A Room with a Viewpoint

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.” (Lewis Carroll)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

...And Days of Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year to you and yours!!

May the coming year hold much happiness and many blessings and few sorrows.

See you next year!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Embedded Tax v. Add-On Tax

Okay Delftsman, here goes. While I’m willing to concede that a consumption tax is at least no worse than an income tax, the Fair Tax Act, as it currently stands, leaves me cold.

So we’ll start with the embedded tax. My problem with it is that it is fundamentally dishonest. Forget that either 30% or 23% is mathematically correct. The fact is, the markup due to the tax is 30%. Embedding the tax can have only one purpose: to obfuscate and hide the true markup. It removes the focus on the tax when you spend it--at least on small-ticket items. You don't have to go to the register and have anything at all added on--gee it's just like there isn't a tax. Sure it will be shown on the receipt, but unless it's a big ticket item, you're probably not going to pay attention to it. The purpose of the embedded tax is to play sleight of hand with the tax you're paying, now you see it, now you don't.

Look at your objection to withholding:

That is why withholding was first instituted, Gma Jo. When the income tax was first levied against on the top 5% of the population, it was a lump sum payment; when it was decided to tax ALL earners, withholding was used to hide the amount that those earners were paying, as the masses would never have accepted the toll placed upon them, at least without requiring the government to account for it's expenditures in a much better fashion than they would ever be willing to do.
How is a sales tax, especially an embedded tax, any better? At least with the income tax there is an end of year accounting—at some point you know how much tax you payed. Do you have a sales tax in your state? If you do, do you add up the tax on each receipt on each purchase? I sure don’t. I don’t have a clue how much sales tax I pay.

So this is doubly-dishonest. First, it hides the total tax you pay because it is paid in increments, just like the withholding. Compulsive people like me will probably start tracking such a large tax on my purchases, but that’s because I’m a single grandmother with time on my hands. Second, it hides the true mark-up on the item.

Do you know the most unpopular tax? It is the property tax. Why? Because it is paid in a lump sum right after Christmas. The next most unpopular is the income tax. Why? Because in the end you know how much you paid. The least unpopular, at least right now is the sales tax. But that’s because the sales tax is relatively small. If people really start adding up what they spend in the consumption tax, or have to actually see how much in taxes they pay on a new car or a house, not to mention heart surgery, they won't like that either.

Yeah, I know, you get to choose how much tax you will pay by your purchases. That’s hogwash. If the only way you can keep your taxes down is to not buy the items you need, how is this better than the income tax? Sure, you can get a job and make a good income, but don’t you dare spend it!! The fact is, under an income tax you try to get a job earning as much as you can, and then you deal with the taxes. If you make enough and are smart enough, you will try to shelter a portion of your income from taxes. So under a consumption tax, you make your income, you shelter what you can in savings (just like you shelter some of your income in IRAs, etc.), then you buy what you need and want. To say in effect, “I’ll get that old gov’mint. I won’t buy a new car. I won’t buy a new pair of shoes. I’ll cut back on Christmas. Sure my kids will be disappointed, but I sure got that gov’mint.” It’s crazy. It’s the dog in the manger.

Deathknyte is right. There is no such thing as a fair tax. A fair tax is the one you pay, an unfair tax is the one I pay. A fair tax break is the I get, an unfair tax break is the one you get. You don't make it progressive, you hit the poor the hardest because they generally spend most of their income. You do make it progressive, you're again having the middle class and rich subsidize the poor (as a liberal, I don't object to this, but I read conservative commentaries that certainly did). And the income tax didn't become so complex overnight, either.

So if you believe the income tax has become irretrievably broken and needs to be replaced, go for it. If you’re going to have a consumption tax, have it. Then be honest about it in a way everybody can understand. Not just those who got A’s in high school algebra.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A New Theory of Evolution

My sister is convinced that within about 10 years, the male of the species will have evolved so that he is born with a remote attached to his hand.

