The Green New Deal

For the first time in its history the Green Party has received matching public funds for the presidential election from the government, and they are on most of the state ballots.  Though the media is only focused on the two big parties (the Democrats and Republicans), the people need to be aware that there are more than just two parties.  The focus of the party is called the Green New Deal, which is a four-part plan to reshape our economy, put Americans back to work, and change Washington.  When reading through it, it all basically sounds fairly simple and straight-forward.  And several parts of it are things that most Americans have been calling for the last four years, and the Democrats and Republicans have only been giving ‘lip-service’ to.

A big focus of the Green New Deal is a focus on the transition to green energy and away from fossil fuels.  This would be done by investing in green businesses, prioritizing green research, and it would provide jobs.  Providing jobs is key in our current economic climate.  A big deal was made when President Obama thwarted Congress on the Keystone Pipeline, but jobs in green energy are just as good as that and could possibly be even more long-term than the pipeline would have been.  So let me raise this question… big oil is technically big energy as they do invest in renewable energy sources, so wouldn’t they still get the tax breaks if they are given to green energy companies?  But placing more focus on green energy would surely provide a major boost to our economy.  As the plan says, it’s a transition so that little by little we start moving in that direction.  There would still be a need for oil production, as the less we use, the more we’d be able to export to other nations that have not replaced their focus on energy yet.  It could easily be a win-win during this transition phase.

“The takeover of our economy by big banks and well-connected financiers has destablished both our democracy and our economy.”  It’s no secret that Wall Street has invaded our political process.  They basically set the rules for the game in their own favor, and when things went bad, they had us bail them out.  Now, I am on to say that if every major bank had collapsed, we could have easily gone into a depression.  But that still doesn’t mean that we will continuously bail out these big banks.  The plan calls for the breakup of the “too big to fail” banks, but I wonder if they’d be able to compete in a global economy as we have now.  The restoration of Glass-Steagall is something that Washington should be listening to.  It is time to reapply the separation of commercial banks and investment banks.  The plan does go further in the dissolution of “private bank-dominated Federal Reserve Banks and place them under a Monetary Authority within the Treasury Department.”  But wouldn’t this still bring about the same problems we face with The Fed?  The problem isn’t necessarily The Fed itself as it the fact that it has no oversight and no transparency.  It does need to stay out of the political arena, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be held accountable, and that we the people still have a right to know what’s going on within it.  “Under the Green New Deal we will start building a financial system that is open, honest, stable, and serves the real economy rather than the phony economy of high finance.”

To go along with financial reform would be an economic bill of rights.  The plan calls for the right to employment through a Full Employment program… that would be run locally.  It calls for replacing the minimum wage with a living wage.  This could be easily tied to inflation and/or the cost of living.  They call for the right to decent affordable housing which includes an immediate halt to foreclosures and evictions as well as the right to accessible and affordable utilities that operate at-cost.  Now most of our utilities are public utilities, but they also want to add in phone and internet.  Since most of us now only have cell phones, would this mean taking over (or nationalizing) the cell phone companies?  Wouldn’t more choices be a better option and let the free market actually work?  And what determines at-cost?  Things will need repaired, there will be new equipment, and even new upgrades as time moves on.  How are those planned?  Another point is that tuition is skyrocketing for college students, and they are graduating under a burden of a major debt.  The Green Party calls for tuition-free public education from pre-school to college.  But they don’t explain how they would get the money from this if it is federally funded.  Education is the basis of any thriving society, and we should have a focus on improving it, but I’m not quite sure college can be completely tuition-free.  And what about private school and even charter schools?  Where do they fit into this plan?  And since this would be all be funded through our tax dollars, this brings to another part which is “the right to fair taxation that’s distributed in proportion to the ability to pay.”  The progressive scale of taxation can work if it coincides with one’s ability to pay.  Those that make more pay a bit more in taxes than those that make less than them, and I’m referring to percentages and not dollar amounts.

