The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com.
Deficit of Honesty
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
Back in my early days of radio, when I was hosting a midday show on FM at a small-town station in Western Maryland, I noticed a little legal double standard when it came to Sunday closings, colloquially known as "blue laws." Blue Laws, as you know, are designed to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest, via a restriction on Sunday shopping – as if, to paraphrase Ingersoll, Sunday is too holy to make money in.
The law specified that businesses, banks and government - but especially those evil liquor stores - must close one day a week to provide a "day of rest" for their employees. What I found interesting was that the day itself was not named. So I wrote a letter to the editor (this was back in the days when we still had newspapers and they still published letters from freethinkers) suggesting that we make Wednesday the day of rest.
Of course I was joking. And deliberately stirring the pot in this religion-soaked small-town culture. But it also made sense: if everything is closed on Sunday, that gives working people only one day a week, Saturday, in which to enjoy the parks and libraries paid for by their taxes.
Oh, I had stirred the pot, all right. I got blistering and blustery replies. And these replies, as RJ Evans, The American Heathen, likes to say, exposed the lie: religion really does get special protection under the law - and, more than that, nobody even questions religion's privileged place in society.
Now, I told you that story so I can tell you this one.
I’ve been watching the attempt by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, of the Republican, er, Christian Nationalist Party, to kill collective bargaining rights in the public employee unions there – although he’s not bothering about the rights of the police union because they supported his election – and to a lesser extent, I’ve been watching the deficit-reduction kabuki in Washington, DC. You know how I can tell Governor Walker isn’t serious about deficit reduction? If he were serious, he wouldn’t have signed away $117 million in corporate tax breaks in Wisconsin. That’s where most of the $137 million Wisconsin deficit came from.
And you know how I can tell that his comrades of corporate welfare in Congress are not serious? If they were serious, they wouldn’t have started two foreign wars off budget, passed a Medicare drug benefit without funding it, and then reduce revenues still further by insisting on extending the overgenerous Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
In the late 1970s, the top 1 percent of income earners got 9 percent of total US income. Now it gets more than 20 percent. So, naturally, you have to balance the budget on the backs of the working people, right? There are two reasons public budgets are in trouble: (1) because revenues tumbled over the last two years of the Bush Recession and (2) because of tax giveaways to rich people.
And who says we need to balance the budget? The very people who unbalanced it in the first place! Even Bill Maher, that liberal agnostic, misses the point: the American people are not clamoring for a balanced budget; the American people are not clamoring for tax cuts for rich people. They’re clamoring for jobs. They’re clamoring to keep their homes. They’re clamoring to keep their pensions, gambled away by Wall Street.
What’s the real reason the Wisconsin Governor is trying to gut collective bargaining rights in the public employee unions? It’s the same reason the Christian Nationalists are cutting everything in the federal budget that benefits the poor, but leaving the bloated defense budget in peace: they’re killing everything that might remotely benefit the people who vote for Democrats.
That’s what’s really at stake, in Wisconsin and in the nation at large: it’s a power grab and a push toward a one-party state, a one-party United States.
Think I’m paranoid? Think I’m making this up? Well, let me suggest right now something similar to what I suggested 40 years ago when I was a young broadcaster. Let’s take the Republicans at their word that we cannot afford all this government spending. Let’s assume they are sincere when they say government costs too much and we need to balance the budget.
When I was starting out in radio, the amount of real and personal property that was not being taxed by state and local governments was about $110 billion. A 1986 estimate showed untaxed income in that year of about $100 billion, or about five times the income of the five largest corporations in the US. At least $4.2 billion in tax-exempt property now exists in Wisconsin alone. These are desperate times, the Republicans tell us. And desperate times call for desperate measures.
So, who owns this property and gets away with making this much money tax free? Every church in the United States, that’s who. Do you seriously want to reduce deficits and save the economy? Every dollar they don’t pay is a dollar you must pay. Tax the churches.
You’d be in good company: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, James Madison, Ulysses S. Grant.
OK, maybe you’re not really serious: the hypocrisy exposes the lie. Guess which party tax exempt churches benefits?
Paine wrote, “the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world” and that “religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”