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America’s Social Contract And The Measure of Our Commitment

(Note: contains some material from prior posts)

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

A key element in America’s social contract is the idea that government derives its authority from the consent of the people. So the question should occasional be asked, is our mutual consent to be governed wearing thin? There is evidence to suggest a growing restiveness in certain populations. Some symptoms of declining consent include gridlock in congress marked by an inability to pass any legislation on a simple majority vote, the resurgence in states’ rights activism, calls in some states for secession, citizens arming themselves in fear (or perhaps the  hope) of armed resistance and wide spread efforts to manipulate elections.  Perhaps the best, most quantitative way to judge the degree to which we  consent (or commitment) to self-government is by our willingness to pay taxes.

The attitudes we have towards paying taxes, and the extent to which people and organizations will go to avoid them, is an underappreciated index of our consent to be governed. Just as taxation without representation was a rallying cry leading up to the Revolutionary War, the Tea Party and many other popular reform or resistance groups today rally around taxes as a central point of contention. Objectively speaking, the Tea Party’s opposition to taxes makes no sense since their complaint corresponded with the lowest federal tax rate since the Eisenhower administration. It isn’t until we understand that our attitude towards taxes is a barometer of our consent to be governed that the Tea Party’s tax objections become clear.

For the sake of discussion it is helpful to identify different segments of the population that are particularly opposed to taxes. But keep in mind that our personal attitude towards paying taxes is just as valid an indicator of where each of us falls on this measure of consent.

Let’s begin with those who see themselves through the lens of American individualism. They value self-reliance and see this as a patriotic duty. They tend to think less of those who are more collaborative, more dependent or less successful. They tend to discount the contribution of the public commons to their own welfare and don’t often recognize how massively interdependent advanced societies really are. They believe that less government is best for everyone. These folks are less willing to contribute to tax supported government services other than for military defense. They are ideological individualist. This group may include some libertarians and on the extreme fringes may also include some anarchists or survivalists.

There are those who are suspicious or uncomfortable with American pluralism. These folks tend to live in parts of the country where there is little diversity or just a single predominate minority group.  However, folks who hold this belief can be found everywhere. They believe a disproportionate amount of their taxes go to support other ethnic or cultural groups whose members don’t share their same values or work ethic. They may fear that these other groups are taking advantage of government largess. As a result, they are more resentful of paying taxes and more critical of what they see as wasteful government spending. These folks are pluralism-adverse and at the extreme fringes  this group may include racists or hate groups. A highly nationalistic subset of this pluralism-adverse group believe their government has already broken faith with them and is threatening their liberty. For them, paying taxes is akin to paying tribute to a foreign potentate. The most extreme of these consider themselves to be soverign citizens.

There are some religious fundamentalists who believe all secular government is evil. Some fundamentalist sects focus on The Book of Revelations and an apocalyptic view of the world in which governments plays a role in the rise of the false prophet. For these groups anything that expands government is evil as well, including increased taxes. They are usually considered to be on the fringe of the Christian community, but they have an impact beyond their numbers.

Then there are those who believe taxes compete or interfere with commerce and free markets. They believe that taxes reduce the capital available for businesses investments. They fear that more taxes will lead to more government regulations and further hinder commerce. They don’t see government spending as simulative for the economy. For them, the provision of government services to those who aren’t successful contributors is an unfair redistribution of wealth. Members of this group are more likely to have higher incomes and a sense of entitlement. They may pride themselves in their ability to avoid paying taxes. At the extreme fringes of this group members tend to see society as being made up of the have and the have nots, the makers and the takers. They are often contemptuous of taxes and government.

Next, there are the disaffected and those too self-absorbed to care much about government. For this group all taxes are an annoyance to be avoided.  This is a large and diverse group that is often underrepresented in our national conversations. They include many who are poor, but also many who are middle class folks working hard just to make ends meet. They tend to be swing voters when they vote and their grasp of politics and government policies are more maliable. The underground cash economy is significant for them.

The impact of this growing reluctance by some citizens to pay income taxes is huge. According to a GAO report called  “HIGH-RISK SERIES, An Update”, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that the gross tax gap–the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid on time–was $450 billion for tax year 2006. The IRS estimated that it would collect $65 billion from these taxpayers through enforcement actions and late payments, leaving a net tax gap of $385 billion. This doesn’t include the loss of tax revenue due to the underground cash economy and foreign US cash transactions. These  create an additional tax gap estimated to be between $400 billion and $540 billion annually. There is also the tax gap created when wealthy investors hide their money in off shore tax havens. According to a study by the Tax Justice Network  the world’s super rich have at least $21 trillion secretly hidden away in tax shelters as of 2010. This is equivalent to the size of the Japanese and United States economies combined, according to The Price of Offshore Revisited report. Further, the amount of secretly hidden wealth may be as high as $32 trillion.