Consumption Tax v. Income Tax

Okay, I’m ready to admit that a consumption tax might be better than an income tax, or at least is no worse. The clearest definition I have found for a consumption tax is that it equals income minus savings. Thus, it rewards saving, which is a desirable goal.

It also allows you to control, to some extent, the timing of paying taxes. However, eventually, most or all of your income will be taxed (either by you or your heirs), because your savings will be taxed when you use it. The exception would be the very rich who may have quite a bit of money that will be used to create more money, but may never be spent.

Possibly one of the biggest arguments for the consumption tax is philosophical. An underlying premise of the income tax is that, if the government can take a portion of your income, it can take all of it. In the case of a consumption tax, at least theoretically, your income is yours and you choose through your decisions--not so much whether to pay it (you have to pay rent, buy food, etc.) but how much you will pay at any given time (by putting money into savings, or buying as many used goods as you can--though the original tax will eventually be embedded into the resale value).

Another objection to the income tax is tax withholding. The government takes your money before you've even had your hands on it, and if it took too much, you have to file a return to get it back. This, again, to me anyway, is philosophical. The government is going to get your money one way or another and withholding is easier to pay than a lump sum.

Yet another problem with the income tax is that it is incredibly intrusive. You have to give all kinds of information to the government, your income, your investments, your donations to charity, your medical expenses, work expenses, etc.

The biggest problems with a consumption tax, however, are progressivity and transition. It is easier to make an income tax progressive, either through exemptions or graduated rates, or both (our current system uses both). A consumption tax can be made more progressive by exempting things like food, medicine, etc. However, most proposals for a consumption tax would exempt almost nothing.

Other than exemptions, making a consumption tax progressive is difficult because of the way it would most likely be administered: through a tax on purchases, either as an add-on tax or an embedded tax. Two types of embedded consumption taxes would be:

• The Value Added Tax (VAT), where products are taxed at each level of production (and at the next level, the taxes previously paid on the product are subtracted, so each part of the product is taxed only once).

• The embedded sales tax proposed in the Fair Tax Act, whereby the retailer would add 30% of the retail value of the item before pricing, so that the tax is computed at the register as 23% of the total cost of the item.

The add-on tax would operate the same as state sales taxes; a percent would be added to the cost of the item at the register.

The following are some ways in which to make consumption taxes progressive:

• One method would be to require each household to file for a rebate based on family size or income or both.

• Another way, proposed in the Fair Tax Act, would be to give each household a monthly “prebate” based on family size alone, though an income component could be added.

• Another way to administer a consumption tax would be to use some of the progressivity already in the income tax (personal exemption and dependent exemptions) but to also exempt all savings from the income tax. Period. It is then assumed that anything not saved will be spent. We already exempt capital gains from the income tax, which is halfway to a consumption tax. However, this does not benefit low-income taxpayers at all, who probably don’t have money to invest; and it would probably hit middle-income taxpayers irregularly. Exempting all savings would give every level of income earner the opportunity to exempt some of their income from taxation through savings, or at least control the timing of when the tax is paid.

But as with everything, the devil is in the details and in upcoming posts, I will discuss the details of the Fair Tax Act, including some of the claims made by its authors and some of the problems I see in transition.

An article I found interesting (though I probably disagree with most of it) is called Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Very Short Movie Review

Saw The Chronicles of Narnia last night. Beautiful movie.

I thought the religious themes came through very strongly, though I have talked with others who didn't any religious themes at all. I see that as a good thing. It is simply a stunningly beautiful movie, which will have greater meaning for some than for others. A movie has to be commercial to be a successful movie. Very violent, much cruelty, and animals are hurt and killed. Definitely not for young children.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I love my job, but tomorrow is my last day of work this year, and I CAN'T WAIT (Sorry bout the shouting - not)

I haven't forgotten about the Fair Tax Act. Right now, I am trying to wrap my brain around the issue of Consumption Tax v. Income Tax. Printed way too much off the net. Broke my printer (it's ten years old, doesn't owe me anything, but it's the best little workhorse printer you could want. It's getting fixed as we speak).

