Ides of July – the heat is on

Summer is in full force here in the Northern Hemisphere. If I don’t get my yard work started before Noon, it is not happening. I worked through 12:30 pm today and am a worn out camper.

Speaking of heat, the Senior and Junior Donald are feeling the heat right now. More than a few conservative reporters, pundits and legislators are concerned over Junior’s zeal to collude with Russia and his evasive storytelling. As Charles Krauthammer noted in his column, the ability for Senior to claim this is a media and Democrat witchhunt is now over.

Continuing with the theme of heat, a large chunk of Antarctica sea ice fell into the ocean. The fact that it was the size of Rhode Island should be a wake up call. Melting sea ice won’t directly increase sea level, but the buffer it provided to land ice is gone. And, as land ice melts, it will become a problem for sea levels. The best description I heard is the sea ice melting is like losing the white edge of your finger nail exposing the more painful parts.

Finally, please provide more heat on Republican Senators before they pass one of the more unpopular and damaging pieces of legislation to repeal and replace the ACA. Not only will the CBO score this poorly, but it is opposed by the National Governors Association, the American Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the American Cancer Society and AARP to name a few. I encourage these Senators to work with Democrats to improve the ACA, which is the preferred choice of the American public.

If the Republicans pass this into law, they have not seen the heat it will bring on their party. This law will harm Americans and the party who passes it.

A Clueless Congress blocks progress

While our President remains imperfect, several good things have happened on his watch, some with his impetus and some where he is given more credit than the office of the President is warranted. The economy has largely recovered, but more work is needed to make it be felt more equitably. The Affordable Care Act is actually working reasonably well and most Americans want it improved upon, but not replaced. And, he is at least taking some strides on addressing climate change. He is also showing judicious restraint working with Mideast and other countries to combat terrorists. Yet, we greatly need better governance over the NSA spying and use of drones and he could be more LBJ like in getting things done with Congress.

On the flip side, we have a Congress that is building off two years of being labeled as one of the most ineffective ones in our history. The current Congress has not shown any indication of changing that downward trend in effectiveness. In fact, the Department of Defense has rated our Congress’ lack of governance as a threat to national security. And, the Wall Street Journal has noted how horribly this current Congress has started out, even before the fiasco of last week’s inability to fund Homeland Security beyond one week. We will have more of the same dysfunction this week, plus it will be compounded by bypassing the White House to have a foreign leader come to speak to Congress on Tuesday. This is poor form.

The big tiff over the Homeland Security is around the President’s executive orders to improve our immigration problems. This is mainly due to the ire over the President acting when the House decided to punt after eighteen months of no action. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that was formulated by one of the GOP presidential candidates, but it was not good enough for the extreme members of that party. And, that is representative of the problem. We must start governing from the middle where the more rational, collaborative heads reside and not placate extremists. That is why they are called extremists as their vision of America is narrow-minded and exclusive.

Until which time the Speaker wises up and starts looking to pass legislation that has a snowball’s chance, he is wasting American’s time and energy. Yes, he will tick off those extremists in his party, but that is OK. He held a vote so that we could have new people vote to repeal Obamacare. Americans have said they do not want that. And, as noted above, it is working reasonably well and that is from a variety of measures. The additional irony it is based on a Republican idea that was advocated by the Tea Party leadership before it was passed (Google Senator Jim DeMint and Romneycare and read until your heart’s content).

I would also suggest we start working off real facts and not someone’s version of the facts dressed up and misused on pseudo-news sources. When we start governing again off the real information and not campaign rhetoric, we stand a better chance of getting to better solutions for our country. Climate change is real and man-influenced; solar energy jobs are growing rapidly along with the decline in solar costs; Obamacare is actually growing in receptivity while the number of uninsured decline and cost increases are dampened; and our infrastructure needs are significant and jobs will come with those investments to improve them.

Congress we need for you to gain a clue. The President, while imperfect, at least has one. Help make what he proposes better and start doing your job. Otherwise, the best jobs plan would be to get rid of all of you blockers under the Capital dome. You deserve the poor ratings you are getting.

