Common Sense Charter – Draft #1 – Declaration of Grievances

Declaration of Grievances

            Although we abhor the behavior of extremists such as could be found in Zucotti Park (New York City) at the start of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and feel that extreme demands from both sides of the political spectrum in Washington have been counterproductive in recent years, we nonetheless believe that the combined outrage of the American Tea Parties and the National Occupy movement is neither irrational, nor unjustified.  As was made abundantly clear at both political conventions during the most recent presidential campaign season, neither political party can claim to represent even half of the American populace.  Republicans and Democrats alike are more interested in political gamesmanship and petty personal issues than in tackling the serious issues we now face.  What follows is a list of grievances that we feel affects every American, not just one party or one religion.
  • ·         In the last 40 years, the country has amassed a debt that now exceeds our projected net worth – $16 trillion (and counting), compared to annual earnings that typically amount to $13-15 trillion.  The debt has many sources – military conflicts, bloated spending on means-tested entitlements, an illogical tax code filled with loopholes that cost America billions of dollars each year, untraceable, massive waste in almost every Federal department and an economic collapse with a complex cause that can be summarized as joint incompetence.  Government interference in the mortgage lending market forced banks to accumulate large debts, and those banks compounded the situation by making unwise bets with their debt, in essence playing stock roulette at 30 to 1 odds.  And the response of both parties has been criminally negligent.  The debt amounts to a $50,000 tax on every American, but the Democrats persist in spreading the illusion that debts do not matter while Republicans insist on pointing fingers and promising spending cuts that never materialize, rather than accepting joint responsibility and pledging real reforms.  And, when forced to the negotiating table to talk about the debt, neither party was willing to give one iota that the other side wanted to fix this problem.
  • ·         Over the same time, our civil liberties – from religious freedom to the right to bear arms, from privacy protections to the freedom of speech – have been under attack from all sides.  Under the George W. Bush administration, the Patriot Act gave Federal investigators the power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without charge, to monitor communications and financial records of any American, and to seize property without a warrant if national security interests were involved.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration thinks nothing of constructing enemy “kill lists” and murdering people using aerial drones, ordering all employers, including religious institutions and charities, to provide health insurance that covers drugs that some find morally offensive, forcing every American to buy a service many of them cannot afford, and allowing felons to patrol our polling places and engage in voter intimidation and fraud.  College campuses around the country have enacted speech codes (and even call them such!), and Federal Agents have handed illegal weapons to drug cartels in a hopeless and largely ineffective war on drugs – an act that has resulted in hundreds of innocent deaths – all while paradoxically calling for tightening of gun control laws in the US.  The founding fathers rebelled against the British for infringements on the rights of colonists that weren’t much worse.
  • ·         Our representative (democratic) republic began under the battle cry “no taxation without representation” – but today, most of the governing that gets done and most of the power granted to interpret and enforce the laws of the land falls to unelected, unaccountable groups or executive orders, rather than to the normal legislative process about which most Americans are at least somewhat aware.  Nothing checks the unyielding power of the Supreme Court – a formerly proud institution that now serves as a free lottery draw for both parties in their quest to extend Constitutional privileges granted the Federal government.  Neither liberals – who feel that the “Citizen’s United” ruling was political theater that threatens to give big business the ultimate power over our electoral process – nor conservatives – who believe that the great moral dilemma of our time (whether a child in-utero constitutes a human life and is thus guaranteed the same rights as any born person) was settled not by the people but by the Supreme Court acting against the will of the people, should feel comfortable with handing nine people so much power.  Particularly not when they have begun essentially crafting new legislation in their rulings as occurred in the split decision over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, powers granted to groups like the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Federal Reserve (among others) now far outstrip anything that Congress can pass and those agencies have become abusive to the people on many occasions.  The EPA marches under a battle cry “crucify them!” when talking about coal fired power plants.  The NLRB presumed to tell the pride of American aviation (Boeing) that they could not move to a new industrial plant that had already been built simply because the plant resided in a state that allows non-union workers.  And in an unprecedented move, the Federal Reserve authorized the printing of forty billion dollars per month with no firm end date – and our elected officials have no power to affect their decision.  The Obama administration has presided over the creation of over 40 new “czar” positions and more than 25 new unelected boards of bureaucrats to oversee matters of policy that can no longer be tackled by a divided congress – this should alarm people of all political persuasions.  And finally, there is the executive order.  A form of power so rarely exercised prior to the most recent two administrations that it was front page news when it was invoked; the executive order has generally been limited to appointments, matters of cabinet business and internal White House policy.  However, George W. Bush invoked the executive order eight times during his eight years in office, and, thus far, Barack Obama has made use of it 49 times, the last three of which gutted preexisting laws duly passed by the legislative branch and signed by earlier presidents.  The ongoing subversion of the power of the legislature in favor of the executive branch and unelected officials defies the will of the framers and must be halted.
