So the 115th Congress was sworn in this week. And with the new Congress, and in two weeks the new President, brings about a time where Republicans will be finally able to do all the things they have said they want to do. Building walls, raising tariffs, getting rid of environmental regulations are all high up on their list. However there is one issue that trumps them all, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
The ascendancy of Trumpmerica has brought about it a belief that we have entered a new era in American politics where a politician is no longer shackled by the rules of political correctness and will finally be willing to “tell it like it is”.
But is that what is actually happening here? Or have people confused “telling it like it is” with “things I want to hear”? Here is a simple test to determine the difference.
The next time you hear a politician say something and you think to yourself “That politician is telling it like it is” ask yourself these questions about his or her comments.
So it is the morning after the carnage. Wednesday November 9th. Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States of America. This is a deeply troubling event for me. Not because he is a Republican. Republicans are part of the system. They will win elections. What troubles me is that Donald Trump isn’t a Republican. He represents himself. Now we will find out what that means.
I’ll do a follow up post analyzing the election and what happened but one thing that is clear that did happen is lots of people didn’t vote this year. 7 million fewer people voted this year than in 2012. Almost 10 million fewer people than in 2008.
Clearly people just don’t seem to care anymore. And if people don’t care then perhaps it is time to let the Republicans do what they say they want to do. Let them enact their roll back plan.
What do I mean by “let them”? Don’t they already have control of the House and the Senate and the White House? Can’t they do exactly what they want to do? Not exactly. In the Senate there is an arcane procedure known as the filibuster. For you Jimmy Stewart fans out there it was famously used in one of his classic films Mr. Smith Goes to Wasthington. In that film Jimmy’s character, Jefferson Smith, stands up to corruption by speaking on the Senate floor until near collapse which leads to victory.
Today, the filibuster isn’t used for such principled stands. It’s a procedural block that Senators place on a bill that requires 3/5ths majority vote to remove. This has effectively turned the Senate into a super majority legislature rather than a simple majority. Even worse a filibuster essentially shield Senators from voting for or against a bill.
Now if you are a liberal you might be thinking to yourself “Great! We can block the Republicans from doing all the bad things they want to do!” And that is true. Unless, of course, the Senate Republicans choose to enact the nuclear option. Senate Democrats could block passage of just about all of the things that the Republicans claim they want to pass.
But, in my opinion, it is time to let the Republicans implement all their promises. Rather than being the useful excuse as to why they didn’t pass all the stuff they claim they want to pass, Democrats should demand that they put their votes on the record.
If they want to repeal Obamacare, then they should put their names down and let the country know that they don’t care that there are 10 million people who now have coverage that didn’t before. That they don’t care about protecting people with pre-existing conditions. They don’t have an actual alternative.
Let them go on the record and say that they want to return the financial system back to the way it was in 2008.
Let them pass a law to revoke NAFTA. Let them pass a law to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Elections have consequences. And making irresponsible promises solely for political gain should have consequences. It is time to stop letting Republicans hide behind a Democratic filibuster. We get what we deserve, America. And right now we deserve the Republican agenda.
To be clear, I am being 100% sincere. Until we create more transparency in what politicians actually stand for, we will perpetually fight the same pointless fights. If the country really wants Obamacare gone then it should be gone. If they really want Dodd-Frank gone then it should be gone. If they want Planned Parenthood destroyed then let them destroy it.
So this post is sure to get lots of agreement from both sides. Nothing brings together America like their unwillingness to talk rationally about guns. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t implement a reasonable and sane gun policy if we took the politics out of it. As with so many public policy issues these days, the solutions are far easier than the politics.
Let’s start off with a few assumptions. First, there is a right to bear arms and that should be respected whenever reasonable. Second, reasonable restrictions can and should be placed on gun ownership. If you disagree with either one of these points then save yourself the trouble of reading this and go find an ideologue website to fight the good fight.
