Friday, September 14, 2012

Equal vs Equitable

Everybody says they love the idea of living in an equal society. But I don't. An equal society might be nice and might be an improvement over our current society but I'd really love to live in an equitable society. These words are fairly confusing since they look and sound similar but an equal society is one where everybody is on the same level legally. Which sounds great but an equitable society is one where everybody is treated fairly, or justly. A good way to distinguish the difference is using schools. In an equal society all children are treated the same in school. In an equitable society all children are given the amount of help and support they need to succeed. So if a child has a learning disability they get more support than a child without a learning disability. This is how our schools are supposed to work so there's some good news.

I posted a link on my facebook page of Fox News interviewing the Romney Policy Director and having him dodge the questions asked of him which was surprising since he was on a network friendly to him and his candidate. The questions were about Romney's tax policy and how he isn't telling Americans which tax loopholes he would close, something the Fox News reporter thought Americans have a right to know before they cast their votes. I would agree. But this intrigued me... What does Mitt Romney actually say his tax policy would be as president if he won't answer such an important question?

I went to his campaign website to investigate and in his introduction the Romney campaign says their are two questions at stake in how we address taxes "How will we generate sufficient revenue to balance our budget without discouraging economic activity, and will the burden of taxation fall equitably on all Americans?" And this is where we run into a problem. See Romney uses the wrong word for his policy. He means "will the burden of taxation fall equally on all Americans?" because that's what his proposal is. He proposes a flatter tax rate for all Americans to try and make all Americans pay the same tax rate. That is treating us all equal. If he wants to treat us all equitable then he must agree more with President Obama and raise taxes on those like the President and himself who have so much money.

There is some argument about who are the "rich" in this country. The President has named it at families who make $250,000 and up and individuals who make $200,000 and up. There can be some argument for this when you consider things like children and costs of college and things of that nature and I won't get into naming what I would consider rich. But if we take that definition and look at Romney's tax plan we can see something quite astounding.

Romney wants to keep the capital gains tax at 15%. Personally I think it should move from a flat rate to an increasing rate as you earn more money. Keeping it low for low capital gains helps the economy. It supports small business owners and encourages investment in small businesses. Small businesses need the investment the most. I'm for a low capital gains tax to a point. And surprisingly, in a way, Romney agrees with the idea that capital gains should be tiered like our normal taxes. He wants to keep capital gains at 15% unless you fall into a certain population of Americans in which case your capital gains tax would be 0%.

Which population does Mr. Romney think shouldn't pay taxes on capital gains? People who earn less than $200,000 a year in capital gains. Basically anybody not considered the upper class by Obama right? So no taxes (in capital gains) for the poor and middle class right? Isn't that what that means? Well that's certainly what Romney would probably like you to believe and it is true. The poor and the middle class wouldn't be paying any capital gains taxes. But neither would the rich. Romney doesn't say that if those making over $200,000 a year from capital gains would pay taxes on that first $200,000 but my bet is that they wouldn't because that wouldn't be equal which as I've already said is what Romney means to say. It would be more equitable for them to pay taxes on that first $200,000 but that's not his goal. Maybe I'm wrong but I think the odds are in my favor that I'm right.

But I digress. Do you have any idea how much money you'd have to have to make $200,000 in capital gains in a year? Let's put it like this: According to this website the average dividend in the S&P 500 is 2.08%. The same website lists the average dividend in the NASDAQ exchange to be 1.18%. And The Dow Jones has an average dividend of 2.89%. Since the Dow Jones has the highest average dividend let's use them. In order to make over $200,000 in capital gains in the Dow Jones you have to have an average of $6,920,416 invested ($6,920,416 X .0289=$200,000.02). And if I'm right about that first $200,000 not being taxed then a person with almost $7,000,000 invested in the stock market would pay $0.003 in taxes on that income. Less than one penny. This is a person who has to have such a ridiculous amount of wealth that they have almost $7,000,000 tied up in stocks. Tell me, does that sound equitable? Now if I'm wrong at that first $200,000 does become taxable then they'd pay $30,000.003 in taxes on that income. Which, for somebody with $7,000,000 to spare isn't even noticeable.

