Monthly Archives: October 2013

Taxes, Bankruptsy, and the Future of the American Economy

Three things are happening to the American economy that are ultimately unsustainable:

1. Rising national debt.
2. Simultaneous increase in military  presence and social programs.
3. The federal reserve continues to pump $85 billion dollars into the economy monthly.

The only solution seems to be a massive overhaul of our current economic methodology, but first we need to understand where are our tax dollars are going and what solutions are available.

Tax Expenditure in America

Major areas of spending breaks down as follows [source]:

Military: $929B
Mandatory Spending:
Medicare & Medicaid: $802B
Social Security: $768B

These three programs account for about 75% of the total national budget. This means that, without major budget overhaul, mandatory spending alone will quickly exceed all federal revenues.

“Since the federal government has historically collected about 18.4% of GDP in tax revenues, this means these three mandatory programs may absorb all federal revenues sometime around 2050. Unless these long-term fiscal imbalances are addressed by reforms to these programs, raising taxes or drastic cuts in discretionary programs, the federal government will at some point be unable to pay its obligations without significant risk to the value of the dollar (inflation).” [source]

If the United States continues its current model without significant reductions in military or entitlement programs we can safely assume that taxes will continue to increase until we are more closely aligned to western European countries.

Comparables: Tax in the U.S and Europe

Currently the United States collects 26.2% of total GDP in taxes (State + Federal). That puts us at number 62 between South Africa and Kazakhstan. [source] We can compare this to the top 10, which include countries like Denmark and France, who each collect well over 40% of GDP in tax Revenue. But that number doesn’t mean much because every country has a different GDP and population. So we have to look at something else.

Perhaps a better number to look at is total tax revenue per capita where the United States ranks 14th.  [source] The U.S. collects about $13,084.80 per person in Tax Revenue, which puts us more closely in line with countries like Denmark ($18,100) and France ($15,120). Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it would take over 1.5 trillion dollars in tax revenue to catch up to Denmark or 600 billion to catch up to France. That would be about ¼ of our current budget.

Solutions: What should we do?

It seems pretty clear that doing nothing is not an option. We can’t cut taxes, expand military, and social programs. That doesn’t work. So what gives?

To avoid bankruptcy the most likely scenario is a combination of modest reductions in spending and increased taxes. Considering the size of our economy and military these changes could be relatively nominal.

For example, if the U.S. were to reduce military by 25% and increase taxes by 2.5% of GDP that would be a swing of $624.25B. Maybe we could even do some unorthodox thing like legalize marijuana and tax the hell out of it. Some studies estimate another $8.7B in federal tax revenue a year. That would put us at $632.25B.

A number like that wouldn’t burden the economy and would put us right up there with Western European countries like France. Perhaps that is something we can all live with.

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Explaining Gun Culture in America

Today I was at a lunch-time happy hour with a few co-workers when the topic of guns came up. One of my co-workers Michael mentioned in passing that he and his family are planning a hunting trip in South Georgia where one of his uncles own several hundred acres.

This statement passed by me without a second thought, but two of my co-workers were intensely curious about the trip. One man from India and the other from China. They were fascinated by the nonchalant way he treated the topic of owning a gun – several guns – in fact.

Wei, a thin man with a thick accent and kind tone, explained he had served two years in the Chinese military during the early 1980s.  This was the only time, he explained, he had ever handled a gun. In China only the military may carry a weapon. I got the impression he was not a fan of the Chinese military. Yasir, on the other hand, had never seen a gun outside the movies. I think he pictured Michael’s hunting trip on a horse and with a cowboy hat. Both found the gun culture in America (especially the South) unusual.

Explaining Gun Culture in America

“Guns aren’t a big deal to us because we grew up with them.” Michael explained.

That’s true for me too. I remember when I was a young boy and my Dad and I would go hiking. We would pack a few fishing poles and some lunch. He would bring along our dog and the shotgun in the event we would stumble upon a while boar or if we just wanted to do some target practice for fun.

My Father and Grandfather taught me all about guns: how to safely hold them, how to shoot one, and how to store it. I remember my Father carefully explaining to me that a “gun is not a toy” and to “never point it at anyone” to “aim it at the ground when you’re not using it.”

All of these lessons seemed perfectly natural when I was a child, but looking back now I realize that they were something truly unique to American culture and Southern heritage. Just like some parents probably teach their children to use the subway or cross a busy intersection – mine taught me how to handle a gun.

