An old Buddhist joke says, “Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another matter.”
Most Buddhists I’ve met, especially the holy men known as Rinpoches and Lamas, have an impish sense of humor. A Rinpoche I visited in Nepal asked one of my companions, “Who are you?” My friend gave his name, home state, and profession. “No, I mean who are you?” My friend floundered through a few more biographical details, but that clearly wasn’t what the Rinpoche was after. Eventually my friend sputtered to a halt and said, “I’m so confused.” The Rinpoche roared with laughter. “Good!” he said. “Now we are getting somewhere!”
No doubt Buddhist monks take great delight in the confusion they cause every time they spend days creating one of their elaborate sand mandalas and then promptly destroy it.
As an artist, this practice made me nuts when I first heard about it. But now I love the in-your-face reminder of impermanence. Some say the monks’ blessings and prayers infuse the sand with a kind of grace. After the mandala is dissolved, the monks pour the sand into the nearest body of flowing water, which carries that grace to the ocean, to every shore, and to each one of us.
The world could use some extra grace right now, and I hope the monks are producing and destroying a record number of sand mandalas. But as so many — from the ancient Greeks to Ben Franklin — have said, “God helps those who help themselves.” Working for the common good is a job for everyone, not just Buddhist monks.
For me, right now, that means doing what I can to protect my country. It’s a big job, but like the monks constructing a sand mandala, I only have to worry about one little patch at a time. And the patch I’m working on now has to do with the President’s refusal to reveal his tax returns.
We can thank Richard Nixon’s financial shenanigans for making presidential tax returns a public issue.
Until 1969, presidents received whopping tax deductions for donating their papers to certain archives. As Congress prepared to eliminate that provision in the tax code, Nixon donated his papers and claimed a $500,000 deduction; his 1970 tax payment was just $792.81. When the story broke, Nixon said, “I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.” Eventually the country learned that Nixon didn’t officially sign over the papers until nine months after the tax code changed. Tricky Dick had bilked the nation of $500,000 he owed in taxes.
Nobody wants to be branded the next Nixon. Gerald Ford, the vice president who took over when Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, released a tax summary. Since then, every president has revealed his tax returns — until now.
The current president’s refusal to share tax information leaves us all in the dark about the extent of his conflicts of interest, his foreign entanglements, and whether he even pays any taxes at all. During a debate, Hillary Clinton pointed out that the only Trump tax returns anyone had seen “were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license. And they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.” Trump interrupted her to say, “That makes me smart.”
Really? Does that mean the rest of us, who pay the taxes that finance our nation, are a bunch of dummies? If a billionaire president doesn’t feel any moral obligation to contribute towards our roads, schools, police, firefighters, Medicare, military, and the White House itself, why should the rest of us?
It makes me wonder just how “smart” he’s been. Nixon smart? I think we have a right to know.
And I’m not alone. More than 130 American cities are planning marches on Tax Day, April 15 to demand the president release his tax information. In Seville, Tax Day falls during Semana Santa (Holy Week), when a million visitors flood city streets to watch processions day and night; any protest we’d stage would get lost in the general chaos. What to do?
Two weeks ago I was wrestling with this problem and had one of my rare nights of serious insomnia. And somewhere around four in the morning, it came to me: we’d create a Virtual Tax March on social media. People would post pictures of themselves with a protest sign saying to the President, in the immortal words of Jerry McGuire, “Show me the money!”
My group, American Resistance Sevilla, loved the idea.
We’ve just started posting photos on Facebook; see more at #VirtualTaxMarch on Twitter and Instagram. We’re spreading the word to protest groups around the world, and everyone seems to be excited about jumping in.
Want to join in the fun? Here’s how.
I don’t know what effect, if any, the Virtual Tax March will have on the president, our elected officials, or the friends, family, and strangers who choose to take a stand with us. Like the monks pouring sacred sand into the river, all I can do is release my idea into the world and let karma take it from there.
Several people have written lately to ask if it's OK to share my posts on social media. Yes, absolutely! In fact, I've added buttons at the upper left to make this easier. Share away.
For the next two weeks, Rich and I will be traveling through Spain and France meeting up with American Resistance groups. So I won't be posting next week, but I will be back after that with fresh news from the European front.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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