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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, February 14, 2014

HUNTING THE BIG UMBER BIRD

I have to tell you a very dull story. It relates no shootouts, no hangings, no burnings at the stake. This story would make a really bad comic book, er, sorry, graphic novel. Heck, it would make an uninspiring regular novel. And as a television series it is just a non-starter. So it must not be important, huh. And because it lacks all of those dramatic threds to string you, the reader, along, it will never make it on the news networks - which are in fact rarely new. But it really is an important story. And if I try and gin it up a little bit, you may agree. The facts, I assure you, are all accurate.
The central character is a guy named Charles Pollock. He lived in Boston in the 1890’s, a dull town in a dull time. And Charles worked in a bank; dull, dull, dull. But at least he was narcissistic. That made him a little interesting, if only to himself. Then, in 1894, dull dull Charles took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court. It was that case which made Charles the hero of the modern anti-tax movement. And here let me suggest you imagine a really big explosion, a sucide bombing maybe, with piles of innocent people dead and dismembered laying all over the place, because, really, the anti-tax movement is just a looney tunes version of suicide bombing- you blow up yourself and everybody around you.
I don't like paying taxes. I never have, I never will. There are some things my taxes have helped pay for that I don't approve of; a couple of wars, subsidies to a few domestic monopolies and some foriegn dictators, to name just a few. But those pale in comparison to the sin of not having a state to protect me and you. And, call them libertarians or anarchists, those who oppose the power of the state to tax its citizens resemble, to borrow a description from Tom Wolf, “…the logician who flies higher and higher in ever-decreasing circles until, with one last, utterly inevitable induction, he disappears up his own fundamental aperture and emerges in the fourth dimension as a needle-thin umber bird.” (“From Bauhaus to Our House”) To whit:
The U.S. government has been taxing income since 1861, as permitted in the Constitution under Article 1, Section 2 ("Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states…") and Article 1, Section 8 ("The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes,…"). But in 1862 Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the Dredd Scott decision which had helped to bring on the Civil War, became incensed that money was actually being taken out of his paycheck to help pay for the Civil War. Taney was a very strong believer in slavery and in being treated as somebody special.
And Taney’s objections to paying taxes for the Civil War also struck a cord with those who might not like slavery but who thought they were also special and did not deserve to be paying taxes. We're talking about rich people here, very rich people, who had no compunction about buying politicians to get what they wanted. Buying politicians is what is currently known as free speech, if your logic can somehow equate "buying" with "free" in the same thought without your head disappearing up his own fundamental aperture.
Anyway, in 1872 the rich people had the income tax laws repealed. Unfortunatly for Taney he was already dead and he wasn't getting his money back. Or his slaves. For that he would have to wait until the "Inheritance Tax" could be redefined as the "Death Tax". But I digress...
For the next twenty years the Federal government struggled along supported by import duties alone, which amounted to less than 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product.  And yes, that is how we funded government before 1861. But before 1861 we were primarily an agricultural economy, where farm workers do not require much education, where populations were scattered and where all health problems were local, bcause transportation was by foot and horse. After 1861 we were a growing industrial economy. Factory workers required a high school education (or better). They were concentrated in population centers, and railroads were making  public health a regional problem. In other words, economic conditions had changed.
Now, besides being unable to support an effective government, import duties (taxes on imports), raised the price of all consumer goods, imported and domestic. In fact, during the 1880's import duties added as much as 48% to the final price consumers paid, for milk, for steel, and for everything in between. This protected domestic companies and allowed them to keep their prices high enough to ensure high profits. Are your eyes glazing over, yet? Picture this; you walk into your local 'speak easy ' and discover that overnight the price of a beer has gone up 50%. You ask the owner what gives. He tells you that he has new suppliers, and the cost of beer from them is 50% higher than it was from the old suppliers. You ask why he switched suppliers, and he explains, "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
Congressman William Jennings Bryant of Nebraska labeled high tariffs “socialism for the rich”. “They weep more because fifteen millions are to be collected from the rich than they do at the collection of three hundred millions upon the goods which the poor consume.” But it ain't like they did it in secret.
Between 1871 and 1891 sixty separate bills were introduced in congress to reestablish an income tax. That's right, people were actually fighting for the right to pay taxes. The Republicans, the party in power at the time, beat all of those efforts back. And then in 1893 a new tariff reform bill was introduced by Democratic Rep. William Wilson of West Virginia. Wilson's bill was primmarily intended to lower the import duties on foreign iron ore, coal, lumber, wool and sugar. But the bill also included a minor amendment, introduced by Rep. Benton McMillan from Tennessee, which read, “That from and after the 1st day of January, 1895, there shall be levied, collected, and paid annually upon the gains, profits, and income of every person residing in the United States, derived from any kind of property, rents, interest, dividends, or salaries…a tax of 2 per cent on the amount so derived over and above $4,000” during any five year period (equal to $88,400 today).
