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Praise And Concern Over Democrats “Better Deal”

Communication Workers of America: Working People Need Protections for U.S. Call Center Jobs and a “Better Deal”

Today the Democrats released the details of their “Better Deal” that will focus on three goals:

Raise the wages and incomes of American workers and create millions of good-paying jobs: Our plan for A Better Deal starts by creating millions of good-paying, full-time jobs by directly investing in our crumbling infrastructure and prioritizing small business and entrepreneurs, instead of giving tax breaks to special interests. We will aggressively crack down on unfair foreign trade and fight back against corporations that outsource American jobs.  We will fight to ensure a living wage for all Americans and keep our promise to millions of workers who earned a pension, Social Security and Medicare, so seniors can retire with dignity.

Lower the costs of living for families: We will offer A Better Deal that will lower the crippling cost of prescription drugs and the cost of a college or technical education that leads to a good job. We will fight for families struggling with high monthly bills like childcare, credit card fees, and cable bills. We will crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power that has led to higher prices for consumers, workers, and small business – and make sure Wall Street never endangers Main Street again.

Build an economy that gives working Americans the tools to succeed in the 21st Century: Americans deserve the chance to get the skills, tools, and knowledge to find a good-paying job or to move up in their career to earn a better living. We will commit to A Better Deal that provides new tax incentives to employers that invest in workforce training and education and make sure the rules of the economy support companies that focus on long-term growth, rather than short-term profits. We will make it a national priority to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of America and offer an apprenticeship to millions of new workers. We will encourage innovation, invest in advanced research and ensure start-ups and small business can compete and prosper.

(Video of Better Jobs announcement at bottom of post)

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO praised today’s announcement.

“We applaud Sen. Chuck Schumer’s leadership and the Senate Democrats for committing to better trade deals and creating the good jobs that working people deserve. Particularly notable in this agenda are the demands for increased public input and transparency in trade negotiations—including the call for town hall meetings across the country—as well as the continued commitment to long-needed action on currency and trade enforcement. This blueprint provides a good start but also must ensure that working people across North America are free to join together to negotiate a fair return on our work. We look forward to working with the Senate to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement’s corporate-driven rules and enact other innovative trade reforms beneficial to working families.”

After the details of the Democratic Party’s “better deal” were released the Communications Workers of America issued a statement highlighting the need to protect call center jobs from offshoring.  

The Democratic Party’s plan for a better deal on trade and jobs outlines real policies to help working families fight back against corporations that want to shift more jobs overseas and cut wages and benefits for working Americans.

For the first time, lawmakers are recognizing the impact of the tens of thousands of U.S. customer service jobs that have disappeared over past years, as corporations ship good call center jobs to Mexico, India, the Philippines and other countries.

CWA has been pressing Congress to stop this flood of jobs overseas. Corporations are boosting their profits and enriching their investors at the expense of working Americans, and communities are devastated when these good service jobs disappear. And as more jobs are sent offshore, more pressure is brought to bear on U.S. workers to accept lower wages and benefits as the price for keeping any job at all.

The Democratic “Better Deal” plan includes crucial legislation introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) that would help restrict call center offshoring and reverse the loss of thousands of good customer service jobs in the U.S.  It also would provide important consumer safeguards.

Overall, the “Better Deal” plan will give working people a long overdue voice in what happens to their jobs and their communities. It ends the tax incentives and other rewards that corporations now get for sending  jobs overseas; encourages companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. with financial incentives; fully restores “Buy America” requirements for all taxpayer-funded projects, and makes improving U.S. wages and good jobs a key objective of our trade policy.

The Better Deal plan would require companies that handle sensitive U.S. consumer data abroad, including call centers, to disclose to customers what country they are physically located in and the level of data protection in that country.

U.S. trade deals should benefit working families, consumers and communities, not just investors and big corporations. The Better Deal plan provides real solutions to do just that.

Ten Years After Minneapolis Bridge Collage Progressive Warn About Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

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On 10 Year Anniversary of Minneapolis Mississippi River Bridge Collapse Tragedy, Progressives Warn ‘Trump’s Radical Infrastructure Privatization Plan Will Hurt American Consumers & Workers’

On the tenth anniversary of the Minneapolis Mississippi River Bridge collapse, which killed thirteen and injured dozens after the bridge’s central span gave way during rush hour traffic, Working Families Party National Director Dan Cantor released the following statement of the Millions of Jobs coalition:

“A decade ago this week, the nation watched in shock as a bridge crumbled in Minneapolis during rush hour traffic, killing and injuring dozens. This tragedy never should have happened in America. But today, our nation’s’ roads, highways and transportation infrastructure are deteriorating from lack of public investment. We can’t let it happen again.

