Month: May 2018

Voter Turnout Is Everything

The largest political party in America isn’t the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. It’s the Party of Non-Voters.

94 million Americans who were eligible to vote in the 2016 election didn’t vote. That’s a bigger number than the number who voted either for Trump or for Clinton.

All of which means that voter turnout will determine who wins control of Congress next November, and who becomes president in 2020. Turnout is everything.



This is why it’s so important for you to vote – and urge everyone you know to vote, too.

10 Questions About Healthcare, Answered

As the healthcare debate goes on, misinformation continues to spiral out of control on social media threads and in the mainstream media. By now, we’ve all heard the talking points, and it can be incredibly difficult to differentiate the facts from the hype:

“Don’t other countries with single payer experience really long wait times?”

“Why should we expand Medicare? Don’t a lot of people have negative experiences with it?”

“Why should I pay for someone else’s healthcare?”

Over the course of recent months, we have received hundreds of questions like these from our subscribers, followers, and other members of our community. These are questions from people who want to learn about the issue and how they can make a difference to move this country forward.

1. How does healthcare in the United States compare to other developed countries?

Simply put, we get less and pay more than other countries. The United States spends over twice the average amount per person on healthcare compared to every major industrialized country, and we consistently rank 11th out of 11 countries in comparative studies conducted bi-annually by the Commonwealth Fund. Here are some quick facts:

  • 30 million Americans are uninsured and an additional 39 million are underinsured.
  • 20% of insured Americans report trouble paying medical bills.
  • 36% of Americans are in high-deductible plans with an average deductible of $4,347 or higher.
  • Americans pay excessive prices for medical visits and procedures.
  • The fragmented and patchwork system as compared to other countries necessitates over $200 billion per year in administrative-related activities, or a total of 20-30% of  all US healthcare costs.
  • Despite the out-size spending, the US experiences extremely poor health outcomes.
  • 33% of Americans report going without recommended care, not seeing a doctor when they are sick, or failing to fill a prescription because of costs.
  • The United States has the highest number of preventable deaths under the age of 18 when compared to 18 other industrialized countries.
  • The infant mortality rate is nearly double the average rate of 13 major OECD countries.
  • In 2014, 68% of Americans over the age of 65 were living with two or more chronic conditions, compared to only 33% in the UK.
  • The US has a (uniquely) declining life expectancy age.
  • Latino and Hispanic Americans have much lower levels of insurance coverage.
  • According to a recent report by the Urban League, the health status of black Americans has declined in recent years.
  • The number of uninsured Americans has increased since the rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act were implemented by the Trump Administration.
  • The standard of care Americans receive varies significantly based on their ability to pay, the type of coverage, and by race and gender. This is not true in other similar countries.
  • According to report released on May 8th, this lower quality of care comes as we spend $9,507 per person per year on healthcare.

2. Prescription medication prices are ridiculous. How did we get here?

According to a report by the Senate Finance committee, prescription drug corporations price their drugs according to the price point they want to establish for the next drug in that class. This means that ever-increasing prices have nothing to do with research and development costs or efficacy of the medication, but rather whatever it’s all about whatever the market will bear – and specifically, whatever the market the drug companies create will enable.

There is no regulation of drug prices, and Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating lower prices. Ironically, hospitals and insurance companies benefit from higher drug prices because those prices “justify” higher rates, and generate more profit as a percentage of those higher rates.

The industry model of unregulated prices, direct to consumer marketing, publicly supported basic research that leads to private drug development, and profit-protecting patents have created escalating prices.

3. The ACA (Obamacare) was supposed to cover everyone and keep costs down but they are much higher than most people predicted they would be. What happened?

The ACA in the best case was not going to achieve universal coverage. Most optimistically, as many as 20 million people would remain uninsured after full implementation. Three-fifths of the increase in coverage came through the expansion of Medicaid, but 23 states have not expanded Medicaid. (The Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA in June, 2012 allowed states to opt out of the expansion).

As to cost, the primary approach was to require individuals to pay more of their share of healthcare costs (“skin in the game” was the popular phrase) so that as “consumers” we would be more price sensitive. But insurance rates were not regulated, so drug companies and hospitals could charge whatever they wanted.

At the same time, the cost of premiums has been subsidized by the federal government for individuals but not for family coverage. This result has been a focus on keeping premiums low by creating narrow networks of providers and high-deductible plans with significant co-pays as employers shift virtually the entire amount of the cost increases onto their workers.

