THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES – RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, RELIGIOUS FAIRNESS

The folks at Hobby Lobby (which apparently is an evangelical ministry disguised as a craft store) took out a full-page ad in the papers recently, touting the notion that the United States was from the outset intended to be a “Christian nation” (whatever that is supposed to mean – but that’s another column). I guess they were reveling in the heady feeling of victory, following the Supreme Court decision that recognized their right to apply their religious beliefs to the benefit package that they offered their employees. Many liberals and progressives were upset by the decision, but not me.

It was just the opening I’ve been waiting for.

You’re probably aware that members of the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) like myself are pacifists, and oppose military spending. You might not know that some Quakers (and members of other “peace churches,” like the Mennonites and Brethren) take this matter so seriously that to avoid paying for war they withhold some or all of their Federal taxes – with all the consequences that you might expect, from garnishment of wages to actual imprisonment. It’s called “war tax resistance,” and I wrote about it in this space some years ago. (To learn more about war tax resistance, see http://www.nwtrcc.org, or http://www.warresisters.org/wtr_menu.html.)

American law has long recognized the right of citizens to refuse to participate directly in war, when that refusal is based in religious or moral belief (you might remember the phrase “conscientious objectors”). I have maintained that we should also be able to direct our tax dollars away from war, or from any government activity, that violates such beliefs. This is a principle that transcends denomination, though – that is to say, it’s not just for us peaceniks. Conservatives should have a similar right – and it is precisely that right that the Supremes have brought to the fore in the Hobby Lobby case.

So what I want is simple enough. All taxpayers should be able, by means of a simple checkbox on the tax form, to tell the government where not to spend our tax contributions. For me, that means defense; for a conservative Catholic, that might mean family planning. I don’t know how far people might go – would an orthodox Jew or Muslim object to pork subsidies? Would vegetarians prefer to not support the USDA meat inspection program? – but it’s not our place to judge the sincerely held beliefs of others. Religious freedom, right?

Please note a couple of things. My proposal would not affect actual expenditures at all. (The small-government people don’t like this part.) The same amount of money would be spent as Congress appropriated; the money would just be drawn from different sources. It’s a mere matter of bookkeeping, one well within the capabilities of current systems. Indeed, we do something similar already with the Presidential Campaign Fund check-off.

It would also not affect an individual’s overall tax liability, and it says nothing about the government’s right to levy and collect taxes. (This is the point in the argument where the anti-tax activists turn away.)

Finally, this right would not be a trivial thing to claim. Conscientious objectors to military service had to go through a fairly rigorous process of documenting their beliefs, and a similar process should apply here as well.

I doubt that legislation to implement such a proposal would be passed, so I’m thinking a lawsuit would be the way to proceed. A class action against the Department of the Treasury and the IRS, to be exact.

So, if you’re a lawyer with experience in tax law and/or religious freedom issues, or if you know someone who is, or if you’d like to be part of the class, or if you have any suggestions or reactions to my idea, drop me a line, would you please? My email is smendler@yahoo.com, or you can comment below…

 

