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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pre-Employment credit checks, unemployment discrimination and why it's so hard to get back on your feet.

Picture this scenario,

You lost your job, due to outsourcing, restructuring, or layoffs.

You burned through your savings trying to make ends meet while you search for work, but a bad economy and competition from hundreds if not thousands of other unemployed workers have made your job hunt last longer than 6 months with no end in sight.

But the bills, the bills don't stop coming, and while you do your best to cut down on things you use, that mortgage payment amount you owe becomes hard to reach and despite your best efforts, you fall behind.

Bill after bill, late fee after late fee takes its toll, and over time, your credit is ruined.

But that's okay right? The economy is picking up again, jobs are being added but for some reason every place you apply to never calls back.

To many Americans this is an all too familiar scenario that many are living in as I write.

The sad fact is that there are already two strikes against this person, the discrimination the long term unemployed face (people who have been unemployed for longer than 6 months), and a bad credit report.

Not to mention the fact that are still roughly 15 million Americans that are jobless, and many more working part time but are looking for full time work.

So three strikes.

For the people in this scenario, it's an out, and that's a huge problem.

I want to focus on employment discrimination for those with bad credit (for the purposes of keeping it real, I have to mention that employers cannot actually see your credit score). The problem is this: There are a lot of people looking for work, employers literally have hundreds of job applications to go through. An easy way to eliminate stacks of potential employees from the list is to first, eliminate the long term unemployed, and then eliminate those who have bad credit.

It's an employers market.

In a good economy people tend to turn a blind eye to this discrimination. Citing the fact that since there are so many jobs around that people in this situation must just be irresponsible and lazy.

But this attitude towards hardworking people who through no fault of their own have a bad credit report persists into hard economic times. Where there are layoffs and businesses going bankrupt or firing workers who then have nowhere else to go to pay their bills. Or if someone gets sick or injured and loses their job and acquires medical debts that they cannot pay.

According to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Medicine 62.1% of all bankruptcies are attributed to medical debt.

Bankruptcy really isn't the best thing to have on your credit report.

Neither are defaulted student loans, which attribute $76 Billion of the total 1 trillion dollars in total student loan debt.

Thankfully, there are eight states with laws on the books banning employers from using credit scores in their hiring decisions. And there have been less than successful attempts at federal legislation.

A bill introduced in 2009 called "H.R. 3149 Equal Employment for All Act" was the first attempt at stopping people from being discriminated against because of their credit. But it was essentially killed in committee through aggressive lobbying. Organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Consumer Data Industry Association, and the Financial Services Roundtable opposed the bill, spending roughly $24 Million dollars in lobbying that was used to kill the resolution, versus the $2 Million used to support it. That is 9.8 times more money, no wonder it got crushed.

Some of that money went unsurprisingly to some of the members of the House Financial Services committee where the bill was being introduced, members like Randy Nuegebauer (R-TX) who received $26,050 in campaign contributions from Credit agencies and finance companies, Spencer Bachus (R-AL) who received $57,250 in contributions, Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) got a whopping $76,400 and, Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) received $16,350 in contributions. All of these committee members received campaign contributions from interest groups that opposed H.R. 3149. And it's not just Republicans, you go through the list and there are many Democrats that received campaign contributions from firms that fought this resolution.

This election cycle, TransUnion itself gave money to Tennessee Republican Bob Corker's campaign through a PAC as well as donating to President Barack Obama. Experian also gave nearly $250,000 to Republicans and nearly $80,000 to Democrats alone as well as spending nearly $500,000 on lobbying.

It's safe to say that some of that money will go to fighting a new bill called, H.R.321 sponsored by Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) which is this congress's version of the Equal Employment for All Act. It's currently being held up in committee as well and is looking like it will suffer the same fate as the bill before it.

During a 2010 hearing on H.R. 3149 Representative Nuegebauer actively argued against the proposed bill by saying:

"I just wanted to respond in that I think what is interesting is I think about 60 percent of the businesses in this country use credit reports as one of the tools that they use in making a final determination. So this is not like--evidently, there has been some reason to correlate that as a part of the screening process, that credit reports are being helpful. Otherwise, we wouldn't have such a large number of employers using that tool."

Interesting, but not true, in fact Mr Cohen debunked that whole argument with this:

"Eric Rosenberg with TransUnion said in a hearing in Oregon during sworn testimony that his company had zero statistical evidence to document that employees with bad credit checks are more likely to steal or commit fraud than workers with perfect credit. A study at Eastern Kentucky said the same thing, as highlighted in The Hill in an article this morning about these studies."

