We, the Extorted

There is a remarkably simplistic, captioned sepia-toned photo making the rounds on several of the social networks. I won’t post it in this entry, but the gist is that until 1913 Americans “kept all of their earnings”, and in spite of that fact we had schools and roads and railroads and an Army and unicorns pooped tax-free rainbows. Therefore people today are being “extorted”.

The implication is that prior to 1913, when the 16th Amendment was ratified (allowing Congress to levy income taxes without apportioning them among the states or basing them on the United States Census), we weren’t paying taxes on our earning, and we did just fine. Therefore taxes = extortion.

But this is a remarkably ignorant reading of history. Just because in 1913 Congress could levy taxes without apportioning them, doesn’t mean taxes didn’t exist before then. You can’t even claim to have read the Constitution and say that, since the 16th Amendment was just a modification of Congress’ ability to levy taxes as granted in Article I, Sections 2 and 8; not something brand new. Prior to 1913 there were direct and indirect taxes: excise taxes and tariffs, import taxes, property taxes, taxes on economic activities, personal income taxes (on and off since 1861), inheritance taxes, poll taxes, sales taxes, etc. Or does someone think the state and federal governments worked with zero budgets until 1913?

In addition, a lot of the income taxes imposed before 1913 used wars as their justification, so that helps explain the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Heck, one of the main reasons the Constitution came to be was because the nation was unable to pay its war debts, thanks to the lack of collection powers in the Articles of Confederation.  And prior to the establishment of public education, schools and colleges were available only to those who could afford to pay for them personally or within their community, so it wasn’t exactly an educational utopia for those who wanted the opportunity to better themselves but lacked the money.

But fundamentally we need to ask the question: does anyone think that 1912 was the high-water mark for American society and the welfare and happiness of its citizens, one that we should strive to recreate?

Sure, there is tax fraud and waste today, and we can work to eliminate that within the current tax context. But as my friend Ben Zvan said after April 15th this year, quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” To equate taxation with extortion or to claim that prior to 1913 no one paid taxes and everything was peachy because of it is ridiculous.

Fred Phelps has died.

Fred Phelps, founder/leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died.

This is a profound test of our ability to rise above the ignorance and hatred that were part and parcel of his message.

I do not celebrate the death of any human being. I wish he had dealt with whatever demons made him so broken and spoiled inside. I wish he hadn’t wasted the only life he will ever know.

I will celebrate the death of his message, whenever that happens: it hasn’t died with him, and that’s one of the things that makes it impossible for me to experience any joy at his passing. The other is basic human decency and the sometimes complicated and conflicting desire to be a better person than he ever chose to be. But I won’t celebrate his death, as much as the primitive lizard part of my brain begs me to gloat over it.

May he rest, not in peace, but in oblivion: forgotten. May his funeral not be picketed or protested, but instead completely ignored. May his message be reviled wherever it survives, and die the painful death I hope he was spared. May his “religion”, gnarled, twisted branch of a tree that grows in the shape that we nurture it to be, wither and fall.

We have work to do. Let’s not waste our time on those who deserve none of it, other than to learn our lessons about the bell curve of humanity, and move on.

The Tyranny of Forced Time-Saving

This whole concept of the GOVERNMENT telling us what time it is, and then having us all move forwards and backwards in lockstep at their whim, reeks of socialism. When the Founding Fathers met to write the Constitution, there was ONE time zone in the United States, and it was called THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE STANDARD TIME. And now, almost 300 years later, the government has expanded that FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT in the continental US, not even counting Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Falkland Islands.

WASTEFUL.

Since when does being a U.S. citizen mean we surrender our watches? After all, one of the first requirements of a well-regulated state militia is that everyone can agree on what time to attack. If the Federal Government can change time at their pleasure, then how can a state militia know when to show up to defend their fundamental liberties? “Sorry, local patriot state militia: you’re an hour late and your slot was given to those hippies in Vermont and now you have to marry this gay giraffe while smoking free government-provided pot for your glaucoma AT EXACTLY 10:30 EASTERN COMMIE TIME.”

SOCIALISM. WHAT TIME IS IT BACK IN KENYA, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA?

I say we go back the principles that founded this great nation, to the ideals of the patriots that fled England and the tyranny of Queen-imposed “Greenwich Mean Time” (the “G” in “GMT” used to mean “Government”). Back then no one agreed on what time it was, and everything worked out fine! The words “Central Standard Time” don’t even appear in the Constitution!

