Friday, April 06, 2012

Chag Pesach kasher ve sameach

OR: "Have a kosher and happy Passover holiday!" to my Jewish readers. An interesting dream below:

Pesach this year coincides with Easter Friday and I will make my usual effort to get along to my old Presbyterian church for the service. It's nice to be back where I began.


Easter Service

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Growing up in rural Georgia, Easter meant not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also a new Sunday dress, a hat, gloves and more chocolate than I could eat, at least at one time.

My clearest memory of Easter is not of all the candy that I ate, but of the beauty of the morning as we celebrated Easter during a sunrise service on top of a mountain. I'm not even sure where we were. We had gotten up early and driven a while. It was quite chilly, and I had a sweater wrapped around my shoulders.

The woods surrounded us, and the view was of the valley below. Azaleas were in bloom, and the trees were bright green. As the sun rose, fog came up from the ground, making the cross behind the altar barely visible. The area surrounding the cross was both hazy and bright: hazy from the fog, bright from the sun. The cross became clearer as the sun ascended in the sky and the fog burned off.

As the cross became clearer, the colors of the flowers and trees appeared brighter. The contrast of the cross, the symbol of Jesus' death, and the new growth of the trees and flowers were stark at the time, but now seem a perfect juxtaposition.

As a child, Easter seemed to be more about Jesus' death and his burial. Time was spent wondering during the service: What would a crown of thorns feel like, how would Jesus have been able to carry the cross, how could his mother have borne the loss of her son? Jesus' resurrection was, of course, mentioned, but not focused upon.

As an adult, I find myself spending more time thinking about Jesus' resurrection, what it meant to his disciples and what it means to me. Possibly as the balance of my life becomes shorter, and my eventual demise more evident, it is natural to focus on the life hereafter, rather than focus on death that is coming closer and closer.



Obama is a fake from beginning to end

He must have floated through law school on the basis of his skin color only

After all, someone who graduated from Harvard Law School, edited the Harvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School must be familiar with Marbury v. Madison. As Wikipedia explains, it's an important case:

"Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it "unconstitutional." The landmark decision helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches of the American form of government."

And yet President Obama yesterday implicitly claimed never to have heard of it, allowing him to say regarding Obamacare that it would be an "unprecedented, extraordinary" step for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation passed by a "strong majority of a democratically elected Congress." The precedents go back 209 years and, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out on "Special Report" last night, the Supreme Court has been overturning acts of Congress ever since, on average every 16 months.

So overturning Obamacare would be about as unprecedented as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning. Actually the precedents go back even further, as Alexander Hamilton mentioned the power of judicial review in Federalist Paper 78, written in 1788. The last president to seriously challenge the court's power to overturn an act of Congress under the doctrine of judicial review was Andrew Jackson, who famously said after one decision he didn't like, "The court has made its decision; now let it enforce it."

The court has overturned laws based on the Commerce Clause as recently as 1995 (United States v. Lopez) and 2000 (United States v. Morrison). Both of those were relatively minor cases, although significant for putting limits on federal power under the Commerce Clause for the first time since the early New Deal.

But major pieces of legislation have also been overturned. The National Recovery Act of 1933 was the last piece of legislation passed during the "Hundred Days." Its purpose was, essentially, to cartelize the entire United States economy under the direction of the National Recovery Administration (the NRA, whose symbol was the famous blue eagle). Franklin Roosevelt called the legislation "the most important and far-reaching ever enacted by the American Congress." But that didn't stop the Supreme Court from overturning it in May 1935, by a vote of 9-0.

The National Recovery Act passed the House by a large majority and the Senate by 46-39. The "strong majority" mentioned by Obama in the passage of Obamacare did not exist. It passed the Senate 60-39 on Christmas Eve, when the Senate, briefly, had a filibuster-proof majority. But by the time a vote neared in the House, that filibuster-proof majority had vanished with the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. So the House had to pass the Senate bill unchanged in order to get it to the President's desk. Only much arm-twisting and deal-making allowed the bill to pass the House with a majority of only seven votes, 219-212. It garnered not a single Republican vote in either house, the first time so important a piece of legislation was passed on a totally partisan basis.



