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.

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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.

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And Carry A Big Stick

The Predicament Of US Foreign Policy

Just before the College of Cardinals locked themselves away in seclusion to elect a new Pope, several of them were talking to various media outlets.  They weren’t floating around names but rather the different sides of the Church.  Yes, even the Catholic Church has something close to political parties.  There is the more conservative side and the more progressive side.  One such individual being interviewed was on the progressive side and was asked about the chance of an American Pope.  It has been discussed in the news.  The answer that was given was that it was highly unlikely since it would be assumed that the Pope would then be under the guidance of the American government.  When I heard this answer, it got me to think.  It was only in 1960 that American voters were hesitate to even elect a President that was Catholic because it would be assumed that he would be under the guidance of the Pope.  It’s interesting how things can change.  But was the person being interviewed completely out of step with what he said?  Probably not since our government does have a way of intervening in affairs in other countries, and usually that intervention comes back to haunt us at some later date.

Let’s jump back to the early 1900s.  The American government, under President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama.  At that time, it belonged to the country of Columbia whose government declined.  So in true Roosevelt fashion, the US began to ship arms to rebel groups in Panama, and the US Navy blockaded the coast so that Columbia couldn’t respond in force.  Within an hour of Panama declaring its independence, the US recognized the new nation.  In the end, Roosevelt got his canal much to the consternation of the Columbian government.  Today, as a result of a treaty with Panama, the canal has been returned to the control of the government of Panama and is currently being widened.  We might see this is a triumph for our nation, but it still didn’t help relations with countries in that part of the world.  Overall, though, this was fairly simple in relation to the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into by the end of the 20th century.

In 1980, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  These were the declining years of the Cold War.  The United States could not, and would not, let the Soviets invade a nation.  The people in Afghanistan were putting up resistance, but could they really stop the invaders?  The US government decided to send weapons to help the resistance fighters who would, with the help of the weapons sent by the American government, defeated the Soviets.  These resistance fighters were the Taliban.  In the fall of 2001, the US would go to war in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban for harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  US forces were able to overthrow the Taliban government, but the Taliban continued to fight to regain what they had lost.  What weapons are they using when fighting our troops… the very weapons we gave them in the 1980s to fight the Soviets.

mideast1aFor a better example, I turn to Iraq.  It seems like everything spins around that nation these days.  It was the US government that put Saddam Hussein in power.  He was to be the buffer against Iran (more on that in a bit) after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  He was our puppet, so to speak.  And he kept Iran in check… even going to war with the country.  Who gave Saddam all the weapons he would need to stay in power and even go to war with Iran?  The United States did.  Saddam would even use these weapons against his own people when he started attacking the Kurdish population in the north.  Yet the United States still turned a blind eye to the massacre that was taking place.  In 1991, Saddam went rogue and invaded Kuwait.  This threatened US interests in the area.  So now the US had to go to war against the very person it put into power.  The US and its Allies had the upper hand.  The Iraqi army in Kuwait either surrendered or withdrew, and Saddam was on the verge of falling from power.  In the end, Saddam was allowed to stay.  However, all of this would change in 2003 when the US would again invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime.  The result was a power vacuum and sectarian violence that destabilized the country, threatened the weak democratic government, and cost the US plenty in terms of casualties and money.

The overthrow of Saddam would also have other consequences… our current problem with Iran.  But let’s backtrack just a bit.  In the 1950s, the US government overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install the Shah.  This is also the time when we gave nuclear technology to the Iranian government. (see: Persian Rug)  In 1979, the people revolted against the Shah and overthrew their government.  Even today, we still do not have official ties to the Iranian government.  Since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, we have come across the conundrum of Iran having a nuclear weapon which we are trying to prevent.  The irony of the situation.  As we look at the cluster-bomb (no pun intended), we have failed to realize that we created it by deposing the buffer.  Though Saddam was bad and did need to go, overthrowing his government has directly led to Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon.  Saddam would never have let Iran have a nuclear weapon.  It would have threatened his country.  He would have handled the situation himself… probably with another war.  And more than likely, past transgressions would have been forgiven, and we would have supplied with him with the necessary weapons to ensure that he was successful.  The only thing we despised more than Saddam in the end is still Iran.

