Separation of Church and Confused State

On May 5th, the Supreme Court delivered a historic verdict when it upheld the right for government institutions to have Christian prayers, prior to the start of local city council sessions. The issue, originally raised in Greece NY, relied heavily on a prior 1983 decision where the court upheld the Nebraska Legislature to having prayer sessions prior to starting sessions.

Never mind that in the town of Greece NY, more than 90% of the sessions were catholic prayers and the plantiffs on this case were a Jew and an Atheist. The larger issue is how does this infringe upon the separation of church and state and the original intention of the founding fathers.

This is an interesting decision, since if you look at the religion split across the US, based on the recent Pew Poll, there is a significant increase in the “unaffiliated” group.

SCOTUS ruled 5-4 on this issue and the main reasons given were as follows: “Defending a practice used by the town of Greece, N.Y., the majority ruled that opening local government meetings with sectarian prayers doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause as long as no religion is advanced or disparaged, and residents aren’t coerced”.

In her dissent Justice Kagan wrote  – “”When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another,”

There my fine feathered friends is where the rubber hits the road. This is one where the conservative majority of SCOTUS tipped this decision. But this interpretation is just plain wrong, akin to working back to the question from an answer.

What this means now is any town council can start their session with a prayer and not just any prayer but a Christian prayer. This violates the basic constitutional rule that the government should be impartial to matters of religion and not favor one over another (even if it is as trivial as starting a session with prayer).

Town supervisor of Greece NY, whose town board meets once a month said, ” Prayer was not intended to isolate or convert anyone. If they feel comfortable with joining us in the prayer, they can have a moment of silent reflection while the prayer is offered

Let’s take this example and work it another way. Let’s say that the city council was predominantly made of Atheists and prior to start of a session assume they had a brief discourse where they thanked science and debunked faith and god (not specifically coercing anyone as stated by SCOTUS) what do you think will be the logical outcome?

In the words of the great George Carlin – ” I’m Completely In Favor Of The Separation Of Church And State. My Idea Is That These Two Institutions Screw Us Up Enough On Their Own, So Both Of Them Together Is Certain Death ”.

Realize that SCOTUS is the law of the land but this ruling amongst a few others in the recent years makes you wonder if it is time to the conversation of “non partisan” judges or term limits for SCOTUS.

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Republibertocrat?

Was having a discussion with a work colleague last week. He asked me what my thoughts were on Putin and his anti gay rhetoric. My colleague is a staunch Republican and conservative. I take care to state both, since I am very aware that not all conservatives are Republicans. So it came as a bit of a shock to him when I said I thought Putin got it wrong on this (and a myriad of other things). And his next question for me was “I thought you were republican (and conservative) are you not?”.  Did not know how to answer that, especially since I think a bare chested Putin is ‘overcompensating’.

 

I thought I had a good understanding on the differences between the party platforms and their underlying philosophies. But just in case they updated something that I may have missed, I figured I would hit the ol’ search engine to refresh my bearings.
My first stop was the trustworthy site Diffen.com (comparison) and I did a quick test typing in the comparisons between Democrat vs Republican vs Libertarian. And I was depressed by the results. I didn’t fit into the classic platform descriptions and attributes.
  • Since I am in favor of a flat tax and believe in free market: I am a Republican
  • Since I am pro choice and support gay marriage: I am a Democrat
  • Believe in individual rights when it comes to tolerance of other people’s property, advancement based on individual ability: I am libertarian
and to make matters worse….

 

 

Source: http://www.teluguone.com/comedy/content/political-jokes-655-6999.html
  • Since I don’t believe in taxpayer funding of religious charities: I am little bit Republican
  • Don’t believe in government regulated economy: you guessed it …not a Democrat
  • Since I actually believe in science and that climate change is not a hoax created by Al Gore and the Nobel committee: I cannot be a Republican

Therein lies the rub. The minute I say I am a Republican or Democrat  (liberal or conservative) a standard set of attributes and positions are automagically assigned to me. What ever happened to taking an issue letting it roll around the old noodle and come up with a position based on what seems right to you. Why the need for the template?

Image Source: http://thedailycannibal.com/2011/11/02/poster-boys/

So I end up being a  Republibertocrat  (or in simplified campaign terms  – the Undecided voter!). I generally lean liberal on social issues and ‘somewhat’ conservative on fiscal issues. Obviously come election time I am like the photo above-  an ‘elephant’s ass’!

