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. 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.”

14) The Criminal Justice Reform Act.
In order to avoid the further criminalization of poverty and to promote equal justice before the law, this bill will reform the cash bail system as follows: No bail for a violent felony. Sliding scale for a first-time violent misdemeanor; no bail for a second offense. Not showing up is a no-bail felony. Analysis of an arrestee’s likelihood of showing up based on previous history and investment in the community; sliding scale bail depending on results-unlikely to appear, high bail, likely to appear, low (or no required) bail.

Feedback, suggestions, and comments are encouraged.

Is That Stuff Contagious?

First, the good news:  You can’t “catch” poverty. There are some lifestyle choices you can make that put you at higher-risk for becoming poor, but for most people, poverty is a congenital condition.  An inherited one.

Mama and Daddy are poor?  Congratulations, you and your children have an excellent chance of being poor as well.  You’ve lost the genetic lottery.

As we talked about a week ago in this space, poverty is on the move in the United States.  Ever since we gave up on the War on Poverty in favor of more broadcast-friendly “wars” (drugs, terror), poverty is spreading like kudzu.  Or perhaps more like malaria.

Poverty is the sort of thing you pass on to future generations.  No matter what economic level you’re born into, if you slip into that lower rung – the one nobody wants to talk about – your kids are likely to spend some time poor, too.

According to this piece published by the Urban Institute in 2010, half (ok, 49% – poetic license) of all children born into poverty will continue to live poor for at least half of their young lives (up to 18).  By contrast, a child who is not born to a family below the poverty line has only about a 25% chance of living any years of her youth in poverty.  And, according to the researchers (who tracked families through a University of Michigan study for 40 years), one out of five kids born poor will continue to spend time in their late 20’s poor.

So.  We’ve established that the best way to get poor is to catch it from your parents.  Note that I’m not judging here.  The “why” of that family poverty connection is a topic for another day.  Right now I’m just trying to figure out how one catches this condition.

But you can “catch” poverty, following our metaphor, by “catching” a real disease.  It’s more and more common in the U.S.  Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy here, according to the American Journal of Medicine.  That’s a heck of a latrogenic artifact, huh?

No, bankruptcy is not a guaranteed trip to Poverty Lane. But it’s hardly a stretch to say the two live close to each other.

Of course, one of the best ways to catch financial distress is to, well, get old.   NBC News tells us that fifteen percent of American seniors live below the poverty line.  That probably doesn’t leap out and grab you.  How about this:  Without Social Security the poverty rate among Americans 65 or older would be 54%. Fifty-Four percent.

Those are just a few of the ways to end up poor.  There are plenty more.  Twenty-eight percent of Americans have no emergency savings.  When one of those people lose their job, they’re going to start feeling poor very soon. You could develop an addiction.  You could get a divorce.  All those are tried-and-true ways to catch the poverty bug.

No, clearly poverty is not contagious.  But being poor, for most people, is not the result of poor life decisions any more than catching the flu is the result of aberrant behavior.

I wanted to take this space this week to make it clear that poverty just … is … for a lot of Americans.  Many more are always hovering at the poverty line, and more are crossing it these days than in a long time.  But it’s (generally) not anyone’s fault they’re poor.

Next week we’ll talk about some things we (and by “we” I mean “We the People”, using our collective governmental force) can do about poverty, and why we should.

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.