Tuesday, January 28, 2014

President's Election Reform Commission: Small Ideas

Published in Delaware Liberal on 1/28/2014 by ProgressivePopulist
 populist graphicLast week the President's election reform Commission published its report with their ideas on reforming our election systems.  The ideas seemed to be to improved voter participation, particularly in national elections.  Because it was intended to provide a bi-partisan answer to our obvious electoral deficiencies, the solutions proposed, while mostly helpful, were incremental and did not offer answers to our long-standing crisis in our so-called participatory republican democracy.
The crisis has as its root cause the total absence of voting as a right in our U.S. Constitution. This omission historically stems from the compromise necessary to facilitate our nation's founding to address the needs of the factions demanding that rights of the states be upheld, including those states dependent on slavery to fuel their agrarian economies.
It was heartening to note that the Commission cited Delaware's voter registration system as a best practice in that area.  As a new resident, I was blown away with the efficiency and convenience  of this system when I registered my car, had it inspected and secured my driver's license and voter registration in a one-stop-shopping experience.
Delaware also stood out as among the higher voter turnout states with 62.7% in the 2012 election, compared to the national average of 58.2 %.  Delaware also was one of the few states with higher participation than in the 2008 national election.
The Commission report had as its greatest emphasis the need to limit the time necessary to cast a vote to 1/2 an hour.  It cites best practices of those states enabling a comparatively  speedy voting experience in the 2012 election to assist those states actually desiring to improve the time required to cast a vote.
The Commission also advocated states providing online voter registration and the transfer of personal data from driver's license records between states.  Further, it argued for the positive impact of so called "early voting" and the updating of now obsolete electronic voting equipment, the purchase of which was funded ten years ago or more with federal tax money.
School voting locations were suggested as optimum as well as easily accessed "voting centers" in early voting systems.  The wide distribution of sample ballots well in advance of the beginning of voting periods and shortened ballots for Presidential elections to speed up the voting process as well as electronic poll books to simplify verification of voter eligibility.  These are all useful improvements but very incremental solutions to our very low participation rates compared to other democracies around the globe.
Unaddressed in the report are the macro-issues which drive our low participation endangering our democracy:
.  The absence of national constitutional validation of the concept of voting rights for all qualified citizens, at least for federal elections.
.  The plutocracy which empowers corporate and elite domination of our governing bodies, including our judicial, executive and representative bodies of local, state and national levels.
.  The funding of campaigns by corporations and elite which overwhelm individual citizen participation and drive the apathy apparent in the electorate.
.  Gerrymandering of legislative districts, both state and national resulting in our elected officials picking their voters rather than the reverse.
.  The electoral college system in federal elections which dis-empower the popular vote.
.  Winner take all runoff systems, prolonging the election process vs. instant runoffs.
.  Opt in voter registration systems in contrast to opt-out registration which would enable universal registration of qualified citizen voters.
.  Limited mail ballot options which greatly increase participation rates.
Until these issues are addressed, participation rates will continue to be a national embarrassment and non-participation advocated by the likes of Russell Brand will appear to be warranted.  Will it take a revolution to achieve a real participatory democracy in America?  At the current rate of improvement along with the relentless challenge to voting rights for minorities and the poor by Republicans whose long-standing advocacy for voting rights only for the elite in this society , it would appear revolution may be the only option. The only good news in this area is the courageous turnout in recent federal elections by oppressed voters, overcoming systemic voter discouragement and such anomalies as Seattle and Vermont.  These signs of life in the electorate  argue for me that participation is a better option.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

