Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Credit Freezing: An issue to win on

OK, maybe I’m beating this to death. I mentioned this to gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith, I mentioned this to CFO-candidate Alex Sink, and I mentioned this to former Senate candidate Alex Penalas back in 2004. But the interesting thing is this: I only mention credit freezing when somebody in the audience inevitably asks the candidate what they are going to do about identity theft.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the country, and it has left millions of victims in this nation with damaged credit. You usually don’t learn you are a victim until the credit card company calls you to ask why you aren’t making payments on a credit card you know you never opened-- with wild expense charges.

Chances are you know someone who was a victim. I know at my work, a place of 30 people, a co-worker found out that she was victimized. It was a frightening experience.

The sad thing is, the answer is so simple it is equally frightening: Allow consumers to put a freeze on their credit until they “un-freeze” it. While its frozen, lenders are prohibited from reviewing your credit report unless you give your permission. This stops identity theft cold, because lenders won’t give out a credit card without running a credit report. This guarantees that a criminal cannot open an account in your name.

So why hasn’t Florida joined the other states that have passed this legislation? The argument against it has come from, not surprisingly, the credit-reporting agencies who sell credit reports, and the credit card industry. The real reason is money. However, the argument that’s actually used is one or all of the following:
  • Identity theft is blown out of proportion
  • Credit alerts are sufficient (even though they are often ignored by creditors), and
  • Consumer might miss out on a “low” mortgage rate or a one-time credit card offer, since it can take up to 1-3 days for a credit to unfreeze.

All of these are foolish arguments. The most appalling is the last one: shouldn’t it be up to me to decide if I want to miss out on such “great offers” in order to keep my identity secure? I can’t trust the credit agencies to do it for me—they have already shown they have real problems keeping personal information secure. The reality is that information on you and me is out there now, in several databases and all around the ether that is the Internet. All someone needs is a Social Security number and some basic information, and they can open an account in your name. A credit freeze, however, can stop them. (And it is very likely that if credit freezes become a reality here and are widely used, the time to unfreeze will greatly diminish).

Although this should get bipartisan support, I can understand why some republican legislators would be leery—after all, they get a lot of money from that industry. In fact, it was conservatives who passed a bill for the credit card industry that made it next to impossible to declare bankruptcy due to credit card debt for any reason- even if it is due to emergency medical expenses and the guy has no insurance (defeated Democrat amendment), or economic distress caused by a suddenly ill or disabled family member, (yet another defeated Democrat amendment), or if the bankruptcy was caused by an exorbitant rate of interest targeted to an armed forces member, (yet still another defeated Democrat amendment), or..… you get the point.

But even with a republican-dominated legislature here in Florida, if a candidate truly gets behind this issue and makes some noise, I can guarantee there will be great momentum—for the issue and that person’s candidacy. After all, despite our political affiliations, we are ALL consumers. This will motivate people to the polls who might otherwise stay home. This is a win-win issue. Credit freezing is something that helps everyone, has a very weak case against it, and has every potential for gathering broad support.

And it is an issue that, if passed, I can finally shut up about.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Turning the Corner on W

At what point do you suppose it happened?

Conservative leaders staked so much into this president that they built a rubber stamp for everything that he asked for. Sure he asked for things that only helped Big Oil, Big Industry, and the extreme wealthy at the expense of everyone else; and sure he required the republican leadership to contradict their supposed ideology of fiscal restraint and accountability (not to mention any common sense)--but it certainly would be worth it in the end. Maybe W couldn’t speak well, nor was he the most intellectually curious person; but he would surely go down in history as a great conservative leader and he would prove to everyone that it was divine intervention that put him in that White House.

Prematurely, several books at finer book stores claimed just that. Closer to home, the UCF Future wrote an editorial immediately after Katrina that told their readers the way Bush sprang into action proved that he deserved to be regarded as a Great President. And Republican leadership at all levels fell over themselves to tell Americans that they could follow the president or be branded a faithless traitor. The party itself started to seem less like a political entity and more like a cult: Facts and reason were branded as partisan rhetoric from outsiders, and their divinely appointed leader could do wrong no matter what he did. No matter how many lies were told, no matter how many freedoms we were asked to sacrifice, no matter how many issues he bungled, and no matter that his most ardent followers cannot point to even one real accomplishment for his entire time in office—he would show us all.

At what point did they realize what Democrats knew all along.

At what point did they realize they were following a dud.

After months of trying to spin the reckless spending, the scandals, the weakening of our national security, the reckless tax cuts for the wealthy and the oil companies, the warrantless surveillance of our phone and emails, the secret prisons, the torture, the giveaways to the credit card industry and insurance companies, the largest dependence on foreign aid in our history (due to the largest growth in the deficit), the cuts to education and the military, the cherry-picked intelligence, the gross mis-mangement of Iraq, the extreme incompetence of Katrina, and finally, the reasons why they had to oppose independent commissions on anything just mentioned.

