Monday, October 20, 2008

Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state only bans the government from promoting or opposing any religion. For example, the government is not allowed to conduct prayer in a publicly funded school, however, the government is also prohibited from restricting a student’s right to pray in school as long as it is not disruptive to the educational process, i.e. the student could not stand and pray out loud during class. Public schools are not allowed to teach or promote religion, however, students may and often do form religious groups and hold meetings in the school, when and where such non-educational activities are held, and promote new membership.

Every citizen is allowed to take any matter important to them into consideration when deciding how to vote. It is the government that must govern only according to the Constitution. Our government is obligated to consider all citizens equally. Therefore, legislators cannot enact laws that would enforce the dogma of a religion since it would impose that dogma on citizens that hold to a different belief. Therefore, a religious wedding ceremony is outside the jurisdiction of the government. The constitution does not prohibit two people of the same sex from living together as a couple and consequently the government should guarantee all couples the right to do so. I believe in same-sex civil unions and that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as any married couple. However, religious organizations are allowed to limit the definition of marriage as their beliefs dictate, recognize only such marriages that are conforming and deny, if they choose, membership to persons that do not comply.

Elected officials are obligated to execute their jobs without religious bias. They must decide on such matters as abortion and marriage according to the Constitution without regard for their own personal religious beliefs. A juror must do the same thing when deliberating. The juror must limit the deliberation to the evidence presented in the trial, with respect only to the applicable laws and without regard for the juror’s personal opinion. Our politicians are obligated to govern in the same way.

I believe that many of our elected officials fail to perform constitutionally and obviously many of them actually make promises to religious groups in order to get their votes. Such conduct in my opinion is unconstitutional regardless of my own religious beliefs.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Income Tax versus Income

Remember Ross Perot? He has a website full of his Charts on all the issues.

This chart compares the taxes paid for various income groups.

It indicates that the bottom 50% of the taxpayers pays only 3.2% of the total Federal income taxes collected yet they earn 12.8% of the total income reported by all taxpayers. That doesn’t sound like an unfair burden on the bottom half.

But, Perot fails to mention that 32% of all taxpayers have a zero or negative tax liability and 90% of them are in the bottom 50% of wage earners.

Thus only 29.9 million of the 69.5 million taxpayers in the bottom 50% are paying 3.2% or $30 billion of the total federal taxes.

Therefore, the actual taxpayers in the bottom 50% are not paying at a rate of only 3.1%. They are actually paying at a rate of at least 7% which is about the same rate as 75% of the taxpayers are paying.

Another way that Perot might have looked at taxes is according to wealth. The bottom 50% of all taxpayers holds only 2.8% of the wealth of the country based on all assets while paying at least 3.2% of the total taxes. While the the top 10% of the taxpayers pay 68% of the taxes and hold 69.8% of the wealth. When compared to wealth the tax burden by income class seems more proportional. However, since less than 57% of the taxpayers in the bottom 50% are actually paying tax a disproportionate amount of the tax burden is still borne by the lower income wage earners.

I think a consumption tax on all purchases except necessities would be more appropriate than an income tax. It would encourage people to save more of their income and it might discourage the use of credit cards.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

School Vouchers - Update

I am opposed to federal vouchers that allow some students to opt out of their neighborhood public school and attend a different public or private school. The system as proposed by GW Bush and operating in Washington, DC is offered only to children of low income families. The objective is to make a better educational environment available to children in failing public schools whose families cannot afford to move their children to better schools. The expectation is that these students will perform better if they attend better schools, which without exception are private schools (72% are parochial schools). My issue is that a disproportionate amount of federal funding is spent on the few students that use vouchers, which leaves far less money to support and improve the public schools. How can we justify abandoning the majority of public school students to underfunded schools so that a small percentage of students can attend private schools?

Although the expectation is that these students will receive a better education in a better school, the reality is that these students are not performing better than they did in their neighborhood school.

The federal government subsidizes the Washington, DC schools as they do all school systems. The subsidy is intended to improve the educational system, i.e. more and better teachers, more and better equipment. Washington, DC receives an educational subsidy of $74 million of which $18 million is earmarked for the voucher system. The Washington, DC school system serves 71,629 students in public schools (37% attend charter schools). Private schools in Washington, DC serve 17,562 students. A total of 1,903 students attend private schools using vouchers.

Students using vouchers are only 2.6% of the total of public school students yet the voucher system receives 24% of the federal funding to Washington, DC schools.

One parent of a voucher student, Breanna, said the prospect of turning her daughter over to a public school was frightening. "I didn't feel that was a good environment," Ms. Walton, a single mother of two, said. "But I couldn't afford to send her anywhere else." Breanna is now a 6-year-old first-grade student at the private Rock Creek International School, where the average class size is 12 and the student-teacher ratio is 7-to-1. She has as classmates the children of international corporate executives and foreign ambassadors. Breanna's curriculum is the International Baccalaureate program, and she is taught regularly in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Trips abroad - to Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East - are part of the curriculum, and Breanna will participate. The school's facilities are bright, colorful, and clean, on a quiet, tree-lined street in Georgetown. According to Ms. Walton, it's a far cry from what awaited Breanna at her local public school.

Although most if not all parents would prefer that their children attend such a school. It is not and never will be available to all the Washington, DC school children. The "children that are left behind" in the public schools can only expect that their educational experience will worsen as more vouchers result in less funding of the public schools.

In my opinion the voucher system is the means by which the federal government diverts educational funding from the public school system to the private school system. Is the ultimate goal to privatize education?

In January GW Bush will be out of the White House. Congress does not plan to extend the voucher system. I hope the next president will focus on improving the public school system rather than abandoning it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vote or shut up!

We all know one or more people who have decided to not vote for president. All of them that I know personally say they don't like McCain but they can't vote for Obama. That's throwing away one's greatest right and responsibility as a citizen of the United States of America. If we don't like the choices, voting is the only way to change the process that nominated the presidential candidates. If we don't vote we reduce the Power of the People.

Don't throw your hands up in disgust because none of the candidates suits you. Study the candidates - there is a difference - and cast a vote for the one that suits you the most or differs with you the least.

Voting for candidates is not your only responsibility. Make sure you know what your government is doing between elections. Let them know whether you support what they are doing. Don't piss and moan to your neighbor. Piss and moan to your representatives, your mayor, your governor.

If you don't like the party system that nominates political candidates, change it. Support legislators and legislation the will ultimately transfer the power back to the People and out of the hands of the political parties. If you like the party process but you don't like their choices, get involved in your party - don't just join, participate.

If you don't vote, don't complain and I don't want to hear a peep out of you after the election. If you opt out of the democractic process, if you don't express your opinion by voting then keep your opinion to yourself. It's only worth hearing if you will act on it.