OUR DEMOCRACY NEEDS MORE VOTERS

The United States has very low rates of participation in our “democracy,” which is perhaps most dramatically evident in our very low voter turnout. In our last presidential election – a very visible and hotly contested race – only a bit over one-half (roughly 56%) of those eligible voted. In the upcoming 2018 elections for Congress and state offices, it is likely that only a bit over one-third of those eligible will vote.

This low voter participation is not healthy for a democracy and is inconsistent with our democratic ideals and principles of government of, by, and for the people. Worldwide, most other democracies have higher voter participation; Belgium leads among the 34 advanced democracies at 87% with the US’s 56% in 27th place. [1]

Our voting system, with most voting procedures determined by the states, does little to encourage voter participation. For example, voting on Tuesdays, a work day, has never been convenient for working people. Moving election day to a weekend or making it a holiday would make voting more convenient and almost certainly increase participation. The voter registration rules set by the states have historically set deadlines to register to vote well before election day and required residents to appear in a government office to register, neither of which encourages voting.

In the 2016 presidential election, voter participation varied among the states from 74% in Minnesota and 71% in New Hampshire and Maine, to 42% in Hawaii and 50% in West Virginia. [2] Some states have encouraged voter participation by allowing early and expanded absentee voting, as well as same-day registration.

Many states are putting hurdles in front of potential voters rather than encouraging participation. In most cases, these efforts to restrict or discourage voting have political motivations, usually to reduce voting by groups that tend to vote for Democrats. Some states have reduced early or absentee voting. Some have reduced the number of voting locations, making it more difficult for some voters to get to the polls or resulting in waiting lines to vote, sometimes waits of over an hour.

Thirteen states have imposed more restrictive identification requirements for voting since 2010, typically requiring voters to produce a government-issued ID. It is estimated that 21 million eligible voters do not have a such an ID. So, in the states that require them, voting becomes much more difficult, requiring these potential voters to obtain a government ID in advance of the election. This and other policies that suppress voting are profoundly anti-democratic and have no valid, non-political rationale. [3]

Four states have laws that prohibit Americans who have been convicted of a felony crime from ever voting, even after they have completed their sentences. It is estimated that over 6 million Americans cannot vote because of this felony disenfranchisement.

In general, people who are better-off economically, have more education, and are older are more likely to vote and those who are low-income, young, and non-white are less likely to vote. For example, 41% of registered voters over 70 vote regularly while only 1% of those between 18 and 29 vote regularly.

Research has found that voters and non-voters support different economic policies. Not surprisingly, given their demographics, non-voters are more supportive of policies that promote economic equality and provide a safety net for those experiencing economic hardship. [4] Therefore, getting significant numbers of non-voters to vote would likely change election results and policies.

Some eligible voters don’t vote because they feel that their vote doesn’t matter. Gerrymandering of district boundaries means that indeed some voters don’t matter because the district they live in is overwhelming tilted to a party or ideology that they don’t support. In primary elections, some states require that you be registered in a party to vote in that party’s election. This means that the large number of voters who are independent or unenrolled in a party have no say in deciding which Democrat or Republican will appear on the ballot for the final election.

Some eligible voters feel, with good reason, that our electoral and political systems are rigged in favor of large corporations and employers, as well as the wealthy individuals who are typically the executives or investors in those corporations. Because our election campaigns are almost exclusively funded by wealthy individuals and corporations, and backed up with lobbying and the revolving door of personnel moving between corporations and positions in government, these alienated voters see no difference between the two political parties and feel their voices are inevitably drowned out at the ballot box and in policy debates.

Some analysts make the case that the lack of participation in our democracy and voting reflects not just a loss of faith in government and the efficacy of participation, but also a loss of experience with civic activity more broadly. A decline in volunteer participation in civic organizations and groups in the US has been documented since the 1960s. One study found that from 1994 to 2004 memberships in civic organizations and groups fell by 21%. This trend is likely accelerating. A 2010 census survey found that only 11% of respondents had served on a committee or as an officer of any group or organization in the previous year. Voluntary participation in churches, clubs, fraternal organizations, and labor unions, for example, provide individuals with experience with self-governance, democratic decision making, and participation in civic life focused on building community and working together for a greater good. As participation in local civic life has withered, the orientation to and understanding of the importance of participating in our democratic political process has declined as well. [5]

Higher voter participation would produce elected representatives that more accurately reflect the priorities of the public and, if participation were consistently high, would result in less partisanship and more stable policies. Currently, the Republicans in particular, but the Democrats too, are focused on low turnout elections where they pander to their hardcore supporters, known as their “base.” Therefore, their candidates and those who get elected tend to be focused on appealing to this small group of supporters who often have relatively extreme views. Higher voter participation would require the parties and their candidates to work to appeal to a broader set of voters. This would make a big difference in election results.

I encourage you to ask candidates and elected officials what they are doing to increase voter participation. This is a core issue that we must address if our democracy is to live up to its promise and potential.

[1]      The Sanders Institute, May 2018, “Why don’t Americans vote?” (https://www.sandersinstitute.com/blog/why-dont-americans-vote)

[2]      Khalid, A., Gonyea, D., & Fadel, L., 9/10/18, “On the sidelines of democracy: Exploring why so many Americans don’t vote,” National Public Radio (https://www.npr.org/2018/09/10/645223716/on-the-sidelines-of-democracy-exploring-why-so-many-americans-dont-vote)

[3]      Brennan Center for Justice, retrieved 9/18/18, “New voting restrictions in America,” (https://www.brennancenter.org/new-voting-restrictions-america)

[4]      Khalid, Gonyea, & Fadel, 9/10/18, see above

[5]      Appelbaum, Y., Oct. 2018, “Americans aren’t practicing democracy anymore,” The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/losing-the-democratic-habit/568336/)

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A BETTER DEAL: A WIDE-RANGING POLICY AGENDA FROM THE DEMOCRATS

The Democratic National Party has been rolling out a series of policy proposals it calls A Better Deal. Its goal is to provide a campaign message that will win the votes of middle-income workers, many of whom voted for Trump because they felt they’d been forgotten by the Democratic Party. [1]

The first piece, presented in July 2017, focused on the economic well-being of workers and the middle class. It was subtitled: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future. It’s three major components are:

  • Higher wages and better jobs. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Create 15 million good jobs by spending $1 trillion on infrastructure and supporting small businesses. Ensure that workers can retire with dignity by protecting Social Security, pensions, and Medicare. Fight the loss of jobs to other countries.
  • Lower the cost of living for families. Lower the costs of drugs, post-secondary education, child care, cable TV and Internet service, and credit cards. Curtail the monopolistic practices of large corporations that lead to higher prices and reduced consumer choice. Provide paid leave for a new child or a family member’s illness.
  • Tools workers need to succeed in the 21st century. Expand public investment in education, training, and other tools workers need to succeed in the 21st Provides incentives to employers to invest in their workers’ skills and knowledge, including through apprenticeships.

(See a more detail summary these policy proposals in my previous post and my post critiquing them.)

The second piece, unveiled on May 8, 2018, focused on housing and communities and was subtitled: Public Housing & Ladders of Opportunity for American Families. It has four major components:

  • Repair America’s aging public housing. Invest $6 billion a year for five years to eliminate the deferred maintenance in public housing, including eliminating all major lead and mold hazards, improving energy efficiency, and making units accessible for residents with disabilities. Provide $9 billion a year in ongoing operations and maintenance funding.
  • Empower residents to fully participate in governance of their public housing. Facilitate the active involvement and participation of public housing residents in governance and increase tenant protections during relocation for renovations.
  • Ensure public housing agencies have the tools to connect residents to opportunity. Provide resources and tools to improve employment opportunities, earnings potential, and health outcomes for public housing residents by investing in job training and counseling services; educational programs; after-school enrichment programs; and access to other services.
  • Provide comprehensive solutions for the communities surrounding public housing. Invest $2 billion annually to rehabilitate and transform neighborhoods where public housing is located, while leveraging private resources as well.

The third piece, unveiled on May 21, 2018, focused on elections and ethics and was subtitled: Fixing our broken political system and returning to a government of, by, and for the people. Its three major components are:

  • Empower the American voter. Protect every citizen’s right to vote and the security and accuracy of our voting systems. End partisan gerrymandering.
  • Strengthen our nation’s ethics laws. End the influence of big money in election campaigns and of lobbyists. Close the revolving door between government jobs and positions working for private sector special interests.
  • Fix our broken campaign finance system. Break the stranglehold of wealthy campaign donors on our democracy. Pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and end the undue influence of big money in our elections, especially of unaccountable “dark” money from undisclosed donors. Increase and multiply the power of small campaign donors, while supporting new and diverse candidates. Improve enforcement of existing campaign finance laws.

The most recent piece, unveiled on May 22, 2018, focused on education and was subtitled: A Better Deal for Teachers and Students. It had five components, which it proposes paying for by rescinding the recent tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations:

  • Dedicate $50 billion over 10 years to increasing teachers’ compensation. Recruit and retain a strong, diverse workforce.
  • Establish a $50 billion fund for school infrastructure. Invest in up-to-date buildings and classrooms, as well as educational technology and materials, for all students.
  • Provide additional support to schools serving children from low-income families. Ensure all students have access to academic opportunities and a rich curriculum, including computer science, music, and civics.
  • Protect teachers’ right to join a union. Ensure that teachers can collectively negotiate for better pay and conditions.
  • Fulfill the federal promise to fund 40% of the cost of special education.

While A Better Deal’s four proposals present a wide-range of policy proposals and are fairly specific about some of them, they do not present a vision or comprehensive policy agenda in the way An Economic Agenda for America’s Future does. (See my previous post on this proposal from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

While A Better Deal’s proposals could excite some voters and increase voter turnout by addressing issues that matter to working Americans, they are less inspiring and more policy wonkish than An Economic Agenda for America’s Future. They present a set of nuts-and-bolts, pragmatic, and sometimes bold steps, rather than a vision.

There are gaps in A Better Deal. For example, it doesn’t address climate change and greening the economy; support for unions (other than for teachers); a more progressive, fairer tax system to address economic inequality; reducing the power of the huge corporations including on Wall Street; and reforming our health care system.

A Better Deal is viewed by some as timid and underwhelming. It doesn’t clearly renounce growing economic inequality and the greed of corporate executives. It doesn’t provide a truly inspirational message such as the one Senator Bernie Sanders delivered in the 2016 primary.

The support for A Better Deal from Democratic members of Congress and the Party’s leadership isn’t strong and solid, and, therefore, the Party’s messaging is not consistent and effective. Similarly, Democratic candidates don’t yet appear to have widely, let alone enthusiastically, adopted A Better Deal for their campaign messaging.

I’m interested in your comments on this post. Do you think A Better Deal will motivate voters to vote for Democrats this fall?

[1]      Cottle, M., 7/31/17, “Democrats pitch a kinder, gentler populism,” The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/07/the-struggle-to-sell-a-better-deal/535410/)

MUELLER’S INVESTIGATION RESULTS TO-DATE: 35 INDICTMENTS, 3 GUILTY PLEAS, AND MORE

I’m interrupting my series on a progressive policy agenda for the US, because I think it’s important to document the results of the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election, given that President Trump and his supporters are apparently ramping up their efforts to discredit the investigation. (Much of this post is a summary of an article in the Huffington Post.) [1]

In 15 months of a very complex investigation, Mueller has gotten 35 indictments, 3 guilty pleas, 1 incarceration, and 1 on-going trial. Here are some of the details:

  • The on-going trial is of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. Although the charges he’s currently being tried on aren’t directly linked to the campaign, they involve work he did for Ukrainians with close ties to Putin and Russia. He also had close ties directly to Russians and attended the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer who supposedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • Rick Gates, who worked on the Trump campaign and on the Trump inauguration, pled guilty to lying to Mueller and FBI investigators, as well as to financial malfeasance. He was also Manafort’s business partner.
  • Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, pled guilty to lying about his meeting with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
  • George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was the first person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his knowledge that Russians had thousands of apparently stolen emails that would embarrass Hillary Clinton. He had mentioned this to an Australian diplomat. When hacked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed information about Papadopoulos on to their American counterparts. Alarmed American officials had the FBI open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, months before the presidential election. In accordance with FBI protocol, this investigation was kept secret. Papadopoulos was apparently one of the contacts the Russians used to try to establish secret communications with the Trump campaign.
  • Alex van der Zwaan is the one person who’s gone to jail as a result of the Mueller investigation. He’s the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his work with two members of President Trump’s campaign team, Manafort and Gates. He served 30 days in a federal prison and has been deported to the Netherlands.
  • Thirteen Russians have been indicted for a multi-million dollar conspiracy to influence the 2016 election through social media. They pretended to be Americans and bought political ads and organized political events. Facebook acknowledges that these efforts reached at least 146 million people, almost half of the US population, through Facebook and Instagram.
  • Twelve Russian military officers, who work for Russia’s main intelligence agency, have been indicted for hacking into the email servers of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. They stole and then released thousands of emails. The content of these emails, along with reporting on their theft and release, dominated the news for weeks and clearly had an impact on the election.

The Mueller investigation is clearly a serious probe of significant and successful efforts to affect the 2016 election. Over its 15 months, the Mueller investigation has cost $7.7 million (as-of 3/31/18), a tiny fraction of the Justice Department budget of $28 billion. By way of comparison, the Starr probe of President Clinton lasted four and a half years (over 3 times as long) and cost $39 million, or around $58 million in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation (over 7 times as much). There were at least three other independent or special counsel investigations during the Clinton administration that cost more than Mueller’s probe has. [2]

This investigation is NOT partisan. Mueller and Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation and is second in command at the Justice Department, are both Republicans. Mueller is a highly decorated Marine officer who has spent most of his career in the Justice Department. President Reagan appointed him the US Attorney for Massachusetts, and he later served as an assistant US Attorney in D.C.  and as US Attorney for Northern California. President George W. Bush appointed him second in command at the Justice Department and later as FBI Director. Congress unanimously extended his term as FBI Director in 2011. Rosenstein worked for the Starr investigation of President Clinton. President George W. Bush appointed him as US Attorney for Maryland and later nominated him to be a federal appeals court judge. President Trump appointed him as second in command at the Justice Department.

Before the election, in the early fall of 2016, the seriousness of foreign efforts to influence the election were becoming clear to US intelligence and criminal justice officials. President Obama convened a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress. His goal was to develop a bipartisan public statement on the Russian efforts to influence the election. He felt it was essential to have it be bipartisan so that it didn’t appear to be a partisan issue during the election. But the Republicans refused to go along, and no public statement was made.

Trump and his supporters have engaged in persistent, on-going efforts to discredit Mueller, Rosenstein, and the investigation. Their goal, according to Trump’s lawyer Giuliani, is to get the public to question the legitimacy of the investigation. The only reason I can think of that they would want to do that is because they are worried about the results of the investigation. From Trump’s personal perspective, which does seem to be all he really cares about, the most likely negative outcome of the investigation is evidence that would support impeachment.

The most likely impeachment charge against Trump is obstruction of justice, assuming no smoking gun of direct Russian collusion on his part is uncovered. So far the most likely obstruction of justice charges would be 1) his request that then-FBI director Comey stop the investigation of Michael Flynn’s meeting with the Russian ambassador, 2) his firing of FBI Director Comey, apparently in an effort to stop the investigation into Russian interference in the election, 3) his attempts to get Attorney General Sessions to rescind his recusal and take charge of the investigation (even though he met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign), and 4) his incessant efforts to discredit and undermine the investigation. As you think about whether this obstruction of justice might be grounds for impeachment, remember that President Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives (but the Senate failed to convict him) for obstruction of justice for lying to law enforcement about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. If lying about an affair is grounds for impeachment, President Trump is right to be worried.

(Note: The investigation of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is not part of Mueller’s investigation, although it is reportedly the result of a referral from the Mueller team. The investigation of Cohen is being undertaken by the US Attorney in New York.)

[1]      Reilly, R.J., 7/27/18, “The Mueller investigation, explained. Here’s your guide to the Trump-Russia probe,” HuffPost (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mueller-investigation-trump-russia-probe_us_5b4cdda5e4b0e7c958fe3141)

[2]      Kutner, M., 12/5/17, “Mueller’s Trump investigation cost slammed by Republican: ‘They must be having one hell of a Christmas party’,” Newsweek

WINNING ELECTIONS BY EXCITING VOTERS WITH PROGRESSIVE POLICIES

We need to elect people to Congress in November who will stand up to vested and powerful interests (namely wealthy individuals and large corporations) on behalf of everyday working people and families. We need to do this to rescue our democracy from plutocracy. This will require a high voter turnout, which will happen only if voters are excited and enthusiastic about the candidates they are voting for. It does not happen if voters are just voting against the other candidate or party, or for the lesser of two evils; that is not enough to motivate many voters to get out and vote.

In the last presidential election, despite all the attention it got, less than 56% – barely half – of eligible citizens actually voted. Although Trump and Clinton each excited a relatively small segment of voters, the electorate at large was not excited by either of these two candidates. Senator Sanders in his run for the Democratic nomination excited more voters and had more voters enthusiastically voting for him than either Trump or Clinton. President Obama excited enough voters, particularly Blacks, in his 2008 run for president that 62% of eligible voters went to the polls, which is the highest turnout since 1970, but still well below voter turnout among most of the other relatively wealthy democracies. (I’ll do a subsequent post on low voter participation in the US and reasons for it.).

If Democrats want to win in November, they need to put forward a clear, progressive agenda that will excite and motivate a broad swath of the electorate. Such a strategy has the potential to increase turnout substantially by getting people who vote irregularly or who have never voted excited and wanting to go vote. This is particularly important in non-presidential elections when typically, only 40% of eligible voters go to the polls. Some Democrats think that running against President Trump and the Republicans who are enabling his behavior and policies will lead them to electoral success. This is a risky strategy; it’s much better to be running for something than against something.

Exciting and motivating voters is what Senator Sanders did in his surprisingly successful and almost victorious campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. This is what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did in winning a shocking upset in her recent primary election victory for a US House seat in New York. This is what Senators Merkley and Warren and others are doing in their re-election bids. And what a wide range of candidates for local, state, and national offices are doing across the country. It is why Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez were in Kansas supporting two candidates for Congress, James Thompson and Brent Wilder. Overflow crowds of thousands enthusiastically rallied for these progressive candidates in Republican Kansas. [1]

An emerging progressive movement is evident in at least four candidates for Governor (in Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and New York), at least 53 congressional candidates, and too-numerous-to-count candidates for state legislatures and local government posts. [ 2] These candidates are listening to the grassroots and to polls that show what Americans want from their government – good jobs with fair pay, good K-12 public education, affordable higher education, support for balancing work and family, a health care system that works (with many specifically supporting a single-payer system or Medicare-for-all), and economic security. Unfortunately, many of the leaders of the Democratic party are resisting this progressive ground swell of energy, fighting against it by supporting centrist and corporate-leaning candidates rather than progressive, grassroots candidates.

Many in the media and some political pundits are describing this progressive movement as “far left.” That may be true in today’s political climate, but it is not true historically. Many of the progressive policies being espoused by the current progressive movement were mainstream Democratic policies in the 1960s and a surprising number of them were supported by Republicans then as well. As a more recent example, believe it or not, the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the requirement that everyone buy health insurance – was a conservative, Republican think tank policy proposal. Despite the vehement Republican attacks on the individual mandate ever since the ACA was proposed – and Democrats’ unwillingness to defend it with any vigor – the individual mandate was proposed by the very conservative and Republican Heritage Foundation as part of its plan for comprehensive national legislation to provide universal “quality, affordable health care.” The plan was introduced in a 1989 book, “A National Health System for America,” by Butler and Haislmaier. [3]

In labeling current progressive policy proposals as “far left,” people are forgetting that President Clinton and other Democrats in the late 1980s and 1990s moved the Democratic Party a long way to the right and toward the political center in their efforts to win the presidency after 12 years of Republican presidents and then to win Clinton’s re-election.

The emerging progressive movement is getting short shrift from our mainstream media. A dramatic example is the lack of media coverage of the Poor People’s Campaign. From late May through June, it sponsored 40 days of action including multiple rallies and civil disobedience actions in Washington, D.C., and 30 state capitals but it got almost no coverage in the mainstream media. Thousands of people demonstrated, and hundreds were arrested for civil disobedience, but coverage was minimal. It was organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s original Poor People’s Campaign that linked the issues of civil rights and economic justice for all. [4] [5]

A number of groups have been organized to support progressive, grassroots candidates including Our Revolution (the spinoff from Senator Sanders presidential campaign), the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (which describes itself as the Senator Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party), the Working Families Party, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, and Brand New Congress. They provide numerous opportunities to support progressive candidates and activities, if you’re so motivated.

These organizations and the candidates they support are putting forth a progressive policy agenda. However, they tend to do so in a piecemeal fashion that makes it hard to grasp or summarize overall goals. In my next posts, I will summarize various proposals for an overall progressive policy agenda for the US that would excite voters by addressing issues that truly matter to working Americans.

[1]      Nichols, J., 7/20/18, “Sander and Ocasio-Cortez rally Kansas for a working-class politics that stands up to the Kochs,” The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/sanders-ocasio-cortez-rally-kansas-working-class-politics-stands-kochs/)

[2]      Burns, A., 7/21/18, “There is a revolution on the left. Democrats are bracing,” The New York Times

[3]      Roy, A., 10/20/11, “How the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, promoted the individual mandate,” Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2011/10/20/how-a-conservative-think-tank-invented-the-individual-mandate/#720de15a6187)

[4]      Sarkar, S., 5/23/18, “Hundreds of Poor People’s Campaign activists got themselves arrested for racial justice,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/05/23/hundreds-poor-peoples-campaign-activists-got-themselves-arrested-racial-justice)

[5]      Corbett, J., 6/21/18, “‘Stop the war! Feed the poor!’: March by Poor People’s Campaign ends with arrests in DC,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/06/21/stop-war-feed-poor-march-poor-peoples-campaign-ends-arrests-dc)

STOPPING GERRYMANDERING; RESTORING DEMOCRACY

Gerrymandering, the manipulation of the boundaries of electoral districts to predetermine outcomes, has become more blatant, dramatic, and effective in the 21st century. Please see my previous post for a discussion of how extreme partisan gerrymandering is undermining our democracy. The redrawing of electoral districts is done every ten years after new population data is available from the Census. Typically, state legislatures do the redistricting, and these partisan, elected officials have a built-in incentive to engage in partisan and other types of gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering can be stopped through multiple strategies:

  • Challenging gerrymandered districts in court,
  • Establishing standards for districts and the redistricting process, and
  • Creating non-partisan commissions to do the redistricting.

Districts that appear to be gerrymandered are being challenged in state and federal courts. In Pennsylvania, state courts ruled that the districts drawn after the 2010 Census were illegally gerrymandered and the US Supreme Court upheld this finding. There are currently two other cases before the US Supreme Court, one from Wisconsin challenging Republican gerrymandering and one from Maryland challenging Democratic gerrymandering. Decisions are expected to be announced this month. Unfortunately, these decisions will probably be too late to allow the gerrymandering to be fixed before the 2018 elections. [1]

Another solution to gerrymandering is to write standards into state or federal laws that govern how districts are drawn and the redistricting process used to draw them. There are several statistical tests that can be done of historical election results to identify whether gerrymandering is likely to have played a role in the outcomes. These tests can also be applied to projected results based on party enrollment and past voting patterns in proposed districts. [2] [3] These tests are valuable because they can be used during the redistricting process or by courts afterwards to determine if districts are being drawn fairly.

Perhaps, most promising is the creation by states of truly non-partisan, independent redistricting commissions that remove redistricting from the hands of partisan legislatures. Currently, twenty-one states use some form of redistricting commission for redrawing either or both of state legislative districts and congressional districts. Some are more independent of partisan political influence than others. [4]

The use of and interest in redistricting commissions is growing. In 2017, 29 state legislatures considered bills related to creating redistricting commissions. In the Pennsylvania legislature, a bill to create a redistricting commission is gaining significant support. In other states, citizens are putting measures to create redistricting commissions on the ballot. In Ohio, a badly gerrymandered state, 75% of voters recently approved a proposal on the ballot to extend the role of their independent redistricting commission to include congressional districts, in addition to state legislative districts. This was forced on elected officials by a grassroots campaign that collected nearly 250,000 signatures. Michigan is likely to have a proposal on its November 2018 ballot to create such a commission because of a grassroots organization that collected 425,000 signatures. Redistricting reforms are likely to appear on the ballot this fall in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, and Utah. These redistricting reform efforts are backed by strong bipartisan coalitions. [5] [6]

Gerrymandering is a significant threat to representative democracy as it undermines the basic tenet that every voter has an equal voice. It distorts democracy and lets the voices of a small subset of voters, often those with extreme views, dominate elections. The elected representatives, therefore, tend to reflect these minority and often extreme views, leading to extreme partisanship and gridlock in our legislative bodies.

In gerrymandered districts, many voters, with good reason, don’t feel they have a voice and that their elected officials don’t represent their interests and points of view. The broad support for ending extreme partisan gerrymandering is bipartisan: 80% of Democrats, 68% of independents, and 65% of Republicans back efforts to end it.

I urge you to contact your representatives in your state legislature and ask them to ensure fair redistricting after the 2020 Census. If you’re in one of the states mentioned above as likely to have a relevant ballot question in November, I encourage you to find information on the effort to reform redistricting and then get involved if you can. To learn more about the redistricting process in your state, the National Conference of State Legislatures has information here, and if you’re interested in knowing if there was a bill filed in your state legislature relative to the creation of a redistricting commission look here. For more information on ending gerrymandering and other reforms to our voting systems in general, Fair Vote has lots of information on its website.

