Pope Benedict’s Resignation

The big news today is that the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict, in an unprecedented move, has resigned.

My first reaction upon hearing the news was, ‘It’s good he’s resigning;  he was a waste of space.’ I’ve never been a huge fan of Pope Benedict. I am a very liberal Catholic and the Pope is extremely conservative. We are like any religion in that there’s a broad spectrum of beliefs, ranging from extreme liberal to extreme conservative. It’s only fitting that the head of the Church would want to protect its conservative values.

But as the day wore on and I listened to the news and read more, I’m starting to have a lot of respect for a leader who came to a very difficult decision and realized he had to do what was best for the church, even if it meant tarnishing his legacy. For that, I want to thank Pope Benedict. To be in poor health and to make the decision to throw the Church into turmoil as it searches for a new leader, the poor Pope must have been in quite a bit of distress lately. I pray for him, in gratitude for his service (although we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye) and for his health.

If you haven’t read his full statement, here it is.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonisations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

BENEDICTUS PP XVI

EXPLETIVE, EXPLETIVE CATHOLIC CHURCH

I’ve been overwhelmingly busy, too busy to blog. But I’ve been reading about the health care reform regarding birth control. Initially Obama’s plan required religiously-affiliated organizations to pay for birth control. Obviously the Catholic Church is opposed, voicing freedom to practice their religious beliefs. Letter of the law Catholics do not believe in birth control. Pandering to religious conservatives, Obama had no choice but to modify his plan which now excludes religious organizations from adhering to the law.

I am horrifically mortified with the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue. EXPLETIVE, EXPLETIVE CATHOLIC CHURCH!

I feel ill knowing that I am a member of an organization that preaches family values and acceptance, yet turns its back on its own members who don’t conform to antiquated rules that are determined by old white men—men who have no clue, but are very content shaking their finger and telling Catholics what they can and cannot do. Wake up! This is not the middle ages. People have sex, people need birth control.

I was infuriated to attend church on Sunday and find our weekly bulletin included flyers on this issue, asking people to write their congress men. “This very important issue that has major repercussions for the Catholic Church.” Oh puhleeze. Instead of wasting your time bullying Obama or telling people whether or not they can buy condoms or birth control pills or have abortions, take a look at your own flaws and try to fix them.

Like all the children who have been abused by Catholic priests. SICK! Maybe you ought to paper your church with flyers on that!

Budget: Extreme Makeover

I’ve been crunching numbers non-stop lately.

It started when my tenant gave notice that he’d be leaving at the end of this month. Quick to Craigslist. What’s the going rate for a 1-bedroom apartment in Lower Pac Heights? I’ve been renting my place for more than two years, steadily increasing the rent with each new lease. But this time, I aimed a lot higher. The rental market is dot-com hot. I’ve got Googlers, engineers, doctors, interns, VCs emailing and calling. A New Yorker hired at Facebook told me he was contending with crowds of applicants at every open house. Bejesus! Instead of 20%, I should have increased the rent by 30%. I still would have had the demand.

With the rental money covering my mortgage, HOAs, and property taxes combined, I don’t want to be one of those un-disciplined Americans who takes that extra money and spends it. Like when we get raises, we adjust our lifestyle accordingly. No, I want to be fiscally conservative.

More research! Even before the tenant changeover, I have been eyeing mortgage rates, targeting a 4% or lower 30-year rate. Then a friend tipped me off to consider a 15-year. THANKS KITTY! I couldn’t seem to make the numbers work, but I kept on it. Determined to cash in on these low rates, I searched all the major banks’ websites for mortgage rates. I scoured the web. I looked at ING and First Republic. I called Residential Finance Corporation because they had mailed me a promotion. And lastly, I checked Navy Federal Credit Union who I used to refinance my private student loan. There it was, a 3.125% 15-year mortgage rate – right on the money.

A little bit of luck, ample social networking, friendship, a lot of research, and persistence. It pays.

Money Monday: Buffett Says Yes to More Taxes

This op-ed piece was published in the NYTimes early this week. I used to think that taxing the rich more would mean less donations, less private funding to non-profits, less economic growth. I had no idea that the rich get so many tax breaks. That they’re not even paying their fair share. I am outraged at what types of conservative fiscal policies have been put in place over the years. I very well may be a Democrat through and through.

—–

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

via Stop Coddling the Super-Rich – NYTimes.com.

Money Monday: The Budget

I wanted to share my opinion today on the budget–THE budget–as in the federal budget that’s slated to cut $38 billion in spending for the year. The fact that the measure was not finalized until the last minute because of funding to Planned Parenthood makes me so furious. The socially conservative, pro-life Republican party eventually caved on their proposal to restrict federal money for family planning.

The irony that the staunchest anti-abortion proponents are right-wing, conservative men should not go unnoticed. I want to laugh when I see these righteous people waving their Bibles, flaunting their morals, and telling other people how they should live their lives. The fact is their daughters and granddaughters are getting knocked up and having abortions. The fact is their sons and grandsons are gay. The fact is these anti-gay political leaders are leading double lives. How many conservatives have been shamefully caught having gay sex? And for them to point their fingers and tell women that we can’t have access to birth control, that we can’t get advice on family planning? Oh yeah, stand by those Christian principles of yours.

I’m all for slashing the budget. Tough times call for fucking tough measures. But consider the consequences. First, you eliminate Planned Parenthood. Next, a woman can’t afford childcare so she can’t get a job. Then, she’s on welfare, but that’s not sustainable because we’re cutting the budget, remember? It all starts at prevention. Prevention as in Planned Parenthood!

This is the land of the free. Free to practice your own faith. Free to stand by your own Christian principles. And free to make choices.

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