I Interview a Groovy Atheist Running for Congress in Arizona


Facebook photo of Arizona congressional candidate James Woods, looking smart in short blond hair, in dark suit, white shirt, dark red tie, dark glasses and holding his mobility cane just in frame.James Woods is running for US Congress. (No, I don’t mean the actor, nor the dead guy from Virginia. I mean this guy.) What’s so special about that? He’s an atheist. An out atheist. In fact, a humanist active in the movement. Who actually asked atheists to interview him about his campaign. And blog about it. Now I feel like I’m living in the 21st century. He is not hiding from his membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He’s making it a focal point of his campaign: it’s what makes him a better representative of the people. He is representing the people who don’t usually get represented.

Woods also happens to be blind. And part of his campaign is about representing the disabled, and minorities of all stripes, who usually don’t have a voice in Congress. If elected he would be the first blind person in Congress in nearly a hundred years. His politics are progressive. He has a good head on his shoulders. He sounds like he’d be perfect for the job. But alas, though a native Arizonan, he is running in an Arizona district that is predominately Republican. He has his work cut out for him. I’d vote for him if he were in my district. You can see what he’s all about at his Facebook page.

He’s running against a Republican incumbent (Matt Salmon, the same buy who ran for governor in Arizona a while back) whom the Secular Coalition for America gave a grade of F on his secular report card. The kind of guy who supports bills barring homosexual couples from adopting, denying equal marriage rights, stopping the government from providing information on comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Yes, he even voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The kind of guy who shouldn’t be in Congress. Because he spends his time opposing the rights of American citizens and harming our country and its people.

Woods wants to be the one to replace that guy. And his campaign asked me to interview him because Woods wants to reach out to underrepresented voting blocks, including the secular, atheist, and humanist communities. He is planning similar press days for other underrepresented groups, including the transgender community and people with disabilities. Topics we at Freethought Blogs have been trying to give some visibility to as well (see the video lineup at our last FTBConscience online conference).

I asked Woods six challenging questions to see how he thinks and where he stands on a sample of keystone issues. His answers are well worth reading. You won’t usually hear this stuff from a real Congressional candidate. It’s the kind of bold honesty we actually want from our elected leaders, but rarely get.

–:–

Carrier: Even though I’m not an Arizonan, I do think every elected member of Congress affects us all, so I’m really glad to have this opportunity to ask you some questions and report on your congressional run to the wider public. I honestly don’t need to ask about your secular credentials or support for church-state separation issues, since I’m quite confident you will come through in that department. But actively voting atheists trend strongly liberal and tend to share similar political policy objectives quite apart from issues of secularism. This is especially true for the humanist community. So I’d like to ask you some challenging questions about where you stand on some of those issues.

I’ll get the tricky election question out of the way first. Arizona has a bad reputation nationally for being disturbingly right wing–especially anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-secular. And yet Arizonans still elected Juan Mendez to its state legislature, who is openly atheist. Now you will be trying for a US seat, in a majority Republican district. What is your strategy for winning a majority vote in your district, knowing most of your constituents might be apprehensive about backing not just a liberal, but an atheist?

Woods: I don’t think my race is going to be hard because I’m an atheist–it’s going to be hard because I’m an unapologetic Progressive in a red district. But my campaign team has spent a lot of time looking at underdog races and what it takes to win. Underdog victories seem to have a couple of things in common: people can win when they’re authentic and when they do things differently. The Democratic strategy in my district has been to move toward the middle, and that’s not serving us. It’s not helping people who have been marginalized by the Right to feel heard, and it’s not inspiring Progressive voters to come out. It’s time to try something new. We’re not going to move toward the middle. We’re going to move toward the needs of my constituents and we’re going to stay honest.

The reality is, we can’t lose this race. Even if I don’t end up with a seat in Congress, we have an opportunity to bring important issues into the public discourse on a national stage. We’re not going to shy away from listening to the needs of underrepresented people and speaking up on their behalf. We’re going to advocate for atheists. We’re going to actively support the transgender community. We’re going to insist that people with undocumented immigration status are people and our policies need to reflect personhood first. We’re going to raise awareness around disability issues. We’re going to push for more end-of-life options and death with dignity. We’re going to stand in solidarity with women and call for reproductive justice. We’re going to organize to make it easier for Progressives to win in Arizona in the future. We plan to run our campaign in a way that makes the atheist community proud of us and encourages other candidates to be honest about their atheism as well. We’re playing to win the long game.

