Wednesday, November 05, 2014

LOSING ELECTIONS

Pardon the Interruption has Role Play as a regular feature where Tony or Mike pretend to be someone else and answer questions as if they are that person- just as Democratic candidates do every election season, pretending to be just like their Republican opponents, only less so. Not a winning strategy so far. When will they learn?

Why are Democratic incumbents arrant cowards? They are like a professional football team that goes into a prevent defense immediately after the opening kickoff, afraid to dare anything at any time that might conceivably offend the hard core right wing voters who would never vote for them anyway. What would have been so hard about running on the undeniable advances of the Health Care Reform Act- ending the life time cap on insurance benefits, denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to stay on their parents' plans up to age 26? Why not just run as who you are? Liberal, progressive, forward thinking, logical- not crazy, hateful or greedy. Oh well, maybe in two or four or six or 20 more years they will get it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stuck with the results of their refusal to run as themselves.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 MID-TERM ELECTIONS: HOLDING THE SENATE, RETAKING THE HOUSE


Dear Congressman:

This letter is to provide a template for retaking the House and keeping the Senate. Please share it with Democratic incumbents, candidates, and persons responsible for national campaigns to raise money for and provide strategy and advice to candidates for both houses of Congress.

First, a brief recap: I’ve been a Democrat all of my voting life- I voted for McGovern in 1972- and I follow politics on the local and national level fairly regularly, but at this juncture I could not name a single program- a single plank of a national platform- that Democrats would enact if they regain control of the House and retain control of the Senate.

What that means is, if I can’t tell you what Democrats would do (I can tell you things they would NOT do, but that’s not the same thing) if they controlled Congress, then it’s highly unlikely that any voters who go to the polls in November can either. That also means that the only reasons a voter would choose a Democrat would be because of personality, character, or experience issues of a candidate in that particular race, or, because they have come to realize (as most intelligent and sane people have) that choosing a Republican and letting that party control the reigns of power has become, since the year 2000, extraordinarily dangerous to the health and security of the country (i.e. 9-11, Iraq invasion, Katrina, the 2008 financial catastrophe - much of the last of which can also be laid at the feet of the Clinton Administration in 1998-1999 with repeal of Glass-Steagal, signed by Clinton and backed by his Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin).

So what do we do to change the equation in Congressional and Senate races in 2014? In 1994, the Republicans came up with an idea that was a game changer politically (if not in actual effect): the “Contract for America.” The game changing aspect was that voters were given a list of simple ideas (i.e. term limits, balance the budget) that the Republicans vowed to enact if given the opportunity. The Contract itself got as much or more publicity that any single candidates. It had the advantage of simplifying mattes for voters and appealing to their yearnings for the national government at the same time. After all, who doesn’t like the concept of term limits for Congress (other than those serving in it) or a balanced budget (other than Keynesian economists in a recession)?

The obvious solution is that Democrats come up with some simple, effective (in real life and politically) and very attractive proposals that they (we) will promise to enact if given control of Congress. The elegance of some of these ideas (as my old Torts law professor would say) is that they are directly opposite of what Republicans propose to do, and will put them in the worst possible political situation should they continue to advance their proposals.

1. ESTATE TAX: “The Death Tax.” In the Spring 2002, I spent an hour on the phone with Max Cleland’s legislative director and also with his campaign adviser. I had a suggestion he didn’t adopt, because he was trying to do what too many nominal Democrats have done lately: they’ve tried to be just like the Republican opponent and supported the same- and very bad- ideas. I suggested to Max’s people that Max come out 100% in favor of the Estate Tax, but make it a “dedicated tax.” Every dollar would go to providing relief to seniors who need help paying for their prescription drugs, to save their lives. My slogan was: “let dead millionaires pay for life saving medication for the living elderly.”

In 2014, I’d update that, since a prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare in 2003. The 2014 idea is that the “estate tax” (and go ahead and call it the “death tax” since no one can say they were fooled by the name) should be retained and 100% dedicated to health care for military veterans. Let the dead millionaires (I’d probably put “billionaires” in the campaign ad with a photo of huge mansions, like the ones on Royal Pains in the Hamptons) pay for wounded veterans. The political advantage is obvious: Republicans would be opposing expanding (or paying for) veterans’ health care. I’d like to see them argue that side in a debate and be in favor of dead billionaires like the Waltons or Koch brothers.