[1]      Wheeler, R., 2/28/18, “The Supreme Court and partisan gerrymandering cases,” The Brookings Institution (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/unpacked/2018/02/28/the-supreme-court-and-partisan-gerrymandering-cases/)

[2]      Wang, S., & Remlinger, B., 9/25/17, “Slaying the partisan gerrymander,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/slaying-partisan-gerrymander)

[3]      Royden, L., Li, M., & Rudensky, Y., 3/23/18, “Extreme Gerrymandering & the 2018 midterm,” Brennan Center for Justice (https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/extreme-gerrymandering-2018-midterm)

[4]      Wikipedia, Retrieved from the Internet 6/4/18, “Redistricting commission” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redistricting_commission)

[5]      Rapoport, M., 12/7/17, “Prospects brightening for redistricting reform,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/prospects-brightening-redistricting-reform)

[6]      Daley, D., 6/14/18, “Voters take charge in making elections more fair,” The Boston Globe

GERRYMANDERING IS UNDERMINING OUR DEMOCRACY

Gerrymandering, the manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral district to predetermine the outcome based on party, race, incumbency, or other factors, has been happening for a long time. Traditionally, it was used to protect individual incumbents or to limit black and minority representation.

Typically, the state legislature redraws the boundaries of its state’s electoral districts with the new Census data available every ten years. With the 2020 Census coming up soon, there are efforts that some believe are meant to undercount hard-to-reach populations such as low-income households, minorities, and immigrants. (See my previous post for more detail.) If this occurs, it would mean that these residents will be under-represented when electoral districts are drawn, and, therefore, their voice and representation in state and federal legislative bodies would be diminished.

Gerrymandering has become more blatant, dramatic, and effective in the 21st century. It has been both fueled and exacerbated by partisanship and extremism in our state and national legislative bodies. It has been facilitated by increasingly sophisticated computer technology for mapping, analyzing, and tracking voters’ preferences and history. Historically, both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in gerrymandering.

Independent analyses find that in the redrawing of districts for the US House of Representatives following the decennial Censuses from 1970 to 2000, Democrats engaged in what’s called extreme partisan gerrymandering in one state after each of these four redistricting cycles. This occurred most dramatically in California in 1980. At its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, the best estimates are that through gerrymandering Democrats gained 3 – 5 seats in the House (out of 435 seats) above what would have otherwise been expected. After the 2010 Census, the Democrats did not engage in extreme partisan gerrymandering in any state. [1]

In redistricting after the 2000 and 2010 Censuses, independent analyses of the redrawing of districts for the US House find that Republicans engaged in extreme partisan gerrymandering in four states and seven states, respectively. The best estimates are that Republicans currently gain, through gerrymandering, between 15 and 20 seats in the House (out of 435 seats) above what would have otherwise been expected. A shift of 22 seats would change control from Republicans to Democrats.

For example, North Carolina is one of the states with extreme partisan gerrymandering of its Congressional districts. As a result, in 2012, Democrats got 51% of the votes for Congress statewide, but only won 4 of 13 seats in the House. In Pennsylvania, another state with extreme partisan gerrymandering, Democrats received just over half of the votes in 2012 but only 5 of 18 Congressional seats. [2] (This previous post has more information on the 2012 election results and on gerrymandering.)

Partisan gerrymandering has also dramatically affected thousands of seats in state legislatures. In Wisconsin, for example, in the 2012 election, Republicans received 49% of the statewide vote but got 60% of the seats in the Assembly of the state legislature. [3]

Extreme partisan gerrymandering has another, more insidious, effect. Nationwide, almost 100 of the 435 seats in the US House have been gerrymandered so only one of the two parties can win the seat. This means that the final election in November is meaningless for these seats. It also means that the voters of the party not in control of the district are effectively disenfranchised – their votes don’t matter (at least in terms of the election of their US Representative). Hence, tens of millions of voters effectively have no say in who is elected as their congressional representative.

In these congressional districts, gerrymandered to allow only one of the parties to win, the only election that matters is that party’s primary. Given the low voter participation in primary elections, a small number of voters, often ones with relatively extreme political views, determines who the US Representative will be. This is a significant contributing factor to the extreme partisanship and gridlock in Congress.

Extreme partisan gerrymandering insulates elected officials from all but a small handful of their constituents – those that vote for them in primary elections. Therefore, these congressional representatives do not need to worry about representing the interests of most of their constituents. When elected representatives redraw legislative districts after the Censuses and engage in gerrymandering, essentially the elected officials are picking their voters, rather than voters choosing their elected representatives.

This is clearly undermining democracy and the democratic principle of one person, one vote, i.e., that each voter has an equal voice in our democracy.

Partisan gerrymandering is accomplished by packing as many supporters of the opposition party into as few districts as possible. The opponents will win these seats overwhelmingly. Meanwhile, supporters of your party are spread more evenly across the other districts, so your party will comfortably win as many seats as possible. For example, in Pennsylvania in 2012, as the result of Republican gerrymandering, the Democrats won 5 congressional districts by an average margin of 76% to 24% (a 52 percentage point margin). The Republicans won 13 districts by an average of 59% to 41% (an 18 percentage point margin). [4] Clearly, if the Democratic voters had been spread out more evenly, the Democrats would have won more seats but by smaller margins. Overall, Democrats got about 350,000 votes and Republicans got about 250,000, but the Republicans won 13 of 18 seats. With fair districts, Democrats would have gotten 10 or 11 seats and Republicans 7 or 8 seats. So, extreme partisan gerrymandering produced a swing of 5 or 6 seats to the Republicans in Pennsylvania.

My next post will discuss what can be done to stop gerrymandering.

[1]      Wang, S., & Remlinger, B., 9/25/17, “Slaying the partisan gerrymander,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/slaying-partisan-gerrymander)

[2]      Li, M., 2/6/18, “What Pennsylvania’s landmark partisan gerrymandering ruling means,” Brennan Center for Justice (https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/what-pennsylvania-landmark-partisan-gerrymandering-ruling-means)

[3]      Fried, C., 7/10/17, “Gerrymandering is unfair and unjust,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Ballotpedia, retrieved from the Internet on 6/4/18, “United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2012” (https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections_in_Pennsylvania,_2012)

THE UNDERMINING OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF OUR JUDICIARY

There is widespread acknowledgement that fair and impartial courts and judges are essential to public trust in our court system and our democracy. A key role of the judiciary is to ensure that the legislative and executive branches of government do not overstep their authority or violate individuals’ rights. This is one of the key checks and balances that is part of the Constitution. Members of the legislative and executive branches should respect judges’ independence even when they disagree with their decisions.

In recent years, the judicial appointment process at the federal and state levels, elections of judges in some states, and court decisions themselves have gotten increasingly politicized. This is not a positive trend for our democracy and the politicization of the judiciary only seems to be accelerating.

President Trump on multiple occasions has criticized judicial decisions and demeaned individual judges. This is unprecedented and unhealthy for our courts and our democracy.

The President’s attacks on the judiciary seem to have emboldened others in their efforts to politicize our judicial system. In 2018, at least 14 states are considering at least 42 legislative proposals that would reduce the independence of judges and court systems. These proposals include giving legislators more control over the selection of judges, putting political or financial pressure on judges to rule the “right” way, and giving legislatures the power to override court decisions, including deciding the constitutionality of laws they themselves wrote. [1]

The attacks on judicial independence are coming from right-wing, wealthy interests in efforts to:

  • Have unlimited ability to sell guns and ammunition, as well as to carry guns, (Note: This is not really about Second Amendment rights; it’s about the ability of gun manufacturers to sell guns and ammunition to make big profits.)
  • Limit women’s ability to make decisions about their reproductive health,
  • Limit the rights of LGBTQ individuals,
  • Block every citizen’s right to an equal voice in our democracy through 1) restrictions on voting rights, 2) gerrymandered voting districts, and 3) unlimited campaign funding by wealthy special interests,
  • Expand the use of the death penalty and maintain an inequitable criminal justice system,
  • Block funding for public schools that ensures that every child receives a free and appropriate education as required by state constitutions,
  • Block fair taxes and fair employment and business practices necessary to stop spiraling economic inequality, and
  • Promote policies based on religious beliefs rather than the interests of the public.

For example, in Pennsylvania, legislators unhappy with a state Supreme Court ruling that a Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts was illegal, at first refused to comply with the court’s order and then threatened to remove the judges who had ruled against them. [2]

In Washington state, where judges are elected, legislators have proposed requiring analysis of how much each state Supreme Court decision will cost taxpayers. In decisions about individuals’ rights, cost should not be a factor and using the cost of a judge’s decisions should not be a factor in an election campaign. In North Carolina, legislators have proposed giving themselves more power in the selection of judges and in gerrymandering judicial districts. They have also proposed making judges run for election every two years. In Iowa, legislators unhappy with a judge’s decision to ban guns from courthouses have threatened to cut judges’ salaries and to require the courts to pay rent, using their control of the purse strings to try to affect judges’ rulings.

The impartiality and integrity of our state courts is critical because they handle the vast majority of criminal and civil cases in the U.S. For example, 94% of felony convictions occur in state courts, including 99% of rape cases and 98% of murder cases. In criminal cases, there is compelling evidence that the pressures of election campaigns and negative campaign ads affect judicial decision-making. (See this previous post for more detail.)

In summary, judges are facing unprecedented challenges to their ability to deliver fair, impartial justice free from partisan pressure. Not only are partisan elected officials trying to put their thumbs on the scales of justice, but in addition the rapid increase in spending on judicial campaigns has exacerbated the challenges to judicial fairness and integrity. (See this previous post for more detail.) We need to oppose efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary whenever and wherever they arise.

We need to support policies and practices that protect the independence of the judiciary. Two key policies related to the selection of judges are for states to use an effective, non-partisan appointment process or to have effective regulation of judicial elections and spending on them. Partial public financing systems, which match individuals’ small contributions with public money, can legally limit spending and the size of contributions. These are important steps in controlling the influence of campaign money on judicial decisions. (See this previous post for more detail.)

Eroding the checks and balances between our branches of government, and in particular the courts’ independence in making decisions fundamental to our democratic principles, is unpatriotic and antithetical to the Constitution. Increasing politicization of the courts is likely to further increase divisive partisanship. Reduced independence and power in the courts could be extremely difficult to reverse after the fact; this may well be a snowball that will roll uncontrollably downhill. Politicizing the judiciary would make its decisions subject to the whims of the current political environment rather than based on long-term constitutional, legal, and democratic principles.

[1]      Brennan Center for Justice, 2/6/18, “Legislative assaults on courts – 2018,” New York University Law School, (https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/legislative-assaults-state-courts-2018)

[2]      Keith, D., 2/21/18, “Democracy unchecked: Trump spurs state lawmakers to curb judges’ powers,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/democracy-unchecked-trump-spurs-state-lawmakers-curb-judges%E2%80%99-powers)

LOCAL POLICIES SERVING RESIDENTS BLOCKED BY RIGHT WING CONSERVATIVES

Right wing conservatives supposedly, ideologically, support local political control. Their actions, however, are first and foremost, designed to benefit the special interests that provide their financial support. They are using their political power at the state and federal levels to block and preempt progressive policies at the local level. Policies that benefit workers and the public good are blocked if they are opposed by the large corporations and wealthy executives who provide campaign funding. Right wing conservatives loudly proclaim their support and allegiance to the Constitution and democracy, but willingly undermine both when it serves the interests of their plutocratic backers. [1]

Right wing conservatives block the will of the majority using multiple strategies:

  • Passing laws or taking executive actions that block progressive policies of local communities,
  • Limiting the ability of judges and the courts to uphold the Constitution and laws that protect political, social, economic, and civil rights, and
  • Manipulating voting and representation through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and rigging of the Census.

This post will focus on laws and executive actions that block progressive policies. Subsequent posts will cover efforts to limit the independence of judges and the courts, as well as gerrymandering. Previous posts have discussed the rigging of the Census and voter suppression.

The plutocrats (i.e., those who have power due to their wealth) have used their money over a period of 40 years to buy political influence and elections. The resultant political shift to the right in Congress and the White House, and in many state legislatures and governorships, has meant that local communities are more frequently finding themselves at odds with policies established by right wing conservatives at the state and federal levels. In particular, large cities, which are substantially more diverse and politically progressive than the non-urban population, are having their progressive policies blocked by conservative, elected officials in state and federal offices.

One of the more notable conflicts between the Trump administration and local communities is over the treatment of immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants. Over 150 cities or counties have directed their police forces not to arrest or hold residents based solely on federal immigration law violations. Local law enforcement needs to have positive relationships with all residents, including undocumented immigrants, so it can keep everyone safe and ensure that everyone is comfortable interacting with the police for their own and others’ safety.

The Trump administration uses multiple tactics (e.g., threats to cut off funding and engaging in aggressive actions by federal immigration enforcement forces in those communities) to attempt to discourage and punish local initiatives to maintain good relationships between undocumented immigrants and police. The Trump administration is trying to coerce local communities into undermining local law enforcement and public safety.

At the state level, there are many examples of state governments blocking local policies that serve residents. These have gotten little attention in the mass media. For example, states have passed laws that prohibit municipalities from:

  • Raising their minimum wage (25 states, including almost every Southern state),
  • Requiring local employers to provide paid sick time and / or establishing a paid family and medical leave program (at least 17 states),
  • Providing local Internet service (typically at lower cost or higher speed than available from private providers) (at least 17 states),
  • Regulating ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft (at least 37 states),
  • Implementing local taxes to meet local needs (at least 42 states),
  • Regulating consumer and public health safety (e.g., tobacco products, food labeling, plastic bag bans, and fracking and other environmental threats),
  • Removing or altering Confederate monuments (at least 6 states),
  • Regulating short-term home rentals such as Airbnb (at least 3 states),
  • Protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people (at least 3 states), and
  • Taking steps to reduce gun violence by regulating guns and ammunition. [2] [3] [4] [5]

Nonetheless, local communities are asserting their progressive values. For example, 21 states and 32 localities have raised their minimum wage above the federal level since 2014. In response, the corporate-funded and run American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has drafted and provided to state legislators across the country model legislation called the “Living Wage Preemption Act” designed to block local increases in the minimum wage.

In some cases, states have overridden and reversed policies and programs after they have been established at the local level. For example, in Austin, Texas, the state struck down a local ordinance requiring fingerprinting of Uber and Lyft drivers. And Texas legislators have promised to introduce legislation to repeal Austin’s recently passed paid sick time law. In Ohio, the state retroactively canceled Cleveland’s increase in its minimum wage.

These efforts at preemption of local progressive policies are occurring because right wing conservatives and their wealthy backers know that the successes of these policies and programs represent a powerful refutation of their ideology and political arguments. The right wing also knows it is outnumbered if there is broad participation in elections and political activity. Therefore, one of their goals is to suppress voting and political engagement. Limiting the success of grassroots initiatives is key to preventing the building of a truly powerful, larger and broader progressive movement.

State and federal preemption of local policies usurps communities’ power and right to control their own destinies. Although preemption can play a positive role in setting a floor or minimum standard for policies on safety, environmental standards, human rights, and labor standards, its current use by right wing conservatives is anti-democratic because it is pushing the interests of the plutocracy – wealthy individuals and large corporations – and undermining democratic self-determination.

[1]      Doonan, M., 12/14/17, “Opportunistic federalism and a liberal resurgence,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/opportunistic-federalism-and-liberal-resurgence)

[2]      Miller, J., 2/21/18, “In the face of preemption threats, Austin passes paid sick leave,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/face-preemption-threats-austin-passes-paid-sick-leave)

[3]      Miller, J., 8/22/17, “On monuments and minimum wages,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/monuments-and-minimum-wages)

[4]      Von Wilpert, M., 3/13/18, “Preemption laws prevent cities from acting on everything from labor and employment to gun safety,” Economic Policy Institute (https://www.epi.org/blog/preemption-laws-prevent-cities-from-acting-on-everything-from-labor-and-employment-to-gun-safety/)

[5]      Hightower, J., May 2017, “GOP state legislatures are attacking local democracy,” The Hightower Lowdown (https://hightowerlowdown.org/article/gop-state-legislatures-are-attacking-local-democracy/)

THE UNDERMINING OF THE 2020 CENSUS

The 2020 Census is coming up soon and preparations for it are underway. You’ve probably heard about the controversy over the Trump administration’s effort to add a question on citizenship to the Census. Unfortunately, the politicization and undermining of the Census runs much deeper than just this question.

The Census is supposed to enumerate every person living in the U.S., regardless of whether they are a citizen or not. This is the Constitutional mandate of the Census. It’s used to determine boundaries for Congressional Districts and state legislative districts, as well as votes in the Electoral College (which, of course, elects the President). It’s also used every year to apportion $675 billion in federal funding for health care, schools, housing, and roads. Essentially every major U.S. institution uses Census data, from businesses analyzing markets to countless researchers analyzing demographics and driving policy decisions.

The 2010 Census was the most accurate one in history, but it over-counted white residents by almost 1% (e.g., people with more than one home) and under-counted Blacks by 2%, Hispanics by 1.5%, and Native Americans by 5% – failing to count 1.5 million residents of color. [1] The fairness and accuracy of the Census, as well as trust in it and its process, are essential elements of the core infrastructure of our democracy.

The undermining of an accurate count in the 2020 Census began in 2012 and has accelerated more recently. In 2012, Congress directed the Census Bureau, over the objections of the Obama White House, to spend less on the 2020 Census than it had on the 2010 Census, despite inflation and a population that was expected to grow by 25 million residents (about 8%). After Trump’s election in 2016, the Bureau’s budget was cut by another 10%, although some of that funding was just restored last month.

The Census Bureau’s Director resigned in June 2017 after Congressional budget cuts. The Deputy Director position was already vacant; however, the Trump administration has not yet nominated anyone to fill either of these posts. A rumored nominee was an academic without any Census experience who had supported racial and partisan gerrymandering of Congressional Districts. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has installed a “special adviser” at the Census Bureau who is from a partisan polling firm and who reports directly to the White House. These personnel issues undermine the Bureau’s ability to effectively run the 2020 Census.

Budget cuts have forced the Census Bureau to cancel crucial testing of the Census process. These tests are particularly important because for the first time the Census will be conducted primarily through on-line responses. Rather than mailing Census forms to every household, a postcard will be sent with instructions on how to fill out the on-line form. As in the past, Census workers, called enumerators, will visit households that don’t respond to the initial Census mailing to ensure the counting of those residents. Even though the initial response rate is likely to fall because of low-income or elders’ households that lack the technological capability to respond on-line, the number of enumerators has been cut by about 200,000, from 500,000 to 300,000. (Roughly a third of low-income households and a third of Black and Hispanic households lack Internet access and a computer.) The enumerators are also charged with finding and obtaining Census responses from residents who did not receive the mailing.

Budget cuts also forced the Census Bureau to cancel trial runs specifically designed to help it figure out how to reach hard-to-count populations. It also canceled two of three “dress rehearsals.” It has half as many field offices as it had in 2010. The development of the Bureau’s technology systems is behind schedule and the launch of its website is not scheduled until April 2020. Cybersecurity for the new on-line Census is a major concern as well. A group of 51 economists from across the country and across the political spectrum have written a letter to Congress supporting “robust funding of the 2020 Census sufficient to ensure a fair and accurate count of the U.S. population.” [2]

The budget cuts mean that the outreach and publicity the Census Bureau will do to encourage responding to the Census have been reduced substantially. Currently, the Bureau has only 40 employees working on outreach, compared with 120 at this point 10 years ago. States, cities, and private foundations are already working to fill this void, but they will be hard pressed to match the 2010 effort where the Census Bureau spent $340 million on promotional advertising.

As if these challenges to accurately counting every resident weren’t enough, the Trump administration recently announced its intention to add a question to the Census that would ask whether the respondent is a citizen. The Census Bureau was already concerned that the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric were going to make it harder to get an accurate count of immigrant residents, both documented and undocumented ones. A citizenship question will only exacerbate this challenge. Not only will non-citizens be less likely to respond to the Census, but citizens in the 16 million households with some undocumented members may refuse to respond out of fear of exposing their undocumented family members. [3]

The Trump administration says that getting citizenship data in the Census is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act and prevent discrimination against minorities. This claim would be laughable if its implications weren’t so serious. There hasn’t been a question on citizenship on the Census for 70 years. [4] Furthermore, the American Community Survey, which is done annually with a statistically accurate sample that consists of 3.5 million residents, does have a question on citizenship that provides the data needed to analyze issues where citizenship information is needed.

The opposition to adding a question on citizenship has been swift and broad. Six former Census Bureau Directors who served under both Republicans and Democrats wrote a letter in opposition. Two dozen states and cities have announced a lawsuit aimed at blocking the inclusion of this question. [5] Normally, adding a question to the Census is a careful process with testing to determine effects on response rate and other factors. In this case, there is no opportunity to test the effect of adding this question given that very limited field testing is being done and that it is already underway.

An under-count of immigrants and people of color would shift economic and political power to rural, white, conservative populations. These effects would last for at least the next 10 years until the 2030 Census. California estimates that each resident who is not counted will cost the state $1,900 in federal funding each year. It receives about $77 billion annually in federal funding and could lose about $2 billion each year for the next 10 years if its low-income and immigrant populations are significantly under-counted. This could also cost the state one or two seats in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College.

A significant under-count in the 2020 Census would undermine the commitment of our democracy to treat each resident fairly. The Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress, by significantly under-funding the Census, by adding a question on citizenship, through their anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric, and by refusing to use more accurate statistical techniques, seem to be working hard to under-count hard-to-reach populations. Not surprisingly, these low-income, minority, young, and student populations are the same ones they are trying to keep from voting through ID requirements and other steps that make voting more difficult. They appear to be more than happy to undermine the 2020 Census and our democracy to achieve political goals.

The Census has an extraordinary reputation for counting all residents regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or immigrant status. Undermining confidence in the integrity of the Census by politicizing the process will erode trust that is essential to a functioning democracy. [6]

I urge you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to support adequate funding for the Census, to oppose a question on citizenship, and to strongly advocate for as accurate a count of all residents as is possible. You can find your US Representative’s name and contact information at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. You can find your US Senators’ names and contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

[1]      Berman, A., May/June 2018, “Hidden figures: How Donald Trump is rigging the Census,” Mother Jones (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/03/donald-trump-rigging-2020-census-undercounting-minorities-1/#)

[2]      Economic Policy Institute, 4/2/18, “An open letter from 51 economists to Congress urging robust funding of the 2020 Census” (https://www.epi.org/publication/an-open-letter-from-51-economists-to-congress-urging-robust-funding-of-the-2020-census/)

[3]      Loth, R., 4/9/18, “Turning the apolitical Census into an anti-immigrant tool,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Cerbin, C. M., 3/27/18, “Citizenship question to be put back on the 2020 Census for first time in 70 years,” USA Today

[5]      Kamp, J., & Adamy, J., 4/13/18, “Citizenship question rankles in trial run of 2020 Census,” Wall Street Journal

[6]      Wines, M., 12/9/17, “With 2020 Census looming, worries about fairness and accuracy,” The New York Times

TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY DON’T STIMULATE THE ECONOMY

Tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations don’t stimulate the economy, grow jobs and wages, or increase government revenue. The evidence for this comes not only from national experience under Presidents Reagan and G. W. Bush, but also from the recent, dramatic events in Kansas.

In 2012, in an effort led by newly elected Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas passed a tax bill like the one recently enacted by President Trump and the Republicans in Congress. The Kansas law slashed income tax rates (especially for the wealthy) and for privately-held companies, just like the recently enacted federal tax law. It also cut tax credits that helped low and moderate-income families, just like the recent federal tax law.

Governor Brownback and his supporters in the Kansas legislature promised that Kansas’s economy would boom and state tax revenue would grow as a result, just like the promises President Trump and the Republicans in Congress are making. [1]

In the almost six years since Kansas’s tax cuts, it has had one of the worst performing state economies in the country, the state’s tax revenues have been falling by hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and Kansas ranks among the top ten states for the percentage of people moving out-of-state. The big tax cut for privately-held companies appears to have fueled more tax evasion than job creation.

To deal with the dramatic decline in revenue for the state’s $6 billion budget, Governor Brownback and Republican Legislature have:

  • Cut hundreds of millions of dollars from spending, putting public schools (see more below) and other service providers into crisis
  • Cut payment rates for health care services, putting many of the state’s hospitals into crisis
  • Cut state administrative capacity, resulting in residents experience lengthy delays and waitlists when accessing state services (e.g., the delays in approving seniors’ eligibility for Medicaid so they could go into nursing homes became so bad that the federal government charged Kansas with violating federal law)
  • Increased regressive taxes, such as the sales tax and alcohol and tobacco taxes
  • Diverted over $100 million from the state’s highway fund and $40 million from the required contribution to the state employees’ retirement fund in 2015 alone
  • Increased state debt by over $1 billion, which, along with other fiscal issues, led to the downgrading of Kansas’s bond rating

The cuts in public school funding led to a lawsuit where the state’s Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the state had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on K-12 public education. A previous, decades-long dispute between local school districts and the state over the levels and allocation of state funding for public education had been settled in 2006. That settlement required the state to increase funding for public education. However, the Great Recession of 2008 and then Governor Brownback’s tax cutting in 2012 had reduced state revenue so dramatically that, despite the settlement, the state cut funding for public schools by 16.5% (one-sixth) between 2008 and 2013.

In 2015, as state revenue continued its dramatic decline due to the tax cuts, Brownback cut another $28 million from K-12 public education funding. Two school districts were forced to end their school years early because they ran out of money. The cuts in state school funding disproportionately hurt low-income and urban school districts that couldn’t make up for lost state funding with increased local funding.

Some of the school districts sued and in 2015 the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the state had to provide $40 million immediately as a first step in correcting the under-funding of public education. In a further ruling in 2017, the courts required the state to come up with over $700 million for public education over the next several years.

In the 2016 elections, while Trump was winning 57% of the presidential vote in Kansas, Democrats and moderate Republicans were winning state legislative races due to concerns about the public schools and other issues. Facing a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state’s two-year budget and a court requirement to significantly increase funding for K-12 education, the legislature voted in February 2017 to repeal most of the 2012 income tax cuts for individuals and privately held companies. Governor Brownback vetoed the bill and the legislature came up just short of overriding the veto.

In June 2017, the legislature again passed a repeal of most of the 2012 income tax cuts. Governor Brownback again vetoed the bill. This time the legislature overrode the veto by one vote in the Senate and four votes in the House. Although it will take Kansas many years to recover from the damage that has been done to the state’s schools, health care system, and economy, the state’s bond rating was lifted a step just two days later.

There are striking similarities between Governor Brownback’s tax cuts and those of President Trump and the congressional Republicans. There are also striking similarities in their promises of economic growth and increased government revenue. However, the great majority of economists and other knowledgeable observers believe the results of the federal tax cuts are very likely to be similar to Kansas’s experiences.