Arguably the most tax resistant groups, which also have the greatest fiscal and political impact, are businesses and corporations. The largest loss of tax revenue, representing the lowest level of consent to be governed, comes from the corporate sector. The shift in the percentage of total federal income taxes paid by individuals verses businesses has grown substantially over the years. Individual income taxes raised 41% of the total tax revenue in 1943 while business income taxes made up the rest, or more than half of the income tax receipts. Compare this with today where 79% of total revenues comes from individual income taxes. This shift in tax receipts from corporations to individuals cannot be explained by a shift away from C corporations (who pay the corporate income tax) to S corporations (who don’t). According to the financial site NerdWallet, the 10 most profitable U.S. companies paid an average federal tax rate of just 9 percent  in 2011. The group includes such giants as Exxon Mobil, Apple, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and General Electric. The Economist recently posted a graphic by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that depicts the decline in corporate taxes juxtaposed to the rise in corporate profits.

The inability of the federal government to collect taxes from the nation’s elite and its biggest corporations is a serious sign of trouble. It signals a real strain in our social contract and severly limits the ability of the government to serve its people. The problem is compounded by the fact that anti-tax sentiments are being exploited by wealthy business interests to ferment dissatisfaction and distrust of our government. A coalition of the most anti-tax, anti government constituents from the various tax adverse segments of society described above would look very similar to the Tea Party base of today’s Republican Party. The power we invest in civil government is the only check we have to balance the power of the largest corporations to do as they wish in pursuit of profits. It would be a mistake to weaken our commitment to good government now when it is under assault.

There are still many who believe taxes are the price we must pay for a just and robust society. Paying taxes is our civic duty and evidence of our commitment to one another. It reflects confidence that our government is representing us and upholding the social contract. The present IRS scandal over the targeting of Tea Party groups for selective scrutiny of their 503(c)4 tax status is really a minor but convenient distraction from the real tax crisis we face. We are facing a crisis of confidence in self-government. It is a challenge of our time to rekindle a popular passion for civil government that is truly of, by and for the people.

International Corporate Plans to Oversee National Governments

Have you ever heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?

This posting is not so much an article on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement being negotiated as it is a gateway to articles on the subject.  It is important to learn about this  subject because, as Dave Johnson wrote in OpEdNews, “You will be hearing a lot about the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. TPP’s negotiations are being held in secret with details kept secret even from our Congress. But giant corporations are in the loop.”

I would like to suggest you watch the DemocracyNow video from last June (see below) to UNDERSTAND this pending trade agreement and why it is a really big deal.  Note, however, that the video of an awards cerimony was actually an anti-TPP activist’s hoax.

Here is an excerpt from Public Citizens analysis of  TPP:  ” TPP is a “trade” agreement between several Pacific-rim countries that is actually about much more than just trade. It will be sold as a trade agreement (because everyone knows that “trade” is good) but much of it appears to be (from what we know) a corporate end-run around things We the People want to do to reign in the giant corporations — like Wall Street regulation, environmental regulation and corporate taxation. ” [Note: Once finalized, this trade agreement will remain open ended so that any other nations may sign on to it in the future.]

“After more than two years of negotiations under conditions of extreme secrecy, on June 12, 2012, a leaked copy of the investment chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement was posted at http://tinyurl.com/tppinvestment. Public Citizen has verified that the text is authentic. “
“The leaked text provides stark warnings about the dangers of “trade” negotiations occurring without press, public or policymaker oversight. It reveals that negotiators already have agreed to many radical terms granting expansive new rights and privileges for foreign investors and their private corporate enforcement through extra-judicial “investor-state” tribunals.” – Public Citizen
Here is just a small example I reviewed of the wording in the actual TTP document that was leaked last June:
                                           ———————————-
Article 12.7: Performance Requirements
3. (c) Provided that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or
do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment,
paragraphs l(b), (c), [and] [(t)], [and (h),] and 2(a) and (b), shall not be construed to
prevent a Party from adopting or maintaining measures, including environmental
measures:
(i) necessary to secure compliance with laws and regulations that are not
inconsistent with this Agreement;
(ii) necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health; or
(iii) related to the conservation of living or non-living exhaustible natural
resources.]
                                               ——————————-
What this example says is that national laws “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health” cannot be applied to international trading in ways that a foreign investor considers arbitrary, unjustified or trade restrictive. Elsewhare the agreement lays out how international investors can sue governments, and this process is entirely under corporate, not government, control.