2. HEALTH CARE INSURANCE: A second idea is the Health Care Reform Act- Obamacare. The only thing the Republicans can really rail at in their requests for repeal are the mandate on individuals and employers to provide it. The solution is simple (and should have been the original template of the plan in 2009): decouple health insurance from employment and completely remove the mandate. Instead, provide a public option: any person under 65 can sign up for Medicare, paying the incremental cost of adding another person to Medicare, with subsidies for persons who don’t have the financial ability to pay the full monthly premium. In one fell swoop, we’ve taken away all of the issues with States not participating, all of the political arguments against the program (the Hobby Lobby case will be reduced to an historical footnote), and reduced overhead for employers (for which they should be grateful, but probably will not be). In addition, although it will be voluntary for any person under 65 to sign up, the law should provide that if a person incurs medical expenses greater than $X (where “X” can be a number like $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000) and has not had them covered by insurance or paid them within 12 calendar months, then signing up is mandatory (and they will still owe the prior medical expenses). There is not only no political downside to this, but it will greatly expand the number of people signing up for health insurance, especially in the "No" states controlled by Republican governors.

Putting this in a national Democratic platform will also jerk the rug out from Republicans in a lot of local races, where repealing Obamacare will be the centerpiece of their campaign ads.

3. FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT: For some reason, Democrats have not united against the gross violations of their civil liberties, most obviously in the realm of privacy from government interception of e-mails and other social media communications. Democrats should make clear that they are the party of individual freedom, and that causes of action under the 1860's civil rights laws (i.e. 42 U.S.C. §1983) will be extended to violations by the Federal Government (without depending on case by case BIVENS v. SIX UNKNOWN FED. NARCOTICS AGENTS, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) type of judicially created remedies) and remove all governmental immunity for violations of individual’s rights under the Bill of Rights, including 1st, fourth, fifth, 8th and 14th (which should be explicitly expanded to cover the Federal government) amendments. In other words, no more State Secrets exemptions from civil suit, no more complete or qualified immunity, and make clear that in the 21st century, we care more about our freedoms from government intrusion than we fear a potential boogeyman hiding under the bed. BUT: rather than individuals being sued, the theory of Respondeat Superior should be the sole measure of relief, so that judges, prosecutors, and police will no longer be subject to civil liability (but would still be, as they are now, subject to criminal prosecution for the serious and intentional violations of civil rights). The NSA will no longer be able to spy on ordinary Americans or collect so called "metadata" and they can mothball that building in Utah. One of the huge advantages of this proposal is that you will get a lot of support from Rand Paul Libertarian types.

Those are just three ideas, but all of them should be made the subject of national campaign ads: in other words, every Democratic candidate will benefit from them. I think that putting out a short, simple, easily understood national platform can change the results in the November 2014 elections: Dedicating the death tax to veterans’ health care, repealing the individual and employer mandate in Obamacare and replacing them with a public option to enroll in Medicare, restoring individual freedom from governmental excesses.

I would also limit the platform to a maximum of three ideas (the rule of threes). Each one would be the subject of a separate, national ad, which can be slightly modified in each State to have an addendum listing local candidates who support that platform.


And, like Will Rogers, if he were alive today, I will be astonished if the Democratic Party ever does anything so sensible and effective. But one can always hope!

Jim



Sunday, July 06, 2014

IN DEFENSE OF LIBERALISM



Benjamin Franklin, not a Christian, who answered a questioner about his religious beliefs thusly: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble."



Since the founding of this country, the great events have almost always been forged by persons whom we in modern times would have no trouble distinguishing as "liberals," as compared to their contemporaries.

In 1776, it was "liberal" to espouse throwing off the yokes of monarchy in exchange for representative government. The "conservatives" of the day were the Tories loyal to the British Crown, many of whom ended up emigrating to Canada when they lost the war.

In 1787, the "liberals" forged the new Constitution for the infant republic. Many liberal ideas were included: a ban on "ex post facto" laws which allowed governments to criminalize and punish past behavior, and a ban on "bills of attainder" which punished the descendants of criminals (both in Section 9 of Article I). And, most relevant to modern discourse, a ban on "religious tests" for holding public office. No government could require any candidate for public office to espouse any particular religion- or even a belief in a deity ("no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" is in Article VI).