My guess of the breaking point? The ports deal. The conservative leadership was now being told to tell their constituents that although the war on terror required sacrifices like giving up essential constitutional liberties, it wasn’t so important that we could risk a slight offense to a supposed ally by refusing to give up control of our ports.

Finally, the conservative leadership in Congress had enough too. It seemed republicans everywhere were waking up from their trance and realizing how much worse things have gotten since the Clinton era. Those books that touted Bush's leadership? All in the discount bin. The UCF Future? After it became apparent that Bush's handling of Katrina showed anything but great leadership, the editorials suddenly became a LOT more balanced. The conservative leadership in the House and Senate? They can't seem to distance themselves fast enough from the sinking ship that is George W. Bush. The conservative leadership will try in the coming months to distance themselves further as the election draws near. (Just remember who was screaming all along that the emperor had no clothes.)

Hillary was right. This administration will go down as one of the worst in our history. It will certainly go down as one of the most corrupt, and it already is in the history books as the most fiscally irresponsible.

Turns out it wasn’t divine intervention at all, but rather a bad election and fear-mongering, respectively, that put W in power. But the illusion of Bush’s integrity and competence is over. America has had enough, and our victories in 2005 proved that.

Right now, there has never been a better opportunity for Democrats. The November elections will finally give America the chance it desperately wants to replace the current leadership with honest and capable Democrats who will refocus Congress’ current misplaced priorities.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Imagine, congressional leaders who can proudly say what they are doing for the American people, as opposed to having to spin what they doing to them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What IS the argument against paper ballots?

Like it or not, when it comes to elections, Florida does not have a good reputation. After the 2000 fiasco, one would think our politicians in Tallahassee would have taken the bull by the horns: implement REAL reform and set the example for every other state. They could have taken a bad situation and turned it into a positive if they were committed. The only problem is- they weren’t really that committed.

So for the upcoming elections in 2006, we are still faced with having VERY partisan elections supervisors, gerrymandered districts, unfair “felon” lists, (remember 2004: 22,000 African Americans (likely Democrats) and only 61 Hispanics (likely Republicans)?, and worst of all, machines with no verified paper ballots.

Paper ballots should be a No-Brainer. Verified paper ballots would rarely have to be counted, but it would give ALL Floridians the confidence that their vote actually counted. If elections are free and fair, there is absolutely no reason not to have them. So what could be the argument against paper ballots?

One argument the politicians have used against them is that we can't possibly count all that paper. This is ridiculous on so many levels. What the heck did we do before there were electronic ballots? Also, there is a little something called “ATM receipts”. Banks run ATMs using software from the very companies (yes, such as Diebold) that make election machines. Banks deal with millions of transactions every day, and you always get a receipt when you complete the transaction. And unlike elections, bank receipts have to be 100% right each and every time with no margin of error.

The GOP even contradicts itself on this issue. In 2004, South Florida republicans were told in a flier that since touch screens lack a paper trail, that they should vote absentee in order to “Make sure your vote counts.”

Here in Seminole County, funding was approved for paperless touch-screens to supplement Seminole's optical-scan systems.

What is disturbing is that Channel 2 ran a story recently

that Ion Sancho, Leon County's Supervisor of Elections, tested the Diebold machines and found that workers were able to successfully hack in and change the results. The exact same machines, by the way, that are used in Volusia, Brevard, Osceola, and right here in Seminole.

Fight back: This is where the people of Florida shine: we usually take action when our legislators don’t. That is why it was the citizens of Florida that came together to demand fair redistricting, which will be on the ballot this November. (Another GOP contradiction: Jeb supported independent redistricting in California, but is fighting it tooth and nail here).

It is time we came together to demand paper ballots for electronic voting machines. Start by urging your representative to co-sponsor HR-550.

Also, it is crucial to elect truly fair elections supervisors who are committed to real election reform. You have an opportunity right here in Seminole County: her name is Marian Williams. She has pledged to provide a paper trail for electronic touch screen voting, to bring in independent auditors to certify and test both the touch screen voting machines and optical scanners before the elections, and to restore confidence in our system. She is someone everyone should vote for regardless of party affiliation, but she won't win without a commitment of support from volunteers. Truckloads of volunteers canvassed for city council elections last November; I think we can do the same for this very important race.

