Monday, February 29, 2016

The nuts behind Donald Trump

I almost hate to be writing this, but after watching John Oliver's takedown of Donald Trump, I just can't resist. Oliver nails Trump in almost every way conceivable that is relevant to Trump's viability as a president - not as a candidate - as a president. We get it that Trump is an entertainer, a successful businessman and that he has a commanding lead in the polls and in the primaries so far.

Oliver walks us through the inconsistencies and incongruities of the statements made by Donald Trump over the years and shows us that in many ways, he's not really accountable to others. Oliver goes on to show us that few of us really know what he's thinking and what he's planning for public policy. He raises serious character issues with Trump that cast doubt on his performance as president. Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of is that Trump would like to build a wall on the southern border of the United States. Or that he would like to defeat ISIS. Or that he would like to make America great again. Trump is of course, scant on the details.

After watching Oliver's video and many others, and considering everything that I've read so far, with all the lies and misdirection spouted by Trump, I think I can fairly say that Trump sees this election as sport. He seems to want to see how far he can go and still maintain a fantastic lead in the polls and the primaries. He's testing the boundaries on racism, logic and memory, yet few people who support him can see that he's a con. People who try to confront him to figure out what his plans are will find that his plan is something like, "Trust me, I'll figure it out once I get into office." From economics to foreign policy, it's the same pea soup.

Trump is making overt what we've known for a long, long time. The GOP is racist and the elites in the GOP seem really upset that Trump is making it so overt. I can hear them saying to Trump, "We think you should be quiet now." There is even a mounting campaign to stop Trump. But Trump has so much momentum behind his campaign now, that if they do manage to stop Trump, they could alienate their racist base and lose the White House again, right when they have control of both houses of Congress. If the GOP loves the Southern Strategy, they aren't showing it with Trump.

I kid you not, when I watch Trump with his race baiting, I cannot help but think that the theme song for his campaign should be "Waiting for the Worms" by Pink Floyd. With a few minor modifications for a more American flavor, that song would fit his campaign perfectly.

I've been watching politics for a long time and I cannot believe that the GOP has turned into this circus. But I must believe it because I'm seeing it, day after day, on social media, on the news on TV, everywhere I look.

A Trump presidency would be truly frightening, considering that he's a man who says one thing and then does another. Politifact can't seem to find facts behind anything he says. Economists have had a good laugh at his economic plans. Many people seem to be following him blindly by what he says on camera, not what he says in writing. Trump is a businessman. He knows that contracts should be in writing. If he really means what he says, he'd put it in writing for the rest of us to see. But most of what we get is soundbites on TV. His is a shallow candidacy, it really is.

As John Oliver notes in his monologue, you can hate Cruz or Rubio all you want, but at least you know where they stand. Trump is the great unknown quantity in this election, even as the front-runner for the GOP. What makes him frightening as president is not just what we know about him, it's what we don't know.

As I said before, I almost hate to write this because I would much rather see Trump get the GOP nomination. Hilary or Bernie can beat Trump. But Hilary can't beat anyone else, and Bernie bests Trump by a wider margin in the polls. Alas, Hilary is the presumed nominee for now.

The GOP is now wedded to an actor running for president. But he's not retired. He's just getting started.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Southern Strategy isn't just for the GOP anymore, just ask Hilary

Naked Capitalism pointed me to the essence of the Clinton campaigns in an obscured pattern of racism and pandering. They point to an article from New Economic Perspectives, "A Clinton Presidency Has Been/Would Be a Disaster for Black and Brown Communities. Here’s Why.", that shows a clear pattern of deceit and misdirection about Clinton politics. After reading that article, I have begun to reference The Southern Strategy in my mind whenever I see Hilary talk about being "pragmatic" on the campaign trail.

In a nutshell, when Hilary talks about "pragmatism", what she really means is "take what you can get from the Republicans". And that is exactly what Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. Sure, we had a booming economy then, but that was based on the bubble economy grandfathered in from the Reagan presidency. Clinton made no lasting structural changes that would ensure the economy would sustain itself without a bubble every now and again. Just think stock and housing bubbles to get my drift. That's all they could get from the Republicans. Blacks still faced with very high rates of unemployment can thank the Clintons for all that help.

The Southern Strategy was invented by the GOP as a way to gather the white majority vote in the southern states to the exclusion of the minorities around them. For the GOP, this meant embracing southern racism. For Hilary, this means working with that racism rather than defeating it. If pragmatism means taking what you can get, I hate to think what will happen to minorities if she can't even get that from the White House.

The Southern Strategy works well if you have a white majority. But as far as I can tell, in no more than two generations, whites will become a minority in the United States. Political diminution for whites is almost certain at that point.

In the South Carolina primary election last weekend, Clinton's victory was "overwhelming" and widely supported by the black voters of that state that did bother to vote. Had many of them had a chance to read a more detailed history of the Clinton years and how they work in public policy, they might have formed a different opinion and voted differently. As usual, some in the press are declaring game over, as if to say that we should just shut up and support Hilary Clinton. But that is the mainstream press.

Few in the mainstream press have been brave enough to ask Hilary about her "super-predator" comment so many years ago. Yet one brave young woman had the audacity to get into a $500 a plate fundraiser and declare that she is not a super-predator to Hilary on video. That video has gone viral, but apparently not in time for the South Carolina vote. Take note of how she was quietly escorted out and never really got an answer from Hilary.

Don't worry, you won't see much of anything in the mainstream press about that video, but if you follow places like Reddit, Pinterest and even YouTube, you'll see more of it. In the past, such connections could be easily obscured by the mainstream press. But in the internet age, information routes around damage. Information wants to be free.

I had no idea how subtle racism could be in public policy. I lived through the Clinton presidency as a young adult and never once did I think of them as racist. I guess you could say that I've changed my mind about the Clintons. The mounting evidence will eventually take a toll on the Clinton campaign, for they can't hide it anymore. They can only make excuses and change their behavior.

Fortunately, this election we have an alternative and we are free to exercise that alternative. His name is Bernie Sanders.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The debate over health care boils down to externalization of costs

Common Dreams published an interesting article on the debate over health care. The article was penned by Dr. Don McCanne, senior health policy fellow at Physicians for a National Healthcare Program (PNHP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of 20,000 physicians who support single-payer national health insurance.

The premise of the article is that Hilary Clinton is raising the public option for health care insurance as a diversion from Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan, a single payer plan. Notice that the article is written by a doctor as a senior policy fellow of an organization of doctors with a membership of at least 20,000 strong. That's a large group of doctors who see that the current system is beyond repair and that are actively promoting a single payer system to remove many layers of bureaucracy.

But what is hidden in all the private bureaucracy is profit. It starts as nickels and dimes, coalesces into fivers and tens and eventually turns into an $80 million a year compensation package for an un-elected executive who might be willing to give a large sum to the Clinton campaign. You know, to keep things as they are.

What I see as a sort of subtext to the entire argument is the tendency to shift costs. Dr. McCanne goes into some discussion about the costs we could save with a single payer plan that we would miss with a public option. Namely, those "administrative costs" that pile up on the private side, but somehow seem to be efficiently managed under Medicare. The nugget of the article is the fact that with their lobbying prowess and deep pockets, the health insurance industry is keen to avoid any semblance of a level playing field between the private option and the public option. Guess which side gets the advantage.

Critics are pointing to the deficiencies that a single payer plan would have. They say that we'd lose many of the benefits of the private plans we have now. You mean, like, paying 17% of GDP compared to our counterparts in Asia and Europe that pay something closer to 8-10% GDP? Yeah, that's a benefit, alright. But only if you can externalize the costs.

High ranking officers of health insurance companies bear a disproportionately small share of the costs. Whatever costs they must shoulder, it's only temporary for they can always pass it on to the customer or the government. As long as they can continue this charade, they will continue to retain astronomical salaries at the expense of everyone else. They know that the tax code is complicated enough that few if any would see the loopholes they can exploit.

