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Category: Democracy (Page 1 of 3)

Saving Democracy: Technology – Does the Internet Serve or Undermine Our Democracy?

Technology is constantly pervasive in our lives.  Let’s think for a moment about how one incredibly pervasive technology has changed the way we live twenty four hours a day.  The Internet was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the military research and communications beginning in 1969.  The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects.  By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established.  Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services.  In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.  As recently as 25 years ago there were no companies like Facebook, Netflix, Google, Twitter, eHarmony, LinkedIn, Instagram, Amazon, et al. Yet, these companies were allowed to grow into behemoths largely unregulated with young entrepreneurs maximizing profits not focused on the public trust.

Just twenty-five years later just about everything in our daily life is changed, from task assistants like Siri, dating with eHarmony, finding a job via Linked In, searching for answers on Google, watching on demand movies in our homes via Netflix, sharing photos via Instagram and taking a picture on our smartphones and sharing it with our friends via Facebook.  Corporations embraced the Internet for new applications, channels of distribution, low cost communications, outsourcing of work remotely and low cost entry to new markets.

Along with all these applications, democracy pundits had visions of a more engaged electorate, citizen forums, exchanges of ideas, more facts based discussion, online referendums on key issues and more responsive government. It certainly has not worked out that way, corporations give hundreds of millions of dollars to congressmen and senators, there is certainly more dialog via blogs and websites in the millions – but do we see more heat than light? Plus, with technology gone wild; more fake videos (not the authentic video but edited words and pictures), more hate stories and posts from adversaries like Russia to influence our elections.  The lowest common denominator has certainly been hit with the present POTUS and Congress in place largely not responding to the people’s opinions due to corporate and special interest group lobbying and influence from campaign financing. For instance Pew Research completed a recent poll on climate change, the existential issue of our time, where 56% of all voters view protecting our environment as a top priority for the President and Congress.

Source: Pew Research Center – 4/19/19

Instead, we have an administration loosening targets for auto emissions to static levels, EPA rolling back fossil fuel emission standards and wilderness preserves being opened up to oil drilling.

We ask a fundamental question: is technology in the instance of the Internet serving the needs of democracy or undermining its very foundation?  We will also look in this series of Saving Democracy chapters on other technologies; automation and robots, AI and content platforms.  First, we look at the backbone of the Internet, its vast network built by the federal government, universities and research agencies and now being subverted by corporations.

Net Neutrality – Corporations Undermine the Common Good

Built by taxpayer money by DARPA  for military communications,  next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people?  We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned is new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.

We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast.  As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.

One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural  regions of the country is limited in speed and services.  Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors.  Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.

Source: ISSR – 12/20/17

An analysis in December, 2017 by the ISSR shows that over 177 million Americans would be left without protection if the net neutrality policy were reversed.  Note all the light yellow regions of the country that have no broadband provider at all.  Orange and red regions have providers who have violated net neutrality rules. Without high speed Internet access these mostly rural regions are left to declining investment, fewer jobs and poorer health care.

Next Step:

The Internet backbone network is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and take control of access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.

The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.

No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, the profit policy just can’t do the job.  In July, 2018 when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed.  After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling.  Why should they even be able to throttle?  If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.

Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds.  An equal access Internet provides a critical column foundation for democracy to serve all the people not just the rich. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that corporations have control and power over the public interest.  Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.

Saving Democracy: The US Needs to Lead in Building Global Bridges Not Walls

(Saving Democracy Series:  this post focuses on how our POTUS has agreement by agreement ripped up the post WWII integrated global world that provided most of the people in the world with peace and prosperity that is unparalleled in history.  He has replaced peace with random acts of impulsiveness, doubt, uncertainty and threats which have caused major economic, cultural and societal damage to both emerging and developing countries.  A more dangerous world of nationalism along the lines of the 1930s is now emerging with all its possible horrible results.  First economic loss, then war. It is time to establish a new global order fair to labor and capital in a world order of respect, freedom of thought and speech with economic opportunities for all to establish global stability and peace.)

