Monday, February 26, 2001

Week of 02/26/2001

The Reparation Scheme
- by David Matthews 2

It had been talked about in certain sections of the African-American community. It’s mentioned in passing in other parts of society. It is sometimes whispered by certain members of Congress. But every so often it comes up for public discussion.

I’m talking about reparation for slavery.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, even he knew that was only a half-truth. Not all men were created equal. That only applied to certain white men.

But there were attempts to change that. Slavery was outlawed in many states. But that wasn’t enough, because the southern states still allowed it. We went through a bloody civil war to make sure all those enslaved were free. But that wasn’t enough, because then there were "Jim Crow" laws set up to discriminate between white and black citizens. So there were Civil Rights marches and efforts made to get rid of those laws and create a level playing field irregardless of race.

But now we’re told that still isn’t enough. Now some people are wanting money. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan feels that the only way the races could "be equal" is if the US Government gives out a huge cash payment.

Well let’s get brutally honest here… does anyone ACTUALLY think that simply giving out a cash payment will serve as the cure-all to any continuing problems we have between the races?

The whole idea of reparation started on a promise that could not be kept. All former slaves were supposed to get 40 acres and a mule. That was the promise continually mentioned. But the flip-side of that was that Congress never approved of the deal, so essentially it was an empty promise.

However, that did not stop some people from wanting that promise kept. Especially after the US Government sent out $20,000 and formal letters of apology to each and every surviving Japanese-American who were interned during World War II.

Ah.. but there was the rub! The reparations went out to the SURVIVING internists! Not to their children or to their grandchildren! If you happened to have died before the US Government was able to personally send you that letter of apology and the twenty grand, you were out of luck! You got nothing!

Oh, okay.. so let’s find someone who was a slave, who was freed during the Emancipation Proclamation, and who is still alive and kicking today. Mind you, they’d have to be well over 130 years old.

But I get the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t Congressman Conyer’s idea to do that. No, he was looking for a blanket lump sum payment to everyone of color, even if your ancestors weren’t brought over in bondage.

Now isn’t that a kick in the pants! Getting a check simply because of your race! Talk about getting something for nothing!

And what is to say that ONE check wouldn’t be enough for some people? What is to stop people like Congressman Conyers from then demanding a second round of checks? Or a third? Or for that matter, a continual series of payments?

While we’re at it, what about all of those years of affirmative action? Weren’t those created to offset some of the discrimination? If Congressman Conyers is going to figure out how much the African-American community is due, why not subtract all of the millions of dollars given through affirmative action programs?

And if we’re going to just give out a cash payment, wouldn’t that mean that affirmative action would outlive its usefulness? After all, the slate would be clean, right?

Then again, the idea of giving out lump sums for past sins would open up a Pandora’s box of other demands from other minority groups. After all, the African-American community weren’t the only group of people we abused in our country’s lifetime. How about the Hispanic community for being kicked out of southern states in our war with Mexico? How about the Chinese-Americans, who were brought over to build our railroads? And don’t forget our Native Americans. We took away their lands and stuck them on reservations. Do you really think these groups won’t be sticking their hands out expecting a check if we go along with the congressman’s idea?

While we’re on the subject of paying out money for the victimization of our ancestors, I should probably point out that part of my family came from the middle part of Europe. That’s a land that’s been trampled on and taken over by a whole alphabet soup of conquerors and rulers! Would I be justified, then, in demanding cash payments from Italy, Germany, Turkey, France, and Russia? I mean, hey, if other people can do it, why can’t I?

Congressman Conyers can afford to be flippant about redistributing money. After all, he’s a member of Congress. He’s used to playing around with other people’s money! But it has to come from somewhere, and usually that mean the taxpayers will have to foot that bill.

