Are the Causes of the French Revolution Present in the US Today?

There once was a time when the wealthy upper class and the Catholic Church didn’t pay anything to the government in terms of taxes and had special socioeconomic privileges. It would fall upon the largest class of citizens, the peasantry to pay taxes and keep the coffers of the country full.

I’m talking about pre-revolutionary France but the description of that society would almost tend to describe the way U.S. society is currently.

Franco American flags

Taxes and the Wealthy

The wealthy of today are generally considered the one percent. Though they do pay taxes, many people still consider the system to be unfair.

Though the wealthy pay more in taxes than the average citizen in terms of dollar amount, it is the overall percentage of their income that is significantly lower. They use offshore bank accounts and tricks written into the tax codes specifically for them to pay a lower percentage and to even avoid paying federal taxes on some of their income.

Billionaire Warren Buffett brought this topic into the political spotlight in 2012 when he announced that it was unfair that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his personal secretary.

There have been calls for an overhaul of the tax code, but Congress has been in no hurry to act. The IRS though has begun to crack down on those who have foreign bank accounts and are not filing appropriate tax returns on the money that is contained within them.

Religious Exemption

According to University of Tampa professor Ryan Cragun, the U.S. government loses approximately $71 billion a year with religious exemptions. Cragun looked to his own home state of Florida as an example:

  • The state loses approximately $26.2 billion in property taxes every year;
  • Capital gains exemptions were estimated at $41 million;
  • And the clergy can claim up to $1.2 billion in tax exemptions through the parsonsage allowance

Though we can trace back the religious exemption, it hasn’t always been accepted.  James Madison, for instance, opposed tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Religious tax exemptions are seen as a privilege and not a right as they are granted by the government because of the positive contribution religious institutions are presumed to make to society.

A 1954 law bans political campaigning by tax-exempt groups which does include religious organizations. It should come as no surprise that there are several religious organizations that defy this law, including the Church of Latter Day Saints’ work to pass Proposition 8 in California. However, none of these organizations have lost their tax-exempt status.

The Third Estate

This is the bulk of society, yet it is the part of society that often feels as though it is left out and not heard. Even in pre-revolutionary France, the nobles (the wealthy) and the Church would often vote as a bloc to overrule the Third Estate (the commoners) though they had the largest delegation. What was then called the Third Estate can now be termed the working class.

Today, the working class doesn’t feel as though its elected leaders are working for their best interest or hearing their concerns.  It is often felt that the working class bears the tax burden of the country.

In the 2014 legislative session in Missouri, lawmakers approved a reduction in the state income tax, but are now asking residents to approve a sales tax to fund transportation/infrastructure projects. Both actions are largely seen as a benefit to the wealthy while placing a heavier burden on the working class and the poor.

The taxes part gets a bit complicated and murky, but Politico does it’s best to explain it in better detail.  On top of paying income taxes, the working class must also pay payroll taxes which are used to fund Social Security and Medicare.

Global Empire

In 1789, there were two main powers: Britain and France. At the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), both England and France were broke. To solve the problem, Britain attempted to levy taxes on its American colonies which led to the American Revolution.

Even with the coffers dry, France still entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonies.  It wasn’t because the French monarchy believed in the liberty the American colonists were fighting for but rather to humiliate Britain.  French forces were spread throughout the world to protect their overseas empire as our forces are spread out in a similar fashion to intervene wherever it is needed to protect American interests.

Our military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address in 1961 is still growing and becoming even more powerful and costs our nation a lot of money to maintain.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the US spent 19% ($643 billion) of its budget on defense in 2013.

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Our American Society

There were a lot of factors that led up to the start of the French Revolution… more than what I’ve gone into here.  But an underlying theme does still present itself.  The bulk of the population, the working class, is feeling as though it’s paying more than its fair share and being asked to bear more and more of the burden while the wealthy get off and religious institutions are exempt.

But is there a possibility of the US erupting into a French-styled revolution?  Despite the vast similarities that have been described, our societies are very different.  We do not live under a monarch.  The President is elected every four years and can only serve 2-terms, and we do have a representative body of our government that we elect.  Though we feel as though our voices are largely ignored, we do have ways to fight for change within the process… something that the people of France didn’t have.

But we must remember those causes for they should not be ignored.  When the vast majority of people feel as though they are being taken advantage of, they will institute change.  First they will try through the democratic processes that we are accustomed to, but if that doesn’t work, I wouldn’t put it past any society to rise up against their oppressors.  Afterall, we, as Americans, have already done it once before.

The Law Regarding Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

Since October of 2013, 52,000 children from Central America have been apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.  They are coming here by themselves.  It’s just one more piece in the larger immigration debate that seems to have quieted down until after the November election.

Republicans in Congress are quick to point the finger at the Obama administration.  Two years ago, the Obama administration decided to defer deporting certain young immigrants who met certain criteria and have been living in the states continuously since June 2007.  But as usual with partisan rhetoric, they are missing half of the debate.

