A New Progressive Platform

This is a cycle we seem to be caught in. The Republicans get elected, and govern like a cross between a barbarian horde and a drunken fraternity. Then, the Democrats come in, and have to do the expensive and unpopular work of fixing the problems…which makes them unpopular, allowing a new Republican horde to ride into town like a panzer division on acid, and start the looting and pillaging anew.
As long as we are caught in this pattern, progressives /cannot/ win any lasting victories. There will only be occasional pauses in the downward spiral. Yes, we need to win 2018, more than anything in the immediate future, but how do we break out of this cycle? The answer, it seems to me, is big ideas. We have been so focused on repairing the damage that we haven’t done anything honestly worthwhile in a very long time. ObamaCare came close, but not really: like HillaryCare 20 years earlier, it was hobbled by its attempt to work within the existing paradigm instead of embracing the kind of genuine restructuring that might have genuinely changed things. So, we’re talking about New Deal, Great Society big. BIG.

So, here’s my Big Idea Platform. I’d like to know what the people think of it.

1) The Election Reform Act
This act will include public financing of elections, based on the understanding that any transfer of a thing of value to a public official or political campaign should be considered an attempt to bribe that official, and an end to partisan redistricting. There are robust, mature systems of public financing around the world available for study and adaptation. It is long past time to end the system of legalized bribery that has captured the US government and rendered it unresponsive to the needs of the general population. Likewise, all redistricting shall be done by non-partisan commissions.

2) An “Apollo Program” for clean energy.
It will be based on solar, wind, and wave power. Such a platform shall include a new energy grid that harnesses distributed micropower generation and AI management, and a new generation of nuclear reactors capable of using existing stocks of nuclear waste as fuel. This will simultaneously reduce carbon and heavy metals pollution in the environment, mitigate climate change, and eventually rid the country of nuclear waste.

3) Universal healthcare.
This can include a true single-payer system allowing access to everyone while allowing private providers for those who wish to avail themselves of additional services. Again, robust, mature systems are available for study and adaptation. Possible models include France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Canada.

4) A program of free post-secondary education or business investment.                                        Under this program, citizens will be able to either A), attend four years of a public university at public expense, B) access the amount of money four years of schooling would cost and use it as seed money to start a business, or C), any combination thereof: for instance, a student would be able to attend two years of technical school and then access two years worth of seed money funding for a start-up. Such a program will also include the forgiveness of all existing student loan debt, which is currently consigning two generations of Americans to debt peonage and acting as a huge brake on the US economy.

5) Raising the minimum wage.
This will include indexing the minimum wage to the inflation rate, putting an end to the degrading spectacle of continually having to beg for a continually-shrinking slice of the pie. Likewise, and for the same reason, Social Security benefits shall be indexed to the inflation rate.

6) Ending the war on drugs.
This will include the outright legalization of cannabis, the pardon of all federal prisoners held on simple possession charges, and the institution of a robust national drug treatment program for addicts. Under this program, regulatory authority will be transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA will be abolished outright, and asset forfeiture will not occur in the absence of a criminal conviction. This program will include a ban on the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to civilian police departments, and a requirement that any civil judgement against a police officer must be paid by the officer personally. This program will hold that possession/intoxication itself is not a crime, but that criminal behavior, such as DUI, is.

7) Immigration reform.
Under this program, all immigrants, documented or otherwise, will be granted amnesty and allowed to stay if they register. This will allow immigrants to be protected under labor and civil law, ending the problem of legitimate business being undercut by underpaid, illegal labor. Any illegal employment of an undocumented worker shall be considered a felony. Likewise, immigrants convicted of crimes of violence, theft, fraud, espionage, or a pattern of criminal behavior, are subject to permanent deportation.

8) The Federal government as the employer of last resort.
This can be thought of as a new WPA: anyone unable to find productive work can go to work for the government, building/repairing infrastructure, parks, public buildings, etc. This should make the institution of a Universal Basic Income unnecessary, although a cost-benefit analysis and comparison between this program and a UBI should be conducted.