Now people who run small businesses, particulartly start ups could probably use a tax forgiveness where they pay 0% in taxes on capital gains. But that's because most start up owners have put most of their money into their business and will continue to pour money into their business for a while. The amount they're actually making would be very little since whatever they make probably goes right back into their company. That is an equitable tax rate. One that recognizes people risking all they have to own a business and employ people. Those are the real job creators of the economy. They are people who don't make very much money at all. The rich invest to get richer and the rich don't spend a larger percent of their money on goods than the rest of us. They buy more expensive items. But they don't really buy a whole lot more than the majority of Americans. A rich person doesn't need more food to survive, if they go out they might buy the most expensive thing on the menu but they're not really spending all that much more than the average American at the table next to them.

I hope Mr. Romney realizes that he uses the wrong word soon. Because he wants an equal society. I want a equitable society. A society that is just.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Knowing God

Hold onto your hats cause this will probably get weird and off track. But you can thank my friend, fellow US-2, and (current) Detroiter, Brandon for providing me with the inspiration to actually write this blog but not necessarily for the weird stuff. Don't blame him for that. You can check his blog out by clicking his name over there -->

That being said my only inspiration isn't Brandon. You can also credit the good and funny people at for helping to inspire this. In fact one of their most recent articles The 6 most accidentally creepy movie romances serves as part of this inspiration as well as their article How Doctor Who Became My Religion. Perhaps you've already gone and read Brandon's blog or the articles I posted, if you haven't then don't do it yet you'll spoil my whole build up and that just wouldn't be any fun. Now to begin.

I titled this post "Knowing God". While walking to work one day I thought about the word "know". I'd rank it as one of the worst words in existence. I use it all the time and I don't hate the way it sounds but it really does an awful job at what it's supposed to do. Know sounds like No which means something totally different and has a past tense Knew which sounds like New which also means something totally different. In fact Knew and New are near opposites. Knew is something older and understood and New is fresh and unknown. It's really just very, very poor. but that's the past tense. Let's get back to Know. What makes Know so bad, and even worse than Knew, is that it's not relegated to one tense. Know is both present and future. You can only tell which tense it's being used in by reading words around it. "Do you know the sky is blue?" vs "Will you know tomorrow?" So which Know am I using in the title? Take a second and actually thing about it.

Now maybe the answer was real obvious to you because how could it be the other one... Well here's how. Present: Knowing God Now. Future: Knowing God tomorrow. These could be worded significantly better but they both technically work. The answer to my question is, of course, both. I love Doctor Who. It is a fantastic television show. And one of the cool things about the show is that it deals with wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff. Know is just like that stuff. The bible helps us know God in the past, we know God right now, and we continue to know God in the future. Do you see what I just did there. I just made know work in the past as well... It now covers all three tenses. But I digress.

I also use Know loosely here. And that is the point of the cracked articles. In the Movie Romance article the author argues that in the movie "Groundhog Day" the character Rita falls in love with the demi-god Phil. Phil (Bill Murray) has to be at least a few hundred years old by the end of the movie. It's quite possible that he is thousands of years old. In fact the script calls for Phil to spend 10,000 years in the time loop. He is over 10,000 years old according to the original script by the end. Even in the final film where it's left up in the air he is still an expert in many fields and to become an expert in a field you need to devote over a years worth of time being trained by another expert. That means it would take him at least a few years to learn each subject that he's an expert in since nobody is teaching him non-stop and he certainly isn't being taught by any experts. So he's at least a few hundred years old when all is said and done. He has knowledge that nobody else can reach, not just in their studies, but in the fact that he has lived multiple lifetimes worth of time. Thousands and thousands of lifetimes worth of time according to the original script. Jesus lived 2000 years ago. Bill Murray might have been over 10,000 years old in the end. He could've been older than Human civilization itself. Could you imagine trying to relate to him after that? How could you. He knows everything at that point. He has lived longer than any city or group of people. Imagine how different our world is from 4000 years ago, around the time of Abraham. Phil was over twice that age. We would be like ants to him at that point.

Now to Doctor Who. I'm going to quote straight from the article from the third to last paragraph. "Lastly, and maybe this is especially true for me as a new viewer, but often the Doctor behaves in ways I don't fully appreciate because he's lived for over 900 years (50 on TV) and there is so much I haven't seen. So many episodes I've missed. And that's just with a TV show. Imagine, for a moment that there is a real God. How many of His storylines have we not been exposed to? That god must have been broadcasting on channels we don't get for millennia. It would take a lifetime longer than the Doctor's to fully understand such a god."

