Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 30, 2014
Some years ago, William H. Gates, Sr. coauthored a book entitled Wealth and Our Commonwealth .[57]  Its message was that the estate tax, hated by many of the wealthy and their sycophants, is important not only for revenue but because "concentrations of wealth and power distort our democratic institutions and economic system and undermine social cohesion." Gates’ choice of the word "commonwealth" is interesting. Four of our states [58] are called commonwealths, a reflection presumably of the original meaning of the word: "Body politic founded on law for the common ‘weal,’ or good."[59]  However, dictionaries tell us that "commonwealth," meaning public welfare or the general good, is "archaic" or "obsolete."[60]   As with definition, so with politics: the notion of cohesion, of social solidarity, of our being in it together, has become quaint; the country is divided, with no sense of the common good or common welfare.
Even the term "common" is suspect. David Brat, who made news by defeating Majority Leader Eric Cantor, declared, clumsily but emphatically: " ‘Common’ - anything I'm against. United Nations. Common everything. If you say common, by definition you're saying it's top-down. I'm going to force this on you. That's what dictators do."
The conservatives on the Supreme Court are equally dismissive of anything that smacks of common interest. In McCutcheon v. FEC , Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the plurality of four,[61] noted that the dissent disagreed with his focus on rich individuals’ right to speech (spending) because, according to Roberts, "it fails to take into account ‘the public’s interest’ in ‘collective speech’." Note the ironic quotation marks. Of the eight times the word collective appears in the plurality opinion, it is in quotes seven times, as if a collective or common interest were a foreign — or socialist — concept.
It wasn’t always so. Tony Judt described the change which took place in the Eighties: a shift from "the pursuit of public goods to a view of the world best summed up in Margaret Thatcher's notorious bon mot : ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and families’." Meanwhile, in the United States, Ronald Reagan declared that government "was no longer the solution—it was the problem."[62]
Reagan’s political philosophy contrasts sharply with that of a more notable Republican: "The object of government is the welfare of the people." Or, again: "The National Government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the National Government. The betterment which we seek must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the National Government."[63]
That view of government is not the only issue on which Theodore Roosevelt differed from Mr. Reagan and his even more regressive acolytes. Consider the matter of common interests: "I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind." Imagine a Republican member of the 2014 House saying that.
Present-day conservatives would be shocked by Roosevelt’s views on working people and on capital: "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." That harks back to an even earlier form of Republicanism: "If that remark was original with me," TR said, "I should be even more strongly denounced as a Communist agitator than I shall be anyhow. It is Lincoln’s."
The contrast is equally great as to the influence of money:
[O]ur government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. . . . For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.
TR’s desire to control capital would be baffling to those who believe in the unregulated market:
The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; . . . The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.
It would be anathema to those who think that taxation is a Marxist plot:
The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and . . . a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes . . . .
Property, capital and business are important and are entitled to proper protection but, again, the common interest is paramount: "The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."

In a sense, its inaccurate to state that the contemporary Republican Party follows Reagan, as its views are well to his right. However, it’s apt in that Reagan led a shift in attitude that his followers called a revolution, more accurately a reaction. It is too much to expect Republicans to rediscover a better path so long as they win elections. If that ever ends, through demographic change or the end of gerrymandering, they may rediscover the virtue, if only politically, of thinking about the common good.


Gates and Collins, Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes

Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English language (1989); Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2002)

Justice Thomas concurred only in the result.

Judt, Ill Fares the Land , pp. 96-97 (2010)
All Roosevelt quotes are from his "New Nationalism" speech, August 31, 1910.

