I am in Canada right now, sunburned from a day at Echo Beach, a dirt plot that is just a good spitball away from Toronto. Toronto is a gorgeous city at night when you are staring at it from Lake Ontario. For the first day since I got to the east coast it didn’t rain, and, yes, it was a beautiful day at the beach. Tomorrow my band and I will travel to Montreal where we will be playing at a two day festival with bands that range from the Offspring to Alice Cooper, but today we played a punk rock free-for-all at the Megadome with Rancid, Transplants, Sick of it All, and Madball.
Last night I watched a set by Social Distortion in Buffalo, NY, and walked over to play a show to a handful of people who had waited a couple of hours to hear me sing twenty songs. It is a flattering, and humbling experience. See, for years press people and fans would ask me the worst kinds of questions. They would note that bands whose music sounded like a variation of mine had sold records that had gone gold and platinum (click here) and wanted me to state that the new bands were just aping the pioneers.
I guess these people wanted to hear some sort of barb; a bitter response from a faded and forgotten remnant of the twentieth century. I never complied with the request to cough up the bile because, after all, I had nothing to really complain about. I wasn’t forgotten like a child movie star all grown up, or tucked away in some old folks home, or in a trailer park somewhere in Florida, or dined on by my little beast the way Marie Prevost wasn’t (click here).
No. I did then what I do now. I worked hard to bring food to the table, to feed and clothe and provide for the people I chose to bring into and align with in this world. Sure, sometimes the food is leftover from leftovers, and some of the clothing is generously gifted to me by bands and clothing sponsors. I am grateful for all of it, and, contrary to what some people say about me, I always say, “thank you” for every gift that I am given, be it a bottle of water, or a CD by a band that works harder than I do to be heard.
Because at the end of the punk rock day, just like the end of the teaching gig, my value is not measured by what I can bring home for myself, but how I help other people fulfill their own dreams and ambitions. Sometimes I may not be the loudest voice, or the sweetest voice, or the preferred attitude in Sierra Madre, but I am OK with that. The elite in this town may have the popularity market cornered on Baldwin Avenue, but since moving to this boil on a pig’s teat in 1991, I have easily recorded thirty mini-tomes set to music about my life here.
So, congratulations to the people of Sierra Madre for the building of your little educational institution. I hope it brings you all of the joy in the world. I am sincerely proud to share with the anyone who cares to read and listen how two hundred of you rallied around the little dirt pile that couldn’t, but how not even two of you could be bothered to stand up for a little boy and his family who were bullied and railroaded by some of the very folks that chanted, “Where’s our school?”
Yes, when I share with my people in my other classroom on the outside of this little oasis - the bands and the fans about all of the love shown to my autistic child by the elite of Sierra Madre, I can only wonder how the big shots of this town think they’ll measure up in the long run. How they think that they’re fooling anyone with their anonymity.
Just like I told the bullies at Sierra Madre Elementary in electronic print for the last few years - history will be kinder to the Brandenburgs than it will be to them, and how it will reflect on them- those who will continue to hide as the leaders and the elite of the school, but who will never, ever, apologize for what they’ve done, and continue to do.
I wonder what their kids will say ten years down the road, when they figure out their parents were in the thick of it, protecting them from a seven year old who couldn’t hold a pencil correctly, and who wanted nothing more than to be their friend. And how we and our child’s support network begged them - the staff, the parents - to just give him a chance. And how their mommies and daddies wouldn’t allow them to even be in the same room with my son, let alone to talk to him. But hey, they fought hard for a school, and they got it.
Bravo (click here).
So, What Exactly is the Deal with Kim Kenne?
I can almost hear it from here, and I am cracking up. I have already read a post or two, and I can imagine the rest. Let me start by pointing out that Ms. Kenne was the lone dissenting voice on this project before the most recent vote. I was not surprised to learn she was the lone dissenting voice on this one. Well, except for Renatta Cooper, I mean. She managed to dodge this vote altogether, right? In fact, I don’t seem to remember hearing anything about this project at all in the press. She certainly had a lot to say about who should represent Sierra Madre as the at large board representative.
