Women and Children First

What has happened to our cowboys?

News item summary: A “rancher” named Boyd has been grazing his cattle for free on federal land for 20 years. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has taken him to court a number of times trying to collect. The fees,  by the way are incredibly cheap. The BLM charges $1.35 per animal per month. Try to feed a cow for that. (Private businesses charge $10-28 per month for the same grazing rights) But this cheat refuses to pay. And when, after 20 years and court cases the BLM finally did come to take his cattle, he called on his cowboy friends relatives to take up arms. And the BLM backed down. For now.

I am not even going to bother with whether or not this guy is legally entitled to use land that does not belong to him. The courts are clear. He doesn’t. And his claim that he does not recognize the “authority of the US government” may give him a leg to stand on in an insanity plea. But not good for much else. I prefer to focus on another aspect of the case. Cowboys and how they have changed.

Those who support Bundy with their guns and philosophy present themselves as heroes. Tough talking hombres. A couple cowpokes I saw on camera said they were ready to “give their lives”. Give their lives so a guy who Romney would describe as “wanting something for nothing” could continue to mooch off the government. OK.  I guess that is worth dying for.

Or, well, maybe not give MY life, exactly, but somebody’s.

As the story unfolded a former Arizona sheriff, Richard Mack , talked to Fox News (sic) about the strategy he intended to use. I am NOT making this up. Mack said that if things heated up the Bundy faction intended to put women in front of the men. Unarmed women. To be used as shields. To take fire from the federal “rogue agents”. To be casualties. This would prove just how evil the federal government was.  Can’t argue with that “reasoning”.  The cowboys would hide behind a human shield. What has happened to our cowboys?

Maybe it is time to remake some of those old westerns I watched as a kid. Try this:  “Shootout at the Nevada Chicken Ranch”, starring John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

John Wayne: Well,pardner, I see the evil Land Management Goons are coming to try to take away our grazin rights. Gonna meet em at 12 noon at the Nutcase Corral for the big shootout.”

Clint Eastwood: (spits) There’s 10 of them and only 2 of us. But I’m a willin’ to die so Uncle Buck can continue to graze his 7 herd of longhorns for free.  How about you?

JW:Hmmmm…. I know a better way out of this mess. How many womenfolk do you have?

CE: Well, there’s my wife, Lilly Sue and daughter, Rosey Sue and the baby. Aunt Gertrude and my niece Mandy Sue.  That’s it.

JW: Well, lemmee see. I have my sister Honey Sue and she has 4 little uns, Sue Sue, Gunna Sue, Wanna Sue and Lets Sue. There is my Aunt Nelly and Aunt Kate. Oh…don’t forget Granny Grumplin. If we can git her started in her walker she’ll be fine. Hardly ever falls over. We can prop her up if needs be.

CE: Well,what’s yer plan?

JW: Here it is,  pardner. We’ll git all those womenfolk down there and stand them up between us and the feds. Then, when the shootin starts we’ll have good cover. Reminds me, how about the Pork Belly twins? Seen them around?

CE: I…I…don’t know, pardner. That jest don’t seem right. To use the womenfolk like that. It ain’t manly. It ain’t the cowboy way. It’s kind of cowardly, ain’t it?

JW: Aw, go on pardner.Times are changin.  This is a deadly situation. And you know what they always say. If there’s trouble it’s always “women and children first”.

Cowboys just ain’t what they used to be.

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I LOVE the IRS

It is April 16. Tax day has come and gone. I can finally admit it. I am a Revenuephiliac. I love the IRS.

I fear this admission will rain down anger upon my being. I will be hated more than Gandhi at an NRA meeting. Vilified more than Al Sharpton at a gathering of the White Aryan Nation. Be more harshly treated than Sarah Palin at a MENSA Convention.

But I confess. I love the IRS. Very Un-American, I know. But that’s the way I am. And here’s why.

The IRS is under attack. And has been for many years. The money budgeted for enforcement has been declining. Since 2002 the IRS budget has actually declined by 17%. Fewer agents means that the chances of getting audited are less than 1% for most folks, about 20% for millionaires and less than 1% for businesses. Some politicians, like Ted Cruz, have publicly stated they want to do away with the IRS completely. So, as a champion of the underdog, I take up the banner of our tax police. Seriously. They have a banner.

