Volunteers are back

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes Blame is not a Game

The blame game is alive and well and living in our nation's capitol. Each party is quick to blame the other for our nation's woes. Everyone claims to hate it. Everyone does it. Each accuses the other of playing the game and no one takes responsibility for problems. Most of the time everyone is to blame because everyone is playing the game.

The problems we have in the face of the S & P downgrade are actually attributable. There is blame. It is no longer a game. All of those Tea Party clowns who glibly pronounced that nothing bad would come of defaulting on our debt have set us on this path. They were told time and time again that this would happen. Just as they refuse to believe the scientists who explain to them about climate change, they refused to believe the consequences of their irresponsible behavior. I suppose if you'd rather believe in fairy-tales than evolution. If you'd rather believe our President is a Kenyan. If you'd rather believe up is down and right is left. If you'd rather believe that Jesus hated gays and Muslims. Well...your just an idiot.

We have a very diverse society. One with room for geniuses and idiots. As charming as that is we don't want the idiots in charge. They are idiots and they have brought us to brink of disaster. It's time for them to shut up and take their proper seats in the back of the building. It's time we get back to the tradition of electing people smarter than us to lead us.

Our democracy and electoral system was built on the premise that the voter is incapable of making sound choices. This is why the President was elected by a handful of people, the electoral college. The Senate was elected by the members of the House. The House was the only branch of the Federal government that was elected by popular vote and had the least amount of power.

In our country's beginning our founding fathers recognized that the people were hampered by a fractious and inadequate system of public information distributed on horseback. Today, voters are burdened with immediate and overwhelming blasts of information and misinformation with no filter as to what is a fact and what is not. By virtue of this phenomenon we are capable of choosing information we wish to be fact rather than informed as to what is factual. The idiots in our society choose to be represented by people who are repeating the misinformation they choose to believe is fact.

The result of this is the Tea Party, a dis-aorganization that rallies around the idiots who have brought us to the brink of disaster. They are to blame for the collapse of wealth in the last few days. That is a fact.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Every first Friday of the month we get a jobs report and every one of them seems to show job growth in the private sector being dragged down by sharp decreases in public sector jobs. In fact, I looked at the report that came out today. I’m not completely geeking out here. It is the first time I have ever looked at a jobs report, but I was curious. Everyone is always talking about how many net jobs were created and glosses over the declines in public sector jobs. The fact of the matter is that the private sector has added 333k jobs in the last 3 months. Not very good, but it is gaining jobs. However, the public sector has lost 117k jobs.

Republicans are always saying that government cannot solve our economic woes. True or not, that’s what they think. It is clear with these numbers that government can and is pouring gas on this fire. Cut, cut, cut…that’s all we’ve been talking about over the past few months. When we cut government spending we’re directly contributing to the jobs crisis. This is wrong! This makes no sense! Government should be adding jobs to the economy. Imagine if the federal government invested in a huge jobs program to refit all government buildings to bring them up to the Energy Star standards that the federal government promotes. Or something.

Jobs program? Yeah, that’s not going to happen and we know why. The Republican party is ruthless, mean-spirited and obsessed with any Democrat who lives at 1600 Penn. We know that they will lie. We know they are happy to destroy the lives of anyone to elect a Republican President. Collateral damage is expected. Fourteen million people without jobs is a means to their ends. They’ve just spent 6 months trying to convince the world that we have a spending problem and need to cut, cut, cut. Overwhelmingly it is clear that our spending problem is that we are not spending enough.

So we know the problem. It seems that the President is still giving them the benefit of the doubt. He must think that they have souls and actually care that people don’t have jobs. I remember that, a long time ago…that’s what I thought. Republicans are heartless, greedy and very, very focused. They are willing to destroy the country so they can blame it on Democrats and win back the White House.

I can’t continue to watch this train wreck. We have to stand up and kick their asses.

Monday, January 3, 2011

American Justice

We have become a society in which we are judged guilty until proven innocent, and the cost to civility of wrongful and unreasonable prosecution has become tolerable. Why aren't we talking about it?