This is a clear case of needing to follow the money. These credit ratings agencies aggressively market businesses to use their services. So it's in their best interests to fight laws that would stop employers from using credit checks. If something like this were in place, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian would lose a lot of business. So they lobby the government, grease the palms of politicians and the poor guy who lost his job and fell behind on his mortgage gets screwed.

And for what?

Amy Traub of the Denver Post writes: 

"There is little social science research showing a clear link between someone's personal consumer behavior and their performance on the job. In fact, the few studies that exist have found no correlation between personal credit reports and the propensity to commit a crime." 

So employers will continue to be able to deny people work that would help them climb out of their financial hole, because of the fact that they're in a financial hole. 

And sometimes, the information in a credit report is wrong, in fact consumer studies report that up to four out of five credit reports contain errors.  Of course studies commissioned and underwritten by the three credit agencies dispute that.

This is wrong.

Given that 60% of employers look at credit reports as a factor in who they hire and the fact that I have old medical and school loan debt, the odds of me landing a job are low. Add in the fact that I am a student that has been unemployed for longer than six months and that's a recipe to stay jobless, something I hope to put an end to.

But people like me have little recourse because employers have no obligations to tell you why you did not get hired, so there are literally no protections from this kind of employment discrimination. 

We need a solution, because for people in this situation, there is literally no way out.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bush tax cuts for the rich: A grotesque failure.

For over ten years we have been told by our politicians that tax rates on the rich were too high. If only the government would unleash wall street, reduce the burden on "job creators" and let the markets go free that America would be awash in wealth and it's people swimming in jobs.

Instead we're awash in debt with no jobs to be found.

Well okay, we've had job some job growth.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 60% of the job losses in 2008 were middle income jobs in construction, office management and manufacturing, most of these types of jobs have not come back to pre-recession levels. Taking the place of those are low wage jobs that make up 58% of the jobs created in the recovery. Those jobs include retail sales, food preparation, home health and customer service.

Low wage industries overall generated 1.7 million jobs since 2010, around 43% of the total employment growth in the U.S. Middle income industries only contributed 22% of employment growth in the same time period.

How's that trickle down working out for you?

There's more: According to the nations top three employers were the Air Force, Taco Bell, and the Army National Guard.

So while we've had some job growth with our insanely low tax rates on the wealthy, most of those involve  workers saying the phrase, "Do you want fries with that?"

It's not only the prevalence of low skill, low income jobs that is the problem, but it's stagnant Income for middle class families. You know the people who still have middle income jobs, well they are earning less than they used to since the 1970's. Remember how the Bush tax cuts we're supposed to trickle down to the workers? Instead Median household income has only grew at a modest 1.6% between 2001 and 2007 (The Bush tax cuts were passed in 2001 and 2003) and then fell 4% during the recession.


Yet the wealthy have done awesome over the last ten years, and even after the financial meltdown that sent our economy reeling. 93% of the income gains in the first year of the recovery went to the top 1%.

Even before the recovery the Bush tax cuts helped to increase the after tax income for the top 1% of taxpayers by 74% between 1996 and 2006, and the top 0.1% saw their income double in that time period.

Now let's go to the debt aspect of the Bush Tax cuts for the rich.

Over the last decade the Bush tax cuts have added a trillion dollars to the deficit. How is it that a party that screams about deficits and cutting costs and talks a big game about not leaving debt to future generations can justify giving away so much money to the already very wealthy?

Well they can't.

They have to wrap it up in a lie, a slogan.

That's where we get the term "job creators" from. But the term itself is incredibly disingenuous as it's consumers that are the engines of job creation. Billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer says its best: 

"jobs are the consequence of the feedback loop between customers and businesses. For this reason, it is middle-class consumers and the demand they create that are our true job creators, not rich business-people."

I love that guy.

He also makes a great point when he says that,

"Capitalists are idea creators, not job creators."

The logic to what Hanauer says is that regular people come up with ideas, while wealthy corporations don't have to, because they have already established themselves with a previous idea. So why are we not incentivizing people to come up with new ideas but instead giving more and more money to those who are already wealthy and have no incentive to innovate other than to cut costs?

Crony capitalism.

A great example of this is the fossil fuel industry. There is little innovation there but they make billions of dollars each quarter as well as being subsidized by the taxpayers to the tune of billions a year. Yet fossil fuels are still roughly the same technology as they used a hundred years ago. Sure refineries are made more efficient with newer technology but the premise is the same, you burn it and it makes power.

Back to the issue of tax cuts.

A recent study from the Congressional Research Service that came out in September found that tax cuts for high earners is linked to income inequality, yet have no significant relationship with investment and that the correlation between economic growth and the top tax rates is not strong.