By 1860, the liberal party in America was the brand new (six years old) Republican Party, which wanted radical change, to wit: the eradication of slavery (or, more accurately, a beginning to its end by curtailing its expansion into the new Western territories destined to become States). The "conservatives" sided with the South, to preserve the "peculiar institution" which had existed for hundreds of years.

The 1865 argument in the Congress over the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to permanently abolish slavery was won by the "liberals," as the movie Lincoln, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, portrayed. The conservatives who opposed used many of the same arguments made in modern times to expand voting rights or the rights of immigrants.

And so on, down through the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which banned discrimination in voting on account of sex and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954 which ended legal racial discrimination and reversed the "separate by equal" doctrine of the Supreme Court in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Throughout our nation's history, every major advance was because of an argument, a debate, a court case, won by "liberals," and every time, the self styled "conservatives" were on the wrong side of moral right and the wrong side of history, which inevitably traveled on the path of increased freedom and increased inclusion.

Ronald Reagan foretold the end of America as we knew it if Medicare was passed into law in the 1960's- he predicted we'd end up with a "socialist dictatorship" if the law passed, (it did and we didn't). Civil Rights laws under Lyndon Johnson were opposed by bigots traveling under the fig leaf of the Constitution . The pernicious phrase "State's Rights" was coined in the 1820's most notably by John C. Calhoun, and it resonated with bigots in the 1960's and again in 1980 with the kickoff of Reagan's campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Fortunately for America, the "liberals" won those political and court battles, giving us bans on government and private discrimination on account of race, gender, religion, and national origin in voting, employment, accommodations, and housing by the end of the 1960's decade.

So why is it that for the past 34 years, since Reagan was elected president, that "liberal" is somehow a dirty word that most politicians- even many Democrats (who prefer "centrist" or "progressive" or "realist" or "pragmatic") flee at any cost?

Probably because propaganda works: in George Orwell's book 1984 the government propaganda machine could turn words into their opposite: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." All of these word reversals and the deliberate distortions of and rewriting of American history by Fox News, right wing radio, the Tea Party, and Republican media machines have created a significant minority of not just ignorant but misinformed viewers and listeners. Ignorance can be cured- especially if the ignorant realize they have a lack of knowledge or understanding of an issue. People who are misinformed (our founding fathers were Christians who created a "Christian nation," global climate change is a hoax, The Affordable Care Act is a job-destroying law that takes away the right to choose one's doctor, Obama is a Kenyan born Socialist who hates America, he's a tyrant overriding the rule of law with executive orders, he's a weak President giving away American power in Crimea, Syria, and Iraq) will cling to their beliefs, no matter how self contradictory or how little they are based in fact. Ironically, the powerful media types who purvey misinformation regularly attack the "liberal, mainstream media," another fiction created by their bloviators in chief.

And it is the cowardice of those who know better but lack their convictions or any semblance of pride or courage that allows it to continue.

Not me, though. I was probably somewhat conservative at age 17- when I stood in front of a large auditorium at an anti-war (Vietnam) rally circa 1970 and tried to explain the domino theory and why it was necessary for us to be there. I was 100% wrong at the time, as history proved and I learned in much more detail later after reading A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, a 1988 book by Neil Sheehan. By the time I hit law school in my 20's, down through the decades, I've been a social liberal, the right to be left alone by the government so long as we are not hurting others being paramount.

The voice of that ideology can be found in the opinion of Justice William O. Douglas in the 1965 Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut which overturned Connecticut's ban on women using contraceptives-- Douglas wrote that the right to privacy was found in the "penumbra"of the First and Ninth Amendments to the Constitution (the Ninth Amendment provides: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."). That case was followed by Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 decision which was the most aptly named Supreme Court case in history, as it overturned government bans on interracial marriage. Decades later, state laws criminalizing sodomy were ruled unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 Supreme Court decision, and the Orwellian named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA- which prevented loving gay couples from enjoying the same legal marital rights as heterosexual couples) signed into law by that "liberal," President Clinton, was overturned in 2013.

