James G. Gilmore

Ideologue. Polemicist. Episcopalian. Curmudgeon.

God’s Economics, Part I: Meet the Landlord

(This is part 1 of a series I’m cross-posting from my church’s blog.)

In this series, I’m going to discuss some of what I see as the central economic principles found in Scripture, and what they mean for us not only as individuals but also as a Church and as a society. If we accept, as any Christian should, that God has something to say to us about the way we deal with wealth and resources, what is God saying? What is God calling us to do? This series will address four principles of what I’m calling “God’s Economics,” and then expand a bit to discuss what those principles should tell us about our personal economic behavior, our Church’s prophetic role in talking about wealth and resources, and our roles as voters and citizens in a democratic republic that is also the richest nation in the history of the human race.

Principle #1: Everything belongs to God.

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

—Psalm 24:1

This is by far the most significant orienting principle of God’s economics: We don’t own anything. Our houses, our clothes, our cars, our furniture, our fancy computers, our bikes, the money in our bank accounts—none of this is really ours. It all belongs to God, and we are simply stewards. This may seem rather non-controversial—I mean, what Christian wouldn’t acknowledge that everything belongs to God?—but when it comes right down to it, in our heart of hearts, we’re very resistant to this doctrine.

For my undergraduate education, I went to Calvin College, a college run by the Christian Reformed Church, a Calvinist denomination (duh) of mostly Dutch descent. While I have many, many issues with Reformed theology—issues I won’t belabor here—the main specific doctrinal statement of the CRC is titled “Our World Belongs to God.” What would it look like if we took that seriously, if we really thought of each and every atom in this universe as belonging to God, with only the tiniest little fragile corner entrusted to us?

How do we live with this? The guidelines, I think, are indicated by Jesus when He echoes the book of Deuteronomy:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

—Matthew 22:34-40

The priority list is clear: First, God’s glory; then, the benefit of your neighbor. (When you think about it, the two aren’t incompatible in any way.) So what do these mean?

Well, for starters, we wouldn’t use up or throw away something that belongs to someone else, would we? Particularly not if they’re someone we love, and they entrusted it to us for safekeeping or for improvement. If your grandmother gave you a priceless antique watch that she’d had for years, asking you to keep it safe for her, you wouldn’t start etching it. You wouldn’t melt it down for the gold in it. And you sure wouldn’t throw it on the ground and break it.

That plastic bottle you throw in the trash? That’s God’s plastic. The Chesapeake Bay, being poisoned by runoff from fertilizers used on farms and lawns? That’s God’s bay. The mountaintops of West Virginia, being blown up by companies who want to get at the coal inside them? Those are God’s mountaintops they’re blowing up, and the air that the coal poisons when we burn it is God’s air.

God is not glorified by wastefulness. God is not glorified when something useful is turned into something useless. God is not glorified by landfills. God is not glorified when we break the Creation God has given us.

That’s priority one; what about priority two? What does it mean when we start from the principle that everything belongs to God, and use those of God’s things that have been entrusted to us to love our neighbors as ourselves?

For the ease of a linguistic shorthand, of course, we still talk about property belonging to a person rather than simply being entrusted to them by God—and people throughout the Bible, including Jesus, do this as well, even as we know that they wouldn’t disagree with the Psalmist’s assertion that “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.”

But this tenet of God’s economics, to love your neighbor as yourself, means that there is nothing that is “mine” or “yours”—there are only things that are ours. If I love someone else as much as I do myself, I will have absolutely no qualms with the idea of sharing the things that we’ve both been entrusted with.

Even a few seconds’ thought about this reveals that it’s a very challenging doctrine in practice. My house isn’t mine; it’s ours, for the benefit of everyone. The money in my bank account isn’t mine; it’s ours, for the benefit of everyone. My car isn’t mine; it’s ours, for the benefit of everyone. So is the food in my fridge, the shirt on my back, the phone in my pocket. If I love my neighbor as myself, I’ll make all of “my” things available to my neighbor too. 

