Democratic Party House Candidate Also a War Tax Resister

Democratic House candidate John Kefalas clarifies his position on war tax resistance, as he waits to see whether his two-vote lead in the primary will hold up:

…I am a man of faith and conscience who opposes the use of our federal tax dollars to promote death and destruction around the world. I belong to a Mennonite Church, one of the three historic peace churches, and we believe that there are alternatives to war. I am not a tax evader, and there is a difference. I pay my taxes as part of my civic and moral responsibility to the common good of our democratic society. I love this country, and I love this world. I will defend our nation against aggressors, but I will not kill another person.

In the years that I re-directed my federal income taxes, I paid about 50% to the government and re-directed the rest of my federal tax dollars to life-affirming organizations and causes. I was always honest in my correspondence and actions with the IRS and accepted the consequences as they arose. I knew that the IRS would ultimately collect any back taxes, which they have done, but I carried out my personal witness because, to quote a Quaker friend of mine, “God calls us not to be effective but to be faithful.” This is the way of nonviolent social change in the spirit of such historical figures as Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Dorothy Day.…

To further understand who I am and my stance on the payment of war taxes, I must go back to when I returned from my Peace Corps service. I worked in rural El Salvador during a time of civil war and witnessed incredible poverty and violence against innocent people. This life-changing experience helped shaped my values and beliefs, and I saw how our government was directly supporting right wing, repressive dictatorships. Three weeks after I left El Salvador, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero for speaking out on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Our taxes supported this and other public policies that put our government on the wrong side of history. Such use of our taxes has taken resources away from addressing such basic human needs as safety, food, shelter, health care and jobs.

It’s good to have a war tax resister running for office and making tax resistance headline news, so bully for John Kefalas! (I’m suspect, though, of this “God calls us not to be effective but to be faithful” stuff. Are faithfulness and effectiveness really at odds? Is a form of tax resistance in which the IRS eventually gets its money, but only after a faithful delay, really just “an incredibly strong statement”?)

If you live in the United States there’s an excise tax on your phone bills, both local and long-distance. It’s often considered more explicitly a “war tax” than other taxes because it has so often been used as a “temporary,” “emergency” revenue booster during war-time. And for that reason, and because resisting the phone tax is relatively easy and risk-free, phone tax resistance is perennially popular.

At a near future date, some time before we are all commuting via rocket ship and wearing silvered underpants but probably after the next Star Wars movie comes out, people won’t be using their phones as much to make telephone calls. They will have switched over to using the internet — which can send and receive data of all sorts, including real-time conversations.

The phone companies fear this, for the obvious reasons. The long distance companies know that people don’t get charged per-email or by the distance they are from the web pages they visit — and it will be the same for internet phone calls: no more long distance charges. The local companies are also worried that some of their current customers may use their cable modems (or some future non-phone-based equivalent) to replace their phone service (the way some people have given up their home phones and only use their cell phones).

Capitalism and progress in action, right? The car replaces the horse-and-buggy, the internet replaces the phone… these things happen. But the phone companies are big, and they make big campaign donations, and they’d like the government to put off their extinction as long as possible.

One thing they’re trying is to extend the excise tax (and certain other taxes and regulations) from the phone system to anyone offering Voice over IP (phone via internet). If you’re wondering why they don’t just get rid of the excise taxes and surplus regulations on the phone system instead, you’re clearly not legislator-material.

The Mauled Again blog is a good source for ongoing commentary about this.