On July 2nd, the US Trade Representative announced possible $4b in new tariffs on the EU for subsidizing of Airbus, responding to Boeing concerns. Another episode of impulsive threats happened last May when POTUS threatened Mexico with a 10 % tariff on all imported goods if the flow of immigrants across the border did not stop by June 10th.  The action against Mexico threatened support for the just recently announced new trade treaty with Mexico – why sign a treaty when the US is just going to do whatever it wants. He backed down on the threat after the Mexican government made a commitment to redouble efforts at stopping the wave of immigrants from Central America. We can add these trade attacks to a long list of treaties, agreements or international organizations that our POTUS has taken the US out of (or renegotiated):

  1. Nuclear Arms Treaty – Russia
  2. Iran Nuclear Treaty – EU joint signators  
  3. Trans Pacific Partnership – TPP – with 10 emerging countries, Mexico, Canada and Japan
  4. NAFTA – replaced by two bilateral agreements under consideration by Congress
  5. UNESCO – UN cultural program
  6. UNHRC – UN Human Rights Council
  7. UNRWA – UN Refugee and Works Agency – supports 5M Palestinian refugees, when the US pulled out riots broke out for a week
  8. Paris Climate Treaty
  9. Global Arms Treaty
  10. G7 – developed countries council – POTUS wants Russia added back in, they were barred after annexing the Crimea
  11. Brexit – US has been cheering the UK leaving the EU, offering a ‘big agreement’ if the UK leaves the EU

POTUS has continued to bash NATO, a long standing military organization uniting Europe and the US against an aggressor. The constant undermining of the group opens a divide that adversaries may see as a crack to drive division and move ahead with probes or territorial gains.

The president has also focused on economic agreements – taking a unilateral approach around the provisions of the World Trade Organization and standing economic agreements on tariffs. He calls himself the ‘Tariff Man’ and has implemented with the acquiesce of Congress tariffs on allies like Canada & Mexico (new separate agreements under Congressional review), competitors like China, and cancelled a favorable import agreement for India.  Businesses are worried:

Source: Moody Analytics, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/28/2019

Consumers have been hurt already in nine different product classes with increases in prices of over 10 %, as consumers or the importer pay the increase tariff on an imported goods including appliances (washer and dryer tariffs 12 months ago), furniture, bedding, floor coverings, auto parts, motorcycles, sport vehicles, housekeeping supplies and sewing equipment:

Sources: Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/13/19

The United States and China have been sparing since July 2018 in an escalating trade war, which seemed to be coming to a conclusion as recently as last April.  Then, the President announced in a tweet that China a reneged on commitments it had made and was ending negotiations.  The Chinese sent a delegation to try and restart negotiations but it was fruitless. For two months tensions escalated until a truce with a restart in negotiations was called as a result of a summit between President Trump and Chairman Xi at Osaka on June 29th.  The US relented on planned additional tariffs on all China imports up to $325b, and eased restrictions on Huawei sales by American companies in return for a vague promise by the Chinese to purchase more farm goods and to negotiate.

Sources: The Peterson Institute, for International Economics, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/15/19

The Chinese have dug in for a long haul, threatening to cut rare earth shipments to the US and curtail further purchase of US Treasury bonds, with additional $60 B in tariffs at 25 %. We must remember the Chinese form of capitalism is really not ‘state based capitalism’ as the financial media likes to label in a benign way. The China economy is really ‘authoritarianism cloaked in capitalism’.  This is a mixed economy of state based industries subsidized with some free capital sectors kept in place by central planning. A key aspect of the this cloaking activity is the lack of transparency about who actually owns a Chinese company. In addition, the China Central Bank (PBOC) and sovereign wealth fund own about $200 B in US stocks providing insights and investment control. The Chinese government has deployed Orwellian digital surveillance to keep the people loyal to the state and not thinking or speaking freely. Internet news and social media sties are heavily censored by the state. That’s not democratic based capitalism. Another twist in the relationship with China, is Wall Street leaders have been instrumental in assisting the Chinese government in gaining approval to join the WTO years ago, and still make billions of dollars from fees and investments. The recent Chinese overture to open financial markets maybe a way for the Chinese to win over Wall Street and blunt the trade war of the GOP administration. The Trump Trade war with China is a failure, because it misses the true character of authoritarian government and economics how it uses the economy and capitalism to placate the masses to increase state control. Central government loyalty is the prime directive. Trust is missing between the people and the state – yet the people give up freedom for money when we here the Hong Kong protesters who vandalized the legislature building in late June criticized by mainlanders with comments like ‘they need to quit protesting and get a good job and buy things’. This is a bargain with manipulative leaders resulting in an unhappy ending, as people’s hearts and minds are imprisoned for money, the benefits with be fleeting and the costs dear.

Farmers in the Midwest, growing soybeans have seen their market collapse, other crops like corn, sorghum, wheat have seen huge price drops as China stopped buying from US suppliers. As soybean prices have fallen farm income has dropped almost 20 % and Midwest bankruptcies of farmers have risen above levels seen in the Great Recession.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/15/18
Sources: The Federal Reserve Bank – Minneapolis, US Courts – 11/28/18

Since last fall when this Federal Reserve report was filed, bankruptcies have continued to increase at an accelerated rate, as farmers cannot get loans from banks to buy seed when prices are so low. The Administration has promised subsidies to farmers totaling $16bn yet the president of Soybean Farmers Association says he has not been able to see Agriculture Secretary Perdue or any of the subsidy money nor farmers in his group. Many farmers believe that when the money does come from the government it will not be enough and not replace the contracts for farm goos lost to Brazil, Russia and other countries.

