Blooming on Hudson Street.

Spring in the city = riotous color. Even those of us with the most monochromatic black winter wardrobes – for all intents and purposes a required uniform for living here – yield, however slightly, to bursts of brightness.

And why not? The streets and parks are enchantingly abloom. Apparently miniature daffodils, which I had never seen (or noticed?) before, were all the rage in the Village this April. They are fucking adorable and make me smile. (Okay, or at least make me want to.) Alas, their little yellow petals have just started to crinkle and droop, and now I haz a sad. :(

But all is not lost! Because the tulips have begun crashing their party and stealing their show. Shopkeepers are suddenly engaging in some kind of botany arms race, taking full advantage of urns and planters outside their businesses. Come see for yourself.  Continue reading

A Prediction about a Tax Increase That Will Be Supported by Trump, Buffett and the Vast Majority Of Americans

Introduction

I predict that In order to reduce the Federal deficit, pay for extraordinary government spending on defense and infrastructure, protect the viability of Social Security, fund a substantial tax cut for low and middle class citizens and diminish the growing wealth gap between the vast majority of Americans and the 1 percent, a one-time tax on estate values over 15 million dollars will be introduced by the Trump Administration the end of the year.

The wealth tax will be applied to personal assets, including owner-occupied housing; cash, bank deposits, money market funds, savings in insurance and pension plans, investment in real estate and unincorporated businesses and corporate stock, financial securities and personal trusts. However, liabilities (primarily mortgages and other loans) will be deducted from wealth accountability. For this reason, the one time levy might more accurately be termed a net wealth tax.

I hope Trump and his minions will expand the basic idea to a variable one-time wealth tax. While it should begin with a 15% tax on net wealth of 15 million dollars, it should increase as follows:

  • 25% over 20 million.
  • 30% over 30 “
  • 35% over 40 “
  • 40% over 50 “
  • 45% over 60 “
  • 50% over 70 “
  • 60% over 80 “
  • 70% over 90 “
  • 75% over 100 “
  • 80% over 500 “
  • 50% over 1 billion dollars

I’m not sure it would be a good idea to go further than this. The super 1 percenters might Swift Boat me and the merits of the net wealth tax prognostication if extended beyond a billion dollars. Besides, I don’t want to be the Eugene Debs or Upton Sinclair of wellness, though of course I admire both immensely.

There are vastly more taxpayers whose net wealth is far below even the lowest net tax rate foreseen in the expected Trum proposal. Once this plan gains escape velocity, that is, gets the kind of attention a single Trump tweet attracts on Twitter, there will be no stopping it. Any legislator opposing it will be defeated; Fox News commentators and other critics will lose caste.

You may be surprised to learn that Donald Trump himself proposed a one-off 14.25% wealth tax on the net worth of individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more in 1999. Trump claimed that his proposal would generate $5.7 trillion in new taxes, which could be used to eliminate the national debt.

Comments

From Robert Miles, Tampa, FL – Warren Buffett is likely to favor the realization of the Ardell prognostication and the Ardell Rules re tax rates for the very wealthy. Warren Buffett put forward a not too dissimilar idea as part of a tax plan proposed by President Barack Obama in 2011. The plan would have applied a minimum
tax rate of 30 percent on individuals making more than one million dollars a year. According to a White House official, the new tax rate would have directly affected 0.3 percent of taxpayers.

Buffett Rule: Raise $20 billion from ultra rich (50,000 earning $1,000,000 +) by requiring 30% tax rate (same as middle class). Buffett Rule net effect: Lower 20 million struggling families tax burden by $1,000 each.

As an aside, Buffett solves the budget deficit in 5 minutes (actually in a 43 second video):

From Bruce Midgett, Missoula, MT – Hi Don – I’m completely in for taxing legacy wealth – more than you’re presenting and beginning at a more modest wealth level.
Not everyone will be enthusiastic. George Will, for example, recently lamented the kind of society being bandied about in current (and past) futuristic novels. He observed that they foresee a government system of transfer of income from those who do things to those who don’t. That, he says, suggests that one half of the country would support the other half.

Right in theory, wrong in the numbers. It’s more like ten percent of the country would support the other ninety percent – as they damn well should be expected to do. Their wealth was not accumulated in a vacuum.

