Monday, May 30, 2011

Voter Photo ID -- A Solution in Search of a Problem

            Throughout the country in states where radical Republicans control the legislature they are passing a number of bills that would enact laws to restrict the franchise or at the least suppress the turnout of those demographic groups that have not be tending to vote Republican in the past few years.  These groups are considered to be the poor, the working poor, students and other young voters, African-Americans and Latinos.  Due to two hundred years of progress at the federal level, and in many states, the radical Republicans face federal and state constitutional impediments to their efforts to reduce turnouts and assure their re-elections.  They are limited to constitutional means which include redistricting and election laws that on their face and application affect all citizens equally.

            The most popular radical Republican excuse for laws that make voting and registering harder and more exclusive is to prevent voter fraud. These radical Republicans are adept at the use of language and often hide their ideas behind misnomers.  When Bush stole the election in 2000 he proposed the Help Americans Vote Act which pushed most of the counties in America to paper ballot reading equipment that made the ballots less secure under the guise of having paper to read in a recount - remember that Florida had mostly paper (punch card) and Bush opposed the state wide recount.

            Where is the evidence of this voter fraud.  It doesn’t exist.  There are almost no instances of record in the past decades of individuals impersonating voters and trying to vote more than once. This was a practice before the WWII called floating and urban machines often paid floaters to vote more than once by claiming to be people who hadn’t voted yet.  With personal voter registration that practice disappeared.  Voters sign in at their local polling place, receive their ballot or enter a machine, and vote. 

So now the radical Republicans, to prevent this mythical voter fraud, want to require every voter to carry photo ID when they go to the polls.  Why? Well in big cities (that today vote Democrat) as many as 75% of the residents don’t have drivers licenses and even in states such as PA that allow you to get a non-drivers ID card most non-drivers don’t’ go through the hassle (and it is a hassle I know because I got one after three tries). Most urban residents who don’t drive are African American and Latino.  Some of the states are enacting voter ID that doesn’t even recognize a student ID card with a picture even if issued by a state college - why because students today vote mostly Democrat. The newest voter suppression idea is to require students not only to show student ID but also the last semester tuition receipt (which if you know anything about college loans and parent payments is not always in the possession of the student at college). Voter ID bills do no attack Voter Fraud they are simply a means to discourage poor, urban dwellers, minority voters and young people from voting. There is no Voter Fraud problem on election day and there is no need for a solution to a non-problem.

            Some states like North Dakota now have same day registration.  You can show ID on election day and vote.  If the radical Republicans are serious about Voter ID let them support election day registration.

            To make their attempt to control American elections even more obvious and their efforts more blatant, in Wisconsin, where the voters are allowed to recall legislators and they have petitioned to hold recall elections in July against six state senators, the Republicans have passed a number of new elections laws and procedures including photo ID to take effect immediately before the recall elections. They refused to budget any funds to help educate the voters on the new rules. I serve on the Delaware Co, PA Board of Elections - when you change the rules you have to extensively retrain the poll workers and let the voters know - and that costs money truly a waste of tax dollars if the education is is to discourage voters from going to the polls.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Does Anybody Care? - The Right Not to Vote


Tuesday, May 17th was Primary Day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Only about 14 1/2% of the registered voters (only about 65% of the eligible voters are registered) bothered to vote.  The primaries in many instances determined who the state and county judges would be ,and who would hold  county and municipal office and school board membership for the next four years.  With Pennsylvania’s peculiar cross-filing system candidates were able to win both primaries for local judicial and school board offices and thus avoid a two party contest in the general election in November.

Pennsylvania contains the unmarked graves of hundreds at Valley Forge, and thousands in the national cemetery at Gettysburg, along with the field in Schwenksville where the plane went down when the passengers sacrificed their lives to prevent terrorists from attacking  the White House in DC.  These and so many others throughout our nation’s history gave their lives so their descendants could be free.  And the greatest symbol of that freedom is the right to vote.

