Sanctity of employees contracts

As focus has shifted from protests in the Middle East to protests in Madison, we need to think about one of the underlying issues of this debate, employee contracts.

For those of you that think this is all about the state budget crisis and that alone, you are very mistaken.  This is about destroying the last institution, the last guardian for middle class and poor Americans from the ruling elites.  This is about destroying unions, so there is a weakened support organization for the Democratic party.  Not that the Democratic party has been the best friend of unions, I often think that many Democratic politicians play them lip service, but it is better than the outright hostility that they face from Republican politicians.

Remember in the spring of 2009 and 2010 when we heard about the on-going obscene bonuses going to folks on Wall Street?  We had funded the bailout of their industry, keeping them employed.  But that wasn’t enough, they had their contracts and we had to pay them bonuses.  But when the outrage over the bonuses came out, I didn’t hear from Republicans asking to make them re-adjust their contracts because of the bailout.  No, they said it was dumb for Wall Street to give huge bonuses, tried to lay blame on Democrats (many which are as beholden to Wall Street as Republicans), but never once pushed for a clawback on bonuses.

Yet, when it comes to bailing out a union industry like big auto, they ask for union members to take a cut.  When they are facing state government deficits, they ask public government unions to alter their contracts and take a cut.

It is not because unionized employees have more income in which to give, no that is what you find on Wall Street.  Wall Street can give more, but are not asked to because they are special, they represent the wealthy class that has an exaggerated importance in our country.  They demonstrate the lie that is supposed one person one vote democracy with their lack of sacrifice and exaggerated importance.

Republican hatred of unions is very clear to those who are willing to listen.  Their willingness to violate contracts in some circumstances and say they are inviolate in other cases shows that they have a political agenda, destroying unions.  As Rahm Emanuel has said, and Governor Walker and his fellow Republican state politicians are taking to heart, “don’t let a crisis go to waste.”

-Josh

Renewing the expiring portions of the Patriot Act

So some provisions of the Patriot Act are expiring this year, so to renew, we get hearings in Congress to make the case to renew them.

Thankfully we have two US Senators, Al Franken (D-MN) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), who are questioning the case for renewal.  Senator Al Franken asked David Kris from the Dept of Justice about the 4th amendment as reported in the Washington Independent.

Noting that he [Al Franken] received a copy of the Constitution when he was sworn in as a senator, he proceeded to read it to Kris, emphasizing this part:  “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target.

Kris looked flustered and mumbled that “this is surreal,” apparently referring to having to respond to Franken’s question. “I would defer to the other branch of government,” he said, referring to the courts, prompting Franken to interject: “I know what that is.”

Kris explained that the courts have held that the law’s requirements that the person be described, though not named, is sufficient to meet the demands of the Constitution. That did not appear to completely satisfy Franken’s concerns.

Meanwhile, Senator Russ Feingold asked about sneak and peak provision in the Patriot Act, from the Huffington Post.

In the debate over the PATRIOT Act, the Bush White House insisted it needed the authority to search people’s homes without their permission or knowledge so that terrorists wouldn’t be tipped off that they’re under investigation.

Now that the authority is law, how has the Department of Justice used the new power? To go after drug dealers.

Only three of the 763 “sneak-and-peek” requests in fiscal year 2008 involved terrorism cases, according to a July 2009 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Sixty-five percent were drug cases.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) quizzed Assistant Attorney General David Kris about the discrepancy at a hearing on the PATRIOT Act Wednesday. One might expect Kris to argue that there is a connection between drug trafficking and terrorism or that the administration is otherwise justified to use the authority by virtue of some other connection to terrorism.

He didn’t even try. “This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence. It’s for criminal cases. So I guess it’s not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases,” Kris said.

“As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act,” Feingold quipped, “which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism it didn’t have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I’m concerned about these numbers: That’s not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ’s website in 2005 as being necessary – quote – to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists.”

The irony is that two of the most liberal Senators, Franken and Feingold, are the one’s challenging Barack Obama’s Department of Justice on the constitutionality of the Patriot Act and how one provision is rarely used to protect us from terrorists (0.4% of sneak and peeks), but to prosecute drug dealers.  And thankfully Russ Feingold is no longer alone in the Senate on this issue.

It would be nice if those right wing folks over at Fox or the teabaggers would acknowledge, that liberals and progressives, are fighting to check expanded government powers, to protect our civil liberties.

-Josh

Bill Kristol calls Iraq a win

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Kristol called Iraq a win.  So I guess we will be removing the US military presence.  After all a win is in a sense completing something.  At the end of the Superbowl today, when one of the teams wins the game, that means that it is over and eventually the winners (after post game celebration) will walk off the field.

