Blue laws, filibuster rules, and democratic socialism

By Reade Brower | Dec 12, 2013

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." — Nelson Mandela, social activist and president of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1918–2013)

The filibuster

I went into this conversation thinking about the filibuster as a time-honored tradition and a sort of “fail safe” to ensure that the majority party cannot run over the minority party. I wanted to better understand the recent vote that brought our two Maine senators to loggerheads.

I read both Sen. Angus King’s reasoning for voting in favor of changing the filibuster rules. He sided with 51 other senators to create the reform while I read about Sen. Susan Collins' disappointment over this long-standing tradition of “open and unlimited debate” being changed.

Collins notes that there have been abuses over the years by both parties but she contends that is better than allowing strict party-line voting to carry the day (currently it takes 60 votes, rather than a majority of 51 to break a filibuster) and allow the majority impenetrable power.

Collins speaks to her record of leading bipartisan efforts in the past and mourns the fact this will fundamentally change the way the Senate works. She says; “It will produce further partisanship and discourage efforts to forge consensus on the many difficult issues facing our nation."

On the face of it, I was leaning with Collins until I read King's reasoning for changing the filibuster.

The system we have now is simply not working. Bipartisan efforts to fix it have resulted in more division, not less. I suppose it is like asking the wolf to guard the hen house with the core of Republicans now in office.

And then there are the current “Obama haters." From the moment our president was elected, there has been a movement to discredit, to not support, and to sabotage everything he does, no matter whether they think it is good or bad.

I think this is the singular reason why this had to change if we want gridlock to not be the way of our government. King points to the fact that over history 168 filibusters have occurred, more than half during the Obama administration alone. He also notes that of the 23 filibusters on court of appeals nominations, 20 have occurred during this president’s term. He states the last three nominees, including Maine’s Patricia Millett of Dexter, were blocked not because of their qualifications, but rather because they were nominated by President Obama.

While I share Collins' concerns “that absolute power will corrupt absolutely," I cannot ignore King’s concerns about the current rampart abuse of the filibuster and the fact this system, especially when “continually and inappropriately leveraged to stall nominations and prevent legislation from moving forward” is the norm, rather than the exception. The current system is simply broken. Senators should at least have to go back to the old-fashioned filibusters where the senators actually had to be on the floor of the Senate speaking, rather than just impose the threat of a filibuster.

King also emphasizes this vote only eliminates the filibuster of nominations, excluding those to Supreme Court, and still preserves protection for the party in the minority on major legislation.

This entire debate is reminiscent to me of the health care debate. Both sides of the aisle understood and agreed that the system wasn’t working and that change was needed. I bet the problems we’re having with the Affordable Health Care Act would be greatly diminished if the tag of “Obama Care” had been less the issue. If serving the American people had been at the forefront of that debate, we would all be better off.

I thank Collins for her service to Maine and our country. I applaud King for his common sense approach to everything that is politics.

Turning blue into green

I have never been a big fan of blue laws, but this past Thanksgiving gave me pause when I heard that some of the big-box stores would actually open on Thanksgiving Day and workers would be forced into working. As much as I like the notion a business should be able to run its own schedules and their workers need to abide, or not work there, I think that working on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day is an exception to the rule and an over the line imposition.

I propose a lottery system where the company offers work on those two holidays, and the employees agree to work on a negotiated pay scale for that day. For instance, holiday pay and overtime pay is governed by existing laws that require time and a half for overtime and holidays. What if instead there was a lottery system and employees bid on the time slots for those days. They could ask for a special hourly amount or extra flex time. Management could give the time slots to the lowest bidders. If management couldn’t fill the slots, they would work themselves instead. Can you imagine if the people making the decision to stay open on these two holidays might have to actually be the ones working the holiday shifts? That is a true market system in action as supply and demand is determined by the open market, not by the head honchos ordering their staff to work or else.

As for hospitals and other "essential" service industries, I would say they could continue to be exempted from these new “Green Laws” where “show me the money” is at the core.

Social democracy

The word socialism continues to scare most people. I read with interest the following post on Facebook. I am not sure who to attribute this to, but I share some of the sentiment and I share the post with you. While I don’t agree with parts of this, and I would adapt other parts of it, I found it thought provoking. In addition to free education and college, I think that in European nations it spills over to the trades as well. All citizens, in a civilized society, need to have the ability to acquire the skills that will give them the opportunities to provide for themselves and their families.

From a Facebook post:

"I was talking recently with a new friend who I’m just getting to know. She tends to be somewhat conservative, while I lean more toward the progressive side.

