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Un-Taxing the Rich is the Root Cause of the Public Pension Crisis

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

What follows is a letter I wrote to New Jersey’s principal newspaper, which is constantly trying to convince us that the huge pension deficits created by bad public policy decisions (or perhaps by intentional public union busting strategies) can’t be fixed without dismantling the whole system and starting over. All options to do this create great sacrifices by hard working servants of the people who were promised pensions in exchange for lower lifetime wages than the private sector would be paid for comparable work.

What makes this relevant beyond New Jersey’s boarders is that public employee pension systems are under similar financial assaults in nearly every state. It is a pattern so powerful that it has to be part of a bigger plan.

Dear editor:

“Taxing the rich won’t solve pension problems” claims the Star-Ledger in its editorial. Their point is that the “millionaire’s tax” vetoed by Gov. Christie wouldn’t plug the current pension gap.

This is true, but the larger point is that the “un-taxing” of the rich and the wealthiest companies in New Jersey is the real reason we have a crisis. Stack up all the tax money not collected due to corporate tax breaks and tax cuts given away since the Whitman administration until now and it would tower over the cash it would have taken to pay pension obligations from the beginning.

Money is fungible. Whenever tax revenue is deleted from the budget, someone’s ox has to be gored. For decades that ox belonged to State employees. Their pensions is part their wage package and the reason their overall compensation is roughly parallel with the private sector. Not funding it was a deliberate choice.

Another fact hidden in plain view is that revenue deleted from the budget doesn’t have a line item to remind us of what’s missing. We end up blindly subsidizing profitable corporations instead of properly compensating ordinary folks who work for us.

It’s disingenuous for politicians (or the Star-Ledger) to speak of pension reform without also discussing the massive tax breaks that created this crisis. If tax cuts for businesses and people who don’t need it were rescinded, there would be plenty of revenue to fund the pensions.

BLOG NOTE: If this is happening in your state, of if you are from New Jersey and want to do something about the pension mess, feel free to use this as a template for your own letter to the editor or to your representatives in government.
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De-Cantoring Big Business

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

EricCantorWallst

The defeat of Eric Cantor in his primary, and the article below, is instructive because it illuminates the growing populist enmity towards politicians who serve business interests over voter interests. This is at the heart of the growing rift in the Republican party. The GOP establishment serves the interests of Big business over all else and almost mockingly manipulate ordinary voter segments and the small business owners they claim as their base.

The beltway seems baffled by this, but the trend has been clear for some time. Putting people first in politics will be key to winning over the real voter base of both parties going forward. And peeling off small business owners by promoting specific policies that support them and level their playing field against corporate abuses is an essential element for Democrats. Democrats should be the champions of small community business leaders and ordinary citizens. They should be resist the growing corporate influence over government and our lives (without being overtly hostile).

Campaign funding should also be as populist and grass roots as possible, or at least have that as a prominent feature. People should be able to contribute small donations to their candidate’s campaign on line using their pay pal accounts, or they should be able to text a contribution on their smart phone. This not only sets the right tone, it takes action against the influence of big money in politics even if particular  campaign must still rely on big donors..  But note that in this race Eric Cantor outspent Brat by a  40 to 1 ratio.  The strength of Brats message overcame this huge spending advantage.

As I tweeted earlier today in reference to Cantor: In drawing democrat-proof districts the GOP created congressional district that are toxic to traditional conservative Republicans as well. And traditional conservative Republicans are virtually all big business Republicans. So there is a clear message here for all Democratic candidates. Stop cozening up with corporations and start representing real people.

If Democrats messaging can thread this needle they may be able to pick up disaffected moderate Republican votes while making it harder for radical right-wing Republican’s to vote for GOP supporter of ever more crony capitalism.

Here is a snip of the Nation’s article by John Nicols:

from The Nation

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Eric Cantor Defeated by a Conservative Who Rips Crony Capitalism

John Nichols on June 11, 2014 – 12:21 AM ET

 

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180189/eric-cantor-defeated-conservative-who-rips-crony-capitalism#

The DC-insider storyline about this being a great year for the Republican establishment is undergoing a rapid rewrite. For the first time since the post was formally established in 1899, a House majority leader has been defeated in a bid for renomination. And as political prognosticators, Republican stalwarts and savvy Democrats search for explanations, they are being forced to consider complexities they had not previously entertained — including the prospect of conservatives who are ready and willing to criticize big business.