Voting rights have greatly evolved from when we started, yet are under attack

When our Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted and approved about 225 years ago, only 5% of our people could vote. Women were not permitted to vote. Slaves were not permitted to vote, but were considered 3/5 a person to give more weight to predominant slave-owning states in Congressional representation. So, pretty much you had to be a property owner to vote.

Our history of voting rights has been an effort to increase the 5%. Slaves were given the right to vote when the Civil War ended, but when they had too much clout, Jim Crow slapped them down. Women were given the right to vote less than 100 years ago, which is still amazing it took that long when you look backwards from today. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed fifty years ago remedied Jim Crow’s suppression of African-American votes. And, it has taking an ongoing effort to make sure maltreatment of minority voters is not occurring.

Yet, we seem to have a hard time remembering what we are all about. I have written several times about the cookie cutter Voter ID Laws which have other features designed to suppress the vote of young college students, African-Americans and the elderly. Several of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and are in various stages of appeal. In my own state of North Carolina, the most restrictive Voter ID Law will be on trial next year and should be overturned for unconstitutionally. The question is will it.

Also, in the last two years, our Supreme Court struck down some of the policing and auditing under the Voting Rights Act, saying it was no longer needed. To this day, I am wondering what country our Supreme Court justices reside in, as the country I live in still has some suppressive tendencies, as noted above. When people want less turnout to win an election, then something is wrong.

When you couple the above items with gerrymandering districts, we no longer have competitive elections in many places. The competition is in the primaries for each party and what we end up with, more often than not, are lesser candidates and officials. With so much strident extremism in our major political parties, a moderate candidate does not stand a chance. So, we citizens are malserved as we need more moderate candidates who can govern and understand their party does not have all of the answers. Some are not even permitted to understand the questions and problems per below and are not allowed to think for themselves.

I will be writing in the future about the recent rulings in the Supreme Court which made an age-old problem worse, by making it easier for a wealthy few to control elections. Money is now equated with free speech. Corporations are now people. Together, these rulings allow those with the most money to more easily write the rules. And, our country’s leaders are not listening as much to its citizens, paying more attention to its donors who helped them get elected.

This has got to change, as our problems are too apparent and opportunity is not equal in our country. And, those with the most money want to keep it that way. There is a movement to amend the constitution to restore order by overturning these Supreme Court decisions. In Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida, citizens voted overwhelmingly for their legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and declare that only human beings – not corporations – are entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not speech and campaign spending can be regulated.

Please look into the movement called Move to Amend and learn more about what it entails. But, also get more informed over the issues of the day and pay less attention to the spin-doctored misinformation offered by pseudo-news sources. We have to hold our leaders accountable, as it is a huge uphill climb.

Significant support passed laws for minimum wage increases in four states

On Tuesday, a few successful ballot initiatives were drowned out by the reporting of the Republican victories. Yet, some of the initiatives that passed are noteworthy due to their bipartisan support and magnitude of victory. In particular, four more states and one major municipality passed significant minimum wage increases beyond the federal requirement of $7.25 per hour.

– In Alaska, voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8.75 in 2015 with over 68% of voters favoring the increase.

– In Arkansas, 65% of voters passed an increase which will phase up to $8.50 in 2017.

– In Nebraska, 59% of voters passed an increase that will phase up to $9.00 in 2017.

– In South Dakota, 55% of voters passed an increase which will increase the minimum wage to $8.50 in January and index it with inflation.

– In San Francisco, the minimum wage will phase up to $15.00 per hour in 2018, becoming the second US city to pass a phased-in increase of that magnitude.

There are now fourteen states with increases decided in 2014 that will take the minimum wage beyond the federal minimum. I should add that Illinois received approval from voters to come back with a ballot initiative on a minimum wage increase. According to the Business Journal, 29 states have minimum wage rates higher than the federal level. These majority of states have done this due to the gridlock in Congress that has prevented them from acting on a recommendation by the President. There are two links to articles below, the first on the votes noted above, and the second which summarizes the fourteen states who passed such laws in 2014.

