Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An open letter to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow

Dear Keith and Rachel,
My name is Jason Feldstein, and I’m an American who wholeheartedly supports Occupy Wall Street. I also happen to be gay and a registered socialist. I joined the socialist party because I was fed up with the two-party system, so I began reading third-party platforms and I agreed most with the socialist one – especially the part about supporting nonviolent revolution from below. Occupy Wall Street is clearly exactly that, and seeing it on television and all over the Internet has really inspired me. But the way most news anchors are dealing with it strikes me as yellow journalism of the very worst kind, and I’m really sick of the lies about “these protesters don’t know what they’re protesting” or “they’re just dirty hippies who are in it for the drugs and sex”.
The truth is this country hasn’t seen protests on this scale since the 1960’s. Occupy Wall Street is in essence the largest sit-in in history, and I think the idea is brilliant. But it seems to me the movement does need more than just a position statement. I was very inspired when I heard you read the position statement, Keith, because it was obvious from the passionate way you read it that you really believe in social justice the way we do. So I hope you will read what I’ve written, because I believe it may be a game-changer for the movement.
I don’t claim to represent the opinions of every single protester at Occupy Wall Street, of course. How could I? I haven’t been there yet , and while I’m planning to visit the weekend of the 22nd, I couldn’t possibly meet and interview every single person who’s there. All I can say is that I’ve done extensive Internet research and found some solutions that seem to work well in other countries for handling many of the same issues we have.  I have long admired both of you for your journalistic integrity, so I hope you’re open to spreading these ideas. I’ve done my best to phrase them in ways that both social liberals and fiscal conservatives will be able to appreciate, since personally I am both. But this is really not about me – it’s about the message. I know that both of you, of all people, will understand that.