“Democrats in Congress and the Millions of Jobs coalition believe we have the opportunity to put millions of Americans to work rebuilding bridges and roads and repairing our unsafe water systems — and also creating modern jobs for the 21st century by investing in clean energy and high-speed Internet.

“Trump wants to use this crisis as cover to sell off our our nation’s public infrastructure to Wall Street investors and foreign corporations, who would levy tolls that Americans would have to pay for generations to come. It’s a scam, not a real plan to rebuild. The difference between the progressive vision of job creation and Trump’s scam of jobless corporate handouts could very well  save innocent people from another tragedy like what happened on the the Mississippi River Bridge 10 years ago.

“The president’s radical privatization plan will hurt American consumers and workers, and we implore our elected officials to block Trump’s corporate giveaway of this country’s  infrastructure future.” 

40% Increase In Premiums Highlight Need For A Better Healthcare System

Below is the press release from the NH Department of Insurance explain the massive spike in healthcare premiums, specifically on those who get insurance through the ACA marketplace.  Below that is my opinion on what we can do to fix this problem. 


Federal Government Announces 2018 Rate Increases

CONCORD, NH – NH Department Of Insurance Press Release  The federal government today published information on proposed rate increases for New Hampshire’s health insurance exchange in 2018, showing that consumers in the individual market may face increases of more than forty percent.

“Today’s news about rates is alarming, especially for the 94,000 New Hampshire residents who obtain their insurance through the individual market, but unfortunately, it does not come as a surprise,” said Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny. “A number of factors have led to rate increases for 2018 in New Hampshire and across the country, most notably the continued uncertainty at the federal level. My staff and I have been actively engaged to identify options to lessen the impact on the thousands of families who rely on health insurance through the state exchange.”

The 2018 rate information released today by the federal government details proposed increases to benefit plans that are submitted by insurance companies operating on the exchange.  (The New Hampshire Insurance Department is prohibited by law from releasing rate information until Nov. 1.)  A benefit plan is a specific plan that a New Hampshire resident would select for enrollment, such as a bronze, silver, or gold level metal plan.

Three companies have announced their intentions to offer plans on the 2018 exchange in New Hampshire: Ambetter, Anthem, and Harvard Pilgrim. A fourth, Minuteman Health, also has proposed rate increases listed on the federal site, but those plans will not be available to consumers, as the company announced in June that it would stop offering plans in 2018.

The information published today by the federal government shows that some of the state’s insurers have submitted benefit plans for the individual market with substantial increases. The New Hampshire Insurance Department looks at premiums each year from a market-wide perspective, comparing the median premium for a silver-level plan covering a 40-year-old non-tobacco-user.  For 2017, the median premium at this level was $335; the median premium at this level for 2018 would be $479, based on the carriers’ initially proposed rates.  If these rates are ultimately approved, this would represent a 43% increase between next year’s and this year’s median premium in the individual market.

Today, the Department issued guidance permitting insurers to assume the federal government will not be funding Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs) in 2018.  In response, insurers might adjust silver level plan rates before the deadline for amending rate filings.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department has taken action in recent months to call policymakers’ and consumers’ attention to the impending rate increases and the possibility that companies might withdraw from the exchange in 2018. In June, the Legislature authorized the Department to create a market stabilization plan, and last month, the Department publicly shared its plan to reduce rates and promote stability in the individual market in 2018. Today, the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee authorized the Insurance Department to pursue federal waivers in support of a market stabilization plan, but without relying on an assessment of health insurance carriers.


A completely new healthcare system for all Americans

The above press release from the NH Department of Insurance shows that our current system of private insurance is unsustainable.  A 40% increase in one year. Seriously WTF?  What we do not even know yet is how much out of pocket costs will also increase next year.  Out of pocket expenses include co-pays, co-insurance deductibles, and prescription costs.  These can cost people thousands of dollars on top of their thousands of dollars in premiums.

There is no doubt that Republicans are going to blame Democrats and President Obama for this increase while Democrats will blame Republicans for failing pass meaningful changes to the ACA to stabilize the marketplace.

But while I blame both of them for failing to do what is best for America, the majority of the blame falls directly on the private insurance corporations.  They are raking in obscene profits, continually increasing premiums to maximize their profits.  Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield reported $1 Billion in profits during the first quarter of 2016. That is a 44% increase in profits.

The corporations are shelling out hundreds of millions to lobbyists and politicians to prevent them from passing meaningful legislation that would help solve our problems.  For example, Congress has failed to pass legislation allowing medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, which other countries do, saving them billions annually.  In 2016, the health products, insurance and pharmaceuticals industries spent a combined $400 million on their lobbying efforts.

Are you still surprised that Congress cannot pass meaningful healthcare reform?

This 40% increase combined with the insurance companies record breaking profits last year make it glaringly obvious that we need to move to a single payer system.  With a less than 2% overhead, Medicare is one of the most efficient programs in the government. With additional changes, like allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, the cost of healthcare would drop dramatically.

