The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has published a paper titled, “Taxing the Poor: A Report on Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling, and Other Taxes and Fees That Disproportionately Burden Lower-Income Families” (PDF).

The paper highlights state lotteries as particularly regressive taxes: “The dollar amount spent on the lottery by the lowest-income individuals (earning less than $10,000 annually) is twice as much as the highest earners (earning more than $100,000 annually).” I wrote a piece reacting to a poll with a similar finding awhile back.

The NCPA study also points out that “lotteries have worse odds than other forms of gambling; in fact, states retain some 33 cents of each dollar of lottery revenue — whereas privately owned casinos keep just 4.4 percent of the take.” And of course that casino take depends on the type of game played. Keno has the worst odds, with roughly 1/4 of the take going to the house, while games like roulette, slots, or blackjack have less than 5% house takes.

The paper also studies other popular sin taxes, like tobacco and alcohol, and one of the newest potential additions to the sin tax category: gasoline.

It happened last week. In response to Rep. John Dingell’s decision to hold of off consideration of an energy bill that would include new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, instead favoring directly targeting greenhouse gas emissions: “That brought a warm response from MoveOn.org, the liberal group that picketed Dingell’s office Wednesday over his stance on global warming and fuel economy standards. At Dingell’s Ypsilanti office, about half a dozen MoveOn supporters received an unexpected welcome from roughly 60 UAW members, including President Ron Gettelfinger, who rallied to support Dingell.”

That’s how the Free Press article concludes, but today’s Ann Arbor News has a longer piece devoted to the dynamics of the dispute between MoveOn.org and the UAW, “MoveOn, UAW face off on CAFE.” MoveOn.org protesters were picketing Dingell’s office, but then were swamped by many more UAW supporters of Dingell.

There’s some commentary over at Planet Gore about the targeting of Dingell by MoveOn, but it doesn’t pick up on the UAW presence.

David Roberts over at Grist thinks the MoveOn.org attack on Dingell is premature: “I don’t think people quite appreciate what Dingell’s done here. He’s the first member of Congress with any power or seniority to even mention a carbon tax, much less endorse it.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative has called for the federal government “to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”

I question the prudence of making such specific policy recommendations a matter of a lobbying platform, especially when speaking for the church. What if it turns out that cap-and-trade measures aren’t all that effective? Do you need then to revise your “call to action”?

Update: The WSJ editorializes on this topic today.

“You are obliged to love your neighbor as yourself, and loving him, you ought to help him spiritually, with prayer, counseling him with words, and assisting him both spiritually and temporally, according to the need in which he may be, at least with your goodwill if you have nothing else.”

—Catharine of Siena (1347–1380), from The Dialogue

HT: Christian History & Biography

Well, not exactly. Althought Archbishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications—and a “self-proclaimed ‘chocoholic’”—did address a gathering of Nestle executives on the subject of the morality of advertising. Given that a conscientious parent can hardly watch even a daytime sporting event on TV with his children in light of the low moral quality of advertising, I’d say it’s a subject worthy of attention.

A couple of Foley’s statements:

It frankly surprises me that as women rightly fight for equality of treatment in politics and in business, they are still so often exploited in the media in general and in advertising in particular as objects, as sex symbols. Such exploitation has now apparently been extended to men as well.

But whatever product or service you advertise and no matter how you do it, I would hope you would keep in mind our ultimate purpose in life and make of all of your advertising, messages that are true, worthy of the dignity of the human person and helpful to the common good.

In today’s WaPo, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson opines on Senator Barack Obama’s recent address to a gathering of UCC faithful (HT).

In “The Gospel Of Obama,” Gerson writes, “By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ — among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations — he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.”

Gerson bases this judgment on the contention, citing a Pew Forum researcher, that the younger generations of evangelicals “tend to be more concerned about the environment than are their elders, more engaged in international issues such as HIV-AIDS, a little more open on homosexual rights and less attached to the religious right. This should provide an opening for Democrats. But there is evidence, according to Green, that young evangelicals are as conservative on abortion as their parents and grandparents, if not more so.” The apparent “liberalizing” of young evangelical interests is no doubt an expression of a broader cultural phenomenon.

In addressing the UCC gathering, it would seem that Senator Obama was simply taking a page out of Rev. Jim Wallis’ playbook. For Wallis, Democrats need to get comfortable talking about matters of faith. I’ll admit that I found this passage rather curious:

Yet what we also understand is that our values should express themselves not just through our churches or synagogues, temples or mosques; they should express themselves through our government. Because whether it’s poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are moral problems, rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness – in the imperfections of man.

I guess I would see the “perfect ten-point plan” more the realm of government, and the “moral problems” as the realm of the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque rather than the other way around. It seems that from framing something as a “moral” issue it immediately follows that it is a political issue.