The pundits paid little attention to Mr. McMillan’s amendment because so many income tax measures had been introduced so many times before, and none of them ever came to anything. This was because the rich and powerful had a secret weapon, sort of a human tommy gun, a Homo sapian Chicago typewriter, if you will.
His name was Senator Arthur Gorman of Maryland, and he was a tool of the rich and powerful. Gorman helped the opponents of the Wilson bill attach more than 600 amendments which reinstated almost all of the import duties the bill had attempted to lower. It was a St. Vaentine's Day Massacre on the floor of United States Capital building, right in front of God and everybody, as my father used to say.
With the “Tariff reduction” bill thus bullet ridden and bleeding on the floor, no one believed that President Grover Cleveland, who had campaigned on a lower tariff platform, would ever sign the misbegotten bill into law. And he didn’t. He simply let the bill become law without his signature. It didn't cost him anything. At least the tariffs had been marginally lowered. At least he could claim that he had done everything he could to lower prices for working class Americans, while not having to actually do anything to openly offend his rich campaign donors.
But imagine the mobster's shock the next morning to discover that Al Capone had beat the rap for murdering the Bugs Moran's gang, but he was going to jail anyway for income tax evasion. That was the shock felt amongst the rich and powerful. America had returned to a national income tax. And the response was just what you would expect it would be from the rich and powerful. They sued.
The fine print of the accidental income tax law required that all stock companies pay the income tax for individuals before distributing any dividends to them. Dividends were income. And when he received his notice from the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company (because he owned all of ten shares of stock in Farmers’ Loan and Trust) Mr. Charles Pollock was very angry. He was angry enough to hire high priced Wall Street top gun lawyer named Joseph Choate, who filed a lawsuit against the bank claiming the income tax was unconstitutional.
The Massachusetts courts disagreed, as did the Federal courts. They both upheld the law. But somehow Charles Pollock found the money to appeal his lawsuit all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which, to everyone’s surprise, agreed to hear the case immediately.
On April 8, 1895 the court ruled 5-4, in favor of Mr. Pollock. That slim majority was saying in essence that the source of income mattered; salary could be taxed, but income derived from property – rent, interest on savings or dividends paid on stock - were not “apportioned” by population, and thus the government was denied the power to tax it.
The dissenting opinions were intellectually devastating. Justice Brown wrote that “This decision involves nothing less than the surrender of the taxing power to the moneyed class…Even the specter of socialism is conjured up to frighten Congress from laying taxes upon the people in proportion to their ability to pay them.”
And Justice Harlan argued that the court's majority opinion, “…declares that our government has been so framed that,...those who have incomes derived from...bonds, stocks and investments...have privileges that cannot be accorded to those having incomes derived from the labor of their hands, or the exercise of their skill, or the use of their brains.” These were both powerful arguments. But then the greedy have always been willing to lose the intellectual arguments, as long as they get to keep their money.
Middle class Americans however were outraged. They were infuriated. They were fighting mad. And it would still take 11 years before the will of the people could overcome the power of the “moneyed classes”.
In 1909 President Howard Taft proposed a Constitutional Amendment (in part because he thought it would never pass) to allow a Federal Income Tax. On July 12, 1909 the 16th amendment passed the Congress and was submitted to the states, in part because the congress never thought the states would pass it. The amendment was brutally blunt and short. It reads in total, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Period. End of Amendment.
Alabama took less than a month to vote for the 16th amendment. Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Maryland, Georgia and Texas all passed it in 1910. Twenty-three more states followed in 1911, three more in 1912, and six more in 1913.
It was with the vote of the New Mexico legislature, on February 3, 1913, that made the 16th amendment the law of the land. Six states either rejected the amendment or never took it up, but that did not matter. The Constitution only requires that two-thirds of the states approve of an amendment to make it the law.
And so, when some lunatic or confidence man or woman tries to seduce you with a magical scheme to avoid paying taxes, you can now explain to them that, by placing the source of support for the government in the people’s hands, income taxes places the power there as well.
The relevancy of this tale of narcissism to your life may become clearer when you realize that on June 1, 1929 the Farmers Loan and Trust Company named in the lawsuit changed their name to City Bank Farmers Trust. And then in 1976 they changed their name again. This time they shortened it to Citibank.