As citizens of the United States of America with a constitutional right to redress of grievances, we demand redress of the following grievances. We further demand a federal government that respects states’ rights and individual rights, while at the same time helping to empower all of us to help ourselves and each other. We are young and idealistic, so in a very real sense we are your future. Listen to our ideas, and together we can change the world. Until you do listen to us and do our will – which is your job as elected officials – we will never stop, never leave Wall Street, never abandon our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
America asked to know what we want, so here are some of our ideas:
  • As taxpayers, we demand that our tax money go toward ending corruption in government. Elections must be publicly funded. All candidates with a certain reasonable number of signatures (perhaps 10,000 or 20,000) should start with the same modest amount of money from the federal, state or city government, depending on what jurisdiction level the position is. Congress must limit campaign contributions to specific candidates to a reasonable dollar amount (perhaps $500 or $1000) for both corporations and private individuals. Candidates should be prohibited from using their own personal wealth for political campaigns, but should be able to donate as much to their campaign as every other American can. This system will likely lead to candidates from 4 or 5 parties in most elections, which in turn will eventually lead to coalition governments… and countries with coalition governments don’t have the corruption problems we do, because each party in the coalition acts as a check against possible extremism by the others. We further call upon the American people to join a third party – any third party whose platform matches your values – because having candidates with as widely varying views as possible can only help to repair what’s wrong with our government and our economy. Contributions to political parties (rather than direct contributions to candidates) should still be allowed, however:
  • As voters, we demand that only other voters be allowed to contribute money to support the political party of their choice. Corporations are not actual people, as evidenced by the fact that they do not get to vote in elections, so even if the Supreme Court currently considers campaign contributions to be free speech, the right to free speech applies only to citizens. Corporations do not qualify, as they do not possess citizenship of any country. Allowing them to make campaign contributions allows them to buy votes on whatever legislation they want, no matter how much it hurts the American people. This is unacceptable and must end immediately. Ending campaign contributions and prohibiting candidates from using personal wealth to finance their own campaigns us in the public interest, since it will lead to candidates run based on their moral convictions rather than a desire to buy a Congressional seat or the Presidency. We further demand the return of the presidential debates to the League of Women Voters, who ran them in a fair, balanced, honest and nonpartisan way before the Democrats and Republicans hijacked them and changed the rules to prevent third-party involvement.
  • As pacifists who deplore violence against our fellow citizens based on factors they can’t change (such as their skin color, sex, or sexual orientation), we demand anti-hate-speech laws similar to those in Canada, but applying only to public officials. Candidates and elected officials need to understand that broadcasting a message of hatred on national television is the same as shouting “Fire!” in a crowded room; it directly incites violence against innocent people who do not deserve it, and as a result it should be a felony. We additionally demand that Congress reinstitute the fairness doctrine for television news; it’s time for a return to the journalistic integrity that makes freedom of the press so essential to maintaining democracy.
  • As free thinkers of the information age, we demand full financial transparency and accountability from our government, as well as meaningful privacy protections and public accountability from government-funded artists and universities.
    • The government must be accountable to We The People for how it spends our money, and We The People have every right to check up on it whenever we want to. We should have access to quarterly and yearly financial statements detailing exactly how every penny of our money, itemized within broad categories (education, military, social programs, medical research, etc.).  In addition, we demand that Congress legally require all meetings between politicians and lobbyists to take place in dedicated room where they are streamed live on the Internet. If politicians know their constituents are always watching, they are far more likely to behave honestly and with integrity. Full financial accountability means prosecuting every single person responsible for harming not just our economy, but the economy of the entire world; this is our mess to clean up, not the Hague's. 
    • It should be illegal for any organization to sell our personal information without our explicit consent; all organizations should be "opt-in" rather than "opt-out". Publicly funded art grants should only go to artists who are willing to release their work freely under a Creative Commons license. Publicly funded universities should similarly be required to release all their research and publications under Creative Commons licenses, rather than keeping them proprietary. The free and open sharing of art and science can only improve the quality of arts and sciences education in this country, and it is long past time. More importantly, any university or artist funded with our tax dollars is producing work that belongs to us, thus it should freely be available to every American citizen.
  • As humans who of necessity consume food every day of our lives, we demand complete freedom of choice over what goes into our bodies. We want clear, plain labeling of all products containing genetically modified crops, along with large tax incentives for farmers who grow heirloom crops. Products that contain inedible ingredients such as added wood pulp (“cellulose”) must also be labeled as such, for the benefit of those of us who do not wish to consume them.
  • As sufferers from a wide variety of diseases both physical and mental, we demand free and safe access to any and all substances that might be helpful for a given disease. Medicinal marijuana helps cancer and HIV patients to cope with the side effects of their other medications, as well as for relief of chronic pain in numerous conditions; LSD relieves cluster headaches and migraines; so can psilocybin, and its benefits for personal development work are well documented in recent psychological studies. These useful substances and numerous others remain illegal despite their potential positive uses - to the benefit of drug companies and the detriment of the American people.  We refuse to accept this hypocrisy any longer; substances with documented medical uses do not belong on Schedule I. In addition, none of the above substances has ever been shown to have the ability to kill anyone not already allergic to them, and since they're that safe, the federal government has no constitutional authority or compelling interest to keep them illegal. (Driving under the influence and selling them to anyone under 21 should still be illegal, of course, just like alcohol.) Congress must reclassify all such substances immediately, so that they can be taxed and regulated. In addition to a large new revenue stream for the government, this would free us from having to make back-room deals with shady drug dealers just to obtain medicinal plants that are found in nature, and would prevent deaths from one drug being laced with another. Anyone in prison for selling or possessing drugs with legitimate medical uses should be released immediately on time served. It's time to admit the so-called "War on Drugs" has been a dismal and pathetic failure, and it's long past time for a novel approach that allows responsible adults to determine for themselves what nonlethal intoxicants they prefer.