The major difference is that the federal government does not have to have a balanced budget. So, along with the recently passed budget bill, the result in the short-term will be federal budget deficits of roughly $1 trillion per year. This is not sustainable, financially or politically. Sooner or later, significant federal spending cuts and/or tax increases are highly likely to be necessary.

The only questions, in both Kansas and nationally, are how much damage will be done by the tax cuts and how long will it take to recover from them. Note that some individuals in Kansas, such as children whose schooling was compromised or people whose health was compromised by lack of access to health care or other services, will never recover all that they have lost. The harm on a national level will certainly be greater in scale – more people will be harmed. Only time will tell how great and long lasting the harm will be for individuals and for our society.

[1]      Miller, J., 6/28/17, “Kansas, Sam Brownback, and the trickle-down implosion,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/kansas-sam-brownback-and-trickle-down-implosion-0)

VOTER SUPPRESSION IS A REAL THREAT TO OUR DEMOCRACY

The biggest threat to the integrity of our elections is voter suppression. Our democracy is built on the principle of one person, one vote, and the right of every citizen to cast his or her vote and have it counted. However, in the 2016 presidential election, hundreds of thousands of citizens were kept from voting by new state laws and procedures that have made it harder to vote.

State laws and procedures that inhibit voting are part of a Republican strategy to win elections at any cost. (This strategy also includes the overturning of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, extreme gerrymandering of legislative and Congressional districts, as well as loosening campaign finance laws to allow wealthy individuals and corporations to spend freely and often anonymously on our elections.)

These voter suppression techniques are designed to reduce voting by low-income and minority citizens, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. The techniques include making it harder to register to vote, purging names of eligible voters from voting lists, permanently prohibiting those with felony convictions from voting even after they have served their time, and making it harder to actually vote.

States have made it harder to vote by reducing the number of polling places, reducing the days and hours for voting, and requiring specific personal identification – and sometimes making it difficult to obtain the required photo identification document. These actions often target communities or neighborhoods that are disproportionately low-income or minority.

For example, Wisconsin passed a restrictive voting law in 2011. Although state Republicans promised that not a single voter would be disenfranchised by the law, the best estimates are that 200,000 – 300,000 eligible voters lacked the photo ID necessary to vote in the 2016 presidential election. And Republican state legislators acknowledged in more candid moments that Democratic voter suppression was the goal. The law also cut early voting days, hours, and locations.

A judge struck down the law as clear voter suppression, but was overruled by a conservative appeals court. A judge overseeing the implementation of the law, repeatedly criticized the state for its failure to provide IDs in a timely fashion and for other actions that inhibited voting. [1] Overall, the result was that 91,000 fewer people voted in Wisconsin in 2016 than in 2012 and the turnout was the lowest since 2000. After the election, many eligible voters’ stories of being unable to vote were reported by the media. [2]

Trump won the election in Wisconsin by just 22,750 votes (less than 1%) and the Republicans’ voter suppression efforts may well have been the deciding factor. In Milwaukee, where 70% of the state’s African Americans live and Democratic voting is strong, 41,000 fewer people voted than in 2012, a 13% drop. [3] It’s possible that some of this may have been due to lowered interest without Obama on the ballot. However, a recent study found that in Milwaukee and Dane counties [4] 11% of registered voters (17,000 people) were deterred from voting by Wisconsin’s voter ID law and 6% (9,000) were prevented from voting by the ID law. Among low-income registered voters (household income under $25,000), 21% were deterred from voting, compared to 7% with incomes over $25,000 and 3% with incomes over $100,000. For white registered voters, 8% were deterred from voting, while for African Americans it was 28%. [5] Statewide it is estimated that 45,000 voters were deterred from voting by Wisconsin’s voter ID law. It is likely that this alone (not including the other voter suppression efforts) switched the Wisconsin presidential election outcome and its 10 electoral college votes from Clinton to Trump.

In Michigan, a Trump campaign official stated prior to the election that they had a three-pronged voter suppression effort underway. The Michigan voter ID law, as in Wisconsin, clearly prevented or discouraged many eligible voters from voting. Furthermore, 55,000 voters had been purged from the voter registration lists based on an error-prone process of matching their names with the names of registered voters in other states. Finally, in Detroit, a recount was cut short despite large numbers of ballots that voting machines failed to read properly, but where the voter’s intent was clear based on a visual examination of the ballot.

Given that Trump won the election in Michigan by 10,700 votes (less than ¼ of 1%), the Republicans’ voter suppression efforts are likely to have been the deciding factor in his victory there, which gained him 16 electoral college votes.

In Pennsylvania, a strict voter ID law was passed in 2012, but was overturned by the courts before the 2016 election. Other voter suppression efforts were identified in 2012 and responses to them lessened their impacts on the 2016 election. However, in 2016, a delay in processing valid voter registrations kept at least 26,000 voters off the list of registered voters on election day, and the number could go higher if further investigation is done. The majority of the identified disenfranchised voters were in the diverse city of Philadelphia.

Given that Trump won the election in Pennsylvania by 44,300 votes (less than 1%), the Republicans’ voter suppression efforts might have been the deciding factor in his victory there, which gained him 16 electoral college votes. [6]

A change in the winner in these three states with 46 electoral votes would have changed the outcome of the presidential election. So, the impact of voter suppression efforts is potentially very significant.

These three states are examples of a broad, decade-long attack on voting rights. Over 20 states have passed new restrictions on voting since 2010. [7] An analysis from the non-partisan General Accounting Office (GAO) examined the effect of voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012. It concluded that due to their new voter ID laws, voter turnout dropped 1.9% in Kansas and 2.2% in Tennessee. That would represent about 34,000 voters in Kansas and about 88,000 in Tennessee. The GAO’s analysis found that young people, Blacks, and newly registered voters were disproportionately impacted. [8]

The US Supreme Court overturned key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, claiming that racial discrimination in voting was no longer a problem. However, subsequent events proved them wrong. Within months of this decision, states were passing voter suppression laws that federal courts have noted were “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” [9] A judge struck down a package of voter suppression laws in North Carolina last year, noting that they targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision.” [10]

Nationally, it is estimated that 10% of eligible voters (13 million people) don’t have an ID that would comply with new state voter ID laws. And although some of the most egregious voter suppression laws have been struck down by the courts, this often doesn’t happen until after the election when the damage has been done.

Voter suppression is antithetical to the principles and integrity of our democracy. Not only does it distort and manipulate the outcomes of our elections, it violates the one person, one vote, foundational equity of democracy and undermines the trust of the electorate in our governments. It makes elected officials less accountable to the people they supposedly represent. It harms our credibility around the world as our elections are seen as illegitimate and rigged. We need to condemn and fight back against voter suppression efforts as undemocratic and truly un-American.

[1]      Berman, A., Nov. / Dec. 2017, “Rigged: How voter suppression threw Wisconsin to Trump and changed the election,” Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/mag/2017/11/toc/)

[2]      Cassidy, C.A., & Moreno, I., 5/9/17, “In Wisconsin, ID law proved insurmountable for many voters,” Associated Press (http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2017/In_Wisconsin%2C_ID_law_proved_insurmountable_for_many_voters/id-624a00e48a444f2c8fbd2faa07d44ad5)

[3]      Rapoport, M., 8/7/17, “Voter suppression in the mirror and looking forward,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/voter-suppression-mirror-and-looking-forward)

[4]      These 2 counties account for almost 1.5 million of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents.

[5]      Mayer, K.R., 9/25/17, “Voter ID study shows turnout effects in 2016 presidential election,” University of Wisconsin at Madison (https://elections.wisc.edu/news/voter-id-study/Voter-ID-Study-Release.pdf)

[6]      Rapoport, M., 8/7/17, see above

[7]      Brennan Center for Justice, retrieved 10/13/17, “New voting restrictions in America,”  New York University of Law (https://www.brennancenter.org/new-voting-restrictions-america)

[8]      Bump, P., 10/9/14, “Voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee dropped voter turnout by over 100,000 votes,” The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/10/09/gao-voter-id-laws-in-kansas-and-tennessee-dropped-2012-turnout-by-over-100000-votes/?utm_term=.6f7fb4686bcf)

[9]      Coons, C., & Austin-Hillery, N., 6/30/17, “The threat to American elections you don’t know about but should,” Time (http://time.com/4837622/voter-suppression-democracy-senator-chris-coons/)

[10]     Cassidy & Moreno, 5/9/17, see above

REGULATORY REFORM PUTS LARGE CORPORATIONS, NOT AMERICA, FIRST

The Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress have declared war on regulations. This puts large corporations and their profits first (not America) and puts America’s workers and consumers in danger.

Regulations and rules are what the Executive Branch of government (i.e., the President and his administration) uses to implement laws passed by the Legislative Branch (i.e., Congress). Rules and regulations are also used to update the implementation of laws over time as things change. For example, new products are brought to market, new medical procedures are developed, new chemicals are formulated, new financial instruments and transactions are invented, and so forth. If rules and regulations can’t be updated to respond to these situations, the implementation of our laws would fairly quickly become outdated and inappropriate. New laws would have to be passed to deal with every significant change in the real world. This would clearly be an inefficient and ineffective way to deal with our changing world, especially given the current dysfunction in Congress.

Rules and regulations protect public health and public goods (e.g., our air and water, our environment). They also protect workers and consumers from unsafe situations and products.

The Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress want to block new regulations and repeal existing ones for two, inter-related ideological reasons:

  • Belief in an unfettered free market that allows corporations to make profits without any constraints, and
  • Belief in a very limited role for government.

I believe there is another, non-ideological reason: our elected officials want to reward and do the bidding of their large campaign donors, both individuals and corporations. (Note that their donations are often given via intermediaries that are used to disguise the actual donors and their interests.) These large campaign donations buy essentially unfettered access to our elected officials so large donors can lobby and communicate their perspective on every rule or regulation. This, along with paid lobbyists, skews rules and regulations to favor the interests of these large donors. For example, the oil and gas industry spends $300 million per year on lobbying and has over 1,600 lobbyists working to communicate and convince officials in the legislative and executive branches to follow the industry’s preferences on rules and regulations.

The current war on regulations is being fought on multiple fronts and with multiple tactics:

  • Repealing the 150 or so regulations implemented by the Obama administration in its last 6 months in office. Currently, there are over 50 resolutions in the House or Senate targeting over 30 regulations for repeal.
  • Passing legislation that would give Congress the power to review and veto new regulations. This would substitute the political judgement of Congress for the judgement of scientists and experts in federal agencies in developing rules and regulations.
  • Passing legislation requiring new regulations to be evaluated with a focus on costs, reducing or ignoring the importance and value of their benefits.
  • Requiring that 2 regulations must be eliminated for every new one issued. This is being applied only in areas where the Trump administration opposes regulation but not for new regulations they favor, such as ones restricting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Appointing executive branch personnel who do not support the mission of the agencies they head or are in. As a result, the agencies’ regulations won’t be effectively enforced. This clearly applies to Secretary Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (which regulates banks and financial institutions) and the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act).
  • Underfunding agencies so they do not have the capacity to enforce the regulations they oversee. Again, this applies to the EPA and the SEC, among others.
  • Reducing opportunities for public input into the repeal of existing regulations and the development of new ones.

In my next post, I’ll share some specific examples of rules and regulations that are being repealed, delayed, or weakened.

EFFORTS TO SUPPRESS FREE SPEECH

In the last 5 months, Republican legislators in at least 19 states have proposed laws that would crack down on the freedom of speech. [1] This is a bit of a surprise, since conservatives often present themselves as protectors of freedom of speech, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Republicans and conservatives have even asserted a right to freedom of speech for corporations. So, what’s going on?

These Republicans are trying to block the freedom of speech of protesters opposed to their and President Trump’s policies. Proposed legislation in various states would increase punishments for protesters, seize their assets (including homes), and remove penalties on drivers who hit protesters with their cars. Some of the legislation tries to make non-violent protests seem like serious threats that deserve severe punishment by redefining them as “riots” or terrorism.

The good news is that none of these bills has yet been passed into law. Several of them have been stopped by protests or the realization that they are unconstitutional. [2]

It’s noteworthy that these proposals are surfacing when the protests are from the left. They have arisen in the face of protests of the election of Trump, of oil pipelines, and of police shootings and harsh treatment of unarmed Blacks. They target protests that support raising the minimum wage and protecting the environment. Historically, similar efforts from the right to suppress protesting were evident during civil rights protests in the 1960s and workers’ protests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. [3]

It’s interesting that concern over protests wasn’t evident during Tea Party protests; pro-Trump rallies; KKK, white supremacists, or anti-civil rights protests; or anti-gay, anti-immigrant, or anti-Muslim protests. Concern over protests also wasn’t evident when anti-abortion protesters blocked, burned, and bombed Planned Parenthood health clinics. Furthermore, the response from the left to protests by those on the right has been very temperate and focused on efforts to ensure the physical safety of patients wanting to access Planned Parenthood clinics. Those on the left respect the fact that even verbal attacks and harassment are protected free speech.

One of the rationales for Republicans’ anti-protest legislation is that they’re trying to counter the actions of paid, professional protesters who foment violence. This is a common accusation that experts agree is overstated. If anything, instigators of violence more often come from the right than from the left. In fact, there has been remarkably little violence in the anti-Trump protests, despite their size, energy, and strong emotions.

Although none of the anti-protest legislation has yet passed, there is cause for concern. Many state governments are dominated by Republicans and the Republicans there and in Washington (including the President) exhibit quite conservative, law-and-order attitudes, as well as a desire to suppress opposition. This, combined with the frequent demonstrations protesting Trump and Republican policies, as well as the many powerful interests that have a stake in suppressing current protests, produce an atmosphere in which such legislation may pass and where violations of the right to freedom of speech are quite possible.

Threats of legislation that would punish protesters and anti-protest rhetoric are likely to have a chilling effect on dissent, on protesting, and on exercising freedom of speech. As citizens of a democracy, we must pushback against these threats and support the Bill of Rights and the freedom of speech.

[1]      Yoder, T., 3/7/17, “New anti-protesting legislation: A deeper look,” National Lawyers Guild and Moyer & Company (http://billmoyers.com/story/new-anti-protesting-legislation-deeper-look/)

[2]      McCauley, L., 2/28/17, “Outcry kills anti-protest law in Arizona, but troubling trend continues nationwide,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/02/28/outcry-kills-anti-protest-law-arizona-troubling-trend-continues-nationwide)

[3]      Ingraham, C., 2/24/17, “Republican lawmakers introduce bills to curb protesting in at least 18 states,” The Washington Post

IS TRUMP A POPULIST, A FASCIST, BOTH, NEITHER?

Some in the media and many political pundits have referred to President Trump as a populist or a fascist or both. These terms are not opposites, but they aren’t comfortable bedfellows. I cringe every time I see Trump referred to as a populist because my vision of populism is the inclusive, broad-based populism of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

A populist is someone who supports the concerns of ordinary, working people, as opposed to the elite, upper class. Populist activism is based on the belief that the common people are being exploited by the privileged elite. The underlying ideology of populists can be left, right, or center. Populist activism becomes likely when mainstream political institutions fail to deliver economic and social well-being for ordinary people. [1] The direction that populist activism takes depends heavily on the style of the politician who taps into it.

Populism has a long history in the US. There was a Populist Party in the 1890s and William Jennings Bryan ran as the Democratic presidential candidate on a populist platform in 1896, 1900, and 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Party took over the populist banner in the early 1900s. George Wallace’s campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s had populist themes that some labeled reactionary populism due to their racist underpinnings. Ralph Nader in the 1990s and 2000s ran for president using populist themes.

Trump’s campaign and presidency have a populist element in their appeals to the working class. However, their focus on the white working class evokes memories of the reactionary populism of George Wallace. Trump argues that the working class is being hurt by the actions of political elites in Washington, D.C. He also appeals to the working class by asserting that their well-being is being undermined by immigrants. There is a racist element to Trump’s appeals, as he lays the blame for the struggles of the white working class on (largely Latino) immigrants and Blacks. Historically, this type of reactionary populism has been fertile ground for the development of fascism.

Some view Trump’s populism as faux-populism and demagoguery because his appeals to the working class are based only on rhetoric and unrealistic policy proposals. Trump exhibits attributes of a demagogue, such as exploiting the prejudices and gullibility of some voters, and stirring up anger and resentment while eschewing reasoned debate. Historically, demagogues often overturn established customs of political conduct, assert the presence of a national crisis, and accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness or disloyalty to their country. A demagogic populist typically claims legitimacy directly from the people and asserts that he alone will do what the people want. He refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of opposition and attacks institutions, from the courts to the news media, that don’t support him. Trump has exhibited many of these attributes. [2]

Personally, when I think of populism, I think of inclusive populism that is committed to including stigmatized groups (e.g., the poor, minorities, immigrants, and women). They are embraced and supported rather than being targeted for blame and as scapegoats. This is the type of populism that Senator Bernie Sanders promoted during the presidential primaries and for which Senator Elizabeth Warren has been advocating. [3]

Fascism, on the other hand, is an authoritarian and nationalistic approach to governing where the government controls or partners with business and/or labor. Typically, opposition is not tolerated and the government is led by a strong leader who asserts that strong central control is needed to effectively combat economic difficulties and external threats. A principal goal is self-sufficiency and independence through protectionist economic policies. [4]

Trump’s rhetoric echoes many of the themes of fascism. Perhaps most prominently, he promotes ethnic stereotypes and fear of foreigners, which is typical fascist rhetoric. Asserting concern about national decline is another common element of fascist discourse. Trump’s slogan “Make America great again” fits this theme exactly. Even though the US, by most measures, isn’t in serious decline, he’s able to persuade the white working class that the country is in decline, or at least their position in it is. Poorly-educated white males have experienced economic decline over the last 35 years. The Great Recession of 2008 and the weak recovery from it have left many working people economically worse off. [5]

Fascists tend to use threats of violence to intimidate opponents and silence critics. They are skilled at getting their followers to believe them even when the narrative they present is at odds with facts; truth becomes subjective. [6] These are also themes that have been apparent in the Trump campaign and presidency.

Trump’s selections for his Cabinet appear to contradict the populism of his campaign rhetoric. They do, however, fit with fascism’s alignment of business and government. Many of his nominees are from the corporate elite who have played a major role in diverting federal policy from supporting the working class to supporting large corporations. They seem positioned to strengthen the role of the private sector in policy making and undermine the role of the federal government in supporting working people. For example, they have opposed labor unions, workplace regulation, and workers’ rights; they have worked to privatize public education; they have weakened voting and civil rights; they have opposed environmental regulation and action on global warming; and they have supported weakening the social safety net. [7] [8]

There were and are elements of xenophobic, reactionary populism in Trump’s rhetoric and in some of his (to-date largely symbolic) actions. His style, cabinet nominees, and some of his actions exhibit themes of fascism. Although it’s too early to conclusively decide whether he is more of a populist or a fascist, President Trump has never expressed support for the inclusive populism of Senators Sanders and Warren. On the other hand, he has consistently displayed, and his background seems much more aligned with, some of the core themes of fascism.

[1]      Wikipedia, retrieved 2/18/17, “Populism” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism)

[2]      Wilkinson, F., 2/16/17, “Why Donald Trump really is a populist,” BloombergView https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-02-16/why-donald-trump-really-is-a-populist

[3]      The Economist, retrieved 2/18/17, “The Economist explains populism,” http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/12/economist-explains-18

[4]      Wikipedia, retrieved 2/18/17, “Fascism” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism)

[5]      Chotiner, I., Feb. 2016, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” Slate (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2016/02/is_donald_trump_a_fascist_an_expert_on_fascism_weighs_in.html)

[6]      Kuttner, R., 12/16/16, “The audacity of hope,” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/audacity-hope)

[7]      Vanden Heuvel, K., 12/20/16, “Sham populism, shameless plutocracy,” The Washington Post

[8]      Bonham, L., & Jennings, G., 2/17/17, “Is Trump’s billionaire cabinet actually a closet full of fascists?” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/02/17/trumps-billionaire-cabinet-actually-closet-full-fascists)

GOOD NEWS FROM THE 2016 ELECTIONS

Believe it or not, there was quite a bit of good news in the 2016 elections. While I imagine many of us feel that the election of Donald Trump as president was bad news for our country, the frustration that fueled his election has positive aspects.

First, the election of Trump and the surprising success of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary both reflect a strongly-felt, deep-seated frustration that many middle class and working people have with the downward slide in their economic security and well-being. If they have been able to maintain their standard of living over the last 35 years, it has been a struggle. Often, they have had to work more hours at the same or lower pay. Many have lost jobs that moved overseas or to lower wage areas within the US. Some have had their pay or benefits cut due to overseas competition or the decline of collective bargaining through unions. Meanwhile, they have watched the income and wealth of the economic and corporate elite skyrocket.

Small businesses have struggled while giant, multi-national corporations have been bailed out and given huge tax breaks and other subsidies. Our elections and political system have produced policies that favor big corporations, while small business people struggle, just like others in the middle and working class.

Voters did not give any sort of mandate to Trump and the Republicans to enact their policy priorities. As you probably know, 3 million more people voted for Clinton than for Trump. In US Senate races, Republicans won only 46% of the popular vote – but got 52% of the seats. In the House, the Republicans won only 51% of the vote – but got 55% of the seats. [1]

Only 53% of eligible voters actually voted. This means that barely one out of four eligible voters voted for Trump and the Republicans. And the only reason Republicans won the presidency (courtesy of the Electoral College) and a majority in the US Senate is because of the disproportionate power given to small states in those bodies.

Republicans won a significant majority of US House seats only because of the gerrymandering of House districts (i.e., the drawing of district lines to gain partisan advantage). Due to this gerrymandering, it is estimated the Democrats would need to receive about 10 million more votes nationwide than Republicans (i.e., almost 55% of the vote) in House races to gain a narrow majority of the seats. [2]

Not only don’t Trump and the Republicans have any mandate, but many election results were in direct contradiction to their brand of conservatism and their policy positions. Three very progressive women of color were newly elected to the US Senate: Tammy Duckworth in IL, Kamala Harris in CA, and Catherine Cortez Masto in NV. Two very progressive women of color were newly elected to the US House: Pramila Jayapal in WA and Stephanie Murphy in FL.

In Oregon, Kate Brown, was elected Governor as a candidate of the Working Families Party. In AZ, ultra-right wing sheriff Arpaio was defeated by a Democrat. In MN, a Somali-American woman, Ihlan Omar, was elected to the legislature. And in TX four Latinos gained seats in the legislature. [3]

Important progressive policies were enacted by voters through ballot initiatives. All four states (AZ, CO, ME, and WA) that had minimum wage increases on the ballot passed them. Overall, the minimum wage will increase in 19 states on January 1st. This will increase wages for 4.3 million workers, providing them with over $4 billion of increased income over the course of the year. Millions of additional workers who earn just above the new minimum wage levels will also likely receive pay increases. The well-being of all these workers and their families will improve. [4] Income inequality will be reduced and all workers and the middle class will benefit.

AZ and WA also passed laws requiring paid sick time, while SD rejected a decrease in the minimum wage for teenagers and VA rejected an anti-union initiative.

CA and WA passed initiatives calling for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (which allows unlimited spending by the wealthy in campaigns). MO and SD passed new laws regulating campaign spending. SD also passed an innovative $100 annual Democracy Credit for each voter to encourage small donors to participate in funding campaigns. Voters approved citizen-funded elections in Berkeley, CA, and Howard County, MD. They approved automatic voter registration in AK with a strong 64% vote in favor, while four other states enacted automatic voter registration through their state legislatures in 2016.

Maine voted for “ranked choice voting” which allows voters to indicate their first, second, third, etc. choices on the ballot. If your first choice is out of the running, then your second choice is counted, and so forth. Therefore, you can vote for the candidate you truly believe is best, without worrying that you might be aiding the election of a candidate you really don’t like. (For example, you could have voted for Ralph Nader for President in 2000 with Al Gore as your second choice, without worrying that your vote for Nader would help George W. Bush get elected.)

In CA, MA, ME, and OR progressive values prevailed in education reform ballot initiatives. CA and OK passed significant criminal justice reforms. [5] CA, NV, and WA strengthened laws designed to reduce gun violence, while RI and SD strengthened ethics laws for elected officials. [6]

These are only a few examples of the many successes in state and local elections on ballot initiatives, as well as on the election of candidates that will stand up for middle class and working people.

The support for candidates and policies that bolster the middle class and working people is broad and deep in the US. We all need to work together to ensure that the Republican Congress and President Trump work to improve the well-being of the 99% of people in this country who aren’t wealthy. We must be vigilant to ensure that the policies they enact aren’t for the benefit of the 1%, don’t exacerbate income and wealth inequality, and don’t continue the crony capitalism that benefits our giant, multinational corporations and their senior executives at the expense of small businesses and workers.

[1]      Singer, P., 11/10/16, “Democrats won popular vote in the Senate, too,” USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/11/10/democrats-won-popular-vote-senate-too/93598998/)

[2]      Richie, R., 11/7/14, “Republicans got only 52 percent of the vote in House races,” The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/republicans-only-got-52-percent-vote-house-races/)

[3]      Hightower, J., 12/8/16, “We can beat back the reign of Trump – if we unite in a movement for populist justice,” The Hightower Lowdown (https://hightowerlowdown.org/article/beat-trump-with-populist-justice/)

[4]      Jones, J., 1/3817, “The new year brings higher wages for 4.3 million workers across the country,” Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/blog/the-new-year-brings-higher-wages-for-4-3-million-workers-across-the-country/?mc_cid=d213e59597&mc_eid=2442dd3ea2)

[5]      Hightower, J., 12/8/16, see above

[6]      Politico, 12/13/16, “2016 ballot measures election results,” (http://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/ballot-measures)

HOW OUR ELECTIONS ARE RIGGED

Donald Trump has been claiming that our elections are rigged. He’s right. They are rigged – but not in the manner he suggests. Our elections are rigged to benefit wealthy interests and Republicans in three ways:

  1. Campaign finance laws allow unlimited and even secret spending by wealthy interests,
  2. States have made voting more difficult for low-income citizens, minorities, students, and some elders, and
  3. Republicans have gerrymandered Congressional Districts and state legislative districts to their benefit.