Is America slowly sinking into Fascism?

I was recently looking into the divisive issue of U.S. Marine Sgt. Gary Stein, whose position has come under threat due to his criticisms of Barack Obama and his founding of the `Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook Page'. What I discovered was a large number of Americans in support of Stein's right to speak as a citizen (even under Marine regulations) against the unconstitutional actions of any president or presidential candidate. I also discovered a considerable number who wanted to see the soldier dishonorably discharged, or even set upon a noose as punishment.

Surely, we can debate over the details of Marine regulations until our ears bleed, and I could point out several facts that the mainstream media did not cover in their hit pieces on Stein (like the fact that he went to his superiors and asked them to advise him in the handling of his political position long before the present charges against him were ever formulated, and the fact that he followed many of their suggestions.), but ultimately, the regulations of the Marines or the Federal Government are irrelevant. Such laws are transitory, and are usually written so broadly that the authorities of the day can execute them however they wish to fit their needs at the moment. The real question here is one of principle, moral compass, and Constitutionality (a document which is a reflection of eternal natural law). We have to set aside the pointless legalese of defense standards in the case of Sgt. Stein and ask ourselves an important question; do U.S. troops have a right to free speech?

If you believe so, then their rights are not limited or exclusive. They are free to say whatever any other American has a right to say. If you believe they do not, then you have relegated the troops to the position of second class citizens, or even property of the state. There is NO in-between. Discipline and military coherence be damned. Either these men and women have First Amendment protections and are full citizens or they are mechanisms of the government whose civil liberties have been erased.

Even though I understand the psychology behind it, I am still shaken with raw electrical astonishment when confronted by those who support the latter notion that American soldiers are indeed property of the state, that their actions must be dictated by the president and not the Constitution, and that this is required for the military to function.

Very few of these absurd multitudes ever ask what "function" such a military, populated by ethical robots who are blindly subservient to the dictates of a single man, would actually serve?

What good is an unprincipled military? An unprincipled government? An unprincipled society? What reason is there for these constructs to exist? The Nuremberg Trials solidified the reality that soldiers will be held accountable for following criminal orders, and still, there are some who claim that our troops must adopt a shoot first pay later methodology.

I bring up the circumstances of Sgt. Stein to illustrate the situation our nation is currently facing; we are on the threshold of total despotism, where the naysayers who shrugged off the threat of rogue government yesterday suddenly embrace it and support it today. When Stewart Rhodes first formed the Oath Keepers organization, the same talking point was consistently used in an attempt to derail it; "The orders you would refuse to obey could never occur in this country."

And yet, many of the warnings of Oath Keepers have come to pass, including the unlawful disarming of peaceful U.S. citizens during the disaster in New Orleans, the institution of government directed assassination programs of U.S. citizens under Bush and Obama, the passing of NDAA legislation which includes provisions for indefinite detainment of Americans without trial, warrantless wiretapping, surveillance, and even home invasion by authorities is becoming common, and the Obama Administration has put into place several executive orders (including the The National Defense Resources Preparedness EO) which pave the way for Martial Law to be declared.

The cold hard reality is, the Oath Keepers were right, and Sgt. Stein is right.

And, now that this is becoming undeniable, the opponents of their tenets are switching gears to fight for the implementation of unconstitutional laws which they used to deny were even possible. Can this situation be any more insane? Oh yes.

There are no limits to the surrealist hell that can be unleashed when dealing with what I like to call the "Slave Mentality". The slave mentality takes many shapes. It is pervasive in times of social distress, and, it can be infectious. The psychologist Carl Jung wrote in his book `The Undiscovered Self' that the cruel sociopathy seen in the populations of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia is actually latent in many of us. All it needs is the right set of sociopolitical circumstances and a weak enough will, and the shadows in the hearts of lesser men are given license to come out and play. This is just as true in America, where people now operated on assumptions that the state is an absolute provider in the event of national calamity.

