Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Living Wage

So here's a little lesson in economics (yes it's going to be simple, but it's my blog). For a company to continue operating it must make a profit. Say my company pays me $100,000 a year. In order to do that I have to, by my work, contribute at least $100,000 in profits back to the company. That contribution could be made in many ways. I could make the company profits by associating my name with it (not me personally, but if I were someone famous). I could do it by making deals, by saving them taxes, by inventing a new widget, or by getting the burgers in the bags.

This is why people get different salaries. If my job makes the company a lot of profit I can demand (and receive) a larger salary. If my job makes the company very little profit, I must be paid a small amount, or the company is losing money by hiring me.

There are jobs, like CFO perhaps, that make the company an awful lot of money, and there are jobs like burger bagger that contribute very little to the company's bottom line.

If the company is going to pay the burger bagger more money then that burger bagger has to make the company that much money. If it takes 6 people to man the burger bistro, and each burger nets $1 in profits, and they sell a burger a minute on average, then they are making the company $60/hour or $10/person. If the company pays those people $15/hour they lose $30/hour for every hour they are open.

Now I'm the last person to say that workers should not earn a living wage. What I am saying is that there are certain jobs that are not worth paying a living wage for. These are the jobs that used to be done by high school kids or part timers looking to make some spending money. The problem is not that companies are paying too little for these jobs, it's that the jobs are not meant to be the sole source of income for a family. The fact that people are taking them to feed their family is another symptom of a failing economy. Fix the economy and the jobs will be there.

The problem is Americans have grown used to cheap stuff. Originally the government was funded by tariffs. That meant that to fund projects the cost of imported goods was kept high enough so that Americans could compete with other countries for manufacturing, and still have a high standard of living. Now the government is funded by taxes on the American people, and foreign goods are so cheap that we have no "living wage" jobs. We need to wean the government off of sucking our hard earned income and put them back on a tariff diet.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sound Bites

From Catholic Memes
I was asked by a Protestant friend what I would say to sum up all of Christianity in one message. What would you say?

I chose John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Clearly this s bare-bones, but to me the message of Christianity is that God loves you, to the extent of giving up His Son, so that He can be with you.

My friend chose Romans 10:9 as the summation of Christianity:
if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
He considers the most important thing about Christianity to be that all you have to do is believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and you are saved, regardless of anything else.

It seems that he, and in fact all of the Protestants that I've met, when discussing the faith, concentrate only on the parts that differentiate them from the Catholic faith. Perhaps this comes from 500 years of tradition of assuming everyone is Christian, and they just need to be taught the errors of their ways if they are Catholic. Perhaps it is a way to keep themselves and their friends from slipping into Catholic ways of thought. But it does make it hard for me to agree with them on any statement of faith, even when quoting the Bible, because the quotes are always cherry picked, out of context, to emphasize something that a Catholic can't affirm.

What do I need to do to be saved? My friend quotes Romans 10:9 and says "that is all." What about Baptism (1 Peter 3:21 "Baptism now saves you") - nobody uses that sound bite, and yet it is equally true. What about Luke 18:22 "go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor"? I haven't heard anyone quote that as the only thing you need for salvation. Or John 14:21 "Keep the commandments..." Or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "evildoers will not enter the kingdom."

The thing is, you can't define something like salvation in a sound bite - even one taken from the Bible. Even though our little modern minds are satisfied with sound bites and memes, reality and God are much more complicated than any one liner. And Amen! How sad would life be if the entire meaning of our existence could be summed up in a sound bite!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Charleston Checks

There are a number of stories that have been circulated about how the Charleston shooter acquired his weapon. They include:

- The boy's father gave it to him as a twenty first birthday present.
- He purchased it legally himself and passed a background check.
- He purchased it legally himself and incorrectly passed a background check due to a mistake in entering data.

Pro-gun people are using all three of these versions of the story to "prove" that background checks don't prevent gun violence. Anti-gun people are using the same stories to "prove" that we need more background checks.

As usual, the truth is more complicated than either narrative.

One of the pro-gun arguments is that even if he had been prevented from buying a gun, he could have used another weapon. I think this is a valid argument in this case. The boy wanted to start a "war" between the races by killing people. Had he not been able to purchase a gun legally he could have purchased one illegally, or he could easily have used a knife, or a homemade bomb, or a molotov cocktail. It is impossible to stop someone who is determined to kill innocent people from attempting to do so. In this case, a background check is entirely useless and irrelevant.