So. Here we go. Here comes the deluge. I am sure it is too late to, again, point out that Kim Kenne said the original set up wasn’t up to par, right. That her current position is, if anything, consistent with the type of Board member she has been from the outset. The one who asks questions, who looks for realities in the fantastic, and who analyzes before she acts.
From the Organize Sierra Madre Schools Facebook page came a little narrative about the meeting at the district board meeting.
Prior to the meeting, Sierra Madre Supporters deluged Tyron Hampton with 1500 emails and explained in detail the current learning conditions the students were forced to study under. While he expressed concern that Measure TT is turning into Measure Y, going over budget on projects and running out of money too soon, he stated that kids should have halls they can run in as this is what he remembered about his own middle school experience.
The lone dissenter was Board Member Kim Kenne who could not see past the fiscal aspect and building of a school during declining enrollment in the District, using inaccurate numbers and grossly underestimating the number of middle school attendees for next year. However, Mikala Rahn gave the Board a brief history lesson, going all the way back to 2002-2003 when the Board had voted to open a middle school in Sierra Madre. Despite Mikala's impassioned plea to the Board for a unanimous vote in favor, Kim Kenne voted against (her email is email@example.com).
So. Am I to understand that we needed every board member supporting this specific plan for the school? Am I also to understand that we are supposed to write Ms. Kenne at her email and share our displeasure because she didn’t get behind it? Maybe she should get 1500 emails saying so? Just where did the 1500 emails that Tyron supposedly got actually come from? From the 300 families that attend the school? From the grannies and grampies? Who is this mighty army of whom they speak?
I don’t agree that 100% approval is needed on anything. Ever. In fact, it is my belief that dissent is a necessary good in any democratic process. With total agreement comes total control. That sounds forced, totalitarian, and impossible at the root. Dissention is healthy. In this environment of total agreement comes a little price tag, and that price tag is freedom of thought. In fact, when I read crap like that I can’t help but wonder if this town has any concept of individuality, or if what has been said about this place for years - that it is Stepford (click here) or that it is inhabited by pod people (click here) - is more than just a little inside joke.
I would venture as far to say that it is a sardonic reality, and that many of the people in Sierra Madre know it. Even with that knowledge, they may never, ever own it aloud. But I have seen it, and my family has lived with it. This place can be about as cold as the Cold War, and as American as High Noon and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (click here).
Over the last few years I have spoken to Ms. Kenne a few times, but I have listened to her speak closer to a hundred times. I have learned these things about her. She is is knowledgeable about numbers, she asks lots of questions, and she clarifies things to (I believe) beyond the point that is necessary. Having said all of that, she is an Altadena, not a Pasadena resident and parent (click here) which puts her into the outsider community that we in Sierra Madre belong to. I can say that people who have shared with me what they know about Ms. Kenne all say that she is brilliant, that she was one of the best parent volunteers that PUSD ever had, and that she is brilliant with Information Technology. She won the election she ran this year by a whopping 40% (click here), an election that she technically did not need to run, but which also made it possible for Sierra Madre to have representation on the Board of Education. I also know, from a couple of pretty reliable sources that she has been a better behind the scenes ally to PUSD schools than most people know. That is the irony. She chooses to do this. There is very little, if anything for her to gain. It’s a selfless choice, with little to no gain on any front for her personally or professionally.
Believe me folks, it would be a foolish choice to isolate her from your little ice cream socials like you did to my family, or to bombard her in a feeble attempt to turn her into a pod person. You will cause more harm than good.
