PA Senate passes Voter Suppression Act 26-23

Despite passioned appeals from the twenty member Democratic Senate Caucus, the Pennsylvania State Senate sent HB934 back to the house with the GOP stamp of approval 26-23 today in Harrisburg.

Senator Daylin Leach (D-17) tried to point the sheer lunacy of  Representative Metcalfe’s HB 934 trying to fix a non existent problem of voter impersonation. 

Senator Leach’s appeal that “300 people are more likely to struck by lightning before one act of voter impersonation is discovered” fell on deaf ears.

Senator Schwank (D-11) emotional account about a 95 year old constituent, whom she helped get to the polls in 2008 when the voter dialed 911 in order to find a ride to vote. This  proud Pennsylvanians voting record went all the back to the depression, and this bill would have disenfranchised her. 

Then Senator Hughes (D-7) tried to remind the Senate floor how this bill doesn’t protect the franchise, but suppresses it. Democratic Senate members tried to no avail to protect approximately 700,000 Pennsylvanians access to the franchise today. Only three Republicans would cross the aisle on this bill that Keesha Gaskin of Brennan Center of Justice compared to an illegal poll tax:

To avoid having these laws become illegal poll taxes, states must make IDs available for free.(http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/reject_voter_id/)

HB934 does not offer free State ID’s to Pennsylvanians in need. However, it does offer them the opportunity to vote if one can afford the fees that come along with obtaining an ID. 

Senator Daylin Leach tweeted a response to this authors comment noting the Senators passionate appeal to his fellow Senators to vote nay. 

@daylinleach: @ProgressMoShuff  Sadly, this bunch isn’t very persuadable.

Unfortunately, as I would reply to Senator Leach:

@ProgressMoShuff: @daylinleach unfortunately they were all too persuadable last summer at their ALEC meeting in NO. #votersuppression they can find $ for.

One can only hope Pennsylvania House Democrats can convince enough house republicans to vote against this bill when it returns to the house. Sadly, I fear the likelihood of that is slim to none.

High cost of low voter turnout

The high cost of low voter turnout

Writing topics appear in flashes for me. The flashes are like gusts of wind, in which the sails of my mind try to catch. While I was at the gym today, my mind caught up to one of these winds. My normal playlist was set in my iPhone, and I was working away. All of a sudden one particular song comes on, and the lyrics caught me. The song was Avenged Sevenfolds: Nightmare, the lyrics that caught a hold of me today was “You should have known the price of evil”. With that one verse, the topic of low voter turnout came to mind; especially the voter turnout from the 2010. Liberals, Progressives, Center-Left Independents should have known the price of evil that staying home in the 2010 midterms would cause; and if they didn’t they definitely know now.

How did we get to the dysfunctional state we are presently in on the eve of the 2012 electoral season? According to George Mason Universities United States Election Project (http://elections.gmu.edu/), the 2008 election had a voter turnout of 61.6%, out of the 213 million eligible voters, 132.6 million casted ballots. In response to the financial crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and complete discontent from eight years of Republican control, the Democrats completely swept the election. Jump forward two years and we see what happens when tens of millions of voters stay home. In the 2010 midterm election the voter turnout drops to 41%, even with 4 million more Americans joining the franchise 42 million less would cast ballots. Where did these voters go? More importantly, how do we get them back in 2012? We see the effect of these lost voters in Michael Tomasky’s article, Turnout: explains a lot for the Guardian, in regards to the low voter turnout:

“That’s at least 45 million no shows, and the exits tell us that the bulk of them were liberal, young, black and Latino. Democratic loses would pretty obviously been in the normal range, and they’d still control the house.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/michaeltomasky/2010/nov/03/us-midterm-elections-2010-turnout-says-a-lot)

While the Tea Party and other far right elements of the Republican Party were out in greater numbers, the traditional Democratic base stayed home. The cost of low voter turnout for the Democrats was 5 seats in the senate and 62 in the house. On the state level, the price was even more catastrophic. According to Jeremy P. Jacobs of the National Journal:

“Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures…the GOP gained majority in at least 14 state house chambers…They now have unified control-meaning both chambers of 26 state legislatures” (http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal.com/archives/2010/11/devastation-gop.php)

If the Democratic loses of 2010 weren’t bad enough, they gave the Republicans complete control of 26 state houses during redistricting. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we have even seen the attempt to piece meal out our electoral votes to lessen the blow of Pennsylvania leaning to the left in Presidential elections since 1992. We also see in many states that these 680 pickups while promising jobs, rolled back progress. Assaults on Women’s Rights, Gay Rights and Workers Rights were priority number 1 in many of these 26 state houses. As far as redistricting goes, the proposed redistricting laws in Texas and South Carolina are being challenged by the Department of Justice for violating the Voter’s Right Act of 1965. Voter ID laws that claim to combat so called voter fraud have also come from many of these State Houses, yet in actuality these laws make it harder for citizens to vote and in some cases are thinly veiled poll taxes.

