A Blog Post Has No Name

Worry not, the Amendment posts will keep coming. But the recent firestorm of reaction to a work of fiction has compelled me to digress. So grab a horn full of ale and sit with me for a second. I’m going to address four groups of people here. Cue obligatory SPOILER WARNING now. Read no further if you haven’t seen the ending yet.

First, to George R.R. Martin and everyone who has worked on Game of Thrones for the past decade. We owe you a debt of gratitude for the endless work, creativity, and pouring of your souls into this saga. Only a story this magnificent could cause the cultural tidal wave that culminated in our collective obsession with the final season. The criss-crossing of all these profound character arcs through the years has been brilliant, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with how they culminated this past Sunday evening. Am I sad that Dany went to the dark side? Of course. But it was real, and presented with beautiful, Shakespearean tragedy, topped off with tremendous acting, which has been another hallmark of the show from beginning to end. The most common (and fair) critique I have heard of this show is that the last couple of seasons felt rushed. If you think about it, that’s much more a statement of praise than a statement of critique. We didn’t ever want this story to end. I didn’t either, but I’m also ready to place this exquisite gift on the mantle and move on to our own next chapter in life.

Second, to the people who loved this show and its ending as much as I have. Don’t devote too much energy to the most extreme of the critics. For one thing, extreme views are virtually impossible to reverse. Just look at our real world for proof of that. But more importantly, it’s far better to use that energy telling the cast and crew and everyone else involved with the show how much you appreciated it, and to carry your innate ability to appreciate into the personal relationships around you.

Third, to the people who started and signed “The Petition”, combined with those with nothing more profound to say than “the writing sucks”. I’m going against my advice in the previous paragraph by even talking to you, but it’s more therapy for me than any attempt to change the minds of the unappeasable. Some of you are mad because it didn’t end the way you pictured, because obviously it would have been easy to have the story end a hundred million different ways at once. Some of you are mad because you fell for fictional Dany in exactly the same way real-life nations have fallen for real-life dictators in their rise to power, because obviously the way we respond to fiction in no way matches how we respond to reality. Some of you are simply unable to enjoy anything because you spend all your time analyzing how you would have made it better – because, of course, that’s why you’re watching it instead of being paid by HBO to create and present it. And some of you are simply part of a massive problem in the real world that gets worse with every passing year – the general sense of entitlement to things that you have not earned, because even though all you’ve done for the past ten years is hit the buttons on your remote, obviously you should have just as much say in how this story ended. It might be worth considering what your reaction would be, if a million people signed a petition telling you what a horrible job you’ve done at whatever you’ve done for the past ten years. I’m guessing you might even feel a little bit wounded. It might also be worth considering what other petitions you could start, that might actually create change in our real world.

Finally, to the people who fall somewhere in between the two groups I just listed, who actually use carefully constructed arguments that make even an extreme praiser like me take note and understand your point of view. You embody the very spirit of the Parallax Machine, and you give me hope that we are not doomed to fall prey to our own Night King or Dragon Queen. But again, please carry that energy with you, back into the real world. Valar Morghulis, and Valar Dohaeris.

If you squint, it looks like a dragon.

A Taxing Subject

Every mid-April, CPAs and postal workers hunker down as everyone waits until the last possible moment to pay their taxes. The history of the tax in the United States is a rich (pun slightly intended) and complicated one. At least four clauses of the original Constitution dealt with the subject, a response to the tyrannous taxation that led up to the American Revolution. But law and money are both contentious subjects, and when you put them together, well, just sit back and watch the fireworks.

Much of the confusion around taxation has been surrounding the definition of “direct” vs “indirect” taxes in the Constitution. Direct taxes, as defined in Article I, must be apportioned among the states based on population – in fact this is stated in the same sentence that defines how many Representatives each state gets. Indirect taxes have so such restriction. Article I clearly defines Duties, Imposts and Excises as uniform throughout the United States – and until 1913, these taxes generated most of the federal revenue. But direct taxes have always been a gray area. The Constitution speaks directly to capitation, which was fairly well understood to mean lump-sum taxes (equal for each person) and property taxes.

So where does income fall in this spectrum, and especially when a lot of income is generated by the owning and selling of property? This has been a debate since the beginning, and in fact there was an income tax created in 1861 to fund the Civil War. After that expired in 1872, multiple movements and parties began to call for a permanent graduated income tax. Then, in 1894, the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act was proposed, which included a tax of two percent on incomes over $4000 (which is a pretty decent salary today). This led a case that reached the Supreme Court (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.), where the high court ruled that any taxes on incomes that trace back to property (which includes things ranging from rents to dividends) were unconstitutional unless treated as direct, meaning apportioned by population amongst the states. This effectively killed the concept of an income tax at the time, because it went strictly down to wages, which would have unfairly burdened those that work for the ones that have all the wealth through other means. And so began the push for a Constitutional Amendment.

On February 3, 1913, four years after passage in Congress, the 16th Amendment was ratified by the state of Delaware, reaching the required 3/4 mark to make it a part of our Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

As I was researching this Amendment, a number of the search hits led to pages that question whether the 16th Amendment really gave our government the power to tax our income. When I read it, I have difficulty seeing that argument; the wording seems pretty straightforward. The only argument that seems reasonable is that it might seem to contradict the original Constitution in Article I – but the definition of an “Amendment” is that it changes something. The Supreme Court seems to have agreed throughout its many personalities since 1913, which is why we still enter every April with trepidation. Regardless of your stance, it’s difficult to see how the United States could have fought in World Wars, brought itself out of the Great Depression, or landed on the Moon without the revenue base from the income tax. That’s not to say federal money is always well spent, but for myself I can’t say my taxes would have gone to a greater good in my own hands. Although various makers of beer may disagree.

Change we can believe in.