NSA/Surveillance State: A First Step In Reining It In

Appears in DelawareLiberal, January 18, 2014, by ProgressivePopulist

NSA/Surveillance: A First Step In Reining It In

The President's speech on Friday, pre-empting the final report he commissioned  on NSA restraints, is a good first step.  So, we applaud a  beginning in rolling back the Surveillance State aimed at the American people.
The civil liberties community appears vigilant on keeping the heat on the Administration to maintain a sharp eye on overreach by NSA and other intelligence agencies.  This can only be good for the U.S. and our constitutional republic.  Hopefully  the public discussion on our security and constitutional protections against a tyrannical government and the over-emphasis on protecting the "homeland" and our so called exceptionalism will be expanded and a continual process.
Of particular note is the March 28 deadline for reauthorization of the Patriot Act by congress.
In my opinion, there is way too much emphasis on protecting  us against "terrorism" compared to protecting our constitutional rights which has created our exceptionalism, if any really exists compared to other democracies around the world.
There is now much media parsing of language in the President's speech, seeking clarification on many vaguely worded statements on possible surveillance reforms and this too is good.  I prefer to leave this task to the lawyer class reviewing the initiatives and proposals.  Here's a quick review of major elements in his Friday statement.
l. He proposes an annual review of privacy implications of surveillance undertaken by federal agencies, including NSA, with a report each year delivered to congress.
2. Congress will be requested to authorize a panel of outside civil liberties advocates  to argue in  "significant" cases before the FISA court.  This is new and very hopeful.
3. The Attorney General is to institute added restrictions on the government's ability to retain, search and use communications between citizens and foreigners: section 702 of the FISA regulations regarding surveillance of suspected terrorist actions.
4. The FBI will be required to make changes in its national security letters regarding data searches on persons it is scrutinizing.
5. On phone records collection by NSA, the government will transition away from scrutinizing communications three steps away from subjects under scrutiny for potential threats against the U.S. to two steps away and only after a judicial finding on a "true emergency".
6. Intel agencies, including NSA, will stop "spying" on U.S. allied world leaders.
What seems unaddressed at this point is the absence of whistle blower protections for employees of national security or intel agencies and their contractors.  Snowden would fall into this category.
Clearly, pressure needs to be mounted on the Delaware congressional  delegation  on advocating for our civil liberties protections while  considering the "protections" addressed in the Patriot Act reauthorization by March 28.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dems: Time For Radical Economic Solutions

Published in DelawareLiberal on January 8, 2014 by ProgressivePopulist

populist graphic

I'm throwing this out there after much thought, but also just before leaving town for a week.  So I won't be able to respond right away.  The  economic incrementalism  we Democrats are doing with supposed economic solutions to a broken capitalistic system isn't working.  Jim Hightower and many other fellow populists told you they wouldn't work and he was right.  It is time for radical solutions on behalf of the people.
47 million of us are unemployed, underemployed and in poverty as a result.  Some small share of them will not be able to participate in a repaired economy because of infirmity, under education and other social maladies we might not be able overcome.  But we can make things right for the huge majority of those in this situation.
Band aids are not working; major rehabilitation of  the economic system is the only solution requiring sacrifice by the privileged class.  And it is high time that both our local parties and the DNC step up to the task of offering remedies that will get most of America working in life sustaining employment and back in the middle class that was once the envy of the world.  Democrats must now address this genuine crisis.  Our viability as a society depends on it. Now, not later.  Fully, not partially.  Here's what many economic experts propose as the solutions.  No, austerity,  well and long tested here and in europe prove without any doubt that is not the solution.  You can fight over the details.  Details do matter.
l.  Create the Nixon proposed guaranteed annual income for all American's.  Pay for it by taxing corporations  and the very wealthy who will then see the return of the funds in increased sales and purchases.  Create a baseline income for a family, below which the guarantee kicks in by some means, like a tax credit or outright cash.
2. Restore public jobs, especially teachers, paid for by both state taxes (you figure out what kind) and for federal jobs, federal taxes.  Those salaries will come right back into the economy.
3. Launch a Marshall Plan to fix those broken public schools in inner cities and rural America with state of the art teaching techniques and highly trained teachers prepared to deal with poverty stricken children as well as great classrooms, equipment and spaces.
4. Re-tool our job training programs to address needed skills in our workforce.  Yes, fund them heartily, paid for by the very companies who need these skilled employees.
5. Incentivize and yes punish in some cases multi-national companies shipping jobs overseas to get those several million jobs back here.  Include incentives to "buy American".
6. Launch a massive green public works renewal program to address failing roads, bridges, the grid, high speed communications and all dilapidated infrastructure.   Hire private contractors to do much of this.  Finance through public banks.  Make one of the roles of the public bank is to loan money to new industry start ups, especially green industries. All this money will flow back into the economy.  Fund in part by a massive reduction in the military budget, including converting military contractors building weapons of destruction  into contractors of planet restoring green products.
7. Toughen worker safety and health standards and require robust retirement and health care benefits to contractors.  Restrict temporary employment among contractors and for other users of temps, require minimum standards of benefits to be set aside for employees of temp agencies.
8. Revolutionize laws empowering re-unionization of the workforce and severely  penalizing companies restricting organizing activity.  Require unionized workforces for any federal contractors.
9. Lower recipient age for social security to 55 and restructure cap on s.s. tax upward.This will move retirements earlier and make way for new workforce participants.
10.  Increase the  minimum wage to $15/hour, affecting 28 million people.
All this should be a 20-25 year program with the promise to those seeing their taxes increase, including corporations, that after the rebuilding era, congress would be required to revisit and reduce taxes if the renewal is working.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