Since utilization of services accounts for only one-quarter of healthcare cost increases, this approach has not lowered costs. In fact, higher prices account for three-fourths of cost increases.

The other mechanisms the ACA established to control costs such as “medical-loss ratio” requiring insurers to spend 80% of their premiums on care, has not limited insurance rate increases.

The individual mandate for people to buy insurance did not create a younger, healthier, less expensive risk pool for insurance companies. Shifting risk from insurance companies to providers and hospitals through “pay for value, not volume” per capita payment reform, and by creating Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s), has restricted access to care and created closed, narrow networks, but has not lowered costs.

Healthcare Information Technology, especially Electronic Medical Records, has required large capital expenditures and the latest research shows it has cost more than it has saved.

4. The recent tax bill removed the individual mandate from the ACA (Obamacare). How will that affect healthcare in the U.S.? 

For the first time since 2010, the number of uninsured Americans has increased in part due to the mandate’s demise.

However, the impact will be mitigated by how ineffective the mandate has proven to be in controlling costs. It is not the mandate that has motivated people to buy coverage, it is the availability of subsidies for purchasing coverage.

Ironically, if the mandate removal means that fewer healthy people end up buying insurance (or buying it only when they need it), and premiums continue to rise as subsidies go up but those who buy only pay for a smaller share of costs, it will cost more to cover fewer people.

5. It seems like our healthcare system isn’t working well for most Americans. Who actually benefits from the system as it is now?

The top four US health insurance companies made $60 billion in profits between 2009-2015 during the full implementation of the ACA. The health insurance executives take home between $20 million and $66 million per year.

It’s even better for the prescription drug companies, whose profits continue to rise from the $125 billion reached in 2015.

For-profit hospital corporations had achieved record profits until the Trump Administration roll-backs, and in general, hospitals have had higher net income (profits) under the ACA – padding the jobs and pockets of hospital administrators.

Wealthy Americans and the global elite benefit as they can utilize the highly advanced treatments and technologies (often developed with tax dollars) offered in large academic and high-end private medical centers.

In short, the 1% and the healthcare industry are the primary beneficiaries of the present healthcare system– some call it the “medical-industrial complex” – where money is the metric of good medicine.

6. What is a single payer system? And how would my life be different under a single payer healthcare system? 

  • The fundamental difference in experience for people would be replacing health insecurity with the peace of mind that comes from guaranteed healthcare.  A single-payer system would expand and improve the existing Medicare program for everyone in the United States;
  • A single public program would eliminate insurance company premiums, deductibles and co-pays and establish fair and equitable public financing;
  • Patients would have the right to culturally competent care, and complete choice of their healthcare providers;
  • All medically necessary services, including doctor visits, reproductive healthcare, hospitalization, preventive care, long-term care, mental health, dental, vision, medical supplies, prescription drugs and assisted living services needed by aged and disabled people would be provided;
  • It would relieve businesses of the burdens of administrating health benefits, end escalating costs that subsidize insurance company profits, creating resources for wages, pensions, innovation and growth;
  • Medicare for All would establish a single standard of safe, therapeutic care and fund a robust community and public health system to address health disparities, and enable the professional clinical judgment of doctors and nurses to be the basis of healthcare decisions (no more claims denials!).

7. Insurance can feel more like a privilege rather than a right. I pay for it, but I don’t want to have to pay for others too. Why should we expand the system to cover everyone?

  • Everyone with insurance already pays for everybody else since we all pay too much for healthcare.
  • Rather than our health being something we buy and sell as an insurance risk, which can never predict what we will actually need and depends upon huge tax subsidies, we need a health system that will be there when we need it, regardless of ability to pay.
  • We cover everybody because if we do not, we will end up spending more and suffering from poorer health – both individually through unchecked communicable disease, and collectively through worse public health.

8. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories on the media about wait times in countries that have single payer healthcare. Would that be an issue if we implemented it here?

No – Medicare beneficiaries who receive care in the system that we will improve and expand do not have excessive wait times. Most people with commercial insurance wait weeks to see a specialist in the US.

For those who are uninsured or who cannot afford their deductibles have the ultimate wait time: postponed or no care at all.

9. A lot of progressives are talking about a “Medicare for All” system, but not everyone has a good experience on Medicare. If we expanded Medicare to the entire system would we address those issues? And how?

If we listen to the stories of people on Medicare now, we learn that it provides real health security, contains costs much better than other payers, has much lower administrative costs, and enjoys broad public support. Medicare is popular and it works.