What is all this talk about impeachment! And it's not just the liberals calling for President Bush's impeachment! In Wisconsin, we've gotten to the point where nearly every time (slight hyperbole there, but not much) a politician doesn't toe the line, there's a recall petition, usually circulated by Republicans (a group called Citizens for Responsible Government). The Waukesha County executive was recalled. There was a petition to recall the governor (it failed). There was a petition to recall the Madison's mayor over the anti-smoking ordinance--not that he was the instigator, but all of the alderpersons who voted for the ordinance were too new in their terms to be recalled. It failed too. There were a couple of others I can't remember. We have a perfect recall mechanism--it's called the next election. IMO, it was wrong to have impeached Clinton. It would be wrong to impeach Bush. Besides, if Bush was impeached, Cheney would be president. And that's supposed to make a liberal feel better? I don't agree with a lot of things Bush has done, but the screaming has gotten out of control. What happened to the loyal in loyal opposition. I don't like Joe Lieberman, but he's right about the war and the fact that Bush will be president for three more years. Deal with it.

I like Russ Feingold. I still believe he acts out of conviction. Still, I'm not very thrilled about his running for President. To my knowledge, he has no experience that would convince me he could run a country. That's a problem for a lot of legislators. It's one thing to be one vote among many. It's another to have to make decisions that you alone have to bear responsibility for. Of course, in the unlikely event he gets the nomination, I guess I'll have to see who he runs against. It's been a very long time since I voted for a Republican. I'm more conservative (well, probably just less liberal) than I was in 2000, but still. But don't get on me too much for that, the Republicans I could vote for would probably be called RINOs anyway.

Here's a piece from the National Standard about decisions a President makes in wartime. War and Peace: Lincoln and Bush on vigilance and responsibility. My main concern is that the war on terror is probably going to last forever, and at some point we need a discussion about how we can remain true to who we are and still protect ourselves. Right now is not a good climate in which to have that conversation. Too much screaming.

Merry Christmas!! Do you have your shopping done?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance

Mitt Romney for President? This is only one article, but it makes me kind of like this guy. Of course, I disagree with his social positions, but he seems so...competent.

In 2008, Will It Be Mormon in America?

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Devil Made Me Do It (And he's In the Details)

Mea culpa. In my last post, I made a fairly significant analytical error. And Delftsman's comments made that clear.

By basing my initial comments on a short summary and, honestly by being too eager to write, I missed the fairly major detail that this is an embedded tax. If, indeed, the price on the item is already inclusive of the tax, then 23% of that amount is more descriptive and easier to understand. And it brings some other parts of the bill more in focus. But it is still a 30% tax on the original cost of the item and, if this bill gets debated and this fact comes up (which it surely will), it's going to be hard to explain to the general public why they're calling it a 23% tax (inclusive of the tax) when the amount added to the original cost is 30%. Or maybe the public will be so asleep (as usual) that it won't notice.

Still, the concept makes the bill much more intriguing to me. I will pull back my negative judgement and withhold judgement until I've figured it out more. I know I could take the easy way and just ask Delftsman to explain it, but I think I want to do the homework myself.

I'm way not ready to discuss the overall public policy goals of the bill. I'm still nibbling at the edges. And I try to never believe the rhetoric around a bill--I am always looking for the other shoe. But I'll certainly try to be more careful.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Fair Tax Act - Initial Impressions

These are just initial impressions of the proposed Fair Tax Act of 2005 (see previous post). These impressions are based mostly on the very short summary I’ve already posted, though I’ve gone to other sources to try to figure out parts of it.

Delftsman, I’m sorry to be so negative, I know you are looking for something fairer than what we have. But to my mind, this doesn’t look like it—even before I try to figure out how much more in taxes I’ll have to pay—-being the single, middle class, no dependents, no consituency person that I am.