CRAFTING FREEDOM

“Hello, welcome to Hobby Lobby, how can I help you?”
“Well, you people can quit the deceptive advertising, for one thing.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You say you sell Craft supplies, right”?
“Yes.”
“Well, here’s my card, my name is Morgana Freya’s-child Isisflower, and I am High Priestess of the Circle of Kali in Her Partying Aspect. I practice the Craft, see? So I looked up ‘craft supplies’ on Google, and you guys came up first, so here I am! And let me tell you, I’ve been up and down every aisle of this store and except for this nice piece of hemp rope and these candles I can’t find any of the stuff I need for a handfasting ceremony I’m supposed to conduct tomorrow…”
“Plastic or paper? Oh wait – Craft? You mean – like witchcraft?”
“Just put them in my tote, young man, thank you… No, we don’t call it that anymore, that’s so 17th-century, y’know… We prefer the word ‘Wicca.’ We do ceremonies, you know, rites – and I’ve already been to Rite-Aid, by the way, and they couldn’t help me either…”
“But – but we’re all Christians here…”
“I see. OK, you got any unsanctified hosts? I have a friend who needs some of those by next Friday for some thing he’s doing… not my bag, personally, but whatever…”
“What? No, those would be for Catholics…”
“Well, they’re Christians, aren’t they?”
“No – I mean yes – well, I mean, I guess so… No, wait a minute, you’re the one who is confused here, ma’am, I’m sorry, this store is for hobbyists…”
“Hobbyists? I’m not familiar with that religion, is that like the Christian Scientists? ‘Christian Hobbyists’?”
“No, ma’am, there is no such thing as Christian Hobbyists…”
“Are you sure about that? I think it would be a pretty popular church. – Hey, who’s that? Quick, get down, some guy’s coming in here with a rifle! Goddess save us all!”
“Hey, good afternoon – pardon me, but where can a guy find some Kevlar cloth? I wanna make a soft case for my gun here, I just brought it along so we could measure…”
“I’m sorry, sir, can I help you?- Ma’am, what are you doing with that chalk?”
“Casting a circle of protection, that’s what I’m doing! That guy’s a menace!”
“Hey, look here sister, I ain’t trying to cause any –“
“And I’m not a nun, I’m a High Priestess, buster!”
“What’s going on over here, Stevens? I heard some disturbance…”
“Oh, Mr Thompson! Uh, nothing, sir, we just have some misunderstandings…”
“Sir, I’m sorry, we generally don’t allow firearms to be brought into the store… Do you have an open carry permit?”
“Yes sir – I also have membership in the First Church of Christ Ballistic, we’re expected to open carry wherever possible, y’know, like them Sikhs and those daggers they got? Anyway, I just wanted to get some material to make a nice gun case for my friend, she’s getting married tomorrow…”
“Say, wait a minute – are you talking about Hildegard Rainbarrel, by any chance?”
“What’s that, ma’am? You know Hildy? Yeah, we belong to the same gun club, she invited me to some thing – they don’t call it a wedding, but whatever, y’know? Her and Sam, they’re a nice couple, and she’s got this same kind of rifle…”
“Yeah, I’m going to officiate – and it’s called a handfasting, by the way –“
“Yeah, that was it! Couldn’t think of it…”
“Hey, do you know where I could find a nice ceremonial sword? I need one for the ceremony…”
“Sword? Heck, I got a whole wallful, you wanna check ‘em out? I’d be glad to let you borrow one…”
“Why yes, that would be wonderful – and I don’t know about Kevlar, but the fabric store next door has some really sturdy ripstop nylon… and you’ll need some nice lining… My name’s Morgana, by the way…”
“Well, glad to meet you, Morgana, my name’s Arthur… Let’s stop by that coffee shop first, I’ll show you the design I had in mind…”
“Mr. Thompson, what just happened?”
“I don’t know, Lyle, but I need you to clean up that chalk drawing. I think Susie back in Dry Flowers is about to go into labor…”

CHALABI SONG

Y’know how there are some names that you would be perfectly happy never hearing again in your whole life?  Well, for me one of those names is Ahmed Chalabi, who was one of the leading cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq. Now, that damn name is coming up again, as a possible replacement for Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.  Therefore, I resurrect this post from 2004…


Herewith, a small impertinence, regarding the guy who may have misled us (not that we weren’t willing, even eager!) into invading Iraq merely to further the Iranians’ designs and his own ambitions… Enjoy!

CHALABI SONG
To the tune of “Eric the Half-A-Bee” by Monty Python

Chalabi, historically,
Was basically
A wannabe.
But wannabes have fantasies
Of ways to seize their destinies.
D’you see?

So Chalabi was said to be
Or not to be an Iraqi
Who came back home to remedy
Some very ancient injury…

(singing!)
La dee dee, one two three,
Ahmed Chalabi.
A B C D E F G,
Ahmed Chalabi.

Is this wretched S.O.B.,
Our friend, or is he enemy
Is he what he seems to be?
No! He’s Ahmed Chalabi!

Fiddle de dum, fiddle de dee,
Ahmed Chalabi.
Shows you what you want to see,
Ahmed Chalabi.

I’d love to see him R.I.P.,
But if that is not yet to be,
I’d see him live on ABC,
Exposing the G.O.P.

