Talk to Congress: There’s An App for That

New Orleans   Ok, so you want to have your voice heard in Washington, but your marching shoes have holes in the soles, and your budget is too busted to bus? Well, there’s an app for that, in fact lots of them.

You need to be in that number. A piece in Wired reported from the Congressional Management Foundation that with the explosion of email, the volume to Congress had risen by more than 500% from just 2002 to 2010. They also reported that Pennsylvania’s Senator Bob Casey had received 50,000 emails on the subject of confirming billionaire, private school advocate Betty DeVos as Education Secretary alone. For getting mass volumes of emails easily into your local Congressperson, they recommend Countable and Try them, see if you like them, or look up your rep, copy, paste, and let ‘er rip.

Does it work? Well, that’s a whole different problem, so don’t get your hopes up too high, because if you thought there was a numbers-game when it comes to crowd counts on the Washington Mall, the explosion of emails into Congress means that you need six-figures to get past the yawn in the back room and anywhere near any throat clearing response from your elected. Reports indicate that only about one-third get an answer, and the answers are often stock, simple, and stupid.

Once again, Wired reports the excuse for this disheartening response:

the software that staffers have to process those emails remains antiquated, says Seamus Kraft, the executive director of the OpenGov Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization he co-founded with US representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican.

Let’s not act surprised. Issa, as many would remember, is the San Diego area right-winger who for a while has been the richest member of Congress and more recently the head of the House Committee on Investigations. His money and his voice is on the car alarm system that says, “Back away from this car,” so the software seems to be in the same vein as “back away from your computer and your Congressional representative.” Little comfort that?

Congressional staffers report that they pretty much just hit the “delete” button on online petitions, so that may help you build your organization and you contact list, but don’t drink your own Kool-Aid and think it’s moving your folks. On the other hand, they also admit that the old fashion move to get on the blower and zing them a phone call ranks above petitions and emails.

There’s an old-fashion app for that. Put their numbers on speed dial and let your voice literally ring into their office. Don’t be shy either. If you’re humiliated while reading that we have stuck Syrian refugees, vetted for years, and fleeing civil war and strife at airports now, let them know about the sadness in your heart for the America they love. Ask them what they think it means for example that we claim that we will not discriminate against people for their religion or country of origin. Heck, tell them whatever is on your mind.

And, after you hang up and wonder if you were just wasting your breath with your elected representative, then think seriously about joining an organization, putting in some sweat equity, and building something that will create change. We’ll work on an app for that, but until then, it’s you, me, and everyone we know who have to get up and go.


Congress is the Undercard, the Real Fight for Healthcare is Still Corporate

imrs.phpNew Orleans   Recently the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act for something like the 62nd time. They have now almost banned Obamacare from being funded as many times as they have barred ACORN! The more you understand about the continued tug of war behind the scene with employers, hospitals, drug companies, doctors, and insurance companies, the more you realize the political machinations on the front pages are window dressing, just part of the puppet show as the pols are pulled back and forth, up and down by the big players. Not to mix too many metaphors, but they are the weak under-card in this fight, while the heavyweights are the companies punching back and forth for advantage.

Of course we have the scandalous way that some drug companies are trying to play arbitrage with people’s health and hike the prices of rare drugs through the roof, regardless of the body count, not caring about anything other than making Wall Street happy. This situation is so grotesque that Congress may be forced to do something about it. We also have 800 pound gorilla setting on the examining table and continuing to pose the most serious problem, increasingly noticed, but left unattended, and that is the persistent problem that employers did not play fair on Obamacare and have largely squeezed through the loopholes, providing coverage in name only with deductibles, co-payments, and monthly bills all collectively so high that millions of lower waged workers are having to embrace the fines, because actual health coverage on offer is financially out of their reach and unreasonable.

A story in Modern Healthcare about the insurance companies’ tug of war was also depressing and enlightening particularly because the companies continue to play such a huge, daunting role in the exchanges, pricing, and coverage. CMS, the Obamacare administrator, is trying to nail down regulations for 2017, understanding that they need to lock as many backdoors as possible before the Obamas pack out of the White House. They proposed a rule that would require any health insurers to require all insurer networks “to include hospitals and doctors within certain travel times or distances from members. There would also be minimum provider-to-member ratios for some medical specialties. The CMS wanted to make sure consumers had access to enough healthcare providers as more insurers moved to narrow-network products.”