Eric Cantor, the face of the GOP establishment, one of the party’s most prodigious fundraisers and the odds-on favorite to become the next speaker of the House, lost his Virginia Republican primary Tuesday to a challenger who promised, “I will fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful.”

 

Dave Brat, who defeated the number-two Republican in the House by a 56-44 margin, tore into big business almost as frequently as he did the incumbent. “I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers,” declared the challenger.

 

Image credit: www.businessinsider.com

Our Chronic Wage Stagnation, Symptoms and Treatments

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Decades of frozen wages relative to our expanding wealth is the root cause of many economic problems. More people falling into poverty, a shrinking middle class, declining retirement savings, increased welfare spending, higher unemployment, more aid to working families, declining government tax revenues, diminished funding for Social Security and Medicare, a sluggish economy (despite a record high stock market), slow job growth and heighten social tensions along the traditional fault lines of race, ethnicity and gender are among the many issues influenced by decades of wage stagnation.

Beginning in the late1970’s most American workers received only cost of living adjustments in their paychecks while their real earnings gradually diminished each year. Employers increased hourly wages to keep pace with inflation, but they suddenly stopped raising wages to reward workers for their productivity. Earned income has declined for most Americans as a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) This amounts to a dramatic and intentional redistribution of new wealth over the last 40 years. Nearly all this new wealth has gone to the rich and powerful.

The visual evidence of wage stagnation relative to hourly GDP is apparent in one powerful graph (below). You may have this it before.

hourly GDP vs Wage graph

 

SYMPTOMS

The effects of wage stagnation on our economy have been gradual and cumulative. Its impacts don’t raise red flags from one year to the next, but the cumulative effects are obvious. The trending rise in income inequality, for example, was missed entirely for 25 years, and then it still took another decade for it to catch the public’s attention.

According to USDA data on the real historical GDP and growth rates[i], the U.S. economy grew by $368 trillion between 1976 and 2013. That is a 109.4% rise in national wealth, more than a doubling of the national economy. Almost none of that wealth was shared with wage earners. If hourly wages continued to grow in proportion to hourly GDP, as it had for decades prior to the mid-70’s, the current median family income today would be close to $100,000 a year instead of the current $51,017 per year.[ii]

Think about that for a moment, and about all the implications for wage based taxes and payroll deductions. For simplicity sake, let’s say wages would have double if the workforce received productivity raises. That would significantly reduce the number of families currently eligible for taxpayer subsidies such as SNAP (food stamps), housing assistance, daycare and the like. At the same time the workforce would be generating much more income tax revenue.

Consider next the impact wage stagnation has had on payroll deductions. Social Security and Medicare premiums have not financially benefited from the growing economy. Double current wages and you double current revenues for these programs as well. Moreover, the economy has grown at an annual rate of 2.9% since 1976. If Social Security and Medicare had benefited from this new annual wealth, the effect on current revenue projections would be profound. We would not be looking at a projected shortfall any time in the future.

The impact of wage stagnation on consumer spending is perhaps the most insidious problem. While worker wages have stagnated, the production of goods and services has grown. How is that possible? Some of this production is sold in foreign markets, but domestic markets are still primary. And it is here where economic theories have done a disservice.

A generation of economists and business leaders have treated consumers and workers as if they were not one and the same. This has fractured how we look at the economy and given rise to the notion that labor is just another business commodity. It disguises the fact that labors wages fuel consumer spending. Wages help drive the whole economy while wage stagnation reduces consumption over time.

To overcome this effect we have seen the need for mother’s to enter the workforce in mass, and for banks to invent credit cards to bolster consumer spending. These and other creative measures can no longer forestall the decline in worker spending. So while the financial markets ride the tide of America’s growing wealth, the fortunes of those who have been cut off from that new wealth continue to slip beneath the waves.

As for social tensions among different racial, ethnic and gender groups, the effect of stagnant wages relative to the nation’s growing wealth creates a lifeboat mentality and zero sum thinking. For the first time in many generations parents are worried that their children will have less in life than they had. When the whole pie is shrinking a bigger slice by one person means a smaller piece for others. This thinking exists because for over 95% of wage earners the economic pie hasn’t grown in 40 years.