The really scary part about this is idea is that there are already con games being played on those in the African-American community who believe that they are due that money. A group of con artists are trying to sell "reparation insurance", on the belief that the money has already been distributed. These people make the sweepstakes folks look like amateurs.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot and should not be held to bear the sins of our ancestors. What they did back then was wrong. Slavery was wrong, and many of our ancestors tried to put an end to it.. including some from my family. Racial discrimination is wrong, and many people are striving to put an end to it. That is the best that we can do to change what has happened.

No amount of money will ever repair the damage caused by slavery or from the racial discrimination that followed. No dollar amount would be enough to offset what has happened in the past. All we can do is learn from the lessons of the past and strive to do better. If we cannot, then we can never avoid making those same mistakes again.

Monday, February 19, 2001

Week of 02/19/2001

Rendering Unto Caesar
- by David Matthews 2

In the New Testament, Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay tax to the emperor. The question was asked by the Pharisees in order to trap Jesus to confess to being some kind of insurrectionist. In responding to the question, Jesus asked for a coin used to pay the tax. He was given a Roman coin, which he held up high and asked whose image it was on that coin. The answer came back "Caesar’s!" Jesus then replied "Then render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.. but render unto the Lord, that which is the Lord’s."

Now fast forward about two thousand years…

Followers of the Indianapolis Baptist Church watched in sadness and anger as federal agents marched into their building, removed their few protesters there, and seized the building.

Why, you ask?

Simple.. they failed to render unto Caesar.

The Reverend Greg Dixon, leader of the church, declared back in the early 1980’s that his church did not have to withhold any taxes for their employees. The reverend believed that since the church itself was tax-exempt, the men and women who work for that church were equally tax-exempt.

The federal government, however, saw things differently. And after almost two decades of billing the church for back taxes and interest, agents of the Internal Revenue Service acted on February 13th, seizing the church and shutting it down.

I know some conservatives, and certainly the bible-thumpers, are considering this action to be yet another instance of the federal government persecuting religious groups. I know if you only knew about the church being seized for taxes owed, you’d react just like the conservatives would want you to. But there’s more to this story than the conservatives and bible-thumpers would have you believe.

Yes, churches have traditionally been tax-exempt. The rationalization behind that has been that the churches have traditionally operated on the charity of others. Of course, the wealth of certain churches (the Vatican comes to mind) would put that premise to doubt. But for the most part, the local parish would be running solely on the generosity of its parishioners.

So what happens when the church becomes too big for the sole pastor to run by himself? Well, there are two choices.. the first would be to solicit volunteers from the congregation to spend their time helping out the church. Of course, that would mean that people would have to take time out of their schedules and work out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s nice for a bake sale or a car wash, or perhaps helping with the Sunday services, but not good on the weekdays when the rest of the work is trying to get the bills paid. The second choice would be to hire people to work at the church.

Reverend Dixon chose the second option, and in doing so he transformed the church into a place of employment… where money was exchanged for services rendered.

And guess who’s name was on that money? Caesar’s.. or in this case, the United States of America.

What part about this did the Reverend Dixon not understand?

Oh sure, Reverend Dixon tried to excuse this by saying that the people who worked for him were ministers, not employees. But if that were the case, why did they get paid?

When Jesus sent his apostles out into the world, he gave them explicit instructions not to carry any purse or any money. If money was given to them, it was to be given to the poor and needy. Jesus believed that a rich man would never enter the Kingdom of God. That’s the whole basis of Christianity’s stance on poverty. It also meant that the apostles would not have to pay any of Rome’s taxes, since they did not carry anything that "belonged" to Caesar.

And let’s get brutally honest here.. it has long been the belief of the United States government that all money ultimately belonged to the government, and that the people were using it only at their discretion. That’s why they believe it can be seized at any time using asset forfeiture laws. That’s why those in government also believe that money can be taxed an infinite number of times and in an infinite number of ways.

Other churches who hired people followed the same employment laws that the Indianapolis Baptist Church flaunted. They knew that as long as they paid their workers in Caesar’s coins, those coins could be taxed. Why was it that this one church felt they were somehow above the law?