In the face of all we lost in 2010, we look to 2012. In 2012 we must, as Saul Alinsky says in his Rules for Radicals:

“Fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight” (Rules for Radicals, 194)

The same fire of discontent that we have seen in the occupy movement must transform to the ballot box. Registering more voters is important, convincing those already registered to exercise their vote is important as well, however, educating voters to see through the Conservative sophistries that have helped convince many voters to vote against their interest will be the greatest task for Progressive in 2012. We must remind voters that they possess the greatest tool for change; the very vote that we as citizens possess. While Conservatives have convinced the Supreme Court that corporations are people, only citizens can vote. These corporations can buy votes and flood campaigns with money, however only real people can vote.

In 2012 we will remind Republicans, Corporatists and Tea Party elements in our Politics of the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“The general sphere of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. (Letter to Roger C. Weightman…last letter written by Jefferson, 2 weeks before his death)

We have the opportunity to vote the saddle off our backs and dirty the boots of those happy few who think they are a noble sort. For through the power of the ballot we will organize and retake our government and progress will continue.  

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!”

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.  

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ’em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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On Sunday Drinking, Or, Has Satan Been Rendered Irrelevant?

I know better than to go drinking on Sundays, but it’s just been one of those weeks, and I figured I’d grab a few beers, no big deal, and then head hone and get some real work done.

Of course, the reason I don’t drink on Sundays is because that’s when Satan likes to go hang out at my favorite bar – and to be real honest with you, lately Satan’s getting to be a real drag to hang out with once he gets drinking.

I mean, it’s depressing: he’s always talking about how he gets blamed for the economy, even though he claims he has no control over Wall Street, and atheism is a bit of a sore subject – and he’s forever complaining about how all his best customers have been outsourcing more and more work to Varsavarti.

But if you think all that’s a drag to have to deal with…you should hear him complain about Republican Presidential Politics.

They say that heaven is,

10 zillion light years away;

But if there is a God,

we need him now;

Where is your God?

That’s what my friends ask me;

and I say it’s takin’ Him so long,

’cause we’ve got so far to come.

–From the song Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, by Stevie Wonder

I had no idea what a Tardis was until recently, except that it’s one of the things you have to hit a bunch of times to get to the really good multiballs in the “Doctor Who” pinball game, and it was Satan who told me all about this “Doctor Who” stuff over a few games in the back of the bar (and he would know: he tells me almost every BBC producer, one time or another, has availed themselves of the intercession of the Devil just to get another 12 episodes out of that network); in fact, the way I really got to know Satan was over a whole bunch of games of pinball.

He plays fair, by the way: he gives himself free replays by making the machine “match” his score at the end, but he doesn’t manipulate the gameplay just to rack up results; because of that we have some pretty competitive games, especially after he has a beer or two and really loosens up.

But once he found out I’m a blogger…oh, man, it’s Republicans this and Republicans that – and the thing that really has him upset with this crowd lately is that it’s all sort of gone out of his control.

“There was a time,” (it’s always “there was a time” with Satan) “when a guy who was in favor of private businesses being allowed to be ‘Whites Only’ who also wanted to run for Senate, much less President…well, they wouldn’t have a chance in Hell unless they made a deal with me – and now you got two of ’em in the same family who went and ran for Congress, and won, without me getting’ a single soul out of the deal, and now Ron Paul’s running for President, and it’s just killin’ me.

And look who else you got over there: you can’t do a deal with Trump, because he’ll try to bankrupt his way out of any agreement you make, and Santorum actually believes he can win without a deal. Me and Dan Savage, though, we fixed him good: Google ‘Santorum’ sometime, and see what you get.

I made a deal with Bachmann…but I did it when I thought she’d only make it to Congress…so I’m gonna get short-changed on that one. I don’t know if Pawlenti wants it bad enough to make a deal, and if he doesn’t run I’ll lose that soul. Romney hasn’t done a deal yet, and I’ve told him three times already that he can’t win without me.

Gingrich was the one I was sure I would get eventually, but he has no shame, so he’s running without my help even though I showed him how bad he looks to the rest of the world…and he’s been trying for years to undercut me by going to the Catholics to get his marriages annulled – and for cash, instead of a soul. The guy’s just pathetic, he really is.

I am negotiating with Daniels, though, so it’s not all bad – and on that deal, I might even get a ‘two-fer’: him and the wife.”

By now I’d been just nailing Daleks and I was in the middle of the three-ball multiball, and collecting Davros jackpots big-time, but even in the middle of all that I had the presence of mind to ask if Satan had any campaign tricks up his sleeve for this bunch?

“Tell me what you think about this: I’m working something up where Christine O’Donnell gets caught up in an affair with one of the candidates – but I can’t figure out who makes a better scandal: linking her romantically to Newt Gingrich…or to Michelle Bachmann?”