A single payer plan not only simplifies the health care system, it prevents anyone from escaping the costs and shifting them onto someone else. If everyone has to pay the taxes to support it, with no deductions, and no caps on income, then everyone has incentive to use it fairly and keep the costs low. By making everyone pay into it, with the same tax rate, the risks are distributed, and in the end, will even out.

With the current system, risk is not distributed evenly. Dr. McCanne demonstrates that private insurers will cherry-pick their customers and dump the rest onto higher cost plans or to the government. A single payer plan eliminates that practice.

Not only that, studies have consistently shown that bigger plans tend to be more efficient. This was borne out by a Politifact article on the debate over the efficiency of Medicare, one of the largest insurers in America. Where private insurers have overhead ranging from 7-30% depending on the number of people covered in each plan, Medicare has shown a consistently low overhead of 1.3%. A plan that covers everyone with a single payroll tax or income tax for those who make their money some other way besides working, is going to be far more efficient than the private insurance plan we have now.

A single payer plan would use a single standard for collecting and maintaining the data. Poof. There go the legions of data entry clerks at $40 an hour or more, just to translate billing codes into insurance codes. Every doctor, every hospital would have to use the same standard of billing. This ensures accuracy. The government can then more easily measure the outcomes against the treatment plan as well.

Imagine that the tax imposed to support a single payer plan has no cap, no deduction and is flat. Kinda like Social Security, but without the cap. With everyone paying into it, the plan would be fully funded and risk would be distributed and assumed by everyone paying into it.

As long as insurance executives can privatize the profits while socializing the risks, noting will change. A single payer plan socializes the risks and the dividends from the cost savings.

This is the point of the debate that few if any on the right (including Hilary) are willing to discuss. We are all in this together. We're already 64% of the way there. Let's finish the job.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

If you live in Utah, The Utah presidential preference caucus (not the June primary) is the one that counts for Bernie

The BBC has a very interesting article that puts Donald Trump's win in Nevada in perspective. The state has 2.9 million people, yet only 34,000 people voted. This is roughly 1% of the state population. Why did so few people show up? Perhaps shopping was more appealing that day.

The Democratic primary in Nevada just a few days ago had an estimated turnout of 80,000 people, more than double that of the GOP's primary. So that's a bit more than 2% of the people in the whole state. Maybe those numbers portend a victory for the Democrats in that state next fall. But I do find the low voter turnout for primaries ironic considering how important the right of nomination is.

Utah has roughly the same population as Nevada, at the last census we had 2.8 million people, most of us living along the Wasatch Front. The GOP and the Democrats will both hold caucuses in Utah on March 22nd, so we get a double-header. Trump is still the presumptive nominee in national polling and as such, the casino mogul would make an interesting bedfellow for this Mormon state if he won. But the latest polling shows Cruz leading the field in Utah.

The Democrats are a minority in this state, but our vote still counts. Take a look at how Bernie and Hilary are polling in Utah in the results from the same poll:

Clinton has a definite lead among self-identified Democrats, 51% to 44%. But among all Utahns, Sanders has an overwhelming lead, 41% to 19%. This would suggest that there is a sizable body of independent or at least non-Democrat voters who prefer Sanders over Clinton.

Here's the kicker: The Democratic presidential preference caucus is open to all voters, not just Democrats. Sanders could carry Utah and walk away without any trouble, but we must get out the vote out for the Utah event on March 22nd. 

I suspect a fair number of Republicans will attend both events. Some will attend the Democratic Presidential Preference vote to vote for Bernie as many Republicans seem to believe that Bernie would be easier to beat. On the other hand, the Republican caucus is closed only to registered Republicans so we can only expect registered Republicans to show up there.

Oddly, this presidential preference caucus is a break from tradition. The vote on March 22nd, is the presidential primary, even though there will be a primary election for other offices in June. has the details here.

So if you know of anyone who was planning to wait until June for the Utah primaries, let them know about the Democratic presidential preference caucus on March 22nd - same day registration is allowed too. This is the vote that counts for the delegates at the convention this summer. All we have to do is show up and vote at the caucus to help Bernie win it. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

If the DNC fears Bernie Sanders, it is from a lack of integrity, not funding

The Washington Post is running an interesting article on the reasons why the establishment in the Democratic Party, especially the Democratic National Committee (DNC), fears Bernie Sanders. Reading the article, it's easy to come away thinking that Clinton is doing so much hard work for the party, helping the party do the fundraising. That article goes into some detail about how Obama ran a parallel fundraising network to win the White House at the expense of the Democrats in Congress and in the statehouses. As if to say, going outside the party for fundraising is a bad thing. That is the explicit and stated source of fear among establishment types at the DNC.

It's important to remember what kind of fundraising we're talking about with respect to the DNC and to Hilary Clinton in particular: it's known as "money primary" fundraising. That Washington Post article is sly in their omission of this simple fact. A good chunk of the money raised by Obama was that same "money primary" funding from large corporations and wealthy individuals. Same is true for Clinton.

Some liberals have pointed out that Clinton has been giving money back to the DNC to support those same races in Congress and in the statehouses, where Sanders has not. But if much of that money comes from the same wealthy corporations and individuals, it is a reasonable question to ask if there are strings attached. The unsaid message might well be, "vote like a conservative Democrat".

As noted and well documented by the Sanders campaign and by numerous news sources, Sanders has no SuperPAC, and accepts only small donations from individuals. He will accept no proxy donations as far as we can tell (his site requires users to check a box to confirm that this is just their money and not from somebody else). He has received over 3.7 million donations averaging $27 each, eschewing the big dollar fundraising events bringing in $500-$1000 or more per plate. There are some who say that Sanders has an obligation to share the money he raises with the DNC to assist with fundraising for other Democrats in Congress and statehouses. Given the way the the DNC is working to shield Clinton from Sanders' challenge, I find it hard to believe that Sanders has any such obligation.

It is also worth noting that Clinton won the Nevada primary. Her victory there became obvious early in the day and Sanders conceded the primary. The race was close but it was a clear victory for Clinton, 52.7 to 47.2%. Considering the enormous advantages that Clinton has enjoyed, it was still a close race and it was not the overwhelming victory that the Clinton camp had hoped for. Sanders was also gracious in his concession speech, complimenting her campaign and their efforts.

In her victory speech Hilary once again tries to co-opt the rage and the rebellious spirit of the Sanders' campaign while reminding people of her so-called pragmatism. "Wall Street can never be allowed to threaten Main Street again," she said, in reference to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Conveniently, she omits her husband's role as president in fomenting that same crisis by signing the law that repealed the original Glass-Steagall Act.

The original Glass-Steagall Act separated the commercial banks from investment banking so that the government would not insure risky investments the same way that savings are insured. Repealing that law allowed the mega mergers that in turn allowed the banks to become too big to fail, too big to jail. This is the kind of candidate that the establishment members of the DNC would like to run with?

If so, then yes, the DNC has something to fear from Bernie Sanders and others like him. The Washington Post paints the problem as a funding problem. But as Sanders has shown, it's not just a funding problem. In fact, if you put the right candidates out there - you know, someone with integrity and the ability to get things done - the candidates can often fund themselves. Remove the dark money, and it becomes crystal clear who would prevail in our statehouses and Congress.

To put it differently, compare the typical moderate to the moderates of the 1970s and even 1980s. The modern moderate in Congress or the statehouses looks downright conservative compared to their counterparts of the past. They look a lot like Republicans did three decades ago. Voters faced with such a moderate on the ballot finds there is really not much of a choice to be made, so what do liberals do? They stay home because they don't see the candidates they want fighting for the issues that concern them the most. Clinton is a moderate if not a conservative Democrat if I ever saw one.

This is the predicament most liberals are in. If we're liberal and we do vote, we still vote Democrat, or go independent and look for alternatives like the Green Party. If there is no real choice, staying home or going shopping seems more appealing.

If Clinton wins the nomination, this is the problem that the DNC will face: low voter turnouts. Democrats lose when voter turnouts are low. That's been proven in almost every modern election, and should go without saying because it drives the point of this post home. Sanders is bringing out the votes. He set a record in New Hampshire and got the highest tally of votes of any primary candidate in history in New Hampshire.