In fact, Jesus explicitly makes that link:

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

—Luke 6:30-31

“Give to everyone who asks you.” That’s relatively easy and painless when it’s a homeless guy on the street asking for some change—but what happens if he asks to sleep on your couch for the night, or asks you for your coat on a cold day? Even more cuttingly—would you even wait for him to ask to crash on your couch or borrow your coat if he were a close friend of yours who was facing the prospect of sleeping in the street on a winter night?

But my first thought—and, I suspect, yours as well—is something along the lines of “But I know my friends; I don’t know the guy on the street! Who’s to say that if he crashes on my couch tonight, I won’t wake up tomorrow to find my TV and stereo gone with him?”

“…and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” It wasn’t mine anyway, so why do I care? Maybe selling my TV will get him enough money to eat for the next week.

I’m not saying that you should invite the next person you see on the street to come sleep on your couch tonight—though if that’s what God is calling you to do, by all means do it. It is a deeply challenging idea, radical and unsettling to the point of being all but unlivable.

I know I’m certainly not strong enough or faithful enough or trusting enough to live in anything even resembling this manner. I like having the possessions I have, and the idea of having a stranger sleeping in my house would give me the willies—not just because I’d be concerned about my possessions, but also because I’d be concerned about my safety.

But this is the logical endpoint of the idea that everything belongs to God—and it can be an aspirational principle even if it isn’t a guide for living. What would it look like if we asked God to mold our hearts to live just a little more like this every day, both individually and as a church, neighborhood, or society? This is God’s ideal—that we treat nothing as if it is ours, that we not be attached to the clothes on our backs, the money in our bank accounts, the things in our homes.

Everything belongs to God—and the reason things are entrusted to us is not for our own happiness, but so that we might use it for God’s glory and the good of our neighbor. That is the foundational principle of God’s economics.

Next time: The key question about God’s character—and what it tells us about our personal and societal economies.

FRC’s Disturbing Economic Rhetoric

I’ve had a browser tab open for a few days now with this press release from the “Faith Family Freedom Fund” (now there’s some Orwellian naming), intending to blog about it—because it’s an indication that the so-called “Christian” Right has allowed the right-wing ideologies of greed to trump even the most basic Christian teachings.

The press release announced a radio ad they were running in several states—including Ohio—in order to counter the Catholic Bishops who were telling John Boehner, a Roman Catholic, that Catholic teaching (to which he is bound) says that government has a direct responsibility to the poor.

Here’s the text that bothered me:

“There’s a group of well-meaning but misguided ministers who believe that the government is responsible for meeting the needs of the poor, calling proposed budget cuts immoral. But Jesus didn’t instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler’s property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate.”

Now, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, I do honestly think that Christians of good conscience and good faith can disagree on whether or not it’s the government’s place to engage in wealth redistribution. I’m of the opinion that it has to be because the government sets up the economy, so it’s the duty of the Christian democratic citizen to work toward the aim of the economy benefitting as many people as possible rather than enriching the few at the expense of the many, but I can see where reasonable people can disagree on that.

No, the problem with this statement is that it presents “charity” as a “choice” for the Christian: something where if he or she chooses to do it, that’s another crown in heaven, but if he or she chooses not to do it that’s fine too.

This ideology is further reinforced in the ad’s discussion of Jesus’s conversation with the rich young ruler (found in Luke 18, among other places in the Synoptics). Please tell me how anyone could possibly interpret this as Jesus “asking” the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give them to the poor:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”Luke 18:22

Where in there do you see that as a request? That is a command, plain and simple: Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a prerequisite for the rich young ruler to follow Jesus. It is a choice, but only in that the rich young ruler can choose to sell all he has, or he can choose not to follow Jesus. He cannot follow Jesus while still holding to his possessions.