“Just as we are replacing the old economy with a new one, we need a new politics to restore the promise of American democracy.”  The first item on their list is the repeal of Citizens United by a Constitutional Amendment to make it clear that people are people, and businesses are businesses.  All qualified candidates would be guaranteed equal access to the ballot.  Voters would at least know they have more than two choices, the question would become what would those qualifications be?  Would it be matching funds… and if so, what would the threshold be for that?  Would it be access to 270-Electoral votes?  This last question doesn’t even matter since they call for the abolition of the Electoral College and for the direct election of the President/Vice-President.  The Electoral College has left our nation deeply divided and the focus of each election falls only on the states that swing back and forth; therefore, leaving the majority of the people left out.  In the past several years, we’ve started seeing more public-private partnerships when it comes to certain projects.  They call for publicity, training, education, and direct financing for future cooperative development.  This gives businesses a stake in their local economies and doesn’t have the taxpayer paying the entire bill for a project.  This could help reduce budgets both federally and for the states… and could place people back to work in the private sector.  And if we are going to talk about restoring our democracy, then laws that violate the Constitution should be automatically repealed.  This even includes the Patriot Act.  Since 2001, we have seen several laws being passed that clearly violate the laws our Constitution set forth.  To control our budget, we need to cut military spending… which the Green New Deal calls for a 50% cut and closing of military bases around the world.  Do they mean all or just some of those bases?  As the leader of the free world, shouldn’t we have some stationed strategically around the world?

My overall goal for this piece wasn’t to convince you to vote for the Green Party.  It was to introduce you to them and their overall plan.  I didn’t discuss every bit of the Green New Deal… just a few points of it.  I recommend reviewing the plan for yourself for more details.  (click here)  It’s an easy and quick read.  Your vote is still your decision, but at least you have become a more educated voter in the process and that there are more than just the two options.

SIDENOTE:
All quotes, unless otherwise stated, are from “A Green New Deal For America.”

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Electoral College

As the primary season for the 2012 election has ended, all sides are now focused on the general election and the march to Election Day in November.  On that day, millions of Americans will go to their local polling place and cast a vote for President/Vice-President.  Some will choose the Democratic candidate, some will choose the Republican candidate, and some will choose a third-party candidate such as the Green Party or Libertarian Party.  When we walk out of those voting booths, we feel as if we’ve had our voices heard and that the will of the people will be done.  But wait just a moment.  The popular vote won’t determine who are next president is, and it never has in the past.  Why?  The Electoral College has the final say.

So what is the Electoral College?  “The Electoral College consists of the electors appointed by each state who formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States.” (Wikipedia)  When we cast our vote for President/Vice-President, we aren’t casting a vote for the candidates, but rather their electors to the Electoral College.  Each state determines how it will choose who those electors are for their state.  In most states, those electors must vote for the candidate that won the state’s popular vote.  There have been instances of rogue votes, but most states have passes laws that forbid that practice.  In all but two states, it’s winner take all.  Even if Candidate A gets just one more vote that Candidate B, Candidate A gets all of the electoral votes.  The two states that don’t practice this are Maine and Nebraska.  The winner automatically receives two electoral votes, and then the remainder are given out based on the winner of each congressional district.  In 2008, Senator John McCain handily won the state of Nebraska, but he only received 4 out of the 5 electoral votes because then-Senator Barack Obama won the congressional district encompassing Omaha, thereby, receiving one of the votes.  The number of electoral votes a state gets is based on the number of seats in the House of Representatives each state has + the two seats in the Senate.  Nebraska, for instance, has three congressional districts.  Add that to the two Senate seats to get 5 electoral votes.  DC is granted 3 electoral votes despite no official representation in Congress via the 23rd Amendment to the US Constitution.