Sanders has coattails that can bring in the votes in a way that Clinton cannot. She's tried. God knows she's tried. She not polling well against any of the GOP candidates, where Sanders defeats them all. Sanders will bring independent voters to the polls where Clinton cannot. Clinton has trust issues where Sanders does not.

If Clinton wins the nomination and the voter turnout is low in November, we need only look to Clinton and her hollow victory in the primaries. A Sanders nomination would invigorate every Democrat running for Congress and every statehouse. Liberals would once again feel that they have a meaningful choice in the polls.

This is the choice that the DNC is asking us to make. Fortunately, they don't get to make that choice for us. Sanders lost the Nevada primary by 5.5 points. In 2008, Obama lost by 6.

And they told me the reason to vote for Hilary was electability

There is a sea change in the polls. Sanders has taken the lead in 3 national polls. He is closing gaps in the states where the primaries are getting close. Clinton and her buds are getting nervous. They would like her to win it without a big fight. If Sanders were not there, we'd have to accept her. But Sanders is not only crashing the party. He's standing on a chair giving a speech. Sanders polls far better against all Republicans than Clinton does. In some polls he wins where Hilary loses.

What we're seeing is nothing short of astonishing.

I also see that he's running ads in Nevada with Latino endorsements from ordinary people who just want to live and work in peace. For those who say he has no appeal to anyone but white guys, watch the ad. You just can't fake that kind of expression from people who are not actors.

All Latinos (who says he only appeals to older white males?), most female, but the expressions, the words, the feelings displayed in the ad are quite genuine. It's all positive. It's a great example of a positive ad that says nothing about the opponent and everything about this candidate and his desire to work for the rest of us. The 1%? They already have their candidates.

When we started out, they told us that as much as we might agree with Sanders, Hilary has the name recognition, she has the experience and she has the money to win the election. At the start, Sanders had virtually none of this. Now he has erased much of her lead, since, winning one primary and tying another. The big liberal states will try to play it like Hilary still has a strong lead. But Sanders got 85,000 signatures when they only required 5,000 in New York. He'll be on the ballot there, won't he?

Now I see that there is something even worse than being a socialist (which Sanders is not). Being untrustworthy. At least, as far as the electorate is concerned. I remember a rather visceral debate I had with someone a few months ago on this very point. He said that the Republicans are not going to be nice if he wins the nomination and will be calling him a socialist anywhere and anytime they can (like that has ever worked in 14 elections won by Sanders so far). My opponent in that debate sent me a link to a poll to show that socialists finish dead last among the heap of other types of people. Faring worse than Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish and even atheist. 

But there is one thing missing from that poll. Trust. Hilary has flopped so many times that no one really knows what she stands for anymore. She seems willing to say anything to get elected, and she has even tried to co-opt some of the outrage and pain that Sanders can easily tap into – honestly. Sanders has walked our walk. He flies coach. He drives his own car (well, maybe not so much now with Secret Service protection). He's not a millionaire living high on the hog like nearly ever other senator in Congress.

Clinton? Her family foundation has taken in $3 billion over 40 years. The Clintons have made more than $153 million in speaking fees alone. They have it made in many ways that have passed by the middle class. They really don't seem at all in touch with the middle class. With all that money, it's hard for them to know our pain. Our struggle. We're not asking for much, Hilary. We want to enjoy the prosperity that comes with the wealth we create, too.

That's what Bernie Sanders represents to us.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where are the Democratic endorsements coming from?

The ground is full of political movement in Virginia. The Washington Post has an interesting article describing how a sitting governor of Virginia and fundraising star for the Clintons is pulling out all the stops to ensure the he can "deliver the state" to Hilary. The story is replete with examples of ordinary people talking about how they're going to vote for Hilary. It is also heavy with examples of government officials, including the governor, working for and endorsing Hilary.

On the other hand, young Clinton supporters are getting "the look" when they wear their Hilary t-shirts at school or at social functions. That look says that it's not cool to go with Hilary. Apparently, they're calling support for Bernie Sanders a fad. Oh, and the Clinton supporters are saying that Bernie is promising free stuff to everyone. Sorry, kids. It's not free. It's paid for with taxes. Even Bernie will admit that on his website and in the legislation he's written and sponsored in Congress. But someone isn't telling the kids that Sanders knows and has said all along that what he is proposing is paid for with taxes.

Virginia is one of the biggest states for delegates in the coming weeks. Each candidate needs delegates to win the nomination at the convention. The more votes they get at the primary, the more delegates they get for the nomination. Both camps are working hard to swing Virginia in their favor. Notably, Sanders has been closing a seemingly insurmountable lead maintained by Clinton. But it is apparent to both camps that if the millenials come out to vote, there is a very real possibility that Sanders could win that state. It might even be a bit of an embarrassment for Clinton if there were a tie.

That is what I could glean from one Washington Post article. But I began to wonder, how have they done with endorsements from elected officials? A casual search turned up this page, the FiveThirtyEight website has compiled a tally of endorsements for all candidates here. To look at the score between Clinton and Sanders is actually rather startling. Clinton has 462 and Sanders has 2.

From that, we're supposed to think that Clinton is the better candidate? Looks more like the Clinton supporters are circling their wagons to ensure a victory. Remember that these endorsements are from Democratic Party elites. Most if not all of them have played the money primary game. You know, they go to the millionaires and billionaires and ask for money. For years if not decades, those party elites have been listening to the wealthy rather than the rest of us.

This is something to remember when looking at endorsements. If they're taking big money for their campaigns, they're probably not listening to the rest of us. Bernie isn't taking big money from anyone except in increments averaging around $27. While Bill and Hilary attend $500 or $1000 a plate fundraisers, Bernie is filling stadiums with ordinary people who don't have very much money, and they just want an economy that works for everyone. That is the defining difference between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The subtext of the health care debate is about externalizing costs

There is some interesting discussion and very meaningful debate on the subject of health care costs. Now that we're actually talking about it in the Democratic debates leading up to the primaries, the press and analysts are taking a hard look at the plans being offered by Clinton and Sanders. Where Sanders has a Medicare for All plan, Clinton proposes a more incremental approach.

During the most recent Democratic debates, there was a lot of discussion over details. Clinton made repeated demands for the details, yet a review of her own website reveals a plan scant on details, but clear on the principles she would follow if elected as president. Sanders has introduced legislation that describes what his vision of universal health care would be and that vision has already had much more criticism and vetting than the Clinton plan.

To be fair to both candidates, we're talking about broad proposals that will have details hammered out in committees with everyone jockeying for positions and votes. By most conventional measures, each member of Congress will want to be seen in the best light possible to their constituents and their campaign donors. So at this point, it is hard to say what the details are going to be in the end.

There are more than a few places we can go to look at the costs and how we're going to pay for it. US Uncut has a broad analysis here of Sanders' plan. That analysis is largely based on Politifact's analysis here. Politifact makes an interesting end note to their analysis:
"Keep in mind each dollar saved is a reduction in someone’s income, which is part of why this plan is politically untenable," said Don Taylor, a professor of health policy at Duke University. "But if you could wave your hand and do it, we could spend less."
Where Sanders says that health care should be a right to everyone, Clinton qualifies her statement to say that affordable health care is a basic human right. Clearly, Clinton is portraying herself as pragmatic by making a subtle acknowledgement that someone expects to be paid for their services and that the people who use that service should realize the costs of the care they receive. We get it, Hilary.

Politifact also offers a not so subtle hint as to the political reality of how hard it will be to wring inefficiency out of our healthcare system:
Joseph Antos, a health policy economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "The kind of money he’s talking about goes way beyond any plausible guess about how much inefficiency can be ‘wrung out of the system’ — a phrase that makes one think this should be easy when it is very difficult to do."
Notice who is saying that there is only so much we can do to make health care more efficient, a health policy economist at a conservative think thank. Again, we're talking about the prospect of reducing someone else's income.