Wouldn’t it be cool to customize your own vote? Hear me out, don’t laugh yet….
Here is a potential scenario – What if there were three candidates for the presidency and I was able to allocate my one vote (in parts) to the candidates and I could decide the split based on my stance on the various issues during that election year?
 …..OK maybe you can go ahead and start laughing.
Ah well..this republibertocrat/undecided/independent/liberterioconservative voter can dream!

 

You down with OPP – One Percent People?

No I don’t mean reference to the Naughty by Nature song but rather the One Percenters that have been making the news for the past few years that was the basis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
I go to the grocery store about every week – Costco, the local Mariano’s or ethnic grocery stores and I consider myself as frugal or at least approaching frugality (with the few occasional indulgences). It is impossible to fathom how a family of four are able to get by with what is considered as “average” salary in the US.

I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher last week and he had a segment on the 1%ers and how the time to have a discussion on “Maximum Wage” in addition to “Minimum Wage”, has come. He quoted Warren Buffet – “I should write a book on how to get by on $500 million because apparently there is a lot of people who don’t know how to do it”. Also referenced was the Oxfam Report in his New Rules segment –the 85 richest people, 85, own more (wealth) than the bottom three and half billion put together, which is half the planet”.

Personally I support capitalism, as it is one of the best engines for innovations and growth . Yes you need the wealth creators to sustain/grow innovation and job growth. But there is a level of perversity that comes with the Oxfam statistic that is French Revolutionesque. Maher is also quick to pay accolades to the current crop of socially responsible billionaires who have pledged all or most of their net worth to charitable causes (The Giving Pledge).

Social Security Administration’s 2012 report shows a sobering statistic. The key summary is as follows – The “raw” average wage, computed as net compensation divided by the number of wage earners, is $6,529,097,960,690.75 divided by 153,632,290, or $42,498.21. Based on data in the table , about 67.1 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the $42,498.21 raw average wage. By definition, 50 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage, which is estimated to be $27,519.10 for 2012. (Reference – http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2012) . Also, over the past 40 years, wealth gains for the top 1% completely dwarf the gains for the remaining 99%.

The problem of income equality is real both in the US and globally and needs to be addressed. All indications point to this issue being a campaign point in the upcoming mid term elections and also in the 2016 Presidenial elections. What are some of the options? – controls in executive compensation, Tax reforms, not more but “optimal regulations’ are all being kicked around.

Obviously, I am not an economist, policy wonk or part of the 1% club. At the end of the day there is the real issue when you see people struggling to get by every day. You talk to people at work who have no savings cushion, borrowed – in debt to the hilt or folks who have lost their jobs and are struggling- the working poor and out of work poor!

So here is my question. While this whole debate continues and solutions are being looked at can we”increase” the use of our tax money we are spending to help ameliorate our poor?

Here is a thought — Cut defense spending and reallocate it. I know I know this has been bandied about for a while and this year’s defense budget from Hagel is a good start. But c’mon do we need to spend this much money on our defense (and the answer can’t be we need to protect the freedoms of the world).
What about the freedoms of our citizen who deserve a decent standard of living? Don’t get me wrong this is not a progressive rambling, I am in fact conservative on a lot of issues.
The chart below shows that the US spends as much in defense as the next 15 countries COMBINED!

Source: http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/

And here is the allocation of of our entire US budget across various categories:

As Maher points out in his one of his previous shows –“we 
are in the Empire Building business”. We don’t leave anywhere we go”. Our threats in the 21st century are not the traditional wars we have fought in the past, rather disparate groups and organizations with stateless affiliations. We don’t need to build F-35s and Tanks or weapons that will never be used (even the Military is crying that they don’t want anymore!). Will we become less safe if we spend (say) the total defense budget of the next 6 or 7 countries combined instead of 15? I don’t know the answer but it is frustrating when we can send money to support meaningless wars when we can spend it on programs that can make an impact stateside.

So while we figure out how to improve upward mobility and reduce the income disparity can we at least make a small and immediate impact in improving the lives of our citizens?

Maybe the first step in being the “world’s police and beacon of freedom” is to take care of our own first? Now that may be a novel thought!