As the financial support for the IRS has waned on the one hand, fraud and corruption have skyrocketed on the other. Who could of guessed ? Fewer cops, fewer arrests. The Center For Tax Justice estimates that for every dollar spent on funding the IRS the US brings in $10 dollars in revenue that would otherwise be lost. WHAT ? A federal agency that makes money ? Others estimate that with long term modernization the actual investment return is closer to $200 for each dollar spent today.  There are BILLIONS of tax dollars going uncollected each year. Over $280,000,000,000 in overdue taxes will never be collected according to an IRS study from just a few years ago. And it is getting worse.

It has been a longstanding tradition to hate taxes. It is as American as racism or homophobia, to be sure. The nation was founded by tax dodgers. The Boston Tea Party was not a protest against free speech…it was a tax protest. And probably justified. Why pay taxes to those guys across the ocean? The Whiskey Rebellion? Same thing. Except this time it was why pay taxes at all. So, we have a solid history of being tax avoiders and tax cheats. All the more reason for the IRS.

After all, the IRS is nothing more than the domestic equivalent of our military or police force. And who can hate the troops? Or the police? They uphold the law, go after lawbreakers and make sure everyone plays by the same rules.  They support the democratic process and the rule of law.  They help collect the funds necessary to keep the nation moving ahead. They are the cop on the beat. The Marine standing guard over the flag.

Of course some taxes are pre-collected. The tax on the McDonald’s counter worker and the non-unionized VW assembly line worker. The cop. The teacher. The engineer. Anyone who works for a living. These shmucks can’t cheat on their taxes, and probably wouldn’t anyway.

Who could be against the IRS ? Tax cheats? Crooks? Organized crime? Money launderers for drug cartels?

Who benefits from a weak police force ? The honest citizen or the criminal?

So, join me in this IRS lovefest. Write your congressman. Ask for more money and better enforcement of our tax laws. What better investment is there? A $10-200 return for every dollar spent. In the end, if ALL taxes are collected, won’t you and I pay less? Won’t the honest citizen get a break?

Revenuephiliacs Unite! You have nothing to lose but your friends! And you might save a few bucks as well.

 

 

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Empty Tin Cans

I confess that I spent much of my early life in the basement classrooms run by Catholic nuns. 60 kids in a class. One nun. Order was maintained by a combination of physical and mental coercion that would leave Dick Cheney screaming for the ACLU to intervene. Made the CIA look like a marshmallow convention. Nevertheless, order WAS maintained.

One of the nuns, Sister Crossmetwiceandyourdead, was especially adept at the verbal barb. And when the third grade boys in the back of the room (never me, of course) were getting rambunctious she would utter one of her favorite jibes: Empty Tin Cans Make the Most Noise.

Which brings me to the Tea Party Republicans. 

We have witnessed, over the last 4 years, a regular, strident, loud and nasty noise from these folks. Unrelenting. Untrue, yes. But the noise is still the noise.

And just like the noise from the ill mannered third graders interfered with any orderly, sensible discussion in class, so the noise from these third party Tea Party supporters is meant to do the same for sensible, honest, political debate.

After all, it is not the “noise” of folks trying to bring about some positive change or supporting making things better. It is not the positive noise of cheering on your team at the ballpark. It is the boos and catcalls and whistles of the few post-adolescent boys in the bleachers who have had too much to drink. It is noise without purpose except to confuse and irritate. Signifying nothing. Just loud. 

BENGHAZI. BENGHAZI. BENGHAZI. They chant this mantra as though it has some deep, philosophical  or factual underpinnings. So, the GOP Congress investigates Benghazi. A tragedy. They collect evidence. Indict no one. But the noise continues.As though a tragedy is reason enough to make noise. BENGHAZI.

OBAMA HATES AMERICA. OBAMA IS A MUSLIM. OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST. The noise. The labels. No evidence. No basis in fact. But,  just as my little classmates enjoyed doing anything but the hard work of school, (after all they WERE 3rd grade boys) so these adult Tea PArty chanters enjoy the sound of their own chanting. Easier than facing facts. Easier than doing the work. OBAMA IS EVIL.