I’ve covered the first topic in a recent post (and other posts under the Campaigns category), so I’ll address the other two topics here.

Making voting more difficult: 20 states have put new laws making voting more difficult in place since 2010. The new laws range from photo ID requirements to reductions in early voting. These new laws are part of a broad effort to curtail voting by Democratic-leaning groups and individuals. [1] State lawmakers spanning almost all states have introduced hundreds of measures that would make it harder to vote. This is part of a strategic plan by conservatives and Republicans to shift election results. The effort has been spearheaded by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing and corporate-funded organization that develops templates for state legislation, including ones on voter suppression. [2] In a democracy we should be encouraging voting, not suppressing it!

Laws requiring specific types of IDs to vote are a key tactic. The supposed rationale for the voter ID laws has been to prevent voter fraud. However, every credible source that has examined this has documented that voter fraud is non-existent. In addition, to requiring IDs to vote, some states have made it hard or expensive to get an acceptable ID. For example, Texas does not allow the use of a student ID (but a firearm ID card is acceptable). These laws can be quite effective in suppressing voting. Wisconsin’s voter ID law is estimated to have kept 300,000 citizens from voting. [3]

In addition to changes in law, there are numerous examples of other efforts to suppress voting. Some states have reduced the number of polling places in minority neighborhoods, resulting in long waiting lines that prevent some people from voting. This was evident in Arizona’s September primary elections where the number of polling places in Latino neighborhoods was greatly reduced and created 5-hour waiting lines. North Carolina has reduced the number of hours and locations for early voting for the November 8th election. [4]

Another tactic has been to purge names from lists of registered voters, thereby preventing people from voting when they show up at the polls. This tactic is used in ways that target Democratic voters, as it was in Florida before the Bush vs. Gore election in 2000. So, it’s not a new technique, but it continues to be used today. Most recently, it has surfaced in multiple counties in North Carolina. [5] In Ohio, the Secretary of State is being sued for having improperly purged 2 million voters from the voting lists.

Trump has repeatedly talked about having “poll monitors” in certain (minority) areas. His “Vote Protectors” effort reportedly plans to send volunteers to monitor polling places in nine cities with high minority populations. The group is creating official-looking ID badges for its volunteers to wear and they plan to videotape voters. Using volunteer “poll monitors” is an old tactic but election experts say it does intimidate voters and keeps them from voting. [6]

Gerrymandering: Republicans and corporate America engaged in a very concerted effort to gain control of state redistricting efforts that followed the 2010 Census. They created the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) and raised $30 million to fund it. State legislatures typically redraw district lines based on new Census data every ten years. So, in 2010, REDMAP’s creators succeeded in taking control of legislatures in 20 states. They then used this control of the redistricting process to gerrymander state legislative districts and the 193 Congressional districts in those states (out of 435 nationwide) to favor Republicans. While gerrymandering of districts is not a new phenomenon, they took it to new levels of aggressiveness, aided by computer mapping technology not previously available. [7]

Their gerrymandering significantly skewed results for the US House of Representatives in 2012. For example, in Pennsylvania, Democratic House candidates statewide had 100,000 more votes than Republicans, but Republicans won 13 House seats to the Democrats’ 5. In Michigan, Democrats won 240,000 more votes overall, but only 5 House seats to 9 for Republicans. In Ohio, Republicans got 52% of the overall vote, but 12 of 16 House seats. And so forth. This was accomplished by designing districts that Republicans could win comfortably but with a relatively small margin, while leaving a few districts where Democrats would win overwhelmingly. In other words, they crammed as many Democrats as possible into as few districts as possible. The result was that, despite President Obama’s overwhelming 2012 Democratic national victory, Republicans had a 234 to 201 advantage in the House of Representatives – even though Democratic House candidates nationwide garnered 1.7 million more votes than Republicans.

To fix this, the redistricting process should be performed by a non-partisan redistricting commission so that election results fairly reflect voters’ overall preferences. Eight states have already done this: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington. The others need to follow suit.

To stop targeted voter suppression efforts, key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that were rendered unenforceable by a 5 to 4 Supreme Court vote in 2013 need to be reinstated. These would prevent states from enacting discriminatory voting laws and practices, which the VRA did quite effectively before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

[1]       Brennan Center for Justice, retrieved 10/29/16, “New Voting Restrictions in Place for 2016 Presidential Election,” New York University School of Law (https://www.brennancenter.org/voting-restrictions-first-time-2016)

[2]       Center for Media and Democracy, retrieved 10/29/16, “ALEC exposed,” (http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed)

[3]       Fitrakis, R.J., & Wasserman, H., Fall 2016, “War on the dispossessed,” Justice Rising, Alliance for Democracy (http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/pdf/AfDJR6404.pdf)

[4]       Pitney, N., 10/26/16, “This is what actual voter suppression looks like, and it’s appalling,” The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/voter-suppression-2016_us_581028c2e4b02b1d9e63bcd2)

[5]       Berman, A., 10/27/16, “North Carolina Republicans tried to disenfranchise a 100-year-old African-American woman,” The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/north-carolina-republicans-tried-to-disenfranchise-a-100-year-old-african-american-woman/)

[6]       Wilkie, C., 10/25/16, “Trump loyalists planned voter intimidation using fake id badges, fake exit polling — until Huffpost asked them about it,” The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/vote-protectors-voter-intimidation_us_580e4e63e4b0a03911ee03bc?section=us_politics)

[7]       Tarbell, J., Fall 2016, “Gerrymandering: The civil war over public policy,” Justice Rising, Alliance for Democracy (http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/pdf/AfDJR6405.pdf)

LACK OF GOVERNMENT SPENDING LEADS TO WEAK RECOVERY

The current economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 has been the weakest recovery since World War II. The average annual growth of our economy since the recession officially ended in June 2009 has been only 2.1%. [1] The other ten recoveries since 1949 have had annual growth rates of 2.8% to 7.6%, with an average of 4.65%. [2]

It’s not a coincidence that every other economic recovery since WWII was supported by increased government spending (federal, state, and local combined), except the one in 1970 – 1973. The current recovery (2009 – 2016) has seen government spending actually decline by 6.1%. It and the one in the 1970s both experienced declines in government spending of about 1% annually. The 1949 – 1953 recovery saw government spending increase at an annual rate of 17.9%, while the other eight recoveries averaged a little over 2%.

In contrast to the 6.1% decline (-0.9% annually) in government spending during the current recovery, government spending during the 2001 – 2007 recovery under President George W. Bush grew by 11.7% (1.9% annually) and during the 1982 – 1990 recovery under President Reagan it grew by 33.5% (3.8% annually).

A recession is defined as a period of time when economic output (i.e., Gross Domestic Product [GDP]), incomes, employment, industrial production, and sales decline. This occurs when the demand for goods and services in our markets – the spending of households, businesses, and governments – is not sufficient to purchase everything the economy is capable of producing.

The remedy for a recession is to boost marketplace demand. There are three ways to do this:

  • Reduce interest rates to spur borrowing and resultant spending,
  • Increase government spending, and
  • Cut taxes to spur spending by consumers, which increases demand for goods and services. (Consumer spending represents two-thirds of our economy.)

At the start of the Great Recession, interest rates were already very low so there was not much interest rate reduction that could be done. Currently, the basic interest rates of the Federal Reserve, the key ones to cut to stimulate the economy, are virtually zero.

Some cutting of taxes was done, but it was small scale because of concerns about increasing the federal deficit or creating unmanageable losses of revenue at the state level. Tax cuts for middle and low income Americans are the most effective stimulus for the economy because this group will quickly spend the increased money that’s in their pockets in the local economy. Tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, which were favored by some politicians, are less effective because larger portions of this money will be saved or spent outside the local economy (e.g., overseas), so they are not as effective in stimulating the local economy.

As noted above, government spending decreased during the current recovery and therefore reduced economic growth. Spending in the economy, including government spending, has what’s referred to as a “multiplier effect” on growth. That’s because each dollar spent supports additional spending by the individual or business that received it (a cycle that is repeated endlessly), meaning that its impact is multiplied. Similarly, cuts in spending have a multiplier effect in reducing growth, reducing economic activity by more than a dollar for each dollar of reduced spending.

One reflection of reduced government spending is that the number of government employees today is roughly 400,000 fewer than it was at the beginning of the recovery in June 2009, after bottoming out in late 2013 at 800,000 less than in 2009. Each person without a job adds to unemployment and reduces consumer demand for goods and services. Prior to President Obama’s term, the total number of government employees had grown under every president since Eisenhower. [3] This loss of jobs has been primarily at the state and local levels, where government revenue was hard hit by the recession, has been slow to recover, and has not been augmented by increased funding from the federal government. Government spending per resident in the U.S. is 3.5% lower today than it was in 2009. [4]

This austerity (i.e., reductions in government spending) are widely viewed as the primary reason the current economic recovery has been so weak and so slow. Government spending cuts have occurred largely because Republican lawmakers at the federal and state levels have insisted on them. [5] If it weren’t for these cuts, economic growth would be stronger and our economy would have lower unemployment and under-employment. [6] To confirm the harm that austerity policies cause, one can look to Europe and especially Greece, where austerity policies even more extreme than the ones in the U.S. have resulted in continuing high unemployment and fiscal crises.

Government spending, even if it increases the federal government’s budget deficit in the short-term, will stimulate economic growth. This growth will lead to increased government revenue that will reduce the deficit.

In particular, spending that represents investments in our physical and human capital has a high rate of return and pays for itself over the long-term. [7] Investments in infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, trains, public transportation systems, and school buildings) and education (from birth through higher education) create jobs, support our current and future economies, and address real needs while also stimulating the economy. Especially with the extremely low interest rates at which the federal government can currently borrow money, it is a lost opportunity to fail to make important and needed investments in our future.

[1]       Morath, E., & Sparshott, J., 7/29/16, “U.S. GDP grew at a disappointing 1.2% in second quarter,” The Wall Street Journal (http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-economy-grew-at-a-disappointing-1-2-in-2nd-quarter-1469795649)

[2]       Scott, R.E., 8/2/16, “Worst recovery in postwar era largely explained by cuts in government spending,” Economic Policy Institute, Working Economics Blog (http://www.epi.org/blog/worst-recovery-in-post-war-era-largely-explained-by-cuts-in-government-spending/)

[3]       Walsh, B., 8/5/16, “Here’s an Obama-era legacy no one wants to talk about,” The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/obama-austerity-legacy-jobs_us_57a499ece4b03ba68012032b?)

[4]       Bivens, J., 8/11/16, “Why is recovery taking so long – and who’s to blame?” Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/110211.pdf)

[5]       Bivens, J., 8/11/16, see above

[6]       Scott, R.E., 8/2/16, see above

[7]       Scott, R.E., 8/2/16, see above

AUSTERITY AGENDA RESULTS IN THE POISONING OF FLINT MICHIGAN

You may have heard that the tap water in Flint, Michigan, has been poisoning its residents and particularly its children. What you may not have heard was that this was caused by the austerity agenda of the Michigan Governor and legislature (the same ones that pushed Detroit into bankruptcy). Moreover, as with Detroit, the residents of this depressed city are very poor and largely minorities (56% black).

Based on municipal budget issues, Flint was forced into receivership, control was stripped from local elected officials, and an emergency manager appointed by the Governor. In April 2014, the austerity plan called for a switch to cheaper Flint River water for residential tap water rather than that of the Detroit water system. Residents immediately complained about the color, odor, and taste of the water, as well as the appearance of rashes after using it for bathing. Residents’ concerns were ignored despite the history of contamination of the river from manufacturing plants’ wastes. And the switch was defended as a necessary business decision to address the budget issues.

Within 4 months, the water had tested positive for E-coli bacteria and residents were told to boil it before drinking it. Within 7 months, children’s blood tests began showing elevated levels of lead. By early 2015, after residents had suffered with this water for a year, state and federal officials began acknowledging privately that there were serious issues with the water, including data indicating high levels of lead in the water. [1] However, it wasn’t until October, 2015, that the source of water was shifted back to the Detroit water system after 18 months of contaminated water. And it wasn’t until January, 2016, that a state of emergency was declared. [2]

The harm to Flint residents will be long lasting. Chemicals in the Flint River water corroded water pipes and leached lead out of the pipes and into the water. The result is widespread lead poisoning whose effects cannot be undone. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, which is a neurotoxin that harms their developing brains and nervous systems. [3] Effects can include mental retardation, as well as stunted growth, hearing loss, and cognitive dysfunction. Over 1,700 cases of children with elevated blood lead levels have been found. In adults, high lead levels can cause miscarriages and increases in blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Some of Flint’s children and adults have undoubtedly suffered permanent harm from which they will never recover.

To add insult to injury, Flint’s emergency manager has been sending out shut off notices to residents who are behind in paying for their contaminated water. Over 1,800 such notices have been sent out and more are on their way. [4]

The potential for the problem of lead leaching into the drinking water was well known in advance. However, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did not require Flint to treat the river water to prevent corrosion, belittled the public’s complaints, and did not conduct testing of the water. The agency’s director and other state officials resigned last month. [5] The federal Department of Justice has just announced that it is launching an investigation into the water crisis.

Despite the new water supply, damage to water pipes may mean the high lead levels will persist in tap water. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standard is that no amount of lead in drinking water is safe and it requires local water systems to take action if over 10% of samples at the tap contain lead. Unfortunately in Flint, almost a year went by before testing was done and another 6 months passed before action was taken.

This is an example (and there are numerous others at the state and federal levels) of what happens when austerity, budget and tax cutting, and shrinking of the public sector are the goals of elected officials – typically for ideological or political reasons – rather than the health and well-being of citizens.

[1]       Bryant, J., 1/15/16, “How much do we hate our children?” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/15/how-much-do-we-hate-our-children)

[2]       Gilmore, B., 1/13/16, “Flint’s water crisis flows from a much bigger problem,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/13/flints-water-crisis-flows-much-bigger-problem)

[3]       Lazare, S. 1/7/16, “Calls for Michigan Gov. Snyder’s arrest as Flint poisoning scandal implicates top staffers,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/07/calls-michigan-gov-snyders-arrest-flint-poisoning-scandal-implicates-top-staffers)

[4]       Lazare, S., 1/15/16, “’Ludicrous’ as Flint tells residents: Pay for poisoned water or we’ll cut you off,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/15/ludicrous-flint-tells-residents-pay-poisoned-water-or-well-cut-you)

[5]       Schneider, R., & Eggert, D. 1/13/16, “Michigan National Guard, FEMA help Flint amid water crisis,” Associated Press (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/68fbd53623b147b2831296c2bce2f9ff/michigan-national-guard-fema-help-flint-amid-water-crisis)

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SANDERS ON DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently gave a speech focused on defining what he means by democratic socialism and why he has identified as a socialist for his entire political career. Our mainstream corporate media can’t seem to cover him or his campaign without labeling him a socialist. The intent seems to be to identify him as outside the mainstream at best or as a dangerous radical. Often the implicit or explicit message is that a socialist is one step away from being a communist – and many Americans do not know what socialism or communism means or the difference between them.

To address this pejorative use of the term socialist, Sanders began by noting that many of the programs and policies that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) instituted in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression were called socialist: Social Security for seniors, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, the 40 hour work week, an end to child labor, collective bargaining for workers, job programs to reduce unemployment, and banking regulations. They were enacted despite the strong opposition of the economic elites and have become part of the fabric of our society and the foundation of the American middle class.

Similarly, when President Johnson provided health insurance through Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for poor children and families, these programs were called socialist and a threat to the American way of life.

Sanders stated that we need to transform our democracy and our country as FDR did in the 1930s. We are facing a political and economic crisis that requires dramatic change. He noted that the US is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and yet we have high rates of poverty that include over one-quarter of our children. He called for a political movement to take on the ruling, economic elite class, whose greed is destroying our democracy and our economy.

Sanders cited FDR’s inaugural address in 1944 as one of the most important speeches in our nation’s history. In it, FDR proposed an economic bill of rights, noting that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security. Sanders pointed to this economic bill of rights as reflecting the core of what democratic socialism means to him. It includes:

  • Decent jobs at decent pay with time off and the ability to retire with dignity;
  • The ability to have food, clothing, a home, and health care; and
  • The opportunity for small businesses to operate without domination by large corporations.

Sanders noted that Martin Luther King, in 1968, echoed FDR’s call for economic rights and stated that the US provides “socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.”

Sanders went on to present specific examples of what democratic socialism means to him. He stated that the principle of economic rights for all is not a radical concept and that many countries around the world have done a far better job of providing economic security for their citizens than the US has done. In particular, he noted that almost all countries provide 3 months of paid family leave for new mothers and that all major countries provide health care as a right, not a privilege. The US does neither of these. He addressed climate change, racism, and economic and social justice issues including a fairer tax system and an end to excessive incarceration. He called for a more vibrant democracy with higher voter participation and the removal of barriers to voting.

You can listen to Sanders’ speech at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slkQohGDQCI. It’s an hour and 36 minutes long. You can listen to it while you’re doing something else or, if you want to listen to the highlights, listen to minutes 4 – 9 and from minute 24 for 5 – 10 minutes.

WHY GOVERNMENT DOESN’T GET CREDIT FOR ITS SUCCESSES

ABSTRACT: Government rarely gets credit for its successful programs and initiatives in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention. One reason is that denigrating government is at the heart of the political strategy of small government proponents and special interests who want large corporations and the wealthy to control our economy. Furthermore, there is no one presenting a forceful argument that government is a necessary part of a functioning society and that government does a lot of good.

Governments are needed, for example, to regulate the economy, protect civil rights, and ensure public safety. There are certain societal functions that only the shared enterprise of government can provide including public education, retirement security, infrastructure such as roads and bridges, a criminal justice system, and a safety net for those who experience life’s misfortunes.

A series of events over the last 50 years has divided the country and created resentment and mistrust of government policies. These experiences have been in sharp contrast to the unifying nature of the recovery from the Great Depression, World War II, and the widespread economic prosperity of the 1950s.

The active and purposeful government-denigrating forces have spent the last 35 years undermining government effectiveness. By under-funding and weakening government programs, the positive effects of government have been lessened and failures made more likely.

Among the public, the benefits of government are often taken for granted, seem to be going to other people, or are invisible or not visibly connected to government. Even direct government benefits are often taken for granted, including unemployment payments, Social Security and Medicare, public education, student loans for higher education, and the income tax deduction for interest on one’s home mortgage. Many people who have received such benefits say they have never benefited from a government program.

The media should cover government success stories with at least the same level of attention they give to stories of government shortcomings and should reject fear mongering and government bashing that is political and unfounded. The American public needs balanced coverage of government, including reporting of all the good government does.

FULL POST: Government rarely gets credit for its successful programs and initiatives in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention. [1] There are a range of reasons for this phenomenon. One is that denigrating government is at the heart of the political strategy of small government proponents and special interests who want large corporations and the wealthy to control our economy.

Furthermore, there is no one presenting a forceful argument that government is a necessary part of a functioning society and that government does a lot of good. Governments are needed, for example, to regulate the economy, protect civil rights, and ensure public safety. There are certain societal functions that only the shared enterprise of government can provide including public education, retirement security, infrastructure such as roads and bridges, a criminal justice system, and a safety net for those who experience life’s misfortunes. However, there is no organization or political group with anywhere near the clout of the government bashers that is promoting the good things government does and should do in well-functioning society.

Faith in government has been falling in polls for 50 years. A series of events has divided the country and created resentment and mistrust of government policies, including:

  • Resurgent racism over the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty of the 1960s;
  • Disenchantment with the Vietnam War in the 1970s;
  • Disillusionment over the Watergate political scandal in the 1970s;
  • The small government, pro-corporation, and anti-labor rhetoric and policies beginning in the 1980s;
  • The North American Free Trade Treaty of the 1990s;
  • The Iraq War of the 2000s; and the current
  • Racial bias evident in law enforcement and incarceration;
  • Unjustified barriers to voting in some states; and
  • The slow economic recovery and growing inequality.

These experiences have been in sharp contrast to the unifying nature of the recovery from the Great Depression, World War II, and the widespread economic prosperity of the 1950s.

The active and purposeful government-denigrating forces have spent the last 35 years undermining government effectiveness. They say that taxes – government revenue – can be cut without reducing government services or benefits. Unfortunately, the American public has been willing to believe this promise of a free lunch. Until recently, it hasn’t noticed the deterioration in government services and supports, as well as the decaying of public infrastructure that has inevitably resulted from reducing government revenue. By under-funding and weakening government programs, their positive effects have been lessened and their failures made more likely. And the anti-government crowd is all too happy to point the finger and say, “See, government doesn’t work,” when the then inevitable shortcomings become evident. As a result, the public’s perception of government has been undermined as well.

This makes it hard for those who support the positive role of government because they have to criticize the weak, poorly performing government programs to make their argument for strengthening them. This criticism often just adds to the negativity surrounding government.

Among the public, the benefits of government are often taken for granted, seem to be going to other people, or are invisible or not visibly connected to government. For example, the government’s successful response to the Ebola crisis was taken for granted by many, seemed remote and as benefiting other people to others, and was connected to hospitals and medical personnel not to the government that had funded and supported them. The public isn’t left with a strong, positive impression of government when it acts to avoid a worse outcome, as in the Ebola crisis or the response to the 2008 financial collapse and recession. In particular, with the economic recovery, it is hard to get the public to acknowledge that things are better than they might have been when they are still not great. Let alone to give kudos to government for a job well-done in such a situation.

The Affordable Care Act is an example of where the immediate benefits for most people were hardly noticeable. Most people already had health insurance and for those who didn’t, the benefit of having health insurance is clear only when you are sick and need it. Therefore, requiring everyone to have health insurance, which has a great societal benefit and a long-term personal benefit, can feel, in the short-term, like a burden to those who are healthy. Similarly, the benefit of the ban on denying coverage for a pre-existing condition only becomes evident when one has to change one’s health insurer, which may not happen immediately. Moreover, when it does happen, the ability to get new health insurance is often taken for granted.

Other government benefits that are taken for granted, and only get attention when there is a breakdown or failure, include public safety, roads, and bridges. Even direct government benefits are often taken for granted, including unemployment payments, Social Security and Medicare, public education, student loans for higher education, and the income tax deduction for interest on one’s home mortgage. Surveys indicate that 60% of the people who have taken the home mortgage interest deduction say they have never benefited from a government program. Similarly, many people who have received student loans or unemployment benefits say they have never benefited from a government program. And virtually no one who has attended public schools, driven on our public roads, or felt safe in public recognizes that they have benefited from a government program.

The media should cover government success stories with at least the same level of attention they give to stories of government shortcomings and should reject fear mongering and government bashing that is political and unfounded. The American public needs balanced coverage of government, including reporting of all the good government does. Unfortunately, that is not the case with current media coverage.

You can contribute to achieving a better balance in the media coverage of government by writing letters or emails to the editors of media outlets with stories of government successes and posting them on social media. You can also write to criticize negative stories and the lack of balance and objectivity in the coverage of government. A democracy requires an accurately informed public and the media today are not doing a good job of providing accurate information about the role government plays.

[1]       Cohn, J. Spring 2015. “Why public silence greets government success,” The American Prospect (Much of my post is a summary of this article.)

GOVERNMENT SUCCESSES RARELY GET ATTENTION

ABSTRACT: There are many examples of successful government programs and initiatives but they rarely get much attention in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention. The media, and in particular right wing talk radio and Fox, along with “conservative” and libertarian politicians, fan the flames of supposed government failure at every opportunity.

Remember the Ebola crisis of last fall? The right wing media and politicians severely criticized the government for not reacting appropriately, stated that government could not be trusted to handle the situation, and predicted an epidemic here in the U.S. There was no epidemic here. The few patients were treated in facilities funded, designed, and/or supported by our government with great success. However, this success of government policies and facilities got very little attention or acknowledgement.

As another example, the largely successful U.S. government’s response to the 2008 financial debacle almost certainly prevented a worldwide depression. It softened the recession here and put the U.S. on a better track toward recovery than has happened in Europe. However, the government got little credit for keeping us out of a depression or a much worse recession.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), tens of millions of people now have health insurance who didn’t before. Many of these families are now avoiding financial distress and bankruptcy due to medical bills because they have health insurance. The ACA has probably contributed to the slowing of the increase in health care costs and it clearly hasn’t generated the runaway inflation in health care costs that its critics predicted. Despite the tangible and significant successes of the ACA, the media coverage of it is largely negative as is a large portion of the public’s perception of it.

FULL POST: There are many examples of successful government programs and initiatives, but they rarely get much attention in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention; they are blasted across the headlines and blared out by talk radio and social media. [1] It seems that every member of the public has a story of a government failure on the tip of his or her tongue, but has a hard time identifying something positive to say about government.

The media, and in particular right wing talk radio and Fox, along with “conservative” and libertarian politicians, fan the flames of supposed government failure at every opportunity (including contrived ones). From President Reagan’s statement that government isn’t the solution it’s the problem to today’s Tea Party and the undermine-President-Obama-at-any-cost Republicans, denigrating government is in the forefront of these politicians’ political strategy.

Remember the Ebola crisis of last fall? The right wing media and politicians severely criticized the government for not reacting appropriately, stated that government could not be trusted to handle the situation, and predicted an epidemic here in the U.S. Fear mongering ran rampant. But what happened? There was no epidemic here; every one of the small handful of people who contracted the disease in the U.S. recovered, along with a number of others with the disease who were evacuated to the U.S. from Africa. Patients were treated in facilities funded, designed, and/or supported by our government. However, this success of government policies and facilities got very little attention or acknowledgement. The critics didn’t apologize and admit they were wrong, let alone thank the government for a job well-done. The media didn’t cover this success with anywhere near the attention it gave to the criticism and fear mongering.

As another example, the largely successful U.S. government’s response to the 2008 financial debacle, caused by irresponsible behavior by large Wall Street corporations, almost certainly prevented a worldwide depression. The bailout of the financial corporations prevented a full blown collapse of the financial sector worldwide. The economic stimulus bill, formally the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, created about 3 million jobs and kept the unemployment rate 2% lower than it would have been according to most economists. (See my blog post of 9/13/12 for more detail.) It accomplished this despite political opposition that limited the dollar amount of the stimulus and, consequently, its beneficial effects. Nonetheless, it softened the recession here and put the U.S. on a better track toward recovery than has happened in Europe. The slow but steady recovery has also been supported by the policies of the Federal Reserve.

