Beyond Tea-Party Somnambulism!

Archive for the ‘Politics – other’ Category

Private Sector High-Tech; Better Than Our Government?

Since the introduction of www.Healthcare.gov, used for enrolling people into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most Americans have been underwhelmed and frustrated with its poor performance. This failure has fueled renewed attacks by the GOP and tea party members who have opposed the ACA it since it’s inception, even after the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality.

Whether you agree with the underlying legislation or not, let’s get one thing straight: the failure of the technological aspects of the website are not peculiar to the government. Critics charge the federal bureaucracy is incapable of setting up such a highly advanced website. Let’s stop being naive or so ideological that we overlook the fact that even the biggest high-technology companies have had their share of technology snafus, often hiding the damaging effects on the public. This is true even though they were not under the pressures of strict deadlines and reduced budgets faced by the government.

In case you think the private sector is any better at avoiding these high-tech snafus:

1. In 2011, Sony suffered a major security breach of its PlayStation Network on April 19. The company didn’t even disclose it until April 26 and apologized on May 1. In the days leading up to the outage, its network was hacked. Worse, the personal information of some 77 million customers was exposed. A week later, according to Japan’s Nikkei news, another breach involved the theft of 12,700 credit card numbers and data from over 24,000 users. This was the second worst security breach since the TJ Maxx and Heartland attacks.

2. In 2007, the parent company of TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods chains admitted that its network had been hacked, and personal information for more than 45 million customers had been stolen. Although first detected in December 2006, it later admitted a breach as early as July 2005, a year after a security audit revealed “serious deficiencies” in its network—with over 100 million credit cards compromised.

If you think these are the exceptions…think again. These events are far more common than we may ever know, involving millions of credit cards or other pieces of our so-called ‘secure personal information.’  You can Google “technology errors” and come up with multiple disasters for Apple, Intel, Iomega, Dell, Amazon and Sony, our technology giants.

Computer and network security is big money, from the hacker’s, as well as the security analysts’ perspectives.  My son just received his PhD in computer/network security and is being paid big bucks to help prevent these kinds of problems.

Let’s stop looking to pin the blame on the Obama administration.  These websites are not simple templates; they need lots of excellent programmers and code-writers to get it right.  Even then, as we’ve seen, the end result is not always predictable.  Pitting the private sector against the government sector will end in a futile attempt at finger-pointing.  Perhaps the technologies and abilities needed in the high-tech arena are just as much an art as they are a practice of engineering.  Let’s give the government kudos for its intentions and some time to get it right before trying to show that “all things government related are fallible.”

 

What Would Sam Say?

About 250 years ago, English poet, essayist, moralist and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, wrote,

“Patriotism is the last stronghold of scoundrels.”

Samuel Johnson, English Poet, Essayist and Thorn in the Side of Edmund Burke. His birthday was September 18th.

Samuel Johnson, English Poet, Essayist and Thorn in the Side of Edmund Burke. His birthday was September 18th.

Hard words, no doubt, especially for those, even in his day, who were more interested in ideology than substance and pragmatism.  It offended some and struck a chord with many. What did Johnson mean by this outrageous comment?

It seems that Johnson had Edmund Burke in mind when he made this epic statement. Johnson had no love for Burke and considered him and his party manipulative politicians, fitting for this petard.

Johnson believed that Burke’s false patriots appealed, emotionally, to the rabble, with their fruitless petitions and endless charade of ‘doing what is in the best interests of Great Britain.’

It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same, since we, in 2013, are facing the same ‘patriots’, using emotion, fruitless legislative ‘petitions’ and the flag, to appeal to those who give truth and fact little attention.

If Johnson were alive today, I have no doubt that his Edmund Burke would be our John Boehner (or Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, et al) and his “party” would be the right wing of the GOP (read, Tea Party).  He may, in fact, be writing this very column, calling out the current day patriots, as scoundrels (or worse). He would very well be shaking his head at the hue and cry of the Tea Party patriots, who carry the flag as evidence of their love of country, as if no one else cares about the country or its future.