Carrier: Awesome. That’s a good point about using the campaign to force issues to be discussed that often wouldn’t. That’s win-win. If it doesn’t actually cause the other guy show his colors and thus get you into office, it will have forced people to become aware of these issues that are too often ignored or not discussed beyond cliches and soundbites.

Okay, next question. President Obama has declared his desire to increase the federal minimum wage to over ten dollars an hour by 2017 (and then index it to inflation so it will keep pace with the economy thereafter). Do you support that goal? And if so, how would you sell that goal to Republican voters in your district? And is ten dollars in 2017 enough? Should the target be higher?

Woods: Ten dollars probably isn’t enough, but the search for the perfect number distracts from the larger question, which is: should the government have a role in making sure people in this country get paid enough to live on? And the answer is: absolutely. We’ll be able to find the right number once we get everyone on board with that idea. People aren’t fighting against $10 because they think it’s too much; they’re fighting against it because they don’t think setting a minimum wage should be the job of government. But the truth is that the government has both a moral obligation and a compelling interest to make sure workers don’t fall into the trap of poverty, because poverty hurts all of us. It hurts our economy. It hurts our families and our communities. With more money in working people’s pockets, we can increase demand and make a ripple effect. We need to flip the notion that supply-side economics has any basis in economic reality. Consumers drive the economy. Period.

And we need to do more for workers with disabilities. Right now in the United States there are more than 400,000 people with disabilities working in segregated workshops for sub-minimum wage. It’s unconscionable. These workers are averaging something like $5.80 a day, which isn’t even enough to pay for a Big Mac Extra Value Meal at the McDonald’s in my neighborhood.

If we can successfully sell the idea of a better minimum wage to Republicans in my district, it will be because we’re successful in showing that the current reality is immoral–and it hurts everyone. Our values belong to the higher ground. But the people we’re really trying to win are part of the disenfranchised left and unaffiliated voters who haven’t been turning out because they’re not feeling connected and they’re not feeling inspired. Those are the people we’re talking to.

Carrier: I so much want to see that happen. You’re spot on with all of it. The best of luck to you. My next question concerns a major issue playing out in the military today: the rising tide of rape and sexual assault in service, and the military’s failure to adequately seek justice for victims, sometimes even defending their attackers instead. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) got the Senate to vote up her own bill to try and address this issue; but Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) wants to go further and remove the chain of command from prosecutions altogether, a move McCaskill opposes. Do you support Gillibrand’s proposal? Why or why not?

Woods: I have a strong anti-rape position. I hope most people would say they’re against rape, but I want to go further and be really proactive in working against the policies, systems and attitudes that make it possible for rape to happen. With regard to the military, there is an institutional bias to be self-protective, and in order to address military sexual assault we have to address that bias. I strongly support Senator Gillibrand’s position. Taking prosecutions out of the chain of command will help ensure unbiased trials. Having public forums rather than secret proceedings can only provide better oversight. Transparency, wherever possible, will only improve our security and readiness.

Carrier: Another major issue on the minds of many secularists and liberals is the fact that even the Obama administration seems to be punitively prosecuting whistle blowers and using the state secrets doctrine to prevent evidence of state criminality or malfeasance from being presented in court. The problem was just recently covered in two articles at the Huffington Post (here and here). There is certainly a tension between a legitimate need to protect state secrets as well as personal privacy on the one hand, and on the other hand the abuse of this to cover up criminality or malfeasance or to keep information away from the voting public that would affect their vote. As a congressman you will be representing the people as an investigative committee member and as an author or supporter of legislation. If you are elected, using those tools, how would you propose to resolve this tension between defending legitimate secrecy and ending its possible abuse by the government?

Woods: What a great question! I agree that some situations require state secrets. But that should be an extraordinary exception. Government does need to be open, transparent and accessible to the people. There has to be accountability so we can make decisions about who we elect and what policies we support. We can’t elect officials to represent our interests if we don’t have the most comprehensive information possible.