However, others see little choice – it will follow logically. The late Harold Tascher as early as the mid-50’s suggested that, with continued rapid technology advances and business growth, the labor force needed to sustain a healthy and growing national economy cannot reach full employment. This will require some restructuring in ways wealth is acquired and disposed of to ensure dignity for all citizens. Tascher believed the combined wealth of the country could easily provide for this contingency without placing hardships on anyone.

Another, Warren Buffett, noted that we will need fewer and fewer people in our labor force to produce the products and services for our economic needs in the future. Buffett went on to suggest that the only solution to that situation was a progressive system of taxation that recognized the fact that some people will wish to be in the labor force and others will rather go fishing. He also concluded that the nation had more than enough combined wealth to undertake such a conversion to accommodate such an eventuality.

None of these propositions, including yours, strips anyone of the possibility of earning obscene amounts of income or legacy wealth. We know the problem; we have the need. We have the wealth to solve the problem and address the need. And please, labels be damned. Call it what you will, but assess it for what it is – consideration for the value of every individual and an effort to up that value to its fullest potential for both that individuals and society.

From Grant Donovan, Perth, Australia – A very interesting prognostication Don but the wealthy don’t give up their money that easy. All natural born killers.

Why Religion, Like Smoking, Lack of Exercise and a High Fat Diet, Inhibits a REAL Wellness Lifestyle

Introduction
 
At a time when Donald Trump and Mike Pence head the Executive Branch of our government with a cabinet of religious fundamentalists, when both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans and when the Supreme Court will soon have a religious dogma-focused majority, looking on the bright side seems more challenging than ever.


What’s a freethinker who loves reason, exuberant living and liberty to do? Besides, that is, continuing to pursue a healthy and fun lifestyle, support secular causes and maintain activities that enable a positive outlook and a sensible perspective – irrespective of a hostile government?


I suggest making time each day to consider one particular element in Robert Green Ingersoll’s personal creed addressed to becoming a better person.

That would be to cultivate the mind and be familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius has expressed, the noble deeds of all the world.  


To get you started, here are a few mind-cultivating remarks taken from a random selection of freethinkers living and dead.


To Cultivate the Mind
  • Edward Abbey on the difference between the Lone Ranger and God – There really is a Lone Ranger.
  • Charles Darwin, Descent of Man (1871) – For my part I would as soon be descended from [a] baboon . . . as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies . . . treats his wives like slaves … and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
  • Lydia Maria Child, The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages (1855) – It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work theology has done in the world.
  • Florence Kennedy, Color Me Flo – My Hard Life and Good Times (1976) – If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
  • Jacques Monod, Chance & Necessity (1971) – Mine is an entirely non-providential view of the biological world as the mere product of chance and necessity…the natural sciences reveal a purposeless world which entirely undercuts the tradition claims of religions…Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.
  • Alice Walker, The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (1995) – What a burden to think one is conceived in sin rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into joy. . . It is chilling to think that the same people who persecuted the wise women and men of Europe, its midwives and healers, then crossed the oceans to Africa and the Americas and tortured and enslaved, raped, impoverished and eradicated the peaceful, Christ-like people they found. And that the blueprint from which they worked, and still work, was the Bible.
  • Susan B. Anthony, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1908) – I think women have just as much a right to interpret and twist the Bible to their own advantage as men always have interpreted and twisted it to theirs … But while I do not consider it my duty to tear to tatters the lingering skeletons of the old superstitions and bigotries, yet I rejoice to see them crumbling on every side.”
  • Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code (1843) – In no instance has a system in regard to religion been ever established, but for the purpose, as well as with the effect, of its being made an instrument of intimidation, corruption, and delusion, for the support of depredation and oppression in the hands of governments.
  • Galileo Galilei, Recantation (1633) – I have been . . . suspected of heresy, that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the universe and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the same, and that it does move . . . I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic church.
  • Niall Shanks, God, the Devil and Darwin (2004) – The intelligent design movement . . . has little to do with science but a lot to do with politics and power-in particular, the imposition of discriminatory, conservative Christian values on our educational, legal, social and political institutions… While we in the West readily point a finger at Islamic fundamentalism, we all too readily downplay the Christian fundamentalism in our own midst. The social and political consequences of religious fundamentalism can be enormous.
  • A.A. Milne, Cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught (1996) – The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief-call it what you will-than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.
  • Andy Rooney, Sincerely, Andy Rooney (1999) – We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins. Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn’t have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout. I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.
Summary
Well, I hope this helps with your quest for the bright side. Throughout history, there have been many men and women who loved reason, exuberant living and liberty, despite a total absence of books, conferences or newsletters about why or how to pursue optimal status given their varied circumstances. All managed as best they could under conditions at least as trying as our own today, and found ample ways to pursue healthy, fun lifestyles, to protect positive outlooks and to maintain sensible perspectives. In short, they found time to cultivate their minds and became familiar with the mighty thoughts that genius expressed, the noble deeds of all the world.
We will do well to follow their lead, current obstacles not withstanding.