So here goes:

The Title: Fair Tax Act

Titles and soaring statements of purpose in legislation are mostly to be ignored. They’re irrelevant at best, and, at worst, are intended to district you from really understanding what’s happening.

And that word “fair.” Fair to whom? If we need a “fair” tax law, then the current tax law must be “unfair.” That means when “fairness” is achieved, there will be winners and losers. In other words, this will be a tax redistribution law. So I am anxious to dig into this and see if I can figure who gets tax cuts and who gets tax increases.

23% of what?

With taxes, it’s not just the rate. It’s also, and very importantly, the base. It’s one of the ways that politicians have to disguise what they’ve really done. So, I need to look for what’s taxed and what’s not. And if this were to pass, look for special interests to keep pushing for exemptions that will cause the rate to increase even more than scheduled in order to raise the needed revenue.

But the Rate Matters, Too. When does 23% really equal 30%?

The tax is set at 23% of the gross payments (price plus tax). Huh? That means if I buy something for $10.00, I’m not going to pay $10.00 plus $2.30 tax. Heck, I’m not sure what I’m going to pay. Seems that I need a formula here:

Purchase Price [P] + Tax [T] = 1.23 (P + T)

That can’t be. I read on one site that this means there will actually be a 30% tax on the purchase, so that the 23% is of the total. Let’s see if that works:

$10.00 + $3.00 = $13.00
So, what is 23% of $13.00. It’s $2.99.

Geez, if they wanted a 30% sales tax, why didn’t they just say 30%?

And if the federal tax is applied to the state and local sales taxes which in Wisconsin are 5.5%:

$10.55 + $3.16 = $13.71. 23% of $13.71 = $3.15.
So the real federal tax rate on the $10.00 purchase is 30.16%.

I’m always on the lookout for “gotchas” in legislation, and this is a doozy. I have a hard time trusting someone who tries to tell me that 30% is really 23%.

Do You Really Want to Be On the Dole?

A major feature of this tax bill is the rebate. Depending on your family size and income, the government sends you a check at the beginning of each month to cover your expected taxes.

Wow, and we worry about over-dependence on the government!! Nothing like a government check every month to get you used to getting a government check every month.

And what the government giveth, the government can taketh away. Owe back child support? They’ll take it out of the rebate. Behind on your student loans? Kiss the rebate good-bye. Parking tickets? No rebate. Under the current tax system, you can set your withholding rate so that you don’t have a refund to be seized. Maybe it’s good for scofflaws to have their tax refunds seized, but I worry about the next idea and the next one after that.

Automatic Tax Increases

Even the fake 23% is only for 2007.

For all years after 2007, the rate of tax is the combined federal tax rate percentage of the gross payments for the taxable property or services. The combined federal tax rate percentage is the sum of: The general revenue rate, the social security rate, and the hospital insurance rate. The general revenue rate is set at 14.91 percent.
I have no idea what the above paragraph means, except that there is an automatic resetting of the rate each year. So if 23% is really 30%, what will 24% or 25%, or even 22% really be?

I haven't figured out whether the rebate schedule is also adjusted each year. If not, then that's another automatic increase as the rebate schedule fails to keep up with inflation.

And no congressional votes needed.

And this is all before I start showing my liberal roots by talking about progressive taxation.

The Fair Tax Act of 2005

It has been suggested by one of my loyal readers that I put my moderate viewpoint to the test and review the proposed Fair Tax Act of 2005. This bill (HR 25 in the 108th Congress) was introduced by Representatives John Linder (R-GA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) earlier this year and has a number of co-sponsors.

For a number of reasons, I have been mulling over whether I should take on such a task, but have decided to take the plunge.