Next Steps:

World War II was catastrophe for the world, millions of people killed, whole societies wiped out, along with an aftermath of starvation and depressed economies.  World leaders did not want to see a repeat of the WWII disaster.  They knew if they built a set of world-wide agreements and regional organizations to sustain and enforce those agreements there might be a better chance to prevent war from happening again.  The United Nations was founded in October of 1945 in San Francisco to provide a forum for discussion and implementation of world community building programs. The NATO alliance was founded by 29 countries who were WWII allies by approving the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington in April, 1949.  Economic disputes were to be settled by adhering to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs approved by over 100 countries in 1948. The World Trade Organization charted in 1994 succeeded GATT, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Thus, many treaties and organizations were founded by most developed countries and many emerging countries to give economic, cultural and governmental support toward building a world community.  Presidents from both parties through the years since WWII have supported the uniting of diverse people around the globe so they all have a piece of the economic pie and security.

Now, our POTUS seems to think that ripping up global treaties and organizations, undermining them, and going it alone will somehow be better for the US.  Maybe things will get better for a few companies or sectors for a little while. However the trade deficit continues to trend worse since the January 2017 term of POTUS to the highest deficit ever with $55 bn last May,

Source: Department of Commerce,, Federal Reserve of St.Louis, Marketwatch – 7/2/19

Some soybean contracts have returned, yet the US still imports more from Europe, Mexico and Canada than we export, the tariff war is just making the deficit worse.   Already, we have seen with retaliatory tariffs from China, threats of reunification to take Taiwan – as a national publication likened to Lincoln unifying the United States. Today countries are going after their own goals spiraling downward into economic wars and eventually military action.  The lessons of the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, harsh reparations on Germany and nationalism (rising today in a hideous way) led to WWII. When other countries see the US leader of the free world embrace ‘America First’ ambitions, why should they sit back and let America get ahead, the fight is on.  We should work with the capitalism elements and businesses in the China that are largely free of state control, building bridges to them, empowering them so country leaders see that the only path to lasting prosperity is when the people’s minds are free to innovate and create.

Yes, it is true, there were unbalanced agreements, the US did lose jobs to overseas countries, and maybe a few emerging countries took advantage the US.  But, we need to be thinking about helping people build their economies, or they will want a piece of the economic pie by force from the US. Job safeguards for American workers should be in place in all agreements, and fair levees and access to markets, protection of intellectual property, yet we need to work within the world order to make structural changes supported by all countries.

Saving Democracy: Elect the President by Popular Vote

(Saving Democracy Series:  this post focuses on how unfair, and undemocratic the minority vote of a President can be. Two ideas are summarized on how to reform the Electoral College which are most often proposed by scholars and political leaders, electors allocated by congressional districts or, The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact)

With the kickoff of 2020 presidential campaigns by 23 democratic candidates and one GOP president, we are reminded of how our democracy failed to elect the popularly voted candidate, Hillary Clinton in the last presidency contest.   The 2016 presidential election results were: Donald Trump receiving 290 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 228, yet she won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.  That event continues to cause protests, fear, anxiety and sense of injustice across the country.  The Electoral College was developed by the foundering fathers as a way to make the Office of the President a powerful branch of government, not beholding to the majority of representatives in Congress. They developed a state based election system where presidential electors were allocated by state for each senator and congressional representative.  Including the 2016 election, there has been 6 times in U.S. history that a president was elected who did not receive the most popular votes.  A minority elected president is viewed by many people as illegitimate. While the minority candidate has been constitutionally elected, the candidate does not have the majority mandate necessary to execute the responsibilities of the office outlined in the Constitution.

This author asked his mother when he turned 18 years old, ‘how do you vote for President?’ she replied, ‘I think of the President like a child with a hammer, how much damage can he do, so I vote for the least damage.”  Our POTUS 45 must have listened to her as he is hammering away at a variety of democratic institutions, alliances and principles.