Early in his presidency, President George W. Bush referred to three countries as an “axis of evil.”  Those countries were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  One of those nations was soon invaded and had its government overthrown.  Since then, the other two countries have been working to obtain nuclear technology so that they may possess a nuclear weapon.  In the past week, North Korea, as a result of joint war games by the American and South Korean navies and new sanctions placed on them by the United Nations, has terminated the 1953 armistice and threatened to attack the US.  The sanctions came after North Korea supposedly tested a nuclear device.  Is there the possibility that the governments in these countries (though authoritarian) might be trying to defend their own borders from US involvement?  They were once declared an axis of evil and saw one of the other nations on the list invaded and overthrown.

bigstickThe US government does have a tendency to meddle in other nations’ affairs.  Though they seem like good ideas at the time, they usually come back to bite us later.  For nearly three decades, we supported the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt despite how he oppressed his people.  Though the US government officially sided with the revolutionaries to oust Mubarak, we didn’t receive any major props.  When the military began firing on protesters, the tear gas canisters had “Made in the USA” written on them as we were providing military weapons to the Egyptian military.  Even today, we are supplying military equipment to the country of Bahrain, and that nation’s government is currently working to stop its people from rebelling and overthrowing it.  In Libya, we helped ouster Gaddafi.  Though we only supplied operational support and didn’t directly supply the revolutionaries with weaponry, other nations did.  And somehow, this could work against us as other situations have.  There have been calls to intervene in Syria.  The US has been walking a very fine line though we are not fans of the Assad regime.  It still goes back to the same conundrum.  Today’s grand moment could be tomorrow’s downfall.  We’ve seen it happen so many times when we’ve meddled in other countries.  Sure, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion if the French government hadn’t given arms to a rebelling army in the British colonies, but the act did work against the French, too.  We still signed our own separate peace treaty with England and left France (and Spain) alone to continue the fight against England.  Sometimes, and more often that we’d care to admit, we need to step back and make sure we are doing the right thing… not just in terms of our interests today but in the bigger global interests that may come tomorrow.

Debating Debates

So after watching the first presidential debate of the year between President Obama and Governor Romney, I came away with only one feeling.  Nothing at all.  There was no major breakout moment for either.  Nothing was said that we haven’t heard before from either campaign during all the speeches that have been given… including the conventions.  And it only allowed the voters to actually hear half of the presidential candidates.

Seeing both candidates up close, I’m now even more certain that neither one of them are all that different.  They both hit up talking points and just changed how they sounded overall.  In the end, it was nothing we haven’t heard in previous elections.  They both said they were going to cut the budget and reduce the deficit.  Big deal.  Did we honestly expect one of them to stand there and say that he was just going to go on a massive spending spree and didn’t care?  If there is going to be a debate, how about asking them something a little deeper than that.  Sure, our federal budget and our deficits are a bit deal, but at least ask a question where there can at least be a debate on the subject.  We all expect a candidate to say that he’s for cutting the deficit just as much as they keep saying they want to lower taxes.  How often do you hear a candidate saying he wants to raise taxes… with the exception of President Obama saying he wants to raise it on the top 2%?  Both of these are softball questions because we all know what the answer is going to be.

So we have Obama and Romney standing on this stage acting like they are debating and giving Americans a real choice when they are only half of the actual candidates.  The other two candidates were purposely left out of the debates by the political parties of the other two.  Make sense?  The Democratic and Republican parties have made it almost impossible for any third party (or independent) candidate to be included in these debates since Ross Perot’s independent candidacy in 1992.  Here’s the Catch-22 of the issue.  To be included, a candidate must have poll numbers so high in so many polls.  The problem is that they aren’t even included in the polls to start with… and that’s even if they are on enough state ballots to reach 270.  So here’s my rhetorical question… how are they supposed to get to that “magic” poll number when they aren’t even presented as an option to those being polled?