It is time for America to move to a national universal healthcare system. It is time for Medicare For All.

Leo W Gerard: Don’t Dawdle on Economic and National Security

The future of the American steel and aluminum industries is not a matter for dithering.

Steel worker takes a sample from oven

Each mill and smelter that remains operating is too vital. Each is too crucial to the economic viability of a corporation, a community, and thousands of workers and their families. Each also is too essential to national security, which relies on American-produced metals for critical infrastructure, from bridge construction to the electrical grid, and for munitions, from fighter jets to bullet-proof vests.

There is no more time for waiting. International trade law must be enforced now. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump pledged his support to workers and these industries. And he followed through by launching within three months of taking office as president special investigations into the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security. Such inquiries may take as long as a year to conclude, but the administration expedited the process. Until it didn’t. Now steel and aluminum corporations, their communities and their workers are being told to wait. It’s a delay that could kill more American mills and smelters.

The nation lost nine aluminum smelters over the past six years, leaving only five in the entire country, and most of them are now operating at reduced levels. Beginning in January 2015, steel companies laid off 14,000 workers as they closed mills and sections of mills. For example, Allegheny Technologies shuttered a plant that made grain oriented electrical steel in 2016, leaving only one U.S. company, AK Steel, now producing this component critical to electricity transmission.

As mills and smelters disappear, the military is further restricted in its ability to secure domestically produced essential metals in time of crisis.

The primary culprit in this scary scenario is overcapacity and overproduction in China, which overwhelms the world market with illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced aluminum and steel.

China has promised repeatedly to solve this problem. On Thursday it pledged again, this time contending it wanted to work globally to deal with the issue of aluminum overcapacity – a problem Beijing created. Over the past six years, using massive government subsidies, China quickly ramped up capacity to become the largest aluminum producer in the world.

China can’t be trusted on this because it never keeps its promises. It has never cut its steelmaking capacity after announcing again and again that it would. In negotiations last week, Trump cabinet members could not even get a specific commitment out of China to do it. There’s no evidence China will stop overproducing steel or aluminum now. Waiting is useless. And destructive to American manufacturing.

The American steel and aluminum industries have fought back, filing and winning dozens of trade cases against imports of specific products. But the resulting tariffs and other penalties imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) didn’t solve the problem. Instead of paying U.S. tariffs, China shipped its government-supported excess of these products to other countries, artificially suppressing world prices and warping what is supposed to be a free market.

Also, this traditional process for seeking relief from unfair trade takes too long. More than a year may elapse before companies and workers get a final decision. And that will be for just one product, like aluminum extrusions, aluminum foil, welded stainless steel pressure pipe or corrosion-resistant steel, to name a tiny number of cases from recent years.

That’s part of what made the special investigations into steel and aluminum imports so attractive. If the U.S. Commerce Department determined under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that imports of steel and aluminum jeopardized national security, then the president could impose penalties broadly to ensure the country could meet its own needs. The effort might also spur allies to join the United States in finally pressuring China sufficiently to actually reduce capacity.

Although Section 232 allows for nine months of investigation, after which the President would have three months to determine a remedy, the administration promised quick action when it announced the inquiries in April. The steel report was to be completed by June 30, with a speedy decision by the president after that.

That suggested the administration understood this was urgent.

But June 30 came and went. Now there’s an official delay. The administration told the Wall Street Journal that the steel investigation is on hold until after health care reform, tax changes and infrastructure spending are accomplished.  “We don’t want to do it at this moment,” the president said Tuesday of the steel case.

That’s devastating. Especially because steel imports have jumped 22 percent since Jan. 1, placing additional pressure on the American industry.

The delay occurs as efforts are made by a new company to reopen at least one potline at an aluminum smelter in New Madrid, Mo., that the now-bankrupt Noranda company idled last year. Postponing the Section 232 decision makes for uncertainty for these investors.

It also occurs as a Chinese company is trying to buy Aleris, an Ohio-based manufacturer that supplies aluminum for use in vital infrastructure and military applications. That Asian firm, China Zhongwang, is accused of dodging tariffs and is under civil and criminal investigation for possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department.

Maybe the Aleris smelters would keep operating if China Zhongwang bought them, but at what risk to national security?

The delay occurs as companies that buy steel fear monger that tariffs or quotas would raise prices.

An expert, Stephen Koplan, chairman of the U.S. ITC under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says that’s hogwash. “Predictions of disaster were wrong 15 years ago when I chaired the ITC, and they are wrong again today,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper this week.

When President George W. Bush imposed tariffs and quotas on steel imports under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, there was no price shock afterward, according to a study by the nonpartisan U.S. ITC.  Here is what Koplan, who also served as an attorney at the Small Business Administration, wrote:

“Downstream industries were not devastated by higher steel prices. Nor was the U.S. economy thrown into depression. The U.S. steel industry, however, earned a much-needed relief as the result of action taken by the president that allowed it to restructure and reinvest for the long term. In other words, the Section 201 measures worked as intended.