Guns are kind of like a locally revered cuisine that the rest of the world finds distasteful. Chicken feet or caviar, maybe. And perhaps for that reason alone many Americans, in certain regions, embrace guns even more. It is part of our history, our “rugged and independent” ideology, and upbringing. It’s not bread out of some desire to kill our enemies, some love of conflict, or paranoia – it’s just another tool we were taught to use growing up.

I guess that’s why a lot of people are hesitant to give their guns up and why others don’t understand that logic. Culture can be strange that way.

Biblical History: Jewish slaves in Egypt

This is an interesting 12 minute podcast from Skeptoid.com where author Brian Dunning provides historical evidence that the stories told in Biblical account of the book of Exodus, from his perspective, are factually inaccurate.

“Was there a mass Exodus of Jewish slaves out of Egypt? There is no record of any such thing ever happening, and the simple reason is that there is no time in which it could have happened. No Egyptian record contains a single reference to anything in Exodus…”

Challenging Fact

What I found most interesting about this podcast wasn’t the lack of proof of the Exodus, but the fact that it had never occurred to me that the account from the bible wasn’t true (the Jewish slaves in Egypt part). I was raised a Christian and heard these stories over and over again. Repetition lead me to assume that there was a large body of archaeological and historical evidence that corroborated the account. No such evidence exists.

Whether or not you believe the story from the Bible or history as recorded in the podcast is up to you, but the takeaway from this, at least for me, is to always challenge your assumptions and remember just because a story is repeated enough doesn’t make it fact.

You can read his entire article here for additional references and resources.

The Truth about Healthcare, Culture, and Taxation in the US

BlogTruth

I discuss the myth that higher taxes will result in a better healthcare system and compare the United States to Japan and Switzerland (both countries with Universal Healthcare Options) .

I also touch on the myth that higher healthcare costs and lower life expectancy in the United States versus other developed nations is a result of not having a Universal Healthcare Option. *You can see the charts and statistics better if you expand the video to full screen.

You can check out the all the stats used in this video here.  Also thanks to Phil Ebersole’s Blog for the inspiration on this topic.

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Nightlife in the Southern City of Charleston, SC

Ah yes, Charleston. A town full of Southern charm, old money, beaches, and colonial architecture. It’s the picturesque view of antebellum south and everything that comes with it. Beautiful well dressed women in sun dresses. Courteous gentlemen who open doors for their wives. The clichés go on like a Margaret Mitchell novel.

But the hell with all that – I want to talk about the bars. The hidden side of Charleston. The dirty side. Where liquor is poured like a waterfall until 2am, where college students begin their dependence on alcohol, where fights break out on a Monday, local bands live the dream, and friends gather to sing their heart out after a few too many shots of whiskey. This is nightlife in Charleston, SC.

Squeeze Bar

My adventure in downtown Charleston began innocently – I wanted dinner. On my way to fill up my belly with delicious Southern fried cuisine I heard someone call my name. Maybe not someone, but something. It was a little bar that couldn’t hold more than forty people if it tried. The shelves were well stocked with beverages and a lone patron sat by himself enjoying a conversation with the bartender.

I walked in had a few beers and my night began. The bartender and I talked about life, love, and Charleston history. That’s how I found Big John’s.

Big John’s Tavern

A short walk stumble up East Bay street from Squeeze Bar leads you directly to the best Dive in Charleston. As I approached I over-heard a customer complain that “Big John” wouldn’t hire him because he had a drinking problem. I heard the distinct hum of poorly executed karaoke. I noticed beers were in the tall cans and not the average sized one. My heart ached, I found my Charleston dive bar.

Inside there are bra’s hanging from the ceilings like trophies from hard fought battles on glorious nights. There are war veterans swapping stories about “enemy combatants”. The bathroom is a trough and college kids drink $2 bud lights all night long. Big John’s isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those looking for the best night of their life with below average looking people – Big John’s might be the best place on earth.

Mad River Bar

Utterly defeated after John’s I decided to crawl back to my hotel off church street. That’s when I heard the glorious singing of an angel and combination of piano strokes that could only be created by a genius. It came from a former church turned bar. I entered obediently as God commanded.

Life felt right. I was drinking in an old church turned bar, a guy was destroying the keyboard in the former pulpit, creepy guys were hitting on college girls, and that’s when the fight broke out. A sweaty, disgusting, brawl between two slightly overweight couples. I sat back, enjoyed my beer and the entertainment. My night was complete.

Until you experience multiculturalism please don’t talk about race

I am so tired of reading articles like this one on the Huffington post that claims to have made some exciting revelation about the causes of racial tensions or why black people tend to be democrats.