When our conversation drifted to politics, somehow the dreaded word “socialism” came up. My friend seemed totally shocked when I said “All socialism isn’t bad." She became very serious and replied “So you want to take money away from the rich and give it to the poor?” I smiled and said “No, not at all. Why do you think socialism means taking money from the rich and giving to the poor?"

“Well it is, isn’t it?” was her reply.

I explained to her I rather liked something called democratic socialism, just as Sen. Bernie Sanders, talk show host Thom Hartman, and many other people do. Democratic socialism consists of a democratic form of government with a mix of socialism and capitalism. I proceeded to explain to her the actual meaning terms “democracy” and “socialism."

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens take part. It is government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Socialism is where we all put our resources together and work for the common good of us all and not just for our own benefit. In this sense, we are sharing the wealth within society. Of course when people hear that term, “Share the wealth” they start screaming, “OMG you want to rob from the rich and give it all to the poor!” But that is NOT what Democratic socialism means.

To a democratic socialist, sharing the wealth means pooling tax money together to design social programs that benefit all citizens of that country, city, state, etc.

The fire and police departments are both excellent examples of Democratic socialism in America. Rather than leaving each individual responsible for protecting their own home from fire, everyone pools their money together, through taxes, to maintain a fire and police department. It’s operated under a non-profit status, and yes, your tax dollars pay for putting out other people’s fires. It would almost seem absurd to think of some corporation profiting from putting out fires. But it’s more efficient and far less expensive to have government run fire departments funded by tax dollars.

Similarly, public education is another social program in the USA. It benefits all of us to have a taxpayer supported, publicly run education system. Unfortunately, in America, the public education system ends with high school. Most of Europe now provides low cost or free college education for their citizens. This is because their citizens understand that an educated society is a safer, more productive and more prosperous society. Living in such a society, everyone benefits from public education.

When an American graduates from college, they usually hold burdensome debt in the form of student loans that may take 10 to even 30 years to pay off. Instead of being able to start a business or invest in their career, the college graduate has to send off monthly payments for years on end.

On the other hand, a new college graduate from a European country begins without the burdensome debt that an American is forced to take on. The young man or woman is free to start up businesses, take an economic risk on a new venture, or invest more money in the economy, instead of spending their money paying off student loans to for-profit financial institutions. Of course this does not benefit wealthy corporations, but it does greatly benefit everyone in that society.

EXAMPLE: American-style capitalistic program for college: If you pay (average) $20,000 annually for four years of college, that will total $80,000 plus interest for student loans. The interest you would owe could easily total or exceed the $80,000 you originally borrowed, which means your degree could cost in excess of $100,000.

EXAMPLE: European style social program for college: Your college classes are paid for through government taxes. When you graduate from that college and begin your career, you also start paying an extra tax for fellow citizens to attend college.

Question: You might be thinking how is that fair? If you’re no longer attending college, why would you want to help everyone else pay for their college degree?

Answer: Every working citizen pays a tax that is equivalent to say, $20 monthly. If you work for 40 years and then retire, you will have paid $9,600 into the social college program. So you could say that your degree ends up costing only $9,600. When everyone pools their money together and the program is nonprofit, the price goes down tremendously. This allows you to keep more of your hard-earned cash.

Health care is another example: If your employer does not provide health insurance, you must purchase a policy independently. The cost will be thousands of dollars annually, in addition to deductible and co-pays.

In Holland, an individual will pay around $35 monthly, period. Everyone pays into the system and this helps reduce the price for everyone, so they get to keep more of their hard-earned cash.

In the United States we are told and frequently reminded that anything run by the government is bad and that everything should be operated by for-profit companies. Of course, with for-profit entities the cost to the consumer is much higher because they have corporate executives who expect compensation packages of tens of millions of dollars and shareholders who expect to be paid dividends, and so on.

This (and more) pushes up the price of everything, with much more money going to the already rich and powerful, which in turn, leaves the middle class with less spending money and creates greater class separation.

This economic framework makes it much more difficult for average Joes to”lift themselves up by their bootstraps” and raise themselves to a higher economic standing.

So next time you hear the word “socialism” and “spreading the wealth” in the same breath, understand that this is a serious misconception.

Social programs require tax money and your taxes may be higher. But as you can see everyone benefits because other costs go down and, in the long run, you get to keep more of your hard-earned cash.

Democratic socialism does NOT mean taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It works to benefit everyone so the rich can no longer take advantage of the poor and middle class.

Turn the Page. Peace out; Reade

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com.

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