TREATMENTS

You may not be ready to accept chronic wage stagnation as “the syndrome” underlying our economic woes, but it’s also true from my experience that having solutions (or “treatment options”) at hand often makes it easier to identifying the problems they resolve. With that in mind, I want to offer some solutions to America’s low wage conundrum.

One direct approach to raising worker wages is the one currently being discussed in the public dialogue, raising the minimum wage. This benefits the lowest paid workers and also puts pressure on employers to increase pay for other lower wage earners. The current target of $10.10 per hour would still leave many families at or below the poverty line. Workers making the new minimum wage would still be eligible for some public assistance for the working poor. While passing a minimum wage law is at least possible, this option is not a systemic solution to wage stagnation. Even index the minimum wage to inflation would not compensate for declining wages relative to GDP growth.

Another direct approach to ending wage stagnation is to pass a living wage law. This would set the minimum wage at a level that would allow everyone working full-time to be financial independent from government assistance, including subsidized health care. A living wage law could be indexed to the local cost of living where a person is employed. This is idea because it takes into account local economic conditions which are determined by market forces rather than government edict. But passing a living wage law in the current political climate is unlikely.

There are other ways of encouraging wage growth that don’t involve direct wage regulation. One idea would require the federal government to recoup, through business income tax rebates, the cost of taxpayer supported aid to working families from profitable businesses that pay employees less than a living wage. Employee wages are easily identified through individual tax returns. Eligibility for taxpayer supported subsidies are relatively easy to estimate as well, so recouping public funding to support a company’s workforce is a practical possibility. A portion of the recovered money could be paid into Social Security and Medicare to make up for lost revenue due to substandard wages.

A welfare cost recovery plan could gain popular support given the growing public resentment towards taxpayer funded social programs. At least 40% of all full-time employees in America currently require some form of taxpayer assistance to financially survive. More importantly, this plan places the burden of supporting the workforce back on profitable businesses where the responsibility lies.

Another solution has been suggested by former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, and others. They support proposed legislation, SB 1372, that sets corporate taxes according to the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of the company’s typical worker. Corporations with low pay ratios get a tax break. Those with high ratios get a tax increase. This would effectively index worker wages to CEO compensation in a carrot and stick approach to corporate taxes. The details and merits of this approach is outlined elsewhere.[iii]

Do U.S. businesses have the financial capacity to offer higher wages to their workers? I would like to answer that question with another graph that you may also have seen before.

Credit: Blue Point Trading http://www.blue-point-trading.com/blue-point-trading-market-view-june-07-2012

There is a clock ticking somewhere in the background on this issue. There is a point somewhere in the future where it will be too late to fix wage stagnation through the normal democratic processes. History has proven this to be true. We are not at that point now, but we are past the point treating wage stagnation earnestly.

______________________________________________________

[i] Link: Real Historical Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

[ii] As of 2013 the median family income of $51,017 x GDP growth of 109.4% = $104,796 per year

[iii]  Link: Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

NSA vs. Citizens of the World.

by Brian T. Lynch

Before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the clandestine activity of the National Security Agency (NSA) and selectively released documents to the press, no one had any idea what the NSA was up to. This apparently included the President of the United States and the Congressional Select Committee on Intelligence that is charged with agency oversight.

The Select Committee on Intelligence initially denied the validity of Snowden’s claims because they, too, were in the dark about NSA operations. Once the Committee got a hold of Snowdon’s documents and investigated, they learned that the NSA concealed a great deal about its operations from Congress and even lied to Congress on occasions to protect its secrets. Since them more has surfaced from release of Snowden’s NSA documents. Among the revelations:

  • NSA engaged in mass surveillance of US citizens as well as the citizens of allied nations.
  • NSA collected metadata on all US domestic phone calls and subjected them to powerful meta analysis that can reveal very personal information about citizens not connected in any way with terrorism.
  • NSA collected and analyzed all, or nearly all domestic and foreign emails.
  • NSA engaged in domestic spy on human rights organizations, also not connected in any way with international. terrorism or criminal activity.
  • NSA spied on other international human rights organizations.
  • NSA breached its own protocols many times and targeted innocent civilians for scrutiny.
  • NSA tapped the personal cell phones of world leaders who are our allies.
  • NSA listened in on lawyers negotiating international trade agreements.
  • NSA spied on the UN and on the UN Children’s Fund.
  • NSA broke the encryption code that protects financial business transactions worldwide.
  • NSA has (and may still be) provided U.S. law enforcement agencies with secretly and illegally obtained evidence in domestic criminal cases, even non-violent criminal cases, without ever informing the defendant or the courts of the evidence or its source.

