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Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:28 PM PST

Legislating Baptism

by Michael Bindner

Last month, I wrote a column where I was reposting a letter I sent to the President.  If that is Hit and Run, I am sorry.  Usually no one responds to my entries, so I don't generally go back to them.  Also, of late, my reply button has been missing.

As to the question of legislating baptism, I was was not suggesting that.  What I was suggesting was that the Catholic Church (not the state) should allow its hospitals to perform second trimester inductions rather than pushing them off to other hospitals.  I was making a suggestion to the Church, not the government.

I was not suggesting we legislate baptism but that the Church get a clue and quit being moral wimps about the fact of second and third trimester abortion for medical necessity.  In the same way, they should provide supportive care to downs syndrome parents at no cost if they continue to preach against aborting such children.

There is more to life than government action.  Sometimes sticking it to the bishops is necessary.

As for personal accounts, yes that is the same as what Bush offered, with a profound difference - I advocate equal sized accounts for every workers rather than basing them on income AND I would require that they be invested in essentially the socializing of the workplace, rather than enriching Wall Street with the proceeds.

Some of you guys need to think before commenting.

Discuss

President Obama,

Congratulations on getting a second term to live among us in DC.  As a fellow person of faith, might I take the liberty of suggesting a few progressive agenda items for your second term:

Sell Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Federal Reserve, who can then write down mortgages to the value of the properties held so that the borrowers can sell their homes and the economy can get moving again.

Use your pardon power to Free Leonard Peltier - not at the end of your term but now.  Also, let out the non-violent drug offenders or at least release them into mandatory treatment.  Work to remove the criminalization of marijuana.

Consider personal accounts in Social Security, not to hold index funds but instead to hold employer voting stock so that eventually workers might become sole owners.  You don't need Wall Street donations anymore, so now you can do what is right.

Shut down polluters, don't wait for carbon taxes to simply penalize them.

Free DC!  Take a stand for statehood.

Rewrite the Partial Birth Abortion Act to protect all children after assisted gastrulation and ban all abortion techniques after the first trimester except induction (and baptism prior to death).

Increase the Child Tax Credit and make it refundable with pay.  $500 per month per child (with state level matches) should about do it and make abortion rare.  Very rare.  Also, have that cut come from employer paid consumption taxes so that individual employees no longer have to file unless there is a mistake (like overreporting or double payment).

Add serious investigative resource to end human trafficking in both Food, Inc. and in the sex industry.  Put federal boots on the ground.  End peonage in farm, factory and brothel.

Be more liberal on defending the rights of gays to marry by begining civil actions against states whose constitutions prohibit marriage equality.  Its your responsibility under the 14th Amendment.

Respectfully yours,

Michael Bindner

Discuss

Your Eminences and Excellencies:

I write today about yesterday's election where, given some of the statements coming from your body due to their reading of Faithful Citizenship, you did not do well in getting your point across.  This is not surprising to many of us who simply disregarded much of what was written in many letters to the faithful printed in diocesan newspapers and church bulletins and the excerpts read from pulpits and included in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass this past Sunday (I received both these messages in Alexandria, but I am sure they were nationwide from Washington, DC, where you are located, to Washington State).

This is not simply a matter, as the polls say, of a difference between those who attend Mass weekly and those who do not, for many weekly attenders also dissent from what has been said, largely in our names.  I ask you to consider that the problem is that you may have a fundamental misunderstanding of both the issues which you say are "non-negotiable" and of your current power to move the faithful to action at the polls.  Let us take each point individually.