  • As citizens of an increasingly global world, we demand an end to American imperialism. The United States currently spends over a trillion dollars a year on the military, and we have troops in 135 countries. No wonder the rest of the world is terrified of us; we are rapidly turning into the Roman Empire. 9/11 (or some event like it) was thus inevitable, because as we know from American history, if we oppress others they're going to fight back whatever way they can. No wonder our country has no money to spend on education, health care, or infrastructure; we’re too busy buying tanks and missiles instead. Congress must constitutionally limit military spending to no more than 20 percent of the GDP, and President Obama must remove our troops from all non-combat zones immediately.
  • As workers who value our jobs and want more people to be able to find one that can actually support them, we demand an end to unfair labor laws. America’s minimum wage must be a living wage high enough for every worker to afford health insurance. Union rights must have their own constitutional amendment, so that greedy politicians can’t use union limitations to score points with their corporate masters. Our founding fathers were generally very wealthy men, but they were of that old breed of wealthy men who believed wealth carries with it the obligation to be gracious. This is why, like Warren Buffett, they spoke out against special treatment for the rich. Every American hates the IRS and agrees that our tax code is unnecessarily complex and has too many loopholes, so Congress should abolish the IRS and adopt a national sales tax system such as the FairTax instead.
  • As people terrified of financial ruin should we be caught sick and without insurance, we demand a tax-funded public healthcare plan that covers all Americans, including the homeless and the unemployed. Tax working people a little more so that those who have it worse than we do won’t have to choose between death and a life of endless debt. For-profit health care has become a grotesque perversion of the Hippocratic Oath. Hospitals and insurance companies should only be allowed to retain their nonprofit status if they adjust their fees to a level that only covers their own labor and supply costs for treatment.  Australia has free public health care for all, along with higher-quality private health plans for those who wish to pay for them; this is the system we want. Access to good health care is a basic human right, one that millions of Americans currently lack. We can’t legitimately call ourselves “the land of the free” until this changes.
  • As people of faith, we demand that right-wing extremists stop using our religions to justify their political beliefs. Judaism, Islam and Christianity in their purest forms teach their followers to pursue peace, feed the hungry, help the poor, and treat every person decently and with respect. Jesus invented “class warfare”; he said that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, and that no one can serve two masters (god and money). In Judaism, the Talmud teaches that the sin of Sodom was that those living there were rich, but they refused to share their riches with those in need - so in a Jewish sense, the Tea Party are literally Sodomites. To any fundamentalist Christian or Orthodox Jew who doesn’t support what’s currently being called “class warfare”, we submit that your beliefs are not authentically Christian or Jewish at all. Read the bible and you’ll see why we say so.
  • As avid fans of your music, we call upon artists who support social justice such as Lady Gaga, the Dixie Chicks, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, Yusuf Islam, Ani Difranco, Dar Williams, Chumbawamba, Immortal Technique, Beyonce, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, En Vogue, Aretha Franklin, the Indigo Girls, Eric Clapton, Bette Midler, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Annie Lennox, Joan Baez, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Kula Shaker, Eminem, Enya, U2, The Dandy Warhols, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, System of a Down, Too Much Joy, They Might Be Giants, Janet Jackson, Ferron, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Jian Ghomeshi, and Jedi Mind Tricks to publicly stand with us to support positive sociopolitical change. We mourn the recent passing of such pioneers as Michael Jackson, Mary Travers and George Harrison, who should have lived to see this movement; you were true artists who helped to show society its dark side (as any good artist should). We miss you, but we'll carry on your work for as long as it takes. All of you, living or not, are the ones who inspired us to do what we're doing. We love you. We need you to use your fame to help our message reach the whole world. Please help by coming to perform for us if you can. Please help by releasing your music under Creative Commons licenses, so that money is never a barrier to everyone hearing your message. Please help us by refusing to play anywhere else until our collective voice is heard. We promise to keep paying to come to your concerts, both because we love your music and we support your message. Many if not most of us wouldn't be involved if not for your inspirational music, and we want history to remember you for the courage and generosity it would take to support us as we've supported you. Your example will help other artists and other wealthy people to understand why social justice is so essential for a working democracy. Until you're here, we're forced to assume you stand with the 1%... but we know that isn't true, so please come. The civil rights movement is long over - this is the economic rights movement - but we need you to lend us your voices just as much as our parents did. Record companies have tried to enslave you in the past, just as numerous corporations have tried to enslave us all; please join us in fighting back with the most potent weapon we possess: the truth.
  • As supporters of basic human rights for all, we demand a complete overhaul of America’s prison system, educational system and Israel policy:
    • Rather than mandatory minimum sentences, we need a system that allows wrongly imprisoned innocent people access to the tools they need to prove their innocence. People on death row must have the same access to such tools – particularly the appeals process – as every other inmate. If that means a few guilty people end up being released along with the innocent, fine; at least it will also mean that no more innocent people are executed in this country. If those guilty people are able to prove unfair treatment in their original trials, they deserve to go free since they never received a fair trial.
    • No one should have to go into debt to afford a college education. The national sales tax rate should be high enough for the federal government to pay for citizens to attend any college that accepts them, for undergraduate school only, much the way Australia does. Existing Stafford and other federal loan debt should be forgiven, completely and permanently. An educated working class is the foundation of a working democracy and the best possible check against fascism, and we should be willing to pay any amount of money to ensure that we have one.
    • As regards Israel, the Netanyahu administration continues to perpetrate flagrant human rights abuses upon the Palestinian people, despite 70 percent of Jewish Israelis supporting Palestinian statehood according to a recent poll. Working Israelis and Palestinians alike want an end to this conflict, and their government refuses to listen to them, just as ours has not yet listened to us. We demand our government stop coddling Israel’s disingenuous right-wing government and start treating it the way we would treat any other group of rogues or fascists. We are Jews, Muslims, Christians, and members of every other conceivable faith, and we stand united on this issue.
In the open-source spirit, I hope that this draft can be useful as a starting point for the General Assembly to discuss and customize as it sees fit. I am here to donate my time and my professional writing experience if you have a need for them. Rather than trying to write an entire platform by committee, which might take an awfully long time, you now have an existing document you need only tweak until it's exactly what you want to say. I will be at Occupy Wall Street the weekend of the 22nd and hope to discuss it with you in person. Until then, I invite anyone who supports the movement to comment with suggested changes, additions or deletions. Like Wikipedia, your input can only improve these proposals.