“We are facing similar challenges again today. . .Now, however, U.S. national security is at great risk if firm action is not taken immediately. The U.S. primary aluminum industry is on the verge of disappearing entirely, and the U.S. steel industry is not far behind.”

AK Steel Corp. CEO Roger Newport agreed with Koplan’s assessment that this is not a time for dawdling, telling the Commerce Department in his testimony on the steel case:

“High-end electrical steel is an incredibly difficult product to manufacture, as it requires a significant amount of dedicated, capital equipment and a sophisticated, well-trained workforce. Therefore, if AK Steel were to exit the market, there would be no operational electrical steel manufacturing equipment in the United States, the specialized labor and related expertise in operations would be lost, and many of AK Steel’s talented operators and researchers would either relocate to other businesses, industries and/or foreign countries, or become unemployed.”

Workers’ and companies’ economic security is at risk. The nation’s security is at risk. Resolution of these cases should be speeded, not delayed.

NH Senate Republicans Vote Down Proposal To Lower Insurance Premiums Statewide

The Reinsurance Program would allow the NH Department of Insurance to seek additional federal funds to stabilize the insurance marketplace.

Today, Governor Sununu and New Hampshire Republicans failed to fund the NH Insurance Department’s reinsurance proposal that would protect the benefits of tens of thousands of Granite Staters. The Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee moved forward with a proposal from the NH Insurance Department to create a reinsurance program, but failed to authorize any way to pay for it.

“Governor Sununu is shamefully choosing politics over people and New Hampshire will suffer as a result. President Trump’s unpopular decision to sabotage insurance markets in order to implement his even-less-popular plan appears to be spilling over to states with friendly governors like Chris Sununu,” said NHDP Chair Ray Buckley.

“Sununu’s blind cooperation with Trump ignores the fact that reinsurance plans have been successful in lowering premiums, keeping carriers in the market, and creating stability and certainty. By refusing to fund the proposal, the reinsurance program is set up for failure and shows Governor Sununu’s cooperation with Trump in undermining our healthcare system for political gain.”

After the vote, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth), member of the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee, released the following statement:

“Given President Trump’s attempts to undermine our healthcare system and the failure of Republicans in Congress to act, states like New Hampshire need to be doing all we can do to stabilize our healthcare market, increase competition, and drive down costs for Granite Staters.”

“While the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee authorized the NH Insurance and HHS Commissioners to seek federal waivers to create a reinsurance program and to seek all federal funds available to help pay for the program, the Committee rejected, along party lines, the NH Insurance Commissioner’s proposal to help fund the program through an added assessment on our insurance carriers.”

“Without the certainty of funding and the refusal to add an assessment on our state carriers, there’s no way for insurance carriers to reduce premiums, despite the fact that insurance assessments in the past have been used to address failures in our healthcare marketplace. Governor Sununu and his Republican allies are playing dangerous political games with our healthcare system, risking insurance carriers leaving our state, risking higher premiums for our hard-working families, and creating more destabilization in NH’s healthcare system.”

“Healthcare is an issue that affects all Granite Staters and impacts us at all levels of state government. New Hampshire policymakers should not just throw up their hands and give up working on solutions to these problems just because they are hard. It’s disheartening that Governor Sununu and Republicans in the legislature are again defaulting to the dysfunction of Washington and standing alongside President Trump’s attempts to undermine our healthcare system rather than standing with the people of New Hampshire. Real leadership is needed to bring people together to find meaningful healthcare solutions, both here and in Washington. Unfortunately, today’s vote doesn’t solve any of our problems or find any meaningful solutions.”

In light of today’s votes the New Hampshire Insurance Department (NHID) is “cancelling the public hearings scheduled for August 2nd and August 3rd relative to its market stabilization plan and proposed 1332 waiver application.”

“Consistent with today’s vote of the Joint Health Reform Oversight Committee, the NHID will continue to explore options for the 1332 waiver, and will reschedule the hearings once there is more clarity about the specifics of the state’s approach,” wrote the NHID.

Alaska and Minnesota have successfully implemented and funded similar reinsurance programs that will net-lower premiums in their states.

In response to reports of significant projected increases in individual market health care premiums, and a party-line vote by the Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee to block an Insurance Department proposal, Representative Ed Butler (D-Hart’s Location), a member of the Oversight Committee, released the following statement:

“President Trump has said repeatedly that he intends to ‘let Obamacare implode.’  In a belligerent act of sabotage, the President is threatening to withhold billions in cost sharing subsidies to insurance companies that are required under federal law.  The uncertainty that President Trump has created in the insurance market is a driving force in projected rate increases nationwide.”