Well what about GDP growth?

"The top marginal tax rate in the 1950s was over 90%, and the real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the top marginal tax rate was 35% while the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less
than 1%."


So let's recap, lower tax rates on the wealthy have led to stagnant wages for the middle class, an increase in income inequality, less jobs, less GDP growth, increased debt and a decrease in middle class jobs.

What an unmitigated disaster these tax cuts have been.

Yet the Republican party continues to insist that the wealthy should not have their tax rates increased as part of the coming fiscal cliff deal. What a brazen display of disregarding the facts all so they can make themselves and their corporate donors even more rich at the expense of everyone else

We need to end this grotesque failure for the American people and pressure our politicians to do what's right.

Tax the rich.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

America says no to cutting social security and medicare to lower deficit.

I thought this was already clear Mr. Obama.

America will not tolerate a grand bargain.

In his first press conference since reelection President Obama answered some tough questions from reporters on subjects like the Patraeus affair, the so-called fiscal cliff, climate change and Syria.

But the most important question that was asked was this one by Jessica Yellen:

"You’ve said that the wealthiest must pay more. Would closing loopholes instead of raising rates for them satisfy you?"

During his answer President Obama didn't really address the tax rates for the wealthy, except for saying that he doesn't want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. But his focus was really on removing deductions and loopholes. 

That's great, but...

Nowhere does he state that tax rates on the wealthy will be increased in this deal. I'm understandably skeptical that Obama will actually raise taxes on the wealthy, which would be a great way to raise revenue to pay down the debt, instead his focus like I said was to get rid of loopholes and deductions. And that's a completely different thing. 

And then we get to what really disturbed me when the President mentioned entitlements: 

"let’s also then commit ourselves to the broader package of deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes and it includes, potentially, tax reform, as well as I’m willing to look at additional work that we can do on the discretionary spending side."

We know what that means. 

Anytime politicians talk about reforming taxes and changing entitlements (hell even calling them entitlements buys into the Republican narrative), it really means we're going to cut Social Security, Medicare, Food stamps, and other programs set up to help regular Americans and then lower corporate taxes.

I think I should remind you of what President Obama said in the debates.

"Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high."


Keep it real though, Obama wanted to lower tax rates on manufacturers to 25%, and the rest to 28%. But it's still a reduction and those taxes are going to be made up by screwing the poor and middle class.

Any time taxes go down for the wealthy, everyone else ends up making up the difference. Whether it's the middle class and the poor making up for it in a reduction of services and programs, or the future generations make up for it with massive debt.

Either way corporations and the wealthy pay less, and you get screwed.

Yet president Obama seems so intent on bringing us the grand bargain. You know, the plan where he cuts 3 trillion in spending for only 1 trillion in revenue.

What a joke.

The Bush tax cuts added nearly 1 trillion dollars to the deficit,

So why not just end them? Which would happen if Obama lets us go over the fiscal cliff. There's your 1 trillion in revenue right there and he didn't have to do a damn thing.

Oh and it would give him leverage in order to really help the middle class.

In a recent poll 53% of Americans would blame the Republicans if we go over the fiscal cliff, and 51% say they're expecting it to happen.

Mr. President you have the ball in your court, run with it!

This is like having a 1st down near the end zone and punting it.

The sad truth is the president is not a progressive, he wants to cut entitlements to lower corporate taxes, those are NOT progressive positions.

Americans are far more progressive in their ideals. According to a Huffingpost poll a majority of Americans are saying hands off to cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the purpose of deficit reduction.

Americans are also saying that the rich should pay more in taxes. 66 percent of people polled by Gallup state that they are in favor of raising taxes on individuals making over $200,000 and families making over $250,000. 

Simply put, we do not want the grand bargain. It's a robbery from the middle class and the poor and a giveaway to the rich. This election sent a message all right, but not the one the president thinks he heard.

We want the wealthy to pay the tax rates under Clinton, and we will not abide by cuts to our earned benefits to pay for lowering corporate taxes.

Got it Mr. President?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Let's go over the fiscal cliff

Whether or not the conservatives or David Axelrod thinks so, America has given president Obama a mandate. To do what?

Raise Taxes

In exit polls 6 in 10 people polled on election day said that taxes should be raised, with nearly half of them saying they should be raised on the wealthiest Americans. Not to mention ballot initiatives have shown that Americans are willing to increase taxes in states like California and Arkansas, as well cities like Austin and San Antonio to fund programs we've all come to expect from good government.

So what does the house think about this? Surely speaker Boehner and the Republicans, now that their party has been handed a defeat, would take a more conciliatory tone with president Obama and finally get the message and agree to some revenue concessions right?