  1. There's quite a bit here, and much to ponder. Some I agree with, some I don't, and some I would need clarification on. But for now, I'd like to ask just two questions, with the rest on the back burner for the time being.

    Both in this article, and in previous discussions, you appear to be an advocate of nonviolence, of peace. You also appear to advocate many powers you believe a government should be allowed to have. Such powers, in a government, boil down to a dictate to the citizenry that they must live or act in a certain way, or refrain from living or acting in another way. When a government with the power to enforce such powers, the ultimate message from government to citizen is "Do as we say, or we will remove you from your life of choice, by force if necessary." Or, to put it more simply, "Do as we say, or face the consequences we will impose on you."

    My first question: do you believe a government than can enact this message, this message of "Do as we say, or face the consequences we will impose on you", is compatible with your love of peace?

    My second question: if you allow a government the power to enforce this message, and to dictate to the citizenry what it must or must not do and what it must or must not give up, how do you hold the government accountable? Or restrained? We have heard of how power tends to corrupt... what do you do when an empowered government removes from you the means to stop it?

  2. Good questions. I think the Founding Fathers put it best when discussing this very issue in the Declaration of Independence. I'd like to answer your questions with their words, at least for now:

    "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

  3. Alrighty... it may just be because I'm brain-dead tired at the moment and hitting the sack, but I fear I'm not sure where you're coming from. Would you mind, when you have an opportunity, elaborating on your response? I fear I'm not entirely certain how the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence support an establishment of a government that has expansive power over the people it represents, nor how it bridges a dedication to peace with an allowance of a government that can coerce its people to live by a prescribed manner or to sacrifice that which is owned or earned, or face the consequences the government would impose. If you could clarify for me, I'd greatly appreciate it.

  4. You're right, they definitely don't. Much the opposite: The opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence say that when faced with such a government, it's the right of the people to alter or abolish it. Which is exactly what Occupy Wall Street is about... instituting new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its power in such form as to them seems most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

    Unless I'm misunderstanding your question. It seems like you and I may be coming at this issue from very, very different angles.

  5. You weren't misunderstanding my question, but we are coming at this issue from different angles. If I'm reading this correctly, your angle is the peaceful means by which these protests are happening, whereas my angle is the form of government you and the protestors are advocating. I have two arguments in that regard.

    1. One of the wisest things I've ever heard was the phrase, "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."

    What I am seeing is a contradiction in two matters you support. The first is your love of peace. The second is your advocacy of a government that would be empowered to use non-peaceful methods (in this case, taxation, which is inherently coercive) to operate and/or fund causes you support.

    In this regard, I'm calling into question the incompatibility of two your motivations: your desire to support peace, or your desire to support a powerful government.

  6. 2. As far as the right of the people to alter or abolish the government, the DoI was very specific in regards to what circumstances the people have a right to do this, and the protesters are partially right on the matter. The DoI established that the purpose of governments among men were to secure and protect the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and should the government in question be destructive to those ends, and those ends specifically, it was not only the right, but the duty, for the people to alter and abolish the government so they can reestablish a government designed to re-secure those rights. While our government has certainly stepped out of bounds and has become less and less concerned with those three very particular rights, those of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, the form of government that you and the protestors appear to be supporting is not designed for the protection of those rights. In particular, the inalienable right of Liberty, the right that every person may choose to live as they wish, so long as it does not deprive another of their ability to do the same, is not taken into consideration with the form and function of government you recommend.

    Taxation is a forceful, non-peaceful means of acquiring the property of an individual, and while the ability to levy taxes on the citizenry was allowable under the Constitution, it was only allowable for very strict, very minimal functions that were designed solely to protect the citizenry from those who would seek to limit their inalienable rights, from both foreign threats and internal. Such minimal functions generally meant the common defense of the people; in modern times, it could also apply to such matters as disease control and environmental protection. It did not allow taxes to be levied, for instance, to fund elections. It did not allow taxes to used for funding art, education, religious institutions, and certainly not to fund bailouts for failing companies. The very reason for this set up was to maximize the amount of liberty every individual had, by minimizing the need to take their funds for only bare essentials, and only to do so in cases where taxing their wealth was the lesser evil. This is why the most ignored amendment in the Constitution in recent decades, the 10th Amendment, was placed in. People were meant to make decisions on their own lives on as localized a means as possible, from education to business to art. They were not meant to be taken from for causes they did not support simply because someone, 10 states away, wanted it. If a town, or a county, or a state of people collectively agreed that the people of that town, county, or state should adhere to various laws, taxes, and lifestyles as behooved them, it was their option, and not that of an overseeing government. If one set of lifestyles and laws did not work for a citizen of that town, county, or state, he had the ability to move on to another that was more compatible.