To begin with, I am not a tax policy expert, but I do have experience in policy analysis and I am a taxpayer. So I am as qualified as any of us to take it on and, in fact, have a bit more a framework in which to view proposed legislation than do a lot of people. However, I'm not going to do this the "correct" way, which is to review the legislation and commentaries and explanations, analyze in various ways, and then write. That takes too long and this is my blog, not my employment. So you're going to see a little sausage in the making. I don't know if I'll end up with three posts on this or thirty, but what the heck, it might be full "blogger" employment. And there may be inconsistencies, because I'm going to start shallow and dig deeper as I go along. And while I'll try to be analytical, I don't have to be unbiased (did I mention it's my own blog)? And it goes without saying that my opinions are mine alone and not those of any (unnamed) organization I work for.

The first thing to do is try to understand the bill. I'm going to start with summaries.

I found a summary of the act, prepared by Americans for Fair Taxation (supporters of the bill). Here is what they call a "plain English summary."

The Act is called the “Fair Tax Act of 2005.”

As of Dec. 31, 2006, it repeals all income taxes and payroll taxes, specifically:
• The individual income tax (including capital gains taxes and the alternative minimum tax)
• The corporate income tax
• All individual and employer payroll taxes including Social Security, Medicare and federal
unemployment taxes
• The self-employment tax (a self employed person pays both the individual and the employer portions
of Social Security and Medicare taxes)
• The estate and gift tax

Effective January 1, 2007 it replaces the above taxes with a national retail sales tax on all goods and services sold at retail, except that used goods are not taxed. The tax rate is set to be revenue neutral – at the level necessary to replace the revenues generated by the repealed taxes.

A 23-percent (of the tax-inclusive sales price) sales tax is imposed on all retail sales for personal consumption of new goods and services. Exports and the purchase of inputs by businesses (i.e., intermediate sales) are not taxed. The sales tax must be separately stated and charged on the sales receipt. This makes it clear to the consumer what the amount of the tax is and that he or she is paying it.

The FairTax (SM) provides every family with a rebate of the sales tax on spending up to the federal poverty level (plus an extra amount to prevent any marriage penalty). The rebate is paid monthly in advance. It allows a family of four to spend $25,660 tax free each year. The rebate for a married couple with two children is $492 per month ($5,902 annually). Therefore, no family pays federal sales tax on essential goods and services and middle-class families are effectively exempted on a big part of their annual spending.

Funding for Social Security and Medicare benefits remains the same. The Social Security and Medicare trust funds receive the same amount of money as they do under current law. The source of the trust fund revenue is a dedicated portion of sales tax revenue instead of payroll tax revenue.

States can elect to collect the federal sales tax on behalf of the federal government in exchange for a fee of one-quarter of one percent of gross collections. Retail businesses collecting the tax also get the same administrative fee.

Strong taxpayer rights provisions are incorporated into the Act. The burden of persuasion in disputes is on the government. A strong, independent problem resolution office is created. Taxpayers are entitled to professional fees in disputes unless the government establishes that its position was substantially justified.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Saints or Sinners?

Okay, I found this in a comment over at Althouse:

Liberals view a world [in which] everyone is inherently good, who are then corrupted by society or evil people in power...

In contrast, conservatives believe all people are sinners and thus we need rules and institutions to deter and prevent us from sinning.
I may not have enough readers yet to have much of a discussion on this, but I'm going to try anyway. Do you believe the above? If so, why? If not, why not?

I'm going to save my comments for later, but if you remember that I'm a mamby-pamby moderate, you can probably figure it out.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What's Wrong with This Picture?

The sad thing about this isn't that racism is alive and well. It will always be alive and well.

The sad thing isn't even that the bureaucrats were most worried about her painting over her garage door.

The sad thing is that no one in the community appears to have stepped forward to make her feel welcome, to assure her that the sentiment is not shared by all, and to offer to help paint over the racial slur that seems to bother them so much (not the slur--heaven forbid--but the ugly garage door).

UPDATE: Goodwill, speculation follow act of racism This,is a terrible thing to say, but I almost hope it was racism. If she did it herself, that actually hurts a lot more people because it adds to the cynicism and gives people an excuse to not believe the next incident--no matter how real. We'll see how it unfolds.