In 1608 the colonists of Jamestown, VA held an election for President of the colony; only a few of the colonists were eligible to vote.  In the 1630's, as the Puritans settled throughout New England, colonists struggled to become freemen and to expand the franchise beyond church members to all residents.  From the time of the American Revolution to the Civil War the nation was engaged in a great political struggle to assure universal white male suffrage.  Property ownership, personal and land, had been a prerequisite for voting - that was abolished.  By the time that 600,000 men died in the Civil War all white men had the right to vote.  That war brought about the emancipation of black slaves and the 15th amendment to the constitution which guaranteed African American men the right to vote.  That right, while initially respected, was soon buried under an avalanche of laws that effectively prevented black men from voting. In1965 the Voting Rights Act restored the authority of that amendment and guaranteed the franchise to all regardless of race.  By 1920 the nation had progressed to the point of enacting woman suffrage and in 1972, largely as a result of the Vietnam War, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.  So by the 1970's America - the symbol of Democracy - had finally put in place universal adult suffrage.

With a plethora of new election reforms such as absentee voting, registration by mail, permanent personal registration, early voting it was made both easier to register and more convenient to vote.  Some states today are even using voting by mail (Oregon) and primary voting on Saturdays (West Virginia).  But these changes have not resulted in increased registration nor increased turnouts - to the contrary those numbers are going down to the point where one has to question whether a 10% turnout primary is the most democratic way to chose candidates.

It is clear that the answer to low participation is not tinkering with the system - some changes may be needed because they make sense in and of themselves -- but what will increase voter participation is a change in the attitude of people. Unless our citizens begin to view voting as a Responsibility in addition to a Right they run the risk of losing that freedom altogether.  Not the form of it - even fascist dictators and communists hold elections -- but the value of it.  Today no matter who votes for whom it appears that the moneyed interests and those who can buy candidates and fund campaigns determine what the elected officials do once in office.  This simply reinforces the view of those who say elections don’t count.

We have reached a point in our country where the Right Not to Vote seems to have trumped the right to vote.  Only in Iraq and Africa and third world countries do we see lines of people waiting to vote under threat of violence and even death if they participate.  Here a little rain keeps people home.

The colonists of the seventeenth century and the patriots of the eighteenth would be appalled today at the non chalant manner in which people treat the opportunity to vote. And Lincoln standing at Gettysburg would be hard pressed to say “that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish form the earth.”  We look at this past election in Pennsylvania and are moved to quote the line in 1776 when John Adams, listening to one of George Washington’s numerous appeals to the Continental Congress for help for the Continental Army, exclaims “Does Anybody Care”. 

May 23, 2011  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The National Debt: Cause for Reform or Excuse for Retreat

There is occurring today in our nation’s capital a phony debate about phony issues and phony crises.  We are told that the nation will default because we exceed our debt limit.  Yet how is that limit set - if it were set by the open market (which is what our Republican friends argue everything else should be governed by) it would be based on when investors no longer wish to buy US bonds and carry our debt.  If set by the government it should be based on the budget.  Congress and the President have agreed upon a budget that funds the government through September 2011.  The President has the authority to enforce that budget and if revenues do not equal expenditures to borrow sufficiently to do that.  This phony debt ceiling was enacted a few decades ago as a congressional smoke and mirror.

We are told that the US debt is astronomical because of the many social programs that were enacted beginning with the New Deal and through the Great Society.  And, yet the multi-trillion dollar debt is really due to the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush prescription drug add-on to Medicare that were not only not funded by enhancing the revenue streams  but were done simultaneously with the largest tax cuts on the wealthy that were ever enacted.  If we had the tax rates of the Ronald Reagan years not to mention Dwight Eisenhower the so-called debt crises just wouldn’t be a crisis.

We’re also told that Medicare and Social Security are going broke. Why and How?  Well in large part because the federal government has been using the insurance funds of these programs to pay for other things like those unfunded wars.  The so-called short fall in Social Security could be fixed by increasing the income amount (currently first $106,000) on which social security insurance premiums (6 1/2% employees and 6 1/2% employers) are collected.  We could increase that amount and levy a lower premium like 3 ¼% on incomes over $106,000 and without an employer share).  The same concept applied to Medicare insurance would go along way toward insuring that programs’ solvency.

The Republican answer to these problems is gut the programs and let the fittest survive.  The Democratic answer is to raise taxes on the wealthy.  We need to do that.  But we also need to reform the programs along the lines I suggested (and raise the social security age from the current 67 to a future 69 - and perhaps the Medicare age to 67 both effective in 30 years.)  We also need to cut military expenditures and tackle the military industrial complex that has us spending like it was WWII or the Cold War and yet we are not facing those types of enemies today.  We need to stop subsidizing those who don’t need subsidies like the oil companies and the big agribusiness corporations and take the regulatory action that will lower prices of oil and food to the consumers.

