Provisions of Obama’s jobs plan

The president unveiled his jobs package last night to a joint session of Congress.  Here are the main provisions of the $447 billion plan:

-EMPLOYEE TAX CUTS. A deeper payroll tax cut for all workers. Congress in December cut the payroll tax, which raises money for Social Security, from 6.2 percent for every worker to 4.2 percent, for all of 2011. Obama’s proposals would cut that tax even further – to 3.1 percent – for all workers in 2012. The tax applies to earnings up to $106,800. The estimated cost is $175 billion.

- EMPLOYER TAX CUTS. A payroll tax cuts for all business with payrolls up to $5 million. Obama’s proposal would cut the current 6.2 percent share of the payroll tax that employers pay to 3.1 percent. As with employees, that tax applies to annual employee earnings of $106,800. The White House says 98 percent of businesses have payrolls below the $5 million threshold. In addition, Obama proposes that businesses get a full payroll tax holiday for additional wages resulting from new hires or increased payrolls. The estimated cost is $65 billion.

- PUBLIC WORKS. The president proposes spending $30 billion to modernize schools and $50 billion on road and bridge projects. He also calls for an “infrastructure bank” to help raise private sector money to pay for infrastructure improvements and for a program to rehabilitate vacant properties as part of a neighborhood stabilization plan. The estimated total cost of all those programs is $105 billion.

-UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. If approved by Congress, the proposal would continue assistance to millions of people who are receiving extended benefits under emergency unemployment insurance set up during the recession. That program expired in November but Congress renewed it for 2011. If not renewed again, it would expire at the end of this year, leaving about 6 million jobless people at risk of losing benefits. The president also wants to spend extra money on states that help long-term unemployed workers though training programs. One model cited is a Georgia program that lets people receiving unemployment benefits obtain job training at a company at no cost to the employer. The estimated cost is $49 billion.

-LOCAL GOVERNMENT AID. The ailing economy has forced state and local governments to lay off workers. Money that states and municipalities received in the 2009 stimulus package has been running out. Obama proposes spending to guard against layoffs of emergency personnel and teachers. The estimated cost is $35 billion.

-EMPLOYER TAX CREDITS. The president proposes a tax credit of up to $4,000 for businesses that hire workers who have been looking for a job for more than six months. The estimated cost is $8 billion.

-EQUIPMENT DEDUCTION. Wary of imposing a burden on business, Obama wants to continue for one year a tax break for businesses, allowing them to deduct the full value of new equipment. Previously, companies could only deduct 50 percent of the value. The president and Congress in December negotiated that provision into law for 2011, but it is set to expire at the end of this year. The estimated cost is $5 billion.

via Highlights of Obama’s jobs plan – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee.

Lots of reliance on tax cuts.  I thought that was a Republican tactic that  Democrats scorn in their crusade for new revenue.  Isn’t all this help for business  what Democrats usually mock as “trickle down economics” and help for the rich?  There is, of course, lots of government spending of money that we do not have.

Do you think this will get Americans working again?

One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

Happy birthday, Star Trek

Thursday was the 45th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek on NBC.

Are you or have you ever been a Trekkie?  Have you gotten a life, and if so, do you still like Star Trek? What is it about this series that we still talk about it 45 years later?

Which series is your favorite?  Can we agree that the original series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, et al. was by far the best?

45 Years Ago Today: Star Trek Debuted on NBC | Strange Herring.

What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.

The Republican debate

Well, I thought the eight presidential candidates trying to get the Republican convention did well in their debate last night.  I hadn’t heard Perry before, and he came across well.  I was pleasantly surprised with Huntsman, who played the optimism card  (though he lost me with his slam against those who are conducting a “war on science” by questioning evolution and global warming).  Cain had good things to say.  And you’ve got to hand it to Ron  Paul, who knows what he believes and can articulately make his case.  And so does Newt Gingrich, for sure.  Rick Santorum was likeable and sincere, getting across his pro-family message.  Michelle Bachmann made sense.  And Mitt Romney was articulate and thoughtful.  (Did I compliment everyone?  I think so.)

As someone has observed, this is a Republican race, and yet the questioners ask Democratic questions.  It would be more helpful to conservative voters to hear the candidates debate conservative issues, not defend themselves from liberal charges.

Perhaps when the American public gets used to seeing these candidates, with more and more events like this, they won’t seem so scary.

And yet, I’m still undecided. And I’m still not convinced that any of these candidates can beat President Obama, despite his low approval ratings.

Your thoughts about the debate?  Have any of these candidates inspired your passionate loyalty?

 

Peace or Truth?

Michael Hannon uses a Luther quotation to get at the essential difference between liberalism and conservatism.  (And he concludes that Luther is right.)

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs!” Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luther’s principle—that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time—will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal.

It’s no secret that these two contemporary political labels are problematic. Unfortunately, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are too often associated with just two distinct sets of seemingly randomly connected positions on the hot-button issues of our day. But perhaps the two contemporary camps identified by these labels of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are not as random as they seem. And perhaps Luther has presented the key for understanding their primary difference.

The question is this: Why does the pro-life camp typically align with the anti-“same-sex marriage” camp? Why are those in favor of the death penalty so often the most outspoken critics of euthanasia and assisted suicide? The answer cannot simply be partisan loyalty, for a large number of critically reflective persons today would just as soon have no affiliation with any political party.

There indeed is something deeper linking these various positions together: while the conservative agrees with Luther and recognizes truth as a higher good than peace, the liberal would again and again subordinate truth to peace for the sake of maintaining societal harmony.

Hannon goes on to apply this distinction to positions on gay marriage, abortion, and other issues.  He then analyzes the two concepts, concluding that truth has to be prior to peace, logically and in practice (otherwise, you end up losing them both).  His conclusion:

So while the liberal’s desire for peace is good, he errs in putting peace first, making toleration the summum bonum, and embracing moral relativism for the sake of avoiding conflicts. The conservative on the other hand, following in the longstanding tradition that stretches back to Aristotle and beyond, recognizes that our political order ought to follow from the moral order, which itself flows from our human nature.

Where does this battle between conservatives and liberals finally end? If our opponents emerge victorious, nowhere good. For the logical conclusion of liberalism—which liberalism fights against in the name of peace, but which liberals insofar as they are men must be led towards by the natural reason they try to suppress—is Nihilism, the most terrifying worldview imaginable. Eventually, “my truth” and “your truth” are seen for what they really mean: No truth. And a culture without any grasp of truth is a culture without any connection to reality, a culture thus doomed to die. We can still avoid demise, but to do so, we need a hefty dose of metaphysics, a serious consideration of truth to serve as the guiding principle of our civilization.

via Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costs | First Things.


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