Carrier: The biggest issue facing America today is the unsustainable growth in federal debt. Not only has congress borrowed unconscionable amounts from the social security trust fund (and other federal trusts), catastrophically draining it, but every year the debt owed to the world in government bonds continues to rise as well, and is already over twelve trillion dollars, three quarters of GDP, and another five trillion is owed back to our social security and other federal trusts on top of that. It is not a matter of opinion, but economic fact, that this cannot continue without our country’s ruin. Yet it seems the only rational way to start paying down this debt instead of increasing it is to raise taxes, and Republicans seem intent on never conceding or allowing this. As a congressman, how would you propose solving this problem? And how would you convince your constituents to support it?

Woods: The best way to decrease our debt is to have sustainable economic growth. We need to work toward innovative ways to get more people contributing to the economy instead of being blocked from it. Republicans advocate for cutting the exact programs we need to get people back into the economy. A moral society should expect more from people who can afford more and empower people who are in need. Aside from being the right thing to do, this spurs economic growth, which is good for all of us. But Republicans see it differently and I’m not certain they can be persuaded to change–especially when the wealthiest donors control our elections. I certainly will work for solutions and compromise when it helps improve the situation–but long-term, we need to organize a strong, grassroots movement that gets more Progressives in office so we have a real shot at healthy, ethical economic policies.

Carrier: Sadly, that’s probably right. I guess that is ultimately the only solution. Our nation’s future depends on it. If the Republicans won’t compromise to better the national interest, they just have to go. Okay, last question is a freebee. Are there any legislative objectives you personally have that you think are more overlooked by the voting public than they should be, objectives that should warrant more attention and concern? Can you describe at least one objective like that (or, if you like, more) and explain why it deserves more attention and concern from voters?

Woods: Let me answer this by starting with a story. When I was 26, I had a great job in the tech industry, but I was working as a contractor and didn’t have medical insurance. I got very sick and ended up being hospitalized for a rare illness that nearly killed me. I went completely blind. I had most of my toes amputated and lost part of my collar bone. I spent two years in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as I recovered. My family did an amazing job supporting me through that incredibly difficult time–but we needed help. I needed Nutrition Assistance, Medicaid and Social Security Disability or I never could have survived. I bring this up because as I’ve started talking about my experience, people have been reaching out to tell me their own stories of hardship. I’ve learned a lot by listening to those stories. I’ve learned that job market participation in the disability community is only 19%. I’ve learned that more than 400,000 people with disabilities work for less than minimum wage. I’d like to pass legislation that ends sub-minimum wages and segregated workshops. I’ve heard stories of the immense unmet medical needs of people in the transgender community. I’d like to pass legislation that protects transgender people and addresses their medical needs. I’ve heard stories of how our current immigration and deportation policies rip families apart and scar entire neighborhoods. I’d like to stop deportations. I want to keep listening to these kinds of stories and I want to take them with me to Washington so I can advocate for underrepresented people.

Carrier: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! And good luck on your run for Congress.

–:–

You can donate to James Woods’ campaign and sign up for email announcements about the progress of his campaign at his official campaign site here. More resources about him should also be available there (soon if not already). Also check out SecularCandidateBios.com. And follow his campaign on twitter.

Comments

  1. says

    Impressive. I think the biggest battle for any progressive is apathy. The people with the most to gain from progressive policies (those not in thrall to the Republicans by dint of learned helplessness), lost any real power with their votes a long time ago, and it will take a concerted effort to get them into thew voting booths. I suspect that a large proportion of those not turning out on election day are liberal/progressive by nature, and as Woods alluded to, disenchanted with overly centrist platforms. Let the balance of left/right power in the house(s) create the centrist reality, but let the left stand their ground (ooh, topical) resolutely and unapologetically on the left, and make a concerted effort to drag the US to the centre-left from the centre-(and increasingly)-right.

  2. Tim Keating says

    The biggest issue facing America today is the unsustainable growth in federal debt.

    No! No it’s not! That is a right-wing canard that they use as a hammer to bludgeon our social safety net programs. Repeating it as though it were fact merely lends it credence and does none of us any good.

    • says

      Uh, Tim, you need some 101 in economics.