While we’re on the issue of church and state, let’s also get a few things straight about that tax-exempt status the churches have long since enjoyed. The very notion that a church can be active in politics while enjoying a tax-free ride strikes at the very heart of the abuse of power religion has played in all of human history; from a "converted" Roman Empire, to the corrupt cardinals who ran France during the childhood reign of King Louis the 14th, to even the conflicts of today between India and Pakistan and the mass-slaughter that was once Yugoslavia. In all of those instances, religion has played an influencing role.

It’s one thing to be concerned about the affairs of the world around you, but religion works best when it appeals to one individual at a time, not done in bulk through government. However, if those in religion want to get involved in government, then this commentator says with conviction what George Carlin said for laughs.. take away their tax-exempt status and let them pay their admission price like the rest of us.

Reverend Dixon tried to extend the church’s tax-exempt status to the people working for him, and he failed. He tried to carry his argument through three presidents and one regime, and he failed. And even as agents were putting his rigid body on a hand-truck and hauling his butt out of the church along with the six or so other protesters, he felt that he was still in the right. He was not.

The sad part is that the people who would be fighting the hardest for our freedoms are picking and choosing the wrong battles to fight for. This is not one of those battles.

Though their convictions are admirable, Reverend Dixon and his parishioners are not fighting on behalf of the freedom of religion, nor are they fighting in defiance of a government gone mad. They are simply fighting to skirt tax laws for their own benefit. They are far from the patriots they claim to be.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Week of 02/12/2001

Cutting Through The Political Tax Bull
- by David Matthews 2

"Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed." - Robert Heinlein

With the arrival of the annual W2 reports in mailboxes all across America, it is time to once again talk about the money that goes to pay Uncle Sam and his fifty spoiled kids.

This time around, however, there’s something new to the mix. After eight years of listening to Bill Clinton try to hem and haw his way into convincing us we as Americans are too stupid to be trusted with our own money, we’ve got someone new in the White House. And borrowing a few lines from Ronald Reagan, President George W. Bush feels that a tax cut has been long overdue.

Well it’s about time someone in the White House felt that way! It gets to be a little difficult for the federal government to constantly try to explain how we could have record budget surpluses and yet need to either keep taxes the same or raise them. Either they’re lying about the surpluses, or they’re absolutely lousy at math.

And after taking a look at the tax plan offered by President Bush, this commentator has to like what he sees. Tax rates that are simplified that much more. Tax rates that are set slightly lower for all income brackets. The so-called "marriage penalty" being erased.

Hey, that’s great! A tax cut for ALL Americans, not just a select and chosen few.

And a REAL tax cut to boot! None of the usual prolonged and convoluted "bait-and-switch" games whereby a select groups of Americans would be getting an IOU they call a "tax credit", while continuing to bilk the rest of the American public. And best of all, there’s no Al Gore around to whine about it being some "risky tax scheme."

The only bad part about this idea? That it wouldn’t take effect until 2006. You would think that a president, ANY president, who would be concerned about how they are viewed by the public would be wanting those changes to take effect as soon as possible. It’s not like Bush can’t undo the arrogance that was Clinton’s budget planning. Besides, if we really need this tax reform.. and we do… it would behoove the White House to request these changes be made now, not five years from now.

But even with the five-year "waiting period", there are still plenty of people in Washington who think this plan is a bad one.

Who are these people? Well let’s get brutally honest here.. they are the same group of people who have continually been denouncing any idea of a tax cut! We’re talking liberals, we’re talking Democrats, we’re talking about career politicians who have made their living off of the income redistribution that comes through taxes (namely, from our pockets into theirs).

These people constantly whine that any tax cut would "benefit the rich." Oh, you mean like the members of Congress? You guys aren’t exactly poor, you know. Cripes, every time I see Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts on TV, he looks more and more like Jabba the Hut! None of these politicians are going to go home to thatch huts, nor will you be seeing them sling burgers at your local McDonald’s when they leave Washington. These guys are going to go home with retirement accounts fatter than Dom DeLouise.