In fact in an interview with Diane Sawyer the speaker said:

"Raising tax rates is unacceptable." 

Perhaps alluding to the continuing obstruction in the house and senate from the "party of No." he adds:

"Frankly, it couldn't even pass the House. I'm not sure it could pass the Senate." 

So there we are, one expensive election over with, and we still have gridlock to look forward to.

Amazingly after all of this president Obama continues to think that he can work with this congress.

“I’m not wedded to every detail of my plan. I am open to compromise. I am open to new ideas,"said the President. “But I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced.”

The president has to understand, that it's not balance the Republicans are seeking. The Grand Bargain, which consists of the result of the simpson-bowles commission on deficit reduction will raise $1 in revenue for every $3 in spending cuts, equaling $4 trillion. Even that wasn't good enough for the Republicans who walked away from the deal.

The democrats and the president have been extremely generous, offering to make significant spending cuts and asking only a tiny bit in tax increases. And Boehner keeps saying no.

Well it's time to stop being nice. The Republicans will continue to block any tax increases on the wealthy to help pay down our deficits. But the President has an opportunity.

The Fiscal Cliff.

The Fiscal cliff is where the bush tax cuts for everyone, as well as unemployment extensions will expire. As well as where automatic spending cuts from the military and domestic expenditures will kick in as part of the last debt deal. This will obviously have some negative effects on the economy, but it's also leverage.

In 1995 president Bill Clinton was going head to head with then speaker Newt Gingrich over the budget. They were unable to reach a deal, so Clinton let the government shut down. After a week of boarded up offices Gingrich and the Republicans finally offered to make a deal. It also helped usher in an era of compromise.

The fiscal cliff could be president Obama's shut down moment. For the last four years the President has agreed with almost everything the Republicans have proposed. In the debt deal Speaker Boehner remarked how he got 98% of what he wanted. Because of that the Republicans think Obama is weak and will fold on the issue of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. This one move could yank congress back to reality.

All we have to do, is go over the cliff.

It's a risky maneuver but if the president comes out as strong as he was in the campaign he can use the political capital he earned to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and finally get it through to the Republicans that he will not accept their obstruction anymore.

It will hurt the economy in the short term but I think it's our best chance to get rid of the biggest contributor to our deficit today, and finally be able to tackle the debt, and show the Republicans that we mean business.

Come on Obama, be a progressive and take Boehner off the cliff.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Progressive Agenda: nine things progressives should focus on now that the election is over

Two days ago Americans made their voices heard in one of the most important elections I've ever taken part in. It was a rebuke of the obstructionist tactics of the right and clear sign that the Tea Party movement that took the nation by storm in 2010, is largely over. Many of the Tea Party congressmen were hoisted out of office to be replaced by progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren. It appears the political pendulum has finally swung back to the left.

It's now an opportunity to bring forth a progressive agenda to counter the 30 year old Reagan revolution that has led to so many of our current problems. This is a list of some of the problems we need to tackle to bring the country forward.

1. Citizens United:

There is no doubt that this election was the most expensive election in history. The Atlantic Wire had a breakdown of just how much this election cost. Even though people power won this time, there's no guarantee that the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will not try it again. Just imagine if the Republicans had ran a better candidate than Romney and had all of that dark money. Scary, and a lot of that corporate money went to defeat some very important ballot initiatives in the states. Like California's proposition 37 that would mandate that GMO's be labeled.Companies like Monsanto and Hershey's contributed to $44 Million to fight prop 37 compared to their opponents who raised $7.3 Million. That money went to ads that warned consumers that GMO labeling would cost them more money in the grocery store, as well as increasing costs for small businesses and grocery chains.  

Another ballot initiative that failed due to the a blitz of big corporate ads was Michigan's Proposition 3. Prop 3 aimed to create a renewable energy standard within the state constitution. The law is aimed at reducing the states consumption of coal which makes up 58% of the energy usage in Michigan. It also aims to make 25% of the energy Michigan uses come from clean, renewable energy sources by 2025. The Koch brothers group Americans for Prosperity chipped $1.5 Million into ads that opposed the measure. Citizens United needs to be #1 on the list of things to overturn on the Progressive agenda to make sure that corporations can no longer give money to campaigns used to mislead the public into voting against their own interests. Also I'm a huge proponent of and their effort to amend the constitution to remove the influence of money in politics. I strongly suggest signing up with them and getting involved in the fight. 