Razzamatazz, whoop-dee-dee,
Ahmed Chalabi.
Loves the Ayatollah Khomeini,
Ahmed Chalabi.

Rummy says, “He sure fooled me!”
Colin Powell begins to see,
But he’s still believed by Dick Cheney,
Ahmed Chalabi!

Freedom Song (How Can You Say)

how can you say that you are free
when you’re held down by gravity
you can’t float no you can’t fly
better be careful if you try

how can you say that you are free
when physics, math, and chemistry
control you more than any man
defy them? I don’t think we can

(chorus)
all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
it makes no sense to me
when you talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
I don’t know what you mean
all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
ain’t reality
all your talk of freedom, freedom, freedom
an illusion to me

how can you say that you are free
entrapped in your biology
gotta eat gotta breathe gotta sleep gotta cry
sooner or later you gotta die

how can you say that you are free
a member of society
must conform to unwrit rules
never taught in any school

(chorus)

how can you say that you are free
enmeshed in this economy
compelled to work, to buy and sell
or live inside a poor man’s hell

how can you say that you are free
constrained by ideology
can only see what you believe
blindly follow those who lead

(chorus)

yes, freer is better, that’s for sure
But there’s no freedom that is pure
Just slaveries of different kinds
If you’re not free within your mind

 

 

Date with Mary Jane

Think of this one as a rave-up in the style of Little Richard:

DATE WITH MARY JANE
(note: may not be applicable in all states)

well I knew this girl when I was a pup
look at us now we all grown up

REFRAIN:
oh baby (3x)… got a date with Mary Jane

she’s been in hiding, she’s been on the run
when we get together we gonna have fun

that Mary Jane she smell so sweet
hang around with her a while then you gotta go eat

well bless my paw and bless my maw
when they were around it was against the law

well I ain’t seen Mary Jane for many a year
when we get together gonna cry a joyful tear

get to know Mary Jane you could do worse
she’s a pretty good teacher and a mighty fine nurse

well Garfield’s a cat and Snoopy’s a beagle
who ever thought they’d make this stuff legal

(call/response)
what’s her name? (“Mary Jane!”) (3x)

ain’t nothin ever gonna be the same
I got a date with Mary Jane

What’s Cooking: Food Hub Hubbub!

This piece was published in the Wayne Independent on April 23. 2014. This column isn’t published on the Wayne Independent website, so I thought I’d replicate it here…

“Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America’s farmers… Food hubs facilitate access to these markets by offering critical aggregation, marketing, distribution and other services to farmers and ranchers. By serving as a link between the farm or ranch and regional buyers, food hubs keep more of the retail food dollar circulating in the local economy. In effect, the success of regional food hubs comes from entrepreneurship, sound business sense and a desire for social impact.“
— USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, May 2013

Good thing we had our taxes done already… Otherwise, I might not have been able to attend the “Wayne County Food Hub” presentation that SEEDS, our local sustainable-community group, and The Cooperage Project co-sponsored last Tuesday evening, April 15 – and I would have missed out on a very interesting, informative, and thought-provoking discussion.

The first thing that impressed me about the gathering in the Cooperage that evening was the size and diversity of the group. I counted about 70 participants, including elected officials, farmers (young and old), local business people, educators, and members of the general public.

What seemed to unite the group was a simple conviction: Agriculture needs to remain a viable, thriving enterprise in Wayne County.

The other thing that impressed me was the amount of coordination and cooperation involved in the food hub concept, not just between different agencies but also between different parts of Wayne County’s economy and overall society – and the eager willingness all those people showed to get the ball rolling The food system, after all, has many stakeholders, and everyone can derive some benefit from anything that makes that system work more effectively.

This broad-ranging impact makes sense when you consider what a “food hub” is. As the meeting announcement from SEEDS defined it, a food hub is ”an effort to stimulate the economy of our local farming community by purchasing food from our local farmers and producers.” A food hub, for example, can help to expand markets – making it easier for producers to connect with and sell their products not just to individual consumers, but also institutional ones (such as restaurants, camps, schools, hospitals, and prisons). There are added benefits – in the process, a food hub can create jobs, provide educational and job training opportunities, enable farmers to share their knowledge, and knit a community more closely together. (For more information about food hubs, see http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/foodhubs)

Cindy Matthews of Wayne County Human Services led the discussion, ably assisted by Bob Muller, District Manager of the Wayne County Conservation District (who also works with the Agriculture Subcommittee of Wayne Tomorrow). Other panelists included Andrea Whyte of Wayne County Area Agency on Aging, Tom Eccles of Farmer in the Dale, LLC, Michele Sands of SEEDS, and Anthill Farm’s Sky Ballentine. Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith also appeared later in the program, speaking eloquently and encouragingly about the need for the kind of increased cooperation that a food hub makes possible.