And I told him the truth: I was happy indeed that I hadn’t been drinking a beer when he asked, because I would have done a “spit take” for sure.

But, honestly, I’m not sure who would make the better scandal, so I’m going to do what I promised Satan I would: I’m going to throw it open to you, the readers, and we’ll see who y’all think would be the best person for Christine O’Donnell to be, shall we say, “seeing”.

Anyway, by that time I figured I better go, especially before he got all caught up in another big speech about how “Citizens United” screwed him over, or how that guy from the IMF is gonna be calling any time now, so I finished up my pint, and I headed on home to bring you this story of how the Republicans have screwed things up so badly that, for perhaps the first time in history, discord, anarchy, insanity, and ugliness aren’t business opportunities for The Horned One…and, of course, I wanted to get you the “heads up” on the Christine O’Donnell scandal that hasn’t even happened yet – which, if my friend Satan has anything to do with it, soon will.

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Third and State This Week: The State Budget, Voter ID and CEO Pay

This week, the state budget dominated with the introduction of the House Republican budget. We also weighed in on the cost of a voter ID law and the rules for CEO pay.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

  • On the state budget, Chris Lilienthal shared a Patriot-News feature that asked the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center what a good budget would look like. Chris also wrote an initial take on the House Republican budget plan unveiled on Tuesday and later in the week highlighted the center’s full analysis of that plan.
  • Sharon Ward blogged about another recent Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center report on what it would cost to implement a voter ID law in Pennsylvania.
  • Finally, on income inequality, Mark Price wrote about a change in the rules of measuring CEO pay at Wal-Mart that ensures CEO compensation keeps growing.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Promises, Promises; OR, It’s legal to Lie to Voters

by Walter Brasch

With less than a week before the election, Marshbaum has been campaigning furiously.

“A chicken in every pot! Natural gas drilling will save the universe. Free health care for everyone!”

“Marshbaum!” I commanded, “you can’t make those kinds of promises.”

“You’re right. I don’t want to offend the health care industry. There’s a lot of campaign money there. I’ll just make up something else.”

“You just can’t make up campaign promises.”

“Sure I can. It’s easy. How about ‘Vote for Marshbaum and win a date with Bette Midler?'”

“You don’t even know Bette Midler.”

“I like her movies,” he said casually.

“It has nothing to do with her movies,” I said.

“Think someone doesn’t like her singing? I sure don’t want to offend anyone. I could make it a date with Angelina Jolie. How about Brad Pitt for the women? Justin Bieber for teens?”

“MARSHBAUM!” I screamed. “Get reasonable!”

He thought a moment. “You’re right. Angelina and Brad are probably out wasting their time doing some kind of charity work. How about ‘Elect Marshbaum and you’ll never pay taxes again!'”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “No one will believe you.”

“Doesn’t matter if they do or don’t as long as they vote for me.”

“But you’d be lying to the people,” I said.

“Look at campaign posters,” Marshbaum commanded. “They all say the same thing. You can just change the candidates’ names and faces and no one will even notice.”

“People don’t vote for someone based upon posters,” I said.

“You think voters actually read those newspaper articles or go to debates? It’s all name recognition. You have more posters and ads than the next guy, and you win. You get three words on a poster. Try ‘fair,’ ‘tough,’ and ‘experienced’ Add a picture of the family for newspaper and TV ads, and mix it in with campaign promise not to raise taxes, and you have election assured.”

“There’s probably some law that prevents politicians from lying.”

“Even for being a journalist, you’re rather dense,” said Marshbaum. “The FCC says it’s OK to lie.”

“The Federal Communications Commission gives its approval?” I asked skeptically.

“The FCC says that radio and TV stations can’t refuse to run political ads even if the station management knows the ads are outright lies. Law says if a station takes even one ad from one candidate for federal office, it has to take all ads from all candidates for that office, even if the ad is highly offensive.”

“I’m sure when Congress wakes up they’ll change this insane law.” Marshbaum just laughed. “Most people don’t believe most of what they see on TV anyhow,” I sniffed.

“Don’t like the FCC and Congress? The Supreme Court said it was OK to lie,” said Marshbaum.

“The Supremes said lying to the people is acceptable?” I scoffed.

“OK, not the U. ­­S­. Supreme Court, but A Supreme Court.”

“Which one? In Kabul?”

“Albany. The New York Supreme Court.”

“Marshbaum, not even New York’s court could be that incompetent.”

“Got it right here,” he said, taking a wadded paper from his pocket. Case of O’Reilly v. Mitchell. Guy named O’Reilly sued a politician named Mitchell in 1912 and charged him with making promises that weren’t kept.”

“A promise is a verbal contract,” I said. “I’m sure you read it wrong. The Court undoubtedly upheld O’Reilly’s claims.”

