Defending the indefensible

The people who were defending the ex-CEO of Firefox and the Duck Dynasty character on freedom of speech grounds, and decrying their criticism as un-American censorship have been remarkably quiet in their defense of Donald Sterling.

Ted Cruz on Phil Robertson: “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job.”

Ted Cruz on Donald Sterling: “I agree with President Obama: Don Sterling’s comments are ignorant and offensive. Millions of Americans of all races love the NBA, and these racist sentiments have utterly no place in our society.”

So, I’m guessing that if Donald Sterling were a racist for *religious* reasons, then he’s an American Patriot expressing his religious freedom, just as the Founding Fathers intended. But if you’re a racist because you’re just a straight-up dumbass, then that’s unacceptable.

So you can be a racist or not a racist, a homophobe or not a homophobe, depending on where you think the voices in your head are coming from.

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in Pope news…

Yesterday in the Vatican the Pope, the world’s most widely-beloved while simultaneously ignored religious leader, canonized two other Popes while a fourth Pope looked on from the wings. Then, with a cry of “ULTRAPOPE: ASSEMBLE!” the four Popes joined together to form a single giant mecha-Pope with the power to take credit for a single poorly-documented case of leukemia remission, while millions of other people worldwide continued stubbornly and blasphemously dying of malaria.

The UltraPope then schismed into 14 different SectPopes, each one with the infallible and unchallengeable authority to interpret religious texts in ways that differ substantially from the other 13.

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.

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.