According to Merriam-Webster, a “scoundrel” is defined as, “a person (especially a man) who is cruel or dishonest.” If we concede that many, if not all, politicians are less than straightforward and truthful at some point in their careers, then all we have left is someone who is “cruel.”

How would Johnson define cruel, as it relates to these patriots in 2013?  He, as many of us, would look at the “fruitless legislative petitions” being advanced by them, determining if they can be considered as cruel.  Johnson would not be surprised to find that Obamacare, a program meant to provide health care for 40 million uninsured Americans, has had 40+ “fruitless legislative petitions” thrown at it, in hopes of reversing it.  He would also find petitions to reduce food subsidies to those who are at the bottom rungs of our economic ladder, along with petitions to reduce care for chronically-ill citizens and the disabled, cut

"Patriotism is the last stronghold of scoundrels!"

“Patriotism is the last stronghold of scoundrels!”

funding for education and government services, or reduce regulations to keep our air and water breathable and drinkable.

Cruel?  If we look at the people who will be harmed most by these fruitless legislative petitions: the elderly, children, disabled, students, the poor, hungry and unemployed, how could we answer that simple question with a no?  Whether we use the Golden Rule, introduced over 2000 years ago, or a purely moralistic or humanistic approach, Johnson is no doubt wincing, “The scoundrels have taken over the world!”

Give Obamacare A Chance!

When the naysayers throw out ridiculous assertions about “Obamacare“, they often overlook the facts. One of those “facts” is that when we compare the cost of medical technologies, we find that European countries have a cost that is anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 that in the US, for similar technologies.

According to investment analysts who follow the medical field closely, these reductions in cost are attributed to “socialized medicine.”

Recently, Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. Inc.’s, Jeff Cohen, whose livelihood is based on following the costs and efficacy of medical technologies, stated,

“Pricing for medical technology in European markets and the rest of the world is often one-half to two-thirds the cost of the U.S., because medicine there tends to be socialized.”

What does that mean? As “Obamacare” continues to be adopted and implemented in the US, we should continue to see medical technologies’ costs come down, which, in turn, will expand the use of better treatments and reduce the costs of health insurance, resulting in lower premiums.

As it was with Medicare almost 50 years ago, the opponents of Obamacare” should be looking past the politics and instead, focus on the benefits and advantages, from both the treatment and financial aspects. Medicare has been successful in providing health care for our seniors and disabled…give “Obamacare” a chance, and in 50 years, we’ll be able to say the same!

 

It’s All About The Ground Game, Dummy!

Running a Smart Campaign – Part 1

Also posted on www.rogerbburtphd.com.
Assumption
The first assumption I prefer is that there will not be large amounts of money available. If the big donors step forward, that’s lovely, but I stand in unpopular territory. I believe elections are won with dedicated volunteers and a top notch get-out-the-vote operation, backed with smart messaging.
Smart ground games need not cost huge amounts of money. There are a lot of “ifs” attached to that statement, but it is a conservative (in a good sense) assumption. Why not plan on a guerrilla marketing campaign? Then, if lots of money is raised, there will surely be ways to spend it.
Being a Believer
A  fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is whether we believe in ourselves and our campaign, and do we believe in our candidate? The first question seems absurd, but I have seen people launch campaigns for the oddest of reasons, where it was clear they did not expect to put forth essential effort or they were not facing reality. Of course, it is up to us, who are thinking of supporting a candidate, to decide if we really believe.
If we believe, then we seek a variety of ways to promote and support the candidacy. And that should, in all eventualities, go to something more than sending glossy brochures and buying advertising.
Getting Their Attention
Advertising people will tell you that it takes repeated contact to make a connection with people. That piece of conventional wisdom I buy absolutely. So, then it becomes a matter of how we get their attention;  and that takes thinking and planning.
In general, I also believe that most people don’t want to pay attention to politics. They have jobs, families, friends and a variety of interests. Why would they care about what we have to say, unless it is compelling or we make it compelling?
Standing Out and Making Sense
Standing out takes showing up in a variety of ways, especially when there is a lot of competition for attention. To do that takes careful attention to available alternatives. My special favorite is the one supported by research: A simple piece of literature stuck in the front door. That means a clear simple message for the particular segment of the population behind that door. It should be low cost and use trained volunteers for delivery. Why trained? Because not everyone is comfortable face-to-face, and often, people open the door when we are dropping off our message. Volunteers need to know how to handle it. And, of course, a lot depends upon finding people who are willing to get involved as volunteers.
There can be many parts to this smart, frugal ground game. It takes planning and paying careful attention, particularly as it relates to the location and campaign type.