“Wrong, Newsprint Breath,” said Marshbaum arrogantly. “Court said that politicians lie all the time, that promises in a campaign are just that. Promises. Verdict for the politician. Case closed.”

“But that occurred before World War I,” I said. “Undoubtedly, some court overturned it.”

“It’s precedent,” Marshbaum said. “It’s on the books. And the ruling was based upon the First Amendment rights of free expression. Just like the FCC ruling. How about ‘Vote for Marshbaum and he’ll wash all your dirty laundry?'”

“Marshbaum,” I said disgustedly, “there’s already too much dirty laundry in the legislature and Congress.”

“Problem solved,” said a smug Marshbaum, “when the voters see my plan to give everyone a free clothes washer and dryer, they’ll overwhelmingly vote for me.”

“You can do whatever you want, but just remember that some politicians actually tell the truth.”

“Name one who did and got elected!” he demanded.

“Honest Abe,” I replied.

(For the legal scholars out there, the case of O’Reilly v. Mitchell is cited as 85MISC176, 148NYS, 88 SUP, 1914. For those who aren’t lawyers, reflect upon Hitler’s belief that “the victor will never be asked if he told the truth.” Walter Brasch’s next book is Before the First Snow, available in pre-orders at amazon.com)

Voter ID Law Costly to Taxpayers

( – promoted by John Morgan)

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is considering legislation that would require every citizen to present photo identification as a condition for voting in primary and general elections.

Many recently enacted voter ID laws have been subject to legal challenges, and states considering such laws are being proactive about including safeguards that eliminate impediments to a citizen’s constitutional right to vote. But it doesn’t come without cost.

In a recent policy brief, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center applied the experiences of other states with voter ID laws to estimate the cost of implementing such a law in the Commonwealth. In order to meet the requirements set forth in the legislation and avoid potential litigation, PBPC estimates the first-year costs for a voter identification program of approximately $11 million.

Pennsylvania Voter ID  Cost Estimate
Free Voter ID Cards $1,945,944
Lost Revenue PennDOT $1,182,975
Public Education $4,200,000
Voter Notification (Households)+ $2,719,680
Photo ID Equipment $376,540
Election Day Staff* $576,840
Total $11,002,029
* Election day staff costs incurred by localities
+ Cost rises to $4.6 million for individual notification

The experience of other states suggests that voter ID laws are a burden for voters and an expense that cash-strapped states can ill afford, particularly when the need has not been justified.

Check out our policy brief to get a fuller sense of the cost of a voter ID law in Pennsylvania.

Social Security: Are You Ready For A Congressional “Video Staycation”?

Diligent reporter that I am, I got up Thursday morning to do a bit of fishing for a story, and as so often happens, I’ve caught something a bit unexpected.

Now what I have for you today starts out as a bit of insider information that came to me on background-but it turns into a chance for those of us who support Social Security to very much get in the faces of our members of Congress, for two whole weeks.

And to make it even better, I’m going to throw out a few direct action ideas “for your consideration” (as they say in Hollywood during Awards Season) that would absolutely make good street actions and YouTube videos, both at the same time…and even more importantly, we’ll absolutely make some great Spring Break fun.  

“I mean, just from the very notion that it said that 50 percent of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? For – you know, listen. We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be…

…We’re going to have to accept some changes as far as the rest of us. And what we’re saying is for those 55 and older do not have to worry about changes in benefits. But for the rest of us we will. We will have to do that.”

–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, speaking at the Hoover Institution, March 21, 2011

OK, so like I said, I have bit of “inside baseball” that sets this whole thing up.

I got a piece of information “on background” yesterday from An Actual Well-Informed Source who seems to be about two or three “degrees of separation” away from actually being in the room while this news is occurring; because of that I’m willing to ascribe to it a reasonably good chance of proving to be entirely accurate.

What I was told was that Paul Ryan, who is the “manager” of the House Republicans’ budget-cutting effort, has decided not to push to include cuts in Social Security as part of the current fight over a Continuing Resolution…because Spring Break is coming up.

Check this out: according to the House Schedule, April 18-29 is Spring Recess, and I was told there’s a lot of concern on the Republican side about what would happen if anyone made any crazy Social Security proposals right now…when they have to go home and face you and me and the rest of the Angry Nation in just about two weeks.  

(There’s some evidence to back this up: it is now possible that Cantor “misspoke” in that quote a couple of paragraphs up the page; as of this moment I can’t confirm if a “full backpedal” is officially underway or not.)

We can discern two things from that little nugget: for starters, we are having an impact on this fight-but beyond that, we also now know that we have two weeks to publicly torment those Members of Congress who are looking to cut Social Security…and we have two weeks to get ready.

Since hunger strikes are already underway, here are a few other ideas you’re welcome to steal to make your statement:

Is your Member going to be appearing at a community center or a friendly church?

Well how about arriving a few hours early and setting up a cardboard “Social Security Tahrir Square”?