The War

For a number of reasons, you won't see many posts from me about the war. But I may from time to time (including today) post links to thoughtful commentary--or rather, commentary that makes me think.

And, for the baseline record, here are my thoughts on the war so far:

I don't know whether the Bush administration lied about WMD or was merely misled itself--and right now I don't really care. As far as a lesson to be applied in the future, as far as any political campaign that might involve Bush or Rice or Powell or any of the players, I believe it matters a great deal. For the present, it seems irrelevant.

However, FTR, my own belief about the rationale for war is this. I believe that Bush et al had decided a long time before then to go to war against Iraq. It had its reasons that may have been good or may have been bad, but I believe the decision had essentially been made. The only issue was to sell it to the public and the world. As with any sales effort, they chose what they believed was their strongest argument. As it turns out, it wasn't. Bad sales plan. But the question about the sales plan is a political one; the question about the war is a reality one. We bought the war, for good or bad. Let's decide what winning means, and then let's win it.

As the question about whether to go to war unfolded so long ago, I remember that I was pretty confused about the need for it. I didn't have all the information, nor did I have the expertise to evaluate all the information if I had it. My opinion seemed to change daily. But that didn't matter. I didn't have to make the decision. The facts are rarely clear, but leaders have to make decisions based on the facts at hand. They are second-guessed by people who didn't have to made the decision. I don't like Bush. I didn't vote for him, I still wouldn't vote for him. But he was and is president and he made a decision--one that was "supported" by Congress (including a number of legislators who were against going to war, but who voted after putting their fingers to the wind, instead of based on their consciences). Once it was decided to go to war, we had one choice--to win.

The one thing that I remember clearly about that time was that I had a great fear that we had no clue about what we would do once we won the war. We believed we would win, people would cheer in the streets and we would go home. Even I knew we needed a better plan than that. I believe the U.S. and its allies spent nearly the whole duration of WWII planning for the military government that would be necessary once we won the war. We were ready to go into Japan and Germany and other countries the second we won them. We didn't have nearly as much time to plan for the win for this war, but it seems clear that we didn't use even the time we had. Unfortunately, my fears were proved true.

We won the war, but we badly bungled the after-war. We will pay for this for many years. At some point, we may have to take the very sad but necessary step to "declare victory and go home." Again, I don't have the information or the expertise to decide when this might be. I wish we had the ability to make a good decision about this. But we seem so polarized that every voice is drowned out by the shouters on both sides who seem only to wish to score points. The Democrats attack and the Republicans attack back. But it's all hat and no cattle (sorry, but I love that phrase).

We can't cut and run. It would be disastrous to us, to Iraq, indeed, to the world. But I still feel that we don't really know what we're doing. I still don't feel like we have a plan.

Oh, and on to the commentary I promised. Charles Krauthammer believes we need to shut Saddam up.

UPDATE: Another thoughtful commentary, from a soldier on the ground (found on my visit to Delftsman3):

Though soldiers bleed for the right to dissent, we must remember that at times dissent will embolden our ... enemy...
Such is the dilemma of a free society.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Still No Time to Write

But here's an interesting article I found at the Weekly Standard:

The Party of Sam's Club
Isn't it time the Republicans did something for their voters?
by Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam

Thursday, December 08, 2005


No time to write anything, but here's George Will.

The Inalienable Right to a Remote .

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Speech, Good; Your Speech, Bad

Lively discussion on Rumsfeld v. FAIR over at Althouse. It all takes place in the comments. (FWIW, I agree with Ann).

Good description of the issue and oral arguments at SCOTUSblog. Briefly, the question is whether a law school that receives federal funds can ban military recruiters from campus because the military's don't ask, don't tell policy violates the law school's anti-discrimination policies.