OBAMACARE IS BAD. OBAMACARE IS BAD. The empty tin cans. They bang. They clang. They deafen meaningful discussion. They evade specifics. Always. Evade specifics. It’s just ..bang…clang…bad….bang..clang…OBAMACARE IS BAD.

OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS. OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS. And yet. No guns are taken away. Nor bullets. I just double checked my closet. Gun still there. Bullets still there. The tin cans clang. Deafening. Drowning out sensible debate while 35,000 Americans die each year. The empty tin cans even drown out the sounds of children screaming in Sandy Hook Elementary. OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS.

After a few years the empty tin cans in my school moved on. They grew up. They did what they needed to do, even if they didn’t like it. Maybe they realized that their senseless noise wasn’t amusing anymore. Maybe they wanted to participate in positive ways. Maybe they just got tired of their own banging and clanging. I know the rest of us did. Or maybe they deafened themselves. 

So, Sister Crossmetwiceandyourdead, I guess you were right. The empty tin can noisemakers were very loud and very forceful. But, in the end, their noise dissipated. They grew up.  Let’s hope the current Empty Tin Cans are able to do the same.

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Congressman Reed’s Misinformantion

I  receive “communications” from my representative in Congress, Mr. Reed (R-NY) , fairly regularly. Which is good. I  like to see what he is up to.  One of his jobs as a Congressman is to keep folks “informed”. I guess. Which is why I always look for information in his literature.  And looking for information in his mailings is like a Where’s Waldo problem.
Two Examples:
Example 1: A postcard he sent telling me he opposes Obamcare’s cuts to senior citizens, specifically cuts to Medicare. This sounds pretty awful, especially since I am soon to be joining the Medicare system. I certainly don’t want the government cutting MY BENEFIT!. I mean, we have to cut somewhere, but not ME!
The postcard had a pretty specific figure of $300 billion dollars. A very big cut to my benefits. Obama wants to cut MY BENEFITS  by $300,000,000,000. Not anything to sneeze at.
So I called Mr Reed’s office and talked to a very nice lady. I asked her what programs were being cut by Obamacare. $300 billion is a lot of programs that old folks are going to lose. She was pleasant enough and tried to answer, but couldn’t.  She explained that they had no SPECIFIC information on that topic. Took my name and phone number so the Congressman could get back to me with an answer. . Two weeks ago. Never heard from them since.
Example 2: An email arrived telling me how Mr. Reed was opposing Obamacare because of the new “full-time” work provision. According to the email, people who work 30 hours a week are now considered full time. And this is a travesty. An outrage.
It will hurt working families. They will make less money. So, Mr. Reed is sponsoring a bill to make the 40 hour work week the law of the land.
I called Mr Reed’s office. I talked to a very nice young man. Again, he was pleasant but could not answer some of my questions. Does Obamacare mean that people can work ONLY 30 hours ? Can’t they work more if they and their employer want them to? Wasn’t this “30 hour” provision put in so companies could not make someone work, say, 39 hours and then claim they were part-time, hence not covered by the law? What is the real problem here?
Once again, these basic, common sense questions could not be answered. I almost felt sorry for these staff members who are forced to try to explain these silly bits of misinformation put out by the Congressman.
Conclusion: It is one thing to be against the ACA for legitimate reasons.  And back  it up with evidence. It is quite another to spread misinformation and partial, selective  information to try to undermine the law. People deserve ACCURATE information. If Mr Reed opposes the ACA, as he does, then why stoop to a low level of shenanigans? He should be ashamed of these types of mailings. I am sure there are real weaknesses in the law, but when Congressmen spread misinformation about it, it leads one to question ANYTHING they say in their literature.