And, that’s when everything hit the fan. The CMS is basically trying to make sure that those who buy into care get a standard package across the country to meet their health needs. The insurers and some of their buddies in the state insurance commission offices, who are most frequently their captive audiences, in some states are crying like stuck pigs. They claim they want to tailor the networks to each state rather than have a federal cookie cutter approach, but the real deal is likely just making a deal that makes the big insurers they are used to currying happier to do business with them. Many hospitals and doctor groups line up with CMS on this one rather than being hammered even harder by the insurance bullies. According to Modern Healthcare some of them even advocate that “the CMS…go a step further and build network standards for appointment wait times.”

Meanwhile hospitals and doctors have their own issues. Doctors employed by hospitals in Oregon have even organized a union because of rough handling by the hospitals. Hospitals are being scored by CMS for service, recovery, and billing and some of the outfits that can’t make the mark are squealing about the scores rather than trying to do better on the tests. Meanwhile hospital requirements for providing affordable care to justify their tax exemptions, enjoyed by many, are still resisting and avoiding any accountability.

My best advice is to not take your eye off of the healthcare fight. It’s a long way from over yet, and any notion that we won, has been gone since the early rounds.


Please enjoy Since You Been Gone by The Heavy.  Thanks to KABF.


Immigration Made Scary, Yet Again

refugeesNew Orleans  Republican scaredy-cats are embracing the contemporary adage, often attributed to current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, to never waste a good crisis. The tragedy in Paris has now been seized on by governors throughout the country clamoring to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, despite the fact that state governors don’t have two cents to do with immigration policies that are handled by the federal government. Politics being politics, Congress desperately wants to get in the act, so new House Speaker Paul Ryan has weighed in on the issue for what it’s worth and the red meat caucus will undoubtedly have a resolution on the floor soon.

But, let’s look at “just the facts, ma’am.” The Administration had announced an intention to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees in 2016 which is next year, but thus far despite the huge multi-year crisis which has displaced millions of Syrians in their civil war, now complicated hugely by the Islamic State, we have only allowed the smallest trickle imaginable into the country. A list of the top cities where Syrian refugees have settled in the four year period including 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2014 is headed by Houston with a mere 109 people resettled during that period. The rest of the top ten are Chicago, Louisville (Kentucky), San Diego, Atlanta, Tucson, Troy (Michigan), Glendale (Arizona), Dearborn (Michigan) and Elizabeth (New Jersey). In the number ten spot in Elizabeth there were only 47 people. Louisiana’s governor, fresh off the presidential trail, voiced his opposition to them coming into the state and there seem to have been less than twenty that have come in during the crisis. Needles in a haystack is an appropriate metaphor.

But, wait a minute. Is my reading comprehension going down? From what we know so far weren’t the terrorists implicated, and largely killed, in Paris mostly French and Belgium? Why are the Republicans not calling for us to close our borders to these two countries, our longtime friends and allies? What’s the cure for crazy? France, Great Britain, and a number of other countries, including the United States have documented hundreds of citizens who have jumped into the mayhem in Syria. Last I read we were counting more than 500. Caution needs to be exercised and passports reviewed, but why are we supposed to feel safer with a blanket ban on one country and its desperate refugees?

This seems another battle in the now old anti-immigrant fight on the right. Part of the issue as well is the drum-beating that some are unscrupulously engaging against Muslims. They aren’t like us, goes the argument, and maybe that’s a good thing, might be the rejoinder. None of these groups are assimilating.

Once again, just the facts, ma’am. A comprehensive report on immigrant assimilation in the US, finds that new immigrants are doing as well, if not better than any previous generation. The report looked at 41 million foreign-born, including 11.3 undocumented immigrants and their children born in the US about 37 million. The two generations total 25% of the US-population. 85% speak a language other than English at home, 62% of them speak Spanish. 50% say they speak English well, too.