-Josh

Question of the day – November 4th, 2008

Did Ann Coulter vote in her district this time, or did she commit voter fraud again?

How will Harper’s early election turn out?

Today is the Canadian election – those lucky folks that only had 5 weeks of campaigning.

It doesn’t look like Harper’s Conservatives will gain a majority government, the question is will they have enough seats to hold on to a minority government, or will Dion’s Liberals surge ahead and take it.  Or the real outside chance, will Layton’s NDP surprise and pass the Liberals and Conservatives.

Will Conservatives be hurt by pushing for fixed elections, and then calling for a dissolution of the government before the October 19, 2009 election – basically a flip flop on timing of elections?

Will the Greens and Liberals be hurt by the deal to not run in the riding held by the other parties leader?

-Josh

How to select judges in Minnesota?

In response to Linner’s comments on my blog about candidate Tim Tingelstad, his comment about Merit Selection and Retention Elections:

To secure this “liberty and justice” the Minnesota Constitution gives the people the right to hold our courts accountable through meaningful judicial elections. But our Minnesota Supreme Court Justices want to replace judicial elections with “Merit Selection and Retention Elections” (hereinafter MSRE). Minnesotan’s should reject MSRE because: [read the rest in comment #6 on this page]

The proposal of MSRE is to have a commisssion select a pool of candidates that the governor would select from.  Later on the judge would be evaluated on their performance, and the electorate (citizens) would have the opportunity to vote a judge out, but not select the replacement.

The idea here is that we have a way to remove a judge, but the process of selecting judges, or replacements, would lie in the hand of the governor.

I like an impartial judiciary, and the idea that the selection of judges could be insulated from campaigns – and the inevatiable money chase – is very appealing.  The question is will that problem arrive in Minnesota.  The Supreme Court case that allowed for the money chase occurred in 2005, and I haven’t seen a judicial ad this cycle!

I also worry that such a system could be subject to abuse by political partisans trying to oust a judge whose views don’t jive with a determined minority who hope that their preferred judicial person would get selected by a sympathetic governor.  Of course if the selection is limited to just those nominated by the commission, then the ability to game the system in this manner is unlikely.

As the commentator Linners pointed out, this will require a Constitutional Amendment, so the legislature has to propose it, and over 50% of voters must approve it in a general election.

So with that huge barrier to it becoming the way our judicairy is selected, I don’t feel this is a reason to not vote for a Supreme Court Justice who favors MSRE – like Paul H. Anderson.

-Josh

Some thoughts on the process of democracy

On Facebook, a friend from high school, invited a number of his friends and me to join him in supporting Ralph Nader for president. This friend is disillusioned by Obama’s recent FISA vote, and maybe other things that I am not aware of.

Another friend from high school responded about the need to not cast a protest vote this election, and likes Obama, so disagreed with him.

This is my response to both of them:

Thank you for giving me hope for democracy.

This is what democracy is about, making your case, persuading your fellow citizens to your point of view and having a discussion about it.

Now I agree with both of you. Looking at the Supreme Court and the likely center-left judges that are going to retire, probably holding on to their seats until George W Bush’s term is over, in the next administration and the need to have the appointments come from someone that hasn’t lurched right to gain the nomination. So on that point, I will not vote for Ralph Nader. My preference was John Edwards, but I will vote for Obama, and would have voted for Clinton.

That being said, I do agree with what Naomi Klein said at the National Conference for Media Reform, that we need to hold Obama accountable and keep the pressure on for progressive and populist policy. That he will have corporate pressures trying to swing him to the supposed center, that is really right of a majority of Americans on a large number of topics, including universal health care, is a reality, the question is will we be pulling the other end of the rope in that tug-of-war for his position?

Yet, the need to break open our democracy, to give it a booster shot that will come with a larger (more than two) diversity of parties, is dire. The question, is voting for Ralph Nader the way to achieve this, personally I don’t think this is it. While, I don’t discredit the desire to vote for 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th parties, should you vote for him because you are tired of the existing system, as a protest vote? Well, that is your choice, and that is what is most important. But let me tell you about what I think is the best way to break open the system to more parties.

Instant Runoff Voting – this is the best way to give other parties a chance. That way you can vote for your first candidate, but not necessarily throw the election to a candidate that can’t garner over 50% of the vote. Remember, the DFL lost to Governor Tim Pawlenty twice because of other parties and he never garnered more than 50% (I thought his rap name should be “less than 50 cent”). This method is gaining popularity in many municipalities, including Minneapolis, and could lead the way for wider adoption at county or state level, if citizens like it.