9) The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act.
This will outlaw any and all warrantless electronic or physical surveillance of a citizen, and will include a Citizen’s information Bill of Rights, which will state that any business that compiles information on a citizen for sale or other distribution is required to notify that citizen and give the citizen the opportunity to dispute information included therein. Further, any business that profits from the sale of individuals’ information will be required to share those proceeds with the individual.

10) The Private Security Services Reform Act.
Private prisons, police forces, military contractors, and intelligence agencies, or any other businesses serving largely identical functions, are henceforth banned.

11) The Assault Weapons Control Act.
Any firearm design that includes a detachable magazine and a semi-automatic or autoloading action shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act. Further, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise legal weapon, such as, but not limited to, trigger cranks, multiple-fire triggers, or so-called “bump-stocks”, shall be banned.

12) The Honesty in Commerce Act.
Any business that engages in systemic theft or fraud, as has been widely documented in, among others, the banking and auto-repair industries, shall be subject to seizure and liquidation without recompense to shareholders, and shareholders shall be held liable for crimes committed to their benefit. Likewise, the importation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to access or steal from individuals, such as credit-card skimmers and car lock defeat mechanisms, shall be banned.

13) Adoption in total of S.1006, the “Equality Act”, to, finally, “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

Feedback, suggestions, and comments are encouraged.

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REI makes the right decision closing on Black Friday

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it's time to take REI's message to heart.

If this is how you spend Thanksgiving, perhaps it’s time to take REI’s message to heart.

For years, I’ve ranted and raved about the depravity of Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping. In lieu of family time, we devolve into a proto-human state, as we trample, bum rush, and make a mad dash into Targets, Best Buys, Wal-Marts, and other big box stores across the country. All for a deal, right?

We seldom consider what we ask of retail employees–often some of the lowest paid employees in the country–as they give up their holiday to service our endless quest for bargains and mostly junk. The deal on electronics, toys, and clothes is just too much for the American consumer or the American retailer to pass up and in recent years, retailers moved Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day, ruining the holidays for countless numbers of Americans. It’s not just the employees who give up their holiday to watch the hordes stuff mass quantities of “Made in China” dreck into a cart, but the families of those who wolf down Thanksgiving dinner because Target opens in two hours.

As I said, I’ve discussed this before and I am firmly against retailers who open on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the only secular holiday in the United States in which we gather with family, eat a festive meal, and hopefully feel thankful for all we have. It’s important, it’s reflective, and it’s a day that ties us to a simpler, more respectful United States. Retailers and consumers have changed that, but fortunately, someone is bucking the trend.

Outdoor retailer REI–which also happens to be a coop–won’t just close on Thanksgiving this year, but they’re also closing on Black Fridaypaying employees to spend the day outdoors, and encouraging their customers to do the same.

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Millennials’ finances prevent homeownership; is that a problem?

Nothing screams "stock photo" like a picture of excited millennials buying a house.

Nothing screams “stock photo” like a picture of excited Millennials buying a house.

Almost daily, there’s another article focused on the Millennials. (Seriously, a Google News search of “millennials” returned 3.17 million results in 0.30 seconds.) Generally, the articles will make broad claims that Millennials are entitled, spoiled, and lazy, while others will seek to counter those opinions about how mil. Yes, we’ve talked about America’s largest generation ad nauseam, but an issue with millennials is rearing its ugly head and it affects all of us. Millennials are growing up–with the oldest hitting their mid-30s–and more frequently, Millennials are eschewing home ownership, out of necessity or fear of another crash. With home prices and sales rising steadily across the country, this presents Millennials a cause for concern moving forward or an opportunity.

Millennials by and large would like to own a home, but cannot quality for a mortgage (thanks student loans) or they are unable to make enough to save for a downpayment. According to a recent AP story, the average time someone rents before buying a home now reaches 6 years. Forty years ago, that number was only 2.6 years. It’s a staggering increase in the amount of time Millennials spend moving from rental to rental, foregoing one of the backbones of middle class America. According to a recent study conducted by the Urban Land Institute, 50 percent of Millennials rent, 21 percent live with their parents, and only 26 percent own a home. Think about that for a second. More than 70 percent of American Millennials either rent or live with their parents. That’s nearly 53 million Americans from just one generation who do not own a home.