Gerson calls Obama’s speech, “a class in remedial religion,” and perhaps that’s all the Democratic party is ready for. But Gerson realizes that this “remedial religion” wasn’t presented to the Democratic faithful, but to a much more narrow slice of the liberal movement: religious progressives.

What really needs to be done, says Gerson, is a three-step process of recovering religious rhetoric effectively. “First,” says Gerson, “candidates should talk about their own faith and the importance of religion in public life, both of which Obama did well.” That’s in part what Wallis’ CNN forum on faith was intended to do…to give Democratic candidates a primer on speaking about religion in public.

But on two other fronts, Gerson finds Obama’s speech lacking: “Second, Democrats should emphasize common-ground issues that credit the moral concerns of religious conservatives while calming the waves of the culture wars — such as confronting the toxic excesses of popular culture, encouraging character and discipline in public schools, and promoting religious liberty abroad,” and “Third, leading Democrats could make real policy changes on abortion, by adopting a more moderate position than abortion on demand.” This last point is one that has been echoed by a number of others (although it’s not a prominent plank in Wallis’ platform for faithful Democrats).

I do wonder, however, how this third element would go over among the UCC mainstream, who themselves are not representative of this younger evangelical mindset. The UCC is a supporting member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and according to one source, the UCC “has strongly supported the legalization of abortion since 1971. The UCC supported FOCA and strongly opposed the PBA ban to the point of joining the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARRAL) in a statement affirming President Clinton’s veto of the PBA Ban Act in 1996. The UCC has also called for the church to support abortion in any national health care bill.” There’s a real disconnect at this point in Gerson’s piece, in that he seems to confuse the progressively mainline UCC with “young evangelicals.”

In the end, Gerson’s analysis seems to line up with what Tony Campolo wrote recently, “It is time for us to name the hypocrisy of the Left in complaining about how the Religious Right is violating the first amendment while turning a blind eye to their own candidates’ use of churches as places to campaign.”

Gerson observes in the same vein,

Obama’s criticism of the religious right for baptizing the agenda of economic conservatism — making tax cuts their highest legislative priority — had some justified sting. But then he proceeded, in the typical manner of the religious left, to give a variety of more liberal causes a similar kind of full-immersion baptism: passing a “universal health care bill,” withdrawing quickly from Iraq, approving comprehensive immigration reform. Agree with these proposals or not, none is a test of true religion.

And this points to the flaw, I think, in Wallis’ program for making the Democratic party religion-friendly: “Obama is clearly more fluent on religious issues than most in his party. But to appeal broadly to religious voters, he will need to be more than the candidate of the religious left.” Connecting the mainline churches to the Democratic party will not do much to attract young evangelicals, no matter how diverse their policy interests.

Joe Knippenberg criticizes Gerson for using “rights” language in describing the status of the poor and oppressed. Here’s the offending passage from Gerson:

The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim “Thus sayeth the Lord,” spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.

It seems correct that we should judge policy not only by motive but also by outcome. That’s an important point, one that folks like Jim Wallis should consider more often.

Knippenberg writes that such an invocation of rights “tends to short-circuit prudence and the kind of balancing political judgment always requires. I can have a duty toward someone and he or she can have a claim on my attention and compassion without requiring me to take political action on his or her behalf. Stated another way, by emphasizing the political as opposed to the charitable element of the concern with widows and orphans, Gerson already begins to distort the debate.”

I think Knippenberg’s instinct is right to try to protect the realm of moral duty and obligation apart from political action itself. But in allowing “rights” to become a strictly political term, I think we’d be making the same mistake that some libertarians make with regard to conflating moral duty and political rights. That is, political rights should be understood as a sub-group or species of the broader category of human rights.

Gerson doesn’t make this distinction, but it’s not clear that he means to conflate political rights with all kinds of human rights either. Defining the necessary faith as both “active” and “political” makes that a valid conclusion. But it seems to me that “the means to achieve those ideals” may not be political at all, and that’s a big part of where the prudential argument should be at. The political element may enter in only by defending and upholding the liberty necessary for elements of civil society or individual action to respect those rights and fulfill those duties.

Update: Terry Mattingly at GetReligion weighs in on the Gerson piece. He writes of abortion, “There is room for political compromise here, but I have met very few young Christians who actually disagree with traditional Christian doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Would Democrats be willing to compromise and meet people in Middle-American pews in, well, the middle on this hot-button issue? Would the party’s leadership be able to convince its secular/religious liberal alliance to compromise?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007

Why do we work? When labor and toil is so often unfulfilling and troublesome, why keep on?