AND this is not a comprehensive list of the illegal, unconstitutional or questionable activities in which the NSA has engaged.

Discussion about these issues began to take place for the very first time only after Snowden brought them to light. These discussions are now taking place worldwide, because before Snowden, no one knew these things were even happening.

Here in the U.S., the investigation of Snowden’s claims has prompted Congress and the Obama Administration to being reorganizing and reforming the NSA. It’s abusive practices are being curtailed. President Obama has personally and publically apologized to world leaders for the conduct of the NSA. Other nations are now exploring the issues raised by Snowden’s revelations and considering how NSA technology in the wrong hand might threaten human rights.

These are the fact that are now out in the open. The main stream media has been far to silent and passive in covering this scandal. Most people remain unaware of the scope and significance of the NSA’s illegal activities. This agency has significantly violated our constitution and our personal civil rights. With or without the help of the national press, we have a responsibility as citizens to explore these issues and pass judgment on the activities or our government.

Here is the full video link of Edward Snowden’s testimony on April 8, 2014, before the Council of Europe hearing on Mass Surveillance and Whistle Blowing. It is compelling testimony with serious implications, and demonstrates once again, that the rest of the civilized world is having an important discussion about the threat posed by mass surveillance which is absent here in the United States. Our main stream media gave little attention to this event. The United States Government was invited to participate in these discussions, but declined.
http://clients.dbee.com/coe/webcast/index.php?id=20140408-1&lang=en

To be clear, no one disputes the fact that Mr. Snowden broke laws when he turned over classified documents to the press. What he did was clearly illegal. But his actions should be weighed against the greater good that may have resulted from these disclosures. Yes, the law is the law, but justice is our goal and mercy is our higher value. We may want to strike a balance in this case between what laws Snowden broke and the harm that would have followed if NSA abuses had not been brought to our attention. Public discussion and ultimately public opinion following civil dialogue should the final judge in this case.

With respect to prosecution, how do we proceed when government wrong doing is at the heart of the case? I believe this is very much a matter for public debate to seek a popular consensus on his fate. We, the people, should be the jury here. We would be abdicating our responsibilities as citizens to close our eyes and let the establishment laws deal with him when we are all plaintiffs and the government itself is the accused.

Obama to Expand Executive Authority, Says Ezra Klein

by Brian T. Lynch – January 30, 2014

Yesterday evening Ezra Klein spoke at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, as their guest lecturer. Ezra Klein is a journalist, blogger (Wonk Blog), political analyst and occasional guest star on MSNBC’s news opinion shows. At age 29 he is one of the most influential journalists in Washington, and he is currently creating his own internet news organization in collaboration with Vox Media.

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Klein focused his remarks on the broad structures of modern American politics that explain the context for President Obama’s State of the Union address the night before. The President’s address, he started, was notable for what it didn’t contain. It didn’t contain any reference to getting any big new initiatives passed in Congress.  President Obama has conceded that anything he proposes would be blocked from passage. Instead, Obama proposed plans to accomplish what he can through executive orders. He is using, and perhaps expanding his executive powers. The other remarkable feature of the President’s address was the specificity and scope of these executive plans. Klein spoke to both of these issues.

By objective measures, according to Klein, the U.S. Congress is the most polarized it has been in a long time. He pointed out that polarization is not synonymous with rancorous debates or disagreements. Polarization is a measure of the overlap between two political parties, the less overlap, the greater the polarization. He pointed out that in the 1950’s and early ’60’s the Democratic party was comprised of moderates, liberals from the North and conservatives from the South. The Republican party was also a blend of conservatives, liberals and moderates. Under these conditions there were pitched debates both between and within both parties. There were also ways to forge compromises between like minded representatives within each party.