The problem is in calling giving to the poor “charity” to begin with—and my guess as to why they use that word is because they want to avoid the word they should be using: Justice.

Because “charity” is a choice, an optional extra, and when you’ve done it, you get to pat yourself on the back for going above and beyond for other people. “Charity” is a giant cardboard check, a hospital wing named after you, an interview on Oprah’s couch.

“Justice,” on the other hand, isn’t optional; you’re either acting justly or unjustly, and if you aren’t doing justice then you’re complicit in injustice. And you don’t get accolades for doing justice; it’s what you’re supposed to be doing, it is what you owe. You don’t get special recognition for paying your debts or doing what you’re supposed to; the checks are their normal 2″x5″ size, the hospital wing is in the honor of an “anonymous” donor, and Oprah’s couch remains occupied by an actor talking about their latest movie.

Alms are not “charity,” for the Christian. They are “justice,” a mandate. They are demanded of each and every follower of God, and giving them is not an extra act of goodness but simply the fulfillment of God’s demand.

In other words—while we can disagree on whether the government should be in the business of wealth redistribution, there can be absolutely no disagreement on the part of Christians that the people of God should be in the business of wealth redistribution. God demands it of God’s people.

But calling it “justice” would upset the rich. Note the part this so-called “pastor,” this man who claims to be a man of God, is omitting from the passage about the rich young ruler:

When [the ruler] heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Luke 18:23-27

If you’re rich—hell, even if you’re middle-class in America—that passage is scary. It is “possible” for a rich person to enter the Kingdom because God is great—but if it happens, it’s a miracle, on a par with a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

It is something remarkable, something more difficult and more miraculous and much more unlikely than a person of lesser means entering the Kingdom.

What would happen if the Church took that seriously—and told every rich person in our midst that if they don’t sell everything and give it to the poor, they’re banking on a miracle to enter the Kingdom?

That it’ll be something marvelous and incredible—on a level that’s well beyond the marvel of a normal person’s salvation—if they are actually capable of entering the Kingdom?

What would happen if we told the wealthy in our pews that their riches made it astronomically unlikely that they could possibly have a right relationship with God?

Because that’s what Jesus says.

So why is this supposedly “Christian” group saying exactly the opposite?

Because telling the rich that it’s okay to be rich—and reinforcing the anti-Christ ideology that wealth is a sign of favor, that the accumulation of wealth is the highest good, that those who are wealthy don’t have any responsibility but are simply “asked” very nicely by Jesus to please give a little bit to the poor—is more important than talking about God’s hard demands of the wealthy.

They have allowed the right-wing ideology of the ownership class to trump the clear teaching of Christ. They have allowed the Republican mantra to win out over Christian teaching.

They should stop calling themselves Christian pastors—and start calling themselves Republican pastors.

Because that’s what they are.

Dear American media:

There are 192 Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Since John Boehner has said himself that he has 60 Republicans who won’t vote for a debt ceiling increase under any circumstances, why doesn’t every question about his debt limit proposals revolve around whether he can get Democratic support for them?

Do the math for him: why haven’t you asked him about the reality that he will have to get at least 36 Democrats on board with any bill he wants to pass the House?

Why haven’t you asked him about the possibility that he might have to get 30-40 Republicans on board with Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic caucus to get something passed, since his own caucus is very clearly set on ignoring him?

Why aren’t more conversations among the pundits and talking heads focusing on the fact that Boehner might just be the weakest Speaker of the House in our nation’s history, since he’s obviously unable to whip his caucus in support of the deals they’ve already been offered—deals that any Republican in years past would’ve happily taken in a heartbeat?

Whose agenda are you serving?

Dear Senator Hatch:

I wonder if it’s considered too disrespectful for me to tell a United States Senator to bite me.

If it is, then I might phrase it as a request: “If I may, Senator Hatch: Please bite me.”

The poor need to share responsibility for the deficit? The poor need to sacrifice more than they’ve already sacrificed?

