Monday, August 31, 2015

Donald Duck and the Income Tax Return of 1941

It's a long, long way from the War of 1812 to World War II. Many people who are interested in the one have no desire to delve into the other. The United States of 1942 is such a very different place from the United States of 1812. The biggest difference is the existence of the war machine, fueled by the income tax. And in case you don't think that the purpose of the income tax is to engage in war, listen to Donald Duck. Acting as the mouthpiece of the Federal government, he explains this very clearly.

In this film, an ominous looking radio represents the government, and Donald Duck stands for the ordinary citizen. When Donald hears that his help is needed to defend the country, his first thought is that he should join the militia. using the weapons he has around the house.

But the government explains to him that it does not want his puny weapons. It is planning to build much better weapons using the military industrial complex, and all Donald needs to do is pay his taxes. And it will be easy, because now there is this new simplified form.

Then the government reminds Donald Duck of all the freedoms his tax dollars and the weapons they buy will protect, among these the freedom to worship, and freedom of speech, but notably absent are the right to bear arms or the right to be free from searches and seizures. Economic freedom is not mentioned at all. The government wants to save democracy, but it does not seem to remember that the United States is not a democracy, but rather a constitutional republic. The radio voice lists a new "freedom" unheard of by the Founding Fathers: "the freedom from fear and want."

On April 27, 1942,  President Roosevelt said to Congress: "In this time of great national danger, when all excess income should go to win the war, no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000 a year." (Bank, Stark and Thorndike 2008.97)

Is there any doubt that we had a communist in the White House? And why exactly did Walt Disney collaborate with him? The Secretary of the Treasury had wanted the movie short to feature a generic taxpayer. It was Disney who insisted that the average citizen would find it easier to identify with Donald Duck.

Despite the new spirit of Donald Duck, Congress did not quite go along with President Roosevelt's plan in 1942 to put at cap on income at twenty-five thousand, but it did set the tax rate on the highest bracket at 82%, which is pretty close.

A government-financed military and a standing army go hand in hand with the loss of the majority of the rights secured by the constitution and in the bill of rights. The question is: when did the average American citizen become Donald Duck?


Bank, Steven A., Kirk J. Stark and Joseph J. Thorndike. 2008. War and Taxes. Washington D.C.:The Urban Institute Press.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rendering Unto Caesar

Separation of Church and State is a doctrine enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution and penned by James Madison. There are many today among the religious right in the United States who bristle against this doctrine and insist that the United States is a "Christian Nation."

But did you know that separation of Church and State is actually a Christian doctrine that predates the first amendment? Matthew 22:21 states:

 "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ).
 This quote is attributed to Jesus and is in the context of the question of whether it is proper for Judeans to pay taxes to their Roman overlords. One of the ironies of the New Testament was that Jesus purported to be the Messiah, which means the anointed King of Israel and the head of its secular authority, and that it was because of the hope of being freed from the Romans and their oppressive taxation system that many Judeans followed him. It was also for this reason that he was crucified.

It was the disciples in their gospels who then enshrined a view of religion as divorced from politics and national identity.

In the history of religion, this is a turning point, because up till then  each nation had its own gods, who were believed to intercede for that nation in divine battles, and the success of a conqueror was seen as the success of that nation's god in his battle with the defeated nation's god. To separate religion from patriotism seemed unthinkable.

In time, the Christian religion gained ascendancy in the Roman Empire, so much so that it became the official religion, quite in contravention of the doctrine of "Render Unto Caesar", and by the Middle Ages, all traces of separation of Church and State had pretty much disappeared in Europe. Of course, between the Renaissance and the emergence of the modern nation state a lot of changes did occur. One of the most interesting ones is the founding of the independent Vatican City State.

The Gardens from atop St. Peter's Baslica
Source: Wikipedia

Vatican City became a sovereign nation on February 11, 1929 under the Lateran Treaty signed by Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel the Third and by Cardinal Pietro Gaspari for Pope Pius XI.

The fact that the Pope is a foreign prince had been a problem for Catholic Americans for some time, especially when they wanted to run for public office, as people accused them of violating their citizenship by swearing their allegiance to the Pope. But this was also a very great boon to American nuns and priests imprisoned by the Japanese in China during World War II. In August of 1943 all American Catholic nuns and priests imprisoned at Weihsien Internment camp were released to be repatriated, because the Emperor of Japan accepted the argument advanced by the the Papal legate to Tokyo that they were citizens of a neutral sovereign: Vatican City. One has to wonder: when they returned to America, were they still allowed to vote?