Of course, Medicare is not perfect, operating as it does in the system dominated by the commercial insurers, and being privatized itself in Parts B (supplemental coverage), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and the drug benefit under Part D. Those privatized products have created tiers of coverage, and inequitable standards of care and access to providers.

We must improve it by expanding the benefits to include dental and vision and eliminating all the co-pays and deductibles seniors now pay.

10. Covering all Americans sounds like it would cost a lot of money. How would we pay for single payer healthcare?

Improved Medicare for All would:

  • Eliminate health insurance industry profits, marketing costs, and administrative waste;
  • Allow for the negotiation of drug prices and medical fees;
  • Save nearly $500 billion annually. This is enough to cover all of the uninsured and eliminate the out-of-pocket expenses for us that act as barriers to care.

There are many options available on how to finance a Medicare for All system that will save low and middle-income families a significant portion of their annual income.

These include:

  • A tax on the top 5 percent as it creates savings for 95 percent of Americans;
  • Increasing the current Medicare program excise tax on payroll and self-employment income;
  • Instituting a modest tax on unearned income and on speculative financial transactions.

The path forward is not through fake news and mistruths. It is created through a dedication to education and civil discourse. This conversation about healthcare is the first step towards a healthier America.

Thinking Beyond Trump: A Federal Jobs Guarantee

We must not forget the economic frustrations that helped fuel Trump’s election.  For too long, too many Americans have faced lousy jobs or no jobs. One answer: A guaranteed job at a living wage.

The Republican answer won’t work

Republicans continue to push for work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing benefits.  But the real problem is there aren’t enough adequately-paying jobs to go around.

Even today, with a low official unemployment rate, millions who work part-time jobs want full-time work. Millions more are too discouraged to look for work, having endured the brutalities of job discrimination for far too long, or unable to move to where the jobs are.

And a large and growing number of jobs don’t pay enough to get people out of poverty.

A federal jobs guarantee would work

At the same time, a lot of work needs to be done – “greening” our nation’s infrastructure, caring for the elderly, teaching in our public schools, adequately staffing national parks, you name it.

So why shouldn’t the federal government create jobs and connect them directly to people who can’t otherwise find one, with decent, predictable hours and at a living wage?

An added plus: The availability of such jobs would give more bargaining power to many low-wage workers to get better hours and wages – because if they don’t get them from their employer, they’d have the option of a public job. In this way, a federal job guarantee would raise the floor for job quality nationwide.

And a job guarantee would act as a giant economic stabilizer during downturns, when the first to lose their jobs are usually the most economically marginalized.

We can afford it

Can we afford a job guarantee today? Yes. It’s estimated to cost around $670 billion in its first year – $30 billion less than the defense budget.

But that tab would quickly shrink. With more people working at better wages, Americans would have more purchasing power to buy goods and services. This would lead to more hiring by the private sector, and eventually, less need for the federal job guarantee.

More people working would also generate more tax revenue, partially offsetting the direct cost of the job guarantee.

Additional savings would come from fewer people needing public assistance. The Center for Labor Research and Education at Berkeley estimates that the federal government now spends over $150 billion a year because workers aren’t earning enough to get out of poverty. Doesn’t it make more sense to use this money to create guaranteed jobs at a living wage?

So, let’s think beyond Trump – to what Americans need. Few things are more important than a decent job. Full employment through a federal job guarantee makes sense – for workers, for the economy, for America.

Hit Fossil Fuels Where It Hurts – The Bottom Line

The divestment movement is having a big impact, and holdouts may be missing their one great chance to really change the world.

An envelope arrived from the New York State Comptroller’s office the other day, with a check inside for $108. Apparently I’d left it sitting in some bank account years ago, and now it was being returned. Free money is good fun, and where we live $108 buys you the best dinner in town, which my wife and I enjoyed, raising a small toast to the efficiency of the Empire State’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli.

But only a small toast. Because as smoothly as DiNapoli seems to perform the basic duties of his office, he has so far whiffed on the one great chance he’ll ever have to really affect the world. He’s continuing to invest billions of pension dollars in big oil, even as the industry refuses to grapple seriously with global warming. Because of his high-profile insistence on “engagement” with the industry, he’s become a stand-in for a thousand other political “leaders” who can’t quite summon the nerve necessary to break with the fossil-fuel industry, even when science and economics are making it clear where the future must lie. It’s so much easier to keep doing what you’ve always done – but at this point inertia is the planet’s most powerful enemy, and DiNapoli is threatening to become inertia’s avatar.