Best idea is to shrug, like I do whenever she makes a choice that I personally disagree with, and celebrate that she is a person capable of making such a choice. Her reasons for voting no on the Sierra Madre project weren’t steeped in a promise made by someone else, but in financial responsibility and the needs of all of the children, not just the children at the upper Sierra Madre campus. A little reminder, she ran on a platform (click here) in which she stated in her own words, that:
Pasadena Unified needs to improve in three areas: Budget transparency. All stakeholders need to understand where our money goes. Robust accountability system. We need to hold staff accountable for results and evaluate our programs on a regular basis. Parent Engagement. Every parent needs the knowledge and skills to be able to advocate for their child's education.
Keeping this in mind, then, consider what James Figueroa noted in the Pasadena Star News (click here):
... the sole vote against the construction bid was from Kim Kenne, who advocated caution because Sierra Madre is the latest Measure TT project to go over budget. That brings up questions about whether there will be enough funds for construction plans at other schools. "I'd hate for Washington Middle School to not be built because we've used up our contingency funds," Kenne said.
Then ask yourself if the best that you can do for the kids in the district - and I am talking about the other kids who should also have decent schools - are going to benefit from emails to Kim Kenne trying to force her to think like Sierra Madre parents. Maybe that energy would be better used trying to help out the other families - like the families at Washington, and Wilson, for example, to get the things that they, too, need.
Oh, By the Way (Intermission)
When you are in Canada, as I am, and you would like to do your laundry, as my friend Dan has recently explained to me, you will need to have the correct currency. When you are asked, “Do you want loonies, or toonies?” the correct response is not to laugh (click here) because in doing so, they will consider you bonkers. That is because a loonie is the dollar coin, and a toonie is a two dollar coin. Welcome to Canada (click here), dummies.
All Saints, All the Time
I believe in strict adherence to the ideal of the separation of church and state. So much so that I believe the word God should be removed from all publicly funded government buildings and currency.
Don’t freak out. It’s really not that big a deal. I just don’t think my understanding of God should trump your understanding of God, nor should yours trump mine.
I am not saying that private groups and people should be denied the opportunity to represent their beliefs in public displays of faith. I just don’t think our common civil agreement should be distracted by it (click here).
I don’t believe it belongs on our shared buildings, on our currency, or on our institutions. I know that bothers a lot of you on a number of levels. For some, it just reinforces some misconception you’ve always had about me. Pick a finger.
For others it makes you worry about my soul, and though I am flattered by your genuine concern, I can assure you that I don’t have one. I pawned it thirty years ago.
But back to the task at hand.
I firmly believe that religions and belief systems should be better infused into textbooks to teach kids the context in which these beliefs were strongest, and to show the idealism that average people had in their faiths outside of the power of governments and religious hierarchies that utilized and manipulated the faith of the believers to promote political agendas.
It is appalling to promote the idea that there was somehow this great brotherhood of religious freedom in the colonies, and that it lent itself quickly and easily into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
I find it much more engaging to teach children the historical truths about the founding of this country (click here) than to promote a slick, fairy tale version. How much more powerful an understanding of our civic duty to promote the concept of separation of church and state than to examine the historical context of Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry’s bill for a Christian leadership on one hand, versus the beliefs of great thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
There is nothing more revealing and intellectually stimulating (easy now, pardner) than to challenge the idea that the colonies were these great pockets of religious freedom that easily lent themselves to a democratic rule free from the yoke of an established church, when many of them were little more than theocracies which often promoted discrimination against other faiths. How on earth can the history of the colonists - in fact of the United States - be told without a conceptual understanding of the intense rivalry between Catholicism and Protestantism, and the powerful basis of the Reformation of Martin Luther?
Shouldn’t our goal as a country, really, center on the promotion of core historic ideals and values that are woven into the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution? Isn’t that really the basic foundation that this country was built on? The idea that without freedom of speech, there can be no other freedoms, and the importance of each of us to protect the individual’s access to those freedoms that are laid out in the Bill of Rights?
Tax Exempt Contempt
The idea that churches should be granted non-profit tax exempt status is an area that I believe needs a serious overhaul. Churches get tax exemptions, we all know that, right? They are non-profit do gooders of society, and by design they are the pillars that hold up our society, and the cement that holds us together, right? I’m not so sure.