A great man once started a speech with the words: “Four score and twenty years ago…” Not “Four score and twenty years ago at exactly 4:20pm Mountain Standard Time”. Back then you didn’t depend on the government for your handouts of free time, you made your own. People “made time” for each other! That’s where that saying originally comes from! We worked *together* as a country to make time: we didn’t depend on socialist redistribution of time stolen from the rich time-creators to give to those too lazy to get up in the morning at whatever time they want and put in a full day’s work at whatever job they had at the time.

The only “time” we should recognize is the Time to Take Back our Freedom. Throw off your shackles, people! Stop bowing down to Obama’s corporate foreign masters in Switzerland! You have nothing to lose but an extra hour of sleep once a year!

Written by my hand, the 9th of March, 2014, at Flebteen past Hammertime, Dave’s Standard Time.

Judge Strikes Down Virginia’s Ban On Gay Marriage, Ruling STAYED

The Virginia ruling today that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional is mandatory reading for everyone. The decision is stayed pending appeal, but it’s a thing of beauty: it starts out with a quote from Mildred Loving, plaintiff in the 1967 case that took down all bans on interracial marriage in the U.S., and just gets better from there.

Some choice quotes:

“Our nation’s uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. “We the People” have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.”

“Counsel for Intervenor-Defendant McQuigg proclaimed at oral argument that “[P]laintiffs are asking this court to . . . strike down the marriage laws that have existed now for 400 years… and make a policy in this state that mothers and fathers [do not] matter.” …This is a profound distortion of what Plaintiffs seek. Plaintiffs honor, and yearn for, the sacred values and dignity that other individuals celebrate when they enter into marital vows in Virginia, and they ask to no longer be deprived of the opportunity to share these fundamental rights.”

“Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his own life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just… the same thing — fairness, and fairness only. This so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”

“The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”

Seriously, go read it. It’s very happy-making, coming from a judge that totally, TOTALLY gets it: she destroys the “for the children” argument and the “traditional marriage” argument, which were the ones put forth by the state.

Virginia has not only a state Constitutional Amendment that declares marriage only to be between a man and a woman (the same type of amendment MN defeated in 2012), it goes even further: it has laws that declare that ANY type of civil union or contract or domestic partnership that even looks like marriage is illegal. Both of these have been declared unconstitutional.

As a side note, the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Wright Allen on May 11, 2011 in a 96–0 vote. She was nominated by President Obama.

MN Caucus Time!

Minnesota friends and AU members: find your caucus.  Attend.

The major party caucuses are tomorrow, Tuesday Feb 4th, and there are fewer better ways to participate in your democratic form of government than attending… other than actually, you know, *voting*.  It’s where the agenda for the parties is set at the local level.

To provide further incentive, we have received 3 emails today from right-wing fundamentalist groups urging their members to attend in order to push their major agenda items for this year, and all of them call for passing resolutions to reduce church and state separation, including:

  • Gutting the Safe Schools bill by allowing bullying if the bully is “expressing a sincerely-held religious belief”
  • Pushing through laws that allow people to deny services to same-sex couples (or anyone else) based on religious objections to their lifestyles
  • Pushing laws that make abortions harder or impossible to get in MN, regardless of the impact on women’s health, the viability of the fetus or exceptions for abuse and rape, thanks to religious definitions

Does that sound like an agenda you want to see promoted, or given to your local politicians as the supposed will of the people they represent?  Then please attend your local caucus, and make sure the agendas YOU want to see, those that support separation of Church and State, are the ones that are represented.

Instead of the above, let’s have conversations and resolutions about:

- The minimum wage
– Closing racial and economic gaps
– Reforming the criminal justice system to improve equal treatment
– Single payer healthcare
– Making sure the right to vote is maintained (no voter ID, and keep same-day registration)
– Improving access to life-long education

Find your local caucus at this link.

See you there.

Authors, intent and interpretation

Religion Stencil

Religion Stencil (Photo credit: murdelta)

An interesting summary of current biblical scholarship. Not from atheist scientists intent on destroying Christianity, but from the historical theologians within the religious traditions who are experts in these matters.

“The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.”

That’s the mainstream religious scholarly view, mind: not the secular unbeliever scholarly view.

By all means: take the moral lessons, parables and teachings of the Bible and extract the ones that are good and make sense to you, and use them in your life. There are some good ones in there. But there are some pretty terrible ones too, and every reader parses them through their own worldview, cherry-picking what your morality already agrees with and discarding what it does not. It’s why the Bible was used for centuries to justify slavery, and at the same time was eventually one of the texts use to justify emancipation.