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In Michael Harrington's last labor of love to the Democratic Socialist movement he helped found (he was the founder of the District of Columbia's chapter of Democratic Socialists of America), he defines the possiblities and challenges Socialism must meet for society to be free rather than dominated by authoritarian capitalists.  From the perspective of twenty-five years later and the rise of the Tea Party funded largely by authoritarian capitalists, especially the Koch brothers, I have to say he nails it.  The collapse he feared would happen in the 1990s did not occur, in either gradual or acute form, until the current Great Recession of 2007 to current days.  The rise of Bill Clinton and his rationalization of tax policy postponed, but did not cancel the inevitable collapse.  Indeed, it could be argued that Clinton's cooperation with ending Glass-Steigal and his acceptance of capital gains tax cuts set the stage for the tech boom, the over-estimation of revenue and concurrent tax cuts, monetarist accomodation and collapse we have experienced over the last decade, although I blame most of this on Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush.  Of course, all three have proved to be useful idiots for capitalism.  They also bear a burden of guilt for ending welfare to an extent that not even Michael Harrington could have foreseen and I am glad he did not live to see it.

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Last weekend, our bulletins included a letter on faithfully voting.  Today, only the highlights were mentioned in a letter which was read from the pulpit.  I am not sure if the Bishop or the Pastor chose the language to use, but I expect the former rather than the latter.

You can guess which issues were highlighted if you have been paying attention.  Oddly enough, these are the three issues which have or will play out without any regard to electoral politics.

The pro-life movement seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade.  This will never happen, however, because even the last two Republican appointees added to the Court, Roberts and Alito, chose to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Act using the Commerce Clause to justify the bill rather than using the case as a way to overturn Roe.  Indeed, with a majority of Catholics on the Court (there are six) the bishops could not actually order these Justices to support the Church's position.  They would have to recuse themselves from the case at the request or if Communion were used to force them to.  What you can't do to the Justices, you certainly can't to the appointing or confirming officials or the voters.  

No personhood amendment will be added to the Constitution any time soon (count the states for yourself) and while a federal personhood bill is possible, it is not likely - at least not one that deals with the equal protection concerns having to do with miscarriage.  Any bill submitted is to make the base feel heard, but there is no serious legislation - and if there is no bill, I need not take into account this issue in determining whom I vote for.  In other words, the entire movement is a con game which my local bishop has sadly decided to support. I need not follow him into sin, however and will not.

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This Series was originally posted January 26, 2005 after the inauguration of George W. Bush.  It seems as applicable now, so I am reposting here and republishing it in my DC Catholic Progressive Examiner column, as well as on Facebook, DailyKos and in Open Salon.

As time marches on and the inauguration of George W. Bush becomes but a memory, it is important to delve into the question: Are the Republicans really corrupt, in thrall to the major corporations who are themselves consummate evil doers, or is there perhaps another explanation? Another way to ask this is, do the Republicans believe their own propaganda, or do they know that they are lying for the benefit of profit?

These questions are important for both parties. They are important for Democrats and Greens because they affect their messages and actions. For instance, if the Republicans truly are crooked than persuasion will have no effect. Rather, investigation is the best tactic. Winning than becomes all-important, because if you are out of power your investigative power is limited. If the top ranks of the party are truly evil than the strategy is to expose this evil to the rank and file Republican so that they will cast off their leadership or flee to the righteous side. This is essentially a neo-populist position. If the Republicans aren’t crooked, then rational argument is possible, as is compromise. It also becomes easier to attract voters from the other side, as then you only need convince them that their leaders are wrong, rather than that they have been duped in a conspiracy. This issue is also important for Democrats because of the adoption of the Democratic Leadership Council types of much of the free trade rhetoric from the other side. Most importantly, a conclusion that the Republicans aren’t crooked can lead to a more genteel polity, as the current tone of debate is frankly caustic.

This question is very important for Republicans. If the higher ups in the party are crooks than to be a Republican voter is to be the hoodwinked member of a criminal conspiracy. Most importantly, this discussion holds up a mirror for the Republicans to see. Whether the question is true or not, it provides a valuable view on how the party and its leadership are perceived by the other side.

Poll

Are Republicans as corrupt as we think they are?

81%26 votes
3%1 votes
6%2 votes
6%2 votes
3%1 votes

| 32 votes | Vote | Results

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Today, we have readings from Numbers, the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew.  They are extremely interesting, given the events of the day.