2. The Drug War: 

With the recent election came great news for proponents of Marijuana. Colorado and Washington state fully legalized recreational pot. And Massachusetts legalized medicinal pot, joining the other 17 states that now allow for medical Marijuana.  Regardless of that, Federal law still consideres Marijuana to be a schedule 1 drug and therefore illegal under Federal law. That needs to be changed. The Progressive agenda involves ending the drug war completely and no longer keep putting people into for profit (or any) prisons for nonviolent drug offenses. That not only saves money but it's the right thing, and the progressive thing to do. Ending the prohibition of something that is not even close to being as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco, and has been proven to have medical benefits,  such as easing the pain of arthritis, or helping to control spontaneous epileptic seizures, as well as countless industrial uses. Classifying marijuana as being as dangerous as cocaine and other schedule one drugs is simply ignoring the facts. Marijuana is much safer than alcohol, according to professor Robert Gable who wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times: 

"when it comes to the chances of immediate death by chemical toxicity, marijuana is about a hundred times safer than alcohol or cocaine."


NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, has a great chart on some of the potential medical uses of Marijuana as well. Pushing President Obama as well our congress to end this war on drugs and fully legalize Marijuana at the Federal level, should be a big part of the Progressive agenda for the next four years. History and public opinion are on our side

3.Climate Change:

Hurricane Sandy finally brought the discussion back to climate change. It had been absent save for a joke during the RNC by former candidate Mitt Romney who said:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise … is to help you and your family."
Number of fires & acres burned

I don't think tax rates are going to matter much when climate change gets through with us. Climate change needs to be jumped on now. We're already at the point where we're too late to stop the damage we've already caused to the environment, but that doesn't mean we can't do more to stop further damage and disruption of our planet. Here are some scary facts: This July was the hottest on record, and this summer was the third hottest ever. We broke hundreds of heat records, had a record drought that will soon be impacting food prices, devastating fires, and there has been a reported 600,000 square kilometers of arctic sea ice that was lost, more than has ever been recorded. 
Loss of Arctic Sea Ice during August Melt

This is probably the most important thing we can do now to help future generations, and the time to act on it is now. The Progressive agenda involves getting as many of our politicians to begin passing legislation to reduce the amount of Carbon we put into the atmosphere. Such as opposing the keystone XL pipeline that would ferry the extremely dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas at great environmental cost. The tar sands hold the largest amount of trapped carbon in the world. In a New York Times Op-Ed James Hansen writes: 

"If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."      

Not exactly a rosy picture to paint for the future, but we're very well on our way to destroying ourselves for cheap oil. 

Even though Carbon emissions are now at a 20 year low, partly in thanks to Hydraulic Fracturing, natural gas is still adding to our global warming problem. As well as a host of other problems related to the process widely known as fracking. Hydraulic Fracturing is a method of injecting water, chemicals, and sand into underground shale rocks in order to fracture them and release natural gas that is trapped in them for use. Although the process doesn't emit carbon it does emit methane, another gas that contributes to global warming. Although Natural gas doesn't emit as much carbon as burning coal, it still releases carbon in the atmosphere. Slowing the inevitable. Not to mention is has some other problems, like how it has led to contamination of drinking water, as well being linked to earthquakes. It's hard to get an honest description of fracking and it's effects because the companies that do it are Halliburton and Shell, and they're not exactly transparent. The fluid used is a proprietary mix that is kept secret. For a great breakdown on how fracking works I suggest checking out the movie Gasland by Josh Fox

Another part of the climate change portion of the progressive agenda is aggressively developing and championing renewable energy. That means supporting ballot initiatives such as the previously mentioned proposal 3 in Michigan. So far over 30 states have amendments that are similar to proposal three, but we need to do more to back clean energy and ensure it has more than adequate funding. Which leads me to...

4. Oil Subsidies: 

I have no idea how on Earth anyone can justify sending $7 Billion dollars in tax subsidies annually to the wealthiest energy corporations that have ever existed, while also allowing companies like Exxon Mobil to pay a 17.6% effective tax rate. That's literally highway robbery. So how do they justify it? Simple: they don't even admit the subsidy exists. Former senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts argued that oil companies don't receive any form of subsidy. It's helpful to know that Brown was one of the biggest brown nosers to the energy industry and in return received money directly from the Koch brothers and one of their PACs.  It's political contributions like these that not only go to Republicans but to Democrats as well that need to be stopped in order to pursue the Progressive agenda. If we're going to be successful in ending the dominance of big oil, big coal and natural gas over our nations energy policy and make us truly energy independent and sustainable we have to first remove the influence of money in politics, (see item #1) get rid of bought politicians and end these wasteful subsidies to the fossil fuel cartels and instead fund clean, sustainable energy solutions. 