    This is why I do not understand the desire to nationalize these types of decisions, as you and the OWS protestors appear to advocate. It not only contradicts the very notion of peace by forcing everyone in the nation to be saddled with the burden of these collective desires, but it also breaks apart what may be the most easily observable political experiment of all time: a nation that powerfully protects the rights of its citizens with minimal interference, and allows them to live freely under their own decisions on such matters of laws, taxes, and lifestyles.

    Can I clarify or expand on anything here?

  7. Yeah... you're a libertarian and I'm a socialist. We're never going to agree.

    Can you point to even one historical government that was successful without taxation? What you're describing is a Temporary Autonomous Zone, not a country.

  8. Answer: I didn't advocate zero taxation, I advocated taxation only in circumstances where taxation is a lesser evil. Try again?

  9. Taxation used to cover infrastructure, health care, education, and other services that benefit every single citizen is always a lesser evil.

  10. A thought just suddenly struck me. You identified the two us as two distinctly alternative mindsets. While you misidentified me as a Libertarian, I'm more than happy to overlook that in favor of a much more interesting observation.

    While you identify that the two of us as having alternative solutions to the troubles of society, I notice a distinctive difference between our selected tactics. Both of us, in recent discussions, have expressed a desire for a better future, and claim peace as one of our motivations for our desire.

    Our difference is this: you would advocate a government that would force your views on others, and I would advocate a government that would protect our ability to live within our own individual views as long as it does not violate the individual views of others. You advocate governmental force to make people live to your standards, I advocate governmental protection of people living to their own.

    I bring up the same argument I made from the beginning. You advocate peace, but you advocate a government that would forgo peace to force your views on other. I advocate peace, and advocate a government whose sole purpose is to protect our ability to live as we choose.

    We're still at the beginning. Do you want peace, or do you want a government that can use force to make people live as you want them to? Can you explain to me how you can have peace and force simultaneously?

  11. If you could point out the specific parts where it sounds like I'm advocating a government that forces people to live as I want them to, I'd appreciate it, because those parts obviously need revising.

    If it's about preventing public pictures from engaging in hate speech on national television, that really is about protecting the public welfare. You shouldn't be able to say "Go kill some niggers!" any more than you should be able to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater (which is already illegal).

  12. What is debated here is not the merit of the activity, but the means by which it is supported. For instance, we both may advocate art, but where we appear to differ is in how we would support it. I would require art to be supported privately and by free choice, whereas you, if I'm reading the examples correctly, would require people to give up money to government for art at threat of government-imposed consequence. Most means by which you are supporting government force are indirect, in that you allow them to create or fund means to make other people adhere to your values. Below are several examples where the use of force is advocated, either directly, but requiring individuals to act or spend in a federally prescribed manner, or indirectly, but seizing the funds of others so the government can fund it itself.

    "Elections must be publicly funded. All candidates... should start with the same modest amount of money from the federal, state or city government, depending on what jurisdiction level the position is."

    Here, what's being advocated is the use of taxed money to support candidates, regardless of the candidate the individual would choose. This can negatively impact everybody, right down to the two of us. I, for example, would never willingly fund a candidate who proposes to require all schools to nationally abolish biology classes that teach evolution and mandate that all biology classes must teach Creationism, for the same reason you would never willingly fund a candidate who proposes making homosexuality illegal. Under the proposal listed above, that choice is, in part, taken from us, and money we work for and earn is seized so a federal, state, or city authority can use it to prop up candidates neither of us would ever willingly do so ourselves.

    "We additionally demand that Congress reinstitute the fairness doctrine for television news"

    Here, it is advocated that a news program must (at threat of federally imposed consequence) convey stories or bring on air guest hosts the owners and producers may not necessarily believe or are incompatible with their values.

    " well as meaningful privacy protections and public accountability from government-funded artists and universities.", "Publicly funded art...", "Publicly funded universities...", "any university or artist funded with our tax dollars..."

    What is implied here is that artists and universities are funded by the government using money taxed from the citizenry. There are artists and educational facilities I bet either one of us would be more than happy to fund, and others we wouldn't. However, the implication here is that our money would be taxable from us and the choice over what gets funded is given to someone we may not necessarily agree with, be it an elected representative, an appointee of an elected representative, or a staff member hired by an appointee of an elected representative. This is an indirect use of force to support decisions (in this case, decisions on art and education) that is removed from us and given to someone else, regardless of our consent.

  13. "we demand free ... access to any and all substances...", "Access to good health care is a basic human right..."