The dynamic that blended the two parties this way was race, according to historians Klein cited. Once the civil rights act was passed and progress was made in racial integration, the Democrats lost the South and the two parties began reshuffling. Liberals moved into the Democratic Party and conservatives moved into the Republican Party. This resulted in less overlap and lead to the polarization we have today.  In Klein’s view, the most conservative Democrat today has less in common with the most liberal Republican in that party, and vice versa. There is so little overlap that compromise is nearly impossible to achieve.

Party polarization and the inability to compromise leads directly to congressional stalemate (which Klein begrudging called “gridlock”).  Under current conditions, when a minority party helps the majority pass legislation it makes the majority party look strong and effective, thereby improving their chances of being re-elected. Conversely, when the minority party obstructs the majority, it makes the majority party look ineffective and powerless causing voters to switch allegiances and elect the minority party.  This, according to Klein, explains why the current congress is unable to act.

Without structural changes, such as the rise of a third party, Klein sees little hope for improvements in congress. The most powerful branch of government, the legislative branch, is at an impasse. According to Klein, that doesn’t mean nothing will be getting done. As he sees it, when congress can’t exercise its powers, the authority and power of the other two branches of government grows to fill the void.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (but it does seem to require greater vigilance on our part). This brought Klein to his second observation about Obama’s State-of-the-Union address; the detailed account of where the Administration would be taking actions without the Congress.

The first two years of the Obama presidency saw the passage of more huge and important pieces of legislation than at any other time since the Lyndon Johnson administration. These are game changing initiatives with far reaching implications for American society. For example, the ACA has many little noticed, but broadly stated provision that will eventually re-invent (and improve) how treatment of common illnesses will be approached by doctors in the future.

Klein pointed out that most laws are written in general legalese that still requires Executive Branch interpretation and the creation of rules and policies to create an operating administrative framework. The 2,000 page Affordable Care Act, he said, has already generated tens of thousands of pages of rules, regulations and policies in a still unfolding process actuating the law.  It is the creation of policy and administrative regulations that gives chief executives in state and federal government their most effective way to exercise power.

President Obama just announce that this is exactly what he intends to do. I will uses his executive powers to permanently shape  the policies and interpretations of the legislation he got passed in his first term. He intends to accomplish the goals for which he was elected through the constitutional powers he has as the administrator-in-chief of the federal bureaucracy.

(Note: Once in place, the rules and administrative codes created to animate laws are, by intentional design, hard to alter. This is actually the role and purpose of a bureaucracy, to be a bulwark against the capricious dictates of power or transient swings of populist politics. Bureaucracies are often maligned for being cumbersome and slow to change, yet this is also their greatest contribution towards stable and coherent governance. This fact is little understood and seldom appreciated.)

Much of the beltway media has interpreted the President’s address as an admission that he is already a lame duck president, but nothing could be further from the truth. Klein believes that the rest of his term will produce enormous changes and benefits through executive actions. Because these changes will be happening in the nitty-gritty of agency bureaucracies it will be difficult for the beltway press to report on the changes.

The Washington media, according to Klein, has a structural bias towards the much easier reporting on Congress. The legislative branch is centralized, accessible and filled with characters and conflicts that sell the news. Administrative law is dry, decentralized and much less accessible. Still, this is where Klein sees the real action over the next few years. Perhaps this is where he intends to focus his attentions as he moves to create his new internet news venture with Vox Media. Time will tell.

Tyranny of the Minority – Part 2: Rise of the Neo-Confederate Secessionists

Graycoat Conservatives – The Neo-Confederate Secessionists

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

 They are still small in number, but spread widely across the county. They are articulate, highly motivated and influential members within the Tea Party, the Christian right movement, Libertarians groups and nationalist groups in every state. They are the philosophic rear guard of the conservative movement  pulling conservatives ever further to the right. They may not have a central organization, but they do have a significant social media presence. They remain under the radar of the national press which fails to take them seriously. The best way to find them is to type “secessionist” into your internet search engine.  They are the Neo-Confederates, a polarizing counter-force behind the growing rift in the Republican Party.