FT_14_06_06_UnaccompaniedChildren_mapIn 2008, Congress passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which the Senate passed by unanimous consent, and was signed by President George W. Bush.  Though the law’s main intent deals with human trafficking, it did contain a section that deals with children arriving in the US illegally unaccompanied by an adult.

Children from Mexico are returned immediately, as they would be if they were an adult apprehended illegally entering the US.  However, children from a non-contiguous nation such as those in Central America have a different process.  The children must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services which is in charge of their care, finds them safe housing, and apprises them of their legal rights as their immigration cases are decided.  Deportation proceedings can take time as immigration courts are generally backed up.

Republicans, who in recent weeks have been claiming that the Obama administration is not enforcing the laws passed by Congress, are actually demanding that the President not enforce the TVPRA and send the children back to their home countries immediately without any deportation hearings as would happen if they had come from Mexico.

Last week President Obama signaled a willingness to do so but only if Congress modified the TVPRA to allow him to do so.  The leadership of both the House and the Senate do not seem to be interested in changing the current law, and as of July 7, the Obama administration has backtracked a little though it still would like more authority to act.  Until the law is changed, the children that have come here have to go through the process outlined by the TVPRA.  President Obama does plan to ask Congress for an extra $2 billion in extra funds to deal with the situation.

In the debate surrounding these children, it should be noted that they are not refugees or seeking asylum which would be completely different.  Asylum and refugee are special legal protections only available to people have fled their home countries out of fear and cannot return and can only be sought once they have entered the US.  There are strict requirements that a person must show in order to be granted those protections.

And though we debate this issue now in regards to Mexicans and those from Central America countries, this is not the first time we as a nation have had this discussion.  In the mid 19th-century, it was over Irish immigrants.  Most were processed legally through Ellis Island but the same arguments that were used then are still being used today against legal and illegal immigrants.

In the end, the TVPRA is the law that was passed by Congress that President Obama is to enforce.  If Republicans in Congress have a problem with that, then they need to change the law instead of telling the President not to enforce it.  Isn’t that the problem they have with him anyway?  This doesn’t come as a result of a DREAM Act.  It comes from congressional inability to deal with our broken immigration system in terms of those wanting to come here legally, and what to do with those that enter illegally.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”  Regardless for now, as we detain these illegal immigrant children, we need to treat them humanely until they are eventually returned to their countries of origin.  If Republicans want this process to be sped up, then they need to revise the TVPRA to allow it to be done.

The Battle of Small Town America and the Minimum Wage

The following is an Op-Ed.

This might be considered a more conservative piece from me.  Last week the city of Seattle passed legislation that raised the minimum wage in that city to $15 an hour.  As this is an election year, and one in which Democrats are expected to lose seats in both chambers, this has become a hot button topic with both parties resorting to their partisan talking points to motive their base of voters.

For those that have been protesting for the past several months, the increase in the minimum wage by the city of Seattle was a major step.  Though I do think that minimum wage should be higher than it is currently, I think Seattle may have gone a bit overboard and placed it too high even though it was set at what the protesters have been wanting.

LineGraph

Courtesy of ABC News/Fusion

A Facebook friend recently had discussion about this, and he made some valid points in his argument that are often overlooked with all the partisan rhetoric. Though we tend to place the focus for this debate on fast food workers, it also comes down to those “mom and pop” stores as well.

Big chain stores like fast food places and stores like Target can usually absorb the increase with a slight bump.  But it’s the “mom and pop” stores —  those little neighborhood places — that will bare the brunt of such an increase.  It is places such as these that have to work to make a profit and afford the few workers that they do hire.  With such an increase, most of them won’t be able to keep their staff which could result them going out of business since they are not able to deliver the same customer service as before.

BLS_Minimum_Wage_Age-thumb-557x391-113440

Courtesy of The Atlantic

According the the above chart, as of 2011 the bulk of minimum wage earners are 16-34.  This encompasses high school and college students and those just after college.

Now I should point out that during college I had a minimum wage job, and I had a different minimum wage job for a couple of years after graduating… which was in 2002.  I did not want either of these jobs to be my career as I had just completed 4-years of college, but it was a way to make money and gain some valuable work experience.  I continued to search for a career job during that time.  And like now, 2002 wasn’t the best time to be looking for work.

So what if I would have had to stay at that minimum wage longer than I did?  I knew that I could work my way up and get a promotion which would have included more money.  I would have taken the matter into my own hands rather than expect the government to do something about it.

If someone doesn’t like that they earn just minimum wage and have to work several jobs, then why not apply for jobs that pay more? Why not work to get promoted at the place you already work… maybe a manager or something similar?  We all have access to a “free” public education through high school.  We always have the choice of going to college (or back to college) or even to a technical school which would provide us access to jobs that pay better.  This is not the cheapest route to take, and that part of the topic is for another discussion.

There still needs to be an incentive for someone to better themselves.  If I’m making $15 an hour at McDonald’s or Target, what is the incentive for me to go to college and get a degree when I could just start work and save those thousands of dollars?