The problem with the current system is that it allows someone to externalize their costs upon someone else. America has one of the most privatized health care systems in the world and we're paying more for it. Yet, Politifact acknowledges what economists are saying consistently, that single payer systems are more efficient.

Who is most resistant to the changes proposed by Sanders now and Clinton back in 1993 when she proposed her health care for all plan then? Doctors, Big Pharma and device makers. Economist Dean Baker seems to have nailed that down pretty well in this article, and he notices a certain bias in the press in terms of where scrutiny is applied. For some reason, Clinton gets a pass where Sanders has to pony up details.

One of the details missed entirely in the debates is the amount of government protection that the health care industry receives from the government. They get patent protection for their drugs and devices. Then they get protection from international competition by limiting the number of people who can practice medicine. Really, if health care were about supply and demand, that should be part of the debate, but it's not. Probably because there are vested interests who would prefer to leave any discussion of all that protection out of televised debates.

By sticking with a private insurance system and providing generous "tax expenditures" for wealthy doctors, pharmaceuticals and device manufacturers, the health care industry can externalize their costs onto the rest of us. Have lawyers pay less tax, right?

To put it differently, the basis for the argument that people should have co-pays is so that they realize that there is a cost to the services they received so that the service is not over-utilized. That's fine, but not if the people who provide those products and services are setup to be immune from their own abuse of the system.

This is the problem that is addressed in universal health care. Universal health care means that everyone pays, regardless of tax bracket. That means there is no way to shift the costs onto someone else without economic penalty. This is clearly stated in the policies proposed by Sanders so far. The taxes are fairly flat, and there are no deductions for them, no further qualifications. Everyone pays.

Just in case anyone hasn't noticed, the entire inequality debate is about allowing one party to shift costs onto someone else without penalty. Now it is time to bring this simple point to the front of the debates, front and center.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Merger mania makes the case for community broadband

You might remember the attempted Comcast/Time-Warner cable merger of last year. Intense public and government pressure eventually forced the two companies to abort the merger. As the merger went through the review process, it became clear that Comcast and TWC together, would be a media behemoth, far too big for the regulators to regulate much less understand. The public became aware that such a merger would leave us with fewer choices, higher prices and the same service or worse.

But there is another merger on the horizon: Charter Communications, Brighthouse Networks and Time-Warner Cable. Former FCC chairman Michael Kopps, has an op-ed piece at Moyers and Company that sheds some light on this deal. It's the deal that no one in Washington is talking about. I guess no one is talking about it because there is a fervent hope that we could have two Comcasts instead of one.

The merger-mania is a reflection of the absurd desire on the part of the board of directors in all of these companies for a private monopoly. Sure, they talk a good game about the free market, but the reality is, they have no desire for a free market.

Comcast is not only a cable company, they are a media company with ownership of NBC and Universal Studios. Time-Warner includes Warner Bros and numerous other content producers, cable networks and so on. Merge them with Charter and Brighthouse, and then they're talking about owning 70% of the high speed internet market. A free market is not what they're after. A cornered market is much closer to the mark they seek.

Incumbent ISPs like TWC, Comcast, ATT and Verizon have huge financial incentives not to provide service. You'd think that these companies would want to provide service to everyone they could reach. But they won't. Their business model is scarcity, not abundance.

In Tennessee, communities near Chattanooga are begging their legislature to repeal a law specifically designed to inhibit competition. Chattanooga is home to one of the fastest ISPs in the country, the Electric Power Board (EPB). EPB provides gigabit service to their residents for a cost of $70 a month. That's one gigabit up and down. While many of us have speeds like 20 or 50 Mb/s (that's megabits per second), the EPB is offering 1,000 Mb/s. They are leaps and bounds faster than most incumbent telecoms and much, much more affordable. The EPB is a shining example of what we call community broadband.

Yet, there are towns close to Chattanooga that don't have any internet access. Many of them are using dial-up modems. So why aren't the telecoms bringing them better service? There is no incentive for them to do it. And the state laws in Tennessee prevent the EPB from expanding service to the neighboring cities as well as prevent those communities from building their own. Despite appeals from those communities without EPB service, the legislature refuses to listen to them. That's because big money from the telecom giants says no, you can't have better service.

Just as an interesting side note, at the University College London, they are building the hardware for the future. They have simplified the design of the optical receiver, making it easier and cheaper to manufacture and to bring fiber to every home and business. They are planning for a future where the average home connection is about 5-10 Gb/s (that's gigabits per second). But if the mega-merger cable companies have their way, it won't be happening here. The cable companies top out at 300 Mb/s on their copper lines and they don't want to cut into executive salaries by rolling out fiber.

More than 450 cities and towns across the nation have adopted community broadband and all of them have profited handsomely. The dividends to each resident include high speeds with reliable service at a reasonable cost. But there is one other feature that hasn't been highlighted by any of the articles I've read on the subject. Community broadband can't be bought in a merger because it's more than an economic matter, it's a political one. Unless the community consents, it ain't gonna happen.

No matter who buys who, community broadband will still be there, serving their communities, listening to their subscribers and providing consistently better service than their private and national counterparts. If you're with Comcast, you know what I'm talking about. Just this week, Comcast had a major service interruption that affected millions of subscribers across the nation. You know how it is, monopoly loves misery.

The internet was built as a peer to peer network. It was initially designed to be a communications network that could survive a nuclear war and it routes around damage. The people who promote and profit from industry consolidation seem to forget that. They forget that if one entity owns a large swath of the network, more people are affected by an outage.

Community broadband networks are peer to peer. No one network has an advantage over another. They treat each other with respect and work together. They are not competing against each other. Unlike private ISPs they are not competing with their customers, either. They cannot be bought because they're owned by the people, and work for the people, not some distant and aloof CEO in the corner office of a New York high rise.

This latest merger gives us one more reason why we need to consider community broadband. Having a public option will keep the private options honest. The public option of community broadband guarantees internet access for all who are served by it where the private ISPs fail. Why? Because the interests of the community are at the heart of the business for community broadband.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Foreign policy: Sanders, Clinton, Kissinger and the debates

It is interesting to watch the demeanor of the candidates at the debates. Where Sanders is impassioned and tends to stay on message and one message, Clinton is calm, collected and firm. I kid you not, Clinton has a certain appeal about her. In the PBS debate, her makeup was perfect, her yellow smock directed attention to her face and never once stumbled while speaking. Sanders did a lot of ums, and ahs. His hair seemed to go into chaos in direct proportion to the feelings that he had.

It's almost as if Clinton is betting on her composure to win the debate rather than the substance. Sanders is clearly uncomfortable on the subject of foreign policy. He appeared to me, at least in the last two debates I watched (MSNBC here and PBS here), clearly not on his game when it comes to foreign policy. Clinton, having been Secretary of State, was all over it. She had well prepared responses, she was confident. Her composure is appealing, but there something not quite right.

This despite the fact that Sanders has a rather sober view of foreign policy. He doesn't believe unilateral action and that if we're going to act, we will do that as a part of a coalition of countries working together. Not mentioned in the debates is Lawrence Korb, a man who has spent many decades being involved in foreign policy. I bring him up because Sanders brought him up. Korb was kind enough to write an article on Politico pointing out how serious Sanders is on foreign policy.

Korb is not exactly a hawk or a dove, but he's served in the Reagan Administration. He's served the Council on Foreign Relations. He's worked to eliminate discrimination of gays and lesbians in the military. He was critical of Bush's invasion of Iraq. He doesn't even come close to professing the "confidence" that Clinton exhibits.

I read somewhere, a long time ago, that confidence will do you no good. I had someone tell me that, too. I first heard that when I first set foot in a sheet metal shop. In a sheet metal shop, it's easy to lose fingers. Daydream for a second and a finger comes off. Get a little too confident and injury is swift and merciless.

George W. Bush was confident, too. Early into the Iraq War, he's on a navy ship, declaring mission accomplished. Years later, I'm reading stories about how contractors were surrounded in their SUV, dragged from their vehicle, beaten, shot, dismembered and their body parts were hung from wires overhead. Yeah, that's confidence. Hilary voted for that war, Sanders did not. I guess 900,000 dead Iraqis is how some people accomplish peace.