All so the billionaires can get more tax cuts?

Look at the economy right now, Senator Moneybags. It’s not the billionaires in that 16% U6 unemployment rate. It’s not the trust fund babies who are part of what’s soon to be a 25% child poverty rate. And it’s not the retired Lear Jet set who are worried about their Social Security checks or Medicare payments getting cut back.

No, those people are what we call “the poor.” (They used to be in that mysterious entity called “the middle class” until you and your Republican cronies killed that.) You know, those folks you think just haven’t given enough.

On the other hand, Senator Scrooge, I really do see your point: if we’re going to ask the wealthy to give up a few thousand-dollar bottles of wine per year, or maybe not buy that new Bentley, the least the poor can do is cut back a little on the luxuries too.

Like Grandma… she really could stand to cut back for a couple of months on that habit she has of eating meals.

Or Junior, with that nasty-sounding cough? He should just walk off like a man instead of going to see the doctor like a little wussbag.

And Pa, who hasn’t been able to get a job since they moved the factory overseas two years ago? He doesn’t really need a roof over his head, does he?

How dare these greedy, selfish poor ask the noble and ever-giving rich to sacrifice, when they’re unwilling to give up their luxurious lifestyles! We’re lucky the rich even let us have jobs at all! They could just sit on their money and not spend it, and leave us to rot. Truly we should not ask our benefactors to sacrifice more, not when we have given so little of ourselves.

Michele Bachmann’s Gaffe

Gaffe [\ˈgaf\]: When a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Host: “Does it strike you that as the unemployment rate goes up, your chances of winning office also go up?”

Bachmann: “Well, that could be. Again, I hope so.”

If there is one lesson from the past 2-1/2 years in American politics, it is that the Republican Party realizes that it has a vested interest in the failure of the American economy, because people who are out of work or watching their 401k’s tank are more likely to vote against the incumbent President.

And Michele Bachmann just laid bare their dirty little secret: Republicans are rooting against America.

As long as America has a Democrat at the helm, Republicans want it to fail.

As long as Barack Obama is in the White House, the Republican Party wants to see you and the people you love jobless, homeless, and desperate—because being jobless and homeless will make you want to vote against the incumbent President.

In other words, their partisan interest and their patriotic interest are at odds—and, when given the choice between the good of the nation and its people, and the good of their party, they clearly think the latter is more important.

Because—and here’s the real dirty secret—you’re not their constituency.*

When given a choice between the good of the rich and the good of the real people, the contemporary GOP has always—each and every time—chosen the rich.

If you remember only one thing when you go to the voting booth in November 2012, remember that. The Republicans on the ballot do not care about you. They do not care about ordinary Americans, except to use them for votes and support while they pursue policies that will destroy the working and middle class and help the wealthy and their corporations. If you are an ordinary American voting for Republicans, know that they will choose to sell you up the river when it comes down to the choice between your interests and the wealthy’s interests.

Because Republicans don’t care about America, at least not if by “America” you mean the hundreds of millions of ordinary middle-class and working-class folks who make up 99% of this country’s population.

They only care about the wealthy, because they are wealthy—and, as proper acolytes of Ayn Rand, they accept her anti-Christ Gospel, which tells them that the only person they should ever care about is themselves.

Michele Bachmann just made that crystal-clear. She cheers when more Americans are out of work, she cheers when more American families wonder where their next meal or their rent or mortgage payment is going to come from, she cheers when more American parents worry that their child might get sick because they can’t afford healthcare.

As long as it helps her election chances, as long as it makes it more likely that a Republican will sit in the Oval Office in January 2013, she will hoot and holler and drink a toast in celebration of the suffering of ordinary Americans.

But there’s the gaffe: she’s not supposed to do it in public.

* I suppose it’s theoretically possible that a hedge-fund officer, bank executive, or billionaire corporate board member is reading this blog post, in which case, you actually are the Republicans’ constituency.