5. Tax Policy:

Throughout this campaign we have heard president Obama on the campaign trail promising to make the wealthy pay their fair share. As progressives we should push to make president Obama honor that promise to close loopholes and deductions and increase tax rates for those making over $1 million a year back to the Clinton tax rates of 39%. Putting a small tax on financial transactions and increasing the taxes on capital gains has the promise to also bring in increased revenue, estimated to be around $386 Billion over the next 10 years. Keeping taxes low for the middle class and the poor should also be a focus in the Progressive agenda. Lower taxes on the middle class will help spur demand and increase job growth. More middle class jobs leads to a broadening of the tax base and in turn that can go towards...

6. The Debt:

Tackling the debt is a major concern for everyone. We can't always operate on borrowed money. The last Democratic President, Bill Clinton knew a few things about how to balance a budget. A good share of the money raised by new revenues should go to new investment (to create jobs) and debt reduction. Medicare and Social Security can also be tweaked without cutting any benefits so they will remain solvent for future generations. 

7. Entitlement Spending:

The progressive agenda should be to retain and expand the social contract of America. The healthcare law Obama passed makes a great start by saving $716 Billion in medicare spending by cutting waste and reimbursements to private medicare advantage plans and instead puts it back into medicare itself. The healthcare law though should be expanded into a full single payer system to meet the progressive value of making sure everyone gets full coverage and the insurance companies can no longer profit or serve as middlemen when it comes to peoples health and well being. As of right now since the states are able to opt out of the expanded medicaid provision the poorest among us may still go without insurance. That is unacceptable. Progressive values state that healthcare is a human right. Social Security should also strengthened, the most simple way to do that is to make it so the wealthy are not eligible for benefits, as well as increasing the tax that goes to social security for people making over $500,000 a year. If you're making that much, why do you need a supplemental retirement income? These fixes will help strengthen our social contract and ensuring that the programs remain solvent without cutting benefits.

8. Labor Rights:

Labor rights are one of the most fundamental values of being a progressive. Fair wages, 40 hour work weeks, equal pay and benefits and the creation of a strong middle class are all things that have resulted from the progressive movement. The sad truth now is that all of those things are in grave danger. Today Union workers represent around 12% of the workforce, and only 7% of private workers. Only 37% of government workers are unionized yet they are blamed by conservatives for jobs losses and deficits. Public opinion of unions dropped in 2010 to 48%, probably in response to the harsh anti-union rhetoric and right to work laws put in place and championed by wealthy conservative business owners that see unions as a hamper to increasing their bottom lines. We should renew our support for labor because fair wages and benefits will help to regrow a strong middle class that in the end will help ensure that businesses prosper as well. 

9. Civil Liberties: 

This is a huge, huge issue. As progressives we should be the champions of civil liberty. Which is why NDAA, the Patriot act, torture and other abuses of civil liberties should be done away with. Trapwire, CISPA, ACTA and other other legislation that would stop the internet from being free and open should be fought tooth and nail no matter who is president. That is why the progressive agenda should focus on putting pressure on legislators to shoot down these blatant violations of our rights. And if they approve these things they should be primaried from the left until they understand that our rights need to be left alone. Not only that but torture should never be the American way of doing things, we are better than that. 

These are just some of the major issues we need to fight for as progressives. In order to accomplish these goals we will need to remove money in politics, end gerrymandering so that Democrats and Republicans will no longer have "safe" districts that will vote them in due to party affiliation but instead need to make their cases based on their records and policies. In 2014 we will have mid term elections in the house and you better believe the conservatives will be ready and come armed with big money. We need to fight to get real progressives elected to the house to give us a majority in order to push president Obama to the left. We should define the word liberal again with it's true meaning:

With these goals in mind we can bring America forward and return us back to the shining city on the hill, with liberty and justice for all. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012: The Aftermath & My take.

Last night was a big victory for the Democratic party and progressives. Barack Obama handily bested Mitt Romney with 303 electoral votes and 50% of the popular vote. Mitt Romney pompously had no concession speech written as he was so confident of his win, showing just how self absorbed and divorced from reality the man really is. Now thankfully we no longer have to see his smug face on TV or hear him "approve this message". 

But Barack Obama wasn't the only major democratic victory. 

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, putting us on the track to legalization and ending the wildly stupid and completely failed war on drugs. Washington state also legalized recreational marijuana. In Massachusetts medical marijuana also passed with a majority. There are now 15 states where medical marijuana is legal.

I'm predicting the snack food industry in Colorado and Washington state are going to see a big boom. Especially Funyuns, I love those things.