The PBS debate really turned around when the subject turned to Kissinger. Sanders mentioned that he had read one of Clinton's books where Clinton expresses admiration for Henry Kissinger. Now I don't know that much about Kissinger, but after doing some reading and reflecting on Sanders' comments in the PBS debate, it became clear what I see in Clinton.

And then there is China. Kissinger played a central role in opening up trade relations with China. If you want to know how we got the ball rolling, Kissinger was the man who pushed the ball. Sure, lets open up China and send a bunch of manufacturing jobs there. China now owns a large portion of our debt to keep the dollar strong, and to keep the trade deficits big. That in turn undermines our unions, our wages and our economy. Kissinger, in his trade policies, probably did more to wipe out the middle class in America than anyone else on foreign policy front.

To me, the defining difference in foreign policy is Kissinger. Clinton admires Kissinger and calls him a friend where Sanders does not. Kissinger is a big fan of interventionist foreign policy. That's where we go around the world attempting to mold it in our image. Fomenting wars, conflict and disruption is big business. Dan Froomkin at The Intercept has briefly inventoried Kissinger's long, long history of interventionist foreign policy. He also points out that Kissinger is not exactly a liberal. C'mon! Clinton admires a known war criminal? This is not someone I want working behind the scenes with our president.

So yeah, I see that Sanders is not all that confident in foreign policy. I don't want someone who is confident on foreign policy as commander in chief. I want someone who is aware that too much confidence can result in the loss of a finger. Maybe two.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Clinton frames Sanders as a single issue candidate

I'm watching the debates again and reading articles about them. It's good to see that the DNC has relaxed and allowed more debates. After the PBS debate on February 11thsomeone noticed that Hilary has finally found an argument against Bernie Sanders. Apparently, she's been struggling to find this for a long, long time. Yet, she still doesn't explain why we should vote for her. She wants to build on what progress we've made already, but most people are not content with that. We want something more.

The argument, it seems is that Bernie Sanders is a single issue candidate. Really? Sanders has proposals for health care reform, Wall Street reform, rebuilding our infrastructure, free public education and the list goes one. He's got some great ideas on foreign policy, too. One look at his home page on Congress and his campaign will tell you that he's been a pretty busy guy.

Yes, Sanders talks about Wall Street a lot. In many of his responses in the debates, he brings it up. In his opening statement in the PBS debate, he talked about the corrupt campaign finance system and how the money decides what the country will do. He is telling us that until that changes, nothing else will change. So yeah, if you want to call Sanders a single issue candidate, this is the single most important issue we face right now. No other reforms will come before this one.

This is the point that is very conveniently missed by Hilary. She would like to talk about everything else but campaign finance reform. As if somehow, we'll build on the progress we've made before we can make serious reforms to how our elections are financed. But she knows that is not going to happen. CNN has a story to documented 153 million reasons why a Clinton presidency is not going to see real campaign finance reform. It's hard to argue for reform when you've taken money from so many interests who don't want to see reform.

If Sanders is a single issue candidate, Clinton doesn't express much interest in discussing that issue.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What happens when you're declared too liberal and run for president? You just might win.

I see in the news that Dianne Feinstein and her allies in Congress have big plans for Bernie Sanders. They're planning in the coming weeks to highlight evidence to show that Bernie Sanders is too liberal to win the White House. That's like saying, "I'm a progressive, but hey, I'm not *that* progressive." It turns out that Clinton has "an extensive network of contacts" in Congress that will help to show the American people that Sanders is just too much for us. I guess they're really worried that Republicans might call him a "socialist" should he win the nomination. Right. Like that ever worked.

The power of the Clinton campaign showed up after Clinton suffered a withering loss in the New Hampshire primary. After losing 60% to 38%, Clinton will come away with the same number of delegates as Sanders. Why? Because the superdelegates came to her rescue, vowing to ensure that she gets her turn to be president. Sounds pretty democratic, huh?

Who exactly are the superdelegates? They're high ranking members of the Democratic Party. Congressmen, state legislators, and high ranking party officials. After getting routed in 2008, Clinton has learned her lesson and worked hard to ensure that she gets the lion's share of superdelegates. It is estimated that she already has 95% of the superdelegates pledged to her. She now understands the superdelegate problem.

So the boomers are lecturing those young millenials about supporting Sanders. I'm a boomer, but i was born at the tail end. I guess I didn't get the memo. Anyway, they're telling us that Sanders is just way too liberal. They're telling us Sanders supporters that eventually we're going to cave and have to settle for Clinton. Really, just calm down. We're not ready for someone like Sanders, right?

So some of the millienials have responded. Like this: TO ALL THE BABY BOOMERS LECTURING US ABOUT SUPPORTING BERNIE SANDERS. That is a long list describing how the millenials are getting screwed by the boomers. It's sorta like saying, I got mine, good luck getting yours. By the way, don't forget to clean up the earth on your way out.

So the subtext to the message from Hilary is this: Look, I'm a pragmatist and I have tons of experience. It may not be completely relevant to running the country, but I got experience. And it's my turn! This my third run at president and it's my turn! Now get out of my way and no one gets hurt. Really, you can settle down now because you're not even going to show up in the general election for your man Sanders. By the way, did I mention that he's a socialist?

This is what disenfrachisement looks like by design. Sanders loses the Iowa caucus by less than 1% of the vote and some of that went to a few coin tosses. He wins big in New Hampshire and superdelegates come to the rescue to even it up. He's going up against an extensive network of Clinton contacts who are absolutely sure they have this one in the bag. No matter what happens, Clinton is going to win. Really? Is that what a democracy looks like?

Bill Maher is probably right. If you don't get the fish, eat the chicken. That is to say, if Hilary wins the nomination, yes, I will vote her over anyone else in the GOP Clown Car. But until she wins, I will be writing, pushing and pulling for Sanders to win it. I'm not the only one. There are Democrats who would rather hold their nose and risk four years of a Republican president than to vote for Clinton. I'm not one of them. But they want Sanders to win like I want Sanders to win.

There is also this revolutionary campaign funding system built by Bernie's team. It's being used to defy the money primary and it's working better than anyone dreamed. Since the New Hampshire primary, they've raised $6 million in small donations, most of it in the first 24 hours after the primary closed it's doors. The one thing that the establishment was not expecting was a campaign funded by the people, for the people. That energy is what brings people to the polls.

I will be there. At the caucus. At the primary. At the general election. Voting for Sanders all the way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blockchain voting could spell the end of electronic voter disenfranchisement

As some of you may have noticed, I've been on the subject of disenfranchisement of late. Disenfranchisement is more than denying the right to vote. It is also stealing the votes. There are numerous articles on the problems posed by black box electronic voting. Ten year old machines using Windows that are easily hacked is one really big way that people are disenfranchised. And when the CEO of the machine manufacturer promises to deliver the votes to the Bush campaign, you know there is a problem.

I've taken notice of this problem here, here and here. I've also advocated for an open source voting system on this blog numerous times and still believe that our best hope for a truly accountable voting system is in open source software. but knowing what I know about databases, I know that the temptation exists to alter the results of the election by whatever means possible.

When we use voting machines with a proprietary operating system such as Windows, we're using a voting machine running on code that few people outside of the manufacturer's offices have seen. A voting machine manufacturer could easily throw the election one way or another with a simple update to the machine. Or, as in the case of the Advanced Voting Solutions, make a machine so easy to hack, it will take your breath away.

So I did some more research and found a very interesting solution to the problem of election fraud with electronic voting. it's called blockchain voting. A blockchain is a public transaction ledger that is hardened against tampering. Cryptography is used to verify the contents and to add new contents as each block in the chain is added. It is peer to peer, meaning that a large group of computers are used to reach a consensus on the current state of the blockchain, and that means it's a public database. It is the basis for numerous transaction systems where exchanges of value are made, such as Bitcoin, an electronic currency.