However, the government got little credit for keeping us out of a depression or a much worse recession. It is interesting to note that Congress people who vociferously criticized the stimulus in Washington would tout the jobs it had created when they were at home in their districts.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called Obama Care in an effort to politicize it, tens of millions of people now have health insurance who didn’t before. (This number would be substantially higher if Republican Governors and legislatures had cooperated with the ACA. See my blog post of 8/13/14 for more detail.) Thanks to the ACA:

  • Millions of young adults in their early twenties can and do now stay on their parents’ health insurance;
  • Millions of people with pre-existing health conditions can now change jobs, go back to school to further their education, or start their own businesses because they can’t be denied health insurance if they switch insurance providers; and
  • Many families are now avoiding financial distress and bankruptcy due to medical bills because they now have health insurance to pay them.

Furthermore, the ACA has probably contributed to the slowing of the increase in health care costs and it clearly hasn’t generated the runaway inflation in them that its critics predicted.

Despite these tangible and significant successes of the ACA, the media coverage of it is largely negative as is a large portion of the public’s perception of it.

Another example is the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border last summer. Right wing media and politicians blamed the Obama administration for causing the problem and failing to respond appropriately. This crisis was a major news story. In reality, the problem was caused by a spike in violence in three Central American countries and weak, disrupted economies in part due to the NAFTA trade treaty and other long-standing issues. The Obama administration responded with an improved and expedited process for handling the immigration of these children, as well as diplomacy and economic support to address the issues in the three countries. Within three months, the arrival of unaccompanied minors dwindled and the crisis was solved. But coverage and acknowledgement of this success was, for the most part, nowhere to been seen or heard.

My next post will go into more detail on why the government rarely gets credit for or acknowledgement of its successes.

[1]       Cohn, J. Spring 2015. “Why public silence greets government success,” The American Prospect (Much of my post is a summary of this article.)

PROGRESSIVE VALUES ARE ALIVE AND WELL IN THE U.S.

ABSTRACT: Despite Republicans taking over control of the U.S. Senate, progressive values are alive and well in the U.S. In a recent poll of likely 2016 voters, over 70% supported the following policies:

  • Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices
  • Student loans should have lower interest rates
  • Pre-kindergarten and Medicare should be available to all
  • Trade agreements should protect workers, jobs, and the environment
  • Corporations that ship jobs overseas shouldn’t get tax breaks
  • The government should establish a $400 billion / year infrastructure-building jobs program
  • Public higher education should be debt-free and Social Security benefits should be expanded.

The full set of poll questions and results are available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.boldprogressives.org/images/Big_Ideas-Polling_PDF-1.pdf.

There also were many positive results on progressive ballot measures in the 2014 election. The question is, how did conservative Republicans get elected when they don’t reflect the will of the people? The four main answers are:

  • Turnout in the November election was very low
  • Many Democrats didn’t campaign on the progressive issues that are popular with voters
  • Gerrymandered electoral districts and our primary election system produce very ideological candidates who are not representative of the larger population
  • Voter suppression efforts by Republicans have succeeded in reducing voting by groups that tend to favor Democrats.

FULL POST: Despite Republicans taking over control of the U.S. Senate and therefore both branches of Congress, progressive values are alive and well in the U.S. The progressive policies that President Obama put forward in his State of the Union speech are much closer to what Americans want from their government than the conservative policy proposals the Republicans are espousing.

In a recent poll of likely voters in the 2016 election, over 70% supported the following policies:

  • Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical corporations
  • Student loans should have the same low interest rates as the big bank corporations get
  • Universal pre-kindergarten should be provided
  • Trade agreements should protect workers, jobs, and the environment
  • Corporations that ship jobs overseas shouldn’t get tax breaks
  • Medicare should be available to anyone who is willing to pay for it
  • Corporations should have to disclose spending on elections and lobbying
  • The government should establish a $400 billion / year infrastructure-building jobs program
  • Public higher education should be available to all debt-free
  • Social Security benefits should be expanded

There were other issues with over 70% support and many more with majority support. The full set of poll questions and results are available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.boldprogressives.org/images/Big_Ideas-Polling_PDF-1.pdf.

There also were many positive results on progressive ballot measures in the 2014 election, some of which I covered in my 11/25/14 post. Here are some more, thanks to Jim Hightower and his Hightower Lowdown newsletter (http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/).

In dozens of communities in at least five states (Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Wisconsin), voters supported overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and related decisions that have allowed unlimited sums of money to be spent on election campaigns. These voters called for a Constitutional amendment that would state that corporations do not have the same rights as human persons and that money is not equivalent to speech and therefore can be regulated in election campaigns. Voters in Wisconsin, who re-elected conservative, Republican Governor Walker, nonetheless, voted overwhelmingly in 12 communities for this Constitutional amendment (between 70% and 83% in favor). [1]

Voters statewide in Massachusetts; in Oakland, CA; and in two New Jersey cities voted overwhelmingly to require employers to provide paid sick time (between 59% and 86% in favor). In Alaska, Florida, and New Jersey voters approved conservation initiatives.

Local bans on fracking [2] passed in two counties in California; in Athens, Ohio; and in Denton, Texas. In Denton, the supporters of the ban were out-spent almost 30 to 1, but, nonetheless, won 59% of the votes; a resounding victory, especially because Texas is a major oil and gas state.

Republicans have accused President Obama of being political in his State of the Union speech because he proposed policies that are popular with the public but not with the conservative Republicans who control Congress. This seems like convoluted logic to me. Isn’t democratic, representative government supposed to put in place policies that are popular with the public? It sounds like the Congressional Republicans are admitting that they are out of step with what the public wants. The polling and results of ballot measures cited above confirm this apparent admission.

The question is, how did conservative Republicans get elected when they don’t reflect the will of the people? The four main answers are:

  • Turnout in the November election was very low (only 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted),
  • Many Democrats didn’t campaign on the progressive issues that are popular with voters,
  • Gerrymandered electoral districts, particularly for the US House, and our primary election system where turnout is even lower than in the final election (less than 15% of eligible voters) tend to produce very ideological candidates for the final election who are not representative of the larger population, and
  • Voter suppression efforts by Republicans have succeeded in reducing voting by groups, such as minorities, the young, and the elderly, that tend to favor Democrats.

If you know of other examples of progressive local ballot initiatives that were approved by voters or other examples of Congress not representing the will of the people, please share them in a comment on this post. Thanks!

[1]       Hightower, J., Dec. 2014, “As majorities tossed meek, dodgy Democrats, even more said “Yes” to populist ballot measures,” The Hightower Lowdown (http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/

[2]       Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing and is the process of drilling and injecting liquid made of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas or oil.

PROGRESSIVE SUCCESSES IN THE 2014 ELECTION

ABSTRACT: Perhaps surprisingly, in the context of Republican and conservative candidates’ victories in the 2014 election, many ballot initiatives that were decidedly liberal or progressive passed. Democrats running clearly progressive campaigns for the US Senate won in 3 states. The Republican victories in many very close races were made possible by very low voter turnout. Only 35% of those registered to vote and 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted.

Voters in four Republican states – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota – raised the minimum wage despite concerted and well-funded opposition. In Richmond, California, progressives defeated mayoral and city council candidates heavily funded by Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation. In Arkansas, despite a sweep by Republican candidates, a ballot initiative passed that reformed campaign finance and ethics laws. In Tallahassee, Florida, voters also approved reforms in campaign finance and ethics laws. In dozens of communities in four states (Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio), voters overwhelmingly favored ballot measures supporting a federal constitutional amendment that would state that corporations do not have the same rights as human persons and that money is not equivalent to speech and therefore can be regulate in election campaigns.

This all makes it clear that Republican candidates’ election victories do not reflect public opinion on many important policy issues. Rather, they were the result of a failure of many Democrats to campaign on popular progressive policies. Furthermore, the election outcomes reflect Republicans’ successes in changing the rules of our elections to suppress voter turnout and allow the spending of huge sums by wealthy corporations and individuals.

FULL POST: Perhaps surprisingly, in the context of Republican and conservative candidates’ victories in the 2014 election, many ballot initiatives that were decidedly liberal or progressive passed – sometimes even in the same jurisdictions that were electing conservatives. Furthermore, Democrats running for the US Senate who ran some of the most clearly progressive campaigns won: Senator Jeff Merkley (Democrat of Oregon), Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), and incoming Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

The Republican victories in many very close races were made possible by very low voter turnout – the lowest since 1942 – which favors Republicans and conservatives. Only 35% of those registered to vote and 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted. In the Congressional elections, Republicans won 52% of the vote, which represents only 17% of those registered to vote and 13% of those eligible to vote. [1] Hardly a mandate by normal standards. The Republican’s large majority in the US House is largely due to extreme gerrymandering of House districts.

Despite the context, every major progressive or Democratic ballot initiative won, even in Republican states. Every minimum wage increase won and every personhood amendment failed (CO & ND). (These are amendments to state Constitutions that confer personhood and all its rights on embryos at fertilization.) [2] Across the nation, voters also passed measures against fracking, for paid sick leave, for criminal justice sentencing reform, and for gun purchase background checks. [3]

Voters in four Republican states – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota – raised the minimum wage against the concerted and well-funded opposition of national and local big business groups. This will raise the pay levels for over 1.7 million workers. Alaska and South Dakota linked the minimum wage to inflation, so it will increase automatically in the future. San Francisco and Oakland voters also overwhelmingly increased the minimum wage in those cities. Illinois voters strongly supported a non-binding referendum to raise the minimum wage.

In Richmond, California, progressives defeated mayoral and city council candidates funded by Chevron, the nation’s third largest corporation. Chevron, which owns a huge refinery in the city, poured at least $3 million into the local elections in this working class city of 105,000 people (about $150 for each likely voter). It sought to oust a progressive local government that was requiring it to clean up its pollution, pay more taxes into city coffers, and be a more responsible and accountable corporate citizen. Wall St. corporations also participated in the attempt to throw out the progressives because the city government, faced with a decade of predatory lending and an epidemic of foreclosures and “underwater” mortgages, demanded that Wall Street banks help troubled homeowners save their homes. In the election, community groups, labor unions, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), and others mobilized a grassroots campaign to re-elect a progressive city government. [4]

A California ballot initiative reformed sentencing laws and one in Washington State expanded criminal background checks for gun purchases. In Arizona, voters defeated a right wing attempt to undermine public employee pensions. In Denton, Texas, the heart of oil and gas country, voters banned fracking, the controversial drilling method for extracting gas from rock formations.

In Arkansas, despite a sweep by Republican candidates, a ballot initiative passed that reformed campaign finance and ethics laws. It bans direct corporate and union campaign contributions to candidates, forbids lawmakers from accepting gifts of any kind from lobbyists, and increases the amount of time departing lawmakers must wait before lobbying from one to two years.

In Tallahassee, Florida, voters overwhelmingly approved an anti-corruption initiative limiting campaign contributions, creating a $25 tax rebate for small contributions, and boosting ethics reforms by creating an ethics panel and a tough conflict-of-interest policy for city officials. In dozens of communities in four states (Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio), voters overwhelmingly favored ballot measures supporting a federal constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court decisions including Citizens United and McCutcheon. The amendment would state that corporations do not have the same rights as human persons and that money is not equivalent to speech and therefore can be regulated in election campaigns. [5]

This all makes it clear that Republican candidates’ election victories do not reflect public opinion on many important policy issues. Rather, they were the result of a failure of many Democrats to campaign on popular progressive policies. Furthermore, the election outcomes reflect Republicans’ successes in changing the rules of our elections to favor big business and conservative interest groups by suppressing voter turnout and allowing the spending of huge sums by wealthy corporations and individuals. [6]

[1]       Murphthesurf3, 11/20/14, “GOP columnist: The VERY bad news for the GOP in the GOP’s midterm victory,” The Daily Kos

[2]       Ladd, C., 11/10/14, “The missing story of the 2014 election,” Houston Chronicle

[3]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, “Progressive Midterm Victories You Didn’t Hear About — And Some That Could Still Happen,” The American Prospect

[4]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, see above

[5]       Blumenthal, P., 11/14/14, “Where campaign finance reformers actually won on election day,” The Huffington Post

[6]       Dreier, P., 11/7/14, see above

40 YEARS OF CLASS WARFARE

ABSTRACT: Class warfare has been going on in the US for 40 years, but most people either haven’t realized that it is class warfare, or deny its existence. Inequality between the wealthy, elite class and the middle and working class has grown dramatically. This is the result of policy decisions made by federal and state governments not the accidental or inevitable result of non-political events or changes in our economy.

Since 1979, workers’ productivity has grown by 65% but their median pay has grown by only 8%. Large employers’ profits after taxes have increased 239% since 1980.

Since the 1970s, changes in government policies have tended to reward corporations, their executives and investors, at the expense of workers. Trade policies, deregulation, tax policies, and labor laws are key examples. As the incomes of the richest 1% have grown dramatically, the income tax rate for those with the highest incomes has been reduced from 70% to 39%, with even lower rates on income from investments (as opposed to income from work). Meanwhile, the minimum wage has failed to even keep up with inflation.

Increasing incomes for the working and middle class doesn’t just benefit them and their families, it will benefit the whole economy by increasing the purchasing power of the average consumer. Consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy.

It’s time to acknowledge that 40 years of class warfare has occurred, that government policies have been its weapons, and that tremendous (and growing) inequality has been the result. It’s time to work to improve the pay, benefits, and job security of the working and middle class. And it’s time for our wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of our taxes. Policy changes to achieve these results are possible and will be essential to strengthening our economy and reducing the startling inequality present in America today.

FULL POST: Class warfare has been going on in the US for 40 years, but most people either haven’t realized that it is class warfare, or deny its existence. The incomes and wealth of the wealthiest individuals and families in the US have grown dramatically, while the vast majority of Americans have seen their incomes stagnate, at best, and their wealth fall with the crash of home prices and the financial system in 2008. Large employers’ profits have grown significantly as well, while workers’ pay has stagnated or fallen.

As a result, inequality between the wealthy, elite class and the middle and working class has grown dramatically. This is the result of policy decisions made by federal and state governments, driven by wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists. It is not the accidental or inevitable result of non-political events or changes in our economy.

It used to be that as our economy and worker productivity grew, the rising tide lifted all boats. From 1947 to 1973, workers’ productivity grew by 97% and their median pay grew by 95%. That changed in the 1970s when the 40 years of class warfare began. Since 1979, workers’ productivity has grown by 65% but their median pay has grown by only 8%. The share of the national economy’s income going to workers in wages and salaries has declined from 67% (where it had been for decades) to 58% (the lowest level since this statistic has been recorded). Meanwhile, the share going to corporate profits is at a record high. [1] Large employers’ profits after taxes have increased 239% since 1980. [2]

Since the 1970s, changes in government policies have tended to reward corporations, their executives and investors, at the expense of workers. Trade policies, deregulation, tax policies, and labor laws are key examples. These policy changes have allowed and provided incentives for corporations to shift jobs overseas, reducing jobs and wages in the US. Financial deregulation has benefited Wall St. corporations and executives while hurting average American homeowners, credit card holders, and borrowers. Small businesses have been hurt by trade policies, deregulation, and tax policies that favor big corporations.

Changes in labor laws have shifted the balance of power toward employers, especially large employers, at the expense of workers. The use of part-time workers, “temporary” employees, and “independent” contractors instead of full-time employees has stripped workers of job security, benefits, and labor law protections, including the ability to unionize.

During the first 30 years of this class warfare, workers made up for the lack of income growth by working more hours (especially by women in two-parent households) and by borrowing, most notably against their homes (mortgages, second mortgages, and home equity loans), through their credit cards, and for the costs of higher education. Then, the Great Recession hit and the incomes and assets (primarily homes) of the middle and working class crumbled.

The result of this multi-faceted warfare against the working and middle class is the following (all figures adjusted for inflation):

  • Bottom 90% of the US population
    • Average household income: $31,000, down 24% since 1980
  • Top 10%
    • Average household income: $175,000, up 46% since 1980
  • Top 1%
    • Average household income: $700,000, up 124% since 1980

The top 10% of Americans as a group now have as much income as the bottom 90% for the first time in 100 years. And the average US CEO’s salary is now 331 times the average workers’ pay. [3] The inequality in wealth is even greater than the inequality in income; the top 1% have 76% of wealth in the US.

If the incomes of all classes had grown at the same rate since 1979, low and middle income families would be earning $6,000 – $8,000 more each year than they are. [4]

In perhaps the starkest example of this class warfare, as the incomes of the richest 1% have grown dramatically, and as inequality has grown dramatically, the income tax rate for those with the highest incomes has been reduced from 70% to 39%. And many of those with the highest incomes pay a far lower effective income tax rate because of tax loopholes (such as offshore tax havens) and even lower rates on income from investments (as opposed to income from work).

Another stark example of this class warfare is that as upper incomes have soared, the minimum wage has failed to even keep up with inflation. This is a clear example of the eroding power of workers and a significant factor underlying their eroding incomes. Although successful efforts to increase the minimum wage have recently occurred in some states and cities, this is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Much more will need to be done if workers are to regain the financial well-being and stability they enjoyed from the end of World War II until the 1970s.

Increasing incomes of the working and middle class doesn’t just benefit them and their families, it will benefit the whole economy by increasing the purchasing power of the average consumer. Consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy and the current economic recovery has been slow and weak because consumers simply don’t have money to spend.

It’s time to acknowledge that 40 years of class warfare has occurred, that government policies have been its weapons, and that tremendous (and growing) inequality has been the result. It’s time to work to improve the pay, benefits, and job security of the working and middle class. And it’s time for our wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of our taxes. Policy changes to achieve these results are possible and will be essential to strengthening our economy and reducing the startling inequality present in America today.

[1]       Meyerson, H., July / August 2014, “Why Democrats need to take sides,” The American Prospect

[2]       Gilson, D., Sept. / Oct. 2014, “Survival of the richest,” Mother Jones

[3]       In These Times, Sept. 2014, “Just the facts,” In These Times

[4]       Horowitz, E., 8/23/14, “Mass. Economy still hasn’t rebounded,” The Boston Globe

CAUSE FAILURE, BLAME GOVERNMENT

ABSTRACT: Government agencies perform many necessary and important functions. However, inadequate funding results in ineffective agencies. But the fault doesn’t lie with the government agencies; it lies with those who make the funding decisions. A classic strategy of the small government ideologues is to cause government agencies to be ineffective by underfunding them and then to point to their failures and say, “See government doesn’t work.” This strategy has produced the current crisis at the Veterans Administration (VA).

A similar crisis is brewing at the Social Security Administration (SSA).As millions of baby boomers are retiring, budget cuts are forcing reductions in access to SSA services. Since 2010, the SSA has closed 64 field offices, 533 temporary mobile offices, and reduced hours at the 1,245 field offices that remain open. Meanwhile, enrollment in Social Security retirement benefits has increased 27% over the last 6 years. In 2013, 43 million Americans visited SSA offices and 43% had to wait more than 3 weeks for an appointment.

Similarly, regulatory agencies that oversee public safety often suffer from insufficient funding to effectively perform their jobs. A classic example is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the 525,000 bus and truck operators in the US. Inadequate funding cripples enforcement. While the number of buses and miles traveled have increased significantly since 2006, the agency’s under $600 million budget and 350 investigators have remained essentially unchanged. 546 interstate carriers are operating with violations above acceptable levels but 29% of them haven’t had a federal safety review in over 2 years and an additional 11% have never been reviewed. Buses receive far less scrutiny than the airlines despite 7,518 crashes in the last 4 years resulting in 171 fatalities and 9,414 injuries, while US airlines have had no fatal crashes.

Buses are but one example among many of where a regulatory agency doesn’t have the funding necessary to effectively do its job of keeping the public safe. Such agencies, as well as the VA and SSA, are classic examples of the “shrink [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bath tub” radical right wing, libertarian strategy.

All too often the underfunding of government agencies is intentional – aimed at undermining both the effectiveness of the agencies and the public’s perception of government.

FULL POST: Government agencies perform many necessary and important functions. However, inadequate funding results in ineffective agencies. But the fault doesn’t lie with the government agencies; it lies with those who make the funding decisions.

A classic strategy of the small government ideologues is to cause government agencies to be ineffective by underfunding them and then to point to their failures and say, “See government doesn’t work.” This strategy has produced the current crisis at the Veterans Administration (VA). Responsible estimates are that the VA’s budget will need to double to effectively serve the growing number of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (See my post of 6/5/14 for more details on the VA crisis. https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2014/06/05/find-a-crisis-demand-privatization/.)

A similar crisis is brewing at the Social Security Administration (SSA). As millions of baby boomers are retiring and requesting help from the SSA to make decisions about enrolling in Social Security, budget cuts are forcing reductions in access to SSA services. Congress has cut 14 of the last 16 budget requests from the SSA, despite the fact that its budget comes out of the Social Security Trust Fund and, therefore, has no impact on the federal budget or deficit.

Since 2010, these budget cuts have forced the SSA to close 64 field offices, 533 temporary mobile offices that serve remote areas, and reduce hours at the 1,245 field offices that remain open. [1] And its full-time workforce has been cut by about 4,000 (14%) to 25,420. [2]

Meanwhile, enrollment in Social Security retirement benefits has increased 27% over the last 6 years from 2.6 million to 3.3 million. As a result of this growing demand and declining capacity, seniors seeking information and help are experiencing increasingly long waits. In 2013, 43 million Americans visited SSA offices and 43% had to wait more than 3 weeks for an appointment, up from 10% the previous year.

Similarly, regulatory agencies that oversee public safety often suffer from insufficient funding to effectively perform their jobs. Here, the efforts of the small government, “free market,” right wing libertarians are aligned with those of the regulated corporations who push for weak regulations and enforcement.

A classic example is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the 525,000 bus and truck operators in the US. Inadequate funding cripples enforcement. While the number of buses and miles traveled have increased significantly since 2006, the agency’s under $600 million budget and 350 investigators have remained essentially unchanged. More than 200 operators with serious violations identified by local police and other authorities have not received a full federal safety review in the last 2 years, if ever. And 546 interstate carriers are operating with violations above acceptable levels but 29% of them haven’t had a federal safety review in over 2 years and an additional 11% have never been reviewed. Buses receive far less scrutiny than the airlines despite 7,518 crashes in the last 4 years resulting in 171 fatalities and 9,414 injuries, while US airlines have had no fatal crashes. [3]

Buses are but one example among many of where a regulatory agency doesn’t have the funding necessary to effectively do its job of keeping the public safe. Others that have been in the news recently include distribution of tainted dialysis fluid, selling of contaminated drugs by a compounding pharmacy, and the chemical explosion in Texas that killed 14 and injured over 200. The responsible public safety agencies, as well as the VA and SSA, are classic examples of the “shrink [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub” radical right wing, libertarian strategy. [4]

Government is the solution to many of the challenges that face us – from providing a base level of economic security in retirement to promoting safety in our everyday lives. All too often the underfunding of government agencies is intentional – aimed at undermining both the effectiveness of the agencies and the public’s perception of government.

[1]       Ohlemacher, S., 6/19/14, “Social Security closes offices as demand is on upswing,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[2]       Pear, R., 6/17/14, “Social Security agency cuts services as demand grows, Senate report says,” The New York Times

[3]       Johnston, K., & Wallack, T., 6/9/14, “Bus lapses mount, but scrutiny lags,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Quote is from Grover Norquist in 2004. He is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist)

FIND A CRISIS, DEMAND PRIVATIZATION

ABSTRACT: Republicans are up to their old tricks: create a crisis at a public agency and then claim that privatization is the answer. The latest example is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Congress hasn’t provided sufficient funding to serve the 1.5 million new veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. When US Senate legislation proposed 27 new VA health facilities (a 2% increase) and authorized hiring additional doctors and nurses back in February, the Republicans filibustered it, obstructing progress. Now that the lack of capacity has come to public attention, the Republicans are claiming that privatization is the answer.

Most veterans give high ratings to the care they get from the VA and are opposed to privatization. The VA system is actually a model from which our private health care system could learn a lot.

This political tactic of using a “crisis” to push for privatization is one that Republicans have used with Social Security, the US Postal Service, the public school system, road and bridge building and maintenance, the prison system, and so forth. Conservatives in Canada have used the tactic as well to attack their postal service and their universal public health care system.

Using a real, created, or perceived crisis as an excuse to allow inefficient corporate takeovers of societal functions best suited to provision by a public entity puts corporate profits ahead of the public good. Such privatization through “crisis” is a disingenuous tactic used by ideologues who want to shrink government and expand corporate profits regardless of whether or not it’s in the best interests of citizens and taxpayers.

FULL POST: Republicans are up to their old tricks: create a crisis at a public agency and then claim that privatization is the answer. Sometimes the crisis is real, sometimes it is manufactured, and sometimes it’s a perception created by a public relations campaign. However, the answer is always the same: privatize the agency because the “crisis” proves that the public sector can’t do the job.

The latest example is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The cover-up of the waiting list for needed care in the VA’s Phoenix office is unforgiveable. But why was the agency unable to deliver timely care? Is it because doctors, nurses, and others were sitting around with their feet up doing nothing? Or is it because of a lack of capacity to provide the needed care? I’m willing to bet it’s the latter.

Congress hasn’t provided sufficient funding to serve the 1.5 million new veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many of these veterans have injuries, including traumatic body and brain injuries, that would have killed them on the battlefield in the past. However, our improved medical capabilities on the battlefield have saved their lives, but returned them home with significant health care needs. Mental health needs have grown as well.

However, when US Senate legislation proposed 27 new VA health facilities (a 2% increase) and authorized hiring additional doctors and nurses back in February, the Republicans filibustered it, obstructing progress on expanding needed health services for our veterans.