Dual Citizenship is still a tricky topic today. In current American passports the following standard warning is printed:

LOSS OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP. Under certain circumstances, you may lose your U.S. citizenship by performing voluntarily and with intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship, any of the following acts: 1) Being naturalized in a foreign state; 2) taking an oath or making a declaration to a foreign state; 3) serving in the armed forces of a foreign state; 4) accepting employment with a foreign government; or 5) formally renouncing U.S. citizenship before a U.S. consular officer overseas.
Separating Church and State becomes very tricky once the Church you belong to is also a State. One can argue that this is only a problem if you are a Catholic. But dual citizenship is not strictly a Catholic problem. Many Americans are faced with this issue. A repeal of the Neutrality Act and related laws would resolve the problem  and would leave the constitutional rights of all Americans intact, regardless of their country of origin or religious affiliation.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Patterson and Ross Awarded Laffite-owned Property They Seized

This week on Historia Obscura there is a very significant article by Pam Keyes.

The article gives the background for a letter written by John Dick, the US District Attorney for Louisiana,  to James Monroe, the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Baratarian privateers. President James Madison had just signed a blanket pardon to the Baratarians for their evasion of the Customs Taxes of the day prior to the Battle of New Orleans. Dick was glad he did not have to prosecute any of the Baratarians, because of their indispensable service to the United States that helped defeat the British.

But despite the presidential pardon, Pam Keyes notes in her article that property belonging to the Baratarians, and the Laffites in particular, which had been seized in the Patterson-Ross raid prior to the Battle of New Orleans, was awarded by Congress to the raiders, Patterson and Ross,  to have and to hold and to spend as they pleased.

A couple of weeks before Dick wrote his letter, and after the Baratarian indictments were dropped, Ross left New Orleans in March 1815 for Washington, D.C. to petition Congress with the help of a Congressional friend for the monies from the Barataria raid. The bill for the relief of Ross and Patterson was read for the first time in Congress on April 1816, a month before the sickly Ross died at a relative’s home in Pennsylvania. Jean Laffite went to Washington, too, but not until December 1815, when he wrote a letter to President Madison on Dec. 27 seeking recovery of the raid monies. Madison’s response is unknown, but at that time, he was not in Washington. On Feb. 22, 1817, President Madison signed into law an amended bill supported by Congress that directed the secretary of the treasury to pay Ross and Patterson $50,000 from the proceeds of the Barataria raid.
 We have to ask ourselves who were the pirates in this transaction, and who was the aggrieved property holder.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Argument Against Conscription and Confiscation

It is all well and good to stand for liberty, but if you  cannot fight to defend it, all your pretty words are meaningless. It is all very good to be a hawk in the protection of your country, but if you overlook the liberties you are fighting for in your eagerness to win the fight, then you are ultimately no patriot. It is a rare man who is both good at war and still remembers during the din of battle what he is supposed to be defending.

That Joseph Alston, as Governor of South Carolina during the War of 1812, was not a great leader of men is true. When he called up the militia, they came, but they refused to follow his orders, and eventually went home. And when he wanted to court martial their leaders, he was thwarted by a writ of habeas corpus that required him to let the men go.

Now, a charismatic man like Andrew Jackson would not have stood for that. He would have declared martial law, incarcerated the judge, put away any journalists who spoke up against his tyrannical actions, and created an armed camp out of the city he was visiting.

Though Alston was no great hero, and there is much to criticize in his handling of the war, he at least recognized the rule of law. Jackson was a good military leader, but he did not live by the rule of law, and so ultimately his actions served to undermine the constitution for which he should have been fighting.

Today, people on either side of the left/right divide argue about when it is necessary to force people at the point of the gun to contribute to the war effort, either through conscription or through taxation. But there is one great American hero from the War of 1812 who was in favor of neither: Jean Laffite.

Jean Laffite did not merely volunteer to fight for America and bring along with him many other volunteers that fought in the Battle of New Orleans. He also supplied artillery, gunpowder and flints without which the battle could not be won.

A real American, one who fights for our liberty, does so at his own expense and not by sacrificing the freedom of others. He obeys the constitution and respects the rights of others to their property and their persons. But he does disregard unconstitutional laws that result in confiscation and conscription. Because if the only way to save the country is to jettison the constitution, what is the point in fighting at all?