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The Grinch works overtime 

At this time of the year I always hope that we will get through the next four weeks without some type of disaster casting its dark shadow over Christmas traditions. That being said, the Grinch works overtime, and this year seems to be no exception.

There are several reasons to be concerned as Christmas fast approaches. First, as Mark Twain once opined, "when the legislature is in session, your life, wife, property, and even your dog are in jeopardy" or a close approximation of the above sentiment. In this case, Congress is working overtime on "tax reform" that promises to make living in California even more onerous than it already is.

The proposed reform packages, which require reconciliation between the Senate and the House of Representatives, threaten to remove home interest mortgage deductions or greatly reduce them; eliminate or severely reduce state and local tax deductions, and a host of other deductions around which many middle-class families planned their finances. A home is the largest investment that most middle-class families make, and the incentive for home ownership for young families and those who wish to "move up" as their families grow is now in question. If homes in high priced real estate markets like California become uneconomical, expect long-term consequences for the real estate, loan, and construction/building trades industries. Housing shortages could become worse as re-sale and new construction diminish and homes priced at more than $500,000 become difficult to market.

The median home price in SLO County currently is more than $600,000, as it is in 17 other California counties. Loss of the home interest mortgage deduction or severely reducing it does not bode well for our economy. Neither does loss of the state and local tax deduction, which falls heaviest on states with high taxes and costs of living.

As a conservative Republican, I'm outraged, as are many California representatives whose concerns were ignored. This package is the largest transfer of wealth from "Main Street" to "Wall Street" in my lifetime. Wall Street has always coveted the trillions of dollars invested in American homeownership and has sought a way to transfer that wealth to the stock market. Providing a tax disincentive for average Americans to invest in home ownership is a sure way to divert at least some of that investment to Wall Street. Most likely, it will simply pass on to landlords and undermine the strongest economic pillar girding membership in the middle class.

It's also stupid if anyone thinks it will lead to opportunities to recruit votes for Republican policies. Why would a police officer married to a nurse with a combined income of about $150,000 believe registering to vote as a Republican is in their best interest? If you make $75,000 to $200,000 annually in combined gross income, these "tax reforms" are going to bite, especially if you live in California.

Shifting gears, on the social level, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear arguments that will determine the fate of freedom of conscience in American public life. Five years ago, a Colorado custom cake baker refused to provide a customized design for a wedding cake that promoted gay marriage. The Colorado State Human Rights Commission came down on the baker hard; all appeals to state courts failed. He was fined and given multiple ultimatums for "re-education" of himself and staff. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears arguments this week.

What seems simple is not: The baker agreed to sell his gay customers a cake but objected to the message they wanted inscribed, which conflicted with the dictates of his religious beliefs and conscience.

What if the Colorado baker wasn't a Christian but Muslim and he was a printer, not a baker. What if an anti-Muslim group requested him to design and print posters defaming his prophet, denouncing Islam and the Koran as a lie? What if an African-American silk-screen artist was asked by a white supremacist group to produce T-shirts glorifying the KKK or Nazism?

The baker in question previously refused to produce custom designed cakes for Halloween, bachelor parties, and atheist events, not just products promoting gay issues. He's consistent in the practice of his faith as a conservative Christian and equates demands that he produce art conflicting with his conscience comparable to demanding he produce a "golden calf idol," in essence, to commit blasphemy against God. (The biblical account in the book of Exodus where the ancient Hebrews worshipped a golden calf didn't turn out well.)

Frankly, if the state of Colorado prevails in the Supreme Court, all of America loses when government dictates what you may or may not write, design, or worse, compel you to produce. I presume that precedent could easily apply to newspapers, art, books, the internet, any vehicle of communications. (It would be interesting to see a Planned Parenthood clinic suddenly being required to prominently display anti-abortion literature as required by local authorities in a conservative political community.)

This case appeared to be cut and dry, but its implications for freedom of conscience are enormous. Δ

Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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