Monday, June 06, 2005

Events thst Shape Us


There is a commercial played on TV that attempts to join a series of completely random events into a predictable chain reaction. Although this may be an effective marketing tool, there are times in our history when seemingly unrelated events are undeniably related. Religious events, social injustices, international conflicts, and the loss of famous, revered, and even unknown individuals have more in common than any of us might have imagined.
We have witnessed such a series of events this spring. The leader of the Catholic Church, the longest standing organization in the world, with over one billion members, has lost his life. A previously unknown woman in Florida gripped the nation and the state and federal governments, as her husband decided she should starve to death amidst disputed facts and unknown wishes regarding her end of life directives. The anniversary of the death of the world's greatest leader for racial equality and social justice has once again passed. And after the second year of a preemptive war, a young child in Radwaniyeh Iraq joined the tens of thousands of Iraqi's classified as collateral damage as he was killed from a misguided missile.
Whether you believe in evolution or creation, Jesus, Allah, or both, it seems possible that these individuals, their souls and their energy, might be together somewhere. Call it heaven, the afterlife, or whatever you want, but imagine what they would contemplate. Imagine the power of the message they could produce. A pontiff who could articulate his defense of the sanctity of life at all levels. A woman who now has a voice could make her wishes known and speak as to what her last fifteen years of life truly were like for her and thousands of others. A man who could articulate the need for equality for all people regardless of race, color, or economic status. And a boy who would wonder why he was taken away in a war he did not want, did not understand, but could not escape.
Could their messages come together? Would the same people that fought against war last November continue to align themselves with pro-choice ideology? Would those that feel so strongly that abortion is murder begin to offer to educate people in contraception to prevent pregnancy for those who are not ready? Would those that feel so strongly that theirs is the only proper religion accept other ways of thinking and philosophies? Would those that support racial equality expand their fight to those that are hated for who they decide to love? Would those that claim God in defense of war look at the violence of the past century and become determined to end it?
I think this is what Pope John Paul II, Terri Shiavo, Martin Luther King JR, and Mohammed Ahmed would discuss. I think they would agree that life is precious and the responsibility needed to start life should be paired with the compassion to understand and promote it. They surely could not understand it all, just as we will never fully put together all the pieces of humanity. But I think they would expand the sanctity of life to include those that are unborn, those that have been born and are different than ourselves, and those that are too weak, sick, or poor to care for themselves. They surely would want those that they love to live in peace, equality, and happiness without fear of oppression, war, or poverty.
Then I think they would ask themselves why they were taken from this earth before the rest of us got it right too.

Post-Inagural Letter to the Editor

Letters to the editor: 2/5/05
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

George W. Bush changes the reason he was elected

During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush repeatedly implied he would enact his "Bush Doctrine" to keep the country safer. This was tested in the build-up to the war in Iraq when we heard words like mushroom cloud, yellow powder, nuclear program, immediate threat and mass graves.
Billions of dollars, nearly 1,500 dead Americans and approximately 50,000 (some say 100,000) dead Iraqis later, the search for this threat -- the WMD -- has been called off. No weapons have been found, and some of them may have been taken to be used against us.
We have, however, elected George W. Bush to keep us safer, and have forgiven him, or at least accepted, what Iraq has become. We can accept that Iraq may eventually be a better place for its people because Saddam Hussein is out of power, but it may be a long time before we can say we are safer because of this war.
In a twist of words the president began his second doctrine during his inauguration speech, standing for freedom and liberty and against tyranny. No one disagrees with this. But do we stand against Iran and trade with Saudi Arabia? Do we work with Pakistan and ignore workers' rights in China? Do we allow oil companies to drill in Libya, while Moammar Gadhafi pulls the strings?
The puzzling notion in the president's speech is why he has changed the policy on which the American people have elected him.
George W. Bush is the president because he raised the bar for our country's safety. He should not be allowed to lower it now.

Pittsburgh Political Signs

In our recent democratic primary in Pittsburgh, the mass of campaign signs filled the streets. I wonder if those signs do much to help the candidates get any votes. I must confess that I had a few in my yard. The campaign for Judge was great. You can cross file, meaning run as a DEM and a REP, and the top seven are on the ballot in the next general election. Long time DEM Tom Flaherty had signs bragging "good controller, good judge." Wait a second, aren't we in some dire financial straits in these parts? How about, "bad controller, I'll try harder as judge." Maybe all his legal experience will help, call him before your next vote and ask him when he graduated law school. Another candidate had his signs read, "experince matters." Well, do you have any? Apparently not enough people were sure. Many of the winners just had their names and "for judge", just so we voters didn't try to find their names under mayor or council. Robert Downey JR received almost 16,000 votes. Do you think all of those voters new his record, his opinions, and felt comfortable with their decision? Maybe all the time he spent on trial helped his cause. And what are the reccommendations given in the paper? Are we to trust attorney's to rate and judge people? They are all honest...right? But the top vote getter had black and gold signs, "Dwayne Woodruff for Judge", and he won the primary with the most votes. Can anyone say, "name recognition?" How about, "super, super, super, super judge!" I am sure Mr Woodruff could be a great judge, but what do we know about him? Did anyone hear him on talk radio? If you are in his court accused of public intoxication at the stadium will he understand? So, maybe his signs did help. I mean, this is a football town. Lynn Swan...are you taking notes?

Social Security according to GF Will

In response to the George F. Will article that ran May 5th, I would like to present some numbers that Mr Will curiously misses. He implies that social security, when means tested, is similar to welfare, rather than a social safety net. He writes, "means-testing, however labled, is an attribute of welfare programs." It seems that an economist of his stature should be able to discuss the changes in social security as well as the changes in the federal tax code as they relate to his, "welfare programs."

For the purpose of discussion, assume a fixed salary of a 35 year old worker, who plans to retire at 70. The current social security plan offered by President Bush (sources: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and would cut all benefits of workers who earn over $36,507 per year. This, according to the president, would "protect: the poor.

Upon retiring, the average US worker earning $36,507, would have their beneftis reduced 14% to $1,425 per month. Of course they have received a tax cut, and if these cuts are permanent, the average worker would save $353 per year (source: Placing this "savings" into an investment, such as an idex fund that averages 8% return per year, will give the average worker an additional $65,694 to retire with. Assuming they save it all.

Any worker who earns $90,000 or above (the current maximum level of social security tax), would have their first year benefits cut 25% and recevie $1,982 per month. An individual at the $90,000 earnings level saves an average of $1,085 per year if the Bush tax cuts become permanent. Given the same investment plan, 8% return over 35 years, they gain an extra $201,921 for retirement.

If you are at the top 1% of earners in the US and earn over $518,000 per year you can stash away your average tax savings of $3582 per year, and have $666,618 at age 70, again assuming you save the entire tax cut and see an 8% return.

However, if you are among the top earners and pull in one million dollars or more per year, while receiving the same social security benefit as anyone below you on the wage scale above $90,000, you will save $35,785 per year if the tax cuts are permanent. Save this cash at an 8% return and at retirement you will see $6,659, 665.

Now, Mr Will, seriously, who is "means testing" who?