Why do we have the Electoral College anyway? The founding fathers had just come from a monarchy based government, so they did not want to repeat a system of a proclaimed leader (everyone wanted George Washington to be President at the time) with the leader appointing the next in succession.  Another approach under consideration was to have a national leader based on representational majority in Parliament.  Yet, they believed in balancing the powers of Congress and the Executive branch.  Plus, the founders were looking for a way to motivate the President for good behavior by allowing a second term.  If the President were elected by Congress it would have to be for one term, or he would become a tool of the majority in Congress. They did not want a direct popular vote because they were concerned that a national constituency could not be developed with so many regions and states likely to have favorite son candidates. James Madison, Constitution Convention recorder and leader, was looking for a compromise because southern states felt they would lose out in a national constituency with blacks being 3/5 of a citizen to vote.  So, a compromise was established to have a set of electors voted on by the people in each state based on popular vote. These electors that would then vote in a separate Electoral College vote in December with ballots read in a session of Congress.  If there was a tie 269 – 269 of electors between candidates, then Congress would vote on who would become President.  In our history there have been 5 Presidents who have not won the popular vote but have won by electors. 

Why is this a problem?  The popular will of the people is thwarted.   A major issue is that the Electoral College is not one person – one vote as identified in our Constitution for a representative democracy.  A vote in California with 55 electoral votes and 8,458,000 citizen votes means that one electoral vote represents 153,781 citizens.  In Wyoming, with 3 electoral votes and 230,197 citizen votes means that one electoral vote equals 76,732 citizen votes. A voter in Wyoming enjoys twice as powerful citizen/electoral vote than a citizen in California. The balance of power in the Electoral College swings to mostly sparsely populated inland states deciding who our president will be.  In the 2016 election inequitable voting power certainly is evident looking at an electoral map (right click on image to enlarge):

Source: Wikipedia – December – 2016

Voting power inequity creates great frustration and anger. In the days after the November 2016 election, there were protests in 37 cities across the country against the president elect due to the injustice of the non-popular vote. All our representative government functions are based on majority vote from local city councils to state legislatures and the US Congress.  It only makes sense to have a popular vote for president in the modern era. With growing economic inequality and divisive politics particularly between inland and coastal people a fair vote for president would go a long way toward building a united country.

Next steps:

Why not just have a direct popular vote?  This would be a good solution except that the Constitution needs to be changed in a two-step process by creating an amendment followed by ratification. The US Congress can create an amendment by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate or two thirds of the state legislatures.  The proposed amendment then must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures in a time frame approved by Congress.  This is a long and difficult process as 11,539 amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789 and 27 have become part of the US Constitution.

How about apportioning electors by congressional district?  We already portion congressional districts by population which is updated each decade by the Census Bureau.  The congressional district approach provides some equity for citizen to elector representation – though it will not fix the inequality completely due to the two senate electors. Maine and Nebraska apportion their electors by congressional districts today, with their two senatorial electors representing a statewide vote.  The congressional districting approach would be fair and take care of 80 % of the vote inequity issue. Plus, candidates would need to focus their campaigning on congressional districts not the whole state for a winner take all result. For example, California rarely sees presidential candidates from either party for the presidential race because it has gone for the Democratic candidate in the last 6 elections.  Candidates would benefit by campaigning in key congressional districts in even majority states to gain support of electors by congressional districts which may not vote with the majority of the voters on many issues or candidates.

The best approach would be to have congressional districts mapped by an independent commission as California does to ensure that the district is open to diverse political viewpoints. By establishing congressional districts as the key representative unit with fair boundaries for inclusion of multiple points of view we might see more dialog at the local level.  The increased dialog will induce more consensus building and possibly break the grasp of incumbents who are re-elected 93 % of the time.  State legislatures can decide on their manner of apportioning electors – so we could build a national census to have the states enact changes by the 2024 election.

Professors Akhil and Vikram Amar propose a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Whereby, states legislatures would agree to vote their electors for the winner of the popular vote.  This compact would take effect when at least 270 electoral votes would be in the Compact.  To date fifteen state legislatures have ratified this Compact, swing and inland statues are reluctant to make the switch because they may lose some of their power in electing the next president. Yet, an analysis of advantages to either party are even when viewed over elections back to 1880. Both major parties back the Compact with former senators and congressman on a steering committee supporting the legislation in state houses. Both approaches: congressional district electors or the Popular Vote Interstate Compact are fair to both major parties and third party candidates.

Source: Wikipedia – April – 2019

A way to get the reform of the Electoral College off of dead inertia would be to file a suit in federal court seeking a finding that the present system violates one man – one vote provision of the Constitution, thereby forcing the states to redistribute their electors by another method preferably by congressional district with independent commission mapping or Compact.  Persuading additional states to pass the Compact law where legislation is pending like New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine would gain the necessary 270 electoral votes for the Compact to take legal effect.

