Taxing God

Delete those email jokes disparaging the Iraq war! Hide that picture of Cheney morphing into Danny DeVito as The Penguin! And for heaven’s sake (literally), forget about claiming write-offs to any churches even slightly to the left of the far, far right.

It’s not Santa who’s making a list and checking it twice … it’s the IRS. Those Gee-guys, that right arm of the wrong end of the stick, that cozy institution that first came into being because some president needed money to wage war. With an ink-stained finger, the IRS might be pointing at you next.

But currently, it’s got its hands full with a whole lot of saints. All Saints, as a matter of fact, an Episcopal church in Pasadena.

I wonder if the treatment would have been worse if the church had been called A Modicum of Miscreants? A Fistful of Fallen?

After going after Al Capone in 1931, the IRS is now turning its bloodshot eye on All Saints. First a gangland mobster, now a liberal activist church. Who says the IRS is a few thousand entries short of a balanced ledger? No, honestly — who’s saying that? We’ll need names and addresses.

Being that the devil’s in the details, here’s the story: Last June, a liberal, self-proclaimed "peace and justice" Episcopal church in Pasadena had been notified by the Department of the Treasury that the IRS intended to conduct an examination for possible violation of its nonprofit status. The letter cited the reason for the examination was the fact that All Saints’ rector emeritus, the Rev. George F. Regas, had delivered a speech two days before the 2004 presidential election examining the moral implications of the Iraq War.

The IRS stated that the sermon may have contained "implicit" intervention in the election because it contained references to Bush’s and Kerry’s positions on certain moral issues, and that the church had reminded the congregation the need to consider their values when voting.

The letter went on to state that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church …The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections."
Retired as rector of All Saints in 1995, and merely acting as a guest speaker, Rev. Regas stated that he did not tell the congregation how to vote.

His words: "When you go into the voting booth on Tuesday, take with you all that you know about Jesus, the peacemaker. Take all that Jesus means to you. Then vote your deepest values."

A Washington, DC, law firm specializing in tax exemption law and First Amendment rights answered the letter, stating, "The Church does not believe the law requires it to preview or edit every guests remarks — much less mandate that a preacher’s sermons may not discuss moral values. … It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."  

The IRS responded by offering a deal: If All Saints would admit to wrongdoing, the IRS would go away. (I wonder if the guy who offered this deal had a hoarse voice and said anything about a cement overcoat.)

In any event, All Saints refused and just a few weeks ago decided to take the matter to its congregation and the national press.

This is a church that openly welcomes gay congregants. It employs female ministers.  For the last 17 years, All Saints has sponsored a highly publicized, well-attended, candlelit walk through Pasadena in early December called the Posada in order to raise monies and awareness for AIDS.

Founded in 1882, this church is known for its commitment to social justice.

On a personal note, I’ve had the good fortune to hear sermons delivered by Rev. Regas and the current rector, the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon. My impressions are of extraordinarily bright, impassioned men who speak from their hearts, urging their congregation to truly exercise compassion and charity towards all.

These pastors, this church, seems to honestly practice exactly what it preaches, welcoming and loving to all peoples of all religions.

So was it the virtual love beads around the reverend’s neck that ticked the Treasury off?

The concept of Rev. Regas’ speech, titled "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush," was that Jesus was confronting both Kerry and Bush, reminding them both about the sins of war and poverty. That was it. No fatwas on foreign leaders, like Pat Robertson.  No blaming feminists, gays or lesbians for the fall of the Twin Towers, like Jerry Falwell.  Funny, but Messrs. Robertson and Falwell have yet to receive their letters from the IRS.   Damn that Christmas mail.

Rev. Regas told us what he thought Jesus would say. But what would Joseph say?  Uh, no, not Joseph of Nazareth.

Joseph of McCarthy.

Get real

The plan the president outlined for Iraq is an improvement over the administration’s previous plan, which consisted only of “stay the course.” But as a veteran of this war and someone who talks to other veterans every day, I can say that in the eyes of the troops this plan still falls short in two important ways.

First, there are still no metrics for success. Our troops must know what objective guidelines will be used to declare that a goal has been reached. They deserve to know that their road home is based on hard data and not just a subjective opinion of success.

Second, a timeline for success must be established. Whether that means one year, two years or five years, our troops need a realistic time frame in which to achieve a well-defined mission. Without that, our troops and their families cannot prepare to meet the obligation of our commitment to the Iraqi people.

The president himself has recognized the need for a timeline in military operations in the past. During the 2000 campaign, the president’s own Web site stated that of the US military engagement in Kosovo, “The president should also lay out a timetable for how long American troops will be involved.”

One of the president’s own advisers said, “[Vice President] Gore seems to have a vision of an indefinite US military deployment in the Balkans. He proved today that if he is elected, America’s military will continue to be overdeployed, harming morale and re-enlistment rates, weakening our military’s core mission.”

The president must provide well-defined conditions for success and a timeline for our commitment in Iraq. Until that happens, his plan cannot be seen as credible in the eyes of the troops and veterans of this war. I wouldn’t give this plan a failing grade, I would give it an “incomplete.”

Operation Truth is the nation’s first and largest Iraq War veteran’s organization.


We’ll see

Kinda makes you wonder. GM announces 30,000 jobs will be eliminated and the Dow Jones goes up 54 points. These are jobs which pay a living wage ($25 per hour and with health plans and defined benefit pensions). 

It was announced a couple of weeks ago in what was hailed as good economic news by conservative radio hosts that many new jobs and other economic benefits had been recently created and credit given to the Bush administration. 
I’m wondering if those new jobs were at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart with minimum wages and no health or pension benefits. In other words not a living wage for the workers. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Dow and NASDAQ went up with the announcement of new jobs with health and pension benefits that benefited American workers and expanded the middle class for Americans rather than new jobs without benefits for undocumented aliens in order to create slave labor for the capitalist class?

They say that the economy is cyclical and some state history is also. We can see capitalism is not yet dead. Maybe Marxism is not yet dead either.  If this trend keeps up — we’ll see.