The movement for fossil-fuel divestment was partly born in the pages of this magazine six years ago, when an essay of mine went unexpectedly viral. That piece showed the new math of climate change: The big oil, gas and coal producers had reserves in the ground that contained five times the carbon any scientist said we could burn and stay below the catastrophic temperature rises that the planet’s governments had pledged to avoid. That is, the business plans of Exxon and Chevron and Shell and the rest committed them to wrecking the planet – simple math, simple physics and simple morality. If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage.

That argument was enough to get the ball rolling. Students at hundreds of campuses around the world launched divestment campaigns that echoed the one against South African apartheid a generation ago. The first school to divest was tiny Unity College in Maine, which pulled its $13 million endowment in November 2012. By this winter, the University of California system, biggest in the hemisphere, had joined, along with a third of the universities in the U.K., and the World Council of Churches, and dozens of Christian denominations and Catholic diocese, as well as many of the biggest foundations on the planet. Even the Rockefeller heirs, who trace their fortune to the original oil baron, have sold their shares. By now endowments and portfolios worth more than $6 trillion have divested in part or in whole, and it’s become by far the biggest effort of its kind in history.

And intriguingly, most of the recent converts have been moved as much by self-interest as by moral fervor. As the years have gone by, the fossil-fuel sector has dramatically underperformed the rest of the economy. That’s because it’s under increasing and unrelenting pressure from new technology – the ever-cheaper solar and wind power that everyone can see will take a huge chunk of their business away. So now it’s also the largest insurance company in France that’s divested, and the sovereign wealth fund of Norway (the biggest pool of money on Earth, earned from North Sea oil wells). When New York City decided to divest in January, the press conference was held in a building flooded by Hurricane Sandy – clearly fear of climate change was the key reason for divestment, and they lit up the Empire State Building green that night to make the point. But the green, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was quick to point out, also stood for the money the city was saving its pensioners by ensuring that they weren’t stuck paying for the fossil-fuel decline.

There have been holdouts, of course – Harvard, run by a “board of overseers” drawn heavily from Wall Street, refused to participate officially. And then there’s DiNapoli, who’s played the most intriguing role. So far he’s failed to divest the state’s $200 billion in pension funds from fossil fuels despite a demand from New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he do so, and despite the example set by the state’s biggest city, whose own comptroller, Scott Stringer, has become an outspoken advocate for divestment. Though DiNapoli clearly has the political backing to divest the state’s holdings, he’s continued down a different path, promising to “engage” with the fossil-fuel companies instead, to somehow turn them green. In the meantime, it’s business as usual. In fact, the state continues to run up its investment in Exxon, filthiest of them all – it’s now the fifth-biggest investment in New York state’s portfolio.

Shareholder engagement with companies can be a powerful tool: Big investors routinely use their clout to argue for, say, more diverse representation on company boards of directors, or for modest changes in the way they do their business. But it’s an approach that’s never made much sense with the fossil-fuel industry, where the problem is not some flaw in the business plan. The flaw is the business plan. Exxon exists to dig up hydrocarbons and sell them so they can be burned. DiNapoli apparently thought he could force real change: For years he and others sponsored resolutions at Exxon annual meetings demanding reforms. Finally, a year ago, the company grudgingly agreed to prepare a “climate risk report” showing how the fight against global warming might stress their business model. It wasn’t much of a victory, but it seemed like something to show for all that work. DiNapoli, being a politician, issued a press release praising himself. “Exxon’s decision demonstrates that investors have the power to hold corporations accountable and to compel them to address our very real climate-related concerns,” he said.

But he and his like-minded colleagues were being played for fools. Exxon took just a few weeks to prepare the report, and when it came out it showed the company hadn’t changed one whit. Climate change posed essentially no risk to its future, Exxon insisted. It still planned on burning almost all its reserves, and indeed would go on exploring for new oil. It was Lucy with the football, and DiNapoli was Charlie Brown lying on his back. To add insult to injury, the industry arranged for the Trump administration to lift a block on offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic coast – including Long Island, where DiNapoli began his political career. As an environmentalist.

How To End Partisan Gerrymandering

One of the biggest challenges to our democracy occurs when states draw congressional district lines with the principal goal of helping one political party and hurting the other. It’s called “partisan gerrymandering.”