Now that the lack of capacity has come to public attention, the Republicans are claiming that privatization is the answer. Should we turn health care of our veterans over to the health care system that increases its profits by finding ways to deny coverage and care? Interestingly, most veterans give high ratings to the care they get from the VA and are opposed to privatization. The VA has unmatched expertise in traumatic brain injury, amputee care, and other combat-related health issues and it serves rural areas where private sector care is scarce. [1] It computerized medical records and undertook quality of care initiatives long before the private sector. The VA system is actually a model from which our private health care system could learn a lot. [2]

This political tactic of using a “crisis” to push for privatization is one that Republicans have used with Social Security, the US Postal Service, the public school system, road and bridge building and maintenance, the prison system, and so on. Conservatives in Canada have used the tactic as well to attack their postal service and their universal public health care system. [3] Using a real, created, or perceived crisis as an excuse to allow inefficient corporate takeovers of societal functions best suited to provision by a public entity puts corporate profits ahead of the public good.

Privatization of the VA is not good for our veterans or taxpayers. Such privatization through “crisis” is a disingenuous tactic used by ideologues who want to shrink government and expand corporate profits regardless of whether or not it’s in the best interests of citizens and taxpayers. [4]

[1]       Weisman, J., 5/30/14, “VA scandal forces Congress to study systemic change,” The Boston Globe from The New York Times

[2]       Gordon, S. 5/27/14, “Privatization won’t fix the VA,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Taliano, M., 5/16/14, “Privatization is the problem, not the solution,” Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/16-7

[4]       See my previous posts on privatization, especially the ones of 10/23/12 and 10/16/12, for more detail on the shortcomings of privatization.

GOVERNMENT GRIDLOCK AND GERRYMANDERING

ABSTRACT: The gridlock in Congress is caused by hyper-partisanship and by the extreme views and tactics of some Representatives and Senators. There are four major reasons for it. I will address each of these in upcoming posts, starting with gerrymandering in this post.

Every 10 years, the boundaries of the Congressional Districts (CDs) for US House members are redrawn to reflect shifts in population. The CD boundaries are typically determined by state legislatures. The opportunity to draw the boundaries to achieve political goals has been irresistible. This process of drawing election districts to gain political advantage often ends up creating oddly shaped districts. This is referred to as “gerrymandering.” Because of growing partisanship and improved geographical computer capabilities over the last two decades, gerrymandering after the 2000 and 2010 Censuses was taken to a new level. As a result, in the 2012 Congressional election, Democratic House candidates nationwide received 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates but won only 201 seats in the House to the Republicans’ 234.

Gerrymandering produces “safe” districts – ones where the party that will win the election is known in advance. Competition between the parties, which tends to push both party’s candidates’ policy positions to the center in the interest of being competitive, is increasingly rare. Candidates from the ideological extremes are encouraged and it is hard to hold elected officials accountable to the voters, as opposed to special interests, especially ones with money, because a candidate’s party affiliation virtually guarantees election.

One solution to gerrymandering, is to have independent, non-partisan commissions perform re-districting after the decennial Census. Six states have created such commissions; several others are considering doing so.

Gerrymandering, in effect, allows politicians to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians. It produces elected officials who are at ideological extremes and who will use extreme legislative tactics that cause gridlock. Ultimately, only the voters can stop gerrymandering and restore truly democratic elections, which are necessary for our democratic system, including Congress, to work.

FULL POST: The gridlock in Congress is caused by hyper-partisanship and by the extreme views and tactics of some Representatives and Senators. Many political scientists and others feel that this gridlock is a real crisis for American democracy. The last two sessions of Congress (2011-12 and 2013-14) have been the least productive since 1948 when such measurement was begun. There are four major reasons for the gridlock:

  • Gerrymandered Congressional Districts
  • The process for nominating and selecting candidates
  • Low voter participation
  • The huge and growing amounts of money in our political campaigns

I will address each of these in upcoming posts, providing background on them, their effects, and solutions for them. I start with gerrymandering in this post.

Every 10 years, the boundaries of the Congressional Districts (CDs) for US House members are redrawn to reflect shifts in population as measured by the decennial Census. The required goal is that each CD must have roughly the same number of residents.

The CD boundaries are typically determined by state legislatures, i.e., politicians in a political body. The opportunity to draw the boundaries to achieve political goals has been irresistible. Usually, the political goal is to benefit one of the political parties, although it can also be to produce a CD that enhances the likelihood of a specific individual winning, usually an incumbent up for re-election. The typical tactics are to spread opposition voters across multiple districts where they are in a clear minority to minimize their influence or, when necessary, to lump as many of them as possible into one or a few districts that are conceded to the opposition, preserving as many CDs as possible for the favored party.

This process of drawing election districts to gain political advantage often ends up creating oddly shaped districts, rather than compact districts (i.e., ones that are roughly circular or square) or ones that follow the boundaries of existing towns, cities, or counties. This is referred to as “gerrymandering.” The term “gerrymander” was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812. Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party over the Federalists. The shape of one of the contorted districts on a map was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. Hence, the term “Gerry-mander” as it was originally written. [1]

Because of growing partisanship and improved geographical computer capabilities over the last two decades, gerrymandering after the 2000 and 2010 Censuses was taken to a new extreme. The redistricting that took place after the 2010 Census has been labeled “the most distorted and partisan redistricting in modern times.” [2] Because of the growing number of state legislatures and governorships in the hands of the Republican Party over this period, the increased gerrymandering has, at a national level, mainly benefited Republicans.

As a result, in the 2012 Congressional election, Democratic House candidates nationwide received 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates but won only 201 seats in the House to the Republicans’ 234. Here are some examples of states where Democratic presidential candidate Obama won but most of the House seats were won by Republicans and the percentage of House seats won was at least 20% higher than the percentage of the vote received by the Republican presidential candidate Romney:

  • Ohio: Republicans won 75% of House seats (12 of 16), Romney won 48% of the vote
  • Virginia: Republicans won 73% of House seats (8 of 11), Romney won 47% of the vote
  • Pennsylvania: Republicans won 72% of House seats (13 of 18), Romney won 48% of the vote

Gerrymandering produces “safe” districts – ones where the party that will win the election is known in advance. Competition between the parties, which tends to push both party’s candidates’ policy positions to the center in the interest of being competitive, is increasingly rare. Therefore, voters’ choices are reduced and the party primaries becomes the real election. Candidates from the ideological extremes are encouraged because competition from the other party is rare and in primaries, where voter participation is often quite low, mobilizing highly motivated voters with extreme views is often the easiest way to win. And money has a bigger impact in these small, less publicized primaries.

Given the lack of competition between the parties, it is hard to hold elected officials accountable to the voters, as opposed to special interests, especially ones with money, because a candidate’s party affiliation virtually guarantees election. The weakened, typically emasculated, opposition party can’t serve as a check and balance. [3] As a result of gerrymandering, it is estimated that only 35 of the 435 House seats will have a competitive, inter-party race in 2014. Therefore, there is little to deter highly partisan and extreme behavior in Congress. [4][5]

Candidates or elected officials who personally may hold moderate views are pushed to express opinions in public and cast votes in Congress at the extremes because of the threat that their party’s primary election represents. [6] Even House Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell are afraid to take moderate positions or actions because of the possibility of far right challengers in their re-election primaries.

One solution to gerrymandering, is to have independent, non-partisan commissions perform re-districting after each Census. Iowa, California, Arizona, and 3 other states have created such commissions. Several other states are considering doing so. [7]

Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process was created in 1980. Three bureaucrats, who sequester themselves for 45 days after the Census data is available, redraw Iowa’s four Congressional Districts. They are not allowed to consider voters’ party affiliation, previous election results, or the addresses of current members of Congress, or to have any contact with any politician. The goals for the districts, other than equal population, are compactness and respect for existing county boundaries. The result has been some of the country’s most competitive races for the US House and candidates who focus on representing the people of the district, not some ideology or party. [8]

Congress could pass legislation to require states to create independent redistricting commissions, but there is no sign of a sufficiently powerful grassroots movement to force such an action, which would require Congress to act against its own perceived interests. [9]

Gerrymandering, in effect, allows politicians to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians. [10] It produces elected officials who are at ideological extremes and who will use extreme legislative tactics that cause gridlock. Ultimately, only the voters can stop gerrymandering and restore truly democratic elections, which are necessary for our democratic system, including Congress, to work.


 

[1]       Wikipedia, retrieved 3/3/14, “Gerrymandering,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering

[2]       Drew, E., 9/26/13, “The stranglehold on our politics,” The New York Review of Books

[3]       Rapoport, A., Nov. / Dec. 2013, “Fifty shades of purple,” The American Prospect

[4]       Drew, E., 9/26/13, see above

[5]       Potomac Chronicle, Dec. 2013, “Angry about partisan gridlock in Washington? Blame the states,” Governing http://www.governing.com/columns/potomac-chronicle/gov-redistricting-gone-mad.html

[6]       Stockman, F., 10/8/13, “Shutdown: Join the club,” The Boston Globe

[7]       Potomac Chronicle, Dec. 2013, see above

[8]       Jan, T., 12/8/13, “Iowa keeping partisanship off the map,” The Boston Globe

[9]       Drew, E., 9/26/13, see above

[10]     Fair Vote, retrieved 3/2/14, “Redistricting,” The Center for Voting and Democracy, http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/redistricting/

SHORT TAKES ON CURRENT EVENTS

ABSTRACT:

CONFIRMING PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES: The US Senate voted on 11/21 to change its rules and eliminate the use of the filibuster to block presidential nominees other than Supreme Court Justices, given that Republicans had returned to full-scale obstructionism since the deal to approve 7 nominees in July. Under the new rules, the Senate has confirmed 11 nominees and Senate Democrats are pursuing at least 10 more confirmations before the holiday recess. Roughly 70 nominees remain pending.

FINING DRUG CORPORATIONS FOR COLLUSION: The European Union has fined two giant drug corporations, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, $22 million for colluding to delay the availability of a cheaper generic drug.

FDA REDUCING ANTIBIOTIC OVERUSE AND DRUG-RESISTANT INFECTIONS: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in meat production. This overuse of antibiotics used for treating infections in humans is linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. 23,000 people are dying each year from such infections. The FDA is asking drug corporations to voluntarily stop labeling drugs used to treat human infections as acceptable for growth promotion in animals. The FDA is using this voluntary approach and giving the drug corporations 3 years to comply because it believes the complex regulatory process a mandatory rule would require would take many years and might not be successful.

FULL POST:

CONFIRMING PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES

The US Senate voted on 11/21 to change its rules and eliminate the use of the filibuster to block presidential nominees other than Supreme Court Justices. Democrats in the Senate exercised this option, the so-called “nuclear option”, because after a deal in July that allowed the approval of 7 nominees for executive branch positions, Republicans had returned to full-scale obstructionism. With roughly 90 judicial vacancies and some key executive branch openings, the Democrats threatened again to change the filibuster rule and proceeded to do so when the Republicans refused to relent from their obstructionism.

Since then, the Senate has confirmed 11 nominees including the Secretary of Homeland Security, an Assistant Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Air Force, and 2 judges, despite continuing Republican use of delaying tactics. Interestingly, once the Republican blockade of the first two of these was overcome, they were confirmed by 78-16 votes.

Senate Democrats are pursuing at least 10 more confirmations before the holiday recess, including the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the head of the Internal Revenue Service. Roughly 70 nominees remain pending and some of them may have to be re-nominated and start the process all over again in the new year. (1. Alman, A., 12/16/13, “Jeh Johnson confirmed by Senate as Secretary of Homeland Security, The Huffington Post.  2. Reuters, 12/13/13, “U.S. Senate confirmation marathon approves two more Obama nominees,” Reuters) (See my post A Respite from Obstructionism on 7/25/13 at https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/07/25/a-respite-from-obstructionism/, as well as those of 7/21/13 and 7/16/13, for more details on the July deal and obstruction of nominees’ confirmations.)

 

FINING DRUG CORPORATIONS FOR COLLUSION

The European Union has fined two giant drug corporations, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Novartis, $22 million for colluding to delay the availability of a cheaper generic drug. A patent on a J&J pain killer expired in 2005 but J&J paid Novartis to delay for 17 months production of a cheaper generic version of the drug. Both corporations were more profitable as a result. (Daily Briefing, 12/11/13, “EU fines drug firms over delay,” The Boston Globe)

FDA REDUCING ANTIBIOTIC OVERUSE AND DRUG-RESISTANT INFECTIONS

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in meat production. Many producers of cattle, hogs, and poultry give their animals antibiotics to make them grow faster. This overuse of antibiotics used for treating infections in humans is linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, which are much more difficult and expensive to treat, and can be fatal: 23,000 people are dying each year from such infections. The FDA is asking drug corporations to voluntarily stop labeling drugs used to treat human infections as acceptable for growth promotion in animals. This would make such use illegal without a prescription for use in a sick animal. The FDA is using this voluntary approach and giving the drug corporations 3 years to comply because it believes the complex regulatory process a mandatory rule would require would take many years and might not be successful. (Jalonick, M.C., 12/12/13, “FDA working to phase out some antibiotics in meat,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press)

 

NOTE: There are so many issues and events that I think those of us trying to be well informed citizens and voters should know about that I can’t write full posts on all of them. And I’m sure you don’t have time to read full posts about them. Therefore, I’ll use this format to complement the full posts: Short Takes on current events. Please let me know if you find these valuable by commenting on them. I will provide references or links to more information for the topics, so you can pursue them in more depth if you have the interest and time.

THE FEDERAL BUDGET DEAL

ABSTRACT: As you probably know, Congress will vote this week on a budget deal for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. If the budget deal doesn’t pass, the government would shut down again on Jan. 15. The deal could fail to pass in Congress. Without a deal, the phase 2 sequester cuts take effect and would be much more painful than the phase 1 cuts were this year. Under the sequester, the 2013 cap on discretionary domestic and military spending is $986 billion. This cap is slated to drop to $967 billion for 2014.

The budget negotiators are proposing spending $1,012 billion in 2013 and $2,014 billion in 2015, claiming deficit reduction of $23 billion over 10 years and smarter budget cutting than the across-the-board sequester’s cuts. However, some of the shrink-the-government diehards are opposed to this increase in spending.

To cut costs, the contributions new federal civilian employees pay into their pension fund will increase and military pensions will receive smaller cost of living increases. To increase revenue, airlines’ fees to pay for the TSA will go up, resulting in a $5 increase in add-on fees on each airline ticket. This consumer fee increase has been criticized and some in Congress have suggested closing the private jet tax loophole as an alternative.

A bone of contention is that the deal does not extend the emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. These benefits will expire on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million workers. Without an extension, an additional 850,000 workers’ will lose benefits in the first quarter of 2014. This would have an estimated impact on the economy of 300,000 fewer jobs in 2014 and a reduction in economic growth of 0.4%.

If there are issues in these budget negotiations that you feel strongly about, now is the time to contact your Congress people and get your two cents (or more) into the discussion.

FULL POST: As you probably know, Congress will vote this week on a budget deal for fiscal years 2014 (which started last Oct. 1) and 2015. Their deadline is this Friday because Congress is planning to adjourn and go home for the holidays then. Other deadlines are lurking behind this one: the temporary extension of the fiscal year 2013 budget in October expires on Jan. 15, the second round of automatic budget cuts (phase 2 of the sequester) goes into effective Jan. 1, and long-term unemployment benefits expire on Dec. 28.

If the budget deal doesn’t pass, the government would shut down again on Jan. 15, a result almost no one appears to want. The deal could fail to pass in Congress because the negotiating has been done by a small group and there is opposition to the deal from multiple sides. [1]

Without a deal, the phase 2 sequester cuts would take effect and would be much more painful than the phase 1 cuts were this year. Many federal agencies and programs were able to use surplus or reserve funds that are now exhausted. In the case of air traffic controllers, airport construction funds were used to fund them and aren’t available again. And some one-time accounting maneuvers were used. Therefore, the second round of cuts will have much greater impacts. [2] The phase 2 sequester cuts in government spending would also hurt the economy and cost an estimated 800,000 jobs in 2014. [3]

Nonetheless, a number of issues could derail the budget deal. One such issue is the overall spending caps currently in place under the sequester, officially known as the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The 2013 cap on discretionary domestic and military spending is $986 billion. This cap is slated to drop to $967 billion for 2014.

The budget negotiators are proposing spending $1,012 billion ($1.012 trillion) in 2013 and $2,014 billion in 2015. Military spending would be $521 billion and non-military spending $492 billion. [4][5] With some offsetting revenue increases and future cuts in spending, they are claiming deficit reduction of $23 billion over 10 years and smarter budget cutting than the across-the-board sequester’s cuts. [6] However, some of the shrink-the-government diehards are opposed to this increase in spending. Spending that Obama called for in his State of the Union speech on education and infrastructure (in part to create jobs) is not part of the budget deal.

To cut costs, the contributions new federal civilian employees pay into their pension fund will increase ($6 billion over 10 years). This is causing some pushback given that federal workers have already experienced a 3 year pay freeze, unpaid furloughs due to the sequester, and delays in receiving their pay during the government shutdown. [7] Military pensions will receive smaller cost of living increases ($6 billion over 10 years). A cut in payments to Medicare health care providers is extended 2 years to 2023 ($23 billion). [8] Costs of mineral leases and petroleum extraction research will also be cut.

To increase revenue, airlines’ fees to pay for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will go up, resulting in a $5 increase in add-on fees on each airline ticket. This consumer fee increase has been criticized and some in Congress have suggested closing the private jet tax loophole as an alternative way to raise revenue. [9] Companies’ premiums for insuring pension plans will increase, however, the closing of corporate tax loopholes, including the use of offshore tax havens (which alone could generate over $20 billion a year in revenue), that some in Congress had called for, are not part of the deal. [10]

A bone of contention is that the deal does not extend the emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. These benefits will expire on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million workers who have been out of work for longer than the usual 26 week limit on benefits. An extension of benefits would cost $25 billion for 2014. Not only do such benefits help the workers and their families, but they also support the economy by helping to maintain household incomes and consumer spending, which is two-thirds of our economy. [11] Without an extension, an additional 850,000 workers’ will lose benefits in the first quarter of 2014 when their regular 26 weeks of benefits run out, and 4.8 million workers would be affected by expiring benefits over the course of 2014. This would have an estimated impact on the economy of 300,000 fewer jobs in 2014 and a reduction in economic growth of 0.4% (from a current level of 2.4% for 2013) in the first quarter of 2014. [12] Some Democrats would still like to see this in the budget deal, while others are planning to push it separately in the near future.

Although unemployment is down to 7.0%, long-term unemployment is still a serious problem. Furthermore, the emergency long-term unemployment benefits were started under President George W. Bush when unemployment was only 5.6%. Over 37% of the unemployed have been unemployed for over 26 weeks, and this percentage is still rising. [13]

If a budget deal is successfully passed by Congress and signed by the President, it will be the first official budget since 2011. However, a number of issues could present challenges to passage in the House or the Senate.

If there are issues in these budget negotiations that you feel strongly about, now is the time to contact your Congress people and get your two cents (or more) into the discussion.


[1]       Everett, B., & Gibson, G., 12/8/13, “Budget talks worry those not in the room,” Politico

[2]       Taylor, A., 11/12/13, “Mandated cuts expected to be more painful in ’14,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Montgomery, L., 12/6/13, “Congressional GOP may be willing to let emergency unemployment benefits lapse,” The Washington Post

[4]       Weisman, J., 12/11/13, “Congressional negotiators reach deal on federal budget,” The Boston Globe from The New York Times

[5]       Przybyla, H., 12/11/13, “Budget deal easing spending cuts faces Republican ire,” Bloomberg

[6]       Weisman, J., 12/6/13, “Congress appears near a modest accord on the budget,” The Boston Globe from The New York Times

[7]       Montgomery, L., 12/9/13, “Budget deal expected this week amounts to a cease-fire as sides move to avert a standoff,” The Washington Post

[8]       Espo, D., & Taylor, A., 12/10/13, “Congressional negotiators reach budget pact,” The Boston Globe

[9]       Przybyla, H., 12/6/13, “Budget negotiators seek limited deal as opposition mounts,” Bloomberg

[10]     Tong, J., 12/5/13, “Representatives Doggett and DeLauro introduce legislation to end sequestration and corporate offshore tax havens,” Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/newswire/2013/12/05-4)

[11]     Krugman, P., 12/8/13, “The punishment cure,” The New York Times

[12]     Lowrey, A., 11/17/13, “Extension of benefits for jobless set to end,” The New York Times

[13]     Needham, V., 12/8/13, “Advocates see hope for renewal of unemployment benefits extension,” The Hill

REPUBLICANS OBSTRUCTING NOMINEES AGAIN

ABSTRACT: The Republicans are back to blocking the President’s nominees for judgeships and executive branch positions by filibustering. Currently, there are roughly 90 vacancies for judgeships. In terms of Executive Branch nominees, the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Homeland Security are among those waiting for Senate confirmation.

Senate Democrats are again talking about changing the filibuster rule. One Senator called this obstructionism “a government shutdown by another tactic.” I encourage you to contact your Senators and let them know that this obstructionism should stop because we need our judicial and executive branches of government to function and perform the work that we have charged them to do.

FULL POST: The Republicans are back to blocking the President’s nominees for judgeships and executive branch positions by filibustering. [1] In July, Senate Republicans agreed to approve 7 Presidential nominations, but only after Senate Democrats threatened to change the Senate’s filibuster rule to stop the on-going and pervasive obstruction of nominees. (See post of 7/25/13 for more detail.) But on Thursday, the Republicans were back to filibustering nominees, blocking a judicial nominee who had 56 votes in favor and an appointee for a housing regulatory agency who had 57 votes in favor. [2]

Furthermore, Republican Senator Graham has threatened to hold up all nominations until further hearings are held on the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, a year ago. Linking approval of nominees to a totally unrelated issue is certainly unusual, if not unprecedented. Furthermore, 13 Congressional hearings and 40 staff briefings on this issue have already occurred along with the delivery to Congress of 25,000 pages of related documents. [3]

Currently, there are roughly 90 vacancies for judgeships, many of which are considered judicial emergencies. These vacancies are having a negative impact on the functioning of the federal courts and their ability to deliver justice for the American people in a timely manner. (See post of 7/21/13 for more detail.) Several nominees have been approved by the lengthy and detailed vetting of the Judiciary Committee but have not been confirmed by the full Senate.

In terms of Executive Branch nominees, the Chair of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of Homeland Security are among those waiting for Senate confirmation. (See post of 7/16/13 for more on the blocking of executive branch nominees).

As a result of this resurgence of Republican obstructionism of nominees by filibustering, Senate Democrats are again talking about changing the filibuster rule. One Senator called this obstructionism “a government shutdown by another tactic.” [4]

I encourage you to contact your Senators and let them know that this obstructionism should stop because we need our judicial and executive branches of government to function and perform the work that we have charged them to do.


[1]       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It then requires a super-majority of 60 votes from the 100 Senators to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[2]       Fram, A., 11/1/13, “GOP blocks Obama picks for US court, housing agency,” The Boston Globe (from the Associated Press)

[3]       Associated Press, 11/2/13, “GOP Senator vows to block nominees,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Fram, A., 11/1/13, see above

REPUBLICAN SABOTAGE

ABSTRACT: Republicans are sabotaging democracy and the United States of America. Republicans in both the US House and Senate have used obstructionist tactics to block progress on a budget to keep the government operating and on an increase in the debt ceiling to avoid a financial default. In efforts to get policy changes that they don’t have the votes to pass in Congress and didn’t convince the American public to support in the last 3 elections, they have shut down the government and are on the verge of causing an unprecedented financial default.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have blocked a vote on a simple, straight-forward bill extending the budget, which passed in the Senate, and would keep the government operating. In the Senate, a bill to increase the debt ceiling received a favorable majority vote but the Republicans filibustered, blocking progress.

An extremist minority has taken over the Republican Party because the rest of the Republicans refuse to stand up to them and say, “No.” These extremists have escalated their demands every time President Obama and the Democrats have compromised with them. For example, the extremists are demanding more budget cuts, even though the deficit has shrunk to half its size of 4 years ago.

Every compromise put forth on the budget or debt ceiling that has any chance of passage is torpedoed by the extremists, often with new demands. The track record makes it clear that these extremists won’t be satisfied with any concessions they get. In fact, anything they get will just embolden them to create another crisis so they can demand more.

It is frustrating to see a minority in Congress and in the country creating such hardship and inconvenience for so many in their pursuit of political goals that have been rejected repeatedly by the majority in Congress and multiple times by the voters. It’s past time to raise our voices and demand that our democratic principles be honored by the extremist minority and their Republican enablers in Congress. I urge you to contact your Representative and your Senators to tell them to reopen our government and raise the debt ceiling so our government can pay its bills.

FULL POST: Republicans are sabotaging democracy and the United States of America. Republicans in both the US House and Senate have used obstructionist tactics to block progress on a budget to keep the government operating and on an increase in the debt ceiling to avoid a financial default. In efforts to get policy changes that they don’t have the votes to pass in Congress and didn’t convince the American public to support in the last 3 elections, they have shut down the government and are on the verge of causing an unprecedented financial default. [1]

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have blocked a vote on a simple, straight-forward bill extending the budget, which passed in the Senate, and would keep the government operating. They used an unprecedented parliamentary procedure to block any chance that the bill would get voted on in the House. They did so by making a very specific change in the normal rules of operation of the House. Under normal procedure, any House member would have been able to request that the Senate bill be voted on. On the night of September 30, the eve of the shutdown, Republicans changed the normal rule to say that any request to vote on the Senate bill would have to be made by the Republican majority Leader or with his approval. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” said Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. As a result, efforts by Democratic House members to bring the Senate bill up for a vote and keep the government operating, were blocked. If the bill had been voted on it almost certainly would have passed because at least 28 House Republicans have publicly said they would support such a bill if it were brought to a vote, which, when combined with Democratic votes, would be a majority. [2][3]

Meanwhile in the Senate, a bill to increase the debt ceiling was brought to a vote. A majority voted in favor of it but the Republicans filibustered, making a 60 vote super-majority necessary to move forward. [4]

An extremist minority has taken over the Republican Party because the rest of the Republicans refuse to stand up to them and say, “No.” These extremists have escalated their demands every time President Obama and the Democrats have compromised with them. In 2010, they wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy extended through 2012 so they could make their case for the tax cuts to voters. They made their case and lost the election. Did they then let the tax cuts expire? No. As part of the fiscal cliff negotiations they demanded they be extended permanently. The President and the Democrats compromised and extended them permanently for incomes up to $400,000. And now the Republicans are back demanding tax cuts for the wealthy.