Some of the comments at Althouse object to the motives of the authors and supporters of the law (requiring campuses that receive federal funds to allow recruiters on campus); and the commenters argue the law should be overturned on that basis. The motives are irrelevant. Either it's a constitutional law or it's not. If the only laws that could be enforced are those that are passed by nice people with good motives, we would have far fewer laws (oh, and that would be a bad thing, how?).

Since when did it become a liberal value to suppress ideas? Worse yet, to allow--no demand--the courts to support the suppression of ideas. The answer is, it's not a liberal value. But it does seem to be the value of those who have hi-jacked liberalism. I want my liberalism back!!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On Being a Moderate

I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2)

Someone, I think it was Jesse Helms, once had this to say about moderates: "only two things are found in the middle of the road; either a yellow line or a dead skunk." Ouch!!

Moderates don't have a very good reputation. We are often viewed as not being able to make up our minds--not without some justification. Even more than straight-out liberals, we are accused of being moral relativists. We are often viewed as unprincipled; just wanting everyone to get along and everything to be okay. But I don't think that's fair.

It's probably only a coincidence that I'm both a Libra and a moderate (actually, I would describe myself as Moderate-Left of Center). But I do try to understand all sides of an argument and, even when I disagree with someone, I generally see their viewpoint.

To me moderation isn't mamby-pamby compromise. It isn't like soup, where everything gets dumped in and mushed together so that it's unrecognizable. To me being a moderate means that I refuse to allow my choices to be limited because they happen to come from one side or other other. It means that I refuse to recognize only two sides in an argument. It means that sometimes I agree with conservatives, even pretty far right conservatives; and sometimes I agree with liberals, even pretty far left liberals; and sometimes I think they've both missed the boat and are so busy being liberal or conservative that they're not seeing some obvious (to me) facets of the problem. And sometimes, often actually, I realize there is no good solution and we just have to figure out which is the least of the bad. I refuse to grant to anyone the assumption of what I believe on any topic because of a one-dimensional label.

Don't misunderstand me (please), I've had plenty of knock-down, drag-out arguments in my life and used to be quite comfortable describing myself as a liberal. And I was pretty down on conservatives. But this started to slide actually quite a while ago. In arguments with conservatives (gee, I wish I could call them discussions, but back then they were usually arguments) I would often hear that liberals don't believe in personal responsibility. And I would take great offense at that: I was a liberal, and I definitely believed in personal responsibility.

I had been a poor single mom and if not for my government job with health benefits and if not for the availability of safe, if not particularly good, day care, and if not for my parents, I don't know if I could have afforded to work. Fortunately, I didn't have to find that out. I didn't make very much more money than I would have received for welfare. But I believed strongly that whatever loss of me my children might suffer by my working was more than made up for by the lesson that it is honorable and right to work for what you get and wrong to take something for nothing, except in dire emergencies. I knew about personal responsibility.

But as time went on, liberalism (and feminism) became something that I didn’t recognize. I still believed in what I believed, but the labels that used to be comfortable no longer fit. The liberals and feminists—at least the ones that were shouting—had carried things way too far. Welfare was no longer emergency relief—it was a way of life--simply one economic choice among others. Feminists wanted equal opportunity without equal responsibility. And a bunch of other stuff. So I moved right on the continuum.

Not right of center. Don’t mistake me for a conservative. But don’t be surprised when I don’t sound much like a liberal either.

It occurs to me that I am writing this as if I am writing to conservatives, rather than liberals--as if I hope to have conversations with conservatives maybe even more so than with liberals. And, perhaps I am. Perhaps it is because my “blog-father” is my very conservative son (the Humble Devildog) and so my entry into the blogosphere comes from the conservative community. Perhaps it is because it is easier to be moderate liberal among conservatives than among other liberals. For whatever reason, thank you for your visits and for the welcome you have offered me (especially Beth from Yeah, Right, Whatever; Mithglin (another newbie), and Delftsman3). I think I'm going to like it here.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

'Tis the Season - But for What?