We talk a lot in this country about human rights and the fairness of our awesome system of justice. We piously condemn other governments for their abuse of their own citizens. And yet, we have by far the most imprisoned citizens per capita than any, that's right ANY, country in the world. More than Russia. More than China. More than Iran and North Korea. More than every other country in the world. We represent only 5% of the world's population, while we hold 25% of the worlds incarcerated population. We spend $68 billion on prisons each year. When you throw in the costs of the court system and law enforcement, we spend over $200 billion a year to put people in jail. With a growth rate of over 500% since the early 80's, our "corrections system" is the fastest growing sector of our economy...even faster than the cost of health care. And yet, the waste, corruption, and efficacy of this taxpayer funded industry goes unchallenged.

Over the Holidays I read Grisham's latest novel, "The Confession", about a young man wrongly accused of murder who was put to death in Texas. It observed a system of justice that was anything but judicial. While this was, indeed, fiction, there have been 138 death row inmates who have been exonerated since 1973. About 3% of all death sentences in that time span. It got me to thinking: If we are this inaccurate with our prosecution of the most serious of punishments, how many people are languishing in prison wrongly convicted of less serious crimes?

I would assume that a jury does not easily arrive at a sentence of death. A death sentence is given an incredible amount of scrutiny both before sentencing and after. And yet we know that at least 3% of the time these sentences were levied upon innocent people. When we speak of ending a person's life, being right 97% of the time is not tolerable. We must be sure. We must know beyond any possible doubt. We cannot be wrong. If we cannot be right 100% of the time we must stop.

Lesser offenses are not afforded the same resources as capital offenses, so it would only make sense that a far greater number of mistakes are made. However, for the sake of argument, let's say that only 3% of our prison population is wrongly convicted. This would mean that there are at least 75,000 innocent people of the 2.5 million currently locked away in our "corrections" system. Putting aside the toll on human rights, the direct financial burden of incarcerating these people is over $1.6 billion each year.

The true waste, however, may not be wrongful conviction. The extraordinary growth is not due to an increase in violent crime. Violent crime has actually gone down slightly. Due in large part to the "war on drugs", the vast increase in prison population is non-violent drug offenders. This nation's failed drug policy is a completely different topic worthy of another post at another time. For now, it's important to note that the only demonstrable result of the increase in the prosecution of drug crimes is the enormous cost to our criminal justice system. Over 500,000 prisoners doing time in our prison system are non-violent drug offenders at a cost to us of over $11 billion per year without including court and law enforcement costs.

I believe that penal and judicial reform is the most overlooked issue of our time. Conservatives and liberals alike are unwilling to even mention this issue for fear of looking soft on crime, but this reluctance is costing taxpayers billions and tears away at our social fabric. This is a subject which we should all agree needs a strong, public and post-partisan debate.

I think we need to start this conversation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

If you want to be FDR…be FDR

It’s time for BFDers to act like BFDers

Since the passage of health reform many people are beginning to make the comparison between BHO and FDR, the New Dealers and BFDers. The problem is no BFD jobs program like CWA or CCC. In the early 30’s FDR, as part of his New Deal, erected two temporary programs to put people to work, the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. These programs did not end the depression, but they did put millions of Americans to work on projects that we now take for granted: The trails in our National Parks, expansion of highways, electricity to rural areas. Some could argue that these programs were simply a band aid to a bigger concern. I would argue they were a bridge to a better America. Truly transformational.

We have an opportunity right now to put people to work on a bridge to a brighter future…literally a brighter future. Let’s bring back the CWA and CCC and unleash hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers on one task and one giant and monumental goal: Within two years bring every single federal state and local government building in line with LEED certification guidelines for existing buildings. Schools, libraries, courthouses…everything. This is not to be outsourced. This is not to be privatized. This is not some whimsical “cash for…” program. This is a public works project worthy of BFDers that will jump start a green jobs revolution.

Think about the consequences of such a huge endeavor. We will put over a million people to work (CWA and CCC employed nearly 5 million). We will provide on-the-job training and certification for a generation of workers with the knowledge and experience to move into private sector green jobs. Imagine how many homes and workplaces in America need to go green. Imagine how many entrepreneurs this would spark to adapt green technologies for consumer use. Think about how this would have a truly transformative effect on this country and spur it on to be the world leader in green technology

FDR and the New Dealers did not wait for an invitation to lead. The New Dealers message to Congress was short and simple: give us the money and we will execute. The BFDers should take this as a lesson. Draft a simple document even W might read. Enlist all departments of US government to participate. Labor does the recruiting. HHS provides child care and volunteer health clinics. Defense provides training and food stations. A seriously big BFD.