Just don’t take it as gospel (pun definitely intended). Since we lack the original texts (we only have copies of copies of copies, with each subsequent copier changing the text, introducing errors, adding clarifications so that their personal religious opinion issued forth from the mouths of the apostles in order to give them historical weight they didn’t deserve), we aren’t even really certain what they first said.

Is this a call for everyone to be non-religious? No. I’ve obviously made my choice on that matter, and this is only one of the many factors in my worldview. But what I do hope to get from posting this type of information is a counterpoint to those who center their perspective on major issues (same-sex marriage, bullying, abortion, contraception, the role of women in the church and in society, our role as men in society, what morality is and what it means, how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical or unethical, or what role ANY religious text should have in determining the laws that govern all of us) on what they believe are firsthand witness accounts of real events that are accepted as historical fact. They are, unfortunately, nothing of the sort: it’s up to you to bring morality to the table and make a case for your position on these issues, independently of what these texts say. They are not, in any sense of the word, definitive; regardless of what religious tradition you belong to, your focus should be on humanity and morality today, not what it was thousands of years ago.

The world and the things we know about it today are orders of magnitude different from what people knew back then. We know that common practices and beliefs from back in those days are today considered completely unacceptable, in some cases even immoral; we also know that no matter which particular one of the thousands of sub-sects of religion you belong to, your practice and beliefs today would be unrecognizable (perhaps even heretical) to people back then. Heck, there wasn’t even a common set of books recognized as part of the New Testament until hundreds of years CE. I’d love to hear someone debate a 3rd century religious believer and explain to them why the gnostic traditions in the Book of Thomas or the Book of Judas no longer apply, especially considering that authorship and provenance of those gospels is no less murky as those of Luke, Matthew or John.

Live a good life. Let others live theirs. Love thy neighbor, treat him/her the way you would like to be treated. Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone, all that good stuff. And accept that your interpretation of your religious texts is very likely quite different from those of members of your religion from a century ago, and completely different from those that were alive two or three or four millennia before that, so don’t get too attached to them as the only possible interpretation of how to live a good life. They are your interpretation, one out of thousands, and just that: nothing more. The odds that they are wrong are far from zero, a fact that we should all accept with vast helpings of humility regarding any perception of unquestioned and unquestionable veracity.

Wages: two approaches

When companies like Walmart pay their employees so little that they require government assistance to survive, that assistance is paid for by your taxes. Therefore, you are subsidizing companies so that they can keep their costs down and raise their profits. I have nothing against a company making money, but I do have an issue when they are doing so by foisting their employee costs onto the taxpayer.

Isn’t the appropriate response to tax the companies whose employees are paid so little they require public assistance, in the proportion to which that assistance is required? Balance is therefore achieved when employees are paid enough of a living wage that they don’t require assistance paid for by your taxes.

1 in 3 bank tellers in New York makes around $14k a year, which means they are eligible for quite a bit of public assistance, to the tune of about $120 million a year, mostly in food stamps and Medicaid. That assistance is paid for out of your taxes.

Instead, we should be taxing those companies that pay less than subsistence wages (in this case, the banks) enough to cover that $120 million, and reduce those taxes as employees’ salaries are raised to the point that they no longer require public assistance. That way you and I don’t pay taxes to subsidize corporate profits.

..or, just raise the minimum wage so that a person working a full time job can actually not live in poverty. Same result, different method, different way of looking at the problem.

Thoughts?

O’Reilly riles up the troops

It’s the end of Hannukkah on Thursday, which means the War on Christmas officially begins. Or rather, Bill O’Reilly ranting about the War on Christmas officially kicks into a higher gear for no reason.

The reason I love this particular video is that O’Reilly is reading verbatim from his cue cards, which are displayed so you can read along with him. It’s like an ESL video for the politically uninformed, but I’m guessing it has more to do with trying to hide the fact that O’Reilly *always* moves his lips while reading.

For what it’s worth, AU, the ACLU, the FFRF and the AHA do not want to “remove religion from the public square”: they want the government to stop promoting and favoring specific religions over others. A subtlety that is lost on those who prefer their politics in bumper sticker sizes: “War on Christmas” just sounds catchier than the truth.