So why did our Founding Fathers enshrine this Electoral College system into our Constitution?  In essence, they didn’t feel that the common man was not informed enough to elect the leader of the country.  Originally, as proposed under the Virginia Plan at the Constitutional Convention, the idea was for Congress to decide who the President was.  This eventually led to the compromise of each state deciding how it would determine its own electors.  James Madison and James Wilson, along with many other delegates, still supported popular election though they admitted that it would difficult to do with southern votes and the 3/5ths compromise that had been reached regarding slavery in that region.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution~

So in all the presidential elections dating back to George Washington, there have only been a handful of times when the popular vote was overturned by the electoral college.  The first of these being in 1824 between Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and General Andrew Jackson.  Jackson had won both the popular vote and electoral vote, but he didn’t win enough of the popular vote since there were four candidates altogether.  A candidate must receive 50.1% of the electoral vote to win… which in today’s time is 270.  Any candidate that fails to win that number cannot be declared the winner, and the election is thrown into the House of Representatives per the US Constitution.  And the House of Representatives, in that instance, under the leadership of Henry Clay, elected John Quincy Adams.  Jackson would beat Adams outright 4-years later.  The instances of the popular vote winner not receiving a majority of the electoral vote include the years 1876 (Hayes vs. Tilden), 1888 (Harrison vs. Cleveland), and 2000 (Gore vs. Bush).

Since 2000 there has been a growing number of people across the country that have wanted to reform or even abolish the Electoral College and move toward a more direct, popular election… the same as we do for all our other elected officials.  Gallup determined that in October 2011, 62% of Americans were in favor or a popular election for President/Vice-President with 35% wanting to remain with the current system.  Of that 62%, there is a bipartisan appeal… 71% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans, and 46% of Independents.  So how would we change the system if we decided to go that route?  Since the Electoral College is enshrined in our Constitution, it would require a constitutional amendment… which means we, the people, wouldn’t have a direct say in the matter.  An amendment to the US Constitution becomes valid after it passes both houses of Congress by 2/3rds vote and then is ratified by 3/4ths of the state legislatures.  It is not an easy process.

So should we be trying to change how we elect our President/Vice-President when it would be such a daunting task?  We’ve changed it before via the 12th Amendment.  But for this particular instance, one could go either way.  There have only been four times in all of our elections when the two have not been one in the same.  In all but the four elections mentioned earlier (1824, 1872, 1888, and 2000), the winner of the popular vote won the electoral vote.  In that instance, there lies no problems.  But, as Americans, we take great pride in electing our leaders.  And though it may seem like we are voting for a certain candidate, in reality, we are not.  It seems rather shocking to us here in the 21st century.  Then there is the added question that if we were to keep the Electoral College, should we change the rules so that it’s not winner take all?  Should it be more in line with Nebraska and Maine where the winner is granted two electoral votes automatically and then the rest are apportioned by each congressional district won?  In 2000, George W. Bush won the state of Florida (thus granting him victory in the election) by 1,784 votes.  Maybe a compromise plan would even work.  If the difference in votes is less than 10%, then it would be awarded proportionally, but it would be winner take all if it was more than 10%.  What about a plan where the Electoral College remains in place as it currently is, but can be overturned if the popular vote is different?  Along those lines is a similar plan called the National Popular Vote Compact in which states would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.  Eight states have signed on, though none have been officially enacted.  Regardless of whatever path we decide to go down in the future, we must keep in mind that for 224-years, the process has been mostly correct, and we might be making a bigger deal over something that isn’t.

SIDENOTE:
George Washington is the only person to receive a unanimous vote from the Electoral College.  He received it in both elections.  Though James Monroe ran unopposed for a second-term, one electoral delegate did not cast his vote for him so that Washington would remain the sole person to receive that honor.  Ronald Reagan came close in 1984, when he received the votes of 49 of 50 states (also minus DC).

LINKS:
IVN – Is It Time To Reform the Electoral College?
Americans vs. The Electoral College [Infographic]

Let Freedom Ring

Throughout history, we remember names like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis deLafayette, Paul Revere and many more.  What we don’t know are the names of countless others that laid down their lives for our independence.  They are the ones who’s stories are not told… lost in time and forgotten.  They believed in a cause… a new concept that no one was certain would succeed, but still they pressed on.  They survived brutal winters, hot summers, and camp diseases.  They sacrificed everything to be free from tyranny.

For those we have forgotten, it wasn’t about the creation of a republic.  It was about being able to choose their own destiny and make their own way in life.  What they helped to create was a nation with untold potential.  Whether they survived our war for independence or whether they fell fighting for the cause, their service was invaluable.