I would love it if people who have values which are unmistakably liberal would at least give their world view the label it so richly deserves. I'm talking about people who want all eligible citizens to vote (no bogus voter ID laws); they want all people to be able to enjoy affordable health care; they want to end government torture, imprisonment without due process, and capricious capital punishment; they want people to be left alone and not have their phone calls tapped, their e-mails read, or their private lives opened up to the government; they want the ability to worship whatever deity they wish- or none at all- in whatever fashion they want, and not have a majority scapegoat them, brand them, or exclude them from participation in public life. In other words, American values; values created and enhanced in a consistent line going back to 1776 and the Declaration of Independence, with the famous words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Try to get an ardent follower of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh to explain why those words don't mean what they obviously say- that "all men"-- not just white Christian males-- have the right to life and liberty. And as for nomenclature, those people aren't "conservatives," and their label needs to change. Those people are the "willfully ignorant," the "willfully misinformed," the "hypocrites." They are the "anti-freedom, anti-democratic (with a small "d"), anti equality" party. And those are the labels which should be attached to them, just as those who believe in the meaning and spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Amendments to it, should be not just be labeled "liberals," but also as "Americans." Because those are our American values.

Monday, April 21, 2014

LAW DAY SPEECH 4/22/2014: American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters"

A.C.O.R.N. was an organization dedicating to registering new voters- until it got caught up as the victim in one of the biggest political hoaxes of the 21st century.

The ABA today announced the theme for the 2014 Law Day. In recognition of the approaching 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the theme "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters" calls on every American to reflect on the importance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges that remain to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy."

IMAGINARY VOTE FRAUD:

Six years ago I attempted to make a bet which, had it been taken up, would have netted me ten million dollars. What was the bet?

How many of you have heard something in the news during the last 10 years about States- including Georgia- enacting strict new photo ID laws for voters? Why, you ask, is it that when we can't get legislatures to pass needed legislation, did so many States take the time and trouble to enact laws- including photo identification requirements for otherwise validly registered voters- that make it harder for people to register, and harder for registered voters to cast their ballots?

It hasn't just been photo identification laws which will restrict the number of otherwise eligible voters to vote: laws have been passed in several states which have restricted early voting. Some States have made it more difficult for convicted felons who have completed their sentences to have their voting rights restored. Other states have made it more difficult for groups such as students to vote in the towns where their colleges or universities are located. The State of Texas allows persons to get a concealed firearm carry permit with forms of identification that are not allowed at the polls- including student ID's with photos.

So what was my would-be ten million dollar bet? I offered that bet during the weeks before the 2008 presidential election, when there were national outcries of rampant voter fraud, when the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain and right wing commentators were howling that a liberal community get out the vote organization, A.C.O.R.N. was trying to steal the election. ACORN stands for: "The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now." It once was the nation's largest organization working for social justice and stronger communities- but it died in 2010, after it had become a symbol of rampant voter fraud.

There was just one problem with the stories about ACORN stealing elections via voter fraud: they were all made up. Completely. One story that made headlines had to do with independent contractors working for ACORN in Nevada who were collecting money from ACORN for registering non-existent people to vote, including members of the Dallas Cowboys football team. The contractors would turn in their lists to ACORN, which would then pay them a set price for every new voter registered. That sure sounds like fraud, doesn't it? But think about it: who was the victim of the fraud? Did any of those fictitious voters- like someone pretending to be Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo- who was actually registered by the contractor- show up to vote in Nevada's election? Not hardly. The victim of the fraud was ACORN itself- it was paying people to register real human beings as voters, but instead they were registering fictitious people who never showed up to vote in the election.

So my bet was this- and I fervently hope that the next time a government official tells you that we need photo ID to curb rampant voter fraud, some one will offer the same bet to him or her: if more than 10 people in the entire country show up to vote under another person's identity, for the 11th person and every person after him in the United States who shows up to vote at the polls in the 2008 presidential election who votes under another persons' name, I will pay $1,000.00: but only if you will pay me one million dollars for every number less than 10. In other words, if only 9 people voted under another person's name, I would get one million dollars. 8 people, two million. And so on down to 0- where I would get 10 million dollars.

There were almost 130 million votes cast in the 2008 election: 69,498,516 for Barack Obama and 59,948,323 for John McCain. Care to guess how many of those votes were cast by persons at the polls using another person's name? That's right: ZERO. I could have picked up a cool $10 million if any of the fear and hate mongers crying about "vote fraud" had the guts to take up my bet.

