Archive for August, 2012

WHEN “BIG” GOVERNMENT IS EFFICIENT AND SOCIALLY BENEFICIAL

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

This is election time, and time for Republicans to advocate smaller government, and repeat President Reagan’s claim that “[In this present crisis], government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”1 This assertion deserves a prominent response. The country has recently emerged from Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, a good example of when the central government was the problem. But here are examples of the opposite, of the federal (hopefully efficient) centralized government’s ability to do great things for our country.2

FDIC and the Volcker Rule:  In 1933, under President Roosevelt, Congress passed the Banking Act of 1933. Although four sections of that Act, which became known as the Glass-Steagall Act,  have been much in the news since 2008, the part that has most protected the financial health of Americans endures without  fanfare. This is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) law. This has protected the bank deposits of ordinary people for nearly eighty years. Before this time, a depositor’s only protection was unrealistically difficult research into a bank’s stability. The Glass-Steagall  portions limiting the relations between commercial banks and investment  organizations selling securities, was gradually whittled away starting in the 1960s, and finally repealed in 1998. Fortunately, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act  (July 21, 2010) has taken over  some of the regulatory duties and instituted new ones. It establishes a Consumer Protection Agency, increases the transparency of derivatives, and mandates the implementation of the Volcker Rule. In the abstract, this Rule aims to outlaw activity in which there is a conflict of interest between a bank and its clients, including doing high risk trading.  It forbids depository banks from trading in securities by using their own (i.e. which might include their customer’s funds) capital.3 The Rule continues to have Republican enemies who hope to eliminate it. They were able to weaken the final form, such that banks can invest 3% of their own capital in equity or for hedging purposes. Mr. Voclker has proposed that investment companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley wanted to get banking licenses during the economic crises so as to qualify for federal protection from failing.

MEDICARE:  The passage of Medicare in 1965 has increased the health and well-being of senior Americans. One of its major benefits has been simply to remove the fear of lacking the affordable care they would need. Before that time, some health care and its coverage was tied to employment, and was lost  when seniors became unemployed. Over half of seniors did not have health insurance, because it was too expensive.

The 1965 Medicare innovation was a bi-partisan one. Once again, there are several bi-partisan proposals out there. We need to consider them because: Congress has been unable to develop a long term solution to a reimbursement rate for doctors, which damages confidence in the program.  More doctors are considering dropping out of or limiting Medicare patients. The baby-boomers have already started enrolling in Medicare at the rate of 10,000 each day for the next 20 years. And many of the unemployed no longer pay into the program. The Medicare Trust Fund that pays hospital bills will be empty by 2022-2024, and if nothing is done, would be supported only by yearly payroll tax revenues.

Although one or both of these proposals may be “off-the-table” now as legislation, they are worth considering as examples of what compromise could look like. In a different area, the Simpson-Bowles plan for the federal debt reduction still has a following as a model of bi-partisanship. It had nothing to do with Medicare, but according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, it would have reduced the federal debt down from 73 percent of GDP now to 67 percent in 2022. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin voted against Simpson-Bowles, because he wears two hats. He worked with Senator Wyden on a bipartisan approach to Medicare. However,  as David Brooks has said, he also thinks the Democrats will lose all political power and the Republicans do not need to cooperate with them on debt reduction.

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A BAD SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A NONEXISTENT PROBLEM

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Voter ID laws are unnecessary and undemocratic

Reports of polling place voter fraud are very rare. The incidence was 0.0009% in a review of the 2004 Washington State governor’s race. The same year in Ohio, a review of that year’s election revealed a fraud rate of 0.0004%1. An evaluation of the 2004 election in Wisconsin came up with a 0.0007% voter fraud rate. Studies to determine the amount of improper voting showed that most was either improper voter registration or ineligibility of someone with a previous felony conviction. According to Spencer Overton, a George Washington University law professor and former member of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, “a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1000 or perhaps 10,000 legitimate votes for very single improper vote prevented”2.

Voter ID laws, which are largely championed by Republican and conservative groups, have a disproportionate negative voter eligibility effect on minority groups [African-Americans and Latinos], young voters, the elderly and people with disabilities. These groups, in a large majority tend to vote democratic. There is also a significant cost to taxpayers in states that have passed these laws to educate voters and provide for the photo ID’s. [It’s been estimated at $20 million in North Carolina.] Also in many states several identification forms are required to qualify for a government issued photo ID and many potential voters who will need to obtain them cannot do so because of cost or inability to get time off work.3

The Brennan Center for Justice says that these laws may disenfranchise as many as 3.2 million of the 29 million citizens of voting age in 5 states where new photo ID laws will go into effect for the 2012 election. [Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin]4. Charles Brow, quoting the Brennan Center, reports that prior to the 2006 general election no states in this country required a government issued photo ID as a qualification for voting5. It hardly seems a coincidence that once Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, those opposed to his reelection would come up with plans to suppress the vote of those groups who so strongly supported him and many other successful Democrats in 2008. The takeover of many state legislatures and governorships since 2008 has certainly facilitated this movement. Even in 2008 there was beginning concern that “voter fraud” was a myth and had already become a partisan issue. Also, it pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court, by upholding Indiana’s voter ID law showed that it “will not perform its historic role of protecting voters”6. This movement toward universal voter ID requirements can certainly be considered a sad, outrageous and undemocratic move to reverse the amazing progress throughout the last century, beginning with the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement and voting laws of the 1960’s to encourage universal voter participation for all eligible voters.

For an excellent summary of these issues and documentation of other voter suppression laws and how these actions, if unchallenged, could change the electoral landscape please look at a summary of voting law changes in 2012 from the  Brennan Center for Justice7.  For a discussion of the complexities of evaluating the truth in voter fraud claims see the current article by Steven Rosenfeld in AterNet8   Also see an article by Bill Blum in Truthdig for a discussion of past, current and future worrisome role of the U.S. Supreme Court in evaluating these ubiquitous voter suppression laws9.

1.http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/policy_brief_on_the_truth_about_voter_fraud/

2. Diannis, Judith Browne, Five Myths about voter fraud. Washington Post opinions, 10/04/2011

3. http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/the_challenge_of_obtaining_voter_identification/

4.  http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_law_changes_in_2012/Executive Summary

5. Blow, Charles W. Where’s the Outrage? OpEd New York Times 7/28/2012

6. The Myth of Voter Fraud. Editorial New York Times 5/13/08

7. http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/2012_summary_of_voting_law  changes.8.

8. http://www.alternet.org/gop-voter-fraud-hucksters-latest-lie-felons-made-franken-us-senator?

9. http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/278-76/12784-voter-suppression-and-john-roberts-new-world-order