So what do I mean by reasonable restrictions? Well restrictions that make it so things like Straw Purchases become extremely risky for the seller. Restrictions that actually make gross negligence with handling and storing weapons a felony crime that can lead to real jail time.
On the other hand, our guns laws need to be more consistent. I think it is unfair that a law abiding citizen who went through the often difficult process of getting a permit to legally own a firearm could be arrested if he dares bring the firearm across a state border. That is unfair to legitimate gun owners.
So what can be done?
First thing we need to do is pass universal background checks. Without that our gun laws are mostly a waste of time. What are universal background checks? Current law requires that any person who is a registered gun dealer MUST do a federal firearm law(FFL) background check on the buyer to make sure they aren’t on the FBI’s naughty list. However this only applies to licensed gun dealers. It does not deal with private sales. So if you are Joe Gangbanger with a bunch of prior convictions you can’t directly buy a gun at a gun shop but you can go find someone who has no felony convictions and have them buy the guns for you. What makes the problem of straw purchasers even worse is that the Feds usually can’t do anything about it. So unless we can create enforceable laws that punish straw purchases, background checksdon’t achieve much.
Of course, as with all public policy, we need to create the laws in a way that makes sense. We would need to make it reasonable for people to perform the background checks. Selling a weapon to a direct family member may not require a background check, although if the family member is a known criminal that would make the seller criminally culpable still. Some other caveats may be necessary but they should be limited in scope or they will create loopholes for criminals.
Now when it comes to respecting the rights of valid gun owners, we do need to do something to respect their right to cross borders with a firearm. This issue commonly referred to as reciprocation among gun rights folks as they want states to respect the rights of other states when it comes to gun laws. That is never going to happen the way they would like. The permissive states will do it but the restrictive states never will.
So what we need to do is create a voluntary federal licensing program in which a person can get a federal firearm license that would allow that person to carry a firearm into any state. This program essentially already exists but it very limited as to who can get such license. I propose that we expand it to anyone who does not violate FFL rules and will also comply with specific requirements such as submitting serial numbers of the firearms they wish to carry across state lines, and recertifying their license every few years. This license would not affect state laws in any way except by allowing legal gun owners to carry the licensed firearm(s). The specific details of what would be required to get such a license can be discussed and would need to be comprehensive but if you are person that is hindered by each state law being restrictive this is a path you could do down.
Lastly, implement laws for negligent handling and storage of firearms. If you have children in your house and you have an unsecured weapon that leads to a death, you can be held criminally responsible. If your weapon is used in a crime and you have no evidence of a sale of that weapon or a police report that the weapon was stolen, you can be held criminally responsible for any crimes used for that weapon.
That’s it. No laws regarding assault rifles or ammo types or magazine sizes. Unless we plan to outlaw semi-automatic weapons those discussions are all completely pointless. So there is no reason to debate these topics.
Here is another popular canard that gets bandied about by the conservative press and partisans. Voter fraud. It sounds so sinister. Secret political operatives taking away the will of the people so that their lackey can be put in power to destroy America. Clearly something must be done before Mohammed Moishe Hernandez becomes President!!
The problem is that voter fraud is more or less a myth. While it does rarely occur it is so infrequent as to be irrelevant at the federal level. Presidential elections have around 150 million votes every year. Thus, if you want to move the election just 1 percentage point in either direction you would need to generate 1.5 million votes! Even at the congressional level you are talking about a few hundred thousand votes being cast which would require thousands of fraudulent votes just to move the vote 1 point.
So why do you keep seeing headlines talking about thousands or tens of thousands of examples of voter fraud if it is rare? The problem is that the right wing media conflates voter registrations with actual votes. Anyone can file a voter registration. And sometimes volunteers will pad voter registration stats with bogus names. The other problem is that there is no clear process for removing someone from the register rolls as each state has their own process. So the same person could be registered in 4 or 5 places at the same time. However most places do have mechanisms to cull the rolls. Most bogus registrations are rejected and dead people are eventually pulled from the registrations.
