income tax system. We reward people with deductions for doing things they wouldn’t naturally do just to lower their tax rate.

But what if your tax rate was based solely on where you lived? What if we rewarded people who chose to live in less desirable places with paying the lowest federal income taxes while people who lived places highly desirable or overpopulated paid higher taxes? I mean, if you’re a bagillionaire and you want to pay 10% income taxes… maybe you should live in Yuma, Arizona? But if you want to live on 5th Avenue in a mega-penthouse, that’ll cost you at least 35%.

That way the rich can keep getting richer. They just have to make the holes of America a bit more fabulous.

Categories
Politics

Tid for Tat in Politics

The word compromise is somehow bad in Washington these days. Apparently, conservative Republicans have moralized things to the point where meeting someone in the middle is equivalent to a moral  failure. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible to get anything done in Congress because neither side is willing to compromise. Compromise isn’t a moral failure… it’s how you get things done in a multi-party government. Duh.

Slowly, so it appears, compromise is coming back into vogue. Here’s a compromise on the payroll tax cut extension that cracked me up. This extension, which is a big deal for every working American, passed because one side agreed to a couple of the other sides demands.

Here is my favorite:

Also, welfare beneficiaries will be banned from accessing public assistance funds at ATMs in strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos.

Source

 

Categories
Politics

The $6 Billion Election

It’s 2004 all over again.

In 2004, a ho hum group of democrats did their best to make the primaries interesting. John Edwards had the million dollar smile. Howard Dean looked like a contender. And John Kerry sat in the wings.

The democrats knew they had little chance of beating Bush. His popularity was reaching its pinnacle. The American people loved how he handled the months immediately following the terrorist attacks and we were just getting into 2 wars in retaliation. (Though most seem to have forgotten that.)

There was a 3 way race of pretty viable-looking “plan B” candidates. (Who were just good enough to be believable but not quite the party’s best.) The media made a good story out of Edwards vs. Kerry, Kerry won out. In the end it was a boring lead-up to a relatively easy win for Bush.

But the democrats played along and everyone was happy.

2012 has a problem.

The republicans haven’t played along. Their pool of 4-5 people in the primaries aren’t believable enough for the general population to become interested. We all know it’s Romney. He just has to keep his mouth shut and keep smiling while the rest of the “plan C” and a couple of “plan D” folks take turns lining up and falling apart.

The primaries aren’t interesting to the general public. Only 5.4% of eligible Iowa voters showed up to last week’s Iowa caucuses.

So what’s the problem? There are 6 billion of them.

Way back in August 2011 Reuters published a story which shows just why the media is trying so hard to make this year’s field of republicans look interesting.

The U.S. elections will be the most expensive ever, with a total price tag of $6 billion or even more, fueled by millions of dollars in unrestricted donations as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the White House, Congress and state governments.

“It’s safe to say that, given that we had a $5 billion cycle in 2008, it will certainly be more than that and very likely over $6 billion, which is just an astonishing growth rate,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

The cost of the election is surprising given that only the Republican Party is holding presidential primaries, unlike in 2008 when both parties had expensive contests to find a candidate.

Source

For a struggling news industry that’s a whole lot of ad buys. Newspaper ads, television ads, magazine ads, online ads… everyone needs a slice of that $6 billion pie to make their budget and make Wall Street happy. Not to mention that’s a lot of money for staff, travel, hotels, greasing palms, etc.

But they won’t spend that much money if Americans get bored. 

This is why the news organizations are so desperate to find a story. Because if you get bored with this primary season they stop getting paid.

My take? I’ll vote for the party who takes their slice of that Super-PAC pie and donates it to a charity. 

Categories
Politics

Can political conservatives re-emerge?

Photo by John Lund

I spent some time this week reading political news and listening to political news from the conservative perspective. (Not much else to do when living in a hospital room other than catch up on news!)

While many of my views could be characterized as conservative, I struggle because the language of conservative politics is almost always backwards looking. The line of thinking seems to be, “If we could just get back to how it used to be, our country would be back on track.