http://www.democracynow.org/2012/6/14/breaking_08_pledge_leaked_trade_doc

HOUSTON, TAKE DOWN THIS THREATENING MESSAGE

An Orwellian chill ran through my veins as I sat waiting for my connection at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.  It was the early hours of the morning and the Eastern sky was just starting to brighten.  Travelers milled about the vast terminal or sat in various stages of slumber at the terminal gates as a female voice echoed over the public address system.  It was that familiar security announcement about keeping track of your luggage and such.  No one seemed to notice when this particular message went on to say:

 “You are also reminded that any inappropriate comments or jokes concerning security  may result in your arrest.  We appreciate your cooperation while these measures are in effect.”

Arrest?  “While these measures are in effect”?

I looked around.  No one else seemed to notice they had just been threatened with arrest for cracking jokes or making comments that some security agent might not like.  I suddenly felt less free and less safe from the mercurial powers of the state.

Once we discovered that jetliners can become weapons, tightened security was inevitable, but infringing on our First Amendment rights was not part of the bargain.  It’s one thing to take off your shoes and empty your pockets,  it’s quite another to face arrest for “inappropriate” speech.

Free speech has boundaries, of course.  Everyone knows you can’t yell “fire” in a crowed theater or threaten someone with bodily harm, but when was the last time you were reminded about this in a public announcement at your local cinema?  Houston’s airport message was obviously not referring to the normal boundaries of free speech.

From where does this authority to arrest come and how broadly is it being interpreted?  What law enforcement authority approved this chilling message?  And why is this additional “measure” in effect in Houston but not in most other airports, such as in Newark’s Liberty or New York’s Kennedy Airport?

It seems unlikely that the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would be behind this announcement.  The TSA has very limited law enforcement authority.  Unless you are committing a felony under US law in their presence, TSA agents have no routine power to arrest you (49 USC 44903(d)(2)).  And as far as I know,  joking about airport security isn’t a felony.  The authority of the TSA extends mostly to allowing passengers to fly or not fly.  They can detain you for the purpose of screening or inspecting your personal property, but can’t arrest you if they find, say, a pen knife in your bags.  If you refuse to be searched, they can deny you access to the plane.   Having said that, the practical reach of the TSA is still an open question and there are examples of apparent abuses of their power.  (For an interesting post on TSA authority see: http://www.papersplease.org/wp/2009/04/20/tsa-claims-new-powers-of-detention-search-and-interrogation/).

Most large airports are owned by state or local governments in the US.  They operate under state or local authorities, sometimes through an airport authority administration or private management company.  Airport security, other than passenger screening, is usually provided by state or local law enforcement agencies.

The George Bush Intercontinental Airport is owned and operated by the City of Huston.  It is likely that the Houston Police Department is in charge of airport security.  In fact, on the Houston Police Website, M. A. Eisenman is the Assistant Police Chief in charge of the Homeland Security Command and C. W. Driskel is Captain of the Airport Division.  If there is a law or temporary measure to limit free speech, the city of Houston and not the TSA would be responsible.

There is internet evidence that this same message has been playing in Houston since at least 2007.  In the years since this security message first played, the Iraq war ended, Osama Bin Laden was killed by our special forces, his terrorist network has been decimated, the war in Afghanistan has nearly drawn to a close and there has been no  significant attacks in the United States.  The “war on terror” is settling into a more or less routine program of security vigilance and covert actions.  The flying public accepts today’s airport security arrangements.  If there was ever a need to threaten citizens with arrest for inappropriate speech, that heightened need has surely passed.  It is time for the City of Huston to stop threatening citizens with arrest for making bad jokes and restore respect for our First Amendment liberties.  Houston, take down this threatening message!

Outsourcing Our Privatized Voting Process Overseas

 

DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT: We need to wake up and take back our voting processes.  Voting has to be taken out of the control of government and political parties.  This is insane.