The radical right wing Republicans would let our government default on its obligations and plunge the world into a global depression.  They did this under Hoover by causing the Great Depression with a high tariff act and simply made the situation here and in Europe worse. They will tell you that only WWII brought the US out of the Great Depression. I would argue that Republican isolationism, both diplomatically and economically, in the decade after WWI was one of reasons for the inevitability of WWII.

Unfortunately it looks like we will have a Presidential contest next year that will focus on reasons people dislike Obama, the kookiness of the likely Republican candidate, and a myriad of irrelevant issues like birth certificates and marriages of candidates, so the result will not be seen as a decision by the American people as to where they want to go and how they want to handle the nations problems. In 1936 and 1964 this nation held Presidential elections that clearly offered a choice between the conservative philosophy of survival of the fittest and liberal belief in a compassionate and helping government.  And both times liberal compassion not only won it won by the largest of margins.


Monday, May 9, 2011

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: What it Means One Hundred Years Later

            One hundred years ago there was a great fire in New York City.  Now, there’s a fire in every large city every day.  Only a few impact more than a few people.  The great Chicago fire of the 1870's, which destroyed most of the city, led to the building of what later became the modern metropolis of Chicago.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 cost over 146 lives (bodies recovered) all but 23 were young women workers the youngest of which was 11 - most were in their teens or early twenties.  But that fire led to the United States becoming a nation that for the last 100 years has, as a matter of public policy, supported the government, state and federal, using its powers to protect workers and try to assure safe working conditions.

            The Triangle Fire of 1911 in addition to bringing popular awareness to the sweatshop factory conditions in the garment industry in New York City also caused a number of public personages to become supportive of the concept of worker safety.  Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Al Smith, Robert Wagner and Frances Perkins all knew the intimate details of the fire as publicized in the press and in their subsequent public careers became leading advocates of worker safety laws.  The press with the new media of the day - photo journalism - spread the gruesome details of the Fire throughout the nation.  Labor unions began, finally, to get large public support as organizations that could protect workers especially women and children from harsh conditions.  The deaths of those young women saved countless lives as America responded by changing working conditions. Child labor laws began to be enacted by the states and a movement began for a federal constitutional amendment to limit the hours of child workers -- when that failed of ratification new Deal legislation sponsored by Sen. Wagner and signed by Pres. Roosevelt accomplished the goal.

            Today the memory of that horrific Fire recedes.  In Maine radical Republicans seek to weaken child labor laws and allow those who should be in high school to spend more time making less money at fast food establishments.  The Ryanites would slash the budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by 20%.  As currently understaffed that Agency today has only enough inspectors to inspect every covered workplace once every 143 years.

            We are too quick to forget.  While much improvement has been made with fire protections and factory design there remains many hazardous jobs in the US.  In a time of great recession of course there are those who believe that any job is better than none and we should remove these regulations that cause employers to limit their work forces.  But our country will not always be in a Great Recession.  Had the leaders of this nation during the Great Depression decided to plan for an America that would never recover we would be a third rate country today. But they had the vision to believe that in enacting programs that would make this a better country that would build a strong middle class, care for our elderly, and create the path to a better future for out young people they were doing so for a great America.  One that would become the economic envy of the world and one that would be a society where we cared most for those who could not care for themselves.

            America has always looked forward.  We have always been a nation optimistic about our future.  Whether building the Erie Canal or the Transcontinental Railroad or going to the Moon we did so because it would get us some where further.  We have always been a compassionate nation - opening new lands cheaply to those who would settle and cultivate; training our young people in CCC camps, public schools, community colleges; and making sure that our elderly could, with the assistance of Social Security insurance and Medicare insurance, live on their own and allow their children to raise and care for their grandchildren without the economic burden of caring for their elderly parents.  Today a group of radical Republicans want to undo all that and they believe in a mythical Hooverite  rugged individualism that never was and never should be. They believe that we can’t lead the world in the sunshine of human rights and we can’t build here in America that Great Society that has been our goal as a people since Jamestown was founded over 400 years ago.  YES WE CAN !