    First rule of economics: nothing is free. The cost will always be there. The question is: who must pay for it? The person who uses it, or the person who does not? This particular demand advocates that those who have money must be forced to pay for the medical treatments of others. We could come up with all sorts of examples of sick individuals with all manner of diseases we would seek to end, but the means by which we do so must be by our own consent; it is for that reason we have and can create charity foundations. The idea of charity exists in this country; from cancer to HIV to heart disease, we have multiple charities designed as channels so that those who have money can willingly give to support research, prevention, and treatments of any number of diseases. I for one largely advocate any number of causes for charity, but where the line is drawn is when such charity is required by federal mandate. There is a difference between donating to support a cause of one's own free will, and being forced to by penalty of governmental force. This is an example of indirectly forcing citizens to act in a particular way. To use myself as an example, there are 2 charities I currently donate to (sadly, 2 is all I can afford currently, until I can further supplement my income), but I specifically chose these charities because they adhere to core beliefs I have and operate in a manner I believe both constructive and ethically sound. There are other charities I do not personally donate to, because I neither consider them constructive nor ethically sound. But when money is taxed from me, and donated to charities I personally do not advocate, it is an indirect means of using money I work for to support causes I do not believe in. This deprives me not only of money I could use to supplement my own well being, but also from funding causes I personally support. In effect, it's forcing me, by virtue of the fact that I labor for my income, to fund that which I do not choose to. I'm willing to bet we could easily find the same thing with you, or with anybody. The call for free access is forceful in itself, because what is free for one is forced from others. Such access to medicine must be a matter of consent, not force.

    " companies should only be allowed to retain their nonprofit status if they adjust their fees to a level that only covers their own labor and supply costs for treatment"

    Here is an example of not only using governmental force to make nonprofit insurance companies act a certain way, but does so in a manner which makes survivability of a nonprofit insurance companies nearly impossible. Can you think of an example of any business construct that hires thousands of workers and circulates billions of dollars can do so with such precision that it generates zero profit? Let's imagine this particular policy gets implemented. What happens if there is an accounting miscalculation and a surplus is accidentally generated, despite any and all internal attempts to prevent it? Even worse, what happens when a company fails to generate the revenue necessary to cover labor and costs, and do not have surpluses to rely on to keep them above water?

    A "nonprofit" is not a company that "does not make profit". It is a company that can only use profits or surpluses to fund its own survival and expansion, as opposed to rewarding its owners or shareholders. This is a shining example of how having a powerful government that can force its will (and by extension, the will of a select citizenry) on others. When it attempts to do so under an incorrect or illogical pretense, it can be particularly harmful to the people. In this case, if a government forces nonprofits to work without surplus, it allows only two other options: stagnation or shut-down.

  14. I can't seem to post comments. This one is a test.

  15. Chris, I'm really trying to be patient here, but it seems like you're deliberately trying to misunderstand what I'm saying. Please stop reading things into what I've written and just take my words at face value. I'm going to respond to your criticisms point-by-point.

    "Elections must be publicly funded. All candidates... should start with the same modest amount of money from the federal, state or city government, depending on what jurisdiction level the position is."

    It doesn't matter whether you would publicly support the funding of a candidate you disagree with. It is in the public interest to have as many different viewpoints - no matter how extreme or insane - represented by candidates as possible. The ones who are foaming at the mouth will have no trouble hanging themselves. Equal funding of all candidates does not equal government endorsement of any particular candidate, but it *does* help to prevent candidates from being bought by corporations.

    "We additionally demand that Congress reinstitute the fairness doctrine for television news"

    Impartial journalism is a public utility. People have the right to have the news reported with as little slant as possible, which is how things were done before the fairness doctrine went out the window. *News* is not the same thing as *editorial*, which can be as slanted and biased as the station wants. I took journalism in high school, and that is the difference right there - in news you just report the facts, while in editorial you're able to insert your own personal opinion (or the opinion of your employer). To call something "news" which is actually editorial is false advertising, which is already illegal.

    " well as meaningful privacy protections and public accountability from government-funded artists and universities.", "Publicly funded art...", "Publicly funded universities...", "any university or artist funded with our tax dollars..."

    This is where it seems to me you're going out of your way to start being difficult. Are you somehow unaware that we *already* fund artists and universities with public money? Does it really strike you as so unreasonable that those artists and universities should have to make what they produce freely available to the same public whose money funded them? It certainly seems messed up to me that they currently get to make a profit from it while getting to keep it proprietary.

    Read the FairTax proposal. All it suggests is using a national sales tax to replace the income tax. No additional taxation for new services or any of the stuff you seem to feel the need to catastrophize about, and I didn't say that stuff either. I think you thought you were reading between the lines, but in fact you were really just putting words in my mouth. Words I didn't intend.