I’ll bet that the author of this article and the researchers involved have never even had a black neighbor. They probably live in an indistinguishable all white upper-middle-class neighborhood with neatly trimmed lawns and where everyone drives a Subaru. But until you actually live in a multi-cultural neighborhood please stop trying to draw conclusions about race.

My Neighbors: Blacks and Mexicans

For clarification I would like to point out that I live in Atlanta, GA – widely considered the hub of black success and culture in the United States – in a part of the city that is equal parts African America, Latin American, and White. So I deal with people of different race daily (and live next to them, happily).

I get why people have trouble with other cultures and why race relations can be difficult. Cultural habits from one community to the next can be difficult to deal with if you aren’t open minded. So until a person leaves their androgynous community and experiences a true multicultural setting I don’t think they have much to add to the conversation.

For example, until you live next to a Mexican family and realize how loud their family gatherings are you may not understand why a quiet white family would have a problem with that. Or maybe you don’t realize that having a PERFECTLY manicured yard isn’t important in the black guy next door – so you have no idea why these “whities” find it irritating that those three weeds are so obviously ruining the neighbors flower bed – AND RUINING PROPERTY VALUES! (exaggeration implied)

Segregated people have no perspective

My overall point is that the people writing these “studies” have no f*cking idea what they are talking about. They attempt to draw conclusions from data and historical facts (that are sometimes accurate, sometimes not), but add no real value to the situation. It is the classic gap between academic theory and real world practice.

Tension exist between race because you are throwing groups of people together that don’t see the world the same. Not because their skin color has a different pigment, but because they come from a different cultural, economic, and social background. They have different ways of thinking, different traditions, different values, and unique ways of doing things. When you add all of those differences together it’s pretty obvious why there can be friction.

The South isn’t racist – we actually have Multiculturalism

So before anyone writes another article about slavery in the South and how racism is so prevalent here please recognize one thing: The South is actually multicultural. And until you live next to people who are different from you – all with deeply seeded roots, history, and traditions – please don’t pretend to know what you are talking about.

Guatemala: A brief history of Christian conversion by force

In July of 2012 my wife and I visited Guatemala.  We traveled around the country and visited ancient ruins, religious sites, and learned much about the history and culture of the people living there.

One phenomena I found especially interesting was a unique form of Christianity practiced throughout the region – especially prevalent in the rural regions of the country. This form of Christianity incorporated Christian and Mayan traditions and symbols – a unique and beautiful presentation of religious history right there in front of us.

History: Christianity brought to Guatemala by the Spaniards

Much of the Spanish inquisition of Central America centered around greed, not religion. Spanish explorers used religion as an excuse to pillage and destroy villages for resources, land, and glory – rather than in the name of Christianity.

None-the-less religious leaders permitted this behavior in the name of God and Christianity was spread by forced conversion – a convenient  mechanism for the Spaniards to promote their imperialistic goals in and around Guatemala.

“Maya communities under immediate pressure to conform to imperial designs…Under the policy of congregacion…thousands of native families were coerced from their homes in the mountains into new settlements built around churches…For the Spaniards, congregacion promoted more effective civil administration, facilitated the conversion of Indians to Christianity, and created centralized pools of labor to meet imperial objectives.” [Source]

In all, hundreds of thousands of Mayans were killed, millions displaced from their homes, and incalculable history destroyed. “Mayan-Christianity” persist to this day.

Guatemala religion

Mayan Christianity

And though most Guatemalans in these rural villages consider themselves Christian -traditions left over from native Mayan culture remain potent. One example is the Mayan headdress and shirt (shown above) worn by only the elder women in Santioago Atitlan. The fashion is fading away, but remains one of the clearest examples of local culture entrenching itself into modern Christianity.

Spanish Priests also incorporated Mayan symbolism into the churches (shown below). My local tour guide pointed out the altarpiece inside the church:

“Maya traditionalists familiar with this structure merge the Christian symbols in this large carved wood sculpture with their traditional worldviews. The altarpiece is seen concurrently as “a sacred mountain from which divine beings emerge,” the three volcanoes surrounding Santiago Atitlan, and, in the broadest sense, a referent to ancient Maya temples and architecture” [Source]

Guatemala relgions 2

Modern Guatemala

Modern Guatemala is a mashup of native and imported traditions. In the small town of Antigua, Guatemala, for example, there are nearly 40 churches representing different Christian denominations. Each a beautiful, yet painful reminder of the costs of imperialism and religious zealotry.

Note: All photos belong to me.