Saving Democracy: Congressional Representative Districts Drawn By Independent Commission

(Editor Note: This is the third post in a series on renewing the institutions of our federal government and democracy to ensure that it will endure. Looking at trends today with data, analysis of the present situation and recommendations for changes. Todays post focuses congressional districts being set by an independent commission not legislators. )

Sources: North Carolina General Assembly, Kontretykieta.com – NC Redistricting 2016

The next census count of the population of 50 states is to be completed in 2020, with states losing population or gaining population being forced to redistrict their Congressional Representative districts.  Southern and Western states like North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Virginia, California, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado are likely to gain seats.  Northeastern and Midwestern states like Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota plus Alabama and West Virginia are likely to lose seats.

The redistricting process must be completed by the time ballots are printed for the 2022 election. Only 6 states use independent commissions of equal representation of each party and varying numbers of independent non-partisan members. The other 44 states use some form of state legislature approved redistricting. The legislatures are given the power to establish congressional districts by the Constitution.

Source: Wikipedia – 4/1/19

Does it really make sense to have the foxes running the hen house?  All states have partisan legislative bodies (except Nebraska), the majority party ensures that they can dominate the next congressional election by gerrymandering the state district map.   Legislators should not be deciding who voters vote for, voters should be making that decision.  In North Carolina, General Assembly Republican, Rep. David Lewis said, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” of a map plan passed by the legislature in 2016. When voters went to the polls that fall, 10 GOP representatives won seats, while only 3 Democrats were elected yet the GOP only won 53 % of the popular vote  Now this redistricting issue is before the Supreme Court to be decided later this year. Other states have been in and out of federal courts including Maryland and Wisconsin for redistricting violations based on party affiliation. State legislatures have a long undemocratic history of creating poll taxes for ethnic groups they didn’t like or discriminating against minorities by placing them in loaded districts away from their logical geographic location.

Let’s safeguard from partisanship the most important of democratic institutions – voting, by ensuring that voters will be located in diverse districts from all political points of view.  Congress needs to pass a law requiring all states to institute Independent Commissions to draw congressional district maps.   Maybe if we had more representative districts candidates would offer more compromising positions, so when they go to Congress they might just learn to work together and do what’s best for the people not corporations or the Elite.

Millennials Left Out of the Economic Boom

Image: fee.org

Millennials have seen the lowest level of GDP growth of three major generations since WWII.  Baby Boomers, Gen X enjoyed GDP growth rates of between 30 – 40 % in the ten years after they turned 18 years old.  While, Millennials experienced half those GDP growth rates .

Sources: Commerce Department, The Washington Post – 3/15/19

To gain entrance to good jobs, Millennials became the most educated cohort in America’s history – yet at a price.  Student debt is at an all-time high of $1.5 trillion. This debt level has caused at least 400,000 potential young buyers of homes to be left out of the housing market in 2014, according to Federal Reserve economists.  One reason students needed to take on such massive debt loads is states for the past 30 years have been drawing down their financial support of college education by between 60 – 50 %.  Universities were left no choice to fill the funding gap except by raising tuition. 

We have documented in previous posts that real wages for the 80 % in income group have been basically stagnant for the last 30 years.  As the nation’s top 20 % gains 90 %  of the income and wealth gains since the Great Recession, Millennials have been further challenged to keep up, particularly if they have no college education living in inner cities and Midwest rural regions.  The hallowing out of manufacturing in the Midwest and South has produced low wage, low benefit, limited future jobs for young people. Add the slow Internet infrastructure and lower quality healthcare makes the future look dim.  Is it any wonder that the Heartland has the highest opioid death rate in the country?

Millennials feel their lack of an economic future in other ways, delaying marriage by 8  to 10 years and having children 5 – 6 years later than other generations.

Next Steps:

A whole generation has been missing out on the benefits of the fastest growing wealth generation economy in the world.  As income and wealth goes to the top 10 % to the highest level of concentrated wealth since 1929, the education services that make for a broad based pluralistic economy have fewer student slots and extremely high tuition.  Corporate and wealthy individual taxes are at the lowest levels in 50 years.  Our higher education system is turning into a grinder for people of modest means, carrying a heavy burden of debt for young people to begin their careers and families.

The number one issue for Millennials is student debt.  We need as a country to deal with this problem.  Students did not withdraw support for state colleges and universities, taxpayers and state governments did withdraw financial support with huge consequences for our young people and our economy. There have been a variety of proposals to reduce student debt including, forgiving debt completely, or forgiving debt for service to the country (as a proposal we made in a post to focus on investing in our Midwest communities), require corporations to provide more training for employees, and corporate support of a national apprenticeship program at a funding level and quality of Germany’s apprentice program for non – college careers.