I read a recent headline that made me laugh. I think it is hilarious that I agree with Mike Huckabee on this idea (click here) and that is that individuals shouldn’t consider the tax exemption as a cornerstone of their church offering donations. Now don’t take that to mean I support Huckabee. I think he’s an idiot, but even an idiot can say something that is brilliant.
Please don’t apply that to me. I wasn’t reflecting.
I am convinced that Huckabee is right, but from a completely polar opposite point of view. I think we should bump that up a few notches.
I believe that no church, let alone individual should ever be given tax exemptions in the first place.
By its very core this runs contrary to the separation of church and state. Tax exemptions of this nature are simply favoritism by the government to an organized religious individual as part of a larger organized religious group- one which is not granted to disorganized religious groups, unorganized religious groups, autonomous religious individuals, or to agnostics and atheists. I fully support Huckabees thinking on this one. Religious fundamentalists should not kowtow to the state in order to get a tax break. But that’s because they shouldn’t get it in the first place.
Churches should be held accountable as political businesses, which is precisely what they are. If you or I take these exemptions, then, we are essentially getting a break or a favor from our government that isn’t available to everyone else, and it not only makes us beholden to the state, it strips us of one of our core protections from the state, and that is the freedom to disagree with the state in the manner of, intentions of, and interpretations of, this being called God. After all, if you don’t agree with the government’s belief in God, then, essentially, you are at odds with the government.
If you are at odds with the government on the interpretation of God, it is because there is a breakdown in the separation of church and state. It shouldn’t even enter the conversation. Where exactly does a humanist sit on this? Where does the atheist fit in here? How about the agnostic? Are they less American because of this?
Well let me put it another way. Would you be cool with a new tax? I know you all love to pay them. I would like to propose the Huckabee Believer Tax, or the God tax. Anyone who believes in God has to pay it. Atheists get an exemption.
Does the separation of church and state matter now?
We thought we had a blown a speaker in the bass cabinet that we had borrowed from brother CJ Ramone (click here) so we thought we’d need to get a screwdriver from the one hundred billion Home Depots in Canada. Of course, to do so would mean to have to navigate through the builder’s superstore amid the grumblings of locals complaining about the influx of illegals from America drifting north to steal all of the low paying hard labor jobs from unemployed Canucks. We decided against buying a screwdriver and used the side of a loonie instead.
Dear God, Please Build a Holding Tank for Grandma
If you want to build a monument to God in the form of a housing project, or a playground, or an old folks home, you should be able to do that with your own money. No tax breaks, no favoritism, and no preferential treatment. None. By that same understanding, if I want to build a charitable monument of the same nature in the name of Velveeta or Spam, I too, can spend my money on it. Same rules apply.
See, that’s what charity is. It is the giving of something to another. There are no strings attached, and nothing is expected in return. Nothing. Not even a thank you. Let me say it again. Nothing is expected in return. That. is. charity.
There was an amazing write-up on this very topic last May on a little blog called the Altadena Iconocast (click here). In one of a couple of great articles on the nature of charity as it applies to local houses of worship in the Altadena area. The author has a copyright warning that states I need permission to reproduce any part of it. Usually I will just laugh and do whatever I want, but I actually asked for an OK through Mary, which I received. Before I get too further into this, I should point out that Mary has corresponded periodically with the author, and it is through those correspondences that I determined I would ask. That is called respect, a value many people believe I lack.
Having said that, I assume that this is a spiritual person, and that I wouldn’t know if this person were from the stiff up-tight bible thumper school of theological thought or from the frothing at the mouth and speaking in tongues school. It just isn’t that important to me. Certainly not as important as the value of the stream of thought.
