Monday, June 20, 2011

MIC Annual Meeting -- Vote Your Values

On a hot evening in at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, Marin Interfaith Council held its annual meeting. Executive Director Rev. Carol Hovis updated the gathering on the status of the council -- what MIC has sponsored, review of budget, thanking various members for specific work, honoring outgoing and incoming officers, etc. Author Nafisa Haji, whose second novel, The Sweetness of Tears,1 has just been published, and who represents the International Association of Sufism, has concluded her term as President and is now freer to promote her book and work on new ones. The Rev. Rob Gieselmann of St. Stephen's Church in Belvedere takes over. Other Board members' terms are completed and new members have come onto the Board.

Among the announcements, Robert Plath,2 founder of Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance, invited everyone to the 15th annual International Day of Forgiveness on August 7, preceded by workshops on August 6. The honorees share incredibly inspirational stories of forgiveness in their lives. I hope this event is widely celebrated in other towns and cities as well.

Anne Ryan, a former intern with Marin Interfaith Counsel and recent graduate of Dominican University, who now works for CompassPoint, gave a presentation entitled "Vote Your Values: An Interfaith Conversation about the California Budget Crisis." Using a power point presentation and giving more relevant facts about the state budget crisis than I could note, Anne also had us do some role-playing and small-group discussions at our tables.

As a result of one of these discussions, when we were talking about the prison system, I made the point that there are only five religions recognized by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Judaism, Islam, and "Native American." Five Abrahamic faiths and one vague name for several belief systems, but one that benefits Native American inmates, and sometimes can benefit Pagans. I pointed out that in that room there were far more than five religious traditions. Perhaps it is assumed that Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others don't commit crimes? I spoke briefly about Patrick McCollum's lawsuit in the 9th Circuit. News of this situation was met with dismay.

Among the few facts I managed to note were:
  1. A one-half cent sales tax would generate $3 billion in one year. Of course, this would impact the poor more severely than the wealthier population.
  2. California ranks 48 in the nation on education (spending per student, and teaching results). For a state blessed with so much wealth, this is shameful. It would be shameful even if California were not so prosperous. It's just flat-out shameful! We do our children a disservice by leaving them ill prepared to earn their livings and to compete for jobs.
  3. Among the states where oil is extracted, 21 of them tax the oil companies. The only state that doesn't is California. Imposing such a tax seems an easy partial remedy to our budget shortfall, and a no-brainer but for the pressure of oil interests on legislators.
  4. The state income tax rate for income exceeding $250,000 per year (only on the income that exceeds that amount) is currently 9.3%, which is very low. Increasing that tax to 10% would generate an additional $6 billion in revenue and would affect only 2% of the population. Another no-brainer were it not for political opposition.
  5. California legislators are working on a domestic workers' bill of rights, guaranteeing minimum wage and other benefits commonly extended to wage-earners (as distinct from salaried employees). This can only be a good thing.
  6. Eliminating the death penalty would save the state $125 million annually.
  7. Nonprofits are the second largest employer in the state.
Among the questions she posed, one was, "What did you learn in your home about taxes?" I didn't hear anyone say s/he had learned anything at all about taxes. (Americans are so uptight about money. They would rather reveal intimate facts about their sex lives than speak about their earnings or their personal wealth, not to mention the same if they were to admit to being overextended and/or impoverished.)

One of the Jewish members explained their attitude towards charity, saying that they contribute to organizations in order to preserve the pride of the individual recipients of largesse.

I have known for many years that California has the eighth largest economy in the world. What clicked for me most strongly as a result of Anne's talk was that the money is here! It is in this state, and it just has to be channeled, by way of taxes, into schools, infrastructure, social services, and the many other needs of a large and diverse population.

As always, MIC has provided its membership with valuable knowledge to help us set priorities and work towards a more just world for all.

Other groups can avail themselves of Anne's presentation by contacting CompassPoint.

1. I enjoyed reading her first novel, The Writing on My Forehead, from which I got a better sense of the Pakistani American experience.
2. Bob and I first met in San Francisco in 1964, in what was a previous life for both of us.

1 comment:

Pitch313 said...

During my reading of the McCollum case decision, I noted that "Native American" was added to the DoC's list in furtherance of a consent decree. My suspicion was that it got added only because the prison administration realized that they could not keep it off the list.

We can see how hard they will fight to keep any other sort of religion off that list.