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Corporate Rights #3: The Hobby Lobby Fact Sidestep

A third aspect of the Hobby Lobby case bears mention. This is covered quite extensively in a March 21, 2014 article from Mother Jones (Are You there God? It’s Me, Hobby Lobby by Stephanie Mencimer). The article points out a couple of problems with the Green family claims. I call them Fact Sidesteps. (Picture a Vaudevillian with a cane shuffling off stage right)

Fact Sidestep 1. Hobby LObby claims as fact that it has longstanding, strong religious objections to covering IUDs and Plan B contraceptives. But, in fact,  Hobby Lobby HAD been covering these two contraceptives BEFORE the ACA was passed and implemented. The questions becomes: How sincere are the religious beliefs of this corporation/family? Did they have a new revelation from god AFTER the ACA was approved? Nice little shuffle.

Fact Sidestep 2: Hobby Lobby wants to deny covering these contraceptives as part of an overall health plan for their employees because they oppose these contraceptives. Yet, their own pension fund is INVESTED in these contraceptive manufacturers. Their argument could well be that since the pensions funds are part of a group, they had no choice but to invest in them as part of a group investment. So, they MAKE money off these companies (against their own religious beliefs) but refuse to SPEND money to cover these contraceptives. Interesting shuffle.

Fact Sidestep 3: Some commenters  (on Yahoo) have insisted that Hobby Lobby has no choice but to invest in these companies because they are part of a set groups of investments. Yet, at least since 1994 there have been specific funds for “anti-contraceptive” fundamentalist Christians to invest in. Evidently, the Greens did  not find those funds as profitable. Keep a shufflin’ right off stage.

All in all,  this corporate sidestep should be seen for what it is. Using a religious argument to attack the ACA…and save a few bucks . If “sincerely-held” beliefs require “actions”, the Green family/corporation fails the religious test. But, the Roberts court has not been one to let a little shuffling get in the way of the majority decisions.

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Corporate Rights #2: The Hobby Lobby Religion

Central to the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court is whether a corporation can exercise the right to religious freedom. And thereby excuse itself from laws it finds religiously offensive.

We have a long history of allowing religious institutions and sometime even individuals exemptions from the law. Or parts of the law. For example, the Affordable Care Act exempts religious employers from paying for health insurance costs related to some areas of contraception and abortion. The principle, not really tested yet in court in the case of the ACA, being that legitimate religious beliefs trump this part of the law. While I personally do not agree that any institution or individual is above the law, the Congress disagrees. Perhaps the lobbying power and financial clout of non-tax paying religious organizations may be part of the reason for this exemption. At any rate, it is there. It exists. It is legal.

But other times the courts have ruled that certain practices of religious groups are not above the law. Polygamy, for example, was considered essential for the leaders of the Church of Latter Day saints. But the government ruled otherwise. Even though it was, at the time, a central doctrine of the faith. The Mormons believed in it. The US government said “No”.

And no one would argue that child marriage, slavery, human sacrifice  or actions which obviously harm individuals should be protected, no matter how sincere the beliefs of the religious group that holds them. So, the courts have ruled that religious freedom has  limits, as does  any right.

Individuals who may object to joining the military can apply for conscientious objector status, which precludes them from taking part in combat. But even in this case, it does  not exempt them from military service. They are given other jobs to do. So,  in that sense, they are not exempt.

What about Hobby Lobby? It is not a religion. It is not a church. It is a junk store. It does business in the United States as a multi-million (perhaps billion dollar) corporate entity. Not a mom and pop operation. Not your local Jewish deli. It is a corporate chain, like a MacDonalds or a Dollar Store. What is it’s claim to a religious exemption?

The family that owns Hobby Lobby has sincere religious beliefs. As do the owners of thousands of businesses. And the CEO  of Exxon  or GE or Boeing.  But Hobby Lobby is claiming that the beliefs of a few people, because they are owners of a business enterprise,  somehow allow them to impose their terms on a secular labor contract. While the law says that any business must provide certain things…overtime pay, safe working conditions, minimum wages and now minimum health care benefits, Hobby Lobby is claiming that it does  not have to  abide by those laws. While it uses a religious argument, the actual substance of the case is about money. After all, no one is forcing the Green family to pay for anything out of their own pockets. They have the legal protections of a corporation, but do not want to fulfill the responsibilities of a corporation under the ACA.