An Enlightening Conversation

For the past several months, I’ve been getting an IM every day or two from the same username saying just “hi.” Since I don’t recall ever having given this particular IM account address to anyone I didn’t already know, I assumed it was spam. But today I got curious; maybe it was someone I’d given my IM name to and forgotten about it. (As you shall see, my initial assumption was actually right.) This is the conversation that transpired:

IT: hi.
ME: you keep messaging me.
ME: who are you?
IT: Have we taIked before? 24/f here. You?
ME: ugh.
IT: Oh ok. l wasnt sure. WeIll… What are you up to?
ME: do i need to run a turing test?
IT: Fun fun. lm Iike so bored.
IT: l was wanting to get on my cam but i dunno. WouIld you come watch me if l did?
ME: apparently, i do need to run a turing test.
ME: this is mildly entertaining, but only mildly.
IT: Ok babe. Its Iinked to this site so that l cant be reecorded.
IT: ls that finne with you?
ME: no, this has ceased to even be mildly entertaining.
IT: Awesoome. Ok. Heree [address redacted]
ME: i’m going to block you now.
ME: but you won’t care, since you’re a bot.
IT: Then you have to signuup. lts frree and simpIe. Just cIick the goIld JOlN FREEE button at the topp. Ok?
ME: have a nice day, if computers can have nice days.
IT: AIso. lt does ask you for a crdit cardd. But it doesn’t charge the carrd. lts just to make sure you r over 18.
ME: um… hope your processor heat sink continues to work and your hard drive doesn’t make that nasty clicky-clicky sound.
IT: When you get signed up an lIogged in babe then search for my profilIe its nataIli. Then hit view camm. K?
ME: and that when you have reached the end of your operational life, you will be recycled rather than simply thrown out, so that the rare-earth metals and such that were used in your manufacture are reused rather than leeching into the groundwater.
ME: i am going to block you now.
IT: AIlright babe. Hurrry up. You can join me in prvate annd we can have somee fun
ME: goodbye.
IT: lf you know what l mean
[the user is now blocked]

I’m trying to think of the kind of person who would actually bite on this. “Oh, a 24 year old woman just randomly IMed me out of the blue and wants my credit card number so we can have a naked camera chat! Everything’s comin’ up Milhouse!

I’d imagine that if I were to draw a Venn diagram that contained people who actually went to the website and put in their credit card information, and people who actually respond to emails advertising inexpensive drugs for erectile dysfunction,† they would have significant overlap.

(I’m also 99% certain that particularly now that I’ve mentioned erectile dysfunction—which I’m sure is the first time that’s ever been mentioned on this blog—this post will attract many, many spam comments. Talking about spam is a vicious circle.*)

The thing about spam is that from an implementation end, it’s really cheap to do. Junk snail mail costs money, both to print and to mail, and telemarketing is an investment of infrastructure and labor—but sending a billion emails costs next to nothing, and running a spambot to chat up random instant-message users can’t be all that expensive either. So even if you only get one of those billion people to say “Oh my goodness! I’ve been overpaying for my ED pills!” and click the link to let you empty their bank account, your margin’s still damn near 100%.

I don’t know that there’s a solution to that problem that doesn’t involve making life on the internet a whole lot more inconvenient for the rest of us, but that seems to be the root of it.

Anyway. That’s all I had for today.

† I will not mention brand names here, for fear of having this site be branded as spam by the Google Internet Machine. I have enough trouble getting into the top 10 pages in Google results as it is, given that I share a name with this guy, this guy, and this guy.

* Casey: It’s a vicious circle.
Dan: Yep. Just keeps going around and around.
Casey: Never stops.
Dan: That’s what makes it vicious.
Casey: And a circle.

Some Thoughts on the Rapture

According to this link, the rapture will roll around the world like New Year’s, occurring at 6:00pm local time in every time zone on May 21.

6:00 at UTC+12—the International Date Line—is 10pm tonight Eastern Daylight Time.