“Instead of working with the Insurance Department to submit their full waiver request – including a 1% rate increase assessment on group markets – to achieve the greatest possible reduction in rates in the individual market, New Hampshire Republicans on this Oversight Committee have chosen the path of least resistance.”

“Republicans on the Oversight Committee voted on August 1st to prevent New Hampshire’s Insurance Department from submitting their full waiver request.  Instead the Committee authorized the Insurance and Health and Human Services Departments to request financial assistance from the federal government – without any seed money or contribution from NH insurance carriers.”

“Over 35,000 Granite Staters will be subject to spikes in rates of as much as 30 to 40% in the individual market.  By opposing commonsense efforts to bring stability to the market, Governor Sununu and Committee Republicans appear willing to use our citizens as scapegoats to achieve President Trump’s desired ‘implosion’ of our health care system.”

For more information on the waivers read the detailed reporting from Manchester Ink Link

Sen. Maggie Hassan: Time To Focus On Bipartisan Health Care Solutions

Last week, three of my Republican colleagues — Sens. Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski — put the well-being of the American people before partisan politics, joining Democrats to defeat a health care repeal bill that would have raised health care costs and stripped health insurance away from millions.

Members of both parties defeated this dangerous bill, and it is going to take bipartisanship to move us forward. The Affordable Care Act needs improvement; we must move on from repeal and fix what’s not working with the law, and build on the progress we’ve made in order to bring down costs for hard-working people. Some of us have already started this conversation; I was part of a bipartisan group of senators who are also former governors who recently met to find common ground.

It is possible to find bipartisan solutions, even on an issue as complicated as health care. As governor, I worked across party lines to pass a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan that is delivering quality, affordable insurance to more than 50,000 hard-working Granite Staters.

Medicaid expansion has made a real difference for communities across New Hampshire, particularly for people impacted by the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid crisis. People like Elizabeth, who I recently met at Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth.

Elizabeth told us that she had been homeless and lost the custody of her son as a result of a substance use disorder. Now, Elizabeth is in recovery and working at the SOS Recovery Community Organization in Rochester, helping others get the support they need. She said that she owes her recovery to the insurance she received through Medicaid expansion.

Elizabeth’s story is a great example of what is possible when Democrats and Republicans work together to improve the health of our people.

We need to take the same bipartisan approach in Congress that we took in New Hampshire, and I am eager to work with my colleagues to find areas of bipartisan cooperation so we can make key improvements to the Affordable Care Act.

To start, we must stabilize insurance markets and protect the marketplace from the Trump administration’s actions to sabotage it, actions that are increasing the cost of health insurance premiums.

One of these destabilizing actions is the administration’s ongoing threats to withhold payments — to fund what are known as cost sharing reductions — that help lower out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-pays for individuals with health insurance plans in the marketplace. This creates uncertainty, which in turn drives up costs. That’s why I’m supporting a proposal from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, which would help lower premiums by ensuring that these payments get made.

I also joined my colleagues in introducing legislation to encourage the creation of reinsurance programs, which help reduce insurance premiums by lowering the risk to insurance companies associated with high-cost patients. At the state level, the New Hampshire Department of Insurance is also pursuing a waiver under the Affordable Care Act to establish a reinsurance program.

Additionally, we need to address the Affordable Care Act’s income cliff that currently blocks many middle-class individuals and families from receiving financial help to purchase insurance through the marketplace. This will help bring down the cost of premiums for middle class Granite Staters and allow more people to access affordable coverage.

While we work to ensure market stability and address premium prices, there are other steps we can take to bring down health care costs. One of the most common issues I hear about from Granite Staters is the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, and it’s long past time for Congress to act.

I joined my colleagues in introducing legislation to crack down on big pharmaceutical companies that hike the cost of prescription drugs that have been on the market for years or who game the system at the expense of consumers. I also believe that we should allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs and permit the safe importation of drugs from countries such as Canada.

There is more work to do, and these are important steps that we can take now to lower costs for consumers.

Every American deserves to have access to quality, affordable care so that they can be healthy and contribute to our economy. By working across party lines, we can take important strides toward reaching that goal.

The Real Risk To Our Voting Process Is Not ‘Voter Fraud’

The goal of technology is to make our lives easier. With the invention of computerized voting machines calculating votes at the end of the day has become drastically easier but the use of these machines can cause additional problems and threaten the security of the ballot.

Over the last three presidential elections there have been multiple reports of malfunctioning voting machines.  Some touch screen voting stations would select the wrong candidate and the voter would have no way to change their vote.

Other issues stem from a lack of paper ballot backups. If a person challenges the vote count, election officials cannot go back and count the votes by hand because their are no paper ballots.

In Wellington Florida, election officials certified the wrong candidate based on incorrect computer tabulations of votes cast. The results were corrected after a hand recount of paper ballots was used to verify the results.