But certainly there are going to be some registrations that slip through or people that will vote for people that they know are dead. No system is perfect and we can never achieve perfection. So certainly there are opportunities for voter fraud. But the reality is that is almost never happens. And the reason is pretty obvious for anyone that bothers to look into it.
A single conviction for voter fraud carries with it a potential 5 year prison sentence and $10,000 fine. So your would be voter fraudster would need to be willing to risk 5 years of jail time to add a SINGLE vote to the voter rolls. How many people are going to be willing to take that chance?
Certainly not all people are aware of these potential punishments so some people could be duped into voting illegally. But to make it more than random one off events you would need to coordinate such fraud. Perhaps some wily person could offer cash payments to ignorant voters to engage in large scale voter fraud. That leads to other problems.
This no good coordinator would certainly be aware of the potential punishments and he would be aware that he could be facing LENGTHY prison sentences if caught. And for him to be caught all it would take is one person giving him up for any number of reasons. One person getting caught. One person having cold feet. One person being an agent provocateur for the other side. Any of those things happen and that person goes to jail for a long time.
Now is it possible that it does happen to some degree? Sure. But statistically speaking it would be close to a 0% impact on a national election.
So in summation, I wouldn’t worry too much about voter fraud. It’s a talking point for partisans to bicker over.
At least at the national level. Local politics can be quite different.
Voter Fraud is a Myth – Brennan Center
So here is another popular topic that isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon, given Hillary Clinton’s inevitable victory on November 8th. So perhaps we should talk a little bit about the Clinton Foundation. What it is. What it is not. Why should you care.
So unless you have been living in a cave for the past 2 years, you have likely heard about the Hillary Clinton email scandal. This post is intended to give a little background about what actually happened and a better understanding of what it actually means.
So what is the story all about? When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, she decided that she didn’t want to deal with the hassle of using the State Department IT department issued email account and associated equipment such as a blackberry. So she decided to task out to some IT consultants to build out a private email server that she would use for her unsecure email communications(more on that later). At least that’s what she says was her reason. And it certainly may be the reason.
There have been a lot of talk regarding NAFTA and TPP but it doesn’t seem that there has been a lot of understanding of what either actually is. Donald Trump, in particular, doesn’t seem to understand the basic concepts behind either. So let’s talk about both a little.
NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was a long negotiated agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada to loosen tariffs between the 3 countries. It’s entire point was to increase trade between the 3 countries and there is little question it did.
So why dilly dally with the small stuff? Let’s tackle one of the most controversial topics first. I will likely do follow up blog posts on things like the myth of Repeal and Replace, how there is no such thing as state line restrictions on selling health insurance, and what can be done to fix our health care system, this entry is going to provide a simple description of what Obamacare really is.
There are few topics that have more misinformation thrown about than Obamacare. It seems to me that most people really have no idea what it is and what it is not. So let’s go over some of the facts and fiction. Hopefully this information can help some people deal with the nonsense that constantly thrown their way regarding this complicated topic.
Let’s start with the fiction.
So after years of saying I was going to do this I am finally going to do it. I am finally starting my own political blog.
For those looking back on this post let me explain what I am going to be doing here. I am NOT going to a cheerleader blog for any political party. While I am decidedly liberal in my political outlook I also realize that we need conservatives to balance out public policy. When you start cheerleading you can’t help but attack the other side.
Having said that I freely admit I will likely be more critical of the right than the left. IMO, the current American right is deeply troubled. It has lost its moors and is set adrift in a sea of ugly nationalism and know nothingness.
This blog will be designed primarily for me to write about common myths usually, but not always, perpetuated by the American right. I plan to write some modestly detailed blog entries on Obamacare, the various Hillary Clinton scandals, tax policy and trade policy in the near term.
Let’s see how it goes from there.
I hope I am able to provide some useful insight for others down the road. Especially the people that are often confused about what our actual policies are because politicians and their political operatives intentionally confuse us.