  • ·         And speaking of taxation, did you know that General Electric – a company which made over 13 billion in profits in 2011 – paid no taxes in 2011?  I mentioned our illogical tax code before, but this is demands its own discussion.  The bizarre patchwork nature of our tax code – which now stands at over 25,000 pages of law so that even the best tax lawyers no longer understand it – is the direct result of a pernicious disease that threatens our freedom, our economy and our way of life.  I’m talking, of course, about cronyism.  Occupy protesters were right to be furious that government money meant to revitalize the economy went into the pockets of wealthy Wall Street banks (supposedly to stabilize debt and allow banks to lend again).  But they placed the blame on the wrong people.  They attacked all of Wall Street – and capitalism in general – rather than attacking cronyism.  The 2009 “stimulus” bill sent over 800 billion dollars in new spending to countless organizations – but if you look carefully at who got the money, there is a strong correlation with those who were hefty campaign contributors for Obama in 2008.  Obama is not the first President to play this sort of game – conservatives are mistaken if they believe their party is blameless.  The effects of cronyism can easily be seen if you take a trip from Richmond, VA to Baltimore, MD.  Traveling along the roads of Northern Virginia, you will see industries ravaged by the recent economic downturn, urban areas struggling to keep everyone off the streets and alive…and then it all stops.  You arrive in Fairfax County and are surrounded by pure opulence.  Our capital has not even noticed how much the rest of us are struggling.  And as you exit Prince Georges County in Maryland and continue north, the weak economy resurfaces.  They are getting rich in Washington by looting from all of us (to the tune of 30% of our annual earnings each year in government budgeting and debts worth more than we make in a year).  Cronyism and corporate favoritism must end.  The fault does not sit with capitalism – in fact, government intrusions into the free market are antithetical to capitalism.  We must force Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace and rewarding political allies to the detriment of the rest of us.
  • ·         The first duty of the government is to defend its citizenry and preserve life.  Other than an authorization to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, our government has not officially declared war (with a vote of approval from Congress) since Vietnam, yet our military has seen more than its fair share of action.  While we do not share the unrealistic expectations of some that America has the capacity to recede from the world without inviting our enemies to bolder actions against us or imperiling our economy, we recognize that the framers intended war to be a move that is politically scrutinized and answerable to the will of the people through their elected officials, and thus should require a formal declaration of war passed by both houses of Congress.  Unfortunately, through use of expanded powers from the executive branch, we have waged undeclared wars costing the country trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives without the consent of the people.  This practice must be curtailed and the powers granted the President as commander in chief must be more strictly defined.
  • ·         At the same time, the defense budget – traditionally a lifeline for our brave men and women in combat – has been systematically and arbitrarily attacked.  The Navy reports that we need a fleet fully 40% larger than the fleet projected to be in service in 2016 to carry out the mission of defending US interests overseas.  The Marines who stormed Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom routinely did so without the equipment they needed because, in the absence of a formal declaration of war, the resources simply weren’t there.  We recognize that the military is not immune from wasteful spending, and we call for our leaders in Washington to make cuts to the defense budget that address this wasteful spending, rather than slashing the bottom line, and we call for cuts to be reinvested in military assets – ships, gear and research and development – not to be cast aside for other non-defense spending.
  • ·         At the same time, we must learn from the mistakes of past administrations.  Nation building cannot be accomplished in parts of the world that lack the basic infrastructure, education and economic potential to see it through when we’re gone.  We failed in Vietnam, we failed in Iran (1970s/1980s), we failed in North Africa and the Balkans, and we are failing in Iraq and Afghanistan today.  We cannot build nations in parts of the world where regional conflicts are nonstop and the culture does not respect individual liberty.  Too many lives and too many resources have been squandered in parts of the world that we never had any hope of helping in a lasting way.  This too must end.
  • ·         The decadence, decline and in some cases abject failure of the modern public education system is not just an abdication of our responsibilities, but also a guarantee that children in struggling communities – those who are most in need of a quality education – begin their adult lives with enormous disadvantages that cannot be solved through racial or economic preference systems, government means-tested entitlements or job training programs.  Teachers, by in large, do the best they can in a bad situation, but teachers unions and the government officials whose candidacy they support claim the problem is funding when that cannot possibly be the case.  We spend almost 250% as much per child on education as we did as little as a decade ago, and the results just keep getting worse.  Being a tenured teacher in our public schools (in most states) is one of the few jobs you can have where your performance doesn’t matter one iota for the security of your career and where parents have no say in where their children go to school.  This is an intolerable state of affairs for the parents of children being raised in inner-city and very rural schools, and even children in opulent suburbs aren’t getting the education they once did unless they get into a charter or magnet school.  Readers should consider what would happen to them if they were merely 12% proficient at their jobs for twenty years.  That is the current reading proficiency rate nationwide – and we’re doing worse still in math and science.  And that is outrageous.
  • ·         The rational course for any nation hoping to become less dependent on unfriendly trade with partners who are opposed to your way of life would be to everything in your power to become independent in those areas – become an exporter, not an importer.  In general, the trade deficit has been a growing problem for the US since the early 1990s, but nowhere is that shortfall more apparent than in the world of energy production.  Not only is the regulatory state crippling energy production on public lands while politicians speak of “all of the above” energy policies, but the tax code, the EPA, and the diversion of public monies to competitors to traditional energy sources in an attempt to force a change in the market have all conspired to delay the exploration, acquisition and refining of countless billions of barrels of oil and natural gas, and the implementation of clean coal technology by thirty years.  Meanwhile, unproductive and inefficient energies like bio-diesel  wind and solar consume American tax dollars and the cost of gasoline skyrockets.  If Americans are tired of paying an unsustainable, high price for gas but do not wish to move to the inhospitable urban centers and give up their freedom to drive – if we’re tired of fighting unwinnable ground wars for Middle Eastern oil and having to kiss up to murderers like Hugo Chavez to appease the South American portion of OPEC, then we must ask – why are we not using all of our natural resources?  Every other country in the world does.  We recognize that environmental stewardship is crucial to our long term viability as a nation (just ask Russia about its poisoned water supplies and drastically shortened life span), but a proper balance must be struck between environmental stewardship and the millions of jobs and billions of dollars we’re missing each year that could help our at risk and poor citizens aspire to the American dream of upward mobility, security and the happiness that they are guaranteed the right to pursue.

Each American may have a list of grievances great and small that could be added to this accounting, but we believe that this document should speak to the larger issues of our time.  We will, however, now turn out attention to a “Common Sense” platform that we believe represents a balanced, fair-minded approach to government that we hope will encourage cooperation and political progress.

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