That line has a lot of derivatives:

  • We need to roll back spending to pre-Obama spending levels.
  • We are a historically Christian country, our country will be better if we go back to the original authors intents.
  • The civil war wasn’t about slavery, it was about individual states rights. We need to re-embrace federalism.
  • We need to close our borders because “Americans” don’t have jobs.

My problem is that as a forward-thinking person there isn’t anything worth listening too but a bunch of cry-babies.

I could identify myself better with conservatives if they spoke in a forward-thinking, innovative, and solution-based language. Voting against things without having a solution to replace what you’ve voted down is playing checkers when politics is a game of chess. Then getting on the news and talking about a great win for conservatives when, in fact, it was neutral or a loss, isn’t helping me. I’m not going to identify with people who are losing and don’t see it!

All I hear/read is fear-mongering and stoking the flames of yesteryear. It’s as if they forgot that the primary reason Ronald Reagan was the most popular Republican president in the last half century was because he helped move our country forward– not backwards.

Conservatives need to start dealing with reality. The stock market has been on a 12 month bender. Job growth is taking hold. Consumer confidence is soaring. Even the housing market is springing to life again. Obama kept his promise to cease military operations in Iraq. The strategies in Afghanistan seem to be working. In other words… Obama took the hand that a helpless Bush administration dealt and are turning it into a full house.

Politically, the Democrats will regain everything in the next round of elections if Republicans continue to look and sound like the crabby old white men. Clearly, based on what you hear on conservative leaning talk radio and read in conservative leaning news is that they think that they need to appeal to an older, white, extremely conservative audience.

Back to politics 101:

  • Tell me what you want to do.
  • Stop whining.
  • Forget the Tea Party concept, it is back-firing.
  • Tell me your vision for our country.
  • Help us envision what America will look like when we embrace the forward-thinking, innovative changes you foresee.
  • Disassociate yourself with one-dimensional ideologues/radio heads.
  • Distance yourself from “the religious right.”
  • Come up with a new approach to the abortion issue– put the nail in the coffin on abstinence-only education.
  • Come up with a more centrist view on gay marriage.
  • Find some intelligent women that my daughter can idealize. (And get rid of “pitbulls with lipstick.” That’s gross.)
  • Give me something, anything, I can identify with.

In other words, look at the country you hope to govern, see what our strengths for tomorrow ought to be, and then build your agenda. Move to the middle.

Because at this point– it seems like Republicans have given up on capturing younger conservatives.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership Politics

L’agenda

The longer I walk with Jesus the more complicated my life seems to get.

Kids, ministry, job, dreams, bills, skills, personality flaws, responsibilities… the list is endless. Life is complicated. Scary. Confusing. Worrysome.

At the same time, the longer I live the more simple the application of God’s Word gets.

When things seem really complex and over my head I am reminded of how Jesus spoke into the complexities of a “religious life.

One day Jesus was talking with a group of religious people. And, as religious people are known to do, they all carried a specific agendas. They wanted to know if Jesus was on their team. As they sat around testing Jesus on his belief on the issues of the day they were flustered by his ability to respond with Option C on an Option A or B test time and time again.

They were upset with him because he had taken the things that divided people… agendas with teams, financing, factions, and power… and given simple answers with a new agenda.

So they put their heads together and nominated the biggest religious expert in the room to trap Jesus. This question was the 1st Century equivalent of, “If God is a good God, why do bad things happen in the world to good people?”

Here’s the agenda-laden trap:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Baffling simplicity.

L’agenda

Jesus’ agenda for your life is quite simple. As we see above, all of a God-pleasing life flows from those two bullet points:

  1. Love God with everything.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

A popular phrase in Evangelical circles, full of agenda, has repackaged Jesus’ words and simplified it too far by saying we are called to “Love God, Love People.” But I think Jesus is smarter than they are. And his agenda rings clear enough for me.