Some states have even gone so far as to allow their ballots to be transmitted over the internet leaving them susceptible to tampering.

Right now, President Trump created a Voting Integrity Commission to address voting laws and requirements under the guise of protecting us from non-existent voter fraud. This commission is a sham and way for Trump to validate his lies about millions of votes being cast illegally and to push for stronger voter ID laws that have been proven to suppress votes.  It is highly unlikely that Trump’s commission will suggest that “motor voter” registrations be mandatory, or that states should move to voting by mail to expand voter participation.

While in person voter fraud is a more of an urban legend than reality (literally a handful of cases in hundreds of millions of ballots cast), there are a few areas that have the potential to compromise our voting process, swaying results and it revolves mostly around the ballot itself, counting ballots, and the electronic transmission of voting data.

Yesterday, The Hill released an article  showing how hackers corrupted voting machines at a cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas.

One of the nation’s largest cybersecurity conferences is inviting attendees to get hands-on experience hacking a slew of voting machines, demonstrating to researchers how easy the process can be.

“It took me only a few minutes to see how to hack it,” said security consultant Thomas Richards, glancing at a Premier Election Solutions machine currently in use in Georgia.

…The conference acquired 30 machines for hackers to toy with. Every voting machine in the village was hacked.

The Hill also notes that the vast  majority of the machines used in actual elections are not interconnected or connected to the internet making it harder for potential hackers to corrupt voting machines on a large scale.   However, small scale or isolated tampering could sway the results of a single polling place.

But what about those states that are toying with some form of online voting or voting machines that are connected to the internet to transmit votes?  These actions put our votes at risk and the security of the ballot box in serious jeopardy.

“Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of Internet voting – transmitting votes either via email, electronic fax, or Internet portal – typically for use by overseas and military voters. Because of current technological limitations, and the unique challenges of running public elections, it is impossible to maintain separation of voters’ identities from their votes when Internet voting is used,” wrote Caitriona Fitzgerald, Pamela Smith, Susannah Goodman in their report The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy

In 2016, Common Cause released a report focused on protecting the vote and ensuring everyone has the ability to vote. They reviewed laws and procedures for voting in 11 “swing states” to see if our votes were at risk.

“Once voters learn laws they thought made elections safer, like voter ID requirements, actually prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible people from voting, they are more likely to see it as a manipulation of the system and reject it.  It is critically important that voters exercise their constitutional right, so take a few minutes to learn more, because the best way to fight back against politicians gaming the system to silence your voice is to make a plan to vote,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.

The report showed that my home state of New Hampshire faired very good when it came to tracking and protecting the votes after they have been cast through the use of paper ballots but was seen as “unsatisfactory” when it came to accessing the ballot box due to poorly written voter ID laws and inability of voters to register online ahead of time.

New Hampshire does not accept any form of “electronic” ballots and in-person voting is done on paper, though still calculated by a “scantron” machine.  Computer tabulation machines have been known to cause errors in voting results, but with a paper copy hand recounts and audits can be used to verify computer data.  Overall Common Cause rated New Hampshire as “excellent” in ensuring that our votes were not susceptible to outside hackers.

Other states did not fair as well.  Common Cause gave an “unsatisfactory” rating to Iowa, North Carolina, and Nevada when it comes to the potential of votes being tampered with after being cast.

Ballots cast online simply cannot be protected from undetectable tampering. Foreign or domestic hackers can access these ballots and alter their contents.

…Four of the states we reviewed put ballots at risk by allowing the ballots to be sent over the internet, where they are vulnerable to remote interception and undetectable altering. These states do not acknowledge the risks involved in internet voting.

Two of our swing states, Iowa and North Carolina, put ballots at risk by allowing overseas and military voters to vote via email. A third, Nevada has created its own internet portal for voter use.

(Note: The fourth state, not mentioned in the above quote, is Florida who allows absentee ballots from military service members to be cast via fax.) 

Ensuring everyone has access to the ballot box and that our votes are secure is the foundation of our democracy.  Voter ID laws block access to the ballot box and internet or computerized voting can put our ballots at risk.

What can we do to fix this?

Go back to paper ballots and count them by hand.  Eliminate the potential for hackers to tamper with voting machines by eliminating voting machines completely.  Going back to the old school way of doing it will protect our votes but it will take longer to get results. As a political junkie like myself, this means staying up till 2am to get results, and that is fine with me.

We need to focus our efforts to ensuring greater access to the ballot box and ensuring that our votes our secure and free from potential tampering

Will Gov Sununu Save The NH Health Protection Program?

In Wake of Republican Healthcare Repeal Failure, Democratic Leaders Renew Call for Governor Sununu and Republicans to Work Across Party Lines on Healthcare

State Senator Jeff Woodburn and Rep Steve Shurtleff Push for Reauthorization of NH Health Protection Program

As millions of Americans are waiting with baited breath to see whether or not the Republicans in Washington D.C. are going to strip away their healthcare, the 50,000 Granite Staters who rely on the ACA’s expanded Medicaid program are waiting to see what Governor Chris Sununu will do.

