Wednesday, July 21, 2021

BTRTN: No Taxation Without Equal Representation

For Democrats who are furious watching a lying and cheating minority party exert outsized influence over our government, who are weary of paying more in taxes and yet receiving less in representation, and who are fundamentally alienated from a government that is dysfunctional and rarely reflects the clear will of the majority, Steve has an idea.

  

Of late, I have noted the emergence of a sagging, defeatist, and resigned mindset among my Democratic friends.

After the initial relief of defeating of Donald Trump, Democrats now are watching in fatigue, helplessly, as Republicans wage a full-on multi-front war against our democracy… lying, cheating, and stealing to win back Congress and the White House.

Beyond the anger my Democratic friends feel at the Republican attacks on democracy, there is a sense of despair. Despair that the government of the United States is broken to the point where it rarely reflects the will of the majority. Democrats won the Presidential election by seven million votes, won the House and the Senate, and – six months into the Biden Presidency – have only one legislative achievement to show for it. 

Americans overwhelmingly favor action background checks for gun sales, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and believe in the imminent threat of climate change, but none of these majority beliefs translate into significant government action. Rather, Trump squandered four precious years to act on climate change, and the apparently relocated Seattle-on-the-Mojave is now shocking us with the immediate impact of our government's blasé and cavalier inattention.

And – still more painfully – Democrats are frustrated that there is little that they can do to stop the Republican assault or increase the effectiveness of government. There appear to be two reasons for this feeling.

The first is a matter of attitude. There is a growing frustration among Democrats that Republicans cheat to win and Democrats play by the rules and lose.

Mitch McConnell has so little respect for the customs and traditions of our Constitutional government that he denied President Obama his right to make a Supreme Court appointment. But the Democrats are such goodie-goodies – or wimps, depending on your perspective -- they won’t even eliminate the filibuster in order to prevent the enactment of Jim Crow voter suppression laws throughout the south. Democrats would rather preserve the filibuster – which you will not find in the Constitution – than protect the voting rights of millions of people of color.

Republican President Donald Trump was impeached twice, both for actions intended to illegally sway or overturn free and fair elections in the United States. The overwhelming majority of Congressional Republican did not support either his impeachment or conviction, perceiving it as politically disadvantageous to both their personal careers and the party’s long term prospects. The result: Donald Trump was not held accountable for twice betraying his country and his oath of office.

Republicans are more concerned with getting their way than adhering to the Constitution. Democrats are so fixated on playing by the rules that they are allowing Republicans to destroy the Constitution. Michelle Obama famously articulated this schism in saying that “when they go low, we go high.” Nobody respects and admires Michelle Obama more than I, but it is time to consider that such a slogan would not have done much good for the Weimar Republic.

But, importantly, attitude is not the only reason Democrats feel beaten.

The second is the very real matter of government structure and design. The Founding Fathers intended to create a structure of government that prevented a malevolent majority from completely subjugating the minority. What has become clear in the past twelve years – I’ll date it to when McConnell announced that the “single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” – is that the Founding Fathers inadvertently created a structure than enables a malevolent minority to exert control over the majority.

Let’s discuss how we got there.

First, there is the Electoral College, which we have to thank for the disastrous military adventurism of and financial catastrophe of the George W. Bush administration, and for Donald Trump, whose refusal to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic resulted in an epic genocide of American citizens, and whose “Big Lie” now threatens our democracy itself.

The Electoral College, which does not allocate electors to states according to population, is exhibit “A” for the madness of the design flaws in our Constitution. The Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the last eight elections. And yet three times in this century, a Republican has gained the Oval Office.

Yes, Democrats, your tax dollars are paying for a vestigial, skewed, and antiquated structure that dramatically decreases the likelihood that your candidate will win.

Once upon a time, the Electoral College was intended to entrust the election of the President to an elite group of citizens who were more informed and educated than the masses, and these individuals were empowered to make their own choices for President and Vice President. But that rationale for the existence of the Electoral College evaporated years ago when laws were passed to require electors to honor the wishes of the popular vote.

So the only purpose the Electoral College serves today is to create a weighting system that counts the votes of smaller, rural states as proportionately more important than the large states. If the Electoral College were based solely on population, it would precisely mirror the House of Representatives. But in the Electoral College, each state gets an elector for each representative in Congress – one for each Representative in the House, and one for each of two Senators. This, by definition, dramatically increases the clout per person in smaller states. In the following chart, you can see that four tiny Red States have nearly twice the number of electors-per-voter than Blue Connecticut. 