Jesus’ agenda for my life is to love him with everything I’ve got. (From my skills, to my personality, to my family, to my vocation… everything) And the action of that agenda is to love my neighbors as myself. (You know, the people I live near, see in my daily life. Neighbors implies really close to me, and is specific to a group of people I’m to have regular casual contact with. It’s the people on my block, not the people in the pews or in my youth group.)

All of God’s word is to be applied through that lens. Jesus sets the agenda.

When I study Scripture I’m left to ask myself, “How is God calling me to love him?” and “How can I love my neighbors as myself because of this teaching?

It’s personal and communal– but not religious

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for the church. In the same passage of Matthew 22 and other places in the Gospels, Jesus refers to his relationship with the church as his bride. To disrespect the church is de facto disrespecting Jesus. (If you said you loved me but disrespected my wife… I’d punch you in the face. What kind of husband wouldn’t?)

I’d prefer not to get punched by Jesus for disrespecting his bride.

At the same time, I wonder if many churches have made the agenda about them? There’s nothing more annoying than a selfish bride. Sure, there is love there… but there are a lot of strings attached to that love.

Other churches are defined by their size… hardly a respectful description for a bride. We’d politely say things like, “She must be a good cook.” Right?

Other Christians are defined by the political bedfellows they keep. Their agenda is confused with the issues of the day. Their leaders espouse vocal support of things like a right to own a gun while all the world desperately needs of them is to embrace their right to love their neighbor.

Still others are defined by their application of Revelation 2-3. They look at Jesus’ proclamations of judgement and they say… “Wait a minute. Jesus isn’t judging First Baptist of San Diego any different that he is judging San Diego Church of the Nazarene or even the Diocese of San Diego… Jesus loves and judges us by where we live in community, not where we individually gather to worship.” And those churches are defined by the agenda of neighbors loving neighbors, churches loving churches, and sharing in the great love of their Savior in the L’agenda.

My prayer today for the bride of Christ is that we would be a people defined by our world-changing L’agenda for our neighbors and not the trappings of a religious life.

Categories
Politics Social Action youth ministry

DREAM Act & Youth Ministry

Everywhere I’ve done youth ministry I’ve met undocumented students. (Chicago, Northern California, Suburban Detroit, and here in City Heights)

But it wasn’t until I started doing youth ministry here in City Heights that I truly started to understand the difficulty they had in furthering their education and starting their own American Dream.

Think of the uphill battle a student in our neighborhood climbs towards adulthood. Their parents brought them here when they were very young. They were put into an elementary school where they didn’t speak the language. But they’ve overcome obstacles beyond language. A lack of health care, parents with unstable jobs, parents who struggled with the stress of starting a new life in a new culture, (the divorce rate is high) rough schools, the temptation of gangs, the reality of substance abuse, the allure of teenage pregnancy, few meaningful extra-curricular activities, on and on.

And despite everything– these students have succeeded by every measurement tool. tudents with high GPAs, excellent standardized test scores, held offices in their class, been star athletes… the top of their class.

Born in quick sand sucking them towards a failure no one would blame them for. They have struggled, clawed, and fought their way through high school. They are living proof that hard work pays off.

But, as it stands now, the American Dream ends there for all but a few.

As they reach graduation, a waypoint on their way to what they can become, they are faced with a new struggle they might not be able to overcome: Their immigration status prevents them from many academic/financial aid opportunities they would otherwise qualify for. Likewise, their immigration status prevents them from another viable option towards a career in the military.

To put that in perspective in my neighborhood: Future community leaders hit a roadblock towards education and military service and are left with few options towards a bright future.

What does this have to do with youth ministry?

The young adults in that video could just as easily be students in our youth group. And, in all reality, there’s a very good chance that there are students in your group facing the exact same problem. Our ministry isn’t just about preaching Good News, it’s about bringing good news to the neighborhood. See, this has everything to do with youth ministry here in San Diego and around the country!

Photo from Politico (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1110/45243.html)

That’s where the DREAM Act comes in. Without going into a comprehensive immigration reform and all of its political pitfalls, it helps bridge a gap immediately that most people agree needs to get fixed.