    "we demand free ... access to any and all substances...", "Access to good health care is a basic human right..."

    Free as in "freedom", not free as in "free beer". The government doesn't have to hand us drugs at no cost... it just has to stop prohibiting us from spending our own money to get them. Regulation is a better idea still, because it ensures they will be safe and pure.

  16. " companies should only be allowed to retain their nonprofit status if they adjust their fees to a level that only covers their own labor and supply costs for treatment"

    Insurance companies currently make millions upon millions of dollars of profit by discriminating against sick people (already made illegal in the pending health care bill) and finding loopholes to breach their contracts with their members and deny claims for needed medical services. Those are the actions of a company that wants profit, not a company who's there to help sick people. Most of that profit goes toward bonuses for executives in the end, so while it looks like they haven't made a profit in a given year, the executives are laughing all the way to the bank. This is much the same as what recording companies do to recording artists to avoid paying them - manufacture huge "unrecouped losses" on paper, so that any money the artist makes never reaches the artist.

    But the difference is record companies are for-profit corporations; insurance companies behave like for-profit corporations, but are somehow still allowed to retain their tax-exempt status. This is unacceptable. A perfect example: In Pittsburgh, UPMC recently closed the UPMC Braddock hospital, which is in one of the poorest areas of the state. Why did they close it? Not because people weren't using it - they absolutely were - but because it *wasn't making enough money*. As a result, Braddock now has no hospital and more people will die being transported to a hospital that's further away... all because more people in Braddock can't pay "non-profit" UPMC for medical services. The mayor of Braddock tried to have UPMC's non-profit status taken away for that, but sadly UPMC's lawyers are far better at this sort of thing than a cash-strapped borough's could be.

    That being said, you do make a good point about surpluses. I'll need to revise that language a bit. I have no problem with insurance companies using their profits to build new hospitals or buy new equipment... but if it's getting paid out in bonuses, that by definition makes them not non-profit.

  17. So, I have a lot of comments on what you've said. I'll try to address them one by one. First, campaign finance reform:

    Here you seem to be arguing that political speech should enjoy significantly less protection than other kinds of speech. Notice that the 1st amendment guarantees that: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
    There is simply no way to tell someone that they cannot give money to further their own viewpoint that doesn’t, ultimately, abridge their freedom of speech. I don’t think you actually mean to say that you think someone shouldn’t be able to spend their own money to publicize their political views. (ie, to fund their own campaign)
    There are two essential tensions in campaign finance. The first is a tension between secrecy (no one knows who’s really behind a candidate) and vote-buying (in which candidates are indebted to contributors). Personally, I think that vote-buying is a more serious problem. I think that we actually need LESS transparency in campaign finance, not more. I recommend a system like that advocated by Ackerman and Ayers. In this system, no one can donate directly to a political campaign, but rather all donations are sent to the FEC. You tell the FEC who to give your money to. The FEC then make lump sum payments to each candidate, without disclosing the names of the donors. This prevents elected officials from being indebted to their contributors.
    The second central tension is between freedom of speech and equality of access. It’s clear that the 1st amendment guarantees citizens the right to express their political views in the public forum. Here to, I think secrecy of donation allows for the maximum amount of freedom (say anything you want) with the maximum amount of equality (politicians don’t know who said what). The problem here, is obviously, that whoever shouts loudest gets heard, no matter the value of what they have to say. Gee…campaign finance reform is hard, and I don’t think there is an easy solution.

  18. Sara, that idea is brilliant. I am stealing it. Anonymizing the money would allow unlimited contributions without revealing the identity of the donor... and is a higher form of tzedakah besides.

  19. Hey hey. My apologies for the lengthy delay in my response, but between my move to a new place and several time-consuming projects at work, I've not had a good chance to sit down and get involved in anything political for a bit. I didn't lose interest, just didn't have a chance to apply it.

    That said, I'm still heavily distracted by other matters, but having had a chance to finally take a look at where we've gone so far, I'd like to continue, though it may be a few days before I can do so. Given that, I'd like to hold off on most of it at the moment (until I'm settled into my new place) and just quickly address three points.

    1) First off, I apologize if what I am coming across as is "deliberately trying to misunderstand" you. This isn't the case at all. I have no desire to misinterpret, and in any case I have done so, I apologize. I do come from a school of thought, however, that attempts to fill in any blanks that are not taken into consideration in a debate on any matter, and I think that may be what's happening here. Whenever I'm presented with an argument from any mindset, the first thing I attempt to think of is "what additional information has not yet been considered?" and often I add this unceremoniously to my counterarguments when I make them. This will play a heavy part later, but for now, it's the only part of my responses I've seen that might be construed as "misunderstanding". This isn't to say I don't think I'm incapable of misunderstanding, but one of the grand benefits of our debate has been some good first-hand experience on how two opposing parties interpret each others' data. That being said, there's no deliberate misinterpretation, but I'd be happy to correct any misinterpretation I've mistakenly made.