Terrorism is an unconscionably hard problem, but before we allow demagoguery to plot the path forward, let’s focus on the real issues without blaming the victims.


Please enjoy Shoegaze by Alabama Shakes.  Thanks KABF.


Republicans on ACORN: Haters Gonna Hate!

Critiquesv2.ACORN and the Obama AdministrationMontreal         A Washington Post blog was hard for me to ignore. Philip Bump was amazed to find that when he charted the data on the top dozen Republican attack themes during the Obama Administration that ACORN stood out so loud and proud, practically dominating in 2009 and 2010, but carrying over as a major target after attack into 2012. Of course it is no surprise that the Republicans have been obsessed with ACORN. Perhaps the surprise was how much it seems to have been part of their message, rather than simply a crazed obsession.

In a dramatic graphic, in 2009 and 2010 the number of times that ACORN was spewed from venomous mouths of Republican politicians sometimes reached 80% of the total message and rarely got below 60% of their sound bites. Congressman Steve King, Republican from Iowa, was the leading hatemonger by far. Note to self: send King’s office an ACORN flag to hang in their waiting room in DC.

The statistics indicate that the Republicans enjoyed Benghazi for a moment and the IRS, which in some ways was just the other side of the coin from ACORN, had a heartbeat for a while, but a careful look at the numbers Bump analyzed from the Sunlight Foundation seem to mainly establish that only Obamacare roused more fire from the Republicans that ACORN, and if not for the healthcare plan, alive or dead, the Republicans were ready to throw down at ACORN at a moment’s notice.

Why? Of course this corresponds with the Republican evangelical gospel that ACORN stole the election for Barack Obama in 2008 and was going to continue to steal all kinds of elections in 2012 and state by state, which is why there was a desperate need to restrict voting with voter IDs and justify all sorts of other malarkey.

Not crazy and not an obsession, but a strategy and a message, as it becomes clearer and clearer over time. Eight states passed restrictive voter measures and three of the eight are in the toss-up category now for control of the U.S. Senate by the Republicans including Georgia and North Carolina. A Tulane University professor, Justin Levitt, looked at all cases of people voting in someone else’s name in all elections in the USA since 2000 and out of a billion votes cast found 31 instances where someone with a fake ID voted for someone else, which is the only thing the voter ID bills can establish, other than intimidating and suppressing overall voting itself.

The Republican strategy was crystal clear. Target ACORN. Blame the organization for everything, and no matter how unsubstantiated the claims, keep people looking at the pea under the ACORN shell, while in a devious sleight of hand you change the voting rules to allow a minority party to win a couple of elections by reducing the pool of potential voters. Get enough haters and whacks like King, Darryl Issa, Michelle Bachmann, and Tea people troops to repeat the mantra of the message, and by the time people figure out the truth, if ever, ACORN is crippled, the voters have been snookered, and the Republicans have won a couple of more seats they needed.

Haters are gonna hate, and ACORN lives in peoples’ hearts and actions so will always rise, but between such cynicism on one hand and the effort to buy elections on the other, how does democracy survive?


Please enjoy Burning Bridges by Lucinda Williams, thanks to Kabf.


Making Earned Income Credits a Better Incentive for Work and Fair to the Childless

Energy-Tax-CreditsPeterborough    In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Princeton economist, author, and former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder made a brilliant case for Congress to actually read Obama’s proposal and do more to make the Earned Income Tax Credit really increase citizen wealth and even, are you listening my Republican buddies, act as an incentive for lower income workers to in fact work more.  It’s worth reviewing his arguments and sharing them widely.

            First, he simply pointed out how the program works now in three stages:  phase-in, plateau, and phase-out. 