In their exchanges a few things are clearly expressed, and one is the designs and activities of an Episcopalian Church. The Altadena Iconoclast author wrote Mary sharing that the Episcopal Diocese is replacing the local affordable senior care with 320 luxury retirement condos at what once was Scripps and now will be Monte Cedro. The church group have started a front group to get Altadenans to fight to gentrify the town in order to benefit from the gentrification.
From what I could gather, the bottom line is to make more money off their retirement village while promoting a left wing ideology that neither serves the people it purports to serve, but also inhibits the organization by other local advocacy groups. It is politics plain and simple, in this arena used to thwart the efforts of more conservative right wing Christian groups through agencies such as the IRS. Recent Altadena town council elections were really just set ups and manipulation for out of state millionaire clients.
It would sound ridiculous if it didn’t sound vaguely familiar. Here in Sierra Madre we have a brand new Assisted Living Facility being built, while a couple of blocks away on Ramona Avenue there is a retirement home looking to expand as well.
In the words of the Altadena Iconoclast in a write up titled Who would Jesus dispossess for a lousy buck? The author lays it all down there.
One Pasadena Church is so dominant in political issues that last year when several Altadenan's called Unions asking for help in fighting the opening of a local Walmart, they were told that the Union organized ALL of their political efforts in the San Gabriel Valley though one Pasadena Church. Several Unions claimed they would not work with any activists who were not under the direction, influence, supervision and control of this particular Pasadena Church.
This particular Pasadena Church recently purchased a Altadena not for profit facility that had for 100 years provided housing and healthcare for old indigent people from the Altadena area. That Altadena Not for Profit, run by godless humanist had adhered to the tenants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, until the Pasadena Church took it over.
The particular Pasadena Church tore down the buildings, left the land fallow for five years, and is about to build over 300 luxury retirement villas for wealthy people from all over America. Because ownership will be retained by the Church, no property tax will be paid. There will be no services provided for Pasadena's or Altadena's indigent poor people......
We need a change. Tax breaks for Churches and Not for Profits must be DEEDS tested. The majority of funds raised must be expended directly on the mission of feeding, housing, clothing the poor, drug rehabilitation, real job training, re entering prisoners to society, tending the sick, ill and dying and relieving the conditions of poverty. Every Citizen and for profit corporation is being taxed more than they would be, more than their fair share, because religious institutions and Not for Profits are getting a free ride........
The Not for Profit industry needs to become accountable and brought to heel. The gravy train of high salaries, and questionable, if any deeds, must come to an end.
The Saints Are Coming
While never actually naming the church outright, the Altadena Iconoclast points us in the general direction. It doesn’t take a compass to get this navigator from Toronto, Canada, to the All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA (click here).
Last year the Huffington Post reported that All Saints Church received threats for hosting a Muslim Public Affairs Council Convention (click here) something almost immediately attributed to an article written by a conservative religious group, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) (click here). Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents Pasadena, sent the following statement to HuffPost about the convention and hateful emails.
“I commend All Saints Episcopal Church for hosting the Muslim Public Affairs Council convention as part of its efforts to build an interfaith understanding based on shared values," Schiff said. "I was deeply distressed to learn of the hateful and vitriolic messages that the church has received. Yet, these odious emails will only increase our determination to fight bigotry and increase understanding."
Messages of hate like the ones described by Schiff are, of course, unacceptable acts of hatred. Having said that, I should point out that the good reverend was a contributor, and that may have been, uh, part of that investigation back in 2006 (click here):
... a Federal Elections Commission Disclosure Report records search revealed that Regas, listing his affiliation as “Regas Institute/Priest,” contributed $1,000 to John Kerry's presidential campaign on March 31, 2004......Regas' wife, Mary, donated $2,000 to the Kerry campaign. It was just one of many donations Regas has made over the years to a broad array of candidates at the local, state and federal levels — candidates who were almost invariably Democrats, including Congressman Adam Schiff.