There is a growing interest in the concept of blockchains and even Wall Street is seeing value in it. In other words, people are willing to invest money into it and use it to store value for purchases. The reason for this is simple. Applying cryptography to a transaction database system means that breaking the system is very difficult. If you alter one block in the chain, all subsequent blocks in the chain are invalidated. And of course, every other computer with a copy of the database would know this, too. Defeating a blockchain system for personal gain at the expense of all others is very, very difficult.

To put this in perspective, to use brute force to break encryption on 256-bit AES encryption, that is to use every possible combination of characters to guess the passcode, would require the energy of years of output from our sun. It's not just a question of energy, but of time. Encryption is to me, one of those mathematical wonders of mankind. It doesn't take very much energy to encrypt information, but if you lose the password, you're toast.

A blockchain is a public database so that anyone could verify it's contents. But it's also verified using the principles of encryption to ensure that it cannot be altered. The costs of changing it after the fact are very high. You can read more about the basic principles of how it works here. You can watch a video on how blockchains work here.

The point is, we now have a mathematical system that can record transactions, verify their existence, and be resistant to fraud upon the system.

So it is with a sigh of relief that I am finding more than one system being proposed to use blockchains to record votes. The Brave New Coin website suggests that we could have blockchain voting machines ready by 2016. Well, that didn't happen, but the word is starting to get out. There is even a startup called, Follow My Vote, proffering a very secure and verifiable voting system. From registration, to voting to counting, every transaction is recorded to a blockchain. Since the block chain is recorded by many peer computers, it is nearly impossible to commit fraud on the system without every other peer noticing. You can watch their demo here. The votes can also be kept secret so that your vote is secure, as it should be.

One thing that struck me is the age of the presenter in those videos for Follow My Vote (yes, they have more than a few of them on YouTube). He is a millenial, and that to me suggests that there are millenials who get it that there are some very serious problems to solve in this and other countries. The problem of creating a very secure and accountable voting system may have been solved. But the millenials give me hope that they are up to other challenges like global warming, pollution and overpopulation.

It is not enough to take the big money out of politics. We have to remove the opportunity and incentive to steal elections. Blockchain voting represents a very real hope that future elections will be secure and accountable to the people they serve. Blockchain voting guarantees that our voices will be heard at the polling booth. Implementing it is only a matter of political will.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Lloyd Blankfein is the epitome of disenfranchisement

Reader Supported News is running an article by Matt Taibbi with some very interesting commentary about Lloyd Blankfein. While the article goes into significant detail about the mindset behind the bailouts, what is noted here is how Blankfein thinks that the Sanders' campaign is "a very dangerous moment". Blankfein is expressing concern that he was singled out by Bernie Sanders in a recent debate.

But I don't think that it's such a "dangerous moment" for the reasons that Blankfein says that it is. What isn't said by Blankfein is that Sanders completely defied the money primary in this election, and 14 other elections that he has won before running in this one. Blankfein is a billionaire who sees a campaign contribution as chump change to get what he wants. He can buy a law if he wants to. He has the right of nomination.

At least, he did have the right of nomination until Sanders came along to show him that he didn't. Sanders is just running on money from small donations from millions of people. No SuperPAC to act as a sluice for channeling money for favors. No billionaire support. Just him, asking for money to support his campaign for the highest office in the land.

What is also interesting is that Blankfein doesn't want to make an endorsement. From the same article:
He added that he didn't want to pick a candidate because "I don't want to help or hurt anybody by giving an endorsement."
This despite paying Hilary Clinton $675,000 in speaking fees for three speeches. Taibbi wonders if this must be part of the $30 million in speaking fees that both Hilary and Bill Clinton were paid in the last 16 months. That is a huge chunk of change from some very wealthy donors. They couldn't possibly expect something in return for that money, could they?

If they do, and if Hilary should happen to succeed in her quest to assert that it's her turn to be president, and she returns the favor, then we have another problem. it's call disenfranchisement. I used to think that disenfranchisement is just the denial of the right to a vote. But it's more than that.

Prior to the American Revolution for Independence, "taxation without representation" was a common theme in American politics. The colonies knew that they were not being fairly represented in the British Parliament. Their voices were not heard. But they were paying a tax to the Crown. They were...there's another word for it, but I'll just say that they were disenfranchised.

In the same vein, when a wealthy interest makes a large campaign contribution to someone in Congress, or in the statehouse, even for a state in which he should happen to live, there is an expectation for something in return. If the representative votes for bills that support the cause of the donor over the cause of everyone else, that is disenfranchisement.

Was the representative voted into office by the people? Sure. If the people are engaged with that representative about an issue and they let their views be known by the representative, does the representative have a duty to listen and follow their will? Yes. If the representative does not listen to the majority of the people he said he would serve when he ran for office, that is disenfranchisement.

To put if very bluntly, If a wealthy campaign donor can subvert the vote of the representative for his own purposes, that donor is disenfranchising everyone else. That means that everyone else's vote doesn't matter when money walks into the room.

The black slaves that came to this country for much of its history were denied the right to vote. They knew what disenfranchisement looks like. It would seem that Blankfein is letting us know that the scope of disenfranchisement is now much larger than it used to be. Blankfein would really appreciate it if we would all just settle down and accept the fact that this country has become an oligarchy.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Disenfranchisement in the realm of broadband

DSL Reports has noticed an interesting position taken by ATT. In a nutshell, ATT says that government subsidies are good for them, but not so good for community broadband. 

People in Tennessee are wondering how it is that ATT can take billions in government subsidies while fighting the expansion of taxpayer assisted broadband in the state. Tennessee is home to the vaunted city of Chattanooga, a city with a government owned network that provides gigabit access to the internet for $70 per month. That's 1 Gb/s up and down. The network is run by the Electric Power Board and is one of the fastest ISPs in the nation. The EPB did this long before incumbents like Comcast and ATT finally figured out that the demand was there.

ATT's response? Lobby the legislature to make it harder for cities to build their own networks. They also lobbied the legislature to make it impossible for the EPB to expand it's service to neighboring cities. ATT prevailed by providing ample campaign contributions to the members of the legislature. Despite numerous calls to repeal those onerous laws, the legislature is still not listening. It's that easy money thing, clouding their judgement in the legislature.

DSL Reports has rightly called out ATT for buying laws outright to protect its monopoly power. While ATT tries to paint the battle as one between private enterprise and government, ATT conveniently leaves out the subsidies and franchise agreements that support their monopoly.

DSL Reports has also noticed that this is no longer a partisan issue. Even some Republicans in Tennessee now agree that the laws that prohibit the expansion of EPB service and the adoption of community broadband elsewhere need to go. One Republican is now calling ATT the villain in this story.

But there is a much bigger issue here. DSL Reports notes that:
But last year the FCC decided to jump into the debate and try to dismantle AT&T's protectionist law, saying it conflicted with the FCC's goal of ensuring timely broadband deployment. Nudged by AT&T, Tennessee quickly sued the FCC, claiming the agency was violating states' rights (that AT&T is allowed to write state laws and ignore citizen rights is apparently ok).
When the legislature ignores the people and favors the people with the money, what do we call that? The men and women in the legislature who are ignoring the will of the people were voted into office by the people they serve. Yet, who do they serve? ATT. Does ATT live in that state? They're a corporation with headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Does ATT profit by the rules set by the Tennessee legislature? Sure.

A champion of States Rights has weighed in on the issue, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Ms. Blackburn would have us believe that this is a purely philosophical issue:
"We don't need unelected federal agency bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can't do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars and private enterprises. As a former state senator from Tennessee, I strongly believe in states' rights. I found it deeply troubling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt states' rights when it comes to the role of state policy over municipal broadband."
I guess it's OK for Ms. Blackburn if unelected corporate officials tell the states what to do instead. Perhaps she was persuaded to take her position by the money she received from the corporations that support her campaign as noted by The Escapist Magazine:
Could a fierce defense of state rights be at the heart of Blackburn's protest? Sure, but it could also have just as much to do with her campaign contributions. Two of Rep. Blackburns top contributors in 2012 and 2014? Verizon Communications, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. While the bulk of her campaign contributions come from individuals, she's raised over $190,000 from "TV/Movie/Music" companies in this election cycle, and the 2012 cycle.
So Blackburn can take cover in a philosophical issue while taking huge sums of money from the firms set to profit most from the status quo. Did the people of Tennessee send her to Congress to do that? Judging by the calls to repeal the anti-municipal broadband laws in her own state, I don't think so.