Iris: MIA.

Hello, beloved readers. You may have discerned my absence from this space for a little while now, which is not typical for me. Seems that perhaps some sort of explanation is in order.

I’ve been going through some difficult personal shit. Without getting into specifics, processing trauma and abuse—even many years later—is not exactly easy or fun, but it becomes absolutely critical when the unfortunate manifestations blindside you (again), seemingly out of nowhere. Suffice it to say that I have an amazingly supportive partner, a tight circle of friends (i.e. “chosen family”), and a skilled therapist* to guide me. In the meantime however, I am finding it very difficult to focus, concentrate and opine for your infotainment upon the vital and timely topics of fascist doucheweasels, patriarchal shitheads, racist conservatives, treasonous theocrats, native-born white d00ds in local bars suggesting an upside to the day’s news out of DC, terrorist squirrels and other assorted menaces.

Then again, I only have one rule—and one rule only—for posting: whatever I want, whenever I want.** So here, have some of that. Continue reading

America Could Become Much More of a Theocracy Under Trump Than It Already Is

I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., Playboy interview, 1965. [About the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down prayer in public schools.]

Introduction

On January 20, in his first hours as president, Mr. Trump issued a proclamation asserting that there can be no peace where the people do not pray for it. Really?

Who convinced him to issue such a proclamation? One of the five preachers or the rabbi invited to pray at his inauguration? Don’t Americans pray enough? Was there a shortage of prayers for peace before World Wars I and II—and every war centuries before—and since 1945? What war occurred due to insufficient prayers? I remember the Vietnam era when draft eligible students were praying for peace up the yin yang. Those prayers did not have much effect, either.

This proclamation is a representative example of the crazy talk of politicians who insert their religious beliefs into the discharge of their secular responsibilities, though in Trump’s case it was likely more pandering to the evangelical base. God—hasn’t he done enough of that already with his appointments?

Well, maybe not, in his mind.

That thought brings with it concern for the liberal democracy we have enjoyed in America since the country’s founding. Trump has created a cabinet of theocrats. What’s more, he has pledged to nominate more religious zealots to the high court, as well as additional key posts.

Bad Moon on the Rise

Are we in danger of becoming a theocracy? More so than ever, IMHO.

TheocracyTrump and friends are equating patriotism with piety. How I would like to put before the president a statement from a Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin more than a century ago regarding intermingling government with religion:

There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, war, and all evil in the state as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed . . . Those who made our Constitution saw this, and used the most apt and comprehensive language in it to prevent such a catastrophe.

(Source: FFRF citation of Justice H.S. Orton of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, concurring opinion in Weiss v. the District Board, decided on March 18, 1890.)

Susan Jacoby noted that while the new president is himself indifferent to religion, he used the evangelical segment of the electorate to get to the White House. In appreciation, he seems to have delegated his Cabinet picks to zealot-in-waiting Mike Pence, the featured speaker at the upcoming anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. whose fanaticism makes the average fundies seem agnostic by comparison. Give Trump credit—he has not (so far) nominated Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin for government jobs. That’s the good news. (I’m trying to look on the bright side here.)

LibertyThe bad news is that he’s nominated a lineup of god-besotted extremists, including Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Sonny Perdue, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and OMG!—Ben Carson. These nominees are Christian zealots beyond the pale and outspoken opponents of church/state separation. Each could seamlessly fill any Sunday morning as a substitute preacher for the five ministers who offered superstitious babble at the Trump Inauguration.

Along with Mr. Pence, these new leaders of the highest government offices will bring their religious perspectives—and culture war agenda, to the forefront of their secular offices.

Can a theocracy be far behind? Will they advocate for an amendment to our godless Constitution declaring that the United States of America is a Christian nation? It’s not so farfetched—a few years ago, a YouGov Omnibus poll found that 34 percent of Americans would favor establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their state. Another slightly bright side note—only 32 percent would go all the way and do the same with the U.S. itself. Small comfort. (This is an average percentage—imagine what the support level must have been in Alabama and Mississippi!)