The secessionists anti-government interests overlap with the corporate conservative wing of the  Republican Party, and both groups favor free market economics, but the graycoat conservatives envision a very different America. So while wealthy conservatives continue to fund the Tea Party, graycoat conservatives are busy winning over hearts and minds to their radical alternative.

The following graphic is taken from one of the many secessionist Websites. It maps the number of secessionist petitioners from around the country. In effect it shows where they are most active and how they are distributed across the country. It doesn’t represent how popular or unpopular the movement might be.


Plotting whitehouse.gov secession petitions

Sessionist Petition Activity

Signers to White House secession petitions by county. Color based on proportion of residents signing, with darker colors showing higher levels of secession support. Current as of 9am on Saturday, November 24th. Works best in Chrome or Safari.

Update: It looks like the secession petition movement has peaked.

Since Election Day, more than 60 petitions have been posted on the White House’s website requesting that states be allowed to withdraw from the United States and create their own government. As of November 13, 2012, the following states had active petitions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virginias, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. [http://www.unc.edu/~ncaren/secessionists/]


A 2009 Zogby poll quoted on a number of secessionist Websites found that 20% of American’s believe states have a right to secede from the Union.  Just today (12/18/13) Michael Hill, President of one of the Southern groups called League of the South, posted ten reasons for secession. They are:


  1. The U. S. government is an organized criminal enterprise, secession is the only way to return to legitimate government
  2. The U. S. economy is failing, secession makes economic sense
  3. The South’s unique history and culture is worth protecting
  4. The criminal nature of the bank bailouts and the Fed
  5. A dysfunctional national electoral system, secession may be the only way to restore integrity to elections
  6. Third World immigration into the South, secession removes the federal government’s interference and lack of performance
  7. Organic community vs. the globalism of the elites
  8. The implementation of an American police/surveillance state
  9. The Christian South v. secular America, secession provides the opportunity to return to Our Founding Principles

10. Because we think we can rule ourselves better than we are being ruled by DC, secession is a path to American Liberty http://dixienet.org/rights/2013/reasons_for_secession.php]


What  these secessionist groups most have in common is a desire  to facilitate the collapse of the Federal Government and the breakup of the Union of States.  They see this as the natural and inevitable course of history. As they see it, every great empire has followed this path.

applepie

They oppose all forms of collectivism and eschew society as we know it. Among some groups there is a distinct “cultural” component. All groups seem to  reject  democratic majority rule.  As one of them put it to me, ”  

According to one person who wrote me, they are, “… committed to the cause of individual liberty and [individual] sovereignty. [They] would prefer secession, to revolution.”  But revolution it will be if the majority opinion of the Americans go against them. They have a strong patriotic connection to our founding fathers even though their commitment to our Union is weak. Pin them down and they reluctantly choose the union of states over a return to a confederacy, but only if the Federal governments control over the states is weakened and individuals are free from all federal interference.

If you start to pin these folks down in a debate they squirm away. They are viscerally opposed to the our system of government, their anti-federal rage concealed only by their passion for an extreme interpretation of individual rights and freedoms. These passions are covered over by a thin veneer of selective scholarship. Scratch the scholarship and their passion flares. Challenge their constitutional interpretations and they circle the wagons.

They have no sense of responsibility towards society and nothing but contempt for majority rule. They believe the majority of American’s is just another special interest group, and one that is biased against minority rights. When majorities opinions prevail they force minorities to accede to their will which violates their rights. This is how they interpret the Constitution.

The only legitimate role they see for the federal government is the protection of the individual’s right to follow their conscience within Constitutionally defined boundaries. One major flashpoint seems to be taxes. They don’t want to pay any federal taxes, but when pressed say they agree to contribute only for spending within the limits of their narrow interpretation of the governments enumerated powers.

They resent being forced to pay taxes for national parks, education, environmental protection, food and drug administration, foreign diplomacy administration or anything else that isn’t specifically named in our Constitution. They claim a sovereign right not to pay for anything outside of the federal governments enumerated powers, as they define it. They reject all collectivism. For example they resent that the Federal government spends any money on highways and bridges, believing federal spending should be restricted to “postal roads.”

As one person wrote: ” For [the federal government] to “do” it must take. That violates rights. The only function of [government] is protect rights, not “do.”

Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is the source of their narrow interpretation of federal powers. Their interpretation provides all the justification they require.  Below is a reprint from one of their Websites that lists the enumeration of federal powers which they feel the government has exceeded.  These powers are listed on the Tenth Amendment Center Website where the members call themselves “Tenthers.:  [http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/]

Disdain for the Federal Government or any large democracy is a central feature for these neo-confederate groups.  They see majority as a special interest and would strip the government of its ability to show any favoritism to all special interests. This suggests that the only role of government must be the protection of the individuals rights yet they may concede collective rights to businesses. Perhaps this is why it is so important that corporations be viewed as people. It gives them individual status while denying other types of organization status as a collective entity.


 MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE PAPER V

http://middleburyinstitute.org/rightsandfreedoms.html

March 2007 – Introduction to “Minimal Rights and Freedoms of Individuals in a Sovereign State”

Because questions keep coming up as to the kinds of states that secessionist organizations are working toward, and because each organization in the movement has an interest in the objectives of any other organization, it seemed to us here that it might be appropriate to send out a suggested platform of the rights and freedoms that might be guaranteed to individuals in any future seceded state. [SNIP]  There are important issues here and we hope you take them seriously.

MINIMAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS OF INDIVIDUALS IN A SOVEREIGN STATE

Rights to

                     Life, liberty, security
Equality before the law
Trial before competent tribunal, due process, counsel, appeal
Possess property and not be arbitrarily deprived thereof
Periodic elections with universal adult suffrage
Secession by any coherent unit

Freedoms of
Speech, opinion, expression in any media
Peaceable assembly, association
Belief, thought, religion, worship
Movement within any state, and to leave and return

Freedoms from
Slavery or servitude
Discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion,
political belief, nationality, property, or birth
Torture or degrading treatment
Arbitrary arrest or detention
Invasion of privacy
Arbitrary deprivation of citizenship
Any action by the state to destroy or deny any of these rights and freedoms

Signators:

Middlebury Institute, February 2007
Second Vermont Republic, March 2007
Southern National Congress Committee, March 2007


The role of a state to infringe on individual rights is not well thought out among members of this group. Because states are smaller they believe them to be inherently less intrusive in the lives of individuals. They consider themselves to have an individual right to not be “interfered with” by any government, but apparently feel that smaller, state governments would be easier to control.  In a large constitutional democracy, such as the United States, a majority opinion is viewed as a form of tyranny against individual dissenters, even if that majority opinion is deemed constitutional according the the Supreme Court. On the other hand, they don’t see anything wrong with a minority group preventing the majority from governing in opposition to them. They see this as their right and duty as “soverigien citizens.” It isn’t clear whether this is true only when the minority feels the government is legislating beyond its enumerated powers, or if they claim this right under all circumstances.  As one person put it:

“But you don’t see that resisting (but not compelling) action from a majority isn’t a tyranny of the minority? The minority isn’t forcing the majority to do anything, only to refrain from forcing the minority to do something. The rights of any minority supersede the wants or needs of any majority.”

In the face debt ceiling financial cliffs, government shut downs, and the nearly total inability of Congress to pass legislation, it is time to recognize that there are forces on the far right, and in Congress, who see this as successful strategy.  Their intentions are malevolent and quite contrary to the motivations most often attributed to them by political analysts in the main stream press. It is time to pay attention to these groups and their impact on American politics. A failure to open a public debate that directly confronts both the graycoat secessionists and the corporate elite now would be a huge mistake.

Tyranny of the Minority – Losing Majority Rule

Part 1 – Losing Majority Rule

Most people pay attention to pocketbook issues that affect our family or retirement, but quite understandably avoid the rancorous politics we see on TV. There is a sense that government is failing because elected officials can’t agree and the country is evenly divided, but many important issues do get rationally settled in the opinion of vast majorities of the public.

For example,a large majority agree that global warming is happening and we are causing it in some way. Almost 90% of us agree we spend too much on defense. Large majorities believe we should generate more electricity from wind and solar. About 80% of us believe there should be universal background checks on gun sales and almost everyone agrees that big banks caused the great recession. Despite a near consensus on these and other issues there is gridlock in Washington. 