ObamaCare A Qualified Success

As first published in DelawareLiberal by ProgressivePopulist on January 2, 2014O

We're 90 days past Sebelius's near catastrophic launch.  In spite of amazing roadblocks, Republican resistance and sabotage, Republican governor's further undermining a key element to serve the health needs of our poorest citizens, and what our President had the honesty to characterize as "self inflicted wounds", We've got a success here.
So, far, very early into the process,  with a public very slow to awaken to new healthcare opportunities, no thanks to Health and Human Services lame marketing, 6 million of our fellow citizens now have health insurance, most for the first time in their lives.  2 million through the exchanges, 4 million through Medicaid.  Think about it.  This is huge in a 90 day period.
This leaves an estimated 5 million Medicaid eligible still uncovered and not likely to have this benefit anytime soon , due to dumb and immoral strategy in Red Republican-governed states.   Still a long way to go to achieve universal care.  A Democratic sweep of state houses can solve that problem.
Michael Moore just published a stinging  critique of ObamaCare.  As a fellow single payer advocate, I agree with him but I think Jared Bernstein's observation hits the nail on the head.  Moore has the policy right, but right now, not the politics.
I am heartened by single payer developments around the country, such as in Vermont.  As Michael Moore believes, the single payer movement can push upward from progressive states.  It can't happen fast enough to satisfy me.  Moore is right.  To cast our health care lot with one of the most predatory industries in America is a tragedy waiting to happen.
One of my health care guru's, Maggie Mahar, reports the polls actually read that 50% of those polled like health care reform; 35% like the ACA as it is and 15% think it should be more liberal.  50% oppose ACA at this early stage.
According to Mahar and WP's Ezra Klein, just 0..6 % of American's under 65 are losing their insurance purchased on the individual market and will have to pay more than their inadequate catastrophic coverage because of the new benefits enriched exchange policies.  A survey they report on shows that 45% of these people agreed their old policies were inadequate.  Irresponsible media reports say there are millions and tens of millions in this category.  The actual number of those eligible to secure alternative catastrophic policies is estimated at around 500,000 people. And over 70% of them will qualify for government subsidies, bringing their premiums way down. These subsidies average $5,548 annually.
According to Mahar, a health policy expert, ..."29% of those who are losing their policies make too much to be eligible for subsidies,  " and were premium-raped by these catastrophic policies.  15-30% of them suffered the stigma of preexisting conditions. These insurers spend 30% of their premiums on marketing, advertising, executive salaries and bonuses and other overhead costs and were infamous for cancelling policies like a revolving door, jacking up premiums and denying payments to providers.   Prior to ObamaCare,  these jackals turned over  35 % of their their policy holders each year.  You did not hear any of this from the media, did you?  They were too damned lazy to do their homework to give you the truth.
Mahar estimates that the catastrophic policy holders have three choices:l. Go without insurance while they can. 2. Pay an average of $135 a month for coverage of 57% of their bills.  3. Buy from the exchange; a  person in their  20's who makes too much to qualify for a subsidy can by an average bronze plan for about $185 per month.  You do the math.  Which would you do in their shoes.  Of course, most will spend the extra $50 a month (remember, they make $45,000/year +) to get a real policy.  This is why the industry is reporting the private catastrophic policies are not selling.  The market the Republican's like to worship is working in this case.  Clearly, the consumer  demand for ObamaCare is there and moving with great momentum.  Soon we will have to move onto other issues including needed provider staffing levels and the out of control though improving cost escalation among  health care providers.  This blog will soon address these issues.
ObamaCare, a qualified success, is here to stay America.  Get used to it.