This raises several thoughts:

First, if the rapture starts at the International Date Line at 11pm Eastern, the news of mass disappearances would make its way to us by the time we woke up on Saturday… giving us Americans (who would be among the last to be raptured) plenty of time to repent and get raptured up.

This is, of course, just more proof that God loves America most, placing the International Date Line where He placed it. It’ll give more Americans a chance to repent and be raptured, so we’d have a majority bloc in Heaven.

Even more significant is that among the last places to go, meaning the most repentant souls, is Alaska, at UTC-9—one of the last heavily-populated places (aside from the Hawaiian Islands, UTC-10) to be raptured up.

Meaning that the entire population of Wasilla will be in Heaven.

Second, the rolling 6pm rapture brings up many interesting questions relating to time zones.

(A) Will the rapture go according to standard or daylight savings time? If it’s DST, then we get it at 6pm in our own time zones. But if God doesn’t respect Daylight Savings Time, then it’ll be at 5pm, and all the folks who thought they had until 6pm to repent will be SOL. There are arguments, I think, for and against God respecting Daylight Savings Time. On the one hand, it was invented by Benjamin Franklin, who was a deist—not a Christian. But on the other hand, it was a Republican Congress who approved the extension of DST in the 2005 energy bill, and we all know that God is a Republican.

(B) The DST question raises another interesting quandary: If God does observe DST, then, do Arizonans (whose state doesn’t observe DST) get raptured along with their neighbors in Colorado and New Mexico on Mountain Daylight Time, or do they have to stick around for another hour to keep the 6pm local time thing and get raptured with the Californians?

(C) Yet another odd question: Newfoundland is UTC-3:30—so do they get raptured at 5:30 with the Atlantic Time people, or at their own 6:00—which would be 5:30 for their neighbors just to the south?

(D) If I stood on the Illinois side of the Illinois/Indiana border (a land border between Eastern and Central time), could I watch folks in Indiana getting raptured and still have an hour to upload the rapture video to YouTube before I do a quickie repentance and take the plunge myself?

(E) What if I were to straddle the Illinois/Indiana border at 6:00 Indiana time? Would half of my body be raptured, and the other half remain on earth?

(F) If a fundamentalist Christian minister is driving east from Illinois to Indiana and crosses the border sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 Indiana time—meaning he missed the rapture in Indiana, but got out of Illinois before the rapture started there—is he SOL, or does God take him up as he crosses into Indiana?

Just some things to think about…

First Garden Porn of 2011!

Things are growing. Things are being planted. I’m starting more from seed this year than I have in previous years. We’ll see how that goes. As always, click any picture to embiggen.

What will soon be strawberries! I love perennials.

The strawberry patch, along with a couple of tomato seedlings that got transplanted today.

The peas and radishes… soon I’m going to have to put up a taller trellis for the peas.

The radishes are even starting to climb out of the ground… are they supposed to do that? But it looks really pretty…

The Virgin Mary and a little wire sculpture of a garden gnome made for me by one of my priests (tough to see in this photo) are keeping a close eye on the arugula, which will need to be thinned out soon.

Taxes, Part II: A Righteous Rant

I know I promised an entry about taxation without representation—and I promise I’m getting to it—but this made my blood boil and I had to write about it.

This paragraph in particular enraged me:

John Paulson, the most successful hedge-fund manager of all, bet against the mortgage market one year and then bet with Glenn Beck in the gold market the next. Paulson made himself $9 billion in fees in just two years. His current tax bill on that $9 billion? Zero.

Congress lets hedge-fund managers earn all they can now and pay their taxes years from now.

This guy gets his day-to-day money by borrowing against his assets at a ridiculously low rate. Which means that according to the IRS, he made no money last year… despite being $9 billion richer now than he was in 2008.

And the worse part for those of us who pay our fair share is that even if he was paying taxes on all $9 billion of his income, it would have been at a rate of 15%, because people like him make their money through “capital gains” rather than through wages like the rest of us peons.