I have been personally advocating for an increase in the minimum wage for several years. The national living wage for one adult varies by location per an ongoing study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but nationally is just over $10 per hour. This is the reason for the use of the number $10.10 per hour in several states and is consistent with what the President proposed for the new federal requirement and what he put in place for federal employees.

In my work with working homeless families, we observed that the median salary for our families was $9.00 per hour. We had several with an hourly wage over $11.00, but with a family, that cannot cover what is needed. For an adult with one child, the living wage is in the $19.00 per hour range. It should be noted that a single working mother family is the fastest growing homeless group. Many of our homeless working mothers are victims of domestic violence, divorce or having children out-of-wedlock.

The current minimum wage cannot support an adult, much less a parent. This issue has bipartisan support and several retailers have grasped the need to increase wages. I applaud these states and their voters. Now, we need Congress to take up this issue. It is not just a Democrat issue; it is an American issue.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/11/05/minimum-wage-measures-pass-overwhelmingly-even-red-states

http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/11/minimum-wage-law-hikes-passed-across.html

Not being from Kentucky, I would love to see this upset

I have written several times before that I find Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as two of the main culprits in our gridlock in Washington. I would add about 30 conservative members of House to the mix along with Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Ted Cruz who have held America as hostage. Yet, while Boehner’s seat is likely safe, McConnell is getting all that he could want from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

She is a very formidable candidate and McConnell’s ratings are poor. But, McConnell is running against the President and not Grimes in his campaigning. As I noted in earlier posts, while the President is not perfect, he is not getting a fair shake with the GOP painting him with a negative brush more than he deserves. Given where the rest of the world is and the obstinance with the GOP in Congress, including McConnell, Obama has steered the economy pretty well and has nothing of which to be ashamed. Plus, while Obamacare polls poorly in Kentucky, the state health plan called Kynect is polling well. The irony is they are the same thing. Obama and Obamacare names are wielded as weapons without people looking beneath the hood to see that Obamacare is Kynect.

I have seen Grimes speak several times and she is her own person. She is pro Kentucky, while McConnell has shown his stripes as being a blocker. I would love to see Kentucky citizens send a strong message to the establishment and send another formidable woman to the Senate. To be frank, we need more voices of reason and it should not be lost on anyone that it took a group of women senators last fall to break the government shutdown started by these obstinant members of Congress.

Go get him, Secretary Grimes. You can do it and it would be wonderful if you did. The Senator is long over due to be shown the door.

A few odds and ends on All Saints Day

Since very few celebrate All Saints Day after their sugar rush on Halloween, not to mention the fermented sugar rush that adults get, I thought I might throw a few odds and ends down for your reading pleasure. In no particular order,

US Elections will be over Tuesday

This will create a large shout out and huge downsizing in revenue for the local TV stations without campaign commercials. Living in North Carolina, we have the most expensive US Senate race ever, at least until the next election cycle. My local paper said this is a race between a disappointment and a danger. The danger being the current Speaker of the House in NC who has shown what he will do, if given the chance. It is amazing to me that someone can screw people over again and again and then try to pretend it never happened. The incumbent Senator’s dilemma is she is a collaborator and joins her proposals with other legislation, so she does not own much legislation by herself. I am proud she worked with our other Senator to help clean up a long standing water pollution problem that hurt military families at Camp Lejeune.

Obamacare needs a new name in addition to other changes

Obamacare has been polling negatively, but the story is deeper than that. There are 10% – 15% of liberal Democrats who want national healthcare, so they don’t like it as it does not go far enough. If you ask people if they like the Affordable Care Act, its real name, it polls better. In Kentucky, their statewide healthcare system called Kynect is working well and polls favorably. Obamacare does not poll well in Kentucky. The irony is Kynect is Obamacare in Kentucky. Finally, if you poll people about the individual features of Obamacare nationally, with the exception of the mandate, the features poll well. So, one key change should be to officially change the name to Kynect in honor of Obama’s signature piece of legislation doing so well in the home of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who are opposed to it regardless of its name.

