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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The Flint disaster can happen in your city too

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their last infrastructure report card in 2013 and gave the United States an overall D+. This country’s infrastructure is in dismal shape, which means many people have been, are being, and will be harmed in some way, be it via a bridge collapse, poisoned water, crumbling schools, sewage or oil leaking into the ground or homes (yes, sewage leaking into the home has happened to me (in New Jersey) and to my parents (in Indiana)), and sadly, the list goes on.

Investment in infrastructure is imperative to prevent it from collapsing all around us. Failure to do this not only poses great safety risks to the public but is also a drain on our economy. Investment doesn’t mean using taxpayer dollars only—private-public partnerships should be sought. Infrastructure must be better regulated too. Some may scream there is too much regulation and perhaps on paper that is true, but time and time again it is revealed post-disaster that systems and equipment were not being adequately maintained or regulated. Prioritizing penny-pinching and profit-seeking over people’s safety should never be an acceptable way to operate.

The Flint, Michigan, water situation could have been avoided. It is an example of the devastating consequences when poor governance, lax oversight, minimal to no accountability to the public, poverty, austerity, and aging, unsafe, or contaminated infrastructure collide. The Republican Governor with his mania for austerity and appointing emergency managers (in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, to name a few) has contributed a good deal to this crisis—and yes, he did, no matter how much some people want to spin it. Governor Rick Snyder asserts that Flint’s water crisis was only brought to his attention in October 2015. Even if that proves to be true, why did he wait three months before taking any action to right this wrong? Continue reading

Fix It: Five Ways to Beat Poverty in America (Now)

What America has always done best is Get Stuff Done.  Show us a problem, we’ll solve it.  Tell us something can’t be done, we’ll do it.  Threaten us, we’ll throw everything we’ve got at kickin’ your ass.

You know what threatens us today?  Poverty.  As I hope I’ve demonstrated the past few Sundays, poverty is a growing cancer on this nation.  The widening gap between have and have-not is dragging us all down, and it’s time we did something about it.

So what do we do?  Here’s a good start:

1.)  Name it.  Stand up and say, “Yes, we have a problem. Let’s talk about it.”  Ideally, a leading political figure or a cable talking head would lead the charge.  John Edwards got a lot of traction with his “Two Americas” theme, but it died for lack of marital fidelity (Ain’t America strange?   If you screw up in exactly the wrong way, none of what you’ve done retains any value.).  Rachel Maddow, we love you here on the Left, but we already know how bad the Iraq War was.  Pick up the banner for something we can all fix.  Anderson Cooper? Oprah Winfrey?  People like you have big microphones the rest of us are lacking.  Use them, please.

But if the people with the big microphones won’t speak up, it’s up to the rest of us.  So if you find it unacceptable for a child to go to bed hungry tonight in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, you speak up.  If enough of us talk, they‘ll start to listen.

2.)  Open Medicare to everyone.  Do I really need to beat this one to death?  I’ll be brief:  There’s no reason under heaven that (again) in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world anyone should go bankrupt over medical bills.  None.  Not one.  It doesn’t happen in other first-world nations, and it should stop happening here.  If we expand the Medicare risk-pool to include all the current uninsured (who are, by and large, young and not disabled – because once you become disabled, you qualify for it already), the financial risk drops across the board.  Allow people to opt-in (and pay for it at-cost) or to choose private insurance (and watch private insurance either wither on the vine or specialize into efficient niche coverage).

3.)  Overhaul the student loan system.  Start by forgiving the existing debt.  Yes, I said that.  I don’t know how to do it exactly – maybe we (the Federal government) buy it all up and makes it all interest-free.  And then find a way to offer new student loans at zero interest.  Also, offer no further loans for “education” at for-profit institutions.

4.)  Infrastructure.  There’s a meme going around that America should invade America and win hearts and minds by rebuilding infrastructure and educating children. Hard to argue with that.  In this Everblog post from earlier this week you can see how much of an investment needs to be made in America’s bridges, roads, schools, etc.  If we make the investments necessary to get us where we need to be we’ll get there on the backs of skilled, well-educated workers.  Which means we’re going to need more of them.  Which means we’ll lower unemployment.  And as a bonus, we’ll live in a safer, more efficient and nicer America.

5.)  Welfare.  Actually, I don’t care what you call it.  The bottom line is that it’s time to get over the grudge we have against public assistance.  People who can’t make ends meet need our help, not our scorn.  And there are quite simply not enough private institutions out there to do the work that needs to be done.  Just give a check to people who need a check.  It’s cheap, in the great scheme of things. Children whose parents can afford to feed them and clothe them and spend time with them have a far greater chance of, dare I say, pulling themselves up by they own bootstraps, than hungry kids who grow up mostly on their own, wouldn’t you say?

Bonus!  6.)   Support organized labor.  Put simply, an organized workforce with the power (both legal and fundamental) to collectively bargain will improve working conditions and pay for all workers.  Which means nearly all of us. 

No, I didn’t include raising the minimum wage.  Yes, I think that’s important, but to speak plainly, it’s chicken-shit.  Put these other items in play and it will happen on its own.

Yes, this is going to cost some money.  I submit that initial investments made in this generation for items 3-5 (item two will end up revenue neutral at worst) will more than pay for themselves in the long run.  Call it trickle-up economics if you’d like.  Grass-roots growth.  How would I pay for them?  That’s a topic for another Sunday, but I’ll give you a hint.

The Everblog poverty series:

A Departure.

Bootstraps!

Is That Stuff Contagious?

I Want a New War.

In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com.  You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.

Ok, So the President Did Talk About Poverty. Kinda.

A few days ago I wrote that the President would not talk about poverty in the State of the Union address.  Perhaps I pre-judged a bit harshly.  He did, in fact, use the word “poverty.”  Exactly four times in a 6,419 word speech.

I do think some of the ideas he talked about might help raise people from poverty – just not the ones you might think.  Yes, raising the minimum wage is a nice start, but if we can make real college educations (not for-profit McUniversities) more available (without tying them to massive debt), if we can put large numbers of people to work fixing our infrastructure and if we can put quality pre-school education within reach of all Americans … we might be able to make a dent in this national scourge.  Reforming immigration might be a nice help in that regard as well.

But as long as our leaders refuse to use the bully pulpit to make us stand up and take notice of the truth about poverty in America, a dent is all we’ll make.

Look for more from me on this in my Sunday post.