You could have a box that’s the local “Catfood Grocery”, you could paint one of the boxes to look like “Grandma’s Gingerbread Box”, and you could even have a “Long-Term Care Facility” and hand out fliers of your own-and make sure you catch the reaction of the Congressional Staff on video to set up the bigger video of you interacting with the crowd…or y’all being ejected by the suddenly fearful Representative…or y’all “making happy” with a supportive Member.

Now you’re going to love this one, and there are two ways you can make it work.

What we’ll be playing on are the proposals to increase the retirement age and how we’ll be asking old people to do jobs that, obviously, they just can’t; what I basically want you to do is either go to an event…or outside one of the Members’ District Offices…and create a “job training center” for senior citizens.

Get a wheelbarrow and load it with a nice load of bricks, maybe fill some oval trays with a mess of plates and beverageware (safety first on this one; beware of glass and ceramic-and don’t forget the jackstands), and then rustle up a transfer belt and a heavy volunteer and simulate what nurses and their aides do all day long, and all night, too: lifting and transferring those who can’t do it for themselves.

Take it all to the venue, and you can either “train” your own 70+ year-old students…who might not be old enough to retire, under the new proposals…on how to do these types of jobs while the crowd watches-or you can invite older members of the crowd to try their hand at moving the bricks, or lifting the tray. Bring a medical worker and you can show them what lifting looks like, too-although I would be unlikely to invite the crowd to do that one without some kind of training.

(Do I have to warn you that this could get someone hurt, and you’ll have to use a reasonable amount of caution when you do this? I didn’t think so.)

Again, get it all on video-and then get that video right up on the Web.

Our final idea for today might be my favorite-but that might be because I used to be a caterer, and this really fits my sense of humor.

You know those “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef” shows?

And you know how we refer to that Deficit Commission as the Catfood Commission?

Well…why not sponsor a “Catfood Contest” at your Congresscritter’s event?

Again, you could go two ways: invite “contestants” in chef’s whites to create delightful dishes with the Commission’s Catfood, or you could judge competing sculptures; they do both at the Spam Jam in Waikiki, and if it was me I’d steal the ambiance of this kind of an event from Hawai’i, especially since it’s Spring Break season anyway.

An alternative way to do this: performance art of an elderly couple having a Catfood Commission BBQ, cooking Catfood patties on portable grills to make a point.

So there you go:

We have two weeks to get ready to have two great weeks of fun just really tightening the screws on those Members of Congress who are looking to jack America out of Social Security, and we have ideas on the table that you are entirely welcome to borrow, or adapt, or outright steal-and with any luck, other readers will toss in some ideas of their own-so get your art on, gather your props, and bring extra video batteries and a blank tape to give the police…just in case.

And here’s one last thing to remember: this isn’t just about turning back a disastrous plan to break the backs of Americans for decades to come-it’s also about having a good time.

Well-executed comedy makes people agree with you, and to like your message, and that’s a powerful thing; the more fun you’re having, the better the whole thing is going to work.

Now go forth, make some mischief, and watch the magic happen.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

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On Monday Morning Philosophy, Or, Founders Tell America: “You Figure It Out”

In our efforts to form a more perfect Union we look to the Constitution for guidance for how we might shape the form and function of Government; many who seek to interpret that document try to do so by following what they believe is The Original Intent Of The Founders.

Some among us have managed to turn their certainty into something that approaches a reverential calling, and you need look no further than the Supreme Court to find such notables as Cardinals Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia providing “liturgical foundation” to the adherents of the point of view that the Constitution is like The Bible: that it’s somehow immutable, set in stone, and, if we would only listen to the right experts, easily interpreted.

But what if that absolutist point of view is absolutely wrong?

What if the Original Intent Of The Founders, that summer in Philadelphia…was simply to get something passed out of the Constitutional Convention, and the only way that could happen was to leave a lot of the really tough decisions to the future?

What if The Real Original Intent…was that we work it out for ourselves as we go along?

“…you see, all the majesty of worship that once adorned these fatal halls / was just a target for the angry as they blew up the Taj Mahal…”

–From the song Gasoline, by Sheryl Crow

The reason this is coming up today is because I’ve been writing a lot about Social Security lately, and I keep getting comments from folks who see no Constitutional foundation for such a program.

To sum up what I often hear, if there is nothing in the Constitution that specifically provides for Social Security, then, if it’s to be done at all, it’s something that should be left to the States. (The 10th Amendment is used to reinforce this point.)

A lot of these folks, from what I can see, hearken for a simpler time, a time when America had no “foreign entanglements” or National Banks…a time when men of the soil worked their farms with no fear of Debt or The Taxman….a time when government worked best by using local wisdom to deal with local problems.