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You’re Hired

Although our next election is a year away, candidates are currently doing and saying whatever they believe the American people want to hear. The conservative candidates are so plentiful, one can scarcely keep them all straight. But one of the candidates is not like the others.

 

He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is belligerent. He wears a million dollar kitten on his head.  He is…

trump

 

…The Donald.

A lot can be said about Trump’s candidacy thus far. His disrespectful tone with women, his thoughts on immigration, and his views on political contributions have been ferreted out for our perusal. Well, ferreted is not quite the best word to use, is it? The truth is that The Donald can’t shut up.

While I personally believe that if Trump ever articulated one good political idea, it would die of loneliness…

…He’s hired.

Wait, wait, wait. Don’t curse me like a drunken sailor just yet. I haven’t fallen and bumped my head. I just believe that there are a few things we -conservative, liberal, or other- can learn from this spectacle. Love or hate him. Let’s learn from him.

The Donald is honest. Brutally abrasive, almost cruelly honest. We can debate why he is so blunt, but I don’t believe that matters. What does matter is that Americans are fed up with pandering. A good chunk of America is sick to their back teeth of what they call political correctness.  Although rational people recognize that political correctness is a derogatory term for civility, many loathe it nonetheless. Presently, there is a certain level of admiration for a person willing to tell the unvarnished truth as he or she sees it.  We are seeing this admiration play out in liberal circles as well. A great deal of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is his speaking truth to power approach.

Then, there is the fact that Trump doesn’t need anyone. He is a very profitable business man who has come back from the brink more times than we can count. He is full of the can-do American spirit; He never gives up. As a known contributor to both parties, he has the freedom to entertain all points of view. As a billionaire, he runs a lesser chance of being bought. Americans want someone willing to hear other perceptions and someone comfortable in his/her own decision-making abilities. While very few openly admit to agreeing with most of Trump’s most outrageous statements, they do admire his confidence to stick to his guns. Again, look left…The liberal juggernaut, Sanders, is drawing huge crowds who adore him for sticking to his guns.

Finally, he is making politics interesting again. For many years, Americans have been, well, angry. Ranging from mild irritation to frothing at the mouth, anger and frustration has been an ever-present undercurrent in political discussions. The Donald has energized us all. I appreciate that. He and his kitten make me laugh, but his unique brand of outrageous foolery has people paying attention again. We need people paying attention. I’ve been saying for years that WE were the tyranny, that we have become far too uninvolved. Apathy does no favors for democracies. The Donald and his kitten are just entertaining enough to draw in viewers. Viewers are voters. For that alone, Trump, you’re hired.

 

 

 

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

…Why, you ask? Because a certain story of American gusto has taken the nation by storm. And, well, I am not totally buying the narrative.

By now, we’ve all heard the heart warming story. 56-year-old James Robertson walks over 21 miles to work…5 days a week…for 10 years. Let me repeat that. Mr. Robertson has walked over 21 miles to work for 10 years. After his car gave out on him over a decade ago, this man did what he needed to do in order to remain gainfully employed. In the process, the job became his life.

 

The sheer time and effort of getting to work has ruled Robertson’s life for more than a decade, ever since his car broke down. He didn’t replace it because, he says, “I haven’t had a chance to save for it.” His job pays $10.55 an hour, well above Michigan’s minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not enough for him to buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.

Is this job really worth it? I mean, walking that far every Monday through Friday! Why not just quit?

“I can’t imagine not working,” he says.

Okay, so this man is no taker. He exemplifies the idea that a man who won’t work won’t eat. Right?

Robertson’s 23-mile commute from home takes four hours.

He also seems to understand that anything worth having might be difficult to obtain and keep. The four-hour journey to keep a $10.55/hour job practically yells commitment. Right? And his employers speak very highly of him. His manager speaks of Mr. Robertson as a model employee.