On spending cuts, they demanded large spending cuts and held the financial credibility of the country hostage to their demand in the summer of 2011. When the President and the Democrats compromised and made significant cuts, they demanded more. So a Super Committee was created to find ways to reduce the deficit but the extremists refused any compromise. They presented their case for budget cuts to the voters in 2012 and lost. Nonetheless, the extremists refused to compromise and the automatic, across the board cuts that the Super Committee was supposed to find a way to avoid went into effect in March. But the extremists are demanding more budget cuts, even though the deficit has shrunk to half its size of 4 years ago and is continuing to shrink.

The extremists have also demanded that the Affordable Care Act, which they have dubbed Obama Care, be repealed, even though it would provide health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it now. Having campaigned on this issue in 2012 and lost, and without the votes to repeal it in Congress, they are now holding our democracy hostage to their demand to stop it.

Every compromise put forth on the budget or debt ceiling that has any chance of passage is torpedoed by the extremists. Often, they put forward new demands such as restrictions on health insurance coverage of women’s reproductive health or shifting the sequester’s budget cuts to cut social programs rather than the military.

The track record makes it clear that these extremists won’t be satisfied with any concessions they get. In fact, anything they get will just embolden them to create another crisis so they can demand more. Hopefully, the country, President Obama, the Democrats, and perhaps even the majority of Republicans have learned that extortionists’ demands escalate if you give in to them. Furthermore, keeping the government running and paying the nation’s bills should never have been negotiable in our democracy in the first place. [5] This is sabotage of the democratic process and the democratic principle of majority rule.

It is frustrating to see a minority in Congress and in the country creating such hardship and inconvenience for so many in their pursuit of political goals that have been rejected repeatedly by the majority in Congress and multiple times by the voters. It’s particularly frustrating to see Congress people getting paid (although some have committed to donate their salaries to charity), keeping their staffs on at full pay in some cases, keeping their gym and pool open, and even keeping their special little subway running between the House and Senate office buildings, while so many others are harmed or inconvenienced. Meanwhile, among other things, toxic waste clean-ups have stopped, accepting new patients into clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health has stopped, access to National Parks is blocked (except where states are paying to keep them open), contractors and programs that depend on federal government funding are shutting down, people who depend on, need, or expect government services or information are having to go without, and, of course, hundreds of thousands of government employees are not getting paid, creating real hardships for many families. [6]

It’s past time to raise our voices and demand that our democratic principles be honored by the extremist minority and their Republican enablers in Congress. I urge you to contact your Representative and your Senators to tell them to reopen our government and raise the debt ceiling so our government can pay its bills.


 

[1]       Moyers, B., 10/4/13, “On the sabotage of democracy,” http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-shutdown-showdown/

[2]       McCarter, J., 10/10/13, “How House Republicans guaranteed a shutdown: by changing the rules, “ Daily Kos

[3]       Alman, A., 10/13/13, “House Republicans changed the rules so a majority vote couldn’t stop the government shutdown,” The Huffington Post

[4]       Laing, K., 10/12/13, “White House slams Senate Republicans,” The Hill

[5]     Reich, R., 10/12/13, “Why giving Republican bullies a bloody nose isn’t enough,” The Huffington Post

[6]       Terkel, A., 10/9/13, “Congressional perks deemed essential during government shutdown while public sacrifices,” The Huffington Post

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?

ABSTRACT: The federal government’s shutdown for lack of a budget has nothing to do with the deficit or democracy; rather, it has everything to do with politics, ideology, and the tyranny of a minority. The extreme wing of the Republican Party, without the support in Congress to pass legislation and having lost the last election, is trying to impose its ideology on the country by taking the government’s budget hostage.

The federal government’s budget deficit is at its lowest level in 5 years and roughly half of what it was in 2009. The Republicans’ primary policy target is the Affordable Health Care law, also known as Obama Care. They ideologically oppose this expansion of the government’s role in health care, even though it is built on conservative principles and will provide health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it now.

There’s a bill sitting in the House that funds the government for a few weeks – a so-called Continuing Resolution (CR). With a simple yes or no vote, it would pass. But because it doesn’t have the support of the majority of Republicans, Speaker Boehner won’t allow a vote on it.

800,000 federal employees will lose their paychecks and millions of Americans will lose services funded by the government. Nonetheless, members of Congress will continue to get their paychecks and their good, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.

As recent history has shown, if the extremists in Congress get what they want, or any part of it, they’ll just be back at the next opportunity, creating another crisis, and asking for more. Therefore, negotiation with this extortion, blackmail, hostage taking, or bullying, whatever you want to call it, should not and cannot be undertaken.

FULL POST: The federal government’s shutdown for lack of a budget has nothing to do with the deficit or democracy; rather, it has everything to do with politics, ideology, and the tyranny of a minority. The extreme wing of the Republican Party, without the support in Congress to pass legislation and having lost the last election, including the presidency and seats in both houses of Congress, is trying to impose its ideology on the country by taking the government’s budget hostage.

This extreme faction is not willing to abide by the last election, by legislation previously passed (such as the Affordable Care Act), or by the will of the American public. And they are not willing to engage in meaningful negotiations because they believe they know what is best for the country and for all of us. They are willing, however, to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans and to harm our weak economic recovery by shutting down the federal government.

And this is not about the deficit. The federal government’s budget deficit is at its lowest level in 5 years and roughly half of what it was in 2009. [1] The deficit is projected to continue to fall as the economy recovers, which increases government revenue and reduces expenses. Many economists expect that in 2 years it will have decreased to a sustainable level. [2]

The Republicans’ primary policy target is the Affordable Health Care law, also known as Obama Care. They ideologically oppose this expansion of the government’s role in health care, even though it is built on conservative principles: 1) it uses private health insurers and providers, and 2) it requires personal responsibility through the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance (an idea born in a conservative think tank). They oppose it despite the fact that it will provide health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it now, and the fact that the more the public knows about Obama Care’s specific provisions, the more they like it. (See my posts of 8/21/13 and 8/19/13 for more information.)

Various budget proposals from the Republicans identify their other policy targets. They have included cuts to other social programs that their extreme wing opposes, including cuts to Social Security, the Medicare and Medicaid health programs, and food and nutrition assistance, among others. On the other hand, most of them would increase military spending on top of its significant increases in recent years, which already mean that we are spending more on the military (adjusted for inflation) than at any time since World War II. [3]

The Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are the roadblock to passage of a budget, are refusing to bring to a vote any budget that does not have the support of a majority of Republicans. Therefore, the most extreme 117 Republicans in the House, 27% of its overall membership, can and are blocking progress and forcing this shutdown. (See post of 7/27/13 for more information on obstructionism in the House.)

There’s a bill sitting in the House that funds the government for a few weeks – a so-called Continuing Resolution (CR). It’s simple and straightforward; it simply funds the government at current levels without making any policy changes. If the Republican leadership in the House would allow a simple yes or no vote on this bill, it would pass with support from members of both parties – as it did in the Senate. But because it doesn’t have the support of the majority of House Republicans, Speaker Boehner won’t allow a vote on it.

800,000 federal employees will lose their paychecks and millions of Americans will lose services funded by the government, including meals for seniors, Head Start classes for preschoolers, and access to national parks for all of us. Nonetheless, members of Congress will continue to get their paychecks and their good, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.

This is the second time in 20 years that an extreme Republican agenda has forced a government shutdown. Democrats have never done this when they were in the minority or did not hold the presidency.

As recent history has shown, if the extremists in Congress get what they want, or any part of it, they’ll just be back at the next opportunity, creating another crisis, and asking for more. Therefore, negotiation with these extortionists, blackmailers, hostage takers, or bullies, whatever you want to call them, should not and cannot be undertaken. [4]

Long before blocking Obama Care was linked to a government shutdown, Norm Ornstein, the political scientist at the conservative America Enterprise Institute, wrote that “What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous – just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.” [5] I wonder what he would say now about those in Congress whose behavior has led to this government shutdown.


[1]       Klimasinska, K., 9/12/13, “U.S. budget gap narrows as stronger growth boosts revenues,” Bloomberg

[2]       Lowrey, A., 4/22/13, “The incredible shrinking budget deficit,” The New York Times

[3]       Bilmes, L., 7/31/13, “Pentagon a ripe target for cuts,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Reich, R., 9/30/13, “Why Obama and the Democrats shouldn’t negotiate with extortionists,” The Huffington Post

[5]       Light, J., 7/25/13, “Obstructionism for the recordbooks,” Moyers & company (billmoyers.com/2013/07/25/obstructionism-for-the-recordbooks)

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT PART II

ABSTRACT: Other than the individual mandate (see 8/19 post), the biggest focus of resistance to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program for low income individuals. If all states implement the Medicaid expansion called for by the ACA, over 21 million individuals, including 4.5 million children, who don’t have health insurance will gain coverage.

The resistance has been based on the assertion that the expansion will cost states money. However, for the first three years, the federal government will pay 100% of the cost and at least 90% thereafter. Because the newly covered individuals would have cost the states about $18 billion for uninsured, uncompensated care, overall the states will save $10 billion.

Republican Governors and state legislators, looking for a symbolic and substantive way to express their opposition to the ACA, have taken steps to refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion, refusing significant federal funding. As a result, nationwide, hundreds of thousands of low-income residents will not receive health insurance.

Although it is too soon to know for certain, the bottom line is likely to be that the Affordable Care Act will provide very significant benefits to those who don’t have health insurance and get it, and that there are likely to be real benefits for those who already have health insurance as well. States that are focused on making the ACA work will see good results; states that work to undermine the law will not see good results. The sad thing about this self-fulfilling prophecy is that it will be the residents of those states who will suffer with no, or less effective, health insurance and probably worse health.

FULL POST: Other than the individual mandate (see 8/19 post), the biggest focus of resistance to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program for low income individuals paid for jointly by the states and the federal government. If all states implement the Medicaid expansion called for by the ACA, over the next 10 years over 21 million individuals, including 4.5 million children, who don’t have health insurance will gain coverage. But when the Supreme Court upheld the overall ACA, it ruled that states couldn’t be required to participate in the expansion of Medicaid included in the law.

Aside from the political opposition, the resistance has been based on the assertion that the expansion will cost states money. However, for the first three years the federal government will pay 100% of the cost and at least 90% thereafter. Over 10 years, it is estimated that if all states implement the expansion, they would spend an additional $8 billion, which would be a 0.3% increase over their spending without the expansion. Furthermore, because the newly covered individuals would have cost the states about $18 billion for uninsured, uncompensated care, overall the states will save $10 billion. There may be other savings to states from the implementation of the ACA as well, although the impact will vary by state. [1]

Republican Governors and state legislators, looking for a symbolic and substantive way to express their opposition to the ACA, with encouragement from the Tea Party and other staunch Obama opponents, have taken steps to refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion, refusing significant federal funding. As a result, nationwide, hundreds of thousands of low-income residents will not receive health insurance, despite the fact that there would be no cost to the states for 3 years and a 10% maximum share of the cost after that. In some states, such as Florida, after a hard look at the numbers and some grassroots activism, Republican elected officials have reversed their original stand and have decided to participate. However, New Hampshire, for example, currently is refusing to participate. This means that 58,000 low-income residents will not receive health insurance and, for many of them, it will likely mean they don’t get care they need. [2]

Republicans, and especially Tea Partiers, are making wild claims about how Obama Care will hurt small businesses and the economy. These claims have been soundly refuted as false by independent groups such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com. The latter notes that economists generally believe that the federal budget cuts due to the sequester have done much more harm to the economy.

Undoubtedly, there will be bumps in the road during implementation of the Affordable Care Act. There always are challenges in implementing complex legislation, and the ACA was made more complex by the compromises Obama made in trying to get Republican support, which they then never gave to him or to the law.

Although it is too soon to know for certain, the bottom line is likely to be that the Affordable Care Act will provide very significant benefits to those who don’t have health insurance and get it, and that there are likely to be real benefits for those who already have health insurance as well. Most experts believe that states that are focused on making the ACA work will see good results. But that in states that work to undermine the law the results will not be good. [3] For example, some states are refusing to set up the exchanges to help the uninsured buy coverage and some are refusing to provide information to help residents make informed decisions on which plan to buy. Elected officials in these states are likely to then say, “See it doesn’t work!” The sad thing about this self-fulfilling prophecy is that it will be the residents of those states who will suffer with no, or less effective, health insurance and probably worse health.


[1]       Holahan, J., Buettgens, M., Carroll, C., & Dorn, S., 11/1/12, “The cost and coverage implications of the ACA Medicaid expansion: National and state-by-state analysis,” The Urban Institute and the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured (http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/8384_es.pdf)

[2]       Editorial, 8/7/13, “GOP stance against Obamacare hurts thousands of NH families,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Lehigh, S., 8/14/13, “The GOP’s Obamacare whale hunt,” The Boston Globe

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT PART I

ABSTRACT: As implementation of another key piece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as Obama Care) approaches, the information and disinformation in the media and from the opposition builds. On January 1, 2014, the “exchanges” – where individuals can purchase health insurance if they don’t have it – will begin operation. On October 1, 2013, individuals can beginning selecting the health insurance plans they want to enroll in.

No one disputes that if the ACA is implemented as intended roughly 30 million Americans will have health insurance who don’t have it now. From a worldwide perspective, the US has the most expensive health care system but ranks 37th in overall health outcomes. Nearly 45,000 deaths annually are associated with not having health insurance.

From the first days of the Congressional debate on the ACA, its supporters have done a horrible job of presenting its benefits: millions already have better health insurance, $7 billion has been saved by those with health insurance, lifetime caps on benefits are prohibited, and denying coverage for pre-existing conditions will be banned.

The primary target of the opposition has been the individual mandate, which originally was promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Republicans as part of personal responsibility. However, once Obama adopted the individual mandate as part of the ACA, it became anathema to Republicans. The Republicans’ focus on repealing, obstructing, and undermining the ACA has been described by Norm Ornstein, a long-time political scientist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, as “monomaniacal.” He went on to write, “What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous – just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.”

FULL POST: As implementation of another key piece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as Obama Care) approaches, the information and disinformation in the media and from the opposition builds. On January 1, 2014, the “exchanges” – where individuals can purchase health insurance if they don’t have it – will begin operation. On October 1, 2013, individuals can beginning selecting the health insurance plans they want to enroll in.

There has been good news on the cost of the new plans to be offered through the exchanges: so far 5 states’ plans will cost less than expected. Where the plans cost more than current options, it is often because they provide more comprehensive coverage than current insurance, where coverage has often been narrowed to reduce costs and increase profits.

To put all of this in some context, no one disputes that if the ACA is implemented as intended roughly 30 million Americans will have health insurance who don’t have it now. Further, many of us who have health insurance will get better and, in many cases, more affordable coverage. From a worldwide perspective, the US has the most expensive health care system (at over $8,300 per person) but ranks 37th in overall health outcomes, and worse for infant mortality and life expectancy. And we have the most people without health insurance. In the US, nearly 45,000 deaths annually are associated with not having health insurance. [This estimate takes into account the effects of the education level, income, health behaviors (for example smoking and drinking), and baseline health (for example, obesity) of those who don’t have insurance.] [1]

From the first days of the Congressional debate on the ACA, its supporters have done a horrible job of presenting its benefits, including: [2]

  • 3 million young adults up to age 26 have had health insurance because they could continue to be covered by their parents’ health insurance
  • 13 million Americans with insurance have received $1 billion in rebates because their insurance companies spent more than is allowed under the ACA on expenses other than health care (for example, administration and advertising)
  • 54 million Americans have gotten free access to preventive services, such as checkups and cancer screenings
  • 6 million seniors have saved over $6 billion on their prescription drugs
  • Lifetime caps on benefits are prohibited (Isn’t the whole purpose of insurance to cover catastrophic losses? At least that used to be the case before the profit motive took over.)
  • Denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or denying renewal of an insurance policy when a health condition or accident occurs will be banned

The primary target of the opposition, particularly from the Tea Party types, has been the individual mandate – the requirement that everyone have health insurance or pay a penalty. Historically, the individual mandate was promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Republicans as part of personal responsibility, i.e., being self-reliant and not depending on government or others for support. Democrats and progressives were cool to the idea because they were concerned that it would pose a burden on lower income families and individuals. The individual mandate was a centerpiece of the Republican alternative to the universal health care proposed by President and Hillary Clinton. And it was the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ universal health care law that Republican Governor Mitt Romney spearheaded and was so proud of (when he was Governor).

However, once Obama adopted the individual mandate as part of the ACA, it became anathema to Republicans. Ironically, as the Tea Party holds town hall forums and rallies today, the headline speaker against the ACA and the individual mandate is often Jim DeMint, the President of the Heritage Foundation, despite it having been the original promoter of the individual mandate. [3]

The Republicans’ focus on repealing, obstructing, and undermining the ACA has been described by Norm Ornstein, a long-time political scientist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, as “monomaniacal.” The US House has voted 40 times to cut funding or repeal all or part of the ACA, knowing full well that it was a waste of time and effort given that the Senate would never pass such legislation and that the President would veto it and there weren’t the votes to override a veto. (This is one reason why Congress over the last 2 ½ years has been the least productive it’s been in the 75 years that records have been kept.)

Ornstein notes the contrast with President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan. The Democrats, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, negotiated a compromise bill with the President. (Something Republicans refused to do with Obama on the ACA.) Then Republicans in Congress removed all of the provisions Kennedy and the Democrats had negotiated for and passed the stripped down legislation. Nonetheless, Democrats worked with Republicans and the Bush administration to make the law work.

In contrast, to undermine the ACA, Republicans refused for 3 years to confirm anyone to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was responsible for implementing the ACA, as it had been for the Bush Medicare drug plan. In addition, they have worked to discourage states from participating in the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges where the uninsured would obtain insurance. They are now threatening to shut down the entire government on September 30 when the fiscal year ends unless Obama stops all implementation of the ACA.

Ornstein went on to write, “What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous – just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.” [4]


[1]       Cecere, D., 9/17/09, “Uninsured, working-age Americans have 40 percent higher death risk than privately insured counterparts,” Harvard Gazette

[3]       Lehigh, S., 8/14/13, “The GOP’s Obamacare whale hunt,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Light, J., 7/25/13, “Obstructionism for the recordbooks,” Moyers & company (billmoyers.com/2013/07/25/obstructionism-for-the-recordbooks)

VOTING RIGHTS AT RISK

ABSTRACT: Judicial activism by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court was on display on June 25 when by a 5 to 4 vote the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was ruled outdated and unnecessary despite: 1) Previous Supreme Court rulings upholding the law including as recently as 2009; 2) Use of the Voting Rights Act 74 times since 2000 to protect voting rights; 3) Re-enactment by Congress in 2006 by overwhelming, bipartisan votes; and 4) Extensive efforts in many of the covered states (and others) in the 2012 elections to interfere with voting rights at levels unseen for almost 50 years. The dissenting justices issued a strong critique of the decision.

It seems ironic that the Supreme Court, charged with ensuring justice in our society, has overturned the VRA, whose goal is to ensure justice for minorities in exercising that bedrock building block of our democracy, the right to vote.

The evidence for the need for the VRA has been quick in coming. Within a month after the Supreme Court decision, six states have passed or are implementing new voting requirements that will make it harder to vote. Most observers agree these requirements will disproportionately effect and reduce voting by minorities, low income individuals, the elderly, and the young. Although voter fraud will be cited as the reason for these efforts, cases of fraud are incredibly rare.

I encourage you to let your representatives in Congress know that you are outraged and that they need to pass legislation to reinstate the VRA immediately.

FULL POST: Judicial activism by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court was on display on June 25 when by a 5 to 4 vote the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was ruled outdated and unnecessary despite:

  • Previous Supreme Court rulings upholding the law including as recently as 2009
  • Use of the Voting Rights Act 74 times since 2000 to protect voting rights
  • Re-enactment by Congress in 2006 by overwhelming, bipartisan votes
  • Extensive efforts in many of the covered states (and others) in the 2012 elections to interfere with voting rights at levels unseen for almost 50 years.

The Court’s majority felt that in the covered jurisdictions – nine states, mostly in the South, and numerous smaller jurisdictions including sections of New York City – barriers to voting for racial minorities were no longer sufficient to justify the law.

The Supreme Court not only ignored its own precedents, it ignored the clear will of Congress on a law that has been in place for 48 years. The reauthorization of the VRA in 2006 passed the House by a vote of 390 to 33 and the Senate unanimously, 98 to 0, before being signed into law by President George W. Bush. It seems ironic that the Supreme Court, charged with ensuring justice in our society, has overturned the VRA, whose goal is to ensure justice for minorities in exercising that bedrock building block of our democracy, the right to vote. The VRA was a key achievement of the Civil Rights movement and a key to implementing the post-Civil War 15th Amendment, which prohibits denying the right to vote based on race.

The dissenting justices issued a strong critique of the decision, which Justice Ginsburg presented at the announcement of the ruling – an unusual event, indicating strong disagreement. She stated in part that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” [1]

The evidence for the need for the VRA has been quick in coming. Within a month after the Supreme Court decision, six states have passed or are implementing new voting requirements that will make it harder to vote. Most observers agree that these requirements will disproportionately effect and reduce voting by minorities, low income individuals, the elderly, and the young. Many, if not all, of these changes in voting laws would have been rejected by the US Justice Department under the VRA. Steps are being taken on the same path in other states. Although voter fraud will be cited as the reason for these efforts, cases of fraud are incredibly rare. [2]

North Carolina is poised to enact a requirement for an ID to vote, reductions in early voting, restrictions on voter registration, and increased opportunities to deny voters at the ballot box, among other provisions. This is a dramatic change for North Carolina, which, historically, has been a state where voting and registration were facilitated, and, where, as a result, voter participation has been high. The state’s own Secretary of State has acknowledged that the new laws will reduce voting by Blacks and Hispanics. [3] The new law will also increase campaign contribution limits, reduce disclosure of campaign activities, and repeal public financing for the election of judges, putting them and the state’s justice system at the mercy of large campaign contributions.

In Texas, a new voter ID law that was blocked by the Justice Department under the VRA will now go into effect. A revised map for election districts that had been blocked will now also go into effect. And in Florida, a purge of registered voters that had been blocked will now go forward, despite errors made in previous such purges. [4]

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the Justice Department or individuals will now have to file lawsuits challenging changes in voting procedures after the fact on a case by case basis, a much less timely and efficient remedy than the pre-approval of changes previously required by the VRA.

The fact that this Supreme Court decision abets the active and growing efforts to throw up barriers to voting that will disenfranchise minorities and those with low incomes, groups that disproportionately vote for Democrats, makes it hard not to view the decision as ideological and political activism. The fact that it undermines the right to vote – the foundation of our democracy – in the face of clear attacks on that right makes it particularly egregious.

I encourage you to let your representatives in Congress know that you are outraged and that they need to pass legislation to reinstate the VRA immediately. I know that passage in this Congress, given the partisanship and obstructionism that I have written about, probably isn’t likely, but if no one tries it definitely won’t happen and this issue needs to be put on the agenda of our policy makers, the public, and the media.


[1]       Gerson, S., & Sopoci-Belknap, K., 6/28/13, “Constitutional right to vote needed more than ever after Supreme Court guts Voting Rights Act,” Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/28-5)

[2]       Berman, A., 7/26/13, “North Carolina passes the country’s worst voter suppression law,” The Nation

[3]       Drum, K., 7/26/13, “Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act unleashes GOP feeding frenzy,” Mother Jones

[4]       Reeve, E., 7/26/13, “As states rush to restrict voting rights, Justice Ginsburg says, ‘I told you so,’” Associated Press in The Atlantic Wire

OBSTRUCTIONISM AND EXTREMISM BLOCK PROGRESS IN THE US HOUSE

ABSTRACT: While the use of the filibuster in the US Senate gets more attention, the obstructionism and extremism in the US House is more insidious. And it is no less harmful. One of the tactics in the House is the so-called “Hastert rule.” It stipulates that no piece of legislation will be voted on unless over half the members of the Republican majority support it. Therefore, 27% of the members of the House – barely over one quarter – can stop progress. The bipartisan immigration reform bill that the Senate passed is a current example of legislation that this conservative minority has blocked from consideration. It has meant that bipartisan compromises negotiated by the current Republican House Speaker John Boehner are rejected. Legislation that does pass the House is generally so conservative that it has no chance of becoming law. This is a major contributor to the current gridlock in our federal government.

In addition to extreme policy positions, House Republicans are also engaging in procedural extremism, including efforts that amount to hostage taking and sabotage, by a group of House members that seems to have few, if any, qualms about stopping government from functioning at all. The most dramatic example has been the use of the need to raise the federal government’s authorized level of debt (known as the debt ceiling). This brinkmanship threatened to cause the US government to default on its debt obligations, which many feel would have had serious impacts on global financial markets and the global economy – not to mention the ability of the government to function.

The fallout of this no-holds barred extremism and obstructionism has been a new breed of partisanship. Any compromise or trade-off is depicted as unacceptable and as a betrayal of values and ideals. For example, even though the economy is recovering (albeit slowly) and the government’s deficit is falling (quite rapidly actually), the heated rhetoric on the deficit and on the notion that government debt undermines the economy continues totally unabated.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to envision how this dynamic can change. I just hope that one way or another we can return to functioning government before real harm has been done to people, our institutions, and our international standing.

FULL POST: While the use of the filibuster in the US Senate gets more attention, the obstructionism and extremism in the US House is more insidious. And it is no less harmful to efforts to make progress on issues our country needs to address or to efforts to make government work effectively. The filibuster is a well-known, long standing, clearly defined tactic for stopping progress in the Senate. In the House, the tactics for blocking progress are more varied and more obscure.

One of the tactics in the House is the so-called “Hastert rule.” Named for Dennis Hastert, who was the Republican House Speaker from 1999 – 2007, it stipulates that no piece of legislation will be voted on unless over half the members of the Republican majority support it. Currently, this means that 117 out of the 234 Republicans in the House can block a piece of legislation from coming to a vote. Therefore, 27% of the members of the House – barely over one quarter – can stop progress. In other words, a piece of legislation supported by 73% of the members of the House (that’s 318 members) can be blocked by the other 117. In the Senate, a filibuster requires the support of 41% of the Senators to stop progress, while only 27% of the Representatives can block progress in the House. [1]

This unwritten Hastert rule is being used by the most conservative members of the House, including the Tea Party members, to block progress. The bipartisan immigration reform bill that the Senate passed is a current example of legislation that this conservative minority has blocked from consideration. And on numerous occasions, it has meant that bipartisan compromises negotiated by the current House Speaker John Boehner are rejected by these conservative members of his own party. To cover up this embarrassing situation, House Republicans look for ways to blame the Democrats, exacerbating the partisanship in Washington.