And there are more victories:

Todd "legitimate rape" Akin was crushed legitimately by Claire McCaskill  in Missouri. I guess Missouri women had a way of shutting that whole thing down. Also Richard "god intended you to have that rape baby" Mourdock, who is the by the way also famous for saying that compromise is getting democrats to agree with you, was defeated in Indiana by Democrat Joe Donnely. Don't worry Richard, even though losing is a horrible thing, god intended for it to happen so you should just accept the wonderful gift of being unemployed. 

Allen West of Florida also joins the ranks of the Tea Party unemployed when he was defeated by Patrick Murphy in a tight race. Of course Allen West still hasn't conceded the race. True to Tea Party fashion West has a hard time admitting reality as it so often has a liberal bias and is demanding a recount. Hmm, a recount in Florida, that sounds familiar. 

Deadbeat Dad and Tea Party darlin' Joe Walsh was also unseated by Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq veteran who lost her legs in an apache helicopter crash. Good riddance to bad politicians!

Elizabeth Warren also laid the hammer down on Scott Brown, crushing him with a victory of 54% to 46% of the vote in Massachusetts returning Mass to its liberal roots. Elizabeth Warren is a great progressive and so it's a huge huge victory! 

Unfortunately there is some good news for the Tea Party, Michele Bachmann barely retained her seat in Minnesota. I'm guessing all she had to do was stare at people with those crazy eyes to scare them into voting for her.

All in all in the senate races the Democrats picked up three seats bringing them to a total of 55. 

Unfortunately the house still retains a Republican Majority so we will probably continue to see obstruction in the house until hopefully the midterm elections where Democrats can finish cleaning up the red tide that has messed up congress. John Beohner and Eric Cantor the undynamic duo still retain their seats so we can look forward to more years of drinking, crying, and bad spray tans. 

Paul Ryan also narrowly kept his seat in Wisconsin. So sadly he wont become a P90x trainer anytime soon. Hopefully he will go the way of Palin and end up on Fox news only to be forgotten in two months. 

Back to good news. 

With all the victories it's definitely a time to celebrate, but I also want to stress how important it is not to take these for granted. We progressives still have a lot of work to do now that the easy job of getting Obama reelected is over there is much more work to do. We still have a massive deficit to fix, NDAA, Money in politics which is still the most corrupting influence on our democracy. We still have oil subsidies, low taxes on the wealthy and climate change staring us in the face. These are the problems we face and our work is just beginning to try fix these and other problems our great nation faces. 

So with that in mind we need to remember not to be complacent, not to waver from our progressive values, and to hold our elected officials accountable when they do something we don't agree with. 

The fight for progressive values continues, and it's fight we can only win if everyone stays involved. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why I voted for Barack Obama

Anyone who knows me knows that I have some serious issues with our President. Whether it be the drug war, drone strikes or the lack of arrests on Wall Street for the ones who not only crashed our economy but profited immensely off taxpayer bailouts.

Despite these and other issues, I cast my ballot today for Barack Obama.


It's the Supreme Court stupid.

That right now is the most important issue when I think of who I am voting for. What kind of supreme court do I want. One that's even more conservative than it is now? Just look at the kind of decisions we've already had from the court. Citizens United which expanded corporate speech rights, and Knox vs SEIU that will the effect of limiting the power of unions to compete with the campaign fundraising ability of corporations.

With a Romney presidency expect union rights and women's rights to be eroded even more.

Say goodbye to Roe v. Wade, they only need one more conservative justice.

With a more conservative supreme court it wont matter who is in office when the court will be able to rule everything the president does as unconstitutional, and you can forget about overturning Citizens United.

But It's not just the court.

It's tax policy too. Romney's plan is to cut taxes 20% across the board and raise military spending by two trillion dollars. Despite his promises of it being revenue neutral it will explode the deficit even if he cuts every program that helps the poor, the sick and elderly.

The result will be massive income inequality and debt, worse than what we have now. There is a Turkish born host I've come to admire that is convinced there will be an economic collapse. On his show, The Young Turks Cenk Uygur explains that every time there has been a large amount of income inequality, such as in the 1920's, we have had an economic collapse.

He's right.

Romney's policies have the purpose of redirecting as much money to the rich as he can before that collapse happens.

President Obama, though he's a corporatist, center right governing president, will try to raise taxes on the wealthy and cut entitlements in an effort to balance the budget.

Essentially I'm saying that Romney would take us off the cliff, and I'll be damned sure that I don't help make that happen.

This is no time for a protest vote.

I won't lie, the green party candidates tempted me at the polls today, I also liked and supported Rocky Anderson, because I think the Democratic party has become too centrist, too establishment and not progressive enough. Nonetheless I know that the greens and other third parties will never have a chance to compete as long as we have money in politics controlling who gets the most ads, and who pays for the debates.