“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”

I know what you’re thinking. What exactly is the issue? What can be said other than the fact that Mr. Robertson’s actions are the embodiment of what we think of as American Spirit? His story is remarkable. I find that there are, indeed, a few remarkable things about this story. (Spoiler Alert: American spirit doesn’t make my list.)

Topping the list, of course, is James Robertson. In my view, this is not a case of American can-do spirit. In fact, America plays little to no role here save setting and nationality. This a case of a remarkably determined man doing remarkable things in order to survive. The triumph or victory (if you call it that) belongs solely to the man himself. His grit, his determination, his perseverance, and his commitment make him a man to be respected and admired.

Secondly, I find it remarkable that so many Americans read his story, recognized his actions, and responded. According to  USA Today, over $230,000 has been raised on behalf of Mr. Robertson. That number is expected to rise.  I was pretty sure that there were still good people in the world, and the response reaffirmed that belief.

Finally, I find it remarkably disheartening that this story, while touching and inspiring, is not unique. My life has allowed me to experience many, many James Robertsons. I grew up in a community where this type of feel-good story was the norm. I have witnessed single mothers walk to work after death, divorce, or abandonment removed fathers from homes. I have witnessed married women walk similarly exhaustive treks in order to supplement the father’s income so that the family could make ends meet. I have witnessed fathers walking from home to Job 1, then Job 2, and sometimes Job 3 before walking home again.

Circumstances of birth, I suppose, make these people good Americans. In my eyes, they are simply good people. And therein lies my issue…this nation is full of good people doing remarkable things on a daily basis. Not in an effort to be labeled “good Americans”, but because they must be done. The stories of James Robertson and countless others make me wonder why Americans can’t see the economic failure embedded within the feel-good.

But… I return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Drowning in America Without Water

If you haven’t heard,

“Tens of thousands of members of Iraqi religious minority groups are dying of heat and thirst on Mount Sinjar, human rights groups say, after death threats from Islamic State – formerly Isis.” (Source: The Telegraph, emphasis mine).

This is truly outrageous and tragic.

Yet in our own backyard….

We have the impoverished City of Detroit.

Perhaps you’ve heard that the City of Detroit shut off water for those with water bills past due. This resulted in international attention and outrage. Even the UN condemned this action.

“The Detroit water situation is resulting in violations of the right to housing and the right to water. Disconnections for non-payment are only allowed when it can be shown that the resident has the ability to pay.” (Leilani Farha, UN Special Representative on Adequate Housing)

This is still an issue the NAACP has (rightfully) taken to court, and a decision won’t be immediate.

In the meantime, action needed to be taken. Humans need water for survival.

Since the government was slow to move to protect the PEOPLE, two people (who don’t live in Detroit) started this program to get water flowing to residents in need. There are other, grassroots programs to get and keep the water flowing in Detroit.

Let’s be clear: this is a racial issue. This is an issue of class.

This is obscene.

“Meanwhile, General Motors and the city’s two sports arenas, which owe millions in unpaid water bills, have not had their water turned off.”

via “Water Rights March in Detroit”

The Detroit Water Department reports approximately 120,000 accounts in the economically depressed city of around 700,000 total are “delinquent” (where “delinquent” = 60 days behind or owing more than $150.)  The average water bill for a small family around $50.

BUT, after a shutoff, the residents must pay an additional $30 reconnection fee. There are also fines for “stealing water” (if you were to reconnect your household to water yourself) from $250 for the 1st offense, $500 for the 2nd offense, $660 for the 3rd offense. The Water Department is brutal on those who reconnect themselves–first by labeling them as “thieves” (or a human right?)  and secondly, by refusing to restore water unless the account is paid in full.

Approximately 2/3 of the households affected by the water shut-off have children. The state of Michigan, rather than help remedy the situation, instead decided to continue to enforce a protective law that allows children in households with no running water to be removed and placed into foster care. Just on an economic level, this makes no sense.

On a human rights level, it’s nauseating.