So the next time you hear a pundit or a politician using the phrase "voter fraud," look hard at them and ask yourself: what does this person have to gain by suppressing the votes of legitimate voters who are least likely to carry a photo ID? The answer is probably that the legitimate voters whose votes they suppress are more likely to vote for the other side, and by suppressing enough votes they hope to steal a close election their side would otherwise have lost.


MONEY IN POLITICS:

Two recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court have been cited as having a huge- and negative impact- on money in politics.

CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMM'N, 558 U.S. 310 (U.S. 1-21-2010)
and
McCUTCHEON v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 12-536 (U.S. 4-2-2014)

There are two themes of these cases: Citizens United decision decided that corporations are people, too. They get First Amendment freedom of speech protections from government regulation. Here is the essence of that decision: "The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether."

The McCutcheon case did not have to do with corporations: it had to do with overall spending limitations by persons wanting to give money to a number of candidates running nationwide, rather than restricting their financial contributions to a few. Here is what the Court said: "Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26-27. It may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others."

Here is my question: how many of you cast a vote in an election for federal office- Congressman, Senator, President- based on the amount of money spent on the candidates? Is there any amount of money spent on advertising, on flyers, on yard signs, or door bell ringers, that would get you to change your cherished principles and vote for the other guy- or lady?

Put another way, how many of you think that you can be flimflammed by sleazy ads that characterize your candidate in the most unflattering light possible? The answer is that the more that voters are ignorant of the actual character and the actual record of candidates- the attackees and the attackers- the more influence money has on elections. The more that you know- the more that you take the time to be informed- the less influence money can have on your vote.

I HAVE A SIMPLE SOLUTION to the money in politics problem: simply allow every candidate attacked in any radio or television ad to preview it, then film or record a response, twice as long as the first, that will air free of charge immediately following the attack ad. In one stroke, the power of money to influence elections will be reversed- like a judo move that uses the attacker's force against him. Every unfair attack ad will be unmasked immediately. No need for the attacked candidate to rush out to raise money to respond to unfair attack ads. The wealthy opponents- whether corporate Political Action Committees, called PAC's, or superwealthy billionaires like Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson or the infamous Koch brothers, Charles and David, will be providing their opponents with double the bang of the bucks they spend trying to buy an election.


EVERY VOTE MATTERS:

Fourteen years ago this country had a presidential election between two major candidates and one third party candidate whose presence in the race may have altered the course of modern American history. Before that election in November of 2000, it was a common occurrence to hear people say: what does it matter who is elected? No matter which candidate- the Democrat or the Republican- wins, my vote won't matter. Both parties are the same, and nothing changes in Washington no matter who takes office.

That election, however, proved that who wins does matter. At the time of the election, we were at peace, we were running a surplus, and hard as it is to believe, the biggest issue in the 2000 election was how we were going to spend the surplus- paying down the national debt, shoring up Social Security and Medicare, or in tax cuts.

A few votes- 537- in the State of Florida- decided the 2000 election.

George W. Bush (W) 2,912,790 Republican
Al Gore 2,912,253 Democratic


So please remember: your vote counts, as do the votes of your friends, your family, and your neighbors. Our country does not ask much of us- show up for jury duty, pay our taxes, stop for red lights. We don't even have a draft anymore. So getting up on election day- or one of the early voting days leading up to it- and trucking down to the polls to do your civic duty should be a no brainer.

THANK YOU.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Questions for candidates



If you are attending any candidate forums, either as a panelist or a citizen, you might want to borrow one of these questions to ask to determine whether the person running has: (1) common sense, and (2) the courage to express a sane, yet unpopular, opinion.

(1) What action, if any, would you take to make a public option available to any American who wants health insurance but not from the private sector? Put another way, are you in favor of Medicare for all- that is, allowing any American to sign up for Medicare, regardless of age, so long as they pay the additional annual cost to the government for their coverage , and if not, why not?

(2) Would you favor legislation to remove medical malpractice suits from the tort system, converting all claims for damages or injuries from medical providers (doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) to a no fault system that would provide compensation to all victims, regardless of fault, and which would eliminate all medical malpractice insurance premiums for physicians, hospitals, and drug companies?

(3) Are you for or against requiring mandatory electronic locks on all firearms so that they can only be used by the legal owner of them?

(4) Are you for or against mandatory background checks for all firearm purchases to keep them out of the hands of persons convicted of violent crimes and out of the hands of the mentally ill?