      We are adding to the debt every year. That is by definition unsustainable. If you don’t know why, then you need to get up to speed on how economies work and how economists calculate catastrophic debt and what the effects of a federal bankruptcy would be. Woods’ proposed solution is valid, however (if we can get it to work). But I personally think raising taxes is necessary. Reagan cut the top rate from 70% (the rate since 1965) to 28%. That was the worst financial decision ever made in the history of this nation, and our catastrophically accumulating debt began then. Golly. I wonder why. We have finally gotten the top rate back to 39%, but if we put it back at 50% (the first Reagan tax cut at the dawn of the 80s) we’d solve most of our financial problems (note that it was 50% throughout the Reagan administration; his tax cut to 28% only went into effect the year he left office; so anyone who remembers the 80s as a boom time, is remembering an economy with a 50% top marginal tax rate, the sour economy under the elder Bush was under the 28% rate; it had been 70% before Reagan, and before 1965 even higher, despite the 60s being an economic boom time, but rates over 50% might arguably be too high, still Reagan went too far in cutting it all the way to 28%, as even his successor, the elder Bush, had to admit, and we’ve been fighting the GOP to increase it back to something sustainable ever since). But the GOP will have none of it. Other nations pay for their services. Republicans don’t want us to be able to, as an excuse to cut them. That is the Republican lie: that tax cuts are good for our country while returning closer to our previous (entirely successful) tax system would hurt us. They want you to believe that, so they can claim we can’t afford the services they want to cut.

      Secondly, the federal debt is one of the biggest drags on our economy now: most of the money currently locked up in treasuries would otherwise be spent on investments in our economy. That means because we our servicing 12 trillion dollars in debt (and rising), our economy is lacking 12 trillion dollars in investment. Twelve. Trillion. Dollars. As we continue to soak up investment capital into the federal treasuries, we are continuing to sap even more investment capital from the economy. By no calculation is that sustainable. It is acceptable in a crisis (so it made sense to accumulate debt during the recession; it made zero sense to accumulate it during the Bush presidency), but it cannot be sustained, and has been sustained for far too long (and this is a legacy of harm to our national interest created by Reagan and continually exacerbated by Republicans; only Democrats have ever started solving it, e.g. we were paying down our debt instead of accumulating it under Clinton, and would have continued to had Gore been elected; and in the last fifty years, our economy was never better than it was under Clinton).

      Thirdly, to accumulate our debt, Congress (= Republicans) have robbed five trillion dollars from the social security trust fund. When they claim social security is insolvent, that is because they have been doing everything in their power to force it to be, by raiding it to pay for their outrageously expensive programs (= the military, tax cuts for the rich, and corporate welfare). If we lived within our means, they could not do that (compare the US with Germany on this score). One of the main effects of paying down our debt (instead of accumulating it) is restoring the social security trust fund and thus being able to meet future social security obligations or even (gasp!) increase what it pays to our often impoverished seniors. If instead we keep borrowing money, we keep reducing what social security can pay, eventually to the point that the social security system itself will collapse altogether (as has happened to many private pension funds). That is what the GOP wants. You shouldn’t be helping them by claiming our debt has nothing to do with their strategy.

      Useful background data is here and here and here. We can sustain a lot more debt than currently, but it will have catastrophic and possibly ruinous effects on our economy and our ability to pay for the social services you rightly support. It will also make us far more vulnerable to economic recessions or depressions, which can catch us by surprise and thus force the United States into bankruptcy (by catastrophically lowering revenue precisely when we need more revenue to service our debt). This vulnerability is as immoral and dangerous as any other (whether environmental, biological, astrophysical, etc.) when we have the means to buffer ourselves against it. Having less debt reduces our vulnerability. We have the means. And yes, it means tax the rich. Which we have done for many decades in our history without disaster, even in some of the most profitable times (like the 60s and the 80s).

    • says

      No, but I concur with the point. See the budget charts I linked to. They are even more stark on this point. We are spending far too much money on the military and its adventures. One thing I like about the chart you found is that it teases out the cost of past waste on military and war spending, showing that once we go to war and build up a bloated military, the costs continue to accumulate even decades afterward (even if we completely eliminated the military), in the form of veteran care and debt service.

  3. Tim Keating says

    Richard, you and I agree on many things. I’m not disputing the fact that the country has accrued a large debt, and that debt needs to be dealt with long-term. However, what I take objection to specifically is your alarmist viewpoint.