In other words, we’re basically having the same arguments over the shape of this Government that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were having in 1787-and for those who don’t recall, Hamilton won, which reflects the reality that we don’t all live on farms and hunt turkeys and Indians, and that State Governments are just as capable of ignorance and foolishness and greed and blind hate as any Federal Government.

To reinforce their arguments “fundamentalists” fall back on some version of the Original Intent theory, which basically assumes the Constitution was written by men who miraculously created a perfect document, and that all the answers to today’s problems would be found by simply allowing the Original Intent to shine through.

I’m here to tell you that couldn’t be more wrong-and to prove my point you need only consider the Civil War.

Despite what you might have heard in Virginia, the Civil War really was about slavery, and the reason we had that fight in the 1860s was because there was no way the question could be settled at the Constitutional Convention.

Those Founders who supported ending that “peculiar institution” were never going to convince slaveowning Founders to give up their property, and as a result of the desire to get a Constitution drafted that could be ratified by “the various States” there were compromises made, including the 3/5ths Compromise and Article Four’s requirement to deliver fugitive slaves to their owners upon demand, which resulted in the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850.

The Intent Of The Founders, on the question of slavery, was to let time work it out.

The same kind of “let time work it out” thinking led us to Article 1, Section 8, and the “general welfare” clause.

Congress is empowered to enact legislation that provides for the “common defense and general welfare of the United States”…but there is no specific interpretation of what the phrase means (in fact, there is no glossary at all for the Constitution, which means there are plenty of other examples of, shall we say, “unclear phrasing”).

Since there is no specific reference as to how Article 1, Section 8 and the 10th Amendment are supposed to interact or what the Founders’ Intent might be, we are again forced to apply our own interpretations, over time, to figure out how to resolve the inevitable conflicts.

We had to do that because, even as there were proponents of a Federal system, there were plenty of Delegates at the Convention who wanted nothing to do with a strong central government. They wanted to keep a system in place that resembled what we had under the Articles of Confederation, where the Federal Government had no ability to compel the payment of taxes and States had the choice of whether to “accept” Federal laws…or not.

Over time, of course, we’ve come to realize that having one air traffic control system, and not 50, was a good idea, and that funding things like disaster response on a national level makes sense, even if Texas wants to go it alone or something, and we probably all agree today that if States are willing to allow 12-year-old factory workers to work 16-hour days, then Federal child labor laws are a reasonable thing to make that stop-and all of this progression of history is happening because the Original Intent was to let the future figure out where the 10th and Article 1, Section 8 would “find their center”.

The Original Intent Of The Founders, apparently, was that white men who did not own property, women, and those not pale and fair and of European descent had no reason to be involving themselves in the affairs of government, as that was the list of who was not allowed to vote at the time we began our experiment in democracy; over time we’ve seen fit to change that-and at every step along the way there have been Cardinals of Interpretation ready to tell us that with each change we were doing violence to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution as they knew the Founders would have intended it to be.

Am I entitled to create or possess any form of pornography because the First Amendment prevents Congress from abridging free speech, or is the general welfare furthered by allowing society to protect itself from the exploitative effects of pornography by limiting or banning completely the production or possession of certain materials that are considered unacceptable?

The Founders seem to have offered no obvious intent when they created this conflict, which makes sense, because the possession of child pornography didn’t really exist as an issue in 1789.

I’m guessing that today we are not anxious to have each of the 50 States adopt their own rules (after all, who knows what some crazy State might do?)-but they did put that “general welfare” clause in Article 1, Section 8, and over time, our view of Constitutional law has come to accept the compromise that the Founders could not have foreseen.

The fact that the Supreme Court resolves these kinds of conflicts at all was not laid out in the Constitution, nor was the fact that the Federal Government’s powers are superior to those of the States; it took the 1803 Marbury v Madison and 1819 McCulloch v Maryland rulings to figure out, when there are multiple claims of liberty, which were to be put ahead of the others.

Can you guess why?

That’s right, folks: it was because they had Delegates at the Constitutional Convention (and States who had to ratify the finished product) who did not want to give the Court or a Federal Government that kind of power, and the only way to get something passed was to sort of “leave things open” and let time work it out.

Here’s an example of how one of the Founders tried to tried to kill the “Original Intent” argument before it even got off the ground: James Madison, who kept the only known complete set of notes during the Constitutional Convention never released those notes during his lifetime (he’s also credited with being the principal author of the document, possibly because his were the best notes).

Why did he do that? It appears to be because that Founder’s Intent was to make the Constitution’s words stand on their own, without his notes to frame the debate-and in fact the document had been in force for almost 50 years before those notes saw the light of day.  

The Cardinals of the Supreme Court, some of whom claim they can divine Original Intent for any and all situations, are hoping that you’ll forget that they really serve to resolve disputes where the intent of the Founders seems to collide with the intent of the Founders-and all of that brings us right back to Social Security.

It is true that the Constitution, as it was written in 1789, does not contain the words “you may establish Social Security”-but it is also true that there were no words that would allow anyone who is not a white male to vote, or to prohibit the ownership of slaves.