Purpose

The purpose of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation. Supporters of the DREAM Act believe it is vital not only to the people who would benefit from it, but also the United States as a whole. It would give an opportunity to undocumented immigrant students who have been living in the U.S. since they were young, a chance to contribute back to the country that has given so much to them and a chance to utilize their hard earned education and talents.

Would I qualify?

The following is a list of specific requirements one would need in order to qualify for the current version of the DREAM Act.

  • Must have entered the United States before the age of 16 (i.e. 15 and younger)
  • Must have been present in the United States for at least five (5) consecutive years prior to enactment of the bill
  • Must have graduated from a United States high school, or have obtained a GED, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education (i.e. college/university)
  • Must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application
  • Must have good moral character

Source

For nearly 10 years the Dream Act has taken on many forms as it’s proponents have tried to get the law to pass through both the House and Senate. It has stalled or was killed every time.

On December 8th, the bill was passed by the House of Representative. It was hoped that the debate in the Senate would begin immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate tabled a vote on the measure yesterday.

Obviously, this is labeled a political issue.

But in my world this is a social justice issue. These students have done everything right and the only country they’ve ever known prohibits them from pursuing their dreams. They have looked adversity in the eye and climbed past it’s sneering, snarling teeth and overcome everything to become  the embodiment of success our country adores.

It’s time that this legislation passes and they are allowed to move on.

More info:

Wikipedia article

Follow the story on Twitter, #dreamact

Dream Act Portal (student activist site)

Categories
Funny Stuff Politics Video Clip

Jimmy McMillan for Governor

First, the clips from the New York debate.

Then, the song from his website. Again, he’s for real.

Then, this brilliant remix.

I don’t know. He’s got a point. I hope he gets some votes.

p.s. Sorry about the curse word. But the rent is just too high.

Categories
Politics stocks

A Failing Battle to Fight Foreclosure

Ángel Franco/The New York Times

This headline caught my attention this morning:

Ten months ago President Obama announced a $75 billion program to keep as many as four million Americans in their homes by persuading banks to renegotiate their mortgages. Lenders have accepted more than one million applications and cut three-month trial deals with 759,000 homeowners. But they have converted just 31,000 of those to the permanent new mortgages that are the plan’s goal.

It’s hard to fathom how many people are battling or have succumbed their life’s savings (their home) to foreclosure. In the third quarter of this year, 937,840 families received a foreclosure notice. (up 23% over the same period in 2008.)

It is important for me to state this fact– I don’t know a single person in which a bank has permanently helped during this housing crisis. They have done some short-term things. But every person I know, including ourselves, who has needed their bank to re-negotiate or process a short sale, has eventually had to accept foreclosure.

The government bailed the banks out, they’ve given them significant incentives, and yet they take the governments money– money clearly given to help re-negotiate loans– and just accept it as profit. Here’s another quote from the New York Times article:

The servicing companies make money either way. The Obama program pays them $1,000 for each loan modified, and another $1,000 per year for three more years if the borrower avoids foreclosure. On the other hand, the companies make large sums charging late and legal fees on overdue mortgage payments, and sometimes it is cheaper to foreclose than to cut the mortgage payment. link

Simply put, if your home is underwater (you owe more than it is worth on the market) and you need your bank to help you there is nothing they are going to do. They are going to stall, hem, haw, and outlast you. They know, relying that you are an honest person, that you’ll pay fines to try to keep your home but eventually you’ll get tired of the process and accept foreclosure. At least that is the banks great hope.

Maybe it isn’t always that way? Certainly, there are enough short sales going through to fuel the market and keep people’s hopes up. But for every person I know selling their house who has tried a short sale, it is merely a holding pattern– a glimmer of hope to hold on to– on the path of accepting the humiliation of foreclosure.

Bottom line, why is this happening? The banks make more money when you foreclose than if they do a short sale or modify your loan. It is in their best interest that you foreclose! The nature of how loans were created the entire Bush administration was that a loan was generated on a house, then the banks commoditized the loans and sold them off as securities. (Something like a bond) Then they hired servicing companies to make sure you paid your mortgange and that the investors got money.