The money is the problem.

So while I call myself a progressive, I held my nose and voted for the man who's not going to take us off a cliff. In the hopes that we can try to change the system he operates in instead of letting the Tea Party and Mitt Romney burn it down.

It's my hope that after today, after Obama wins, we can shift our focus to the real issue. The big green elephant in the room.

Money in Politics.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Drug War: The Human Cost

Our society has a drug problem. But it's not what you think.

The problem with drugs, is how we treat those who do them. In America we have some of the toughest drug laws in the western world. We lock away more people in the United States than anywhere else. More than Iran. More than China.

Think about that...

We spend 228 Billion dollars a year on the Federal prison system. Imagine being able to eliminate half of that money spent to incarcerate non violent drug offenders,and instead spending it on treatment programs for those taking hard drugs. 

You know, crack, cocaine, and meth. The really dangerous ones. Not to mention prescription drugs, that are very much legal.

Most of the drug offenders are there for use and possession of Cannabis, or Marijuana. Surveys show Cannabis as the third largest recreational drug in America. And 50% of Americans favor the legalization of Marijuana. According to Gallup polling as of 2011.

But nonetheless a DEA official by the name of Michele Leonhart has no idea whether or not Marijuana is more dangerous or addictive than crack or heroine. Even in the face of many studies that show that it is not as harmful to health nor is it as addictive as other drugs and therefore shouldn't be classed as a schedule one drug along with the likes of heroine and methamphetamine's.

Jill Stein said it best in her presidential debate: 

"Marijuana is dangerous because it's illegal, it's not illegal because it's dangerous." 

So why are we spending so much money locking people up for something that isn't even as harmful as alcohol or tobacco?  It's a long history when it comes to why we made marijuana illegal, and not really the focus of this article. But I can tell you one of the reasons why we continue to have harsh drug laws is because of the private prison industry and the influence of money in politics.

The private prison industry makes money off incarcerating people, in fact: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest prison corporations made over $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010.

Those corporations use a strategy of lobbying, direct campaign contributions as well as networking in order to influence politicians into making laws that are meant to put more people into those private prisons. The three main prison corporations contributed $835,514 to federal candidates and over $6 Million to state politicians according to

Besides the human cost of being incarcerated, the drug war and the associated stigma of being convicted of a drug offence (even a minor one) can follow a person forever.

A good example of how the drug war can haunt someones life and prevent them from getting back on their feet is a guy I used to know from high school.

His name is Justin Musser, and he's living out of his truck. 

A former recreational user of marijuana, Justin was hit with a charge of marijuana possession September of last year. He ended up paying over $2000 in court fees and drug classes as well as six months probation. No longer a pot user, Justin has tried to get back on track after losing his house but faces job discrimination due to the drug charge on his record. Even his plans of going to college have been taken away as he is unable to borrow federal student loans to help cover his tuition costs, as well as to help him pay for things like food and rent.

With no options, as well as no way to afford food as there is now a law preventing college students from being able to get food assistance unless they work at least 20 hours a week. Justin has had to put his life on hold just to be able to afford food.

Having to quit school to eat is not something one should have to do in the richest country on Earth.

It wasn't until recently Justin had to move his camper due to complaints from people in the area, now with nowhere to go, and no money Justin finds it incredibly hard to find the strength to keep up his dreams of one day having a normal life.

"Its just what life is throwing at me. Handling this with dignity is going to be the hard part."

Justin Posted on his Facebook wall, explaining to friends what he continues to go through.

The problem with this drug war is that it takes away dignity from those who are trying to get their lives back on track. With so many doors closed by the stigma of having marijuana classified as a schedule one drug; so many people have found it extremely difficult, especially in this economy to rebuild their lives.

The hypocrisy of the current administration as it pertains to the drug war is that the president himself has done marijuana before. Barack Obama knows personally how harmless smoking marijuana really is, and yet he hasn't done anything to promote legalization. He has even increased raids upon dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. The Obama administration continues to raid dispensaries and use his authority to overrule state laws.

Why? It's the money.

Sadly as long as there is money involved, coming from the private prison corporations, from paper companies, to big pharma that all see hemp as a danger to their business interests. Getting Marijuana decriminalized is going to be nearly impossible to do. While people like Justin and many others will continue to suffer a stigma for doing something that harms no one, and even more people will continue to fill our prisons and jails in order to feed the for-profit prison industrial complex while also filling the pockets of bought politicians in Washington.

This drug war is unconstitutional, anti freedom, and anti American.

We can do better.