Congress, acting with the authority to provide for the general welfare, took Roosevelt’s proposal and enacted it into law. The Supreme Court, in 1937, took up the question of whether the 10th Amendment prevented Congress from enacting Social Security with a series of three rulings, and here’s part of what they had to say:

Counsel for respondent has recalled to us the virtues of self-reliance and frugality. There is a possibility, he says, that aid from a paternal government may sap those sturdy virtues and breed a race of weaklings. If Massachusetts so believes and shapes her laws in that conviction, must her breed of sons be changed, he asks, because some other philosophy of government finds favor in the halls of Congress? But the answer is not doubtful. One might ask with equal reason whether the system of protective tariffs is to be set aside at will in one state or another whenever local policy prefers the rule of laissez faire. The issue is a closed one. It was fought out long ago. When money is spent to promote the general welfare, the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress, not the states. So the concept be not arbitrary, the locality must yield. Constitution, Art. VI, Par. 2.

So there you go: the next time someone tells you that a program like Social Security is unconstitutional because of Original Intent, be very, very, suspicious, and keep in mind that the Constitution was written, intentionally, with the idea that a lot of problems were simply going to be kicked down the road to future generations of Americans.

Constitutional Delegates, after all, were politicians, and if there is one thing that politicians love to do it’s to kick a problem down the road so that something can get done today.

The history of the last 225 or so years has been a long journey down a long road that took us past slavery and Reconstruction and suffrage and Jim Crow, and to assert, as the Cardinals of the Court do, that all those questions were answered that summer in Independence Hall is to be either amazingly blind or deliberately untruthful-and the fact that they get to dress in robes and sit behind something that looks quite a bit like an altar doesn’t change that even one little bit.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

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Campaign Manifesto #3: On The Road, Defending Social Security

So it’s Day 3 of my fake campaign for Congress, and we’ve run into our first obstacle

The Fake Campaign, as you may recall, is fake headed for Wisconsin, to show solidarity, and we’ve fake hitched a ride on a delivery truck headed for Rush Limbaugh’s Florida broadcasting studios-but we fake found ourselves caught up in the all-too-real Giant Grip Of Winter that has seized the Midwest over the past week.

We’re back on the road now, but we were stuck for darn near a half-day there at Wall…and if you know anything about South Dakota, you know there are really only two things to do in the City of Wall: you can shuffle back and forth between Gold Diggers and the Badlands Bar, partaking of numerous intoxicating liquors along the way…or you can head on into Wall Drug (the same one that’s on all those bumper stickers and signs) and partake of the finest display of Giant Jackalopia on the planet.

The Campaign, naturally, chose Jackalopia-and that’s why today’s Manifesto is all about the fake impromptu 5-cent-coffee-fueled Social Security Town Hall that we held in the Wall Drug Mall for several hours while we waited for I-90 to reopen.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

Spring comes, grass grows by Itself.

–From the Zenrin Kushu, attributed to Toyo Eicho

I-90, the main route from West to East (if your fake trip begins in Seattle, as ours did), was closed at Wall, South Dakota for about 24 hours this week, but this particular delivery truck just absolutely has to be in Florida by Monday…and the delivery is so important that to get us back on the road we now have a special escort of two South Dakota Department of Transportation snowplows and two 2011 “new and improved” South Dakota Highway Patrol Dodge Charger Pursuits (now with longer lasting brakes!) to make sure we get to the Wisconsin line in the shortest time possible.

With the weather being what it is, Jenna and Tendei, our driving team, have been earning their money, in a big way, this trip, and for the moment Tendei is asleep, while Jenna and I mull over the conversations we had tonight, me and the caravan of Wall Drug customers who gathered, first by the snake-oil salesman (that’s not hyperbole, either: they actually have an anamatronic snake-oil salesman), then out in front of the Western bookstore, and finally over by one of the 5-cent coffee stations.

It was my fault: standing next to the snake-oil salesman got me thinking about all the lies we hear every day about Social Security…which I mentioned to the 30-something couple standing next to me, young son in tow.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d guess the next words out of his mouth are going to be: ‘I’ll never see a dollar of my Social Security anyway, so who cares how they fix it?’.”

He looked back at me, all surprised: “We’re not ever going to see any; they tell us that all the time.”

“Yeah, I know…but it’s a big ol’ load of hooey, and I’ll tell you why: Social Security is funded by payroll taxes that are, for the most part, paid out as they’re collected, that means there’ll always be money that we will use to pay benefits, unless we just quit collecting that money altogether, which is not likely.”

We were beginning to gather a few others around us (hey, we were all stuck there-nothing else to do…); that means my gestures were getting a bit bigger-but there’s a nice echo in there, and you can be heard.