State                    Population                 Electors                     Electors Per 1mm Pop

Wyoming                 581,075                            3

North Dakota           770,026                            3

South Dakota          896,581                             3

Montana               1,085,004                             3

COMBINED        3,332,686                           12                      3.6


Connecticut          3,552,281                            7                      2.0

 

So right about now, you hear the usual refrain: “Hey, if you want to eliminate the Electoral College, you must follow the process for amendments outlined in the Constitution.” Good luck.

You see, the second grievous flaw in the very design of our government is that it is essentially impossible to amend the Constitution. From the day that the U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788 until July 1, 1971, there were 26 amendments made to the Constitution. In the past fifty years, there has been one, and even that was simply a quirky ratification of an amendment originally proposed in 1792.

This impasse exists because the voting majorities required to amend the Constitution – two thirds of the House and Senate, or three quarters of state legislatures – are simply unattainable in our radically polarized society. Red states would never agree to abolish the Electoral College, as they are keenly aware that it is skewed to their advantage. These states do not represent the majority of voters in the country… but they represent enough to make two-third majorities unthinkable.

Given the political climate in the United States today, it is essentially impossible to amend the Constitution… even though there is an overwhelming popular desire to do so. A recent poll showed that a robust majority of Americans – 61% -- favor the elimination of the Electoral College.

So: to those who say we should eliminate the Electoral College by amending the Constitution, let me observe that this is functionally the equivalent of telling the Colonists in 1776, “Hey, if you have a problem with paying taxes to the monarchy without representation, just write a letter with your grievances to the King and he’ll get back to you.”

Some of the imbalance in our government is due to legislative concepts that the Founding Fathers never imagined. Gerrymandering enables a state legislature to skew the geography of voting districts in order to enhance their party’s representation in Washington. “Filibuster” is a word that does not appear in the Constitution. It was created for the sole objective of enabling the minority party to prevent the majority from enacting legislation. 

So in terms of both attitude and structure, we now live in a country where a small minority is able to exert its will over the majority.

The consequences are devastating. Republicans, who oppose science, who deny reality, who seek to restrict the voting rights of Black and Hispanic Americans, and who are now actively undermining the democracy of the United States have more power in the government than Democrats.

Yes, Democrats: you are paying your tax dollars for a government that is dysfunctional, in permanent gridlock, and is enables a corrupt minority to exert outsized control over our nation.

You are paying for Mitch McConnell to subvert the obligations of Senate Majority leader when he refused to allow the Senate to consider Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. By McConnell’s logic, a Senate Majority leader would never allow a President of the opposing party to name a Justice to the Supreme Court. Who really believes that the Founding Fathers intended that?

Yes, Democrats, your tax dollars are paying for a system of government that allowed a Republican to veto the right of a Democratic president to nominate a Supreme Court justice. You paid for a court that is now a 6-3 conservative lock in a nation where only 25% of voters are registered Republicans. 

Guess what? Dark money is more important to too many of our elected leaders than your tax dollars. Seven in ten Americans want to see the creation of a national database for gun ownership. Will it ever happen? Our government has proven repeatedly and in sickening, horrifying detail that it would rather allow hot metal bullets to tear open the flesh of six-year-olds than give up the spigot of NRA donations. We have a government that can’t even defend a kindergartner from an AR-15, and yet we continue to pay for it. 

Did you know that your tax dollars paid to build the internet? The United States government funded the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which was the foundation for today’s internet. So, yes, your tax dollars built the foundation for what is now an out-of-control fire hose of deceit that enables Republicans, Russians, Facebook, and Fox News to profit off of and/or benefit from the radical dissemination of falsehood. Your government abdicated control over the internet, which you paid for.

A Republican President, elected without a majority of the popular vote, tried to pretend that the Coronavirus pandemic was nothing to worry about out of his concern that the measures needed to contain the pandemic would damage the economy and therefore hurt his re-election prospects. As a result of his administration’s failure to heed the warnings of scientists and doctors, the United States has suffered the most COVID-19 deaths of any nation on earth. It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of those deaths were completely preventable had the President of the United States been focused on the safety of the citizens rather than his own re-election. That fits my definition of genocide.

In short: your tax dollars paid for a Federal government that failed monumentally on the most essential task of government: to protect its citizens.

And recently Joe Biden announced that he was going to order additional Federal aid in an attempt to increase the percentage of vaccinations in Mississippi. Yes, people in Mississippi refuse to get vaccinated, so Blue States will have to pay still more tax dollars in medical aid so that Red States preserve their right to ignore science, endanger healthcare providers, and prevent our society from achieving an effective level of heard immunity. You are paying for that.

You do actually pay taxes, don’t you?