 

Harris’ Insensitivity Requires An Apology…To Everyone!

The following is a presentation I made at the Trayvon Martin Vigil, in Salisbury, MD, on 7/13/13. The Vigil was organized locally by April Jackson, and was running concurrently with the nationwide Vigil.

Thank you, April Jackson, for allowing me to say a few words today, at a time when we are all mourning the senseless and unprovoked death of Trayvon Martin, and we cannot understand why there is no punishment for his killer.  I have been a civil rights activist, attorney and community organizer, for over 40 years; yes, I am one of those “old white men” we hear so much about in the news media.  But, I am also “an old white man” who stands in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the African-American community, who are still the target of outrageous and unjust comments, actions and persecution, even in 2013!

"Get over it!", says Harris.

“Get over it!”, says Harris.

“GET OVER IT!”  The other morning, I was reading The Daily Times, when my jaw dropped, figuratively and literally, as I read these words…the response of our Congressman, Andy Harris, to the Zimmerman verdict.  “Get over it!”

This was something I might have told my son when I was coaching Little League baseball and we lost a game: “Get over it, son; it’s just a game and you did your best, which is all you can do.”

Or, perhaps something the Nazis said, after gassing 8 million Jews, gypsies, blacks, gays, disabled and other “undesirables”…”sich aufrappeln” – German, for Get over it!

As I tried to digest that statement, along with Harris’ use of the word, “political”, in describing why the Justice Dept was considering Federal charges against Zimmerman, I became outraged by his insensitivity and his refusal to acknowledge the emotional pain of millions of Americans.

I, like you, was bewildered by the prosecution’s failure to secure a guilty verdict.  As a retired trial attorney, it was clear to me that Zimmerman failed to follow standard “Neighborhood Watch” protocol, which is to report any suspicious activity to the police, so they can follow up, and then stand down.

Instead, Zimmerman followed his own idea of what a Neighborhood Watch volunteer should do (he was not a member of any official NW group): “identify, target, pursue and confront. When he reported “suspicious activity” of an African-American youth, he was asked whether he was following the youth, to which he answered, “Yes, I am” and was then told, “We don’t need you to do that”;  his response was, “ok”, according to his 911 transcript, and he was told that officers were being dispatched.

Martin - killed, based on "suspicions."

Martin – killed, based on “suspicions.”

Zimmerman - "Not guilty!"

Zimmerman – “Not guilty!”

Zimmerman’s injuries, and Martin’s death, are directly linked to his failure to follow the dispatcher’s directive. Instead, without legal authority, and in the face of obvious danger, he followed, approached, confronted and killed a young man who was not armed (contrary to the prosecutor’s assertion that Martin was “armed with the sidewalk”) and who had committed no crime.

These weren’t the actions of a hero or even a moral person; they were the actions of a bully vigilante, intent on pure retaliation, with impunity, against “those punks who get away with everything.”

Young black men don’t deserve to be profiled, targeted and killed, while walking home, enjoying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of juice or because a vigilante’s preconceived “suspicions” were used to justify his adrenaline rush.

Mr. Harris needs to apologize for his insensitivity; this wasn’t a Little League game! And Trayvon’s family will never ‘Get over it!’

Organizing for Social Justice Continues

The need to organize for social justice continues to be crucial in the efforts to win over money’s influence.

BY JUDY OF OCEAN CITY, MD ON JUNE 7, 2013

This month we remember the lives of Senator Robert Kennedy and Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medgar_Evers).  Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated forty-five years ago, on June 6, 1968, and Medgar Evers was killed on June 12, 1963.