US economy continues to show gains

Our recovery has been the opposite of sudden, but that is how these things work. This is especially true with housing based recessions, which have shown to take on average six years to turn around. The recession started at the beginning of 2008, with the financial crisis occurring in September-October 2008.  Six years from the start would have been the end of last year and six years from the crisis, would have been last month. Just this week, the Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve said they are ending their quantitative easing meaning the economy can stand on its own. This President deserves more credit than he is getting for helping position us where we are as other countries are still concerned, yet he should have managed expectations more. And, while early on Congresses were helpful, they have largely blocked efforts to help more through additional stimulus on top of the helpful first round, especially with so many infrastructure needs.

Money is not freedom of speech

Since I started with elections, let me end with the overarching problem in our country, which fuels the partisanship. Based on two Supreme Court decisions, corporations are people and money represents free speech. These are two heinous decisions and will require a constitutional amendment to overcome them. The decisions empower without repercussions dark money to buy elections wherever they can. Just in NC, our $100 million plus senate race is over $70 million funded by people who are not part of the candidates’ campaigns. I will have more on this in the future, but these decisions have allowed money from a few wealthy members of our oligarchy to buy voter influence and elected officials do not care as much of what we voters think after the election as they used to and should. And, this is where we must change the paradigm, as we have real problems to solve and undue influence stands in the way.

Happy All Saints Day and have a great last November.

People are blowing this out of proportion says the people blowing it out of proportion

I apologize for the long title, but to me it needed each of the words to state the modus operandi of the mainstream news business in America. I was in a hospital waiting room for about two hours earlier this week, and while I read, the TV in the waiting room was tuned into one of the all news all day networks, this one beginning with a “C” and ending with two “N’s.” For the entire two hours, the coverage was around EBOLA, primarily in the US, with a little seasoning of where the greater risk is in West Africa or the big story that Nigeria is EBOLA free.

The night before on one of the prime time national news, this on beginning with an “A” and ending with a “C,” the network medical news advisor said the scare of EBOLA in the US is being blown out of proportion and we should take comfort in the family and friends exposed to the victim who traveled to Dallas are now out of quarantine without being infected and the two nurses who did catch the virus appear to be doing better. He added that people are blowing the likelihood of catching the disease out of proportion and we should be respectful of the seriousness of the disease, but not panic.

I like the good doctor’s last statement, but his network is one of the ones blowing it out of proportion. The all day news network lives for issues like this, so as evidenced by my hospital waiting room experience, will cover it ad nauseam and then cover it again. Of course, “fear sells” so both the news stations and politicians running for office have seized upon the issue to show how serious-minded they are. Of course, many of these are the same politicians who:

– allowed the sequestration cuts go into play which harmed funding of the NIH, which is charged with research and overseeing the development of new epidemics and drugs. If you recall, the sequestration cuts were a fall back that were supposed to be so severe, that even members of Congress would rationally come to a budget agreement, which of course, they did not.

– would not approve the President’s Surgeon General nominee, because the candidate had the temerity to mention that ungoverned guns kill people. So, we needed to appoint an EBOLA Czar to synergize efforts, as we are sans Surgeon General.

Ironically, I have not seen either of these items mentioned in news reports, yet this is where something could have been done. It is akin to Congress not passing a bi-partisan bill posed in the spring to begin to address the VA problems that have built over the years and then when the problems bubbled over in Phoenix and elsewhere, saying how could you let this happen? A lesser bill was passed in the summer which can only do tip of the iceberg stuff.

EBOLA is a news story, but playing to people’s fears and inflaming them is not coverage. It is like the local weather folks scaring people over a coming storm. The greater story is in West Africa. The greater story is how politicians can fail to act then ask “how could you let that happen?” when something goes wrong. You had a chance to do something well in advance Mr. Congressman, why did you not vote to address this issue when something proactively could be done. That is a question worth asking.