From early on in his campaign, he has opposed the Affordable Care Act and has called for a repeal and then after he was elected, and the GOP took control in Washington, he began calling for a full repeal & replacement.

“To be clear, reform without an adequate replacement is not an acceptable option. Any repeal of the ACA must be simultaneous with a replacement,Sununu wrote in a letter to US Senate Majority Leaders.

“Reforming our nation’s health care system is imperative and our leaders must take swift, but thoughtful bipartisan action that is transparent and welcomes all sides to the table,” he added.

Now the Democratic Leaders in the NH Legislature are calling on Governor Sununu to put his words into action. Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn and House Democratic Leader Stephen Shurtleff urged Governor Sununu and legislative Republicans to finally get to work on reauthorizing the NH Health Protection Program:

“We are relieved that Republican attempts to undermine healthcare have failed and given that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, we urge Governor Sununu and his Republican leaders to begin negotiations with us to improve our healthcare system and bring down healthcare costs.”

“The most critical thing we need to do is reauthorize the NH Health Protection Program (NHHPP), which is scheduled to end next year, as soon as possible. The NHHPP is a uniquely New Hampshire solution that more than 52,000 Granite Staters rely on for their health care, drives down costs for our businesses, hospitals, working families and our state, stabilizes our insurance market, and plays a vital role in combating the opioid crisis.”

“Democrats have attempted to work with Governor Sununu and the Republican majorities in the legislature to reauthorize and improve this successful program all year, but have been brushed aside as they waited on their Republicans allies in Washington to act. Its time to do what’s right for the people of New Hampshire and we call on Governor Sununu and his Republican legislative majorities to stop putting partisan politics above the health and well-being of hard-working Granite Staters, stop dragging their feet, and begin working with us to renew this successful program as soon as possible.”

As the US Senate voted to give tax breaks to billionaires while slashing Medicaid and Medicare on their Healthcare plan, Governor Sununu remained completely silent.  In a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell on June 27th, he voiced concern over the cuts to Medicaid and NH’s ability to keep the 50,000 Granite Staters currently relying on the program insured.  Ensuring that the current recipients of insurance through the Medicaid Expansion would not be kicked off their healthcare was a cornerstone of Sununu’s campaign.

However Governor, it is time to put up or shut up.

Governor Sununu must work with both sides of the aisle and find a way to ensure that the NH Health Protection Program becomes permanent until such time that all Americans are fully covered.

High Praise For The Passage Of The Veterans Affairs “Choice Program”

Friday Congresswomen Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter both voted “yes” on a bipartisan bill to extend the Veterans Choice Program for six months and make critical investments in VA health care, which passed the House with a unanimous vote of 414-0.

“I’m pleased that we were able to come together on the VA committee and in the House to pass this reauthorization of the Choice Program and bolster support for veterans,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “In a state like New Hampshire that lacks a full service VA hospital, we need to ensure that veterans are able to access care outside the VA in a timely and efficient manner. The Choice Program has been an important tool for many Granite State veterans, but not all veterans have found success in the program. I’m committed to working with my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to improve the Choice Program so that no veteran struggles to get the care they need.”

“I’m pleased that today’s bill includes an amendment I authored to improve VA hiring of mental health professions, who are on the front lines of our state’s efforts to combat the heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid crisis. Today’s bipartisan vote is an example of the good that can come when Democrats and Republicans work together to improve access to healthcare for our nation’s veterans. I was proud to support this bipartisan bill, which will extend the Veterans Choice Program for six months.  It makes much needed investments in the VA and includes several provisions that will help the VA fill its nearly 50,000 open jobs, most of which are in health care,” said Shea-Porter.

Both Congresswomen offered amendments that were included and approved in the final bill.

The new reauthorization also includes a provision from Congresswoman Kuster’s legislation, the GOOD Act, which will help improve veterans’ access to quality care by making the Department of Veterans Affairs more competitive when hiring physician assistants.

“I’m excited that this Choice Authorization includes language from my legislation, the GOOD Act,” said Kuster. “We need to make sure that the VA is competitive when hiring medical staff and my legislation will increase pay for VA physician assistants. I’m thrilled that earlier today the House passed additional provisions of GOOD Act and I urge the Senate to act on this commonsense legislation.”

For months, Shea-Porter has voiced deep concerns about failures in the administration of the Veterans Choice Program by the VA and its contractor, Health Net. In April, Shea-Porter sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for the reorganization of VA’s Community Care programs, including Choice, into a permanent and sustainable program that meets the needs of New Hampshire veterans. The letter called on Congress to immediately address “problems with access to care as well as the Department’s inability to pay medical claims to community providers in a timely way.”