Then the bank took out bets (credit default swaps) against the people they lended to. That’d be you and me. Read this little article about a 19th century confidence scam, it’ll sound pretty familiar to anyone who has bought a house! Don’t think it is possible to dupe the entire nation? Two words, my friends: Bernie Madoff.

See, in essence, the bank wants you to foreclose so they can make more money. And their processors (subsidiary companies) want you to struggle so you keep paying interest and penalties as long as possible. Then, when you finally give up, they still get the property. Cute, eh?

What’s the solution? The easy solution is for people to start paying 20% more for a house than it is actually worth. But who wants to do that? I’m afraid the government may be the only entity that can help. (Short of every American just stopping payment on their mortgages.)

Someone needs to help people on a wholesale level, renegotiate their loans. Like a one time amnesty program or something like that. It would seem reasonable that the local assessment office, which values your home for tax purposes, should be able to act as an independent agent to your mortgage company. “This home is now worth 25% less, you’ll need to reduce the principle on the loan by 12.5% to meet the homeowner half way or face a $50,000 fine fr0m the municipality and lose your license in this state.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen either. There is too much money to be made.

This is why people say this is a mess! It’s a big ugly mess.

Want to learn more? Check out this special from This American Life called “The Giant Pool of Money.”

Categories
Politics

Open System Health Care

new-medical-distribution-systemI don’t know about you, but I’m growing a little tired of the lack of progress and new ideas coming forth for health care reform. I wonder if instead of making private citizens scream at their elected officials we could get those causing the problem to scream, instead? Here’s how.

Instead of reforming health insurance (which is what we mean today by “health care reform“) what if we reform the industries at the root of the problem? What if the government opens up distribution channels to the raw supplies so you can buy the stuff you need on the open market?

Let’s say you need a new knee. The doctor says, “I could buy the part and it’ll cost you $2500 or here are the specs on what you need, you may be able to find the exact same part cheaper.” (Take away the fancy titles, this is not unlike going to get a new muffler!) The doctor gives you the specs for the item you need, and you go to Amazon.com and price the part you need for the operation. Amazon.com works directly with the manufacturer in Warsaw, Indiana to carry the most commor specs and carries them in stock. Based on the laws of supply and demand, you are able to go to Amazon.com and buy the exact part you need for $800. A week later it is delivered to your house and you take it with you to your surgery.

Same thing works for medical equipment. The current system will not allow you to go to Walmart.com to rent a wheel chair that you need after your surgery. Instead, your doctor calls the local medical equipment distributor and they rent you a wheel chair for $500 that they’ve rented 25 times already but paid $322 for from the sales rep. Under the new system, since you can now work directly with the manufacturer, you go to their website and buy the thing for $280 or you go to Craigslist and pick one up for $50.

Naysayers will toss out this right away… “what about drugs? You can’t open up the drug market!” You actually can open this up as well. Your doctor could provide you with a unique code which grants you a certain prescribed drug. You make that purchase online and cut out the middle man, it’s delivered to your door. For drugs that are abused, have it delivered to the doctors office. Since the office won’t be meeting with endless drug reps and DMEs they should have plenty of time to sign for stuff from FedEx.

This really isn’t that complicated. It just opens the system up. Currently, everything you have delivered to you in the health care system is based on a closed distribution model. You have no ability to determine what the manufacturer made the item for, what the mark up was when they sold it to the distributor, what the sales rep made when he sold it to the hospital, nor what the hospital paid for the item. You only know what they are charging you for on the itemized bill. And you know that it is all negotiable because that’s what Medicaire, insurance companies, and private individuals do. So you may see that the hospital billed $5500 for the replacement knee but because it’s a closed system you have no way of knowing that the manufacturer in Indiana made it (at a profit to themselves) for $600. Consequently, the closed system is bloated with mark-up. It’s a closed capitalist system.

We’ve done this same thing in almost every industry. Why not do this to health care?