This is the same Citibank that in 2009 swallowed some $320 billion of taxpayer (meaning your) bailout dollars. Oh, as of 1894, Charles Pollock was an employee of Farmers Loan and Trust in their Boston branch. And it seems likely to me that he sued his own employer with their connivance. Looking at history it seems to me that the limits to which the rich will go to avoid paying their fair share of government remains endless. These people just think they are top of the world, ma!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DOES YOUR COW POINT NORTH

I am certain that some will think this story is much a moo about nothing. But I think it behooves us to consider the implications of what at first blush seems like a simply grazy observation. Zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have made the startling discovery that at any given instant on any given day, two out of every three cows standing in fields all over the earth have steered themselves along North-South magnetic lines, as if they were over sized leather covered compass needles. We don’t yet know for certain if they are headed for the North Star or aiming their dairy-airs south, but we now know that those of us with frontal mental lobes, single chambered stomachs and just two teats apiece have been missing the meat of this story for the last 10,000 years.
The word “cow” derives from the Latin word ”caput”, meaning the head, which is the ancient way of counting cows, as in “Me and Tex are driving five hundred head to Abilene”. Clearly it was the head of the living cow that Gandi was thinking of when he wrote, “The cow is a poem of pity…She is the second mother to millions of mankind.” She is also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the source of 18% of the world’s methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And almost one third of the world’s oversupply of cow burps (the primary source of methane) comes from India’s 280 million sacred cows. Cows belch so much because they re-chew their cuds, regurgitating and re-digesting the cellulose over and over again. So the first secret of cows is that every cow is bull-limic.
The emotional life of the average Daisy or Bessie has been described as comparable to a potato on sedatives. But complexity was always hidden just beneath the hide. The American Humane Society has taken note that if one herd member is shocked by an electric fence, the entire herd avoids the wire. English linguistic bull artists have noted that cows moo in local dialects and inflections. And it has long been common knowledge that ungulates form their own bovine breakfast clubs. Three or four females establish lifelong bonds, a cow herd within the herd, or a “curd” if you will. Daisy actually enjoys a rich emotional life, nurturing animosities against her fellows, developing friendships and even mulling over the bovine equivalent of the Stephen Sondheim conundrum, “Is this all there is?"
This shared arrogance of our two species matches the obsession of Bessie with a subject familiar to many obsessive humans; sex. Eric Idle has described cows as the “…librarians of the animal world; mild by day, wild by night." And John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University in England, describes cows as “gay nymphomaniacs”. The “curds” constantly cowlick one another. And a single Bessie in “heat” can set off a Daisy chain of cow girls “mounting” herd mates in a riot of bovine dominatrix behavior. Unseen by inattentive humans, a pasture of grazing Gurneys is in reality a seething mass of bored libidos on steroids.Literally  It gives a whole new meaning to the term “pasteurization”.
Few have ever denied that individually cows process a certain personal magnetism. Their sheer bulk demands respect, if not religious devotion. These are not cuddly creatures. The one point three billion cows alive at this moment are ponderous moovers and shakers, and udderly unimpressed with humanities’ crème-de-la-crème, logic. Every dairyman has herd that cattle tend to face uphill, into strong winds or turn their flank steak to the sunny side on a cold morning; and that all seems plausible. But the idea that these cow hides might be sharing some kind of mystical, new-age ferris sensitivity seemed until recently to be an oxymoron. But scientists seeking out the magnetic orientation of hills created by the European ground mole (Talpa europaea), stumbled over the realization that perhaps larger mammals might also be influenced by something other than human magnetism.
German researchers examined Google Earth photographs taken at the same local time of day, observing some 8,510 individual cows in 308 separate herds on five different continents, at essentially the same moment. And the humans stumbled upon this udderly amazing fact; cows got magnetism. Generally, at any given moment, 70 % of the cows in any herd are standing about five degrees off of true North-South orientation. In Oregon State, closer to the North Pole, the deviation of cows is all of 17.5 degrees. In the southern hemisphere (Africa and South America) the alignment was slightly more north-eastern, south-western. Still, adjusted for latitude, 70% of all cows point toward the magnetic pole, and this is much too large a percentage to be a mere homogenized coincidence. The next question is, of course, why have cows got magnetism?
Cows are not migratory, but they once may have been. Cows share a common ancestor with whales, the “Pakictids”, which 53 million years ago had a whale’s ear and a cow’s teeth in a really ugly little dog’s body, sort of a Mexican hairless meth addict with hair. Could this ancient mongrel have been the source of the current magnetic deju moo? It could, if it milked its genes for all they were worth.
So it seems, upon rumination, that we owe cows an apology, that to err might be human but to forgive could be bovine. But stop the stampede for animal rights. My guess is we could be apologizing to Daisy and Bessie “auf die Ewigkeit warten”, as they say in Germany, and it would make no difference because Daisy and Bessie are not particularly interested in our moo-tivations, because cows are just as conceited as we humans are. And in the final rendering the squeaky veal always gets the cud. Holy, cow!
P.S. Photographs are from “The Secret Life of Cows” by Glen Wexler.