Nor is their mantra of "it would benefit the rich" any help to their cause. These sad, pathetic whiners love to play the class warfare game in front of the cameras, but let’s face it.. they’re just as beholden to "the rich" as any other politician. After all, how many poor people are going to show up at their $1000-per-plate fundraisers, huh?

Get a better excuse line, guys. This one is more stale than used bread!

How about their other old line? "Protecting Social Security." So let’s see if I get this straight.. even though the government is taking money out of our paychecks to pay for Social Security, and our employers are being forced to send an equal amount of money to the government to pay for Social Security, we’re supposed to send additional tax money to "protect" Social Security?

Come on people! The Social Security program is a Ponzi scheme, and all we’re doing is pumping more money to keep the current recipients with their meager payments. You know it, I know it, just about every generation knows it! The only people who seem to be clueless are the silver-hared special interest groups, who think that the money has been socked away like it was some sort of savings plan. Believe me, if it were, these people would be getting back a lot more money than they are right now!

Here’s the real reason why certain politicians are against tax cuts.. because it deprives THEM of your money! These spendaholics operate on the belief that any money they can get their hands on is theirs to spend as they collectively desire.

And mind you, I said "theirs to spend". They don’t see themselves as caretakers or trustees of that tax money. They see it as theirs to do with. That’s why they’re wolfing down on the so-called "budget surplus" like pigs at the trough. They know that if there’s money left over, they might feel obligated to give some of it back.. and they absolutely DO NOT want to do that!

Politicians love their political pork. They love to pad spending bills with their own little pet projects and pet programs because it means they can go back home and tell the voters of all the "good" things they’ve done. Well, they can no longer do that if they’re told that they don’t have the money to pay for it! We supposedly just took care of the spending deficit, so who would want to be the one who puts us back into debt?

And we do need a tax cut now more than ever. Despite the claims of the former president, our economy’s lengthy prosperity did NOT come from government.. it came in spite of government. Unfortunately, the steam went out of that drive about a year ago (of course you won’t hear that from the media), and businesses started planning layoffs to offset the rise in taxes and the overburdening regulations that have been imposed by that government. Only now are people waking up and realizing that the good times are over.

If those in government really want to do something to help the people during these economic hard times, they would start by cutting taxes. But the operative word is "start". Tax cuts are not a cure-all, nor should they be treated as such. There are other things that need to be cut from Uncle Sam and his fifty spoiled brats. Their spending ways need to be cut first and foremost. Government cannot spend their way into prosperity any more than you or I.

We know government can be mean, but now they have to be lean as well. Part of the problem with our government has been in its largesse, and it’s not enough to simply cut the pork. Yes, Uncle Sam needs to be handing out pink slips too, but hopefully after the economy has stopped its downward slide so there would be jobs available. But in the meantime, Uncle Sam needs to start trimming some of the excess rules and regulations that have led to it being so large and overbearing. If government wants to help out the economy, it can ease up on the private sector somewhat. Give them an incentive to grow and expand and they will.

Cutting taxes are a good start, but we need to cut the political bull that’s out there too. The people who constantly advocate for more taxes always seem eager to enact taxes on everyone except themselves. They forget that at some point those taxes come back to affect everyone; not just "the rich", but "the poor" as well. Maybe these spendaholic politicians wouldn’t be so flippant about raising taxes if they themselves were the first ones forced to pay them. Maybe then they would have a better appreciation of what’s going on with those of us in the real world.

Monday, February 5, 2001

Week of 02/05/2001

Forced Patriotism?
- by David Matthews 2

So tell me.. do you love your country? You do? Great!

Now here’s the important question.. how much do you love your country? Would you die for it? Would you kill for it? Bleed for it? Give everything you have for it? Sacrifice your children for it?