Bev Harris, Blackboxvoting.com

NEW CERTIFICATIONS, PLANNED EXPANSION: Black Box Voting has been investigating and reporting on this disconcerting trend for nine years now. Everything we’ve been reporting has not only turned out to be true, but is increasing. A press release today about the planned expansion of Unisyn into more USA locations renews attention on foreign ownership of corporations selling voting systems into the United States. Unisyn is owned by a Malaysian gambling outfit.

Another major elections industry player, Canada’s Dominion, purchased the massive Diebold Election Systems division (which it shares with ES&S); Dominion also owns Smartmatic, which handles electronic vote-counting in the Philippines and Belgium.

Military voting is now handled in several states by Barcelona, Spain-owned Scytl. In January 2012, Scytl acquired the largest election results reporting firm, SOE Software. Accenture, now based in Dublin Ireland (formerly headquartered in tax-haven Bermuda), claims copyright over the massive electronic voter registration/voter history databases used in several states, including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Colorado, Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Accenture purchased its voter registration unit from Election.com, a Saudi-owned company based in the Cayman Islands. Because a computer will only do what it’s programmers and administrators tell it to do, whoever issues the commands gains ultimate control over how it receives, counts, and reports votes, voter registrations, and voter histories. UNISYN: According to Barry Herron (formerly of Diebold Election Systems), now Director of Sales for Unisyn, “Unisyn and our business partners are actively supporting installations in the States of Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, and Virginia. We intend to expand into other states in late 2012 and early 2013.” Unisyn also recently made inroads into Puerto Rico.

Another Unisyn election product called “Inkavote” is used in 4 million-voter Los Angeles County (Calif) and in Jackson County Missouri. IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF USA ELECTION SOFTWARE? Not if you don’t mind some unknown guys working offshore controlling whatever they choose to in the software processing votes and voters.

For more on Malaysian, Chinese, Canadian, Spanish, Saudi, Cayman, Irish ownership of USA election software, see full Black Box Voting article with supporting documents and links: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/8/82176.html  * * * * We APPRECIATE the wonderful support many of you have been providing over the years! It is the sole reason we still exist. Permission to reprint or excerpt granted, with link to http://www.blackboxvoting.org

Voter Suppression Humor: NJ-ACLU Cartoon Contest Winner

I was the winner of the NJ ACLU’s 2012 cartoon contest to come up with the best caption or punch line for a cartoon drawn by syndicated cartoonist, Drew Sheneman.  Below is my winning entry.  Thanks to NJ ACLU and Mr. Shenemen for the opportunity to participate in this fun.

South Carolina Outsources Vote Count to Spain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3_xFb1sWKU

DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT – Most Americans still don’t understand that we have allowed politicians to privatized our democracy.  We rely on private corporations to electronically collect and count our votes.  We allow a few malleable electrons, representing the most important transfer of power in a democracy, to be bounced around the globe where private companies secretly decode them and beamed back to our television set the aggregate vote totals that tell us who won.  No one else on Earth can corroborate these votes totals or the resulting transfers of political power. Is this how  we protect democracy in America?  Is this how we should exerciser our right to vote?
This story is about how the vote counting process was conducted in South Carolina during the recent Republican Primary, but it is worth reading because it provides valuable insight into the potential vulnerabilities of democracy’s most fundamental component – Voting.
(SC) 1/12 – 100% OF SOUTH CAROLINA VOTES GO THROUGH SCYTL

By Bev Harris
The genius of democracy is dispersed public control.

As we saw in Iowa when alert public citizens captured evidence of the actual vote count BEFORE it was reported by a centralized state committee, the state Republican Party and the news media initially claimed victory for the wrong winner. They only corrected this mis-call two weeks later, buying the favored candidate half a month of fund raising prowess and prestige.

In South Carolina, 100% of election results will be redirected through a private Barcelona, Spain-owned company, Scytl/SOE Software, before being reported to the public.

There is only one way to immediately find out whether Scytl/SOE reported the right results*, and that is for members of the public to capture evidence of reported precinct results when polls close tonight. Think of it as a giant neighborhood watch.

Precinct results should be posted at each polling site. In addition, during poll closing the public has a right to be in the polling place watching and videotaping what goes on.

Here is a four-minute video showing exactly what to do:

By the way, the results will be published here:
http://www.enr-scvotes.org/SC/36831/63425/en/select-county.html

Compare photos of what you capture at polling places to the results reported at the above link.