John Gibson of Fox News has declared war on Christmas. He’s written a book about it. Oh no no, I got confused, he has accused liberals of declaring war on Christmas. In his Fox News columns, he gives a number of examples and actually I think he’s often right about political correctness gone amok about Christmas (oops, I mean the Winter Holiday). In spite of that, I think he is wrong to criticize stores for taking the word "Christmas" out of their advertising--instead he should be thanking them for it. While it hasn’t happened exactly the way one might have expected, this is exactly what Christians have been asking for for a long time.

For years, the cry has been “let’s get Christ back into Christmas!” A totally reasonable call from Christians about a day whose name I believe is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass.” This cry has usually been accompanied by a call to eschew the extravagent spending and madcap excess of food and alcohol that accompanies the holiday period (oops, I mean the Christmas season) and get back to the true meaning of Christmas.

Well, here’s the chance. To get Christ back into Christmas, first you have to get commercialism out of Christmas. Believe me, the stores aren’t advertising “holiday sales” because they object to Christmas—far from objecting to Christmas, they depend on it. They’ve erased the word Christmas from their ads because Christmas no longer has anything to do with what makes them money. For those of us who are already in the swing of it, we’re going to eat, drink, be merry and spend, spend, spend—no matter what you call the holiday. But to get new customers in this all-important retail season, the stores need to reach out and encourage non-Christians to spend, spend, spend. What better way to do so than to expand the holiday—be more inclusive if you will.

But contrary to Gibson’s argument that this is a bad thing, I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to Christmas. Go back to the commandment: “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” What could be more “in vain” than to put “Christ’s Mass” on the sale flyer in the Sunday newspaper? What could be less Christian than to eat and drink to excess and spend enormous amounts of money on more stuff than we can possible use while people in the world are dying of starvation, AIDS, earthquakes, floods and war. And we believe we are doing it to celebrate His birth? And what about these gifts anyway? It’s His birthday, not ours. Do we really think when he said “feed my sheep,” He meant turkey with all the fixings?

In his November 18 column Is Sears Suppressing Christmas? Gibson says:

Sometimes the idea is to just change the name of things. Christmas break becomes the winter break. And then, all of a sudden, Christmas is gone altogether. It wasn't there in the first place, see? It's just winter break and Christmas may or may not fall in that winter break.
Exactly. Christmas wasn’t there. Christmas was never there. It was never in Sears. It was never at the office Christmas party. And even at home, it’s a long time since it’s been under many Christmas trees. If we fear we're going to lose Christmas because the retailers stop using the word, I'm afraid we've already lost it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Christmas season. There’s nothing bad about parties and decorations and presents (especially not with presents—think of the economy). But they’re not “Christ’s Mass.” If they ever were, they haven't been for a long time. And whoever is responsible for separating Christmas and the winter holiday season have done Christians a favor. Now if we just knew what to do with it.


Hello, it's me. Is anybody out there?

Allow me to introduce myself, sort of. My blogspot moniker is Grandma_Jo. Obviously, I am a grandma. I'm also a grandma with opinions, which is why I've created this blog. Well and because my son, the Humble Devildog , suggested it. While we agree on very little, we are actually very alike, strong opinions that we like to share--sometimes loudly. Anyway, thanks, HDD for the suggestion and the help getting started.

Since I'm new to this, I think I'll just go ahead and list my "rules" for the blog and then go on and post my first diatribe. Then, if you read and participate in a discussion, we'll get to know each other.

My Rules:

1. No profanity. Small lapses may be overlooked, but let's keep this civil.

2. No ad hominem attacks. You can debate, and even attack, ideas and opinions, but not people. And, no matter how much you disagree with someone generally, right is right and even a broken clock is right twice a day.

3. Comments are welcome, even desired. However, comments that violate rules 1 and 2 or which are off-topic, rude, or otherwise offensive to the host (me) will be deleted. Remember, you're talking with grandma.

So here goes. Should be fun.