Monday, August 4, 2014

August 3, 2014
A recent report indicated that the chances of a Republican takeover of the Senate stand at 60%. I find this baffling. The news media are not good at showing the backwardness and obstructive tactics of the Republicans in Congress, but certain facts are difficult to ignore. Instead of dealing with important problems, the House has voted, prior to going on vacation, to sue the President. Apart from the waste of valuable time, the proposed suit is absurd, as it is based on the complaint that the President has delayed the implementation of part of the Affordable Care Act, which the House Republicans hate and have voted more than fifty times to repeal. As political theater, this certainly falls in the category of farce, especially when accompanied by such comic lines as "Our freedom is in peril, my friends."[50]
The proposed suit is ironic in another way. Obama is accused of arrogating power, but G.W. Bush embraced a theory — the "unitary executive" — which allowed him to ignore or negate any part of an act of Congress he disliked and otherwise to act as he wished. "Through the use of presidential signing statements, executive orders, and memoranda, the Bush administration has often governed unilaterally when faced with political and/or constitutional obstacles."[51]
Other items in the news are illustrative of Republican thinking, and ought to give any voter pause: a prominent Congressman declared, "Climate change occurs no matter what," and that proposed power—plant emissions standards are "an excuse to grow government, raise taxes, and slow down economic growth;"[52] the Senate was blocked by an Oklahoma Senator from acknowledging that climate change is real;[53] a candidate for the Senate opposes an increase in the minimum wage and talks of impeachment and nullification of federal laws;[54] another Congressman won’t "assert where [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t [sic] beat the same for him."[55]
However, these are bits and pieces. A Republican platform provides a considered and comprehensive statement of principle and policy. Some time back I looked at the Iowa platform; this time let’s consider this year’s product of the Texas GOP.[56]
To give Texas Republicans their due, there are a few progressive planks:
— "We urge the repeal of the USA Patriot Act and spying on law abiding Americans must stop immediately. We support court ordered warrants on an individual basis in cases directly involving national security."
— "Texans should have the right to recall their elected officials."
Oddly, they oppose initiative and referendum.
— "We oppose the use of signing statements by the President to circumvent the law."
I wonder if that plank was in the platform during the Bush years.
— "We encourage the development and use of wind energy, coal-fired plants, solar, and nuclear power, and bio-sources without government subsidies."
At least part of that is progressive.
There are a number of points that are fairly debatable, but the document is overwhelmingly reactionary.
1. It embraces the limited/local theory of government with a vengeance:
— "We strongly urge the Texas Legislature ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify any federal mandated legislation which infringes upon the states' 10th Amendment Right. All federal enforcement activities in Texas must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county."
— "We further support abolition of federal agencies involved in activities not originally delegated to the federal government under a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution."
Those destined for removal include the Department of Education, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the Department of Energy.
2. The platform is resolutely reactionary as to economic matters:
— "We believe Congress should repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 thereby abolishing the Federal Reserve Banking System." Until then, "We call for the removal of the ‘full employment’ part of the Federal Reserve System's current dual mandate."
In other words, fight inflation, but never mind about unemployment.
— "We support the return to the time-tested precious metal standard for the United States dollar."
— "We support the repeal of Sarbanes Oxley legislation. . . . We support the immediate repeal of Dodd Frank legislation."
Let Wall Street drag us down again.
3. The federal government isn’t the only target:
— "We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil."
— "We support United States withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank."
— "We oppose foreign aid, except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval."
4. Of course government should not be involved in the public welfare, despite the preamble to the Constitution, a document they otherwise revere:
— "We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax."
— "Welfare reform should encourage partnerships with faith based institutions, community, and business organizations to assist individuals in need. The current system encourages dependency on government and robs individuals and generations of healthy motivation and self-respect."
— "We demand the immediate repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, [Obamacare] which we believe to be unconstitutional."
Besides, it’s socialistic, and has no place here:
— "Socialism breeds mediocrity. America is exceptional. Therefore, the Republican Party of Texas opposes socialism in all of its forms."
5. Voters (who might be the wrong kind) are not welcome:
— "Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution - Return the appointment of United States Senators by the state legislatures."
— "We urge that the Voter [sic] Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized."