Unlike racial gerrymandering – drawing districts to reduce the political power of racial minorities, which the Supreme Court has found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment – partisan gerrymandering would seem to violate the First Amendment because it punishes some voters for their political views.

In North Carolina in 2016, for example, Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 House seats with just 53 percent of the popular vote.

In the 2018 elections, because of partisan gerrymandering, Democrats will need to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points to win a majority in the House of Representatives. No party has won this margin in decades.

So what can be done?

The Supreme Court will soon decide on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. Hopefully, the Court will rule against it. But regardless of its decision, here are two other ways to abolish it:

First, state courts could rule against partisan gerrymandering under their state constitutions, as happened this year in Pennsylvania – where the state court invalidated a Republican congressional map that gave Republicans 13 out of 18 congressional seats even though the state is about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The state court implemented its own map for the 2018 election, creating districts that are less biased in favor of Republicans.

Second, states can delegate the power to design districts to independent or bipartisan groups. Some states, like California, have already done this.

But if you want your state to end gerrymandering, you’re going to have to get actively involved, and demand it.

After all, this is our democracy. It’s up to us to make it work.

Europe Must Confront America’s Extraterritorial Sanctions

Europe’s biggest challenge in resisting US sanctions on Iran is not legal or even geopolitical. It is psychological: European leaders act as if the US still cares about a trans-Atlantic alliance of shared interests, values, and approaches.

Donald Trump’s renunciation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and the reimposition of US sanctions on that country threaten global peace. Europe’s security depends on defending the agreement with Iran despite the US withdrawal. That, in turn, requires Europe, along with Russia, China, and other United Nations member states, to ensure that economic relations with Iran can develop. And that can happen only if Europe , and ultimately overturns, America’s extraterritorial sanctions, which aim to deter trade and financial activities with Iran by non-US actors.

The purpose of Trump’s move is clear and indeed explicit: to topple the Iranian regime. Given this folly, European citizens accurately sense that Europe’s security interests are no longer closely aligned with those of the United States.

America’s bullying approach to Iran has been seconded – indeed championed – by two Middle Eastern allies of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel invokes US power to avoid having to make any compromises with the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia invokes US military power to contain its regional rival, Iran. Both are hoping for a direct US war with Iran.

America’s previous efforts at regime change in the Middle East yielded horrendous results for the US and Europe (to say nothing of the disasters that befell the countries caught up in the US-provoked mayhem). Such “wars of choice” have been the major factor in the surge of migration to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. Even when regime change has “succeeded,” as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the aftermath has been violence and instability. And when regime change has failed, as in Syria, the result has been ongoing war.

The humiliating failure of French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convince Trump to remain in the JCPOA was predictable. The US decision reflects two converging forces: a deep-seated foreign-policy tendency – manifested by all recent US administrations – to seek hegemony in the Middle East, and Trump’s peculiar brand of psychopathy. Trump delights in embarrassing European leaders; their squirming is his triumph.

Yet they are not powerless. The agreement with Iran can still be salvaged, precisely because it is a multilateral agreement, endorsed by the UN Security Council (Resolution 2231), not an agreement solely between the US and Iran. Indeed, under Article 25 of the UN Charter, all UN member states, including the US, are obligated to fulfill the JCPOA. Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA is itself a violation of international law.

The essence of the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 is Iran’s cessation of activities that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. Strict compliance by Iran is linked to the normalization of international economic relations, including the lifting of UN-agreed sanctions.

Even if the US now absents itself from the JCPOA, it has only two means to block the implementation of the agreement between Iran and the rest of the world. The first would be to foment war. This clearly is on the US agenda, especially with the neoconservative doyen John Bolton back in the White House as National Security Adviser. The world must steadfastly resist another ruinous US military adventure.

Extraterritorial sanctions are the second way the US could kill the JCPOA. It is one thing for the US to decide that it will not trade with Iran. It is quite another for the US government to attempt to block trade with Iran by non-US parties. This is America’s intention; it is up to Europe and China to defeat it, in the interest of global peace, as well as in their own direct economic interest.

In practical terms, the US will be able to enforce anti-Iran sanctions on companies operating in its domestic market, and most likely on subsidiaries of US firms operating abroad. Yet the US will try to go much further, by trying to block non-US companies from dealing with Iran. The US will probably succeed in clamping down on dollar-based transactions, as these are generally cleared through the US banking system. The real issue will come with non-US companies operating outside of the US and interacting with Iran via non-dollar currencies such as the euro and renminbi.