The workers earn benefits. Can a corporation limit or reduce or deny benefits based on some new and radical idea of “corporate religion”? If so,  any reasonable person can follow the thread and see where it leads. Any corporate lawyer worth his salary will be codifying “religious beliefs” for Wendy’s and GM before the ink dries on a favorable court decision.

Of course a corporation cannot claim religious freedom to avoid labor laws. A corporation is an artificial , man-made legal construct.  Can anyone claim with a straight face that the original intent of the Bill of Rights was to shield business entities from the powers given Congress in Article 1 ?

Perhaps. After all, some members of this court have already turned the Constitution and themselves  into a logical pretzel with the Bush v Gore decision and the Citizens United decision. While both were obviously politically motivated the majority managed to mangle the interpretation to mean “whatever I say it means”.

So, while an honest interpretation of the law (which already exempts religious groups) and the Constitution would seem to indicate a 9-0 decision against Hobby Lobby, there is no telling how far some members will go in their homage to corporate power. We shall see. Just as Citizens United has turned our elections into a livestock auction,  (“twenty dollar, eighty dollar, five thousand dollar, two million dollar…SOLD, to the two brothers in the back of the room slinking in the corner”) this court decision could eviscerate any worker protection and undercut Article 1 of the Constitution. Believe it.

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Corporate Rights#1:The Sexual Deviants at Hobby Lobby

Quick background. The company  called Hobby Lobby,  owned by a family called the Greens,  does not want to pay for part of the health care for some of it’s workers. This is basic preventative health care covered , by law,  under the ACA. They don’t like some of the forms of birth control, which they claim are abortions. While the medical and scientific evidence refutes that claim, that is not the point.

The point is that the Greens want to exempt themselves from the law based on their personal  religious beliefs . This raises a number of issues, only one of which I will touch on today. There are other issues to be examined at a later date. But today the issue is the Green support for “sexual  deviance”.

Are the owners of Hobby Lobby trying to force deviant sexual practices on their employees? And should a company be able to encourage their employees to engage in sexually deviant behavior, directly or indirectly?

Let me explain.  The Greens oppose the idea of abortion. They also oppose having to pay for any contraceptive that they consider to be abortion inducing .  They reserve the right to define the drug and then refuse to  pay insurance costs associated with their findings. It should be noted that at least some of the contraceptives they find to be abortion inducing are not . But the court did  not delve into the scientific validity of their claims, only their genuinely held beliefs. So be it.  Some folks believe that dinosaurs walked with man. So be it.

So,  what the Greens are saying is that if their employees participate in sexual activity that could lead to pregnancy, the Greens oppose providing the means to  prevent or abort that pregnancy. Keep following this. So, if an employee of Hobby Lobby and her husband have sexual relations in which the husband carefully (or not so carefully) inserts his penis into the employee’s vagina, then the Greens get upset. They will not pay for certain contraceptives that might lead to the sexual act NOT producing a bouncing bundle of joy. So, the Greens are telling their employees that every personal sex act between a husband and wife is now the business of the Green family, because they employ one of the parties at their store. OK.

Oddly, however, the Greens are actually using an economic incentive to encourage couples to engage in non-copulatory sexual behavior. Oral sex will not lead to pregnancy. The Greens are encouraging it. Anal sex will not lead to pregnancy. The Greens are saying  to their employees. Go For It. Homosexual activity will not result  in pregnancy. To the  Greens,  that is A-OKAY in their book. I must suppose that bestiality must be number one in the “Hobby Lobby Guide to Employee Sex Practices”. After all,  the ACA does not cover vet bills.

So, we must ask ourselves. Are the Greens,  under the guise of  religious “freedom” actually encouraging their employees to engage in all kinds of sexual activity. Do they get a vicarious thrill from the thought of their workers going home and engaging in a variety of sexual practices, many of which were illegal only a few decades ago ? Does it excite their corporate religious fervor ? We cannot know and I am only asking. I am not sure where this will lead, but I suspect in the end it will unravel as a communist plot to ensure deviant sexual practices are mandated in America. Obama’s fault. I can feel it coming.

Next up, another essay on the corporate rights.

 

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