BHO needs a BFD jobs program now if he is to be compared to FDR.
Let’s get to work.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Hubris of Representative Government
By Mark Sump

How arrogant to think that our elected representatives should know more than the collective knowledge of the voting public. How arrogant to suggest that we should pass a comprehensive health reform package rather than just the parts of the plan that are more popular.

Well, there we go! Let’s do that! Let’s pass a law that says an insurance company cannot deny coverage to someone with pre-existing conditions. Problem solved! Now no one will need to pay those outrageous insurance premiums until they know they’re sick. Think of how much money that will save us all.

Come to think of it, those lottery rules suck too. Let’s sell the lottery tickets after the winning numbers are announced. And what about Harry Reid’s home state where gambling is so popular. Imagine how much more popular black jack would be if you could bet after all the cards are played.

The reality is that if we are going to have a health insurance system that is affordable and fair at the same time, everyone has to be covered. It won’t work any other way.

U. S. Government is not and never was designed to work according to just what is popular. That’s right. Our elected officials should have a better understanding of the facts behind a piece of legislation than the 300 million other people who haven’t read the CBO report or even knows what a CBO is. Our system of representative government was established to elect smart people to make hard choices on our behalf. They should know more than the rest of us.

We should not assume that popular opinion is right. Just over a year ago the notion of widespread change in our health care system was soaring in popularity. A year before that Barack Obama was opposed to the mandated health insurance coverage that Hillary Clinton favored. Now it is obvious to him and anyone genuinely following this health care debate, that if you want to force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions you have to force everyone to pay into the system. In order to force everyone to pay into the system you have to subsidize those individuals who can’t afford to pay into the system. Once everyone is in the system, insurance premiums will become more affordable, but only if you have true competition for those insurance dollars. Therefore, you have to break up the monopolies that these huge health insurance companies are allowed to hold under the current law.

This is what we’re talking about. These are the facts. People who prefer to govern by popular opinion don’t need these facts. The idea of forcing people to buy insurance is unpopular. The idea that we would subsidize people to pay for health insurance they can’t afford is unpopular. The idea that insurance companies should be regulated is unpopular. The problem is that we have to do all of these things if we want health insurance to be affordable and fair to everyone.

Anyone who professes we can have incremental change short of doing all of these unpopular things at once is not doing their job. The job of our elected officials is to be smart and make tough decisions.

The next thing on the public agenda is going to be even tougher, yet no less important. Climate Change is very real and will require tough decisions no matter how unpopular. Some will say that this winter’s record snow fall in the Northeast is proof that climate change is fiction. The fact is that January was the warmest January on record worldwide. The fact is that we are pouring 90 million tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere every day. The fact is that we are headed to the edge of a cliff and very soon we will no longer be able to stop before the abyss.

Even if we choose to ignore the fact of global warming, there is no ignoring the fact that we are transferring billions and billions of dollars to countries that are funding hatred toward us. We are funding Iran’s nuclear arms program. We are funding radical, fundamentalist schools throughout the Middle East who are teaching an entire generation of Muslims that we are evil and must be destroyed.

Knowing any of these facts, why on earth would anyone elected to represent our interests suggest that we do nothing to move us toward a more verdant future? And yet, there are elected officials who scoff at a Climate Change bill as an unnecessary tax brought on by liberal elitists. Public opinion is already being moved toward this notion and away from the facts that make such a bill necessary.

Smart, responsible people know the facts. Doing nothing is easy, but doing nothing is seldom right. I hope that the majority of our elected officials will embrace the hubris of representative government and make the tough choices. This is your job. It is not your job to ignore facts and do nothing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just Do It

If you’re going to foul…foul
What we learned 16 years ago
By Mark Sump

My son is 16, six foot four and plays varsity basketball at his high school. I attend all of his games. A couple weeks ago his team was playing one of the top teams in the conference. It was close. The other team stole the ball, drove the floor and went in for the lay up. There was one player between him and the basket. They both went up. Our player was trying not to foul, but there was no chance he wouldn’t. He tried to block the ball, but it was out of reach. The ball went in and the foul was called. I thought to myself, if you’re going to foul…foul. Don’t let the shot go in.