So…shutting off water to residents while enforcing a law allowing the State to remove children from homes without fresh water? I don’t have time, as I write, to “follow the money”….but this is abusive, classist, racist….and is happening right now in our country.

If you have the time, please watch and share this:

Health Care “reform”: My response to Obama (from 3 years ago)

NB: I wrote this quickly on March 22, 2010, after reading Obama’s speech. The ACA had just been passed. I couldn’t listen to his speech the previous night. I think I made it to the third paragraph of his speech before I grabbed my “comfort book” (Epictetus, thank you) and went upstairs to read in dim light.

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

This sounds so good, President Obama.
Does this mean that I can get affordable health insurance for some pre-existing
conditions now?

No? Okay, so I guess I can just keep on dealing with these awful migraines because I can’t afford the $500.00 a month it would cost to get a preventative medication that might work. I won’t find out, because, you know, I have to feed my family first. That’s cool, I understand.

Call this me taking one for the American people. Every time I vomit water or plain bile because I’ve been unable to keep food down for more than 24-hours due to a mere migraine, I’ll just think of it as my sacrifice for the Good of the Country.

So, God forbid (you do invoke Him several times) I get sick, my husband and my daughter would be left without me, or we’d be bankrupt, or…?

That’s so comforting.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.
Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I must disagree, politely but vehemently, with any sort of claim that “we” have “proved” that the “government…still works for the people.”

The government works for some of the people. Hurray for some!

And kudos for us to returning to the failed ways of Ancient Greek oligarchies—this bill has proven more than anything that we are ruled by corporations.
All right, though, I will grant that the Supreme Court recently did rule that corporations are people, too.

Maybe I will change my name and incorporate myself. I could start as an S-corp, sell some stock, and let my investors decide what I should do with my life. That does seem to be one way for me to “get ahead” in America, at this date and time.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

To those of you who struggled with voting yes, go fuck yourselves. Yes, seriously. You have health insurance. Many of us don’t.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we lack health insurance because we don’t want it?

So if you found doing the RIGHT thing was hard, then maybe you should retire from any sort of public life until you’ve gotten in touch with yourself and let go of some of your financial obligations.

And you should also read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—it’s mild, but it’ll remind you (maybe) of what we need. Of what true courage and conviction is.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

I have never felt like more of a failure with my activism work than when I read this paragraph. I haven’t been heard, that’s clear. I’ve been working for single-payer for years. No, I haven’t been heard. And hundreds of others I’ve encountered during my activism haven’t been heard, either.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

The only victory I see is that maybe, maybe Rush Limbaugh MIGHT leave the country. [And that didn’t happen, dammit.] But has he not said this sort of crap before and stayed? And honestly, even if he did leave, he’d still go on with his show.

There is no victory, Mr. President and members of Congress. This, if anything, is a time to mourn your failures.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and
losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people. <

I don’t give a shit about the frenzied analysis. I want change. I want it NOW. I’m sick and tired of living in fear, Mr. President and members of
Congress. What do I fear? I hate that I live in the shadow of a migraine that will inevitably strike me. I hate that I live in fear of falling down the stairs. How could I pay for a broken bone, never mind something more “serious?”

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

25994_10100187621531793_2478648_tI am so distrustful of the health insurance industry, and I have total faith that they will find a way to continue to make obscene profit off of sickness.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

Wow, great. Our country can pay billions of dollars a day to go to other countries to kill other people, but I have to pay for the basic human right to, you know, live?

Thanks.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the
right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Anyone else alarmed that extending the life of Medicare by a decade is progress? What the f, people?

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

I cannot argue that this isn’t change. I certainly won’t argue with the first line there, that this isn’t radical reform. It’s not.

Our healthcare situation, as it stands now, is hemorrhaging. And the doctors, the government, have decided a band-aid will do the trick. And I’m not talking decent-sized or even normal band-aids. I’m talking about one of those silly round band-aids that doctors will sometimes put on you after taking blood.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

I’ll wait and see what the outcome is, Mr. President. I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some sort of health insurance then.