Greece v. Galloway: the day after

The transcript of the arguments in the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case is posted at the Supreme Court website.  Background and discussion on the case is available at SCotUSblog, and details of AU’s involvement in the case can be found at the au.org website.

My impression from an initial read? Justices Kagan and Ginsburg recognize that sectarian prayer to open governmental events is problematic, Justice Sotomayor focused on the impossibility of defining any prayer as “non-sectarian” and the issue of coercion (as did Kagan later on), and Justices Kennedy and Roberts (!) narrowed in on skepticism about the argument that it was allowed in the Marsh case because it was “historical” or “tradition” (i.e. the prayer/invocation had been done for a long time, therefore it was somehow acceptable?).

And I certainly got the impression that Justice Breyer was indicating he was an atheist, or at least agnostic (see pages 18-19).

Justices Alito, Scalia and (to a lesser degree) Roberts then focused on the impossibility of defining a prayer that would be acceptable to all religions (or people of no religion). And that’s certainly the right set of questions to ask: since there’s no way to please everyone’s religion, why not realize that there’s no real point in having an official prayer to open a governmental function, and definitely no requirement at all to do so, therefore just get rid of it? If people want to pray to their personal deity, have them do it in their own personal time. They were certainly asking the right questions, if perhaps being led to different conclusions.

But the rest of the discussion seemed to veer towards showing how when the court meddles in this kind of religious issue everyone seems to get angry and agitated (as Justice Kagan notes), and at that point everyone seemed to agree that they’d prefer that this issue would just go away, but that thanks to Marsh it won’t. I got the impression that several of the Justices really recognized that there is an issue here that has no easy resolution if prayer is allowed in some legislative sessions and perhaps not in others, and no easy way to reconcile various precedents with a consistent approach that sets a strict line. Except of course the clear line of doing the unpopular thing and prohibiting prayer in governmental functions, at which point the same people who constantly complain that children aren’t allowed to pray in public schools (which is untrue) would complain even louder.

Sounds to me like the Justices are going to find a way to rule in the most extremely narrow way possible, to affect this case and only this case, in order to avoid any ruling that could be used as precedent over establishing a formal line on what constitutes “too much” government involvement in religion.

Language, intent and depth

The words “fascist”, “Nazi”, “socialist”, “communism”, “libtard”, and phrases like “don’t tread on me”, “death panels” or “activist judges”, as well as referring to the President as “Barry Soetoro” or “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”.

In political discussions (unless you’re discussing Axis countries in the 1940s), the use of these words and phrases are a clear indication that you are not a serious thinker, and most probably a far-right-leaning one. They also indicate that your political opinions are superficial enough that they would probably fit on a bumper sticker… and inevitably, they do.

They are also usually an indicator that your main form of political interaction is posting GIFs that denote anyone who simply disagrees with your opinion as an idiot.

Any of the above indicators generally lead me to regard someone as not worth having a political discussion with, since they are not willing to allow subtleties or shades of gray into the discussion, or accept that not everyone thinks in lockstep–with them OR against them. My question is: what are the words and phrases that cause people on the right to “switch off” in a similar way when discussing issues with left-leaning people?

I imagine that “gun nut”, “Teatards”, “ReTHUGlicans” are some of those trigger words. What else?

Our goal should be to remove these simplistic (and typically unnecessarily insulting) words from our speech, precisely to avoid that automatic shutdown in conversation. Not in a superficial way (by simply not using the words, while retaining the mindset), but by refining our ways of thinking to avoid simplistic, bumper-sticker philosophies. If the country’s problems could be solved by chanting slogans at each other, they’d be fixed by now.

There are many intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats in the country. There are mean-spirited, bigoted and destructive ones too: my guess is that they are far fewer, but they do seem to make more noise and attract more attention than they deserve. Words like “DemocRATS” and “ReTHUGlicans” sweep all those differences under the carpet, and paint an entire half of the country with a stereotype that makes discussion impossible: you don’t negotiate or compromise with someone you believe is an idiot. We have seen what this attitude can do, and it’s time to change it.

Start changing yours by not using those stereotyped, insulting trigger words in your speech and online posts. Criticize a person’s actions, attitudes and words if you disagree with them, but do so with substance and without painting an entire demographic with a single brush. Hardly anyone on the Right disagrees with me on every issue, and I don’t share the opinion of every single Democrat. But if the only thing we agree on is that “the other side’ are a bunch of duplicitous, evil morons intent on destroying the country, then we’ll end up with a country not worth saving in the first place.