Sixteen years ago we tried to pass health care reform. We failed. That year the Republicans took the House. First time in decades. They patted themselves on the back and told the country it was because they succeeded in pushing back against change, against finally bringing true reform to our health care system.

In 1992, Bill Clinton won an electoral landslide. The campaign was built on hope and change. The cornerstone issue was health care reform. He had a mandate. He really did. Then he ran into a Democratic Congress who played not to lose. The more change that was proposed, the dimmer the outlook was for Democrats in Congress. They hesitated. They blinked. They were afraid to lose. Guess what? They lost anyway.

The reality is that Democrats were destined to lose the moment they took the change mantel. As much as America likes the sound of change, we fear it even more. We are easily convinced change will ruin our economy, take our jobs, take our freedom, dictate our lives. Republicans get this. They drove that fear into the spine of Congress, and Democrats let them dunk the ball and take the penalty shot. Republicans would probably have won just as many seats in 1994 had we passed comprehensive health reform.

If we had passed health reform in 1993, for years the narrative would have been that we went too far, but we would have passed legislation that would have altered the course of history. We would have saved lives. We would have saved sick Americans from bankruptcy. We would have prevented illness. We would have brought real change to a very broken system.

So, here we are sixteen years later. We’re playing defense. The Republicans are going up for the dunk. Democrats have a decision to make. Do we stop them from scoring and take the penalty, or do we try not to foul.

We can learn from the past. We can know that sixteen years ago as many people were discouraged by our lack of ability to bring real change as were afraid of what that change might bring. Democrats can stand up today, knowing they will lose in November but knowing they did the right thing. Sixteen years ago we blinked and we know the results. History shows we’re going to lose seats in Congress if we do nothing.

So, do the right thing. Pass health care reform. Pass a public option. Pass a Medicare buy-in. Do it by any means possible. Pass a real reform by reconciliation.

If you’re going to foul…foul.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three degrees of separation
How a big volunteer operation wins
By Mark Sump

One of the lasting affects of the old political paradigm is that volunteer activities are free or cheap ways to marginally influence an election. It follows the old school thinking that it’s the number of phone calls made or the number of doors knocked that are the real influence volunteers can deliver. By that thinking, the volunteer influence merely displaces some of the phoning or canvassing that the campaign plans to outsource at the end of the campaign leading up to Election Day.

On its face one would think that this form of stressing volunteer activity fits with the new paradigm. Let’s review the most essential element of the paradigm: Television now reinforces opinions voters form by virtue of recommendations from people around them, friends, neighbors, co-workers…etc.

Voter contact activities from volunteers in a campaign do have more impact than a telemarketing company or paid canvassers. This impact is still only marginal. So, how do volunteers substantially impact a campaign if not through direct voter contact?

Three degrees of separation!!

When I started working on campaigns 25 years ago, we had no email, no cell phones, no computers, no internet, no telemarketing centers, no mail houses. We had volunteers and we depended on those volunteers for nearly every element of voter contact.

I recall my first presidential campaign in 1988 and my boss explaining to me the first tenet of my three degrees of separation theory: Every volunteer on a campaign will influence the vote of 50 voters by virtue of who they talk to in their own lives…friends, neighbors, family, co-workers. It isn’t about how many people they reached on the phone bank or at the doors. It’s all about who they come into contact with in their daily lives.

Remember, the new paradigm: Voters are primarily influenced by people around them, people they trust.

Okay, so lets do the math. If a campaign has 1000 active volunteers and they each influence 50 voters, the first degree of separation is 50,000 votes.

So lets say that the second degree of separation is calculated at 20% of that, so those 50,000 voters each influence 10 voters. The second degree of separation adds 500,000 voters. So now we’re at 551,000 voters.

Okay, now we’re cooking. The third degree of separation is calculated again at 20%, so those 500,000 voters will each influence 2 voters. The third degree of separation adds 1,000,000 voters.

Now we’re at 1,551,000 votes! Think about it. How many campaigns are won with 1.55 million votes?

Figuring out how many volunteers you need is rather simple. Take the expected vote and divide it by 1,551 and that will give you the number of volunteers a campaign needs to win.

This is the crux of the new paradigm…people win campaigns.

Next week I’ll define “active volunteer” in Volunteers Win Campaigns.