Just asking, because your government is so incompetent, and your country is so pervasively corrupt, that people like Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos don’t pay taxes at all. You and I are among the millions of people who are played for fools because we actually think it is a citizen’s duty to pay taxes, while so many of the richest Americans can find the lawyers and accountants and lobbyists who enable them to justify paying nothing. Yes, you live in a country where the President and the richest man did not pay taxes… but you do. Sucker.

Which brings me to my final point… and here is where it actually gets crazy.

We have explained how Democrats have – by design, by hook, and by crook – less power in determining the direction of the Federal government than Republicans.

But, mathematically, Blue States pay more into the Federal government than they get back, and more than Red States pay into the Federal government.

According to data the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government’s 2019 Report on fiscal policy as reported on www.howmuch.net, 40 out of 50 states actually receive more money from the Federal Government than they pay in Federal taxes. How is that mathematically possible, you ask? The analyst notes that when you run a trillion-dollar national debt annually, you actually can have 40 out of 50 states extract more than they put in. Another wonderful example of your government, hard at work, rolling up a debt that will make it even harder for your great grandchildren to afford the desperate measures that will be needed to stave off climate change disaster.

Now, are those ten states that put in more than they take out just some random hodgepodge with no clear ideological orientation? Decidedly not.

Ranked in order of the states sending Washington the most per capita, we find Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Washington, Nebraska, and Colorado.

Eight of ten are blue states… states that voted for Biden in 2020.

Only four states in the nation pay over 15% more into the Federal government than they receive back: Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York, four of the bluest states in the nation.

Remember poor Connecticut, the state that has more population than four Midwestern Red States, but roughly half the representation in the Electoral College? Connecticut also tops the list of states paying in more than it gets back, contributing an astounding 34% more in Federal taxes than is returned. Meanwhile, Aabama, West Virginia, and Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky get $2.00 back from the Federal government for every dollar they put in.

Hey, if you live in Connecticut (I do), you must feel really hosed (I do).  

For all the cloying boasts out of the Lone Star State about how Texans don’t need the Federal government, here’s a fun fact: Texas takes out more in Federal money than it puts in. Blue states subsidize Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick all those other gas-bag Austin powers.

Please do not misunderstand. Progressive Democrats deeply believe that people who have been born into privilege or have achieved a certain level of wealth have a debt to society. The wealthy should pay more to help the less fortunate. Absolutely.

But that’s different from what we are talking about today.

Where progressive Democrats should draw the line is in subsidizing a government that by its very design and practice is allowing an authoritarian, anti-science, pro-gun, increasingly violent minority to impose its will on the majority.

Yes, Democrats, Blue States are paying more in taxes than Red States for the privilege of a Federal government that is hopelessly broken, stunningly incompetent, shockingly corrupt, lurching dangerously toward authoritarian rule, and you are wondering what more you can do than frantically mail post cards and sending a notable percentage of your income to Act Blue.

What, exactly, can we do about it?

Here’s a hint: if your dry cleaner returned your shirts with three ripped, two not ironed, and one not even cleaned, you wouldn’t tolerate it. You’d call Visa and tell them to hold payment on the dry cleaner until your dispute is settled.

Let’s try that with a dysfunctional, broken, corrupt Federal government that is no longer able to respond to the will of the majority.

Call it “No Taxation Without Equal Representation.”

Here’s the idea. We create an online petition and invite Democrats to sign. It demands that the United States Federal government take steps to fix the inherent inequities in the government by 2024. By signing the petition, the signers threaten to withhold paying Federal income tax if no serious effort is made to address the failures of our government to respond to the majority will.  

The petition would demand each of the following, all centered on the belief that every citizen have should have equal access to the vote, and that every vote should be equal in its impact:

·        1. Ending the Electoral College and electing the President by popular vote

·        2. Elimination of the filibuster and gerrymandering

·        3. Passage of national legislation to override state voter repression laws

·        4. Reconfiguring the Supreme Court to rectify McConnell’s block of Garland’s appointment

Woah, woah, wooooah, you say. Isn’t it illegal to not pay Federal taxes?

Actually, what we are proposing here is not illegal. By signing the petition, you’d be threatening to withhold tax payments in the future. No laws would be broken by a threat.

Five years ago, a similar concept to this was floated in Time Magazine. That article had done the legal research and made the following conclusion:

“Is signing a pledge to not pay taxes legal? Yes, if no overt act of conspiracy is involved, and the pledge itself is hypothetical. No one knows when or if it would be carried out.”

At the start, the goal would be to simply get signatures to make a profound statement of outrage that our government no longer acts on the will of the majority of its citizens.