Now I believe that such a God exists. It's hard enough to imagine relating to Phil after he's lived 10,000 years. Now try to imagine relating to God who has always existed. Our Universe is over 14 billion years old. Now I see the rebuttal already "But God is eternal and unchanging". Yes, I would agree. But isn't that even harder to imagine? God is somebody that could go through that much time and not change. Time cannot change God. Phil and the Doctor both change and grow over time. But God is even bigger than that. Bigger than time.

Knowing God? Good luck. People wrestle with parts of the Bible that are difficult to explain. Some have said "God's ways are higher" to explain them and people really don't like that. But really, they are. God is so completely inconceivable to us. He has lived through all of history and hasn't changed. How could we possibly fathom knowing God? We know so very little about the Creator of everything. Here's another article from cracked that shows cool universe stuff. Download the last file in that article if you can. I feel it's necessary to repeat the author... We didn't know that any of that stuff in that picture existed until Hubble took that picture. And I'm going to post a picture of that picture in case you didn't download the file.

Do you know where that image comes from on that photo? That little light on the left hand side of the screen, that's almost directly in the middle of the image. That light is almost too small to even see when you're looking at the whole image at once. That light is a galaxy. And that is just crazy.

And God is bigger than all of that. God created all of that. And God has been active in all of that. Do you know what's even crazier about that picture? That is an incredibly old photo. Billions and billions of years old. Those galaxies don't exist any more. 10,000 galaxies that might have had life but have all died now. Thousands if not millions or billions of civilizations that have been lost. See I'm not one to think that we're God's only project. We live in a very old universe and we're very young. Why would we be the only place God would put life? Why would the universe need to be so big if all God was creating was life in one place? No, I think there are billions, or trillions, or numbers I can't even fathom of civilizations and species in the universe that either currently exist or have existed or will exist. How can we know a God that has created all of that and loves all of that? A parent to trillions and trillions over a time of billions of years. And he loves our world and our people in a way bigger than we can understand.

So we no, we can't know God now, or tomorrow, or ever. We can learn about God and try our best but in the end the amount of God we will know will be infinetly small compared to the reality of God. And I think that's ok. It just means we have so much left to learn. More than discovering 10,000 new galaxies in one photo.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Colonialism and the American Dream

I met with a pastor in the area and talked about racial and class differences that have been experienced in Albany. How some have historically thought that the people coming from the suburbs (usually white people) to volunteer in the city (mostly black or hispanic people) had a smack of racism and colonialism to it. The white people were coming to save the poor black and hispanic people. It is a valid point but not necessarily true. Perhaps the people from the suburbs came to the city with a mentality that projected that image. But that by no means has to be the case. 

Even if it is true, to discourage those in the surrounding suburbs to not come to the city would be equally dangerous. It moves from a more colonialistic view point to a view many have started to take on the poor recently. That view is the American dream. Which sounds positive until you remember that the American dream says that anybody can be successful if they try hard and those that aren't successful are probably just lazy. They should be able to help themselves. Of course that's a lie. The American dream exists for those that already have much. Those without are severely disadvantaged before they have any type of opportunities.

There must be a middle ground. One without feeling colonialistic and without ignoring the real injustice of our world. That way is being in ministry with. When we join together and recognize that everybody has need and everybody needs ministry we find out how people from the suburbs can come to the city and be served and be in service with those in the city. Each helps the other. If we don't then our world becomes negative. Our worldview becomes seeing others as lazy or cold. We start to build walls, real or societal, around our cities to keep the other out. Injustice spreads as we do nothing. 

That is not the world I want to live in. The world of the American dream is toxic and dangerous and so is the world of the white hero. We need a world of communal growth and service. The only way to fight back against these worldviews of colonialism and the American dream is to recognize the value of each and every person and find the ways that we can help each other. We are a social creature needing the love and acceptance of our fellow people. We need to not shut them out but welcome them lest we let our world get too small.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peace and Terrorism

Every morning while riding the bus downtown I read a couple stories off of CNN while taking the 20+ minute ride. Today being September 11th I read a couple stories that I found interesting relating to peace and terrorism.