Another pro-gun argument is that if any of the victims had been armed the situation would have been drastically different. In fact, it is likely the shooting never would have happened at all, since the killer (like every other mass shooter) chose a gun-free zone specifically to maximize his ability to kill with impunity. Again, this is a valid argument. Had the church members been armed, they likely would have deterred the boy form opening fire, or at the very least, stopped him. Some have said that because they were Christians in a church they chose to allow themselves to be killed (turning the other cheek, as it were). But the same witness to Christ could have been performed had they been armed, by simply not drawing their weapons. In fact, that situation would have been an even stronger witness. After all, Christ had the power to stop the Crucifixion (John 10:17-18):
"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

On the anti-gun side, one argument is that we need background checks to cover every transfer of a gun, even a father giving one to his son. This is ridiculous. First off, a similar law was passed in Oregon. It is unenforceable. The image at the top of this article is from a hunter education course,  demonstrating the safe way to cross a fence or other barrier. One person holds both firearms while the other crosses. This is now a crime in Oregon. Likewise dozens of other perfectly legitimate scenarios. Yes, you can add all sorts of exemptions, but you will never cover all the legitimate cases, and all that law does is criminalize innocent behavior of citizens while doing nothing to prevent criminal gun use (do you really think someone intent on murder is going to worry about whether he obtained his weapon legally?).

And such a law is superfluous, as it is already illegal to transfer a firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm. So even without expanded background check in place the father would already have been committing a crime in the first scenario (the father gave the son a gun). Adding a law to forbid something illegal doesn't make it any more or less illegal.

In the third scenario the anti-gun people make the argument that although the system failed this time, it did so by accident, and it would have worked had mistakes not been made. That's true, the background check system, if it had been working, would have prevented the boy from purchasing a hand gun legally. But as noted, it would likely have had no effect on the outcome.

That said, I think background checks do have their place. If we have a law that felons can't possess firearms, then we need to identify who is a felon. However, the system we have in place today is both ineffective and unconstitutional. Here's why we need to reform background checks.

First off, the existing background check system can only be performed by a federally licensed firearm dealer. That means if I want to sell a gun to a stranger (or even a friend) I can't be sure they are not a felon. You might say "ban all private sales" but that is not enforceable, and not reasonable. It would be adding a huge burden to the 99+% of legitimate sales, and make guns out of reach to a large segment of the population, who will no longer be able to afford to hunt for food or defend themselves (by my estimation it would add at least $200 to every transfer).

Secondly, the existing system is unconstitutional. All that needs to be done in a background check is to identify whether or not the purchaser is a prohibited person. All that should be required is identifying the person.

Instead, the existing system requires filling out four pages of information, including statements whose only purpose is to violate the fifth amendment, and others which record things like race, ethnicity and political affiliation. The form also records the seller, make, model and serial number of the firearm being purchased, which has no bearing on whether or not the purchaser has committed a crime, but constitutes a de facto firearm registration system, in violation of the law.

Why not have a system which allows anyone to submit identification information and return a simple "yes/no" as to whether the person is prohibited from possessing firearms under the law? This is a constitutional disclosure of public information (certainly less invasive than the sex offender registry), and would allow private sellers to do background checks. Since it is already a crime to knowingly transfer a gun to someone who is a prohibited person, this would take care of all the possible scenarios, without burdening anyone (other than requiring the seller to make a phone call or browse a web page).

Oh, and one other thing. Since these criminals are also barred from voting, it would be a good way to prevent them from voting illegally. If you consider the right to vote as important as the right o bear arms, then it should have the same protections. If we are going to require background checks for firearm purchases we should apply the same background check process to voting.

Would my proposed background check system have prevented the Charleston tragedy? Probably not, but it would at least be constitutional.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Poor me

So many stories of Christian Persecution in the news, like the attacks on the bakers and the Bible publisher, and even though churches may be the only "people" protected under the first amendment, they may find themselves with no insurance. I see many christians lamenting the coming (and existing) persecutions.

It's so easy to get into the "woe is me" mentality and rail against the injustice and tyranny around us. And I fully believe (unlike some) that we as Christians should protest and oppose injustice and tyranny. But let's look at the bigger picture.

We are called to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. Remember Christ's words in John 15:18: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you." That's all well and good in theory, but when it's put into practice, are we up for it?

I fear the coming persecution because (1) I don't want to give up the comforts I have and (2) I'm afraid if I'm put to the test I'll be found lacking in faith. I think most (if not all) Christians have these two issues to some degree. The very fact that I fear these is evidence of my imperfect Christianity.

I should fear the coming persecution because of those innocents who will be hurt by it and because of the non-Christians and CINOs (Christians in name only) who will ultimately be harmed by their sin. Because if the Bible teaches us anything, sin is it's own punishment, as St. Paul says in his (now controversial) first letter to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles 
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
I should fear what's coming because in the ensuing backlash others will suffer, perhaps more than the Christians they persecute. If history tells us anything it's that a persecuted group is all too likely to persecute the next group.

I should fear what's coming because in this way satan is having a field day and the salvation of souls is at stake.

But I should not fear what's coming because it will affect me personally or because I want to be comfortable.

And so I offer this prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, I offer you my fear, my worries, my shame and my suffering in atonement for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Bring all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy. Jesus I trust in you, help increase my trust in you.