“The way things work now, if nothing changes, there will be enough money to pay out all the benefits we expect to pay until 2037. After that, if the ‘pessimistic projection’ plays out, even if nothing else changes, we can still pay 75% of what we expect to pay for about 50 years after that. We only look out 75 years at a time, so we don’t have a projection that goes out past 2084…but, pretty much, as long as we keep collecting the money, we’ll still be able to pay the benefits.”

I looked over at a 40-ish couple that had come over to listen: “What about you two? Right now there’s a lot of talk about ‘fixing’ Social Security by making you wait longer to retire or by making sure cost-of-living increases don’t really keep up with inflation. Don’t y’all feel like if they do that, you’re just getting screwed?”

It was almost like Parliament and “Question Time” in there for a second (which is not a George Clinton reference) as the 15 or so folks listening began to “harrumph” in agreement.

“Well how about if I were to tell you that I could fix this problem, and that I could do it without raising the retirement age or messing with your cost-of-living…and that I could do this in a way that gives every person in this room a tax cut at the same time…and that, even though I’m running for Congress, I’m not a snake-oil salesman?”

About two lives ago I used to be a failed stand-up comic (true!), and it is possible to know when the crowd is turning-and this was one of those moments.

The 40-ish husband looked at me and said, basically, that I did sound like a Congressman-and not in a good way.

“I know you don’t believe me, but listen to this: if you turn a wrench or carry a tray or do anything that makes under, basically, $105,000 a year in wages, all your income is taxed for Social Security…but if you make a million a year, you don’t pay any tax at all on the last $890,000…and if that income was taxed, we wouldn’t have a Social Security problem.

Now you don’t hear much about this back in Washington, and there’s a couple of reasons why: right off the bat, this President and this Congress don’t want to be accused of ‘raising anyone’s taxes’; beyond that, 2012 is coming fast, and both the President and the Grim Weeper are trying to be the one who can look at the voters and say: ‘I’m The Slasher, and I will cut the deficit and balance the budget faster than the other guy’.

Lots of people think cutting Social Security will somehow cut the deficit and reduce the debt, even though it has nothing to do with it at all, and some of them figure that if they campaign around cutting everything that government does it’s gonna help their political future, and that includes cutting benefits for people just like you, instead of just funding Social Security with a flat tax for everyone…even the rich.”

This argument, I might add, was starting to gain traction.

“Look at where we are right this very second: standing in front of a Western bookstore…and if you go in there you’ll see stories of how people died of starvation and how land barons ruled counties with an iron fist and how we fought range wars with imported hired guns and shootouts in the streets.

Is that what we want to go back to?

It’s not what they wanted. The pioneers didn’t just build isolated ranches, they built towns, and towns with a schoolhouse, so that the kids on those ranches didn’t have to rely on a home school education. They had a Sheriff or a Marshal and a Town Council and a Judge, because they knew that they had to create some rules and establish some government.

Some towns in the Wild West, and you know I’m telling the truth about this, didn’t even allow guns inside the town limits…just like when Wyatt Earp was the Marshal in Dodge City and you had to check your guns if you were going north of the railroad tracks.”

You know what? This was working: the crowd began to nod with me, and I figured while I had the advantage I’d press the thing home:

“Now a lot of people probably think the fix is in, and what’s the point…but I don’t agree. There was an effort at the beginning of this Congress to force these cuts by threatening to stop providing any money for the Government at the beginning of March if the ‘Wrecking Crew” didn’t get their way, and the Tea Party folks came in here with a big ol’ war cry about ‘shut it all down’ and all that…but now that March 4th is actually drawing close, and the public is starting to figure out what’s up, the message is suddenly all about ‘maybe we can extend the funding after all’.

That tells me that the people who think cutting everything in sight because it looks good are finding out it doesn’t always look good to just go around cutting everything in sight.

Tell ya something else. A lot of the people who want to change Social Security want to change it into a system that rewards people who manage Social Security accounts, not the people who own the accounts, and if you look at what ‘privatizing’ the system is all about, that’s what it is: it’s just a plan to get more money out of you in the form of fees and charges, which is going to be a great big reward to great big political donors who have been trying to make this happen since the 1980s.

So here’s the reality: there is enough money in the system to pay for you and your kids to have benefits, even if no changes are made, and if you just make Social Security a flat tax, even for the rich, we are pretty much guaranteed to have every dollar we need until at least 2084, and we don’t have to cut benefits or raise the retirement age, or do any of that crazy stuff…and we don’t have to give up our hard-earned money to big banks and Wall Street in the form of new fees and charges on your Social Security accounts.

So I came here in a truck, and it has to be in Florida in a couple days, and my driver friend is walking over here, and that means I gotta go, but I hope I told you something about Social Security you didn’t know a while ago…and if any of you are fake voting for a fake Congressional candidate in 2012, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.”

And with that, I fake shook a few hands, jumped in our fake truck, and headed off to Wisconsin.

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