Let's start off with the state of terrorism in the United States 11 years after the attacks that shook the world. In the 11 years that have passed there have been a number of terrorist attacks in our country. What people might not realize is that Non-Jihadist terrorists are just as likely to be committing the attacks as Jihadist. In fact, there have been more attacks by Non-Jihadist terrorists in the last 11 years than Jihadist terrorists. And when remembering that this is the case it becomes not so surprising to then find out that more people have been killed in the United States by non-Jihadist terrorists than Jihadist terrorists.

September 11, 2001 showed what a well planned terrorist attack could do. Because of that attack we started to fear Muslims in this country. But the numbers suggest we don't need to worry about Muslims so much as non-Muslims attacking us. The men that carried out the 9/11 attacks were the minority. They are the smallest percentage of the Muslim population. And terrorists who get their orders from outside of our nation are the minority of terrorists in the United States. Homegrown terrorists are the bigger threat.

Of course most of our law enforcement has a focus on Jihadist terroists. But if our focus is on them then we are very likely missing many would-be terrorists who would commit attacks on innocent people. But the number of non-Jihadist terrorists isn't the most surprising part.

Since Semptember 11, 2001 there have been no cases of a Jihadist terrorist aquiring or even attempting to aquire chemical or biological weapons. However there have been 11 cases, or one a year on average, of anarchist, white supremacist, or right-wing extremists acquiring or attempting to acquire chemical or biological weapons. So not only are there fewer Jihadist terrorists than non-Jihadist terrorists in our country but the Jihadists terrorists aren't the ones attempting to aquire weapons that could contaminate and kill on large levels. Clearly we need to rethink our policy in this country. And quite obviously we need to end the blatant discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Now for peace. Another article I read was about the brother of the current al Qaeda leader has come out saying he wants peace between Islamists and the West and is willing to be the mediator. A former Islamist himself he spent 5 years in solitary confinement in a 6ft by 6ft cell in an Egyptian prison. Now that he has his freedom the new Egyptian government says he is helping them in negotiations with Jihadists in the Sinai area. He has offered a 6 page proposal for peace between Islamists and the West that starts with a 10 year truce if the following terms are met:
• U.S. and West to stop intervening in Muslim lands
• U.S. to stop interfering in Muslim education
• U.S. to end the war on Islam
• U.S. to release all Islamist prisoners.

• Islamists stop attacks on Western and U.S. interests
• Islamists Protect legitimate Western and U.S. interests in Muslim lands
• Islamists Stop provoking the U.S. and the West

Now there is speculation that he's getting his name out there again so that an Islamist group would welcome him into leadership. But I am ever hopeful that we have a man related to the leader of the most infamous terrorist group in the United States who is legitimately working on negotiating peace.

Could you imagine a world where he was succesful? Even if only one group agreed to peace with the West and the West complied with their end of the bargain? It is amazing that such a revolutionary world would be brought about if we just agreed to leave each other alone and stoped killing each other.

Is peace in our time possible? Yes. Peace is always possible. Peace is the easiest thing to achieve because all you have to do is stop killing. It's so simple. Will the people of this planet stop killing? Convincing the planet to live in peace is difficult for reasons I will never understand. But on this day, 11 years after a tragic act of violence was committed against thousands of innocent people we must remember Christ and His teaching to love our enemies and to be peacemakers. The same Christ that rebuked Peter for taking up arms against those that arrested Him to die. Even protecting the Lord was not good enough reason to take up arms. The innocent died. The lamb was killed and we are called to love instead of hate. Turn our swords into plows rather than use them to slay.

This should be the legacy of September 11, 2001. A legacy of mourning the innocent lost and forgiving those that took them. Violence leads to violence until we are the ones willing to not take an eye for an eye. For “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Short Update

This is my blog where I post updates about my time as a missionary... Let's get a little meta.

I am considering creating a monthly or quarterly newsletter as another method to let people find out about what I've been up to. I've been considering how it would be different from the blog to make it worth it for myself and for anybody who reads this and wants the newsletter.

Essentially it would be a far more anecdotal publication than the blog. Relying heavily on telling short stories from my life in Albany. I would give an example but then I'd be down a story for the first newsletter!

Anyway, post a comment if you're interested... Or better yet... click the link to subscribe to my hypothetical newsletter. Or scan the QR code at the bottom of the update! And don't forget to Share on facebook. Ok I've had my fun coming up with different ways to grow a subscriber base. Subscribe so I know to start working on a newsletter.