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Noam Chomsky~

So here we sit with two parties on the stage that have basically set that very stage, and then they present themselves and the issues as if none of us have heard any of it over the past several months.  I mean if we are going to have a debate, then let’s have a real debate.  Let’s get everyone included… that would have been Obama, Romney, Gary Johnson (Libertarian), and Jill Stein (Green).  Let the American people actually see a debate and see actual contrast to the issues instead of the the same old disguised status-quo.  Get them off their talking points and get rid of the softball type of questions where we already know the answer.

Since we do have a couple more of these coming up, I can only hope that the moderators will do a better job with picking questions and topics.  Because of how lackluster and uneventful this debate actually was, I can only hope that the Commission of Presidential Debates will wake up to actually allow all the proper candidates to be on the stage and to stop letting the Democratic and Republican parties control the ordeal.  Let the American people truly decide.  I do believe presidential debates are important in our political process.  They allow us, the voters, to see the candidates side-by-side.  But they have to be better than this one was tonight.  For the sake of our democracy, stop serving it up on a silver platter.  After tonight, I just want my 90-minutes back that I wasted watching this circus show.  For everything that I heard, I could have gone online and read everything they said before they said in half the time.  The time has come for us to redo how we do our debates.  The bar has already been set very low for these candidates by the candidates themselves.  Anyone wonder if the bar will go any lower (or even higher) with the next couple of debates?

With the first debate now over, the media and the pundits (and even the people) are already talking about who won the debate.  My question… who cares who won the debate?  They can all debate this until they are blue in the face, but one thing is quite clear.  The loser in all of this is the American voter who was subject to the 90-minute block of mindless drivel.  It was the same old story and there was nothing added that was new.

“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” Noam Chomsky~

The New Mandate

After every election, we always manage to hear the winning side say that they have a mandate from the American people.  The people have spoken, and they want their plan over their opponent’s plan.  And there is no doubt that after the presidential election in November, whoever comes out on top will be declaring the same thing.  But is there really anything to it?  Can any side really claim a mandate just because they win the election?

A presidential election is a good place as any to start.  It’s a time when turnout is the highest though we’ve only been hovering between 50%-60% in voter turnout.  Can we honestly say that our elected officials know what the general populace wants when there is almost 50% of the voting population not voting at all?  We have them basing their decisions on only what half the people say.  So there is the first problem.  The second part of the equation is how we elect our president.  As stated in the previous entry (The Electoral College), we elect our highest office through the Electoral College.  It’s “winner take all” in 48 of the 50 states no matter what the margin of difference is.  We need to look back no further than 2000 and the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It was a time of economic prosperity, budget surpluses, and pre-9/11. There was nothing to indicate a close election, but it still was.  We make note that Bush won Florida by 537-votes.  People fail to remember that the vote difference in 12-states that year was less than 5%, according to the FEC.  In 2008, there were 6-states that had vote differences less than 5% (and the 2nd Nebraska district… since Nebraska is not “winner take all”) which totaled 88 electoral votes.  There were 9-states and Nebraska’s 1st district that were between 5%-10%.  Barack Obama won the Electoral Vote 365-173 with 52.92% of the total votes cast.  But that is only 52% of the 60% that actually voted.  So does that constitute a mandate when those that are eligible to vote and don’t could easily swing the election one way or the other?  A few votes here or there in 2000 in the right states could have swapped the election.  Same goes in 2004 and 2008.