The legislation passed Friday will provide $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program, funding the temporary program for another six months while the Veterans Affairs Committees continue work on a permanent solution to streamline and improve access to community providers, as Shea-Porter requested.

The legislation also included several provisions to improve hiring at the VA and makes critical investments in VA health care facilities. Several of the hiring provisions were passed by the House in March as part of H.R. 1367. That bill created a database to improve hiring for critical open positions. Shea-Porter successfully amended the bill to require that the database include mental health professionals. The database provision, and her amendment to include mental health professionals, were included in the bill passed today (Sec. 208).

Image from AFGE rally for the passage of the VA Choice Program

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal union which also represents civilian employees inside the VA, is “encouraged” by the passage of this bill.

“Today Congressional leaders came together, put party politics aside, and passed legislation that is vital to the future of the VA. We are very encouraged by the passing of this bill, which will allow additional investment in the VA, and allow the VA to manage non-VA care better than the broken Choice program,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr.

“While we still stand with the veterans who overwhelmingly tell us they want the VA for their healthcare, it’s important that those who cannot receive care at the VA have outside options. The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act isn’t a cure-all for the VA or the Choice program, but is a temporary fix that will allow more veterans access to the care they need,” Cox added.

Cox also highlighted that many of the problems plaguing the VA come from years of neglect and austere cuts to funding.

“But after years of starving the VA’s funding for the Choice program, it’s the investment in veterans’ first preference for medical care that has us most in support of this legislation.”

“Infusing our nation’s largest healthcare system with $1.4 billion for hiring, workforce improvements, and the authorization of 28 new leases that increase the department’s internal capacity to deliver care will make a huge difference at a time when the VA is facing nearly 50,000 vacancies nationwide. With the VA now more able to gather data in recruitment, retention, and staffing, there will finally be some transparency – but it’s not enough.”

After praise the passage of the VA choice program, AFGE is also calling on Congress to take action of similar legislation to address the staffing needs of the VA.

“We at AFGE believe that for true transparency, and a fully-operational department, Congress must pass Rep. Anthony Brown’s bill, the VA Staffing and Vacancies Transparency Act of 2017. If Rep. Brown’s bill is passed, we will finally have transparency in the VA, and the ability to identify the necessary hires the department needs. That in turn will allow more veterans to receive more access to the only healthcare system created for veterans, and by veterans in this country.”

Senators Urge Sec. Mattis Not To Enact Trump’s Discriminatory Anti-Transgender Policy

Shaheen, Hassan Join Bipartisan Letter Urging Secretary Mattis Not to Implement Transgender Ban

Last week, President Trump tweeted that transgender individuals could no longer serve in the US Armed Forces.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

If enacted this new policy against transgender individuals would reverse policies issued by Sec of Defense,, Ash Carter in 2015 that stated:

“No Service member shall be involuntarily separated or denied reenlistment or continuation of active or reserve service on the basis of their gender identity, without the personal approval of the Under Secretary of Defense for personnel and Readiness.”

However since Trump’s policy announcement on twitter, the White House and the Department of Defense have not issued any official policy changes, leaving the thousands of transgender Service members hanging in the balance.  Since the official policy announcement in 2015, there have been zero reported issues by any branch of the military.

Now, everyone is waiting to see what Secretary of Defense James Mattis will do next.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan joined a bipartisan letter signed by 43 additional Senators to Secretary Mattis urging him to advise the President against implementing the announcement he made via Twitter Wednesday that transgender Americans can no longer serve in the military.

“We strongly oppose this policy change, and urge you to advise the President against it,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “This announcement contradicts existing Defense Department policies, undermines our military readiness, and puts our transgender service members as well as their commanders in an impossible situation.”

“We appreciate General Dunford’s message that no policy changes should be made until implementation guidelines have been issued. We further write to request that, at a minimum, you do not separate any service member due to the person’s gender identity until you have completed the assessment that you announced on June 30, have reported back to Congress about any challenges that you foresee in the accession and retention of transgender troops, and determined the Department is unable to mitigate these challenges.”

Veterans like Jason Lindsay fear that this policy shift is a “colossal step backwards” in a statement issued Wednesday.

“As an Iraq war veteran and member of the LGBTQ community who was personally impacted by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I am appalled at Donald Trump’s announcement this morning banning transgender people from serving in the military,” said Jason Lindsay, Executive Director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence. “This is blatant discrimination, full-stop, and a colossal step backwards for our country.”

“Trump vowed to protect the LGBTQ community during his campaign, but his methodical dismantling of LGBTQ protections and rights shows his true intentions. This morning’s announcement is a direct attack on the transgender community,” said Lindsay.

The full text of the Senators’ joint letter is included here and below.

Letter to Mattis on transgender troops
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