We mark this holiday 236-years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, though we still weren’t free until the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  Our nation has changed a lot since then.  We have grown from struggling colonies to a vast nation comprised of a wide variety of people.  Upon our shores, people have looked to see new promise… the same as those soldiers did back then.  Without their sacrifices, none of us would be celebrating this day and our lives would be different.

With all the pomp and ceremony that even our Founding Fathers recognized we would be having, we must not forget these long forgotten unknown men and what they fought for.  It beats within every one of us and should never be taken for granted.  Even now, somewhere in this world, there are people fighting for their independence… fighting for their freedom from tyranny.  What we fought for all those years ago still echos throughout the globe.  People want the freedom to determine their own destinies.  It is that very freedom that always comes with a high price, but we cannot let that deter us or anyone else.  The very ideals that once washed over our people should echo to every people in every corner of this planet.  From every mountain top, through every plain, across every ocean… freedom shall ring.  And while we celebrate the names we have been taught to remember, let us also remember those that we don’t.  Let us remember our founding principles and know that people around the world are fighting for them this very day because even as we fade away, the idea still lives on.  May the sun shine upon them as it did us on July 4, 1776.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Declaration of Independence~ 

The Russian Veto

It has been written about on her before, and yet each night on the news, the situation in Syria grows worse.  There just doesn’t seem to be an end to the horrors that come out of the country as of late as the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad continues to keep its grip on power and is using the military to slaughter thousands of his own people to do so.  The UN Security Council continuously votes on different resolutions to get the UN nations to intervene, but it is vetoed by Russia and China.  Even after the recent massacre in the city of Hama, Russia still will not budge.  Even in a recent interview, Russia’s foreign minister said that Russia will never support foreign intervention in Syria.  So now the question becomes why is Russia so adamant about propping up the Assad-regime in Syria, especially after it voted for UN intervention in Libya to stop the bloodshed there before it ever started?

Let’s start with what could be the biggest possible reason.  It’s the port city of Tartus.  Why is this city so important to Russia?  It’s the home base for Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea fleet.  Since 1979, Tartus has been host to a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance base.  Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the base at Tartus and dredging the harbor to allow access to its bigger naval vessels.  This has been amid Russia’s deteriorating relations with western nations as a result of the South Ossetia War (2008) and the US plans to build a missile defense shield.  Russia has also forgiven Syria of $9.8 billion in Soviet-era debt (3/4ths of it’s $13.4 billion) and has become it’s major arms supplier.  The US equivalent to this type of reasoning is what the US is currently doing in the nation of Bahrain which is home to the US 7th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.  The US has been selling arms to the leaders of Bahrain who are desperately trying to hold onto power against its own people.  The US government says that none of the arms we are giving to Bahrain are being used against its people, and that our Blue Lantern Laws allow us to check on this.  (click here)

Whether or not that is completely true, Russian authorities have said that none of their arms shipments are being used against the people of Syria, but do they have laws in Russia like our Blue Lantern Laws here?  And do they honestly know whether they are being used or not against the people?  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (along with the UN) has reported that Russia has recently sold several attack helicopters to the Assad government in Syria (or is in the process of doing so).  In 2011, Syria’s arms contracts with Russia totaled approximately $4-billion.  To put this into some perspective, Russia’s total arms deals in 2011 was $12-billion, and it supposed to be even higher in 2012.  In 2008, Syria agreed to purchase YAK-130 aircraft, MiG-29SMT fighters, an air-defense system, tactical missile system, and two Amur-class submarines from Russia.

In Libya, Russia lost nearly $4-billion in contracts with the downfall of the Gaddafi regime.  So why did Russia support military action there and doesn’t in Syria?  Russian Railways was building a railroad in Libya at a cost of $3.1-billion and had spent millions in oil and gas exploration.  However, the Transitional National Council in Libya has said that all existing contracts will be honored, so maybe Russia is breathing a sigh of relief from that.  But that still doesn’t really explain it’s completely opposite stance on Syria.  Maybe it does come down to the naval base.  If Syria falls now, a new government might not be so lenient in upholding current Russian contracts.  Russia also has major dealings in the country of Algeria next to Libya.  If that country suddenly erupted into a pro-democracy movement, would Russia go with the Libya-way or Syria-way?