(5) Are you in favor of ending the legalized bribery of public officials by prohibiting all offers of money to political candidates and by substituting mandatory public financing of electoral campaigns?

(6) Would you support a law that would allow any political candidate attacked in a radio or television ad to be able to preview the ad before it airs, then have free air time to respond that would run immediately after the attack ad?

(7) Would you support a law that would end the immunity of all governments whose employees cause injury- either deliberately or through negligence- to American citizens?

(8) Would you support a law that would prevent the deliberate government killing of human beings without charges being brought and a fair trial, except in self defense or on the battlefield against uniformed combatants after Congress has declared War?

(9) Would you support a law that would prohibit the warrantless interception of any and all communications by or to American citizens?

(10) Would you support a law which would end a secret court in the depths of the Justice Department and which would require public hearings or trials in all case involving American citizens?

(11) Do you support a rules change in the United States Senate to end all filibusters and all holds on nominations?

(12) Would you support federal legislation, call it the "Dave" law (for the movie of that name starring Kevin Kline), that would make the government the employer of last resort, so that any American who wants to work would have a job available to him or her, thus ending all involuntary unemployment?

(13) Would you support a fiscally neutral (the Federal budget would not increase or decrease) revision to the Federal tax code that would substitute direct payments for all credits and deductions?

(14) Would you support revising the tax code to treat all income the same- that is, capital gains, interest income, rental income, and so forth, would all be taxed at the same rates and would all be subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes?

(15) Would you support making both Social Security and Medicare more financially stable by removing the cap on income subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes and, for all persons under 65, means testing both Social Security and Medicare?

(16) Are you for or against permitting persons of the same gender to marry? Why?

(17) Are you for or against decriminalizing marijuana? Why?

(18) Would you support a Constitutional amendment to make all judicial appointments, from the Supreme Court on down, for 10 years instead of for life?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

ADVICE TO A SENATE HOPEFUL: MICHELLE NUNN


The seal on the podium says "President of the United States" Is this a foreshadowing for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn?


Ms. Michelle Nunn
Atlanta, GA

Re: your efforts to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate

Dear Ms. Nunn:

I was recently invited to an event held in Albany to meet you and to contribute to your campaign. That was the first I became aware that you were a candidate for the seat in the United States Senate currently occupied by Saxby Chambliss. Curiosity caused me to check your website (where I learned nothing about you or any possible ideas or proposals you have), to read archived news stories about your history, and to watch the Lori Geary interview footage posted by Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was immediately obvious from the way you responded to Ms. Geary's "gotcha" question "have you ever voted for a Republican" that you either are politically astute or that you have excellent advisers and the ability to absorb their lessons to avoid common pitfalls in political races. You realized that if you answered the question, no matter what else you said during that interview, the sound bite- and headline- would be that you had voted for a Republican. From my limited information about you, it appears that you handle yourself well on camera and that you have a reasonable prospect of winning a state wide race in a fair environment. I'm not tuned into Georgia politics, but I would guess that your opponent would most likely be Congressman Jack Kingston.

However, politics isn't fair. And your opponents will do their best to define you, as Ms. Geary noted, by describing you as a "huge liberal," a "leftist" for "MoveOn.org", and as "another vote for the liberal agenda of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid" (I'm paraphrasing here).

My sense is that many if not most voters do hanker for political leaders who will tell them the truth- but that they don't want uncomfortable truths that come without simple and effective solutions. I also think that a really good idea- one that would work, that attracts voters across party lines, that is unique- will do a lot to take you out of the realm of politics as usual that cause most voters to tune out politicians' messages and promises and to pay more attention to the negative attack ads that, sadly, have come to define modern American politics.

I'd like to take a moment and give you some examples. If this letter reaches you, and if, after reviewing my suggestions, you would like to have a conversation or exchange correspondence, my office information is on the letterhead.

HEALTHCARE REFORM: Three simple words: "Medicare for all." Otherwise known as "the Public Option." However, to avoid the pitfall of Republicans attacking big spending Democrats who want to force people to purchase health care they don't want, add the following caveats: there will be no individual mandate to purchase health care coverage (the call for repeal of that provision alone will remove that arrow from the opponent's quiver in a general election) , but coupled with repeal is a provision that any person under 65 who wants to opt into Medicare can pay a monthly premium equal to the incremental cost to the United States government for adding one more person to the Medicare rolls. In other words, it will not cost taxpayers one cent.

