Of Tax Cuts, Inequality and Questionable Faith

The GOP tax bill was written largely by lobbyists with no input from Democrats. There were no public hearings and no completed analyses to determine projected effects–how could there be? There was no time in the rush to pass anything. One embarrassment is the fact that the bill as passed by the House violated Senate budget rules, and had to be re-voted after the violations were removed. If the bill had actually been crafted with thoughtful deliberation by our representatives as the founding fathers conceived the process, this kind of sloppy mistake would not likely occur.

Senator Cornyn has already said that this tax reform bill will make the ACA unworkable, forcing a de facto repeal of the law that brought health care to millions. The party that cares about deficits and debt just voted to increase the debt by $2.6 TRILLION over 10 years, when interest payments are figured in on the loans we will have to take out from countries like China.

The premise on which this bill was designed is a fairy tale, that lowering corporate taxes would stimulate more domestic investment, and increased wages. Actual history shows otherwise, and current studies indicate that corporations are likely to buy back shares of their stock and increase dividends to share holders before they pay workers more.

Few if any lawmakers had read the entire bill. How do you vote on something without knowing what it contains? Who it will hurt? How it actually works?

And so many of the people that support this claim they have a religious faith, most of them some flavor of Christianity. While some may claim that the calls to care for the poor and the vulnerable are individual ones, we are more effective by caring for them collectively in a nation this size. By taking away food from children and health care from the poor and seniors, we violate the fundamental premise of Jesus so-called “New Commandment,” that we love each other, or the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as we do ourselves.

There is no love in giving more money to people who already have more than they can possibly spend or use in multiple lifetimes. There is no love is taking away health care from poor children by failing to pass funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There is no love in closing community health clinics. There is no love in failing to support the restoration of Puerto Rico after the hurricanes this year. There is no love is spending more and more and ever more on building bombs and guns and warships rather than educating our youth and building a society where crime is less profitable than contributing to society as an equal partner on a level playing field.

I wish they would disavow their lip-service loyalty and allegiance to the Prince of Peace. They are followers of greed and lovers of money. They are self-serving hypocrites to whom history will not be kind.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said yesterday that we are at a turning point in history. May it be so, but not as he might hope. May it be a turning point of an awakening to civility and cooperation over partisanship, of stewardship over exploitation, of concern for humanity over self-interest, of a burgeoning indulgence in generosity over greed.

America was once a shining example of hope and faith in human goodness and potential. Now, its corruption detracts from its gilded domes and stately columns and once-high ideals. The only way to make America truly great again is to turn from the blighted philosophy of greed and avarice that brought us to this moment in history, and return to the self-evident truths so forcefully proclaimed in the founding document of this nation:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Certainly a rich man’s happiness cannot be of greater worth than a poor man’s life. An immigrant’s pursuit of life and liberty must not be secondary to a rich man’s happiness. Perhaps that trio of endowments by God are in order, that life is supreme, and liberty cannot be experienced without life. Happiness can only truly be pursued by those who are free.

But as President Franklin Roosevelt pointed out,

“The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”

The tax bill violates the first of FDR’s points because it will lead to increasing inequality. Security is on the chopping block as a result of this drive to reward the wealthy. Special privilege is all that is ultimately served in this bill. And civil liberties are constantly threatened by a party philosophy that relies on gerrymandered districts to maintain control.

We have lost our way as a nation. When the President calls for payment for protection from nations around the world, we are no better than gangsters ruling the streets by enforcing protection rackets.

We have lost our nobility of purpose and purity of motivation. We are not led by a government by, for and of the people. We have sold our birthright for a handful of promises that have no chance of fruition.

We must be better than this. We must provide opportunity for all. We must care for the least of these, the poor, the disabled, the hungry. We must realize that the measure of a man’s worth is not his bank account or the stable of politicians he commands but his willingness to serve and lead toward greater equality, not exacerbate the disease of greed and inequality.

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Determining the Greater Frontier: Exploration versus Restoration

So President Trump signed a directive to send humans back to the moon with an eye toward Mars. Unfortunately, his budget proposal actually cuts NASA funding, so the symbolism of the gesture is not backed by anything tangible.  Like nearly every American child of the mid 20th century, I have a fondness for the idea of space exploration. I remember the Apollo missions and Skylab and the Shuttle program.

But having taught seminars on the effects of space travel on biological systems, I also know that there are dangers there.

And I know there are problems right here on Earth that we are not adequately addressing: hunger, climate change, pollution, disease, habitat destruction, extinction….

While I will always be fascinated by the idea of colonizing another planet, Mars could not be made even marginally habitable in less than a few hundred years–at least 400 years by one study I saw, beginning with seeding the Martian polar ice caps with very hardy algae to begin the enrichment of the atmosphere. But perhaps more significantly, Mars has an almost non-existent magnetosphere, which means protection against harmful solar and cosmic radiation is far less effective than on Earth, where the core is molten and constantly circulating to maintain that protective field.  Terra-forming is a slow process as we might practice it today, and it is not the sexy, wild-west adventure that too many people envision.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were right in their song, “Rocket Man”:

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,
In fact it’s cold as hell.
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did.”

So that leaves the question: what is the final frontier? Perhaps that is nothing more than a recursion to the first one–to seek answers for and solutions to repairing and restoring this damaged planet that is our only home.

I challenge the notion that we have only a few hundred years to make the leap to the stars. With a unified will to stop polluting and start restoring, we can make a difference in the habitability of this planet. But it will take strong will to accomplish that. While fortunes could be made in technologies to accomplish this, ultimately this initiative must go beyond profit: as E.O. Wilson has so passionately argued, saving biodiversity is a moral imperative. And I would extend that by mitigating our negative impacts on the environment and saving biodiversity, we save ourselves.

To those of a Judeo-Christian faith, it is finally addressing the primal mission of caring for this complex and fragile creation. “Dominion” as used in Genesis is better expressed as “stewardship”, serving as a caretaker and not an exploiter.

I have shared this passage from C.S. Lewis over and over, and I hope that it will indeed stick with some who read it. Lewis notes that only what he calls “supernaturalists” can truly understand nature. He writes,

“I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin. It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see…this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.”

If indeed in the theological realm the ultimate end is the redemption or restoration of a fallen creation, it is not incumbent that we seek to plumb new depths of destruction that the grace and glory of renewal should be all the more glorious.  Paul said as much in his discussion of grace in Romans where he posed the question, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” He concludes, “By no means!” By the same token, the misguided drive to escape our fouled nest only exacerbates the problem by fostering the false hope that the extraterrestrial grass will be greener than the dead stubble of our abused home.  The reality is that at present, there is no extraterrestrial grass.  Full stop.

The directive to take care of the creation was never rescinded in scripture: the job was paradoxically made harder by a nascent mankind’s tendency toward seeking the easy path. If indeed that bite from the forbidden fruit opened the eyes of that primitive pair, the tang of consequence has too long been ignored if not forgotten, and nature has paid a dear price for it.

We must be better toward the natural world. We must see it not as mere resources to exploit, but wonders to behold and treasures to be cherished. Life is a gift, but it is fragile. Running away to a dead moon or a dead Mars will only open new dangers and possibilities to snuff life out. The future is here. Embrace it by nursing this wounded planet back to greater health and vitality.