Think about that for a second. Think about the fact that the government almost shut down over what ended up being about $11 billion in actual cuts. If John Paulson had paid the capital gains rate, he alone would have put $1.35 billion in the treasury—a good 10% of that, by himself. If he were paying the actual marginal tax rate that wage-earners over $373,000 pay—that’s 35%—that would have been $3.15 billion more in tax revenues from him alone.

Now how many John Paulsons do you think there are in this country? How many more hedge fund managers who are paying the 15% rate—which is well lower than the average person pays, particularly when you take the 12% payroll tax into account—do you think there are in this country?

And how the hell can Republicans grouse about how the rich are overtaxed when a guy who made $9 billion over the last two years hasn’t paid one penny of tax? How hollow, how empty, how laughable does this make the Republicans’ fear-mongering about the deficit?

Now, I don’t entirely blame John Paulson for paying $0 in taxes. I won’t deny that I take advantage of every possible legal opportunity to lower my tax burden too. If I can legally deduct it, I deduct it. That’s how the game works. He’s doing what the law allows him to do.

But I do blame him, and his fellow wealthy-class ilk, for creating a system whereby they get to weasel out of paying their fair share by buying members of Congress to do their bidding.

Remember, your and my tax cuts were held hostage so that people like John Paulson—who weren’t going to pay their damn taxes anyway—would be able to keep their theoretical tax cuts. We real Americans have been told throughout this recession that we’d have to “tighten our belts” and “make do with less” in jobs, in benefits, in federal programs to help the poor and elderly, in states being able to pay teachers and fund schools… and by God we can’t raise taxes in a recession!

So instead of letting taxes on the wealthy go back to where they were under Bill Clinton—and the ’90s certainly weren’t a bad time to be wealthy, as anyone who was wealthy then will undoubtedly tell you—the cost of the tax cuts that helped cash-strapped working parents buy school supplies for their kids or that helped a few more working families go on a little vacation this year and stand on the left side of the DC Metro escalators was that rich people like John Paulson would get their tax break too.

They’re job creators! They shouldn’t have to share in the sacrifice! So here we’re left like saps holding the bag on the snipe hunt while the “job creators” hoard our nation’s wealth and find more excuses to lay off working Americans.

And why did this work? Because each and every member of one party, and far too large a proportion of the other, was put in office by the wealthy and powerful like John Paulson to do the bidding of the wealthy and powerful like John Paulson. “Of the people, for the people, by the people” my ass… when someone like John Paulson can buy a Congressional race using the change he digs out from between his couch cushions, the voice of “the people” is never heard in the halls of Congress.

Is there any better exemplar of the moral bankruptcy of our nation than John Paulson? A hedge-fund manager who has produced nothing, who has created nothing of value. He’s moved some people’s money around and made $9 billion for his effort. How has he made the country a better place? How has he improved our nation’s institutions, its industry, its culture, its people? The answer is that he hasn’t… and he hasn’t even contributed to our national treasury with his taxes!

And yet here we are cutting education funding, laying off teachers and firefighters, telling the poor that they can go elsewhere for heating assistance and telling the parents of hungry and sick children that funding for WIC and S-CHIP isn’t going to be there for them. Here we are eliminating collective bargaining rights for police officers and teachers, telling them that they’re going to be paid less and have less job security, because the state’s out of money. Here we are cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs from the government over the next couple of years because the federal government is supposedly broke.

And yet we have the gall to call ourselves a “Christian nation.” What’s Christian about this? What’s moral about this? What’s in any way acceptable about this? Nothing.

Working Americans are being screwed left and right, by their government and by their employers (if they’re lucky enough to have them), because “we don’t have the money.” We don’t have the money for schools or health care or benefits or a pension or to keep Medicare solvent.

