Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sack the Grocery Tax


Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

In the spirit of what sadly is the week's most major news story, a softball will not be allowed  to be thrown this morning.  No air will be let out and it may sting a little to try and catch it.

Sometimes things are hard because they are supposed to be.

The news this week was dominated by the mysterious loss of air pressure in the footballs thrown by Tom Brady in last week's NFL playoff game.  If air time, column inches, tweets and search engine entries are any indication, we are more concerned with the deflation of the Patriots footballs for that one game last Sunday than we are with the wars and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria . . . well we have never really been too concerned with our current wars. But really, what difference has a decade of war made in our lives.  Especially when compared to football.

Here is a hard truth. It should sting.

If you are a citizen of Alabama who has the good fortune to not be financially poor, then you are enjoying and using good things paid for by your poor, invisible Alabama neighbors with money they need to buy food or necessities for themselves and their children.  Our roads are repaired with money that is needed for medicines or milk.  Our schools are funded with money that might have purchased fresh vegetables and fruit. Our prison systems and law enforcement are bought with money that might have paid for healthier, yet more expensive choices.  State supported recreation areas or cultural projects are paid for with money that might have bought a healthier baby food.  You get the idea.

The State of Alabama imposes a sales tax of four percent on groceries. Municipalities add even more tax on top of that. If you read this and think, "well that only amounts to four dollars out of a hundred. Just cut out the coke and candy on the way out and you've got it made,"  then you are clueless, and that is nice for you.

But you need to be hit in the head with a hardball. It needs to sting.

Poor people must make hard choices.  Sometimes it is whether to buy fresh fruit and vegetables or pay the power bill.  Sometimes it is whether to buy a child a pair of shoes or have meat at a couple of meals a week.  Sometimes it is whether to skip the dentist visit or buy enough milk for the month.

It's not about whether to buy a coke and candy.  Or to put off buying the new outfit. Or the new car or latest phone. Or about having to skip a vacation or a concert. Or whether to sit in the end zone or in the box seats.

It is about which necessity of life to cut back on because the State of Alabama  taxes those necessities.

We tax food.

The State of Alabama taxes the necessities of life, even for the poor. Especially for the poor. We raise money for what we want by taxing what even the poorest among us must buy to survive.

Some say that we just can't afford to make the change now, since the State is in such a financial bind.  My God, have mercy on us if that is our excuse.

Let the poor and the powerless be our safety net till things get better.

Someone said the poor would always be with us.

Thank God. Otherwise we'd really be in trouble.
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Go to Alarise.org to see how to get involved in repealing Alabama's sales tax on groceries.






Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A tax on groceries is nothing to laugh at. Time to end the bad joke.

I have an idea.

The State of Alabama can solve much of our revenue problem by charging Jon Stewart for comedy material.  If we are going to be laughed at, we should at least get paid for it like all successful clowns and jesters.

And we are successful.  We take serious matters like Sharia Law and Abortion and make them laughing matters. And ourselves as well.

So why give our dignity away when we might make a little money.  Perhaps we could then finally fund the new "Pistols for Preschoolers" program or  insure that Alabama is the number one toxic landfill for North America.

Perhaps all that is a little harsh.  But I am tired of my home being laughed at.  And I am tired of deserving it.

So let's do something about it.  This year. In the next few months lets do something  that is right and good and doable and that everyone should agree with. Even Jon Stewart, even if it's not funny.

Yes, it is once again time to do away with Alabama's  sales tax on groceries.  This time comes every year as the Alabama legislature goes into session.  Let's make it the last year I have to post on this topic. It should be fairly easy to get the legislature to act.  Taxing the food that poor people struggle to buy does not make Jesus happy.  And according to most of the candidates, they were nominated by Jesus for the job.

The issue hasn't changed.  Here is part of a strange unpublished post from last year 2014.  Apparently I was a little angry at the time. Skip it and scroll on down past the italics below and you won't miss much except perhaps an insight into an a weary psyche:

I am inspired by Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who rallied armed and cooly uniformed militias  to come to his defense against the United States of America, which was trying to steal his cattle over the silly little matter of Bundy failing to pay for grazing rights on federal land to the tune of  a million bucks or so.

I'm ready to bring that franchise to Alabama.   Call it AlaCliven Arise, or  or Alabundy Possible or something like that.

So here's what we do.  You go into a grocery store. Put  your groceries on the conveyor belt at the check-out..   When the check-out clerk tells you how much you owe, quickly check how much of that is State of Alabama and municipal sales tax. Pay them what you owe, minus the sales tax.  If the clerk, lackey of the government, demands that you pay the sales tax, grab the bags and take off, shouting something like, "Give me free Spam, or give me Chef . . . Boy Ardee ," or "Free Tangelo's,"  or "Viva la Yams,"  or "Don't Tread on Peas," or "We dare defend our fries."  . If they come after you, grab a banana from the bag, hold it on the stem end and wave it around wildly.  It will look like you are armed and dangerous, ideally. That will slow them down for a little while, especially if you shop at night.  There will be militia men and women close by who will join in your defense in the parking lot.  You may not be able to see them, but they are there, they are there. And they are just itchin' to shoot them a check out clerk, collection agent for the government.

 But here is 2013's post.  It is not so crazy.  Actually pretty informative.  Food for thought . . .plus nine percent sales tax.

And 2011's post. Food for thought, let me figure the tax on that.

And 2009's post.  The poor will always be with us, unless we starve them to death.

And 2008's post.  Bringing home the groceries.

And I skipped a couple.

