October 07, 2010

Exaggerated Claims

It seems that a lot of people lately have been lying or making misleading statements in order to justify their views on things.  (If that introductory sentence gives the impression that the tone of today's blog post is going to be a little different than normal, and you don't like it, then you might want to visit some other blog today.)  I appreciate hearing from people with differences of opinion; conversations that include various viewpoints are, I've found, quite helpful.  But when the participants in those conversations lie, distort the truth, or deliberately mislead their listeners, it goes beyond annoying.  It makes me fear for the future.

One example:  I have before talked on this blog about those who insist that all Muslims are terrorists.  Well, this week I've noticed a video making the rounds on facebook and other internet sites which proclaims that all Muslims are advocates of violence, and will do anything to force Islam upon all people everywhere.  Even Muslims who claim to be advocates of peace, the video claims, are simply lying in order to achieve their goals.

Yikes!  The video is so blatantly hateful and prejudiced that I don't know where to begin.  The makers of the video have obviously used their own fears to paint a picture of Islam that is completely false.  In their effort to get people to view all Muslims according to their own distorted vision, they have become advocates of the type of hatred and even terror that they purport to criticize.

I wasn't going to talk about Islam in this post, since I've talked about it previously on this blog, but the shock of seeing such a hateful video trumped what I had previously planned to talk about.  What was on my mind originally was the misleading claims of politicians in this election season.  Politicians of all parties and ideologies employ half-truths and misleading statements in an effort to distinguish them from their competitors, but one I noticed this week seems particularly misleading. 

Candidates here in California (and, I suspect, elsewhere in the country) are talking about the "largest tax increase in history" that will take place in 2011 unless they are able to beat out their political opponent in history.  The phrase "largest tax increase in history" is attention-grabbing, and startled me enough to investigate whether the claim is true.

According to factcheck.org, the "tax increase" that is scheduled to go into effect is the result of the expiration of tax cuts that are currently in effect.  A vast majority of those in office today are committed to preserving those tax cuts for everyone except for families making over $250,000 a year, which means that for families that make less than $250,000, there will be no tax increase.

For the richest Americans, there might be a tax increase, but some politicians (Republicans mostly, but also a number of Democrats) are working to keep the cuts for even the wealthiest Americans.  Let's say, though, that the tax cuts are allowed to expire for the wealthy.  How does that compare historically?

The current tax rate for the wealthiest Americans is 35%.  If the tax cuts are allowed to expire, then that tax rate would rise to 39.6%.  Jim Wallis, in his book "Rediscovering Values," puts that in perspective.  He points out that "under Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, the top tax bracket was at 91%.  Democratic president John F. Kennedy cut that to 70%."  Further reductions since have brought that down to 35%.

Now, if you think 39.6% is too much to tax the wealthiest Americans, fine.  But any claim that this amounts to the "biggest tax increase in history" must be put into historical context.  I don't know whether or not it is the biggest increase in history or not, but it is clear that it will not result in the highest taxes in history, which I think is what many people assume after hearing the claim.

Finally, I should point out that my own views on this are biased.  I admit it: I am biased by the faith I claim and the scripture that guides me in faith.   In scripture (as Jim Wallis points out), when the inequality of wealth grew too great -- when the rich grew too rich and the poor too poor -- God sent prophets to speak out against society's injustice.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah ... all of the biblical prophets lived in times of great inequality of wealth.

On the other hand, when things were relatively equal -- when the rich weren't too rich, and the poor weren't too poor -- there were no prophets.

The first decade of the 21st century has been a period of extreme inequality of wealth.  The income gap between rich and poor is greater than it has been at any time in history since the 1920s.  The income gap of the 1920s is, according to many economists, one of the causes of the Great Depression that followed.

This, too, is part of the "history" that should be considered in this political season.  Perhaps, in this election season, what we need is fewer politicians, and more prophets.

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