Hallmarks of a Theocracy

At the risk of frightening a few readers, consider some of the beliefs and policy agendas of these new leaders of key national offices, including the Attorney General and directors/secretaries of H&HS, HUD, Energy, Education, CIA, EPA and Agriculture. You will find belief in and support for:

  • Varied biblical prophecies, not excluding The Rapture or end-times.
  • The suppression of critical thought, funding for religious charter schools, science-denying initiatives from climate change to evolution and more religious extremists appointed to fill critical positions at all levels of government.
  • Vehement opposition to marriage equality and a woman’s choice to be a mother—or not (i.e., legal abortion and other reproductive rights).
  • Disdain for separation of church and state—The Donald will be building one wall where it’s not needed and tearing down another where it is.
  • Changing the Constitution from a secular Republic to Christian Nation theocracy—in part because they believe this is a condition for the second coming of Christ.
  • Sponsorship and passage of more bills like H.R. 7, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act.” Every House Republican voted for this bill. If it clears the Senate (Trump will sign it), the Act will deny more than 28 million women access to abortion coverage.

Consider the man rumored to be Trump’s first choice for the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, William Pryor. This outspoken opponent of secular principles in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights has compared the ACLU and its plaintiffs to terrorists. He has railed against gay rights, the teaching of evolution, court decisions legalizing abortion and barring school prayer—while promoting displays of the Ten Commandments on government property. He has compared homosexuality to “necrophilia” and “bestiality” and called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law.” He has long supported the infamous Roy Moore, the Alabama supreme Court jurist who placed a Decalogue plaque in his courtroom and forced jurors to pray.

Advice C. S. Lewisfrom an Unlikely Source

The Christian Poet and novelist C.S. Lewis embraced the view that all power corrupts. I wonder if Messrs. Trump and Pence are familiar Robert Green Ingersollwith The World’s Last Night?

I fully embrace the maxim that all power corrupts. I would go further than all power corrupts. The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcendental or spiritual … in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to meddle with our private lives…Theocracy, I admit and even insist, is the worst corruption of all.

But, to no reader’s surprise, I think Robert Green Ingersoll merits the final words. This is but the beginning of one of his speeches on the horrors of theocracy.

The government of God has been tried. It was tried in Palestine several thousand years ago, and the God of the Jews was a monster of cruelty and ignorance, and the people governed by this God lost their nationality. Theocracy was tried through the Middle Ages. God was the Governor—the pope was his agent, and every priest and bishop and cardinal was armed with credentials from the Most High—and the result was that the noblest and best were in prisons, the greatest and grandest perished at the stake. The result was that vices were crowned with honor, and virtues whipped naked through the streets. The result was that hypocrisy swayed the sceptre of authority, while honesty languished in the dungeons of the Inquisition…

If God is allowed in the Constitution, man must abdicate. There is no room for both. If the people of the great Republic become superstitious enough and ignorant enough to put God in the Constitution of the United States, the experiment of self-government will have failed, and the great and splendid declaration that ‘all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed’ will have been denied, and in its place will be found this: All power comes from God; priests are his agents, the people are their slaves …

Best wishes, stay well and consider two points of view: 1) There are no alternative facts; and 2) There is no better government for America than a secular democracy.

May this essay rouse your will to help the insouciant masses defend their liberties. As RGI stated in words that represent the light, air and love at issue—“liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice, the perfume of mercy. It is the air and light, seed and soil, dew and rain of progress, love and joy.”

Or, if he felt this way about it, which he does not, Trump might say, “liberty is YUGE!”

Honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has become my tradition on this day of remembrance to post the text of a speech delivered by Dr. King on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (audio recording here), along with a short commentary about why I believe these words are so important. The speech is truly magnificent, yet it tends to be given short shrift relative to other works of the slain civil rights leader.

Continue reading

Prepare to Resist: Let’s Out Tweet and Otherwise Take Back the Media from the Tweeter-in-Chief

Introduction

Donald Trump, elected by deplorables, the ill-informed, the easily fooled, the undereducated and the Russian government, communicates with child-like tirades in short sentences of 140 or fewer characters on Twitter. This forum does not permit reasoned discussion, explanations or enlightenment on any issue. What it does enable, as Trump demonstrates daily, is his compulsive need to insult, malign, bully, lie, obfuscate and attack any who dare question, challenge or, the horror, disagree with his behavior.