Medgar Evers is remembered for his brave fight for racial equality. He served in the U.S. Army during WW II and was the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi. The mission, “Jim Crow Must Go”, resonated through the South during his efforts to end racial discrimination and injustices.

New York Senator Robert Kennedy sought to “address the needs of the dispossessed and powerless in America – the poor, the young, racial minorities and Native Americans”. (rfkcenter.org) At the age of 42, Senator Kennedy lost his life, fighting for social change.

This article, written by Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP (naacp.org),  demonstrates the need to continue organizing for social justice. Money cannot win over dedicated citizens who “step up” to have their voices heard.

http://flcourier.com/2013/06/06/organized-people-can-beat-organized-money-every-time/

The IRS Scandal – A Different Perspective!

The following is a letter-to-the-editor of the Daily Times, Salisbury, MD.  It was written by attorney, Mike Pretl and he has given us permission to post it on Delmarva Progressive.  It is an authentic appeal to look at the IRS issue with a fresh face and to realize that when dealing with the IRS, there are no good guys and bad guys, only well-documented applications and questionable ones.         

Perhaps I am the last person who should be coming to the defense of the Internal Revenue Service, and its Exempt Organization office in Cincinnati.  I have had numerous legal battles – detailed requests for information, and a few arduous audits, initiated by overzealous agents at that office.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that the current “scandal” is overblown and purely political in nature.  I find it incredible therefore that Administration officials are grumbling excuses and apologies, rather than defending themselves by explaining clearly what that office does every day, and is supposed to do.

In 40 years as a Maryland attorney, I have been pleased to create more than 75 nonprofit, tax-exempt corporations.  I have represented nearly all pro bono (without fee).  With few exceptions, all of these groups operate at the progressive end of the spectrum – environmental activists, health care reformers (pre-Obamacare), community organizers, juvenile service providers, charter schools, church-affiliated entities, and “friends” of a scout troop and  child advocacy center.  Exempt status has been sought under various sections of the Internal Revenue Code, chiefly Sections 501(c)(3), (c)(4), and (c)(6).  Perhaps half of all the applications were greeted with IRS questions — a “request for further information” – sometimes elementary, and often  detailed and onerous.  In the past I would tell my clients to expect a determination letter in about 120 days. More recently I have had decisions delayed for months, or for a year or two, always without explanation.

And I repeat, these are virtually all liberal advocacy organizations, and the hassles and delays have occurred during the last seven administrations – four Republican and three Democratic.

In my ongoing role as unpaid counsel to these groups, it is my duty not only to collect data and file IRS applications, but to advise what they can and cannot do to retain their exempt status.  Many leaders of (c)(3) charities are surprised to learn that they may lobby the legislature to a limited extent, in support of their goals, but of course cannot engage in elective politics.  The (c)(4) (“social welfare”) entities are told that they may support candidates who support their goals, but under the IRS Code, elective politics cannot be their “primary” activity, or a “substantial part” of their daily efforts.

Which brings us back to the current “scandal.”  Despite some apparent excesses and unfortunate statements, it appears that the IRS agents have been caught doing just what they are paid to do – enforcing the Code.  Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2009, numerous organizations were formed, most of them on the right, and sought (c)(4) status so their contributors need not be disclosed.   Many Tea Party chapters and similar groups did not disguise their role as primarily political efforts, however, so the non-political career employees at IRS marked them presumptively ineligible for exempt status.  The agents perhaps went overboard in a few cases – but that zeal hardly suggests a conspiracy.

A final personal story:  A few years ago, the leading Maryland handgun control advocacy group –which had established separate (c)(3) and (c)(4) entities — was wrongly accused of improper election-year activity. IRS auditors promptly served each entity a series of 82 detailed document requests.  The IRS agents were far from friendly, and we spent nearly a year in proving our client not at fault.  At the end, however, we explained to our volunteer board of directors that occasional scrutiny, often unpleasant, is the price we must pay, to secure the invaluable benefits of tax-exempt status.  Perhaps Congressional investigators will soon  get the same message.

 Mike Pretl is a semi-retired attorney, residing in Riverton, in Wicomico County.

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