The US will certainly try to punish such companies, whether by targeting their local subsidiaries, by trying to haul them into US courts, or by denying them access to the US market. Here is where the European Union must take a strong stand and move beyond begging Trump for “waivers” for specific European business deals, a process that would make European countries even more subservient to Trump’s whims. Europe should defend a firm and unequivocal “No” to US extraterritorial sanctions, notably on companies operating in non-dollar currencies.

The EU should insist that extraterritorial sanctions violate international law (including the Resolution 2231 and therefore the UN Charter) and the rules of the World Trade Organization. They should recognize that acquiescence would be tantamount to handing the US a blank check to set the rules of war and peace beyond the UN Security Council, and the rules of global trade beyond the World Trade Organization. The EU should be prepared to use the WTO dispute resolution process against the US, and to bring its case to the UN Security Council and General Assembly. Where Europe is afraid to tread, China will surely swoop in to capitalize on business opportunities in Iran. And China would be right to do so.

Europe’s biggest challenge is not legal or even geopolitical. It is psychological. European leaders act as if the US still cares about a trans-Atlantic alliance of shared interests, values, and approaches. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

The US and Europe do still have many shared interests; but they have many divergent ones as well, especially when the US violates international law. Europe needs its own security policy, just as it needs its own trade and environmental policies. The showdown over the JCPOA is therefore a moment of truth. World peace depends on Europe’s defense of the UN Charter and the rules of international trade.

Why Don’t Americans Vote?

We call ourselves a Democracy – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, the sad truth is that America has very low rates of participation in our “democracy.” 

Only 55.7% of Americans voted in the last election (around 27% each for President Trump and Secretary Clinton). This is not normal or healthy for advanced democracies. The fact that our Senators, Representatives, and even President are selected by a small portion of our population, contrasts sharply with our democratic ideals. Ultimately, our system fails to encourage full voter participation. Therefore, to begin movement towards a better democracy, we looked into the many barriers that Americans face when heading to the polls.

Based on an analysis by the Pew Research Center, the United States falls far behind other developed democracies in voter turnout:


Voter Turnout by Country


It is important to note that this number for the United States voter turnout is from 2016 — a presidential election year. During off-years the voter turnout is much lower. In 2014, turnout in the United States was 36.4%.

These low turnout numbers are not an anomaly. Voter turnout in the United States during presidential election years has remained around 50%-60% of the voting eligible population since the early 1900s. (It is important to note, however, that the voting eligible population differed significantly from the voting age population for much of U.S. History.)


VEP turnout


So, the question arises: Why is this happening? Why are almost half of voting-age Americans not voting? The answer lies in our flawed voting system.

Let’s look at all of the populations that are restricted from voting entirely.





In his farewell address, President George Washington warned: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Despite this impassioned warning, the United States has developed a strong two-party system in the past two centuries, which has allowed our Founding Father’s grim vision to take hold. In fact, the last time a third-party candidate won any state’s electoral college vote for president was in 1968. Americans are ultimately given a choice between only two candidates on the day of the general election.

What makes matters worse is that a substantial number of Americans are barred from voting to decide on who those final two choices will be. According to the organization Open Primaries, thirteen states and DC hold closed primaries for presidential primaries (laws vary for congressional and states primaries.) The National Conference of State Legislatures explains that in closed primaries, “a voter seeking to vote … must first be a registered party member…. Independent or unaffiliated voters, by definition, are excluded from participating in the party nomination contests.”

In addition, other states have less strict rules but still bar certain voters from participating. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Partially closed primaries: “Permits political parties to choose whether to allow unaffiliated voters or voters not registered with the party to participate in their nominating contests before each election cycle”;

Partially open primaries: “Permits voters to cross party lines, but they must either publicly declare their ballot choice or their ballot selection may be regarded as a form of registration with the corresponding party”;

Open to unaffiliated voter primaries: “Allows only unaffiliated voters to participate in any party primary they choose, but do not allow voters who are registered with one party to vote in another party’s primary.”

The only primaries that allow for total participation from all voters in the state are open primaries. There are 16 open primary states.

The map below shows which states have Closed, Mixed, or Open Primaries for presidential elections:


Open and Closed Primaries


According to Gallup, a little under half (46%) of Americans do not identify with a political party. Only a quarter (25%) identify as Republican, and 27% identify as Democrat. This means voters are either forced to choose between a political party they may not fully identify with or they are barred from participating in many state primary elections.