For pagans, no doubt the answer is given in the book of Matthew: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” A non-Christian view of work is one oriented toward survival. And that’s why a non-Christian view of retirement so often involves leaving the field of work and service, concentrating instead on fulfilling the adage: “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

While we can appreciate how the order of material blessing provided through the pagan view of work is a form of grace, we must also wonder how the Christian view differs. The purpose, or end, of work for the Christian is not aimed at mere survival or material enjoyment, but rather toward charity. Paul writes in Ephesians, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Picking up this theme, the Westminster Confession of Faith provides a powerful witness to the responsibility for Christians to be generous with each other. As part of the recognition of the communion of saints, Christians are bound to relieve “each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus” (WCF 26.2).

But this outward relief is only possible within the context of productive work.

Thomas Woods from the Mises Institute blog has posted his thoughts on the Call of the Entrepreneur. Woods praises the film saying, “For once, the moral dimension of entrepreneurial activity is brought to the fore and celebrated. For once the heroes are creators, not political hacks.”

If you haven’t yet heard about the film, check out the trailer at www.calloftheentrepreneur.com!

In the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Supreme Court today struck down a move to use race to determine which students attend certain schools and which one who will not. Students will not be assigned to schools according to the color of their skin. We are finally approaching King’s dream. Hopefully, this will end the tremendously failed race-based busing programs nationwide. The 5-4 ruling rejected racial decorating programs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington.

CNN reports:

The court struck down public school choice plans in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky, concluding they relied on an unconstitutional use of racial criteria, in a sharply worded pair of cases reflecting the deep legal and social divide over the issue of race and education. . .

Louisville-area schools endured decades of federal court oversight after schools there were slow to integrate. When that oversight ended in the late 1990s, county officials sought to maintain integration, requiring that most public schools have at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent African-American enrollment. The idea was to reflect the whole of Jefferson County, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black. Officials say their plan reflects not only the need for diversity but also the desire of parents for greater school choice.

A white parent, Crystal Meredith, sued, saying her child was twice denied the school nearest their home and had to endure a three-hour bus ride to a facility that was not their top choice. Many African-American parents raised similar concerns. . .

White parents have been suing nationwide because the racial decorating prevents white kids from going to schools in their own neighborhoods. This is a great example of elites using government to produce social results that were doomed to fail from the start because they failed to respect freedom and dignity.

Today’s ruling is good news for several reasons (see below):
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The confluence of two recent headline-making stories has the potential to impact the practice of free speech, political or otherwise, in this country.

First, let’s discuss the question of media bias that has surrounded the offer made by Rupert Murdoch to purchase the Wall Street Journal. The closure of the deal appears imminent, now that the formation of an independent board has been agreed upon.

NPR’s Morning Edition covered this story in detail yesterday, with a piece by David Folkenflik on the proposed merger, followed by an in-depth profile of Murdoch by Steve Inskeep. The Inskeep piece focused especially on concerns that Murdoch would influence the editorial stance of the journal.

Here’s how Inskeep finished the profile: Speaking of the WSJ, Inskeep intones that the paper “blends powerfully conservative editorials with powerfully balanced reporting.” According to a study of media bias published in 2005, however, Inskeep is only half right in that assessment.

In “A Measure of Media Bias,” appearing in The Quarterly Journal of Economics 120, no. 4 (November 2005): 1191-1237, authors Time Groseclose and Jeffrey Milvo determined that the WSJ was “the most liberal of all twenty news outlets” that they studied, a group including papers like the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, as well as numerous other cable TV, network, and news magazine outlets.

“We should first remind readers that this estimate (as well as all other newspaper estimates) refers only to the news of the Wall Street Journal. If we included data from the editorial page, surely it would appear more conservative,” write Groseclose and Milvo. Apparently Inskeep didn’t read this study or others like it. Or, perhaps even more importantly, it fit with his own editorial agenda to cast the WSJ news reporting in as centrist a light as possible, the better to highlight any possible rightward shift that might come under Murdoch’s ownership.

The second set of items revolves around the speculation that the Democratic majority in the Senate might be considering steps to re-install the media “fairness doctrine,” in substance if not in name.

Concerns that talk radio is unfairly unbalanced in favor of conservative politics fuels the ire of Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way,” Feinstein said. “I do believe in fairness. I remember when there was a fairness doctrine, and I think there was much more serious, correct reporting to people.”

There’s a lot to dislike about the “fairness doctrine,” but perhaps what concerns me the most is the precedent that such policies make with regard to political speech.

How easy would it be to expand the scope of such a doctrine beyond overtly political “talk radio” to other sorts of programming? What about religious broadcasting, whose content may have a greater or lesser political relevance depending on the particular issue? Could the censorship of religious speech in the US begin under the auspices of a politically-motivated “fairness” doctrine?

Update: Looks like a “fairness doctrine” amendment has been defeated. See also this editorial cartoon over at Townhall.

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If denominations want to demonstrate leadership over social issues like the environment they must have a good track record leading folks in spiritual matters within their own congregations.

After all, if they can’t handle the Great Commission, how effective can their first commission work possibly be? (more…)