Some might argue that it would force universities to lower tuition to try and lure prospective students.  But in reality, the exact opposite would happen in that the universities would start raising tuition even more as enrollments declined in much the same way that airlines keep raising prices to make more money (and cover expenses) though they knock more people out of being able to afford it altogether.

Also last week, the government released numbers stating that the number of jobs had returned to pre-recession levels.  My reaction to this was whether the jobs that have been created are of the same caliber as the ones that were lost.  Have we replaced good-paying jobs with minimum wage jobs?  Are we adding more wood to the fire to make this issue even bigger or are we creating the types of jobs people can make careers from?

My overall point is quite simple: take charge of your own life rather than letting the government do it for you. If you don’t like making minimum wage then take steps to work your way out of it.  It may take some time, and it may not be the route you want to take, but it can be done.  And yes, let’s raise the minimum wage slightly to an acceptable level that won’t force small businesses out of business.  Remember, it is suppose to be the ‘minimum’ wage… the base, so to speak… and not necessarily a career wage.

Reforming the Electoral College

The way we elect the President and Vice-President in the US is quite unique compared to the way we elect every other elected office.  We don’t elect them directly. Instead, we vote for Electors who then cast votes for President and Vice-President.

Electors from each state are supposed to cast their votes for whichever candidate won that state’s popular vote… “Winner Take All.”  Every once in awhile there is a rogue Elector that casts a different vote.  It doesn’t matter how many votes a candidate won the popular vote of a state, that candidate will receive all the Electoral Votes, except in the states of Nebraska and Maine which reward their votes based on whichever candidate won the congressional district.  The extra two votes are then given to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution

Only four times in American history has the Electoral Vote and the Popular Vote been different… 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.  There have been numerous calls for Electoral reform since the 2000 election but nothing has gained a lot of attraction.  To completely abolish the Electoral College, there would have to be a constitutional amendment.  But to make changes to how those electors are awarded (without abolishing the Electoral College) could be easily done without changing the Constitution as each state has the right to determine how it rewards the Electors.

After the 2008 election, Republican legislatures in several states which did include several swing states like Virginia tried to change how their state’s would cast their ballots.  Their plan was similar to Nebraska and Maine but with a little tweak.  The Electors would be determined by whoever won the congressional districts.  The difference would lie in how the other two Electors (the ones that represent a state’s Senators) would be chose by whichever candidate won the most districts instead of the candidate that won the popular vote of the state.  This did not sit well with Democrats and nothing came from these plans in any of the states.

There is a movement that is gaining traction though.  It’s called the National Popular Vote (NPV).  This would require a state’s Electors to vote for whichever candidate won the national popular vote in an election.  This way the winner of the popular vote would not lose to the winner of the Electoral College as happened last in 2000.

As of now, 11-states plus DC have enacted NPV legislation. (The Hill) It accounts for 165 Electoral Votes in total so far and needs only 270 in order for it to become active in the states that have passed the legislation.  Of the states that have enacted such legislation, most of liberal-leaning such as Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, etc.

2012-Election-Results-by-CD

2012 Election Results by Congressional Districts

But as this new debate continues in other states, there is the question as to whether this is any better than the current system.  Each state is separate from the others.  The Founding Fathers wanted there to be state autonomy and unification under the federal government.  Each state gets to choose how it decides its Electors in the broader election.  But is it fair to have a state’s Electors cast their votes for a candidate that the people of that state didn’t choose simply because more voters throughout the rest of the country voted for the other candidate?

As of April 15, 2014, Oklahoma was one of a half-dozen states considering NPV legislation.  Can anyone imagine that state casting is Electoral Votes for a Democrat despite the people of the state voting for the Republican candidate in large numbers?  Oklahoma is one of the “reddest” states out there.

Yes, NPV is an effort to make sure that every vote counts and not just those in swing states as our current system does.  But it almost sounds as though the NPV would overrule a state who’s population disagreed with the popular vote.  And without most states (more than 270 Electoral Votes) being a part of this plan, it would focus all of the attention on to the states that do have such a law enacted should it become so.

According to a 2007 Washington Post Poll, 78% of Democrats support direct popular vote in future presidential elections.  60% of Republicans and 73% of Independents also support such a move.  But would a direct popular vote shift focus to the major cities and away from the rural areas since that is where the bulk of the population lives?

Maybe states should consider what Nebraska and Maine have.  Rewarding Electors by the popular vote of each congressional district and giving the candidate that wins the popular vote of the state the extra 2 votes.  Though it has only happened once in the two states that currently use this method (Nebraska-02 in 2008), most states have districts that swing in the opposite direction of a state’s typical Electoral Vote.  There are Republican districts in California and Democratic districts in Texas.  Suddenly, both parties would focus on those particular districts and any swing districts.

There is no definite answer to the solution to the way we elect our President and Vice-President.  There are pros and cons for any option.  We just need to make it as fair and balanced as possible so that the majority of Americans feel included in the political process and there is not a focus on just a handful of states.

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