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Sunday, February 09, 2014

HAVING FAITH Part Six TESTING

I can say only one thing with certainty about the mystery of Aimee Semple McPherson, and that is that the evangelist’s rumored romantic partner, radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston, was having no trouble locating sexual partners. When he first talked to the cops in early June of 1926, Ormiston denied having run off with Sister Aimee. Yes, he admitted sharing various hotel rooms with an attractive young woman during a holiday drive up the California coast, beginning in Santa Barbara. But that woman, he insisted, was not Sister Aimee. But, he added before he disappeared again, chivalry prevented him from identifying his companion by name. The press wasted little time tagging the mystery woman with the sobriquet of “Miss X”, which inspired a whit to say, “What made the McPherson case so interesting was its “X” appeal”.
Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day, I reckon-
But that day’s gone now.
As the newspapers recounted the salacious details uncovered in Carmel, Aimee's Antics became the grist for vaudeville comedians across the nation. A “swell” would sidle up to a chorus girl and say, “ “I'm a radio man. Are you Aimee-able?”. Aimee's sermons at her Four Square Gospel tabernacle in Echo Park, were said to have “sects appeal”. The general populace was even getting into the spirit of the thing. One morning the empty “love nest” cottage on Scenic Drive was discovered to have a sign planted in the front lawn, that read, “Aimee Slept Here.” It had not been up long before it was modified to read, “Aimee Slipped Here.”
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible-
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
About the only person not laughing, was Sister Aimee's mother, Mildred “Sister Minnie” Kennedy (above, left). From the beginning of their ministry, this Salvation Army warrior had scheduled her daughter's revivals from the back seat of their 1912 Packard “Gospel Car”. And during the six years of hand to mouth existence Sister Minnie had handled what little money there was. And now, just when it looked as if “Sister Minnie” and Sister Aimee were finally standing on solid financial ground, a tide of bad press was threatening to wash it all away. That is why I think it was Mildred who asked the criminal lawyer Roland R. Wooley to plug the hole in her dike.
“They’ve sold you to too many
Kings, generals, robbers, and killers-
Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s Church,
Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.
You ain’t no good no more.”
Ideally, Wooly would have merely gotten a sworn deposition from Kenneth Ormiston (above) to answer more questions, but after his statement in early June the radio engineer had disappeared again, and the police, the District Attorney's office, not even the mob of newspaper reporters swarming over the case, could find him. So Wooley invented the witness he needed, by reaching out to an old college classmate from Salt Lake City, Mrs. Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff.
“They’ve pawned you
Till you’ve done wore out.
Goodbye,
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
Beat it on away from here now.”
Lorraine had fallen on hard times, and been reduced to working as a seamstress. She had even spent a few weeks in a sanitarium. At a meeting on 15 August, at the law offices of a friend in Salinas, and for the promise of $5,000 in cash, Lorraine agreed to say she had been the private nurse to “Miss X”, Ormiston's shy companion. Lorraine was even willing to hint that “Miss X” might have been her own twin sister, who was willing to play along for her own payoff. The ruse would be helped because, the twins  (below) resembled Aimee Semple McPherson. And that was the way, her story was presented in late August to the headline hungry newspapers, who gobbled it up.
“Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-
I said, ME!
Go ahead on now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.”
It might have worked, except that a few days later, Lorraine (above) was arrested in Los Angeles for bouncing checks. And when payments from Sister Minnie Kennedy dried up after just a couple of $50 "donations", and "Sister Annie” refused to pay Lorraine's $1,500 bail on her bad check charge, the seamstress called the District Attorney. And on 13 September, she reversed her story. Now, Lorraine told about the meeting in Salinas, and blew up the entire fantasy, meant to distract the newspapers. And worse, by confessing her play acting, Lorraine now provided the one thing the District Attorney's office had been unable to find before: intent
“And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.”\
District Attorney Asa Keyes now indicted for conspiracy Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff , her twin sister, Sister Aimee, her mother Mildred Kennedy, and Kenneth Ormiston. Also indicted were the two unknown kidnappers, identified as “Richard Roe and Sarah Moe” - just in case there had actually been a staged kidnapping. The criminal code provided the same punishment as, “provided for the punishment of the commission of the said felony or act.” In other words, by successfully covering up their crime, the conspirators were now subject to the punishment they had avoided. Said one magazine, “Like the melodramas of old, or the slam - bang movie serials of today, the McPherson case, puzzling an avid public' month after month, burst into new and startling climaxes whenever there seemed a possibility of the story fizzling out.” .
“And step on the gas, Christ!
Move!
Don’t be so slow about movin?
The world is mine from now on-
And nobody’s gonna sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.”
Langston Huges
Published in “Negro Worker” (Nov.-Dec. 1932)
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