Even if we can’t figure out what Russia’s motives are in their entirety, though we should have them narrowed down, there still must be something we can do.  UN-resolutions are out since Russia and China will continue to block anything.  Negotiating with the Assad-government or doing nothing in general aren’t options anymore either.  A no-fly zone over Syria wouldn’t probably help either since the government crackdown does not rely on air support and is mostly fought on the ground in highly urbanized areas.  So where does that leave us with options?  First thing is first that we must continue to do is apply pressure to both Russia and China for UN intervention.  Even the other Arab nations are pleading for an international proposal and have sponsored several, which have been favored by the US.  The biggest thing the Syrian National Council could do to help their own cause is tell Russia that it would be able to keep it’s naval base at Tartus under their democratic government… kind of like how the US still has Guantanamo down in Cuba.  That might help alleviate some of Russia’s fears and help split them off the Assad regime.  The worst possible case would be arming the Syrian rebels much like the French armed a bunch of colonial rebels in the 1770s in their quest to seek independent from Great Britain.  The loss of life could increase exponentially, but the conflict would no longer be one sided.  However, the effects of such an act could also have serious consequences for the US that we must also take into consideration.  One of Syria’s biggest allies is the country of Iran.  If the US were to start shipping arms to the rebels in Syria, could Iran start sending arms to the rebels in Bahrain since we are already sending arms to the government of Bahrain as was stated earlier.

Syria has slipped into a civil war.  The Assad government is going to extreme lengths to hold onto its power, and it’s being propped up by Russia and China, and it’s ally Iran.  As the horrors unfold, we must ask ourselves how much more we are going to allow this to continue.  This is no longer bordering on genocide… it has become just that.  There are even new reports that the Syrian military is using children of rebels as shields.  Thousands are dying in their quest for democracy, and we in the West are just sitting by and watching.  As the days mount, so do the casualties.  We’ve often said “never again” when we have seen these things happen, but we have rarely intervened before it’s been too late already.  For some reason, we are always cautious.  There was no shortage of enthusiasm and speed to go to war in Iraq in 2003 and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein by ourselves, but we can’t bring ourselves to that kind of enthusiasm when dealing with Syria.  Maybe it’s because we don’t get any oil from Syria.  Maybe it’s because we learned our lesson from such a reckless course of action without any international support.  Though this time, we do have the support from the international community.  It’s just Russia and China that keep the UN from getting involved.   And one other question must be asked since Iran is Syria’s biggest ally.  Is the situation in Syria helping to distract the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions?  That could be quite beneficial to Iran, though I think we have our eyes on both situations.

In any case, the situation is Syria must stop.  It is an internal conflict, but one with atrocities that pull at the human soul.  All people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It’s not just an American ideal, it’s a human one.  It is the foundation of democracy, and that’s what the people of Syria want.  Sure, we don’t know what type of government they’d form… whether it would be pro-Western or not, and we don’t know the long-term ramifications of helping the rebels against the Assad regime.  Afterall, in the 1980s, the US aided the Taliban against the invading Soviets.  The US did assist in propping up the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq against the Islamic government in Iran during the same time period, and it also supported the Mubarak regime in Egypt until the Arab Spring uprising.  Our record hasn’t been the best in the region, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be involved somehow.  It’s not about propping up a new regime.  It’s about human life and stopping the atrocities that are continuing to take place.  “Never again” should not continue to be the motto when it comes to these types of things.  It should be “Not this time”.  At some point, we will learn this.  We must learn this.

NOTE:
Russia, along with China and four Central Asian nations, have signed a joint declaration rejecting armed intervention in Syria and reiterating support for [former-UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan’s peace plan.” CNN

PREVIOUS ARTICLES:
Double-Edged Sword
A Syrian Affair

LINKS:
The Moscow Times
RT
Economy Watch
CNN – UN Report 

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