In Numbers, we hear the story of the 72 elders who were taken to the mountain of God, where the Spirit rested upon them and they prophesied.  Two elders who had remained behind prophesied while in the camp.  Bystanders wanted them to be rebuked, but Moses answered that he would rather that the entire people prophesy.

This story is a counter-point to the Gospel story with disciples rebuking someone not of their number who was casting out demons in Jesus' name.  Jesus counters that if someone is doing works in His name, he cannot be against Him.  

Both of these accounts point out the anti-authoritarian streak in Christianity, where in the early Church, the Spirit of Prophesy was not just about predicting future events, but was about the purification of the community, in particular when the elders have gone off course.  There is supposed to be room for the people to speak up when the leaders do wrong.

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Comments for the Record
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Joint Hearing on Tax Reform and the Tax Treatment of Capital Gains
Thursday, September 20, 2012, 10:00 AM

By Michael G. Bindner
Center for Fiscal Equity

Chairmen Camp and Baucus and Ranking Members Levin and Hatch, thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments for the record to this joint hearing.  As an addendum to the comments to this topic, please see a brief treatment of two prior hearings for which the record has already closed having to do with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  As always, our comments are in the context of our proposed comprehensive tax reform.  As you know, the Center for Fiscal Equity proposal includes four major provisions:

•  A Value Added Tax (VAT) to fund domestic military spending and domestic discretionary spending with a rate between 10% and 13%, which makes sure that every American family pays something.

•  Personal income surtaxes on joint and widowed filers with net annual incomes of $100,000 and single filers earning $50,000 per year to fund net interest payments, debt retirement and overseas and strategic military spending and other international spending, with graduated rates between 5% and 25% in either 5% or 10% increments.  Heirs would also pay taxes on distributions from estates, but not the assets themselves, with distributions from sales to a qualified ESOP continuing to be exempt.

•  Employee contributions to Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) with a lower income cap, which allows for lower payment levels to wealthier retirees without making bend points more progressive.

•  A VAT-like Net Business Receipts Tax (NBRT), which is essentially a subtraction VAT with additional tax expenditures for family support,  health care and the private delivery of governmental services, to fund entitlement spending and replace income tax filing for most people (including people who file without paying), the corporate income tax, business tax filing through individual income taxes and the employer contribution to OASI, all payroll taxes for hospital insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance and survivors under age 60.

As we pointed out to the Senate Finance Committee one year ago and as Bruce Bartlett points out in his recent book, The Benefit and the Burden, in other OECD countries, all of whom have consumption taxes, capital gains taxes can be lower, since a portion of the taxation of capital already occurs as part of the VAT.  The logic to enact lower capital gains and dividend taxes outside of a consumption tax environment is not as strong.

The Center for Fiscal Equity believes that lower dividend, capital gains and marginal income taxes for the wealthy actually destroys more jobs than they create.  This occurs for a very simple reason – management and owners who receive lower tax rates have more an incentive to extract productivity gains from the work force through benefit cuts, lower wages, sending jobs offshore or automating work.  As taxes on management and owners go down, the marginal incentives for cost cutting go up.  As taxes go up, the marginal benefit for such savings go down.  It is no accident that the middle class began losing ground when taxes were cut during the Reagan and recent Bush Administrations, both of which saw huge tax cuts.  Keeping these taxes low is also part of why we are experiencing a jobless recovery now.

As long as management and ownership benefit personally from cutting jobs, they will continue to do so.  Tax reform must reverse these perverse incentives.

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Comments for the Record
House Ways and Means Committee
Subcommittee on Social Security
Hearing on Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

Friday, September 14, 2012, 9:30 AM

by Michael Bindner
The Center for Fiscal Equity

Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Becerra, thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments on this topic.   We have twice commented on this topic with essentially identical remarks reflecting our view of this issue, which is made in the context of our overall proposal for tax and entitlement reform.  These comments were made to the first session on December 2, 2011 and the second on December 9, 2011.  In these comments, we will answer the questions which have arisen earlier in the series and summarize our proposals.