If we want to consider ourselves a democracy, we should allow all of our citizens to participate fully in choosing who leads our country. Otherwise, the votes these people are allowed to cast on election day could be practically meaningless.





Thirty-four states currently have laws that request or require citizens to show some form of identification to vote. The ACLU points out that ten states have strict voter ID laws “under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot -– no exceptions.” While for some, having an ID is a normal part of life, more than 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification.

Proponents of voter ID laws argue that it helps prevent in-person voter impersonation. However, numerous studies have shown that this type of fraud is exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice found that the incidence of this type of fraud is between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent and that it is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Instead, these laws disproportionately disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and minorities. A quarter (25%) of African American voting age citizens do not have a government-issued ID, compared to only 8% of white Americans. In fact, a number of voter ID laws across the country have been ruled discriminatory and are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention,” according to Judge Richard A. Posner, a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

A Washington Post study found “a significant drop in minority participation when and where these laws are implemented.” In contrast, white voters are largely unaffected. Below is a chart that shows the turnout gap between different minority populations and the white population. It shows that strict voter ID laws exacerbate the voting gap and that this is particularly true of primary elections.


Voter ID Turnout Difference


The Post explains its chart this way: “In general elections in non-strict states [states without strong/any voter ID laws], for instance the gap between white and Latino turnout is on average 4.9 points. But in states with strict ID laws, that gap grows to a substantial 13.2 points.”





6.1 million Americans cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement.

Rates of felon disenfranchisement vary dramatically between states. In Vermont and Maine, felons never lose their voting rights, while in others, felons regain their right to vote when the state deems they have paid their debt to society – either after they are released or after parole and/or probation. Still other states, however, do not restore voting rights to felons unless they apply for and receive a Governor’s action or court action allowing them to vote.

In addition, this disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African Americans. According to the Sentencing Project “1 of every 13 African Americans has lost their voting rights due to felony disenfranchisement laws, vs. 1 in every 56 non-black voters.”


Felon Voting Rights


Some states, however, have begun to look into these laws. A judge recently deemed this practice unconstitutional in Florida. Currently in Florida, convicted felons cannot vote unless they are granted restoration through a governor’s or court order. The judge stated “[Elected], partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards… Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration. … The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not.”

Similarly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that he “intends to restore voting rights to felons on parole, a move that could open the ballot box to more than 35,000 people.”

Despite these advancements, in many states, these disenfranchised Americans are people who have served their debt to society and yet continue to be punished well beyond their time served in prisons, jails, probation, and parole.

Ultimately, these men and women across the United States have little to no political recourse for challenging or changing the laws that took away their vote. While some of these laws address actions that will always be felonies, keep in mind that possessing marijuana can still accrue a felony in many states despite support (61% of Americans) for legalization.



About 4.4 million Americans live in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, North Mariana Islands, Guam and the District of Columbia.

However, unlike other American citizens in the 50 states, residents in American territories and the district have their voting rights significantly curtailed.

D.C. residents do not have full representation in Congress but are represented in presidential elections by three electoral college votes. In the other branches of government, Washington D.C. has no Senators and only one delegate in Congress, who cannot vote during floor Votes.

Residents in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, North Mariana Islands and Guam also have the same sort of “delegates” in Congress. However, their territories do not have electoral college votes and therefore, they cannot vote in presidential elections.

Last year, Puerto Rico suffered a devastating hurricane. More than four months after Hurricane Maria, nearly half a million Puerto Ricans are still without power. These three million Puerto Rican Americans do not have any voting member of Congress –- House or Senate –- who can speak to their need for aid, and they are not being helped by a president whose election they were not a part of.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why people who legally can vote, are held back from voting.

Voting in the United States is not easy. The rules can vary state by state and sometimes within the states between the two parties in primaries. This places heightened burdens on people who are struggling to get by. When one has to choose between doing extensive research and jumping through hoops to vote, and putting food on the table, voting all too often becomes of secondary importance.

Here are some of the hoops Americans must jump through to vote:





In the United States, at the age of 18 every American male is automatically sent a letter telling him he could potentially be called for the draft. In contrast, not a single American is automatically registered to vote in the same way.

On top of this, voting registration deadlines are notoriously confusing. Voter registration deadlines for the general election range by state from 31 days before an election to in-person on the day of the election.