One explanation is that there is not a lot of passion behind these majority views, so meaningful change against an organized and well funded opposition is out of reach. In the face of majority agreement, Congress fails to act, or act contrary to the will of its citizens. On the surface it may seem like political gridlock between evenly matched forces, but this is an illusion. There are many issues supported by majorities in both parties that can’t even get a hearing in Congress because a tiny minority who oppose it are able to kill it. This is tyranny by the minority when the majority isn’t allowed to govern. To understand what’s happening really requires us to pierce the noise of partisanship and media bias. 

The voting majority has lost its ability to govern. In frustration more and more ordinary citizens feel alienated or betrayed, leaving us vulnerable to the radical fringe.

MajRuleProtest

Evidencethat the majority has lost the ability to govern is everywhere. The smallest special interest group, the wealthy elite, are by far the most influential and obvious force in Congress. CEO’s of major corporations testified in Congress that they don’t want or need tax subsidies and Congress increases their subsidies. Wall Street asks for and got billions in bailout money with no strings attached. Try to attach some strings or implement substantial financial reform and Congress kills it, either outright or later on through the budget process. There is evidence of the failure of majority rule in the way the filibuster has shut down open debate and killed popular legislation. There is evidence in the inability of Congress to debate and vote on immigration reform, which is popular and has strong bi-partisan support. The debt ceiling crisis, the budget cliffs and the government shutdown are all signs that the majority has lost control of the federal government. The growing assault on voting rights, recently passed anti-abortion legislation and the imposition of emergency managers over democratically elected city and municipal leaders are other examples. 

The truth is forces on the political spectrum are not evenly matched. Many political battles are asymmetrical. The nations shift to the right is mostly due to the success of highly motivated and well funded conservative action groups. For example there are right wing Christian groups opposed to secular society and what they see as moral decay. These groups promote socially conservative issues. There are Tea Party groups opposed to taxes. They promote free market capitalism and limited government. Then there are many extreme nationalists groups, gun rights groups, militial groups and the like. All of these groups have different aims but are drawn together by strong anti-tax, anti-government sentiments and by at least a laissez-faire view of capitalism. 

Money and organizational clout for these action groups comes mostly from wealthy capitalists who want to weaken the power of government to tax and regulate commerce. There is an anti-government alignment of interests between the wealthy elite and each of these groups. 

There is another, less visible segment in these groups as well, a far right group with a welll defined ideology but no central organization. These are the real insurgents fighting for control of the Republican Party. Their goal is to dismantle the Federal government as we know it, limiting its powers to the narrowest extent possible under their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. They are the members of the Tea Party who pull it further to the right. They are the members of conservative Christian right groups that fan the flames of anti-government rhetoric. Some belong to hate groups, conservative issues groups or libertarian organizations. Everywhere they show up they agitate to pull the organization further to the ideological right by sowing dissatisfaction with our Federal government. They seek an individual level of freedom that transends any personal responsibility to society or majority rule. 

Who are these far right ideologues and what do they want?

Imagine a future in which our Federal government is forced to cut back on every service or function not specifically named in the U.S. Constitution. What if, to keep Wyoming and a few other Mid-West and South-Western states from seceding, we give up our national parks. These are sold off to corporation such as Disney, ExxonMobil, Boise Cascade, Massey Energy Corp. and various land development corporations.  Under this scenario Texas or some other states may have already seceded and we now have to worry about the nuclear armed country of Texas on our southern border.

Imagine the Federal government no longer able fund departments and agencies over the objection of a minority of sovereign citizens. Gone are the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, Transportation.. all gone and replaced by individual state control, subject to the ability to fund them over the objections of “sovereign citizens” in each state.

The Environmental protection agency, The FDA, FCC, SEC and almost all federal regulatory agencies would all be gone. These are considered outside the enumerated powers of the Federal government. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are obviously gone as well. It is up to the sovereign citizens of each state to decide what they decide to fund or not fund within their own state.

In this future all Federal powers would be limited strictly to military defense, protection of the rights of individuals with respect to constitutional liberties and settling interstate commerce disputes among the states. In this future citizens could target where their tax money goes. In effect, majority rule would be subject to minority consent, in fact to consent by each sovereign citizen’s consent.

 Continued in Part 2 – Meet the Gray Coat Conservatives.

(Part 2 will detail the belief system of the neo-confederate conservative)