Another result of the Hastert rule is that legislation that does pass the House, because it has to satisfy the most conservative 117 members of the Republican Party, is generally so conservative that it has no chance of becoming law by passing the Senate and being signed by the President. Therefore, it is rare that viable legislation passes in the House. This is a major contributor to the current gridlock in our federal government.

In addition to extreme policy positions, House Republicans are also engaging in procedural extremism. In Obama’s first two years as President (2009-2010), Republican leaders pressured members to oppose any Obama initiative, even ones Republicans had previously supported. Then, emboldened by their gains in the 2010 elections, even the routine business of keeping government functioning became the subject of virulent obstructionism, including efforts that amount to hostage taking and sabotage, by an extreme group of House members that seems to have few, if any, qualms about stopping government from functioning at all. [2]

The most dramatic example has been the use of the need to raise the federal government’s authorized level of debt (known as the debt ceiling), which simply allows the federal government to make good on its outstanding debts and to fund current authorized expenditures of approved budgets. (Without this, the government has to shut down because it has no cash to pay employees or make payments on contracts for goods or services. In addition, it would default on its debts and stop paying interest on outstanding government bonds.)

In the past, increasing the debt ceiling was a routine and stand-alone matter dealt with regularly by Congress, with perhaps a little posturing. The tactic of these extreme Republicans has been to hold an increase in the debt ceiling hostage to their demands for other policy changes, primarily draconian budget cuts. This brinkmanship threatened to cause the US government to default on its debt obligations, which many feel would have had serious impacts on global financial markets and the global economy – not to mention the ability of the government to function.

The fallout of this no-holds barred extremism and obstructionism has been a new breed of partisanship. To justify total resistance to Obama, the extremists have painted him not just as a liberal (which he hardly is) but as a dangerous and extreme socialist working to destroy everything that makes the US great. Any compromise or trade-off is depicted as unacceptable and as a betrayal of values and ideals. So when Obama makes efforts to reach out, compromise, and be bipartisan, the extremists tend to move even further away, sometimes even repudiating positions they previously held, particularly if Obama comes anywhere close to meeting them.

For example, even though the economy is recovering (albeit slowly) and the government’s deficit is falling (quite rapidly actually), the heated rhetoric on the deficit and on the notion that government debt undermines the economy continues totally unabated.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to envision how this dynamic can change. Obama’s efforts at bipartisanship and compromise have not only not been reciprocated, but at times seem to have led to even more extreme demands. Unless Republican leaders, in the party and specifically in the House, are willing to stand up to the extremist in their party, changes made by voters at the ballot box may be the only way to achieve change. But given state level politics, the way House districts are drawn (and gerrymandered), and the dynamics of campaigns (both in terms of money and messaging), change from the grassroots in elections doesn’t seem to be a likely scenario either.

I just hope that one way or another we can return to functioning government before real harm has been done to people, our institutions, and our international standing.


[1]       Editorial, 7/17/13, “More insidious than filibuster, ‘Hastert rule’ locks up the House,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Chait, J., 7/21/13, “Anarchists of the House,” New York Magazine

A RESPITE FROM OBSTRUCTIONISM

ABSTRACT: The US Senate reached a bipartisan agreement that ended the obstruction of confirmation for seven of the President’s nominees for executive branch positions. Votes will be held before the August recess on these seven nominees. To obtain this concession, Senate Democrats threatened to change the filibuster rule to prevent its use on executive branch nominations.

No permanent changes in the filibuster rules were made and there was no commitment to end obstruction of nominees beyond these seven positions. These positions are but the tip of the iceberg of obstructionism in the Senate. Hopefully, this respite from obstructionism will apply to other presidential nominations as well and will change the pattern of blocking and delaying confirmations of nominees. Only time will tell.

FULL POST: As you may have heard, the US Senate reached a bipartisan agreement that ended the obstruction of confirmation for seven of the President’s nominees for executive branch positions. Although this deal was greeted with widespread celebration, it is a small step and it is unclear whether it will have any long-term effects.

To obtain this concession, Senate Democrats threatened to change the filibuster rule to prevent its use on executive branch nominations. This rule change can be done with a simple majority vote, i.e., 51 Senators, and the Democrats had the votes to do so. After an extremely rare, three hour, bipartisan, closed-door meeting at which almost all of the 100 Senators spoke, followed by negotiations through the night, a deal was reached.

Votes will be held before the August recess on nominees for seven positions. [1]

  • Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (He has been approved after a two year wait with a 66 to 34 vote.)
  • Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor.
  • Fred Hochberg for a second term as president of the Export-Import Bank.
  • Mark Pearce for a second term on the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to be named.

No permanent changes in the filibuster rules were made and there was no commitment to end obstruction of nominees beyond these seven positions. These positions are but the tip of the iceberg of obstructionism in the Senate. (See posts of July 21, 16, and 9 for more details.) Republicans in the Senate have taken the obstruction of confirmation of presidential nominees for judgeships and executive branch positions to an unprecedented level. They oppose nominees “for reasons unrelated to their basic qualifications, largely, it seems, to torment and undercut the president.” [2]

Hopefully, this respite from obstructionism will apply to other presidential nominations as well and will change the pattern of blocking and delaying confirmations of nominees in the Senate. Only time will tell.


[1]       Bierman, N., 7/17/13, “Faced with rules change, GOP relents on Obama nominees,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Keane, T., 7/21/13, “Too much transparency,” The Boston Globe

BLOCKING JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS

ABSTRACT: Senate Republicans have delayed and filibustered President Obama’s nominees to fill vacant judgeships nationwide, resulting in 87 vacancies for federal judges, 10% of the total judgeships. Even when President Obama goes out of his way to nominate what would seem to be uncontroversial choices with bipartisan support, Senate Republicans have blocked and delayed confirmation. Many words can be used to describe this: one would be obstructionist; others would be undemocratic and unpatriotic.

I encourage you to contact your Senators to express support for ending the blocking of judicial appointments. Our justice system needs these judgeships filled so it can function effectively and provide justice for all!

FULL POST: Senate Republicans have delayed and filibustered [1] President Obama’s nominees to fill vacant judgeships nationwide, resulting in 87 vacancies for federal judges, 10% of the total judgeships. A third of these vacancies are considered “judicial emergencies” because of their impact on the administration of justice. [2]

For example, four of eleven judgeships on the D.C. federal appeals court, considered one of the most important courts in the country, were vacant when Obama took office in 2009. In May, 2013, after five years of trying, one judge was confirmed on a 97 to 0 vote. The nominee had worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations and had been a clerk for former Supreme Court Justice O’Connor, who was appointed by President Reagan. So despite being a bipartisan and apparently uncontroversial nominee, it took five years to get Republicans to allow his confirmation.[3]

A second nominee for this court was filibustered for a second time this spring [4] (or the fourth time depending on how you count). The nomination was originally made in September, 2010, and Obama renominated her four times after the Senate failed to act on or filibustered her nomination. [5] President Obama then withdrew this nomination and recently nominated three others, all current judges, to fill the remaining vacancies. He challenged Senate Republicans to stop their obstructionism and at least allow a yes or no vote on these nominees. [6]

Even when President Obama goes out of his way to nominate what would seem to be uncontroversial choices with bipartisan support, Senate Republicans have blocked and delayed confirmation. These seem to be clear cases of wanting to score political points by making life difficult for Obama and slowing down the work of his administration.

As I wrote in my last post, the examples above are not isolated incidents but part of a concerted strategy of extreme partisanship and/or rigid ideology by some Republicans to prevent government from functioning, to undermine President Obama, and to bog down the Senate and the Obama administration in political fights that prevent important issues facing our country from being addressed. Many words can be used to describe this: one would be obstructionist; others would be undemocratic and unpatriotic.

I encourage you to contact your Senators to express support for ending the blocking of judicial appointments. Our justice system needs these judgeships filled so it can function effectively and provide justice for all!


[1]       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It requires a super-majority of 60 out of 100 votes to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[2]       Viser, M., 5/10/13, “As Obama, Senate collide, courts caught short,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Jackson, H. C., 5/24/13, “After 5 years, Senate OK’s key judicial appointment,” Associated Press in The Boston Globe

[4]       Associated Press, 3/7/13, “GOP senators block court nominee for a second time,” Political Notebook in The Boston Globe

[5]       Viser, M., 5/10/13, see above

[6]       Pickler, N., 6/5/13, “Obama pushes 3 judges for court; Challenges GOP on ‘obstruction’,” The Boston Globe

BLOCKING EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTMENTS

ABSTRACT: The willingness of some Republicans to impede the effective functioning of the federal government has extended to consistent efforts to block or delay the President’s nominees to fill positions in the Executive Branch. Senate Republicans have filibustered, threatened to filibuster, or have otherwise delayed a number of Obama’s selections for cabinet posts, including the secretaries of State, Defense, and the Treasury, as well as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Similarly, Senate Republicans are blocking nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and for two years have refused to confirm anyone to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. House and Senate Republicans have refused to appoint members to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a health care cost control group.

Even when President Obama goes out of his way to nominate what would seem to be uncontroversial choices with bipartisan support, Senate Republicans have engaged in filibustering and delaying confirmation. Many words can be used to describe this strategy: one would be obstructionist; others would be undemocratic and unpatriotic. I encourage you to contact your Senators to express support for ending the blocking of Executive Branch appointments. Our government needs to be able to function!

FULL POST: The willingness of some Republicans to impede the effective functioning of the federal government has extended to consistent efforts to block or delay the President’s nominees to fill positions in the Executive Branch.

Senate Republicans have filibustered [1], threatened to filibuster, and otherwise delayed many of President Obama’s nominees to fill executive branch positions, including a number of Obama’s selections for cabinet posts. They threatened to filibuster and conducted such an aggressive campaign against Susan Rice, who Obama wanted to nominate for Secretary of State, that her name was never formally submitted. They threatened to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, even though he was a former Republican Senator, and a conservative one at that. After a concerted effort to discredit him, he was eventually approved.

Senate Republicans are delaying confirmation of the President’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, and have been for over four months. One of their delaying tactics, and part of an effort to make the delaying tactics seem justified, is their submission of over 1,000 written questions, some with multiple parts, that they demand that she answer. (The previous three EPA nominees had received between 157 and 305 written questions.) Answering these questions in writing required over 200 pages and untold hours of work over two weeks by an unknown number of government employees.

Political scientist Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said, “One thousand questions is beyond the point of absurdity … This is ratcheting up obstruction and partisan warfare to an unprecedented level.” [2]

Furthermore, Senate Republicans blocked a scheduled committee vote on her nomination by boycotting the meeting. McCarthy, who has 25 years experience in the field, was viewed as a safe, compromise choice given that she had worked for five Republican Governors (four in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut). One of those MA Governors was Jane Swift, who wrote, “I have witnessed firsthand the qualities that make McCarthy so uniquely qualified to take on the challenges of heading the nation’s top environmental department. … Obama deserves to select his own team. The Senate should swiftly approve McCarthy’s nomination.” [3]

Similarly, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, when nominated earlier this year faced 444 written questions or 700 if each question in a multipart question is counted individually. This was far more than his predecessors, despite the fact that his Wall Street and government experience meant he was from the same mold as his predecessors. Confirmation of Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor is currently being delayed.

Even when President Obama goes out of his way to nominate what would seem to be uncontroversial choices with bipartisan support, such as McCarthy for the EPA and Hagel for the Defense Department, Senate Republicans have engaged in blocking and delaying confirmation. Every other president has been allowed to pick his cabinet members without much opposition in the Senate, under the premise that a president should be allowed to select his own team and then be held accountable for their performance. Currently, some Republicans are engaged in a “state of permanent partisan warfare over Obama’s Cabinet nominees.” [4]

Senate Republicans are also blocking five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency charged with protecting the rights of workers. They are also suing the President to invalidate the appointments he made without Senate confirmation when the Senate was in recess, a practice previous presidents have used when appointments have been delayed. The combination of these efforts effectively paralyzes the agency and may invalidate some of its previous actions. Part of the motivation for these obstructionist tactics is the Republicans’ effort to undermine the effectiveness of unions, given that this Board addresses formal complaints filed by unions. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, “This is about complete obstructionism because the minority senators don’t like the agencies, and they don’t like the work these agencies do.” [5]

Senate Republicans have for two years refused to confirm (by threatening a filibuster) anyone to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, once again because they don’t like this agency and its role of protecting consumers from fraud and misleading practices by financial corporations. (See 7/26/12 post.)

House and Senate Republicans have refused to appoint members to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. This Board of medical experts, created by the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), works to control health care costs by evaluating drugs, treatments, and other health care measures. Because Republicans oppose the health care law, they are defying the law and refusing to appoint the members they are required to, which was part of the effort to make the law bipartisan. Board members need to be confirmed by the Senate as well, and if Senate Republicans block confirmation of appointees to the Board, its responsibilities will fall to Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. This isn’t what one would think the Republicans would want to see happen. Therefore, it appears that this is an effort to delay and obstruct the functioning of government, while hoping to score political points for appearing to oppose ObamaCare. [6]

Republicans’ obstructionism, at least in part, is due to their opposition to current policies, to the established missions of some agencies, and to most government regulation in general. In our democratic system, the way to address such concerns is to change them through legislation. The Republicans resort to the undemocratic tactics of obstruction because the majority of the country does not agree with them.

The examples above are not isolated incidents but a concerted strategy of extreme partisanship and/or rigid ideology by some Republicans to undermine President Obama, to bog down Congress and the Obama administration in political fights that prevent important issues facing our country from being addressed, and, ultimately, to prevent government from functioning effectively. Many words can be used to describe this strategy: one would be obstructionist; others would be undemocratic and unpatriotic.

The Senate may well vote soon on restricting the use of the filibuster to block Executive Branch appointments. I encourage you to contact your Senators to express support for ending the blocking of Executive Branch appointments. Our government needs to be able to function!


[1]       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It requires a super-majority of 60 out of 100 votes to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[2]       Bierman, N., 5/16/13, see above

[3]       Swift, J., 5/25/13, “Qualified nominee for EPA,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Bierman, N., 5/16/13, “1 nominee, 1,000 questions,” The Boston Globe

[5]       Associated Press, 5/17/13, “GOP fights labor board nominees,” The Boston Globe

[6]       Editorial, 5/9/13, “Congress, the death panel’s death panel,” Ringside Seat from The American Prospect

IDEOLOGY, OBSTRUCTIONISM, AND MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK

ABSTRACT: Democrats believe in making government work. Republicans, at least many current ones, don’t exhibit a commitment to making government work. They block legislation and an unprecedented number and breadth of Presidential appointments, including judges and cabinet secretaries.

Rigid ideology and extreme partisanship are drivers of the gridlock: many Republicans seem willing to use any means available to block Obama’s initiatives, anything that would appear to be a success for him, and his administration’s efforts to govern effectively. Senate Republicans filibuster, while Republicans in the House have developed a strategy of policy hostage taking. While there are isolated examples of Democrats using some of the Republicans’ tactics, the current obstructionism by Republicans is unprecedented in both its breadth and its frequency.

Some of the Republicans, particularly those that identify with the Tea Party, are doing everything they can to sabotage government and keep it from operating effectively. Then when it falls short, they shout “See, we told you government can’t do anything right!”

Examples of Republicans impeding the functioning of Congress include: 1) in the budget process, they refused to appoint members for the conference committee that resolves differences between the House and Senate bills; 2) filibustered legislation to reduce gun violence; 3) blocked the ratification of an international treaty despite widespread, bipartisan support; and 4) blocked progress by filibustering or threatening to filibuster over 400 times since 2006.

The public’s well-being and future generations are hurt when our legislative branch doesn’t function.

FULL POST: Democrats’ ideology is that government has an important and positive role to play in our society. Republicans’ ideology is that a minimal government role is best and that government is more often a negative than a positive factor. But it goes a step further. Democrats believe in making government work, in doing the best that can be done to foster a civil and just society, despite limitations and challenges. They believe in implementing existing laws and making existing agencies work to fulfill their missions. Republicans, at least many current ones, don’t exhibit a commitment to making government work. As a consequence, they block legislation, including essential legislation, even when there is a majority in favor of it, through tactics such as filibustering in the Senate (see posts of 6/15/12 and 6/10/12) or refusing to move legislation forward in the House. [1] Senate Republicans have also used the filibuster to block an unprecedented number and breadth of Presidential appointments, including judges, cabinet secretaries, and other positions in government agencies. (See 5/20/12 post.)

In addition to rigid ideology, extreme partisanship is also a driver of the gridlock: many Republicans are of the mindset that if President Obama is for something, they will be against it – even in cases where they had previously supported the position or issue. And they seem willing to use any means available to block Obama’s initiatives, anything that would appear to be a success for him, and his administration’s efforts to govern effectively. While the Senate Republicans filibuster, Republicans in the House, led by Eric Cantor (VA), Paul Ryan (WI), and Kevin McCarthy (CA), have developed a strategy of policy hostage taking. Their most notable effort was their refusal to raise the US government’s debt ceiling, which was needed to fund the activities previously approved by Congress and the president under the country’s budget. They took hostage the full faith and credit of the US Government to pay its debts. As Thomas Mann said, “It’s hard to imagine a more destructive action.” [2] In the House, the extreme partisanship of the Republican majority means that the Democratic minority is all but ignored. [3]

While there are isolated examples of Democrats using some of these tactics, the current obstructionism by Republicans is unprecedented in both its breadth and its frequency.

Some of the Republicans, particularly those that identify with the Tea Party, do not feel a responsibility to abide by the historical rules of operation or to work to promote the successful functioning of government. A recent survey documented that Tea Party activists do not want their elected representative to compromise and are happy to have them prevent government from functioning. [4] Furthermore, some of these activists and elected officials promote their ideology by doing everything they can to sabotage government and keep it from operating effectively. Then when it falls short, they shout “See, we told you government can’t do anything right!” [5]

Examples of Republicans impeding the functioning of Congress include the following:

This spring, both houses of Congress passed budget bills. The process calls for a conference committee of both chambers to be appointed to reconcile differences between the two bills. However, the House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, chair of the Budget Committee, refused to appoint members for the conference committee – an unprecedented act of obstructionism. After a month of negotiations, Democrats gave up on the effort to form a conference committee, so the government continues to run without a normal budget in place. [6]

Senate Republicans have filibustered * legislation to reduce gun violence by expanding background checks for gun purchases. (See 4/20/13 and 5/9/13 posts.) Senate Republicans also blocked the ratification of an international treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite widespread, bipartisan support, ratification by 126 other countries, and the fact that it was modeled on the American with Disabilities Act. (See post of 12/8/12.)

Senate Republicans have blocked progress by filibustering or threatening to filibuster over 400 times since they lost the majority in 2006; that’s over once a week on average. As two, bi-partisan political scientist have written, Senate Republicans are using the filibuster “to delay and obstruct quietly on nearly all matters, including routine and widely supported ones.” They have filibustered judges, top administration officials, and a wide range of legislation. [7]

The US has serious problems, short and long-term, including unemployment, stagnant wages, and global competition, that need to be addressed through legislation. The public’s well-being and future generations are hurt when our legislative branch doesn’t function because Republicans are committed to a rigid ideology, refuse to compromise, and believe that scoring political points is more important than solving problems. [8]

My next post will review the impacts of Republican obstructionism on the judicial and executive branches of government.


[1]       Starr, P., May / June 2013, “Bad faith and budget politics,” The American Prospect

[2]       Ornstein, N., & Mann, T., 4/26/13, “Why Congress is failing us,” on Bill Moyers’ public TV show, available at BillMoyers.com

[3]       Arenberg, R.A., 6/13/12, “An effective Senate needs filibusters,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Rapoport, A., May / June 2013, “Ted [Cruz] talk,” The American Prospect

[5]       Editorial, 5/24/13, “Scandal, Sequestered,” Ringside Seat, The American Prospect

[6]       Bouie, J., & Caldwell, P., May / June 2013, “Patty Murray in 19 takes,” The American Prospect

*       A filibuster occurs when one or more Senators refuse to end debate on a piece of legislation or other matter. It requires a super-majority of 60 out of 100 votes to close off debate (cloture) and allow a vote on the bill or other matter.

[7]       Mann, T.E., and Ornstein, N.J., 4/27/12, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post. Adapted from their book “It’s even worse than it looks: How the American Constitutional system collided with the new politics of extremism.”

[8]       Ornstein, N., & Mann, T., 4/26/13, see above

THE REAL SCANDAL BEHIND THE IRS “SCANDAL”

ABSTRACT: Overwhelmed IRS employees, trying to sort through hundreds of applications for tax exempt status to identify ones that should be rejected because they were political rather than true social welfare organizations, used search terms that may have been tilted toward identifying conservative groups, although there were terms used that are neutral or tilted toward liberal or progressive politics. (Perhaps there was such a tilt because the number and spending of such groups on the conservative side has far outweighed those on the liberal or progressive side.)

As Republicans in Congress try to blow this up into a major scandal, it should be noted that the IRS Commissioner when this activity occurred was Douglas Shulman, who was appointed by President Bush in 2008 and served until November 2012.

Three factors have led to the growth of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that engage in political activity: 1) They do not have to disclose their donors; 2) Political committees have had to disclose their donors since 2001; and 3) The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed unlimited spending on political activity by wealthy individuals, corporations, and other organizations. Corporations and wealthy individuals who would like to keep their political activities secret have flocked to using these social welfare organizations.

The real scandals hiding behind the front page news are that the IRS: 1) Has not clarified the limits on political activity by tax exempt social welfare groups; 2) Has not taken enforcement actions against any politically active social welfare group; and 3) Has had the capacity of its staff to engage in appropriate oversight and enforcement activities cut.

The current “scandal” at the IRS should be the springboard for reform. Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress seem far more intent on using the situation to score political points and to undermine the important work of the IRS.

FULL POST: If you were an overwhelmed IRS employee trying to sort through hundreds of applications for tax exempt status to identify ones that should be rejected because they were political rather than true social welfare organizations, how would you do it? Searching for political terms would make a lot of sense. The terms used should be balanced, so they look for any group with a political focus, not just ones with a certain perspective.

It appears that the search terms that were used may have been tilted toward identifying conservative groups, although there were terms used that are neutral or tilted toward liberal or progressive politics. (Perhaps there was such a tilt because the number and spending of such groups on the conservative side has far outweighed those on the liberal or progressive side.) And there were liberal or progressive organizations that were scrutinized and had their applications delayed, as some conservative ones did. Although the search terms used may have been efficient and rational, they may not have been appropriate from a political or public perception stand point. [1]

The Cincinnati office, where this work was concentrated, had fewer than 200 people working to process 70,000 applications for tax exempt status each year. Moreover, despite the complex legalities of these determinations, this group had few lawyers and only vague guidelines. The unit has been reorganized and its procedures revised multiple times over the past three years.

As Republicans in Congress try to blow this up into a major scandal, it should be noted that the IRS Commissioner when this activity occurred was Douglas Shulman, who was appointed by President Bush in 2008 and served until November 2012.

The issue of non-profit groups and their political activity has burst into the spotlight in recent years. Traditional non-profit groups are organized under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code and are prohibited from engaging in political activity. Organizations under IRS section 501(c)(4), although originally exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, in 1960 were allowed to engage in political activity as long as their primary purpose was social welfare. The IRS has not established what “primary” or “political activity” means. Three factors have led to the growth of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that engage in political activity:

  • They do not have to disclose their donors.
  • Political committees have had to disclose their donors since 2001.
  • The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed unlimited spending on political activity by wealthy individuals, corporations, and other organizations. [2]

As a result, corporations and wealthy individuals who would like to keep their political activities secret have flocked to using these social welfare organizations. Crossroads GPS (the conservative group Karl Rove helped found in 2010) spent $88 million in the last two national election cycles, massively outspending all other 501(c)(4)s’ political expenditures. It has a tiny staff and no discernible social welfare purpose, and its application for tax exempt status is still pending. [3] (501(c)(4)s are allowed to operate as non-profits without IRS approval.) For the 2012 elections, based on reports to the Federal Election Commission, of the more than $256 million spent by social welfare non-profits on ads, at least 80% came from conservative groups. [4]

The real scandals hiding behind the front page news are that the IRS:

  • Has not clarified the limits on political activity by tax exempt social welfare groups (i.e., 501(c)(4)s) or even defined what is considered political activity.
  • Has not taken enforcement actions against any politically active social welfare group, despite their spending, combined, at least $500 million on political advertising during the last four years. [5] This includes groups that told the IRS in their tax exemption applications that they were not going to engage in political activity and then did so. [6]
  • Has had the capacity of its staff to engage in appropriate oversight and enforcement activities cut. (Its budget has been cut the last three years, including by the sequester, and staff levels are down from 117,000 in 1992 to 90,000 today while dollars collected have more than doubled.) This has led to overwhelmed workers as occurred in the tax exempt review group in Cincinnati.

The current “scandal” at the IRS should be the springboard for reform – for clarifying and enforcing rules on political activity by tax exempt organization, as well as for assessing and meeting the needs at the IRS for staffing and professionalization of personnel and procedures. Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress seem far more intent on using the situation to score political points and to undermine the important work of the IRS.


 

[1]       Confessore, N., Kocieniewski, D., & Luo, M., 5/18/13, “Confusion and staff troubles rife at I.R.S. office in Ohio,” The New York Times

[2]       Norris, F., 5/16/13, “A fine line between social and political,” The New York Times

[3]       Maguire, R., 5/16/13, “Conservative groups granted exemption vastly outspent liberal ones,” Open Secrets

[4]       Barker, K. & Elliott, J., 5/22/13, “Six facts lost in the IRS scandal,” ProPublica

[5]       Confessore, N., et al., 5/18/13, see above

[6]       Barker, K. & Elliott, J., 5/22/13, see above