First, is the concept of disability that prevailed at the start of the program in 1956 still appropriate today given advances in medicine, rehabilitation, and the workplace?  

We believe the answer must be no.  Since the passage of welfare reform, the concept of disability has increased to include people with learning disabilities brought about by prenatal exposure to illicit drugs, while retaining coverage of people with mood disorders that can be treated quite effectively with medication.  Current incentives are more a bar to rehabilitation, as no one wants to give up a life-time benefit for a life-time of work if they have any degree of rationality left.  While there are still many mentally disabled people who need continuing assistance, ways should be pioneered to give them incentives to both participate in rehabilitative programs and employment opportunities.

Second, are there ways to better support individuals with disabilities to stay in the workplace?  

Given the time required to receive assistance, this is almost a rude question.  It is not easy to get on the disability rolls.  Additionally, many who are seeking disability already cannot work, especially in this economy, so the question of staying in the workplace is largely overcome by events.

Third, can the decision-making process be strengthened so that, when appropriate, awards are made as early as possible and decisions on applications and appeals are made with greater accuracy and consistency?

Yes.  Indeed, the initial award can be made in cooperation with the last employer, who would provide at least a portion of disability income as well as rehabilitative training in lieu of a higher disability insurance tax payment.   Such a system would bring about faster determinations of disability, without the need to provide a case management and appeal infrastructure which provides make-work for both bureaucrats and disability lawyers, both of which add no real value to the program while costing taxpayers more and more as backlogs continue to grow and cases are summarily denied on the first reading.

In summary, our solution is to shift funding for disability insurance and rehabilitation entirely to an employer-paid, VAT-like Net Business Receipts Tax, with the payment of disability benefits and rehabilitative care to be covered by either the last employer or a future employer who wishes to take on the new employee’s “case” and provide both continued benefits and services until that worker can be productive without continued assistance.

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Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 05:27 PM PDT

Forty days for life

by Michael Bindner

According to my Church Bulletin from St. Mary's of three Sunday's passed (I have been hospitalized ), today marks the beginning of forty days for life in the local Arlington and District Catholic diocese.  Parishioners are encouraged to pray and fast to end abortion.  Presumably, because the election is in 40 days, there is a tie in to the General Election on November 6th.

There are two ways to look at this call.  The first is that by personal penance, sacrifice and example, God will move the hearts of pro-choice voters to elect pro-life (Republican) candidates.  The second is to get people to eliminate selfishness and be predisposed to see what God will want them to do regarding electoral issues and life.

These are two very different spiritualities.  In the prior view, God is a bit of an ogre who demands that we obey, the test of which being eternal life.  The the latter view, God is our loving guide who will speak to us if we are open to his presence - the way to do so being self-denial.  

Those who believe that God is an ogre who must be placated are unconvinceable on abortion.  They are sure that they way is right and, quite sadly, no amount of argument will get them to change their view.

Those who truly use this fasting period as a time of discernment, however, may have a change of heart - but it won't be the change the bishops are desiring.  If their fast has them look honestly at the issue of abortion, they will see that there is little that can be done to reverse Roe v. Wade judicially - as a ruling to simply send the matter back to the states undoes most civil rights protections as well as the right to be left alone in some areas by the government - which in essence gives the loudest religious voices an undue influence in our polity.  While religious leaders cherish such influence, it is not really what America is about.  Voting for Romney for who he would appoint to the Court is also a mixed bag.  Bush, Sr. appointed Justice Souter and Bush Jr. appointed Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both of whom agreed with Justice Kennedy that the Commerce Clause was adequate to regulate Partial Birth Abortion, passing up an opportunity to overturn Roe (which was the real reason the law was enacted in the first place).