When corporate money gets involved in politics that's a problem. When legislators refuse to listen to their constituents as a silent nod to their corporate benefactors, that's disenfranchisement. People who are disenfranchised are denied the right to a voice in deciding their collective fate. Isn't that slavery?

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Bernie is the only candidate willing to say it: there shall be no other reforms before campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig is one of my favorite guys in politics. He is the first to actually say it: There shall be no other reforms before campaign finance reform. Larry is the founder of, a SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. He was, very briefly, running for president, too. The single purpose of is to elect members of Congress who pledge to pass legislation for meaningful campaign finance reform.

Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate that I see willing to make same observation on national TV in a live debate:
TODD: Immigration reform, for instance, fell by the wayside in the first term because of this.
SANDERS: ... I am absolutely supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship for 11 million people today who are living in the shadows. All right? We got to do that.
But you miss -- when you looked at the issues, you missed two of the most important. And that is you're not going to accomplish what has to be done for working families and the middle class unless there is campaign finance reform. (emphasis mine)
Larry Lessig caught this statement and posted it on his Facebook page with a link to his Tumblr account. That exchange took place during the MSNBC Debate held on December 4th, 2015. You can watch that debate on YouTube. You can also read the transcript to the debate here.

So let's see how we can put the persuasive power of money into perspective. Most of us feel compelled to work for money, as it should be. We know that our lives are better when we are of service to others. On the flip side, most of us also know that we should be fairly compensated for our services.

But we also know that money can cloud our judgement. Coming into a lot of money can make one giddy, excited and even frightened. Money makes it easier to justify pollution, violence and corrupt actions. When we use money to justify damage to ourselves or our environment, we have a problem.

A case in point was brought to my attention on Google+. Someone had posted a link to a story at the New York Post about a pardon issued by Bill Clinton in his final days as president. During his last day in office, he pardoned Marc Rich, an oil trader with a long list of offenses including buying $200 million of oil during the hostage crisis in 1979. He has sold oil to several well known despots as well. Rich became one of the most wanted men in the world for his crimes.

As the article noted:
What bothered so many was that Clinton’s clemency to Rich reeked of payoff. In the run-up to the presidential pardon, the financier’s ex-wife Denise had donated $450,000 to the fledgling Clinton Library and “over $1 million to Democratic campaigns in the Clinton era.”
And that was just the start. The article reads like a dossier of money for favors over several decades. Even Bill Clinton would admit that the pardon was a mistake. Most people might forgive him for that, except the money for favors parade could not be stopped. Once the taste of easy money comes, it's hard to stop coming back for more. Speaking fees, donations to a family foundation and direct campaign contributions are hard to ignore.

The Clinton's aren't the only politicians susceptible to quid pro quo politics. This story represents politics as usual on the right and on the left. It is the bane of American politics because it disguises bribes as campaign contributions. Every bribe is a direct action to disenfranchise every other voter.

Wait a minute. Did I just use the word, "disenfranchise"? Weren't the slaves "disenfranchised"? They were indeed denied a voice in government. To disenfranchise voters is to deny them the right to decide their collective fate. With slaves that was obvious. With voters? Not so much.

So when I see Bernie Sanders willing to point out the need for campaign finance reform very explicitly and very publicly, I see a man who is apparently not willing to take money for favors.

Some would point to a SuperPAC that has been running ads in favor of Bernie Sanders as an indictment of his character. But taken in the context of this election, that SuperPAC is not being used to take money for favors. That money just comes from a union of working nurses who would like to see Bernie Sanders as president. Still, some say that Bernie Sanders has benefited more from outside money than Clinton. Still others beg to differ.

Can Bernie Sanders stop other people from forming a superPAC to support him? Probably not. Would he interpret that support as a bribe? Not likely. Not considering his unvarnished interpretation of the Citizens United ruling.

At least he is willing to call a spade a spade on national TV in a live debate, without a script. It is time for Americans to realize that for all the talk of reform on the left and the right, unless we get campaign finance under control, with a clear, easy to read anti-corruption act, all other reforms will remain supremely hard to achieve. If there was any candidate more capable and willing to reform campaign finance than Bernie Sanders, that person hasn't said much about it.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A little known fact about Ted Cruz - he was central to stealing the 2000 election for George Bush

I came across yet another interesting meme and it looks like this:


Until the day that I found this meme, I had read all of the statements in it somewhere before, except for the very last one. Huh? Cruz was the lawyer who helped to steal the election for George W. Bush? I remember seeing pictures of Bush in a motorcade on the way to the White House. I remember seeing the street lined with people who were not celebrating this new president. They were protesting. Estimates put that crowd to be somewhere around 10,000 people.

So, I didn't know that Ted Cruz went that far back in American history, and this fact is not widely publicized or mentioned in the current round of debates. Heck, in all the reading I've done so far on this election until now, no one has even mentioned this one interesting fact. I wanted to know more.

So I did a search and found this article on the same subject from the website of one of the oldest publications in the United States, The Nation. Note the publication date: July 28, 2015. That article is great and well worth the read. But what is really interesting is the network that Cruz was a part of that did the job. From the article:
Ted Cruz, a 29-year-old domestic-policy adviser on the Bush campaign at the time and a former law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, put together Bush’s legal team. One of his first calls was to John Roberts, whom Cruz knew from the close-knit network of former Rehnquist clerks, nicknamed the Cabal.
Rehnquist was a conservative judge nominated by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and was confirmed by the Senate before taking his seat on the bench in 1972. Note that Ted Cruz was part of a "Cabal" of former Rehnquist clerks that included John Roberts, now Chief Justice at the Supreme Court. Cruz was also central to the team that fought and fought hard to eliminate recounts and to close the polls on time. This despite the many long lines that people faced in that election to vote.

That same article recounts the events leading up to the determination that Bush had won the election. Thousands of people in Florida were disenfranchised from voting through administrative rulings and errors. Jeb Bush was governor at the time, he took no responsibility for what happened and was more than happy to help his brother, but he would sure like to be president now. The number of people disenfranchised was far higher than the margin of error in the recounts that were actually done for the 2000 election. Most of them were African-American and it was estimated that 90% of them would have voted for Al Gore.

Further, the article documents a strenuous effort on the part of the Republican Party to avoid recounts, to limit the number of voters and even to keep the polls closed. If a poll managed to stay open even for an hour longer than normal, some Republicans became enraged. Republicans know that they tend to prevail when voter turnouts are lower. Every dirty trick they could think of was employed to reduce voter turnout since then. They call it, "preventing voter fraud".

Trump looks bad, but Cruz is like going from the pan to the fire. If the election is close, Cruz has helped to ensure that no Democrat will prevail if the battle goes to the Supreme Court. This is why it is so important to win, and win by a wide enough margin that there is no doubt as to the winner. This is why we need a candidate who will motivate the millennials, now the largest demographic of voters. At the moment, that candidate is Bernie Sanders.

We need to employ greater scrutiny to Ted Cruz's participation in the outcome of that fateful election in 2000, long before he has a chance to be nominated. More people need to know that one of the frontrunners of the GOP in this election gave us the Bush presidency that we are paying so dearly for now. Let it be known that Cruz is a measure of just how hard the GOP is willing to fight to win the White House. Let it also be known that the GOP would prefer that most people will go shopping before they ever set foot in a voting booth. Cruz epitomizes this mindset.

All of this begs the question, though. If Republicans are sure that their policies align so well with the will of the people, why not encourage voting rather than discourage it?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The crybabies and quitters of this presidential election probably won't get you what you want

So Trump is unhappy about the way the media has been treating him in the wake of the Iowa Caucus. Sitting out one of the debates probably didn't help his cause. He says that they didn't give him any credit for financing his own campaign. He says that he'll keep running, but that he doesn't think it's worth it. Crocodile tears, I say.