The key is we need to end the bickering between conservatives, independents and liberals and take on the economic challenge of huge debt that our young people have today.  Certainly, these people need to take responsibility for their own economic future, but we who created the present economy of winners and losers need to do better by our young people or when they gain positions of economic power we may not like the economic system they setup.

Saving Democracy: Make Voting Rights, Systems Uniform For All 50 States

(Editor Note: This is the second post in a series on renewing the institutions of our federal government and democracy to ensure that it will endure. Looking at trends today with data, analysis of the present situation and recommendations for changes. Todays post focuses voting rights being made universal for all states without state manipulation of the voting process or access for all eligible voters.)

Photo: mashable.com

Over the past ten years 23 states have passed laws to restrict voter rights.  Some states of have instituted cumbersome identification procedures, cut down pre-election day times to vote, added restrictions on mail in ballots, taken voters off the rolls for political reasons, and made voter registration more difficult.

Source: The Brennan Center for Justice – 3/5/19

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is a concept gaining momentum in many states, the Brennan Justice Center for Justice outlines their proposal in this way:

First, AVR makes voter registration “opt-out” instead of “opt-in”— eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated, unless they affirmatively decline. Again, the voter can opt-out; it is not compulsory registration. Second, those agencies transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials instead of using paper registration forms. These common-sense reforms increase registration rates, clean up the voter rolls, and save states money.”

The plan would automatically use registration information at a state agency for eligible voters to be registered to vote: for example, when 18 year old goes to the DMV for a driver’s license their registration information would electronically be sent to the Secretary of State and their name added onto the voting rolls where they live. Citizen interactions with other state agencies where registration is required would follow a similar procedure.

The House of Representatives has just passed HR 1, a comprehensive voting rights act making voting registration, rights, procedures, identification, pre-election day voting, public funding of candidates, tax returns by candidates for President and Vice – President, election day a federal holiday and other innovations to bring our voting process into the modern age, here is a summary of the bill from the House website:

This bill addresses voter access, election integrity, election security, political spending, and ethics for the three branches of government.

Specifically, the bill expands voter registration and voting access, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and limits removing voters from voter rolls (and automatic voter registration).

“The bill provides for states to establish independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions.

The bill also sets forth provisions related to election security, including sharing intelligence information with state election officials, protecting the security of the voter rolls, supporting states in securing their election systems, developing a national strategy to protect the security and integrity of U.S. democratic institutions, establishing in the legislative branch the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, and other provisions to improve the cybersecurity of election systems.

This bill addresses campaign spending, including by expanding the ban on foreign nationals contributing to or spending on elections; expanding disclosure rules pertaining to organizations spending money during elections, campaign advertisements, and online platforms; and revising disclaimer requirements for political advertising.

This bill establishes an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices. The system involves federal matching of small contributions for qualified candidates.

This bill sets forth provisions related to ethics in all three branches of government. Specifically, the bill requires a code of ethics for federal judges and justices, prohibits Members of the House from serving on the board of a for-profit entity, expands enforcement of regulations governing foreign agents, and establishes additional conflict-of-interest and ethics provisions for federal employees and the White House.

The bill also requires candidates for President and Vice President to submit 10 years of tax returns.”

Senate Majority Leader McConnell, denounced HR1 as a ‘power grab’, which seems dismissive of a way to effectively bring our voting processes into the modern age and make voting more democratic rather than manipulated by a controlling party in the state to enhance the turnout of their voters over others in elections. 

It is about time we had universal voting rights, processes and programs across all our states to ensure that voting is accessible by all citizens regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, or wealth.

Our next post: will focus on congressional districting, crucial to fair elections.

(In a series: on key topics for renewal of our democracy; voting rights, corporate power and reform, Electoral College reform, congressional district reform, Congressional reform (not three presidents) (campaign finance reform), using the Internet and high tech (AI is a common good) to strengthen democracy, innovative government program implementation using Silicon Valley model, support of the Press (our Fourth Estate), educational reform, ethical government service, finance and stock market reform, land and home ownership, environmental stewardship, citizenship and service, civil discourse (choose our words), using evidence to pass laws and create policy, and our global leadership role.)