This will take the "Obamacare" argument (a possible albatross, based on the amount of lying and gross exaggeration that will continue after the program is more fully implemented) and turn it around against Republicans. Their biggest arguments are against the individual mandate and against the additional costs to taxpayers. In one stroke, you have taken both of those off the table, yet created a better system by adding a public option at no cost to taxpayers. You will leave a Republican opponent arguing that insurance companies should once again be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, refuse to renew policies, and have a life time cap that will throw people into bankruptcy. As I once put it: Republicans want parents of a dying three year old girl to have to put out penny jars in restaurants to raise the funds for their child's life saving operation. That's a visceral image that makes them very uncomfortable- yet it is accurate, and most voters remember seeing those jars in restaurants and receiving fund raising letters to try to save a child's life.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REFORM: A little over 9 years ago, the Fulton County Daily Report ran a guest column I wrote in which I suggested a plan to eliminate all medical malpractice insurance premiums for physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, and replace it with a no-fault, workers compensation program. It's a no lose proposition for everybody. When I suggested it during a live debate in 2004 at the local Atlanta ABC station, a physician in attendance working for another candidate (Mary Squires) was so enthusiastic that he told me he wished he had two votes in the primary so that he could cast one for me. Here's a link to a website where I posted a similar article. (Note that Sanford Bishop also liked the idea, but Congressional Democratic leaders weren't so enthusiastic back in 2009 when they still controlled the House.) http://buildabettermousetrap.blogspot.com/2010/01/eliminating-medical-malpractice.html
The original article ran at: http://buildabettermousetrap.blogspot.com/2005/02/medical-malpractice-insurance-crisis.html

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS: I listened to you tiptoe around the gun control issue by mentioning that your mother carries a 20 gauge shotgun around. Word of advice: the mental visual on that is not pretty. And it's irrelevant to insane people taking weapons with large clips into public places and committing mass murder. Most people just want to be safe- and many think they are safer if they carry a gun. Never mind that statistics show that people are twice as likely to be killed with a firearm if they own one, and about four times more likely to commit suicide if they have a gun in the house. It's kind of like the old seat belt debate- Americans didn't want to be told to strap in, because they had a vision of being thrown clear (not through their windshield) in the event of a wreck. Never mind that they are 100 times safer in a wreck if wearing a seat belt. My suggestions are to take the gun owners at their word- that they are safer with their guns, but require that all guns come with a technological lock (it was featured in the latest James Bond film, but has been written about long before) that will make it impossible for anyone but the owner to actually fire it. In one fell swoop, that reduces or eliminates gun thefts and accidents with small children. As for background checks- don't back down on that one. A huge majority of Americans want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Use the argument that we require tests and licensing to drive cars, which are dangerous machines, and we don't let children, drunks, or people with suspended licenses drive on the highways. Somehow we managed not to lose our freedom with those sensible restrictions. We should do no less for firearms- require people to pass regular tests and demonstrate their physical and mental ability to "operate" a firearm. And if it is in question, give them an opportunity for a fair hearing, just like we do in driver's license suspension hearings.

IMMIGRATION REFORM: point out that we need to be able to collect taxes from the illegals in this country who work but who don't file federal tax returns. The easiest way to do this is to issue green cards (not citizenship) for long time illegal residents, but to require that they file tax returns for the years they were already here and to pay any back taxes owed (but give them time and a payment plan so that it isn't a ticket back to Mexico- or Canada). Most illegals don't want citizenship- they just want to be able to live here legally and without fear of deportation. De-couple this reform from citizenship to avoid the argument that Democrats are just trolling for votes from non-English speaking illegal citizens (somehow, Canadians are never mentioned in this argument, but just for fun, I wish one debate would feature a focus on English speaking immigrants from Canada taking away American actors' jobs in the television and film industry- like Lorne Greene, who was Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, or William Shatner, Captain Kirk of Star Trek.)