Cindy started off by describing the basic elements of the food hub concept, and reviewed some of the possible benefits. Bob Muller reminded us that back in the day, Grange halls performed many of the same functions – helping buyers meet with sellers, and enabling farmers to get together and share ideas. Nowadays, people want more than ever to know where their food comes from, and that their food supply is safe and reliable. Food hubs, like farmers’ markets and CSAs, help the public make better, more personal connections with food producers.

Michele noted that local food production and distribution, where it is possible, has many advantages for a community – not only in terms of things like energy efficiency and lower transportation costs. but also community preparedness and food security. Every food dollar spent locally circulates many times throughout a community.

Tom Eccles talked about how getting connected with a institutional buyer – in this case, the Wayne County Area Agency on Aging – helped him to expand his business, add new products, and reach out to more new customers.

There are challenges ahead, to be sure, to get a local food hub up and running. Tom pointed out that farmers need to know more about food safety procedures and regulations before they can market to many institutional buyers, and those regulations need to be made more rational, more comprehensible, and easier to implement.

Sky Ballentine of Anthill Farm talked about a recently-formed regional initiative called the Lackawaxen Farm Company (www,lfcfresh.com), that enables consumers to order produce, meat, and other foods from a number of small local producers through one website.

The food hub system focuses more on cooperation and distribution, but it is not intended to be a replacement for, or even a challenge to, the traditional capitalist food distribution systems of large warehousers and competing grocery store chains. But it can make local food and local farmers more successful and more sustainable – and we can all profit from that.

Why I’m Walking in the Relay for Life

Leukemia took my Uncle John in 1970.
Melanoma took his brother Otto in 1973.
Their sister, my Aunt Rena, died from stomach cancer in 1986.
Finally, lung cancer took their brother Larry – my dad – in 2008.

Four siblings out of seven. Four different kinds of cancer. Coincidence? Genetics? I don’t know. There are so many factors that can lead to cancer, it’s hard to say. But whether or not my family history has increased my personal risk of developing cancer, it has certainly increased my awareness of it – as have the battles that other friends and relatives have fought with cancer in recent years, some successfully, some not.

Fortunately, in the last couple of generations, tremendous progress has been made in expanding our understanding of cancer, and in developing increasingly effective methods for preventing, detecting, treating, and even curing it.

That progress has been made possible, in large part, by the work of the American Cancer Society.

So when Katie Collins suggested that some of us employees at the Gatehouse NEPA newspapers might want to field a team in this year’s Relay for Life and help raise some funds for the ACS, something inside me said, “Go for it.”

The ACS knows what it’s doing. It has been attacking cancer on all fronts for more than a century. Its first task was to bring cancer out of the shadows – as the article on the ACS in Wikipedia states, “At the time of founding, it was not considered appropriate to mention the word ‘cancer’ in public. Information concerning this illness was cloaked in a climate of fear and denial.” Now it not only funds research and publishes some of the most important academic journals in the field, it conducts public education campaigns and provides important resources both to patients and healthcare providers.

And here’s one of my favorite reasons to support ACS – it’s also been in the forefront of the battle against Big Tobacco, via programs like “The Great American Smokeout” and its educational outreach efforts to curb tobacco use among young people.

Is it perfect? No. There are some valid critiques of the organization, and goodness knows there is much more work to be done, for example in the area of identifying and preventing some of the environmental factors that cause cancer. But I can’t argue with its track record, and its ability to bring members of communities together against one of the most pernicious and widespread public health threats there is.

So please join us – consider walking with our team (the “Independent Eagles”!), get involved with another team, start your own – or just donate by clicking here.  Thanks for your support!