Saving Democracy: Renewing Our Government Infrastructure v2.0P

Source: editorials.voa.gov

“We can’t have an economy that works for all if we don’t have a democracy that works for all.” TPE, Editor, Patrick Hill

By returning political power to the people then economic opportunities can be once again be made available to all.   Why is this reform and rebuilding effort important? Because the people don’t trust their government.  If citizens don’t trust their democratic institutions to do the right things for them, they will turn to demagogues who use hate, fear, divisiveness, pride, and power to weld control over the people to gain wealth and power for themselves. Here is a poll from NPR/Marist on the trust people have in various forms of U.S. government:

Sources: NPR, Marist – 1/17/18

Congress comes in dead last of all the major institutions, with the Military first and the Supreme Court second (though as the court becomes more politicized this level of trust may change). The Presidency under our present POTUS has not helped in terms of trust, since he was not elected by the majority of people falling almost 3 million votes short and then proceeded with policies that only appeal to his minority base. People inherently believe the majority person or policy should win. In our 2016 presidency election the majority candidate did not win, so the majority opinions are not represented in the Executive branch. The Executive branch starts out with a lack of support, trust or mandate to govern. Our government by the people for the people and of the people can only survive if people have trust in their government. What is even worse is the level of confidence Americans have in their government to handle international or domestic problems has dropped significantly:

Source: Gallup – 1/31/19

One month after the 9/11 tragedy the American public rallied around their government and leaders to provide protection and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Since 2001, the confidence the public has in their government to handle problems has declined to a 18 year low.

One reason trust is so low is the government actually does not represent the people when it comes to passing laws in accordance with citizen opinions, needs and condition.  Professors Martin Gilens, at Princeton, and Benjamin Page, at Northwestern examined thousands of opinion poll surveys from 1981 to 2002, and grouped them based on the top 10 % in income versus the bottom 90 %.  Then, they reviewed 1779 policy proposals versus the opinion surveys and found the elite saw 76 % of their opinions reflected while the general public only 3%.  Special interest groups gained 56 % of their positions reflected in policies. It is little wonder that the general public is frustrated with their federal government.

Democrats, Republicans, and Independents need to step back a moment, or a year and think about our democracy first and their policies second.  The most salient aspect of politics since the 1980s is the ascendency of corporations, the wealthy and special interest groups gaining and sustaining power in Washington supported by both major parties. At the same time wages for the working class and 80 % in income have basically stagnated on a real wage basis. Our government needs to work for everyone: conservative, liberal, immigrant, native born, poor or wealthy.  We need more government processes focused on building consensus rather than the predominant government, Internet and media processes fanning the flames of division. Division is freezing our ability to move ahead and even look ahead 10, 20 or 30 years to solve problems before they become too immense to solve without great loss of life or economic damage. The fact that we cannot seem to make the right legislative, corporate decisions or encourage environmental sound citizen behaviors to save our planet is evidence enough of the breakdown of our democracy to solve real problems. Are these problems solvable? Yes, but only if we work together bringing the genius of our diverse people to focus in effective ways to solve those existential issues we face. There are so many narratives that are disconnected, people talking past each other. We need to connect the narratives and arrive a one narrative that the majority of Americans can support on each major issue.

Our next post: will focus on voting, the heart of our democracy.

Hundreds of Thousands Of Lives Disrupted Needlessly Because of Lack of Evidence Based Government

Image: civilserviceworld.com

Thirty five days ago the GOP held control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency and yet an ill-advised policy based on ignorance was allowed to hold 800,000 federal works hostage.  How did this happen?  Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer,  Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi all agreed just before Christmas to extend a spending bill for a few weeks enabling the federal government to keep running while discussions were pursued on a Border Wall. POTUS went along with this plan and told Majority Leader McConnell he would sign the extension bill.  Yet, that evening POTUS started listening to commentators from his far right base – changed his mind and demanded funding of $5.7 billion for a wall or he would as he said a week earlier ‘take pride in shutting down the government’.  The Border Wall idea has no solid evidence to support that it would work to stem the tide of drugs of which 90 % come through ports of entry, drug leaders and gangs who fly over the border.  PBS sent a reporter to the border near Nogales, Arizona to gather real data on what was actually happening at the border.  He found that people on the border did not want a huge wall except for sections of see-through barriers in cities, yet wanted more border police, more access roads and surveillance technology. Speaker Pelosi made an excellent point in her press conference today, after POTUS caved when it was obvious the shutdown was causing real harm to many Americans, plus federal workers and their families.  She declared, ‘we support more border security measures, that are evidence based,’

Her focus on evidence based policy was music to our ears.  When was the last time during this GOP administration have we heard that policy would be ‘evidence based’ (with real facts not made up ‘alternative facts’)? The EPA has moved quickly to shift policy making processes to not use scientific based reports or data in making policy decisions. Immigration policy is based on scapegoating of Muslims, Mexicans, and Central Americans instead of the facts.  The facts are that new businesses are twice as likely to be started by immigrants, that when the Mexican economy thrived cross border immigration fell dramatically and that majority of immigrants fill jobs that most American workers don’t want to do.  Canada has looked at their trend of an aging population and declining workforce.  To build the size and skills of their labor force for the future they are welcoming immigrants – we should be doing the same thing. Our population is aging quickly, so without an immigrant influx of entrepreneurs and workforce we will be faced with a stagnant economy looking much like Japan’s.