In any event, it appears the good Congressman remembers who his friends are. That particular investigation by the IRS is getting new media boosts these days as the Dems response to the IRS targeting Tea Partiers and other conservatives. That the investigations were led by a Republican Hangover IRS Appointee aren’t nearly as interesting to me as the tidbit at the end of a recent Gawker write up (click here):
During the 2006 scrutiny of liberal churches, it was a Democrat congressman who demanded investigations into the IRS practice of targeting non-profits with Democratic leanings:
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who unsuccessfully tried to launch a Government Accountability Office investigation into the IRS' probes of churches nationwide last year, called the summons "a very disturbing escalation" of the agency's scrutiny of All Saints. "I don't want religious organizations to become arms of campaigns," he said. "But they should be able to talk about issues of war and peace without fear of losing tax-exempt status. If they can't, they'll have little to say from the pulpit."
Funny thing is, I had always considered all religious groups to be conservative. I guess that says more about me than about them. I see the bulk of these groups the same as I view most non-profit groups: as opportunists who use tax exempt status to muscle in on political puppets while encroaching on the rest of us at our expense.
Anyway. All Saints have been very, very busy working on a little project known as the All Saints Church Master Development Plan (click here). This monster expansion, which was approved by Pasadena City Council about a year ago (click here) includes a two-story, 14,000-square foot social hall along Euclid Avenue, a 12,000-square-foot youth center and coffee shop at the corner of Euclid and Walnut Street, plus two other buildings abutting the Westin Hotel and underground parking.
The church continues its vision of itself as a social justice machine, and this expansion, which firmly assigns itself as the arm of Pasadena City Hall is as symbolic as it is obvious. Say what you will, as far as I am concerned they are the same thing at this point in time.
All Saints Church has had a history of political activity, and it goes back many years, but the most recent activity aside from its interest in the building of a Walmart and its active discussion and workshops in the labor practices of Walmart, were the challenges came back around 2006 when the Internal Revenue Service served a summons on All Saints Church (click here) as it examined the tax exemption status of the church.
See, it all branched out of a sermon back in 2004 which was outlined in an article in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. According to news reports, the Internal Revenue Service has threatened All Saints Episcopal Church (Pasadena, CA) with revocation of its tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C. section 501(c)(3) because of a sermon preached by the church's former rector, Rev. George F. Regas, on October 31, 2004, just before the Bush-Kerry presidential election.
Naturally, Reverend Regas and Reverend Bacon both denied any wrongdoing on the church’s part.
Well, of course they said that. Duh. See, they flex their political muscle all of the time, but they don’t believe this should strip them of their tax exemption status because, after all, it’s all in God’s plan, right? It’s not really political if it’s God’s will, right? They must have a hotline to the big guy in the sky, because that episode was hardly a unique chapter in their history (click here).
And who am I to comment, right? I mean, never mind that the homeless and the poor could be better served with actual help than a new shiny building, but this isn’t really about providing things for people, is it? It’s about power and expansion and land acquisition, this time right into the living room of the Pasadena City Council. The investigation by the IRS was most likely just posturing by a new branch (click here) and, obviously, the Church did not lose its tax exempt status.
I know, I know. The progressive church did reach out to the Gay and Lesbian community and recognized the needs of everyone in our community to have the opportunity to dine on spiritual food. That is a great thing, I agree. No one should be turned away by groups who claim to serve the community. Why other churches have continued to oppress these members of society instead of exploiting them is beyond me, too. After all, this is a whole subgroup in our society that can be mined for talent, money, and political influence, and taken advantage of just like you and I can be. Makes perfect sense (click here).
Another thing makes perfect sense. The time has come to revoke the tax exempt status from all religious groups. There shouldn’t be a need for the IRS to investigate churches as tax exempt because they are politically active because, after all, they are politically active. It is silly to debate the point because it is moot. The IRS shouldn’t need to investigate something so obvious because these groups should file and be held responsible just like the rest of us.
If they choose to use their money to build, donate, or whatever, they should be held accountable just like you and I are held accountable. We pay, and so should they. All of them.