Friday, September 5, 2014

What's The Reason It Isn't Treason?

"Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason." Words of wisdom from Sir John Harrington (1561-1612), Elizabethan Era courtier, affectionately known as the Queen's "saucy Godson," until he fell out of her good graces by penning a political allegory and coded attack on the monarchy titled A New Discourse on a Stale Subject in 1596. He is perhaps better known, appropriately, as the inventor of the flush toilet.

And, indeed, "it" does prosper. What's it? "It" is pseudo-Americans depriving the nation of untold billions of dollars in revenue by hiding much of their income in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caribbean, and by practicing "inversion": partnering with foreign companies to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. income taxes. "It" is ersatz Americans reaping obscene profits by enjoying the manifold benefits and protections of U.S. citizenship, while not contributing their fair share of the costs.

Of course, every American schoolchild knows that the Constitution defines "Treason" very narrowly and precisely: Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or to adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.    

The use of them is perplexing. It seems to indicate a pre-Constitution mind-set that the United States means the States that happen to be United, which sounds like the nature of the Union as set forth in the Articles of Confederation and the Ordinances of Secession proffered by southern slave states in 1861. In any case, that fiction was obliterated by the preamble to the Constitution and a plethora of Supreme Court decisions.: "We the people of the United States...In order to form a more perfect Union." So who is them? The States or The People? Whose "ox is being gored"? Who or what is the victim of Treason? Can the "victim" and the "perp" be one and the same? The Civil War and the 14th Amendment (which obviously came much later) supposedly settled that question in favor of the people, but many of "the Makers" seemingly meant the States.

That aside, the Constitution defines Treason itself "levying war against them" or "giving them Aid and Comfort." The first offense clearly means taking up arms in a "shooting war" against the U.S. You could possibly interpret what these "tax dodgers" are doing as waging metaphorical "war," but that would be quite a stretch, one which their army of obsequious attorneys would have no difficulty in laughing out of court.  <I have always assumed--obviously naively--that  paying one's fair share of legally constituted taxes is one absolute and irreducible principle of true citizenship and patriotism. Apparently not everyone agrees! To clarify that issue, it would probably take a constitutional amendment--one that would obviously be vehemently opposed by the nation's most rich and powerful. But something very similar was accomplished during the Progressive Era, when a broad-based, painstakingly constructed nationwide coalition eventually overcame the adamant opposition of the "robber barons" and "malefactors of great wealth" to enact the Sixteenth Amendment and the federal income tax. [See  my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era  (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.,1985).

That signal achievement took from 1895 until 1913, and survived a veritable tsunami of attacks and challenges, but it finally succeeded! Whether the construction of such a coalition is even a remote possibility today seems highly problematic, but what is the alternative? I seriously doubt that any of todays' "malefactors of great wealth" would ever "confess in open court," but they might possibly be convicted by the testimony of millions of witnesses.

To quote Senator Elizabeth Warren, "these companies are renouncing their American citizenship, turning their backs on this country, simply to boost their profits." To stop this nefarious and unpatriotic practice, she and fellow Senator Sander Levin have introduced the "Stop Corporate Inversions Act," which allows American corporations "to renounce their citizenship only if they truly give up control of their company to a foreign corporation and truly move their operations overseas." These corporations, Senator Warren correctly charges "are not actually leaving America behind. They just don't want to pay for it." America, she boldly asserts, "is a great place to do business because of the investments we have made together." Those investments, she insists, include public education to produce millions of skilled workers, the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports that make it possible to move products to market, and scientific and medical research giving American  corporations access to the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies.

How absurd can it get? In the Wisconsin State Senate, minority leader Peter Barca has managed to hoist Governor Scott Walker on his own petard, so to speak. Barca has introduced a bill that would prevent firms "offshoring" jobs from receiving state money and tax incentives. Since Walker is normally one of the big supporters of permitting Wisconsin corporations to "offshore" everything, it would follow that his administration would fight Barca's proposal "tooth and nail." BUT, it turns out that one of his biggest attacks on his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Mary Burke, is that her jointly-owned company--Trek Bicycles--has, in fact, "offshored" some of its jobs. So Walker, the candidate, had no choice but to publicly support Barca's bill, thus enraging the very companies that  Walker, the governor, relies upon for campaign contributions and other considerations. Irony doesn't even begin to describe his dilemma!  So now Walker, who, from day one, has alienated most of the state's  moderate to liberal voters, is also getting some flak from the right. This "flip flop" is even more problematic than insisting that he has fulfilled his pledge to create 250,000 private sector jobs, when he has clearly failed to produce half that number (and has eliminated tens of thousands of public sector jobs in the process.)

Like the reactionary, corrupt, racist Senator Billboard Rawkins in Finian's Rainbow, Walker is boldly leading Wisconsin FORWARD--FORWARD TO YESTERDAY!!!! 


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