What? You mean you aren’t as patriotic as I am? Well, how about if I put a gun to your head? There! Now you’re patriotic, aren’t you? Yeah, you’re all for your country now that I have a gun to your head!

As ridiculous as that sounds, there are a lot of people who want to do just that here in America.

Virginia State Senator Warren E. Barry wants your kids to be as patriotic as he is. So much so that he wants to force them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. He feels such measures would foster a sense of patriotism.

And he’s not alone in this train of thought. All across America, legislators, politicians, and school administrators are trying desperately to enact rules that would force the young students of America to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or some patriotic passage either from that state’s constitution or from the Declaration of Independence.

And all across America, students who, for one reason or another, have decided to not stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance are being subject to punishment by teachers and school administrators. Punished, in essence, for practicing the very things America was founded upon.

America was created from dissention. It was created by a bunch of colonists who didn’t like how their government was handling things, so they rebelled against them. Our Civil War was a war of dissention. The northerners wanted to abolish slavery, and the southerners didn’t want to, so they rebelled. Even our struggles for civil rights in the 1950’s and 60’s were about dissention. You would think that a school, above all other places, would know such things.

Then again, this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you really knew your history. After all, the modern school system was created amidst the rise of the Industrial Society, when socialism was just starting to become popular. And the Pledge itself was created by a self-professed Christian socialist in 1892, and later introduced on Flag Day in 1924; a time during which socialist thinking was nurtured and developed.

Socialism is all about conformity, not individual freedom. Schools adhere to it, and their teachers preach it. You can find it in all of the structured rules school offers. Everything is compartmentalized into specific classes, specific students, specific tasks. Always in groups, never alone. You want to develop your own individual tastes? Fine, do it on your own time, not during school hours.

Bible-thumpers are adamant about wanting to put the Ten Commandments in the classrooms and force students to pray because they want to indoctrinate the young people into their religious beliefs. They know that schools are a way to condition and control the students, and they want to use that to their advantage. If the bible-thumpers can propose it, why not all of those people who have that "sense" of patriotism?

Well let’s get brutally honest here.. it is downright hypocritical for anyone.. politician, priest, teacher, soldier, statesman, world leader.. anyone.. to force patriotism based on a country that was founded on freedom and rebellion. It is nothing short of an insult for the men and women who fought and died for those principles to have them be part of some organized indoctrination program under the pretext of "fostering patriotism." That’s like raping a woman and then trying to convince her it was consentual.

Not everyone can take an oath or a pledge. For some people, it’s a matter of religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, cannot take a pledge. Would you force them to violate their religious beliefs just to fulfill one person’s demand for patriotic loyalty?

Another Virginia state senator put it best when she said "Insecure governments usually impose symbols of patriotism on their youth. Totalitarian governments always impose symbols of patriotism on their youth." Look at Nazi Germany. Look at the former Soviet Union. Look at China. Look at Cuba. Look at Iraq. Everywhere you go in those places, you’ll find patriotic symbols. Why are Americans, then, using those countries as models for our schools?

Real patriotism is not forced, and it’s not indoctrinated like one would learn the alphabet. It’s encouraged by a sense respect for your country. That’s not easy when your country has little or no respect for you.

Forcing someone to recite and oath or a pledge they don’t want to take makes that pledge meaningless. Instead of fostering respect for your country, you’re encouraging the people to be apathetic towards it with a bunch of empty words and meaningless gestures.

The Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken once said that "The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." And how wisely put. I would suggest that those who consciously decide to NOT stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance are more patriotic than those who would rather impose that pledge on us all. They at least have a good reason other than "because I told you so!"

When this commentator plays Lee Greenwood’s "God Bless The USA" on his broadcasts, it is not done simply because some programming script calls for it, or because of some requirement imposed by the government. It is done to reflect the patriotism that is already there. Patriotism that comes after serious reflection and thought.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best when he said the following: "Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let man label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of."

That is patriotism. You can learn about it, but you cannot impose it. It must come freely from each individual.