Election reform is probably the most important issue facing our county and country, because if people lose faith in our elections, they lose faith in democracy. In an ideal world, every politician, even those with an ideological agenda, would be supporting reforms that ensure free and fair elections because that is what democracy is all about. The current system has worked well for the GOP, so I understand their reluctance to change anything. But I ask my GOP friends this:
If your platform is really representative of the majority, as you claim, then what do you have to fear? However, if you are against election reform because you are truly afraid it might hurt the agenda of your current party affiliation, it may be time to rethink that affiliation.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reclaim Victory by Reclaiming Our Values

As vicious as the political battles have been, probably none have been more disingenuous than the implications that a certain political party can have a monopoly on God and Country. Unfortunately, it has been as effective as it is tragic—especially in red areas, like here in Seminole county. As the tide is finally turning towards reason, it is time to reclaim what was taken. If you are running for office, or just trying to change Seminole back to blue, here is some ammunition to fight back:

FAITH: This probably bothers me more than most, as I am a man of faith. In the 60’s and 70’s, our party was considered the party of the faithful: progressive ministers marched for civil rights, peace, and economic equality. (Carter was also the only president to teach Sunday school in the White House).

But in recent decades, there have been a few intolerant, vicious hate mongers masquerading as Christians that decided to define Christianity so narrowly, they edged everyone else out as a heathen. The irony is that we win the so-called morality debate every time. We are the ones fighting for the sick (45 million who have no health care), for honesty in our public officials, for peace and diplomacy, and help for our most poor and vulnerable citizens--hurt by the very policies implemented by these so-called “moral leaders” who only fatten the wallets of the wealthy at their expense.

Fight back: It is time Democrats take back the language of passion and moral conviction. We need to get back to our roots and talk about our values and what we fight for. Finally, we also need to get over discussing our faith. There is a perception that talking about our faith will appear intolerant to those who don’t share our faith, or those with none. Well, get over it—it doesn’t. The reality is that here in the deep south we have a long cultural tradition of people expecting public officials to acknowledge their faith. (Not to say New England public officials aren’t deeply religious, but they don’t talk about it as openly—see George Sr. or Kerry).

This is a good thing! If your moral foundations stem from your faith, why not share it with our fellow Floridians! The book “How the Republicans Stole Christmas” gives three good rules:

  1. Let one’s faith guide and inspire political decisions.
  2. Religion and politics must still remain two separate realms.
  3. Politics cannot be used to force religion on anybody.

So speak out, you have the high ground. The book puts it bluntly: “Whose professed values are more in line with Scripture (not to mention the Constitution)?” The other party wants this fight, but this is a fight we will always win!

PATRIOTISM: I can’t think of anything more un-American than allowing constitutional freedoms to erode because of blind faith in bad leadership. I can’t imagine in 2006 the argument that we have to be so scared of something (used to be communism, now terrorism, etc.) that we have to give up our right to privacy and the fourth amendment to be safe. I can’t believe that in 2006 the Senate was actually debating on whether or not to torture people. I can’t believe that we are told that expressing our right to criticize bad leadership means we are being unpatriotic.

What kind of leadership asks its people to give up our freedoms and values that make us American? What could be more unpatriotic?

Then there is the issue of our veterans. I proudly served in the Air Force (security forces) and it bothers me dearly when certain politicians use us in speeches to help their campaigns, only to turn their back on us. I could write pages on the billions of dollars the republicans cut for funding in veterans programs during the entire time of this war, (just google “veterans benefits cuts” and be prepared). Or I could talk about the Pentagon study last January that found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor the Pentagon didn’t bother to get. (But don’t buy the armor yourself, lest your family not get any of the death benefits).

Or finally, I could talk about the disgusting tactic of tearing down the reputations of the fighting men and women by those who never even bothered to serve. (McCain, Cleland, Kerry, Murtha, etc.). No one, republican or democrat, should ever tolerate smearing a veteran’s service because of their political views. It must be demoralizing for a soldier serving right now to have to wonder if his or her service will be trashed in the future if they have political ambition. Fortunately, this tactic has already been backfiring. It is no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of Iraq war veterans running this November are Democrats.

Fight back:

  1. Challenge conservative claims that they are the sole voice of patriotism. We have more than enough ammunition to back this up. But it is not enough to point out what the current leadership is not doing, we have to say what will do. We have a plan for winning Iraq and the war on terror Speak out!
  2. Although it helps that we fight for those in uniform for health care, education, the tools they need, and benefits they deserve, it is important to remember that veterans are not just another special-interest group. Remember to honor them in every speech and in every dialogue. More importantly, call on young people to join the service, and if they can’t, then at least an organization committed to helping our troops. In fact, consider volunteering yourself.

This is about winning back hearts and minds from the deep red infiltration. I am talking about the rural and suburban poor and the many veterans right here in Seminole county who keep getting hurt by ridiculous and callous right-wing policies but vote for them anyway because they are being told by misguided forces it is the right thing to do.

It isn’t, and its time to bring them back home.