What I have seen in a number of the reactions to the honest activism of Sgt. Gary Stein is a knee-jerk bias that reeks of the slave mentality, but it offers us a window in gauging the leanings of the general public. Now that the once theoretical dangers of federal fascism are breaking the surface of the water and circling the American sinking ship, the great test is to watch closely where the masses place their priorities. Will they take the path of the individual, admit to the laboratory mutation that our government has become, and try to make things right again? Or, will they take the path of the slave, forget their past follies and empty arguments, and jump on the totalitarian bandwagon?



An uncivil income tax system

by Jeff Jacoby

EACH YEAR in the United States, an estimated 6.1 billion hours are spent complying with the federal tax code. I'm pretty sure at least half of those hours are spent by me.

With less than two weeks remaining before this year's tax returns are due, I've barely made a dent in my stack of forms, receipts, and instructions. Each year the prospect of doing my taxes looms more daunting and dismal than the year before. Each year I wonder where I'll find the time, never mind the patience, to get it done. Each year's tax ordeal seems to require more mental energy, more double-checking of math, more scouring of check registers and credit-card statements and brokerage records. And yet when I finally hit that "Send" button, I'm less certain than ever that I haven't inadvertently screwed something up. And if that's true for someone like me, whose financial arrangements are not especially abstruse, how much more miserable tax season must be for taxpayers whose circumstances are more elaborate.

Some people claim they file their tax returns cheerfully. They approvingly quote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s dictum that "taxes are what we pay for civilized society." I quote instead that eminent commentator Dave Barry: "It's income-tax time again, Americans: time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil and stab yourself in the aorta."

Not surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service embraces Holmes's words. They are chiseled over the entrance to the IRS headquarters in Washington, DC. Yet I doubt whether Holmes, who retired from the Supreme Court in 1932, would think there was anything civilized about what the federal tax system has turned into, or the burdens, confusions, and complexity it imposes on honest taxpayers.

When Holmes first expressed that sentiment about taxes and civilization in a 1904 speech, the federal income tax didn't even exist. That had changed by 1927, when Holmes's phrase appears in one of his dissenting opinions. But even then, all of federal tax law -- not just the Sixteenth Amendment and Revenue Act of 1913, but the entire corpus of related regulations, rulings, and forms -- took up fewer than 500 pages. Today, the Standard Federal Tax Reporter runs to 73,608 pages in 25 volumes, and consumes nine feet of shelf space.

Is it any wonder, then, that the paperwork, record-keeping, calculations, form-preparation, and filing procedures required to pay federal taxes have become one of the great soul-crushing time sinks in American life? Or that the National Taxpayer Advocate (the independent ombudsman within the IRS) declared flatly last year that "the most serious problem facing taxpayers - and the IRS - is the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code"? Or that the Tax Foundation concluded in 2005 that income-tax compliance costs amounted to a stunning $265.1 billion -- in effect, "a 22-cent . surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects"?

By now the great majority of individual tax filers has decided that putting together their tax returns without paying for help isn't feasible. According to a 2011 MarketTools study, only 12 percent of US taxpayers still complete their federal income taxes without hiring an accountant, visiting a tax-preparation firm such as H&R Block, or buying tax-preparation software. I gave up trying to prepare my returns by hand years ago; like tens of millions of other Americans, I now put my fate in the hands of TurboTax.

All of which is terrific for the tax-preparation industry, and perhaps April is anything but the cruelest month for those who make their living as a CPA or own stock in Intuit (which makes TurboTax). For the nation as a whole, however, the labyrinthine tortures of our tax system have serious social consequences.

Our tax code's lack of clarity -- and the flood of special-interest giveaways and preferences that make it so cumbersome -- has turned innumerable taxpayers into cynics. Americans conclude that the whole setup is rigged, and that only a sucker doesn't bend the rules in order to pay less or finagle a bigger refund. How many people who wouldn't think of ripping off a local charity or business don't hesitate to cheat on their taxes? In such an environment, it isn't only compliance rates that suffer. Some of the civic virtue so important to a healthy society is lost as well. Jimmy Carter was right in 1976 when he called the US income tax "a disgrace to the human race." Thirty-six years later, it's more disgraceful -- and maddening -- than ever.




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