Trump lost to Senator Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucus. Even Teddyboy is concerned about how the press is treating him. More pressing is a mounting resolve to have him disqualified since he was born in Canada. Mitch McConnell won't even consider a bill that would declare Cruz fit to run for president, something he was nice enough to do for John McCain. Sorry, It just doesn't work that way.

Then there is Marco Rubio. Rubio has complained in the past that he hates the Senate and he's been missing many votes. You know, like a quitter would. Some are even calling for his resignation if he won't do his job. If this guy hates the Senate, he's got no clue about being president.

Unfortunately, this last example isn't even a Republican. She's a Democrat and she's openly admitted that she believes that we'll never, ever have a single payer plan or a public option, or as Bernie Sanders put it, "Medicare for All".

She's turning tail on decades of work to make that dream a reality. Perhaps nearly $13 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry have made it crystal clear to her. It's just a little bit galling that someone with the vision to grow a family foundation that is capable of gathering $3 billion in funding over 40 years can have the audacity to say, "No, we can't". That person is Hilary Clinton.

These are the leaders of the Republican and Democratic campaigns for president. All of them have something to complain about and are showing signs that they're wavering. Or perhaps that they've bitten off more than they can chew. Maybe the only thing in it for them is personal gain.

All of them have a common theme among them. They're noticing without lack of irritation, that change is really, really hard. It's hard enough for one person to change years of behavior buried in years of mental justification for that behavior. It's much harder for a nation to notice the acute pain it is in and to respond with a determined willingness to change. Just summoning the will to change can be nerve wracking. Add to all that the people at the top who say it can't be done and it won't. Taking action and following through is what counts.

All of them are great examples of what could best be described as complacency. They are all expressing a bit of frustration with the incessant demands for change from the people they claim to want to serve. They are all upper class, well fed, flying first class or on private jets, vacations are something they can do on a whim and they're running for president. What a jarring experience it must be to actually have to work for change.

There is an interesting human behavior called target fixation. It's like this. You're riding a bike on the bike path on a sunny day in Newport Beach, California. Something or someone catches your eye, and without thinking, your hands point the bike in that direction at 15 miles per hour. You have a collision with someone and take a tumble into the soft sand on the beach. How fortunate.

This is what happens when we focus on the negative. When we focus on what we don't want, we tend to get it. Words like "don't", "can't" and "won't" fail to register in the brain. We don't want to act like that and we do it anyway. We are faced with options and can name everything we don't want. But we wind up getting what we don't want.

The alternative is to ask for what we want, without dilution, without attenuation, with unambiguous clarity. If we truly want change, that change must be rooted in a peaceful political revolution. There is only one candidate for president that talks of such a change. That candidate is Bernie Sanders. Far from complaining about how hard it is, or any hint of quitting, or even "No, we can't", Bernie is all over change. And he's been on it for more than 30 years. Same message, just a new day.

If we want that change, we must ask for it and do so in no uncertain terms. I'm doing my part. I will be at the caucus in Utah for the first time. I will be at the primary election. I will be there, in November, voting for who I think is the best candidate for the changes we need to see in in this country. I want Bernie Sanders for president.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Bernie goes from zip to 49% in Iowa in a year with help from the millenials

The Iowa Caucus is done and although Clinton did win, she won by a razor thin margin of 0.4% of the vote. The Iowa Caucus is the primary election for that state and operates very differently from the primary elections that are held in most other states.

Statistical analysis of the Iowa Caucus shows that it has about a 43% success rate of predicting who will win the Democratic nomination. That's not a great success rate, but the Iowa Caucus is one of the first elections this year, so it gets most of the media attention in every presidential primary race.

Bernie Sanders is calling it a victory and rightly so. Even if he lost the vote, it was by a thin margin and the votes he did win came from a hard-fought campaign starting with very little money and very little name recognition. He was the underdog going against a well known politician financed by billionaires and large corporations in addition to the ordinary people who made contributions to her campaign.

Common Dreams has noted that Sanders was polling 6% to 68% a year ago. Back then his prospects were thin and few people believed that he was a viable candidate. The most recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed Sanders ahead of Clinton 49% to 46%.

Notably, Clinton is not doing so well with the generational divide. According to The Hill, Sanders enjoys an overwhelming lead of support among people under 45, 60% versus 31% for Clinton. This would suggest by getting out the vote with younger voters, Sanders could reach the tipping point for the nomination. This entire election could turn on the millenials, people born between 1980 and 2000. Closer scrutiny of the numbers suggest that the core of his support across America is from the younger crowd.

This is what happened in 2008, too. Younger voters came out in droves to secure a victory for Barack Obama. We may very well be on track for a repeat performance by younger voters. Judging by the numbers in New Hampshire, I would think so.

Monday, February 01, 2016

How a Rolling Stone journalist and a Senator from Vermont are exposing the corruption in high finance

One of my favorite writers of late is Matt Taibbi. I admire him for his writing style, his ability to take complex financial crimes, like what we saw in the meltdown of 2008, and make them understandable. I also like the fact that he's been covering financial crimes and corruption for years and rely upon him as a source of information on the subject. He's written about the lack of prosecutions in the aftermath of the meltdown of 2008, the LIBOR scandal, and the endemic securities fraud on the part of the bankers that led up to the meltdown.

So it is a pleasant surprise to learn that Matt Taibbi has been working with Bernie Sanders to take on Wall Street. In 2013, they held and recorded a workshop together on the subject in Vermont. You can find that video here on YouTube. It is great to see two champions of economic justice working together, as journalist and Senator.

This isn't a recent connection. Matt didn't just see the rise of Bernie Sanders and start to support him and his work. Matt Taibbi has known Bernie Sanders for more than ten years. They have been collaborating together to better help the public understand the systemic economic corruption in this country and I have to say, they're doing a great job of it.

Last year, after Bernie Sanders made his announcement to run for president, Taibbi began writing articles at Rolling Stone to make the case for Sanders as president. Here's a good example from November of 2015. His praise of Sanders is authentic as someone who knows him and has worked with him.

Bernie has been working on the problem of financial corruption for longer than most people know. In this video from 2000, Bernie Sanders is questioning the Chairman of the Federal Reserve at the time, Alan Greenspan. I was surprised to to learn that he was using the term, "Too Big To Fail" even then, before it came into popular use by 2008. Even then, he could see the potential for catastrophic collapse of the economy due to the concentration of power in the largest banks.

The beginning of corruption in this country starts with big money in politics. The big money is a way for the wealthy to buy protection from the government. Protection from who? The rest of us. In that workshop in Vermont, they pointed out that where Bush hired from Goldman Sachs, Obama hired from Citigroup. They clearly showed that while there were differences between the two major parties, they were essentially the same when it came to banking. Both parties benefit from the political contributions made by the biggest banks.

Sanders is the only candidate that I know of that speaks often and regularly about big money in politics. He has eschewed SuperPACs preferring instead, to finance his campaign from small contributions - millions of them - to build a grassroots campaign for president. Which means that if he's not spending a third of his time trying to get big money like the other guys, he must be busy doing something else. Like writing legislation to save the middle class.

Sanders and Taibbi have also pointed out that the first Bush president put hundreds of people in jail for the savings and loan scandal of the 80s. That was a much smaller event than the meltdown of 2008. Yet, there was only one prosecution for the crimes that led up to the collapse of the biggest banks in 2008. Sanders is in favor of the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to limit the size of the banks and regulate shadow banking. He wants to break up the big banks to reduce their influence on the economy. Clinton? Not so much. The Republicans? They aren't even on the map.

When I look at the candidates running for president, none of them are quite as candid as Sanders is about the state of the economy, the corruption in it and what to do about it. Knowing that Matt Taibbi and Sanders are working together further confirms in my mind that Sanders not only understands the economy better than the other candidates, but that he is willing to speak his mind about it, in no uncertain terms. That is what I expect in a president.