  20. 2. One of the major differences I've noticed between my form of argument and yours is this: I do not take precedent as an acceptance of the morality of a view, whereas you seem to. Examples include your statements of "Are you somehow unaware that we *already* fund artists and universities with public money?", and "(already made illegal in the pending health care bill)". These appear to be statements advocating that, because the government approved of them, they should be considered moral statutes. My concern, however, is not "what has been previously approved", so much as "is it something we should be approving?"

    After all, it has been previously approved and considered more by many politicians in history that homosexuality should be deemed immoral and against the law (and sadly, there are many advocates still spewing this nonsense.) Now, while you and I both would be disgusted by that notion, it shouldn't be enough that the precedent set by others should be enough vindication that anti-gay legislation be supported. That's a complete violation of the very inherent vision set forth by those who truly want peace and freedom for their fellow people. For this same reason, I can't fathom why you would allow the precedent that we financially support artistry and universities with federally mandated taxes, or even something as recent as legislation preventing insurance companies discriminating against sick people, should be taken as valid argument. Yes, we can debate whether homosexuality should be criminalized (though we wouldn't), or whether art and education should be federally funded (which we could) or whether whether insurance companies should be forced to fund pre-existing conditions (which I'm divided on), but the merits of that debate does not appear to be, at least from what you've stated so far, your main reason for supporting your cause. Instead, you seem to have presented your cause, at least for art, education, and insurance, as being that it's already been approved, therefore it shouldn't be questioned. If that's how you feel, I do have to say, in the interest of honest debate, whether you would allow legally approved precedent to be taken into equal consideration in such matters as environmentalism, gay rights, and Christian education policies. It's not he beliefs I'm question, so much as the tactics.

  21. 3. On preventing corporate influence: I think the three of us could agree that corporate influence is a major problem in the political environment. At the same time, it's important to realize the necessity of recognizing freedom of expression while trying to prevent that expression from creating influenced power control.

    Sara, you seem to be on the right track, but unfortunately, your solution is too easy to bypass. First off, but forcing contributions to be made anonymously through the FEC, it allows any corrupt individual in the FEC to reroute that money to a differing cause. If you, for instance, wanted to contribute $1,000 to Edwin P. Noflebinger, but the Distribution Manager in the FEC lost paperwork (or worse, was bribed to act in favor to Gertrude Snodgrass), it could mean that, despite your desire to express yourself toward Boflebinger, you could inadvertently support Snodgrass. Even then, all it would take it a person or company to contribute so much money anonymously through the FEC, and then, regardless of who won the election, for the company to lie and claim they put forth money.

    Instead of limiting how people contribute money, maybe the better solution would be to diminish their rewards for doing so?

  22. I offer a counter-proposal: to prevent buying favors from a politician, we try this. All people and organizations that contribute money must do so openly. Any organization that does so may be acknowledged for its contribution, but no executive, lobbyist, appointee, or individual providing funds or representing such a party providing funds may be appointed to a federal position, and whoever the politician who wins may be may not produce or support any legislation which individually favors his/her supporting donors. That way, people and companies can donate money, but can only do so if they morally agree with who they support and know they can't accept any political repayment as a result. Would this be an effective solution?

  23. Chris, I'm not saying that government funding of artists and educational institutions is or isn't a good thing - that's a completely separate argument and not really relevant for me here. What I *am* saying is that this is something our government has been doing for quite a while, and I don't see it changing any time soon. So if it's a given that it's going to occur, the recipients should have to make their work freely available to the same public who financed them. Makes sense, doesn't it?

    I think the difference between your arguing style and mine is that while I'm trying to figure out some practical solutions for the worst abuses in our government, you're trying to construct an ideal government that you'd consider to be perfect. While I enjoy that approach when arguing for its own sake, it's not really all that helpful when we're revising a document that's supposed to be used for actual reform purposes. It would be unrealistic to try to change too many things about our government, too radically, all at the same time... so while art grants might be a problem, they should really take a back seat to corporations buying votes from politicians.

    Your solution to this problem, by the way, comes off way more naive than Sara's. Who gets to decide whether legislation favors a contributor of one of the co-sponsors? What are the criteria for deciding on what favors a certain person? Making it subjective like this would create far worse abuses and loopholes than anonymizing the money. Sure, when dealing with money there's always the chance someone will steal it or misroute it... but there's also the chance the sun will go red giant and engulf the earth tomorrow, and you don't see us making plans based on that possibility either.