NATIONAL SECURITY AND PRIVACY: I'm confounded that the Tea Party and the Republican Party (not co-equal) haven't been all over the issue of protecting ordinary Americans' privacy from the pervasive snooping of the NSA. It would fit right in line with their other diatribes against Big Government trying to control their lives- i.e., on gun background checks. So co-opt this issue. Go all in (or all out- it means the same thing) on reinstating Fourth Amendment protection from the big bad government. There is a warrant requirement, based on "Probable Cause," enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Let's resuscitate that antiquated notion. There's no downside to this argument, especially if you borrow the language of the anti-government zealots of the right wing, but apply it to people's right to be left alone by their government if they are doing nothing wrong. And don't forget to mention how much it is costing taxpayers to build that huge storage facility in Utah to house all of that useless data.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING: I've found that people rarely object to government spending on something tangible that they like. For example, they like being able to drive on highways without pot holes, and they don't mind paying a dedicated gasoline tax to build and repair highways. So take a subject- such as care for disabled veterans, and tie it to a tax the Republicans are trying to kill. Three of them are taxes on lazy rich people: the estate tax ("death tax" in Frank Lundz speak) which isn't a tax on the dead who earned the money, but on their ner do well heirs (think- Paris Hilton) and dividends and capital gains. Tie those specific taxes- every dollar collected- to projects that no sane politician would ever oppose. You won't find any shortage of subjects: life saving operations for children; medical care for veterans, and so on.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: Every candidate talks about creating jobs, and the Democrats and Republicans differ only on means, not the end. Republicans want to give a lot to the rich and let the trickle down effect help the less fortunate. Democrats want to use tax credits, tax deductions, and some large spending programs. I'd like to see how a candidate would be received who would simply propose that we allow every unemployed person who wants to work but can't find it in the private sector to get a public works job (have you seen the Kevin Kline movie "Dave?"). Fund it through a dedicated tax on luxury items- i.e. top tier cars, mansions, yachts, and estate taxes on the super rich. Turn that trickle into a more substantial torrent.

That's about it for the moment.


Sincerely yours,



James Finkelstein


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

PERSON OF THE YEAR: EDWARD SNOWDEN

One knows not what effect writing cogently about contemporary crises will have on our society, but if a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can spawn a hurricane (typhoon)in the Southwest Pacific, then perhaps these ruminations can have a salutary effect on the body politic. Which is a fancy Ivy League way of saying: I hope this makes a difference, however slight.

So towards that end, my nominee for my Person of the Year is Edward Snowden. Because for the last few decades, the huge boulder rolling downhill, crushing human rights, civil liberties, and democracy, carries the combined weight of the government and near government institutions whose raison d'etre is to bleed us of our money and to keep us afraid, unthinking, and panicky, in order to keep us from questioning why everything we were taught in grade school about the Revolutionary War, freedom, and the Bill of Rights, is as discardable as used Kleenex. Most everyone has heard of Eisenhower's farewell speech in which he inveighed against the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex- and that was at the end of the 1950's, the decade which modern "Conservatives" revere as the apex of American culture and all that was good and right with our country. However, until the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, that complex really hadn't taken over all branches of our government in anywhere near the extent that has become, sadly, unremarkable as we near the end of 2013. So when it's revealed that the NSA is constructing a vast building costing billions out in the nether regions of the Rocky Mountains, built just to store all of the secrets and data being stolen in plain sight from our private lives, ("metadata" it is called, as if that makes any difference linguistically from mere "data" which is the plural of "datum") it barely stirs a yawn-- not even among the fruitcake Tea Party activists who howl at the moon when a man of African ancestry tries to make sure their children won't die for lack of a doctor, the NRA warriors who scream bloody murder if their banana clips have to hold fewer than 30 rounds of high velocity ammunition, and barely a peep from the people who used to storm the barricades at the evil machinations of "The Man."

So here we are at the end of 2013, when we reveal our innermost selves via Text or on Twitter and Facebook, but still cling to a few vestiges of privacy, and anything good that happened this year in the area of Civil Liberties, anything that attempted to stem the flood waters pouring through and over our leaky dams of the Bill of Rights- you know, the Fourth Amendment and such- came because of one person with a conscience: Edward Snowden. The rogue former NSA contractor who decided that what was happening was just too much. Kind of like a modern day real-life Norma Rae, who rallied the textile workers in North Carolina in the Sally Field film an eon ago.

So, Edward: here's to you, my Person of the Year. Perhaps a Senator, Congressman, or journalist besides the unmatched Glenn Greenwald will take up your torch and keep the flame of liberty from being snuffed out. Now there's a metaphor to end this reflection. Peace on Earth, good will towards all.