Please. Call your legislator.  Write your legislator.  Go see your legislator at the capitol.  I've got other things I want to write about.  Let's do something good. It may not make anyone laugh.

But there will be a whole lot of smiles.

More later.  This is the year.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Someday kind of Sunday

Yesterday was one of those perfect January Sunday mornings in Alabama.  The sky was shocking blue with not a whisker of a cloud to be seen. The early morning air was cold, but by church time, which everyone knows is Biblically set at 11:00 a.m., the temperature had risen, but still cool enough to encourage that extra quickness of step on the sidewalk, hands in the pockets of the coat drawing it tight and close as the intermittent shadows of buildings remind of how cold the air can still be without the warmth of the sun.  On a day like this the sun and the shadows make a noticeable difference.  Strange how the same thing can be said in the hot Alabama summer, except when it's hot we long for and linger in the cool, dark shadows.

But it was cool yesterday.  We relished the comforting warmth of the sun as we walked up the street into the sanctuary of St. John AME church, clueless of the simmering embers of warmth waiting to be fanned into flame in that holy place.   I just walked from my car, which I parked in the next block.  Many members of Birmingham First United Methodist parked at their church and walked the few blocks over to St. John.  It was a beautiful sight, this crowd that was walking the streets and avenues around 16th and 17th street, skirting Kelly Ingram Park, the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist Church,  moving toward St. John AME.  It wasn't organized. Far from it. Just groups of happy people of diverse everything you can imagine, walking together, smiling and laughing in the warm winter sun of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. It was almost good enough to be church on this day. All these beautiful folk headed to church.

And then we had it.

Church that is.

The truth is, neither of these downtown churches fills up its sanctuary pews on Sunday mornings.   But another truth is, when we worshiped together yesterday, unity in diversity, one making the sacrifice of leaving home, the other making the sacrifice of opening its home, everything was full.  The sanctuary, the music, the dance, the scripture, the prayer, the sermon, the hearts . . .

And my eyes.

I was surprised by grace once again.  I cried. We cried. Tears of joy and inspiration.  I believe music is a language that God uses to speak to the soul and heart of things that words cannot convey.  The Aeolians, a choir from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, sang special music from the high choir loft above the chancel. I cannot describe it. At best I struggle to hold on to what it spoke to my heart in that language without words. There was a bold liturgical dance by a courageous young artist, set to the recorded voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, timeless words that pierce the heart with the past and then heal it with hope for the future.   There was prayer, and scripture, and a sermon, all inspired by the Spirit in that moment.  Rev. Mashod Evans is the pastor at St. John.  Rev. Stephanie Arnold is an associate pastor at First UMC Birmingham.  They have been friends for awhile.  And they allowed the Spirit of God to move through them to move us to that place and time.  It was indescribable.  Which is hard on a guy who likes to describe things with words.  

So as much as I would love to describe what happened, I just am not capable.

It was like living a dream.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas clean-up?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I suspect that this is the kind of day that many a Great American Novel was written. Rainy and gray and cold.  Why not write?  Or many a great American nap taken, also a great achievement. There is nothing else to do.

Of course that is not true, there is much to do. It is just not stuff that I want to do.  Suddenly I feel like I did as a child right after Christmas.  No more presents to unwrap.  No more parties and family gatherings to go to. Nothing new to anticipate.  It's raining. I'm bored. But it's best to stay out of the way and not make noise lest I be required to help clean up the aftermath of Christmas.



The aftermath of Christmas?

What do we do with this mess?  Everything is out of place. It's hard to remember what day it is. The carefully edited calendar is useless.  And just a week ago everything was in order. It all looked so pretty, so nice, when everything was wrapped and tied with a bow.  Every decoration was perfectly placed, every nativity or St. Nick-nackery positioned just so. The tree was decorated with the perfect balance of lights, and ornaments, top to bottom, side to side.  The glistening china was out and the table was set. The stockings were hung not only with care, but geometric perfection.


Then Christmas exploded all over everything.  Wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes are everywhere.  Stockings are ransacked, empty and wadded on the floor.  The tree looks lonely and slightly off center without the gifts as its foundation.  Used coffee cups and tea glasses and cake plates are scattered on the mantel and the buffet and the coffee table, with wadded up napkins and forks and chicken bones.  Chicken bones.  And crumbs. And plastic things that may be packing parts or may be a critical piece of electronics lie waiting as traps on the floor for the unwary bare foot. 

Christmas happens, thank God.

(For the sake of accuracy, I did not experience all of that stuff this year. Some of it, but not all of it.  It is a compilation, not exhaustive, but exhausting enough,  of several years of experience. Call it artistic license. Historical fiction.)

More than once during this Christmas season I watched parents squirm and frown as their small children, filled with anticipation and wonder, could not sit still in worship services, or ran through stores, or cried and screamed on Santa's lap while cameras and long lines waited, or spilled juice on a frilly dress, or disrupted adult conversations in the living room, or burned stuff in the candle flames, or constantly photo-bombed parents' serious portrait attempts. 

They were out of control.  Or at least out of their parents' control.  The children knew exactly what they were doing.

And so it is when Christmas happens. When Christmas explodes. 

 Love was born into this world as a child.  A child that his parents could not control.  That Love child grew into a man, into a Love that the powers of the world could not control, and they still cannot.

But we still try.  We try to keep things in order. People in their place.  Everything and everyone boxed and wrapped and tied up pretty. Even ourselves. Maybe especially ourselves.

But this Love is uncontrollable. It explodes. It makes messes. 

What are we supposed to do about the mess?

Live with it.

Live in it.

Hallelujah.

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