    Several countries in modern history have accrued debts as large *or larger* relative to their respective GDPs. This didn’t automatically lead to the destruction of those countries. In fact, over the long term, most of those situations that resolved themselves did so by inflating the debt out of existence.

    Most of our current debt was incurred by three factors:

    – The Bush tax cuts (about which we’re obviously on the same page re: tax rates, so I shall say no more)
    – Healthcare spending (an issue which, hopefully, the ACA will address on the long-term horizon)
    – Automatic entitlement spending triggered by mass unemployment

    The third is the crux of my issue with your point. Large-scale loss of employment, in my mind, is a MUCH bigger issue facing the health of our economy than the debt itself, because A) it hammers us twice (increased spending as automatic benefits kick in, and subsequent loss of tax revenue from the unemployed) and B) it has an immediate cost in the amount of human suffering it inflicts. If we were to put the chronically unemployed and underemployed back to work, that would do a tremendous amount to address our long-run debt problems.

    FWIW, I also concur with your thoughts re: military spending. It’s completely absurd that we spend almost as much on our military as the rest of the planet *combined*.

    • says

      I concur with all that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the present course is unsustainable and the Republicans have signaled they will do nothing to arrest it. That means we need a strategy now, one that doesn’t rely on the Republicans suddenly becoming rational.

  4. Mojo Rhythm says

    “The biggest issue facing America today is the unsustainable growth in federal debt. Not only has congress borrowed unconscionable amounts from the social security trust fund (and other federal trusts), catastrophically draining it, but every year the debt owed to the world in government bonds continues to rise as well, and is already over twelve trillion dollars, three quarters of GDP, and another five trillion is owed back to our social security and other federal trusts on top of that. It is not a matter of opinion, but economic fact, that this cannot continue without our country’s ruin.”

    I don’t think this is entirely accurate Richard.

    The US government, in tandem with the Federal Reserve, is the combined issuer of the currency. What is called the “national debt” is, in fact, just an accounting record of the difference between the aggregate amount of dollars the US has created and how many dollars the US has destroyed. It is amazing that the mainstream economics profession continues to cling to this superstitious notion of a de facto gold standard.

    Whenever the government decides to spend money, it essentially just tells the Fed to credit the recipient’s account. Where does the Fed get the money? Nowhere. It’s just changing numbers on a keyboard.

    The usual counter-argument at this point is “Aha! That may be true, but the Treasury requires a positive bank balance, and its account must be debited BEFORE the Fed credits the recipient’s account!” That’s absolutely correct. But it is an entirely self-imposed legal constraint which could be removed tomorrow if the political need arose.

    It is because of this self-imposed legal constraint—and not a “scarcity of money”—that the government needs to issue bonds. A typical mainstream economist will argue that bonds are a good thing anyway because they ensure that whenever the government spends money, the private sector is forced to reduce its purchasing power, dollar for dollar, thereby preventing inflation. But this is simply not the case; neoclassical economics relies on a very outdated exogenous money multiplier model of the economy, which has been (a) disproved empirically for decades, and (b) is finally starting to be rejected as utter rubbish by respected institutions like the European Central Bank.

    Another counter-argument is “But if expectations about the US ability to pay back the debt got really pessimistic, then you’d see interest rates spike, followed by hyperinflation!” Again, not true. To start with, pick a real-world example refuting that notion: Japan. Japan’s national debt dwarfs the US national debt. Their interest rates are less than 1%, and have been for a long, long time. Why? Because Japan issues their own currency; so if the central bank wants rates below 1%, that’s where they will stay. The private sector knows that the central bank is backstopping of any government loan they have. And the ability of the central bank to pay back any debt is, by definition, always 100% guaranteed, as long as the debt is in the currency that it issues. The Fed is, in fact, legally required to backstop Treasury bonds and keep interest rates stable in order to ensure the stability of the payments system.

    I’ve barely scratch the surface here. There’s a shitload more to say on this topic. I myself was skeptical for long, long time on this viewpoint. But I changed my mind after reading the article below. See what you think, if you have 10-15 mins.

    bit.ly/1k2zVLq

    Rgds
    Mojo Rhythm

    • says

      What is called the “national debt” is, in fact, just an accounting record of the difference between the aggregate amount of dollars the US has created and how many dollars the US has destroyed.