In the phase-in stage, as Jane’s annual earnings rise from zero to $9,720, the EITC reduces her tax bill by 34 cents for each additional dollar she earns. Thus, if her employer pays $10 an hour, Jane nets $13.40 for each additional hour worked—providing a financial incentive to work more. The credit stops increasing at $3,305 a year—which happens when her earnings reach $9,720 a year—and then remains on this plateau until her earnings reach $23,260 (less if Jane is single). The credit then begins to phase out—at 16 cents for every $1 earned. The tax credit would be entirely gone when Jane’s earnings reach $43,941 a year. Notice that the EITC actually creates a disincentive to work more in the phase-out range by raising Jane’s effective tax rate.  But the EITC is vastly less generous if Jane has no children—as it has been throughout the credit’s history. If Jane is childless, her subsidy rate during the phase-in would be just 7.65% rather than 34%. The benefit would plateau at $496 a year rather than $3,305, and the phase-out would begin when she makes $13,540 rather than $23,260. These are huge differences.

            Secondly, he basically argues that President Obama’s proposal is too moderate, because it does not equalize the EITC benefit between childless workers and workers with children, but he advocates the proposal, despite its modesty, as still doubling the maximum benefit for childless workers, and therefore also doubling the work incentive. 

            Why a program initiated by Republican President Gerald Ford, heralded by Republican President Ronald Reagan as the “best antipoverty…measure to come out of Congress,” and extended by both President’s Clinton and Obama, is nickeling and diming between workers with and without children makes no sense to me at all.  Work is work and workers and workers, so systemic discrimination just seems counterproductive and mean spirited, but maybe that’s just me.

            It especially seems callous to not at least do what the President is proposing because Blinder points out that the cost is only $6 billion to make this happen, which is hardly a rounding error in the federal budget these days, and is easily offset by closing even minor tax loopholes that Congress is so generously providing to the rich on a daily basis.

            If our political ideology worships the dignity of work, then why can’t Congress put our money where its mouth is?

*** song of the day

Please enjoy Robert Cray’s You Move Me


Going Small versus the Grand on Immigration Reform

familiesNew Orleans  Sitting in at the California field office of the House majority whip, Angelica Salas, the esteemed, outstanding director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), was informed that the House would not take up the issue of immigration reform before the end of the year, virtually taking the rest of the air out of hopes that there might be Republican movement finally on this issue.   With the mid-term elections in Congress now on a one-year countdown, it is hard to believe that a change of heart is likely that will lead to real relief for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

            Talking to Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network (NDLON) last week on Wade’s World on KABF/FM, he was candid about the internal debate now being waged intensely within the immigration reform movement about whether it was finally time to adjust strategies and go small, rather than big on potential legislation.   This has long been a debate at various levels since President Obama was first elected and activists sensed the time for change might be imminent.  Five years ago the DC-based, beltway voices prevailed over those arguing that more popular measures like a re-tooled DREAM Act for children brought to the US by their parents might succeed where more comprehensive reform was less likely.   The subsequent courage of the DREAMers won them some relaxation and relief even without a real, permanent solution.   Even Rick Perry, the rightwing, Republican Governor of Texas has argued that not finding a solution for children is simply “inhumane.”

Now, talking to Chris it was clear that the debate has once again focused on whether or not there are pieces of the reform mosaic that might be assembled if, as seems increasingly likely, the chances of comprehensive reform passing in both houses of Congress are remote.   As interesting were the points Chris made about the President and the discretion he could still exercise through executive orders.  Chris’s point was essentially, that if Obama could suspend deportations for young people so that they could move forward with their lives, then why could he also not use similar discretion to significantly reduce deportations of other immigrants that has now reached record levels under the Obama Administration and its enforcement guidelines.  

There may have been a tactical reason for the Administration to prove they were tough on border control and deportations in exchange for a strategy of holding out for the full loaf of reform, but now that we’re talking slices, what’s the excuse for not similarly easing back in specific areas involving particularly family separations which could suspend deportation for millions as well?  Additionally, Newman and I discussed the fact that California under Governor Jerry Brown was now leading on immigration reform and given the fact that the strongest immigration reform groups were actually local, not national, like CHIRLA in California, Casa de Maryland, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), and the most dramatic fights have developed in places on the frontline in places like Arizona, perhaps going smaller would also allow grassroots strength – and anger – to lead where lobbying was failing in Congress.

Change is inevitable, and reform at whatever level and on whatever issues can get traction is needed immediately, so a new strategy may now be necessary to move the needle in steps, and even locally, while it is stuck in Washington.