Open Debates – in the post Ross Perot era, the presidential elections have been in the stranglehold of the Commission on Presidential Debates (est. 1987) which is a bipartisan organization that controls the process to the betterment of the main two parties. If you have ever seen the footage of Ralph Nader being threatened with arrest for attempting to enter a 2000 debate with a ticket, it will make you realize that democracy, the process is on life support in America.

Locally, I have to give great kudos to KSTP that had hour-long debates for the US Rep contests in 2006 that were open to all candidates (might have had some threshold, but low if they did). I am not sure if it was all MN, or just the 5 metro area elections. Regardless it was a great public service, which is sadly lacking in broadcast media these days.

At the national level, the 2004-other party candidates, Libertarian, Green, Independent and Constitution did get time on NOW. I will never vote Libertarian or Constitution party, but I think it is vital for our truly functioning and healthy democracy that they get the same opportunity to share their ideas with America.

Those are my two cents on democracy the process.

-Josh

Democratic Senators support helping veteran’s vote.

Earlier I had asked how we can claim to support the troops when we ban voter registration drives at VA facilities.

Well apparently Steven Rosenfeld reports on some efforts by Democratic Party Senators who are trying to tear down that wall, that barrier to veteran’s accessing their right to vote.

“Veterans receiving care at VA facilities risked life and limb to defend the freedoms we enjoy, including the right to vote,” Akaka said in a July 10 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake. “Current VA policy makes it unnecessarily difficult for some veterans to participate in the electoral process.” Akaka said the VA’s most recent explanation for barring registration drives — that they would violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities on official time or federal property — made no sense.

“The Office of Special Counsel has issued policy statements that federal employees may assist in non-partisan voter registration drives on federal property and on official time without violating the Hatch Act,” said Akaka, who also chairs a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Act. “In addition, the Hatch Act does not prohibit outside groups, partisan or otherwise, from registering voters at a VA facility if federal employees do not participate.”

So take that James “anti-democracy” Peake.  But wait, the Democratic Senator’s don’t want to stop with opening up VA facilities to registration groups, but want it to become a standard part of their operations.

Akaka’s letter was also signed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who repeatedly have urged the VA to designate itself as a voter registration agency like state motor vehicle departments, where the public is asked by staffers if they would like to register to vote. Under current VA policy, vets have to specifically ask for that assistance before the VA will help former soldiers to register and to vote.

“There is no reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs should not proactively assist veterans in exercising their right to vote. To do otherwise is an insult to the sacrifices these men and women have made for our country,” the joint letter said.

Now you may remember, that federal enforcement of section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act is very lacking, which says that public assistance programs must pro-actively offer to assist with voter registration drives, see my post on this and other voter issues back in December, quote below is via Alternet.

A just-released federal voter registration report reveals the stakes. In late June, the Election Assistance Commission issued a biennial voter registration report to Congress for 2005 and 2006. The report found that 16.6 million new registration applications were received by state motor vehicles agencies while only 527,752 applications came from state public assistance offices — a 50 percent drop from 2003-2004. The report also found 13.0 million voters were purged nationwide and 9.9 million were put on “inactive” status, meaning these people have to provide identification before receiving a 2008 ballot.

The potential number of public assistance recipients who could register runs into the millions. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s FY 2008 budget, federally subsidized “health centers” will serve an estimated 16.3 million patients, a population where “91 percent are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, 64 percent are from racial/ethnic minority groups and 40 percent are uninsured.” This is the same population who typically seek a variety of federally subsidized public assistance, from food stamps to fuel assistance to welfare.

Another indication of how many poor people could register is Tennessee, whose elections are federally supervised. From 2005-2006, Tennessee registered 120,992 people at public assistance offices — nearly a quarter of the national total, the EAC reported. Tennessee registered more voters than the combined totals of welfare office registrations from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

While enforcement of existing laws will help those who receive public assistance to get registered, maybe what we need to do is amend the Act to require the VA to offer assistance, which this 92 year old vet would probably like from today’s article.

The senators’ letter comes as several secretaries of state unsuccessfully have been pressuring the VA to allow voter registration drives at its facilities. Just before July 4th, the VA barred Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal from entering its West Haven facility to help register voters. Instead, in a widely reported media account, the pair helped a 92-year-old vet to register on the building’s steps. He thanked her, saying no one offered him that chance “last year.”

Republicans really need to stop gaming the system to suppress voters, if they really truly believed in their message, and the purity of democracy, they would not stand in the way of voters being registered.  Sadly these past 8 years show a pattern of suppression by one party, the party that supposedly was going to export democracy to Iraq.

For our vets, those who served our country, they need help not barriers, it is time to tear down this wall to democracy.

-Josh