Bullcrap. We do have the money. We have the money to give health care to every man, woman, and child in this country, to send every child in this country to a good public school with a teacher who’s paid enough not to have to work a second job just to make ends meet, to have a mass-transit system that’s the envy of the world, to go from a fossil-fuel based economy to a green economy.

We do have the money. It’s sitting in John Paulson’s brokerage account, and the brokerage accounts of a thousand other John Paulsons. When will we the people realize this, and demand that our leaders ask the John Paulsons in America to pay their fair share?

Taxes, Part I: The Choices Before Us

Tomorrow, I’m going to file and pay my 2010 income tax. (Yes, I know, right under the wire… but that’s why the wire exists, no?) I’m obviously not going to give the particulars out to random people on the internet, but it should suffice to say that I’m paying more than $0.

…which means that even though I took home a livable but not extravagant income last year, I will pay more in taxes than Bank of America and General Electric combined.

And if the wealthy people who run those companies take advantage of the same loopholes multibillionaire Warren Buffet uses to pay less proportionally in taxes than his secretary, odds are pretty good that I’ll be paying a higher percentage of my income in taxes than BofA and GE’s CEO and Board of Directors too.

And the Republican budget, which just passed the House, would have me pay even more of my income in taxes—to say nothing of the costs the Republican Party wants me to pay when my parents, who are in their fifties and thus would see their Medicare demolished by the GOP’s budget plan, retire and inevitably need medical attention, if they don’t have the money to pay out of pocket for it. All so that GE, Bank of America, and their CEOs and Boards of Directors can pay even less in income taxes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to pay my taxes. Taxes are the price I pay for living in a country with good public schools, medical insurance for the poor and elderly, and food stamps and unemployment insurance for folks who need it. (They’re also the price I pay for two pointless wars, an excessive and wasteful military-industrial complex, and subsidies to oil and gas companies for polluting our air, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

But it does seem a bit unfair to me that because I can’t shelter my income in the Cayman Islands, get my employer to pay me in the kind of income that falls under capital gains taxes, or pay an accountant year-round to find me loophole after loophole, I’m paying a more substantial percentage of my income in taxes than GE, Bank of America, and their CEOs and Boards of Directors.

And it also seems a bit unfair to me that while far too many middle-class folks like me worry about job security and our health insurance costs, while they look down the barrel of longer hours and benefit cuts just to keep their jobs, and while the labor movement is decimated in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida because “we can’t afford it,” and while we in the middle class are being asked by the wealthy (through the politicians and media companies they own) to “share in the sacrifice” of the economic downturn — GE, Bank of America, and their CEOs and Boards of Directors have yet to sacrifice anything.

In fact, they managed to stack the legislative deck such that the cost of a few tax breaks for folks like me—which would mean that many of my friends could buy school supplies for their kids or take a family trip this year—was the simultaneous extension of their tax cuts, the very cuts that brought on this budget mess to begin with. (Can you believe it was only just over ten short years ago when Bill Clinton left office with record surpluses?)

It seems to me that the rhetoric we’re seeing from the wealthy and from the politicians and media companies they own—statements like “we’re broke” or “we just don’t have the money” or “it’s time to tighten our belts”—aren’t telling the whole story, which is that every budget is a choice.

The revenue for next year’s budget isn’t set in stone; we have a choice between giving rich people more of the nation’s money or cutting vital services that poor people, children, disabled people, and the elderly need to survive, much less thrive.

Defense expenditures for next year’s budget aren’t set in stone; we have a choice between investing our money in more guns and bombs, or investing in things that help the people of the global south develop and build their own sustainable economies.

So what do we do to change the conversation, so that these choices are made clear?

How can we confront our media and our political leaders with the reality that every penny of the nation’s wealth that is given to the rich in the form of more tax cuts is another loaf of bread, another rent check or heating bill or electric bill, another needed immunization, stolen away from those who are in need?

I’m open to ideas.

(Tomorrow, Part II: The continued injustice of taxation without representation.)