In the US, we have a duopoly running our government.  The media and everything else focus solely on the Democratic and Republican parties despite there being several others.  So the pendulum only swings two ways.  It will stay Republican for awhile and then when the majority of voters tire of that side, they switch to the Democrats until they tire of that way and then the pendulum swings back.  And just because someone votes Democratic during one such election just might mean that they don’t like the Republican that’s running and vice versa.  In 2008, there were probably many voters who were tired of Republicans running the Executive Branch of the government… as they had been for the previous 8-years.  There were probably others who didn’t like either Senator John McCain or Governor Sarah Palin.  On the other side, there were probably people who voted for McCain that didn’t like Senator Barack Obama or Senator Joe Biden.  Now I go back to 2000 again.  We had been under Democratic leadership in the Executive Branch for 8-years with President Clinton.  Congress had been Republican for six of those years.  The people did state, by official numbers, that they wanted that branch of government to swing back to Republican control.  However, the total vote difference was just shy of 544,000-votes… or  0.51%.  And with Republicans still controlling Congress (with only the exception of the Senate being evenly split 50-50 from 2001-2003), they wanted to claim that the people had given them a mandate to do as they wish.

Now, our Founding Fathers did set up our government so that those that we elect could represent us and what we want from our government, but they never envisioned political parties or certain individuals being elected repeatedly as though its a career instead of a civic duty.  The reason why there are elections for the House of Representatives every 2-years is because that is the people’s chamber.  It was supposed to be the way that elected officials, including the President, could keep tabs on what the mood of the public was.  The Senate, being the upper chamber, was supposed to put more debate into issues to make sure that the people were thinking clearly and the representatives were doing their job.  Between President George Washington and President John Quincy Adams, presidents had only issued a veto 10-times total (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams didn’t issue even one).  They mostly deferred to the legislative branch to set policy because  that was where the pulse of the nation was.  That was how the people expressed what they wanted their government to do.  But if we were to do that, do we look at the House or the Senate or both.  In the past two years, we’ve had a divided legislative branch.  In 2008, Democrats had big majorities in both chambers.  Before 2008, it had been fairly evenly divided for the previous 8-years.  So maybe that means that the electorate is evenly divided, or maybe the pendulum is just stuck and not swinging back and forth as wildly as it once was.

A close election is more fun than a run-away.  It gets people all fired up and usually drives more people to the polls since they believe there is more at stake.  They believe that there vote could tip the scale one way or the other… well, at least in the battleground states.  States that are safely Democrat or safely Republican usually don’t have that problem.  There in lies another problem with our elections and determining mandates, only about a dozen states are considered toss-ups each election year.  2012 has even fewer.  So the majority of the election is focused on the voters in those states, and it basically comes down to whichever party gets more people to the polls to vote that particular year.

There has been a lot of gridlock over the past two-years.  That’s what happens with divided government.  And it’s not necessarily a bad thing except when it prohibits anything from being accomplished.  One side doesn’t want to make the other side look good even if they do agree.  That’s when gridlock becomes bad because no one wants to work together because both sides usually agree on the basic principles and don’t want to help the other side look good.  At least when they are on “moderate” opposing sides, they can usually work together to come up with a somewhat reasonable compromise that appeases both sides… and is usually better than the one-sided plan.  Democrats state they had a mandate in 2008 because they won big majorities in Congress and the presidency.  Republicans say they now have a mandate because they took back the House in 2010 and took several seats in the Senate.  Is either side right?  Not really.  The pendulum was just swinging back and forth as it always does.  Can it show what the people are thinking though?  Kind of.  It can give a possible indication on how the voting populace is thinking (not the total voting populace).  And the reason why it’s only a “possible indication” is because we can’t be 100% sure why someone votes the way they do.  It could be the issues of the day, it could be that they are tired of the one party being charge, or they might not like a particular candidate that is running.  In any case, our elected officials need to stop using the term “mandate” when they speak after election.  Especially in today’s times, there just is no such thing.  There are entirely too many variables which include the flaw of our duopoly in government and that almost half of the voting population aren’t actually voting at all.  It’s difficult to getting any kind of accurate census in that manner.

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