The effectiveness of modern medicine was revolutionized when evidenced based medical practices and research was implemented as a standard clinical practice in the 1960s.  Businesses today use Big Data analysis, models, forecasting and innovate new products based on data, research and analysis before making investments. The dramatic increase in our standard of living is based on innovative processes in universities, businesses and financial services all insisting on ‘getting the data’ first before making proposals or investments.

We should accept nothing less than evidence based government. We are behind by 20 years on combating the effects of scientifically proven climate change. Our future will depend on making intelligent decisions based on evidence to implement sound policies and investments to ensure the existence of humanity.

Truth Has Lost It’s Most Important Defender – POTUS

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: spjla.org

Just before Thanksgiving, the FBI briefed the president on what actually happened to Washington Post columnist Jama Khosshoggi, that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had to know and give the order for his murder in the Saudi Turkish Consulate.

Instead of defending the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press and those that work so diligently at revealing and publishing the truth – POTUS defended the brutal killing of Khosshogi.  In a wholly greedy, self-serving, money grabbing (as Dickens would put it) way he talked about how important Saudi oil was to the U.S and for the kingdom to keep buying U.S. arms – killing thousands of innocent Yemeni people along the way.

The Truth lost its most important defender today.  We all lost out to geo politics and power in its most naked way.  The message being sent by our President is: “as long as you keep paying us and buying our stuff you can kill anybody you want and we will look the other way, including journalists”.  Historians will look back on this event as the low point for Truth in this country and the defense of the Press.

Our founding  fathers knew that a strong press was crucial to keep government in check from overreaching with its power over the people.  Jefferson and Madison believed in the American experiment that a well-informed citizenry will in the end make wise decisions about who and how they should be governed.

This president with all his demagoguery, scapegoating, bullying and no respect for the truth has taken the moral level of our country to a new low – in our eyes and the eyes of the world. He passed the 5,000 mark in falsehoods, misleading statements and just plain lies as recorded by the Washington Post this past September.  He has actually increased the number of falsehoods as he was campaigning for candidates he backed to an average of 32 per day from 8 per day up to his 601st day in office.

Journalists are under attack around the world, in the first 6 months of 2018 there has been 47 journalists killed worldwide almost the same number as for all of 2017.

Source: Statista – 2018

With nearly double the number of deaths through June 2018 journalists have a target on their backs.  Our POTUS did not help the situation by sending the message that dictators can kill journalists and there is no consequence.  When worldwide we a renewed focus on the truth, instead we are giving a green light to the creation of lie after lie.

Our national leaders need to be defending journalists throughout the world and in the U.S in particular because they are the investigators, researchers and messengers of truth.  Truth is the fresh air of democracy.  Our democracy cannot survive as a representative government when the truth and those who find and express the truth are under attack.

Congress and our national leaders need to take action to show the Saudi government that we want a relationship with the nation, not their present brutal leader, and the Saudi people.  We must defend the Truth, Liberty and Freedom wherever it is under attack in the world.

Dignity of Presidency We Can Agree On

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: YourLittlePlanet.jpg

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed that nearly 70 % of all Americans agreed that the dignity of the presidency had been damaged by  POTUS.  Even, GOP members agreed with this finding by 40 %.  Another point most Americans agree on is that the President should be more consistent with previous presidents by a wide margin of 69 %, the majority of GOP members agreed by 57 %.

We look to our Chief Executive to set the tone for national discourse on critical issues facing the country – not abusive language, mocking, and divisive rhetoric most of which is untrue.  It is heartening to see that most Americans see what is happening today as being out of bounds in the dignity and behavior of the present Chief Executive.  Americans still have respect, and support a President who is seen as fair, truthful and exemplifying dignity.

If we can’t get the building of civil national discourse going at the top – let’s start building from the grass roots up.  The following observations on building service in our lives is attributed to Mother Teresa:

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway, What you spend years building, some could destroy overnight.  Build anyway.  The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.  Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have got anyway. You see, in the final analysis it is between you and your God…anyway.”

Over 80 % of Americans believe in God or some higher spiritual force.  Maybe we start with the universal understanding that as spirit beings we need to be building our communities, families and relationships with each other.

Let’s start building regardless of whether we receive a positive response in return or our motives are suspected.  The world needs nothing less than the best we have to give today to bend the arc of universal justice toward equality and peace.

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