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Comments for the Record
Senate Finance Committee
Healing in Indian Country: Ensuring Access to Quality Health Care

Wednesday, August 8, 2012, 11:00 AM MDT

By Michael G. Bindner
Center for Fiscal Equity

Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch, thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments for the record to the Senate Finance Committee.  As always, our comments are in the context of our four part tax reform plan:

• A Value Added Tax (VAT) to fund domestic military spending and domestic discretionary spending with a rate between 10% and 13%, which makes sure very American pays something.

• Personal income surtaxes on joint and widowed filers with net annual incomes of $100,000 and single filers earning $50,000 per year to fund net interest payments, debt retirement and overseas and strategic military spending and other international spending, with graduated rates between 5% and 25% in either 5% or 10% increments.  Heirs would also pay taxes on distributions from estates, but not the assets themselves, with distributions from sales to a qualified ESOP continuing to be exempt.

• Employee contributions to Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) with a lower income cap, which allows for lower payment levels to wealthier retirees without making bend points more progressive.

•  A VAT-like Net Business Receipts Tax (NBRT), which is essentially a subtraction VAT with additional tax expenditures for family support,  health care and the private delivery of governmental services, to fund entitlement spending and replace income tax filing for most people (including people who file without paying), the corporate income tax, business tax filing through individual income taxes and the employer contribution to OASI, all payroll taxes for hospital insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance and survivors under age 60.

The effects on various tribes and territories will vary.  We will address each in turn.  OASI provisions are, of course, not relevant to this analysis.  Our analysis draws heavily from our comments of May 15th of this year, which addressed tax reform rather than health.  As you recall, we stated:

Native American tribes will be affected in the same manner as states.  To the extent that they have a tribal tax system, they will likely bring it into conformity with the federal system.  Tribes which exist mainly on casino revenue, where members pay no direct taxes, can still benefit from harmonizing with the federal tax reforms we outline here.  This is especially the case if an NBRT is adopted with offsets for employers who perform or fund social welfare functions in lieu of payment of taxes.

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Comments for the Record
Senate Finance Committee
Tax Reform: Examining the Taxation of Business Entities

Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 10:30 AM

By Michael G. Bindner
Center for Fiscal Equity

Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch, thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments for the record to the Senate Finance Committee.  As always, our comments are in the context of our four part tax reform plan:

• A Value Added Tax (VAT) to fund domestic military spending and domestic discretionary spending with a rate between 10% and 13%, which makes sure every American pays something.

• Personal income surtaxes on joint and widowed filers with net annual incomes of $100,000 and single filers earning $50,000 per year to fund net interest payments, debt retirement and overseas and strategic military spending and other international spending, with graduated rates between 5% and 25% in either 5% or 10% increments.  Heirs would also pay taxes on distributions from estates, but not the assets themselves, with distributions from sales to a qualified ESOP continuing to be exempt.

• Employee contributions to Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) with a lower income cap, which allows for lower payment levels to wealthier retirees without making bend points more progressive.

• A VAT-like Net Business Receipts Tax (NBRT), which is essentially a subtraction VAT with additional tax expenditures for family support,  health care and the private delivery of governmental services, to fund entitlement spending and replace income tax filing for most people (including people who file without paying), the corporate income tax, business tax filing through individual income taxes and the employer contribution to OASI, all payroll taxes for hospital insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance and survivors under age 60.

We refer Senators, staff and the public to our prior testimony before the committee for a more detailed presentation of these proposals, which are also available on our blog at http://fiscalequity.blogspot.com.  We are also available for detailed briefings of our proposal.

Our proposals would regularize the taxation of business entities.  Currently, how taxation occurs depends upon the form of ownership of the business.  This will no longer be the case.  Both the value added tax and the VAT-like net business receipts tax will be assessed on all value added, with the chief differences the two being that the VAT will be entirely border adjustable and have only one offset (excess NBRT offsets) while the NBRT will have offsets for various social purposes – from guaranteeing family income to providing health care and education for employees, future employees and retirees with no border adjustability unless a tax in excess of tax expenditures is actually collected (however tax benefits must first be fully  utilized for this to be allowed.  

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