For computer buffs, there’s another thing you can do. (The above steps are easy and can be done by anyone.) But for tech buffs, you can download multiple times during the evening, and there are even Web snapshot tools to expedite this. It is not uncommon to see results change or disappear midstream.

In Broward County FL, the results reported by Scytl-owned SOE Software in 2008 showed an entire candidate, who was winning, disappear into vapor in the middle of the count, and in Hillsborough County FL and Dallas County TX, votes that had been reported began to disappear.

The way to see this is to download “time slices” — snapshots at various points in time, and compare them. More information for those of you who like technical stuff is available in the Black Box Voting Tool Kit – http://www.blackboxvoting.org/toolkit.pdf

Follow Black Box Voting for further developments.

* Well, you have to put an asterisk alongside “the right results” because in South Carolinia you get a two-fer. Results could be incorrect at either end of the pipeline — from the ES&S iVotronic paperless touchscreen voting machines, which have a history of incorrect totals, or from the private results reporting firm Scytl/SOE Software, which has centralized control over what gets reported. More


And As For IOWA…

(USA) 1/12 – THE TRAGIC TALE OF EDWARD TRUE AND JAMES FALSE -Permission to excerpt granted, with link to http://www.blackboxvoting.org
By Bev Harris

The actual Iowa winner may “never be known”, and one of the “dead” voters in New Hampshire has now shown up — alive.

It matters, and it’s called journalistic malpractice. TV networks announced that Romney won Iowa, and newspapers pronounced his 1-2 “wins” as “historic.” Candidates dropped out, donors dried up or rushed to send cash to the reported “winner”.

Now we are being told that the Iowa results “don’t matter.” They matter, regardless of any rent-an-expert who shows up in the press. Misreported results manipulated the candidate field from which the rest of America can choose.

The Des Moines Register is now reporting an even greater malfeasance: that the final, certified Iowa result may “never be known.” There were several typos, they say. Some precincts will never be reported, they claim.

That we got a heads up at all about bogus media results was due to an alert Iowa citizen, Edward True, who captured evidence of the 20-vote misreport in his Appanoose County precinct. That people like Edward True were stationed all over Iowa capturing results before they hit the state Republican Committee tabulation was due to Black Box Voting, where the need to do this was explained, and to radio hosts and sites like Bradblog and Facebook, where the word went out.

Mainstream media then began its next act of theatre: They started spinning the false result that THEY THEMSELVES announced as — instead of their own foolishness — “making Iowa look foolish”.

But if we’re looking for truth, here’s what we will find: The mistakes saw light of day because the Iowa caucus was conducted in open public meeting allowing citizens to watch ballots as they were hand counted.

At least it WAS an open system, until the Republican State Committee pitched the bizarre idea that some precincts might never be reported in the final certified result, and the media failed to bay like bloodhounds tracking the truth.

But there is some good news in this: It’s great that public citizens are starting to understand their role in the “neighborhood watch” component of election integrity.

AND NOW FOR JAMES FALSE, OF THE ANTONYM ORGANIZATION “PROJECT VERITAS”

In New Hampshire, media hammertime revolved around James O’Keefe and his “Project Veritas”, who reported that dead people were allowed to vote, “proving” it by sending people around the state to impersonate the dead. He’s basically getting fat grants from fat cats who don’t want so many (real, live) people to vote. He admits to receiving $50,000 for the New Hampshire piece. They are busy manufacturing evidence to manipulate public opinion in favor of voter ID legislation.

Problem is, another alert citizen — who they were reporting as dead — called them on their malfeasance. Robert William Beaulieu is on the video as a successfully impersonated dead voter. Embarrasingly for Project Veritas, Robert William Beaulieu is very much alive.

It seems that Project Falsum Project Veritas did not even bother to check birthdates to match names to dead persons. They mistook a 23-year old for an 80-year old.

Now, we recently saw an article coming out of South Carolina alleging that 900 dead persons voted, and that should immediately call into question how the match was made. By name only? Name and birthdate? Or Social Security number?

Matching by name only doesn’t pass the sniff test, and it turns out that matching by name and birthdate is trickier than you might think. I found 130 people named Mary Williams in a Shelby County (TN) database. Two had the same birthdate. In fact, any time you have a common name, with 100 or more instances, you will find the same birthdate as often as 1 in 3 sets. In a statewide database like South Carolina, it would not be surprising to see 900 name/birthdate matches.

The only way to do a match is with Social Security number, and this is not available to public interest groups.