Then, we wait and see if the government responds in any way to the threat. 

Sure, no question: if a small group of criminals (say, the entire Trump family, for example) surreptitiously evaded paying Federal Income tax for years, they should be arrested and taken to prison.

But if twenty million Americans said, in essence, “the government is a failing construct and I refuse to invest further in it,” good luck arresting, bringing trials, and incarcerating twenty million people. Good luck ignoring the point being made.

And what if the government failed to make any response whatsoever to the petition?

If twenty million people were to openly and publicly withhold their Federal taxes to make a principled stand about the failure of their government to be responsive to the will of the people, that qualifies as civil disobedience. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. did to save our country from the disgraceful segregation in our South, which was perfectly “legal” at the time. He publicly broke laws to point how racist those laws were.

Civil disobedience is to openly violate laws that one views to be unjust for the very purpose of drawing attention to a statute that is stupid, bigoted, racist, unfair, or just plain idiotic.

And blindly continuing to subsidize a failing government that does not reflect the will of the majority of the governed qualifies by any number of those criteria. 

It would be mildly comedic if everyone planned to pay their taxes on their Visa cards, and then immediately called Visa with instructions to suspend payment because the charges are “in dispute.” That way, there would be a record of the payment, and yet no funds would actually be paid to the government until the dispute is resolved. Mostly I would enjoy watching our incompetent government try to cope with 20,000,000 Visa payment disputes.

Or the petition could be written to say that the signers pledge to put their owed tax dollars in an escrow account, so it is clear that the issue is not willingness to pay the money. It is, rather, an adamant assertion that citizens receive what they are entitled to for the expenditure, which is pretty much the same standard that we hold for a vente frappacino, an oil change, or the transaction with the dry cleaner.

You might say, “gee… I’m not sure I want to sign a public petition… wouldn’t that be creating a visible public record of your protest that could be used to severely punish you down the road?”

By George, you’ve got it! George III, that is. Now you are getting a sense of the kind of courage it took to sign a petition called the Declaration of Independence. Back in those days, such a signature was tantamount to a sentence of hanging at dawn if the revolution failed.

Ever wonder why John Hancock’s signature is so much bigger than that of the other signers? Legend holds that he wanted the King to “be able to read it without his spectacles.” That took brass. The kind of brass we all need to show that we have no intention of losing the democracy and the freedom we  prize.

Maybe this idea is crazy.

But I, for one, am fed up with the Trumps, McConnells, and McCarthys who are lying, cheating, and stealing, actively subverting our democracy in order to secure permanent money and power, and Democrats have to hope and pray that Black Americans in Georgia will overcome insane hurdles to vote, and then that the Republican legislature in Georgia will not overturn the election.

But if there were 20,000,000 signatures on a petition saying that the people no longer believe that the government is worth paying for, a message would be sent.

Maybe a new dialogue might begin… an important dialogue.

The answer is not to despair that we are condemned to play by rules that are designed to thwart us.

The answer is to figure out how to change the rules.

No one is advocating the overtly repressive, deceitful, and criminal tactics that Republican politicians have used to undermine our democracy.

But it is time to stop fighting an armed militia bent on violent overthrow of our government with water pistols.

Do you have a better idea? I hope so. Send it to us. We’d love to hear it.

Because there are only three facts that matter.

The first is that is our government. We, the people.

The second is that it is broken. It doesn’t work. It rarely reflects the will of the majority.

And the third – wake up, citizens – is that the Republican Party is intent on destroying our democracy so that it can institutionalize an authoritarian regime that puts white conservatives in permanent control of our government.

Yes, sure… thank heaven for Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and all the Amy Klobuchars, Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, Katie Porters, Kamala Harrises, Adam Schiffs, Jamie Raskins, Reverand Warnocks, and Pete Buttigiegs who bring nobility, idealism, and the greatest of intention to their public service.

But face it, America. Your government is filled with brutally corrupt opportunists who are robbing you blind… literally of your money, and philosophically of your equal representation. 

It is our ongoing responsibility as citizens to reflect on the reality that our government and our Constitution have been so corroded by years of Republican abuse and Democratic neglect that it is now a susceptible to a collapse in the middle of the night that will end democracy in America.

Democrats, it is time stop acting like a wimpy, feckless, lazy condo board in Florida that does nothing as the underpinnings of our Constitutional government and our democracy are assaulted.

It is time to stand and be counted. 

No taxation without equal representation.

 

 

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4 comments:

  1. Getting a few people to think of a common new action 3 or 4 years away is tough. 20 million seems impossible. But you have different perspectives than I do ... what would it take to run a campaign and get 20 million to commit?

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