Unfortunately, the messages on this medium are picked up by other outlets, giving Mr. Trump dawn-to-dusk, coast-to-coast exposure throughout the land. His banal and fact-free shouts are but bluster and bully talk. He spreads fear, division, anger and uncertainty. He’s already a national disaster; once in office come January 20, he could be ruinous.

A Plan of Action

What can a citizen do, to counter, to some modest degree, the all-powerful communication channels dominated by the near omni-present boom of bombast coming from the presidential pulpit?

Not much, by him or herself, but plenty in concert with citizens around the country. Everyone willing to fight for the character and perhaps the fate of society can devote himself to reshaping, reforming and revitalizing minds taken in November 8 by the Trump illusion/delusion. Resistance to and/or reforming the senses of the Trumpian masses might best be accomplished, in time, not with arms in revolution (forget heroic martyrdom at the barricades ala “Phantom of the Opera” mythology), but rather with pens (and keypads) in resolution. With a mass of counter views, we can balance the banter of the Twitter King. Let’s take back at least a part of the media—and make the media great again. Let’s together flood the opinion pages of newspapers and other communication outlets with reasoned, fact-based and evidence-rich commentaries. Let’s resist this American wanna-be emperor, not just because he’s bare naked—that’s bad enough, but mainly because his messages, if not massively challenged and effectively countered, are ugly and pernicious to our secular and democratic Republic founded on Constitutional safeguards for all.

Letters-to-the Editor

Two letters to the editor, neither focused entirely on Donald Trump, the Twitter President, illustrate the kind of citizen communications that might help many Americans think a little differently about issues. On occasions, a single letter might change a few minds. The first letter, below, was published in a Texas newspaper. It was written by the co-president of a national organization defamed a few days prior in the newspaper; the second letter-to-the-editor appeared after Christmas in response to a story about whether little children should be encouraged to believe in a seemingly harmful lie, namely, that Santa is real.

(Full disclosure: The second letter was written by yours truly.)

Letter Number One – Regarding An Outside Group Butting in on Local Matters

We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation would like to respond to a recent Amarillo Globe-News editorial. (History, facts should matter, Dec. 27, amarillo.com.)

Separation of Church and StateFirst, we aren’t an outside group in Texas. We’re a national group of 25,000 representing more than 1,000 members from all around the Lonestar State.

(The writer) dwells on the absence of the phrase “separation of church and state” in the U.S. Constitution.

President Thomas Jefferson actually coined the descriptive metaphor in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists on Jan. 1, 1802, when they asked him to explain the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly invoked his phrase in major decisions.

It is true that the exact words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the U.S. Constitution, but neither do “separation of powers,” “interstate commerce,” “right to privacy,” and other phrases describing well-established constitutional principles.

When it comes to our censored display in the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott’s action not only violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by offering preference to a Christian nativity display, but also infringed the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Once the state opens up a venue for speech by citizens, it cannot suppress it merely because the governor does not like the content.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that FFRF’s case against Abbott had legal merit and could proceed. We’re confident we will prevail on the merits.

(The above letter was written by Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder/co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, WI.)

Letter Number Two – The Delicate Claus Question

This article asks if encouraging belief in an adipose man in a red suit delivering presents in one night to billions of kids around the globe is naughty or nice. In my view, it’s not nice, but it serves an important purpose in families that teach even more preposterous beliefs to children. In such cases, children usually don’t discover that these other beliefs are equally false — but more pernicious.

However, to look on the bright side, teaching the Santa myth can serve a beneficial purpose if children later come to realize that other beliefs pressed upon them when young are just as foolish but more damaging. It is good to discover that there are no goblins, ghosts or gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Santa is a harmless myth, but religion is a myth that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Summary

These letters did not change minds, policies or prevailing customs in either instance, but that was not the goal. The idea in writing letters is to contribute to the dialogue, locally and otherwise, introduce a new perspective on issues and correct erroneous statements. If tens of millions of citizens regularly write letters to newspapers, politicians and other venues as never before, perhaps the influence of the Twitter-in-Chief can be diminished and the damage of his reign may be tempered.

After all, as Ingersoll so beautifully put it, “hope is the consolation of the world.”