This is accompanied by proposals making voting more difficult.
6. Not surprisingly, Texas Republican don’t like taxes; they would
— "Adopt a balanced budget by cutting spending without increasing tax rates or adding new taxes and capping spending with a percent of GDP as calculated prior to 2009."
In addition, they "believe the most equitable system of taxation is one based on consumption," so they support:
— The "Fair Tax" [i.e., sales—tax] system", and
— "A Flat Tax". None of those nasty progressive rates.
— "We support the abolishment of property taxes, but in the interim, property taxes should be paid on the price of the property when it was initially purchased."
And they urge:
— "Abolishment of estate taxes or the ‘Death Tax’ as it's more commonly [argumentatively?] known",
— "Abolishment of capital gains taxes",
— "Abolishment of franchise and business income taxes", and
— "Abolishment of the gift tax."
— "We strongly oppose any cut in the defense budgets and troop levels at this time."
7. As to the environment, the EPA goes, and
— "We support land drilling and production operations including hydraulic fracturing."
— "We oppose the implementation of any cap and trade (a.k.a. "Cap and Tax") system through legislation or regulation."
— "We support the immediate approval and construction of the Keystone XL" pipeline.
— "While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, ‘climate change’ is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives."
— "We believe current evidence is not conclusive on the cause of climate change; we reject the use of this natural process to promote more government regulation of the private economy."
8. Are they pro—labor? Not quite:
— "We oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) . . . We also encourage the adoption of a National Right-to-Work Act."
— "We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed."
— "We urge Congress to repeal the Prevailing Wage Law and the Davis Bacon Act."
— "We urge the Legislature to resist making workers' compensation mandatory for all Texas employers."
9. Of course, they love guns:
— "[W]e strongly oppose all laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. We oppose the monitoring of gun ownership, the taxation and regulation of guns, ammunition, and gun magazines."
— "All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas."
— "Firearms and ammunition manufactured and sold in the state of Texas are not covered under the Commerce Clause (Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution) and therefore are not subject to federal regulation."
This copies a model act known as the Firearms Freedom Act (FFA), which is popular with the gun crowd.
— "We call for truckers working within the state of Texas to enjoy the full benefits of the Texas Concealed Handgun License law irrespective of unreasonable and intrusive federal regulations."
Even Texas law is suspect; they want to remove from the state Constitution this phrase: "the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime."
10. Running through the platform are references to religion, or to be slightly more specific, "Judeo—Christian" religion:
— "We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America's legal, political, and economic systems."
That historical illusion is an example of the emphasis on religion throughout. 
— "We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the 1st Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state."
— "We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols."
— "[W]e urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights."
I wonder how they propose to protect religious freedom or the Bill of Rights.
— "The Republican Party of Texas will protect the rights of commercial establishments to refuse to provide any service or product that would infringe upon their freedom of conscience of [sic] religious expression as stated in the 1st Amendment."
That sounds like an extension of Hobby Lobby, as does this:
— "Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values."
As if anxious to demonstrate the perils of mixing religion and politics, the Texas Republicans set forth a theory dear to the religious right which bedevils American policy toward Israel. This plank begins with a secular, if debatable claim:
— "We believe that the United States and Israel share a special long-standing relationship based on shared values, a mutual commitment to a republican form of government, and a strategic alliance that benefits both nations."
There follows another relatively neutral statement of principle:
— "Our foreign policy with Israel should reflect the right of sovereign nations to govern themselves and have self-determination. In our diplomatic dealings with Israel, we encourage the continuation of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but oppose pressuring Israel to compromise their [sic] sovereignty or security."
Then comes the religious punch line:
— "Our policy is inspired by God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel . . . ."
The Bible is used by the right to justify various positions, such as disbelief in the dangers of climate change, but most of those positions could and would be held in any event, because they conform to anti—government, pro—property rights biases. American policy toward Israel also probably would be generally supportive without the religious factor, but it is especially dangerous in that context. We need to conduct foreign policy on a rational basis. However, that isn’t likely to be forthcoming from the right, for whom reason, and science, are elitist.

Tom Rice, R—S.C., reported in The Seattle Times.

"Rethinking Presidential Power — The Unitary Executive and the George W. Bush Presidency"



54. ;


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