      No, that is not what debt is.

      You do not seem to have a good command of how economies work, or fiduciary currencies even. Like, what happens when you try to pay all your debts by printing the money. Douglas Adams had a really funny routine about this, in which a nation tried to solve its debt problem by simply declaring tree leaves to be dollars.

      That doesn’t work.

  5. Mojo Rhythm says

    Richard,

    I agree that it’s not what all debt is. What I’ve described certainly isn’t private debt. Nor is it even all public debt (e.g. local and state government debts do not function this way). But this is an entirely accurate description of the federal government’s debt. Any federal government that issues its own currency and has a floating exchange rate operates as such.

    If you think I “don’t seem to have a good command of how economies work, or fiduciary currencies even,” then be specific. I’m not the first person to say the things that I have said. There are a number of statements from leading Federal Reserve board members that implicitly concede what I have mentioned. For example, Alan Greenspan–a gold-worshipping, Ayn Rand-loving nuthead–conceded in a 1997 hearing, that “[A] government cannot become insolvent with respect to obligations in its own currency. A fiat money system, like the ones we have today, can produce such claims without limit.” Moreover, during the 2011 debt ceiling debacle, he also asserted that the United States government could pay every single debt it has five minutes from now, because “we can always print the money to do it, hence there is zero probability of default [emphasis mine].” But the best statement about all of this comes from the former vice-president of the St. Louis Fed, who declared “As the sole manufacturer of dollars, whose debt is denominated in dollars, the U.S. government can never become insolvent, i.e., unable to pay its bills. In this sense, the government is not dependent on credit markets to remain operational. Moreover, there will always be a market for U.S. government debt at home because the U.S. government has the only means of creating risk- free dollar-denominated assets… [emphasis mine]”.

    It’s also worth mentioning that Treasury bond auctions are nothing like a regular auction. The participants in this auction, the “Primary Buyers”, have a legal obligation to make an offer for the bonds on sale. In other words, they MUST buy the bonds. And, as I mentioned before, the Fed backstops any IOUs issued by the Federal Government. The Federal Reserve is always there to, in Ben Bernanke’s words, “Do whatever Congress tells [them] to do.”

    I’ll mention one more thing. Have you ever paid your taxes in cash? Some people do do it from time to time. Let’s say you went to Washington and paid your income taxes with some really old, worn $50 notes. The person at the other side of the desk would take your money, give you a receipt, and then, once you have left the room, proceed to shred your money to pieces. I’m not bullshitting you; they take your hard-earned and throw it in a fucking shredder. You can actually buy that shredded money as a souvenir in Washington. Now, if I were to use those same old, worn $50 notes to pay my mortage to a bank, they are not going to shred that money. If I were to pay my council rates or my state taxes, neither the local council nor the state government are going to shred those old, worn $50 notes. But the Federal Reserve does. Doesn’t that show you something entirely different is afoot there? It should, because there is: the former are USERS of the currency, the latter is the ISSUER of the currency.

    BTW, quoting Douglas Adams might get applause from the skeptic audience here, but his views on the US monetary system are about as reliable as my views on protozoan epigenetics (i.e. not very reliable at all).

    • says

      BTW, quoting Douglas Adams might get applause from the skeptic audience here, but his views on the US monetary system are about as reliable as my views on protozoan epigenetics (i.e. not very reliable at all).

      Which is why his being right should be most embarrassing for you.

  6. Mojo Rhythm says

    The bizarre and ironic thing is that Adams’ satirical bit about the tree leaves would be true if that same government declared its refusal to accept anything other than tree leaves for the payment of tax obligations. Granted, the resulting inflation would be monstrous. But would the government become insolvent? No. I again refer you to statements by Fed insiders in my previous post, which you seem to have skimmed over or not bothered to read. If you have, my mistake.

    Couldn’t you at least have the humility to say you might look into these ideas later, when you have the time and/or the interest, rather than pooh-poohing them from the outset? I know you are a person who is very committed to ensuring that their map fit the territory as accurately as possible. Your map is a little bit wonky here, in my opinion.

    • says

      The bizarre and ironic thing is that Adams’ satirical bit about the tree leaves would be true if that same government declared its refusal to accept anything other than tree leaves for the payment of tax obligations.

      No, it’s true even without that.

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