To complicate matters, states have different laws for different types of registration. For instance, a Maryland resident must register to vote in person, online or by mail 21 days before the election. However, if voting during the early voting period, that Maryland resident can register in person between 13 and 5 days before the election. Some states do not even allow voter registration online.

This process becomes even more difficult when Americans want to participate in elections leading up to the general election.

These complicated and varying laws by state mean that extensive research is needed to know when and how to register to vote in each state. This can be extremely difficult for populations that have little or no access to the internet or time to know whom to ask.

Ultimately, this convoluted registration system is decreasing turnout in many areas in the United States. We know this because same-day voter registration has a history of increasing voter turnout and therefore voter participation in our democracy.

A report by Nonprofit Vote looked at voter turnout by state in 2016 and highlighted the states with same-day registration. The report found a high correlation between voter turnout and states with same-day registration in 2016.


Voter Registration and Turnout


Nonprofit Vote has tracked this difference between states that have same-day voter registration and those that do not since 1996. States that have same-day registration have consistently shown higher turnout.

Approaching this issue from another angle, some states have implemented legislation that approximates universal registration which has led to positive results: In Oregon, eligible voters are automatically registered to vote if they have a driver’s license; The Brennan Center for Justice reports that since that legislation was passed in 2015, Oregon has seen significant registration increases.





In most democracies around the world voting day is on a Sunday, a weekend, or a voting holiday. This allows most working men and women to make it to the polls without taking time off.

In the United States voting is on a regular Tuesday in November. The organization Why Tuesday? explains that, “In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was.”

It is no surprise that our society has changed over the course of almost 200 years. The same laws that created conveniences for Americans during the 1840s are now an inconvenience for many Americans.

Many people who are working paycheck to paycheck may not have the luxury to take time to vote. In fact, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.8 million Americans work two jobs. These working conditions make it even less likely to for them to be able to make it to the polls. Unfortunately, this is also a population whose day-to-day lives, paychecks, and health care are directly impacted by the decisions that Congress is making right now regarding the minimum wage, welfare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

On top of the inconvenience of holding elections on Tuesdays, polls open and close at different times in different states. A state where polls open late and close late may work for voters who get off work at regular times but may not help those whose schedules only allow for free time during the morning.



Thirty-seven states and DC have taken steps to make voting easier for their populations. While election day remains on a Tuesday, these states allow their citizens to vote during times leading up to election day.


Types of Voting


A study from the Brennan Center for Justice puts together a strong case for early voting. It argues that “As Americans’ lives become more complex -— for many each day is a struggle to balance the needs of work and family -— confining voting to a single 8- or 12-hour period is simply not reflective of how most voters live. Additionally, having polls open for such a short time can lead to numerous problems, including long lines, as poll workers — who perform the job infrequently at best –struggle to cope with hordes of voters.”

The study finds that some of the key benefits of early voting are:

  • Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day;
  • Shorter lines on Election Day;
  • Improved poll worker performance;
  • Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches; and
  • Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction.

While most states have taken the step to allow some form of early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, almost 64 million Americans in 13 states do not have that option.



People are far more likely to vote if they think their vote matters.

While most elections in the United States are winner-take-all by popular vote, our presidential election is different. The president of the United States is elected by the electoral college. The U.S. Archives describes it this way: Each state in the United States is allocated a certain number of “electors” based on how many members of Congress (both the House of Representatives, which is based on proportional representation, and the Senate, which is allotted two senators per state) that state has. When the citizens of that state vote for president, the candidate with the majority receives the votes of all of the “electors” in that state. It takes a majority of the electoral college votes to win the presidency.

This setup distorts a popular vote for presidency and gives more weight to smaller states. It can also lead to situations where the popular vote outcome is different from the electoral college outcome.

2016 was the second presidential election in the past five presidential election cycles where the votes of the majority of the American people have been overruled by the electoral college. According to CNN’s presidential race results tracker, President Trump received 306 electoral college votes to Secretary Clinton’s 232. In drastic contrast, Secretary Clinton won the popular vote with 65,853,516 votes to President Trump’s 62,984,825 votes. While the electoral college makes the 2016 election look like a solid victory for President Trump, in reality, he received three million fewer votes than Secretary Clinton.

More than half (54%) of Americans favor amending the Constitution to elect the U.S. president by popular vote rather than the Electoral College.

Ultimately, elections like this past 2016 presidential election do little to encourage faith in our democratic institutions.

Americans can easily find out how much their vote counts in presidential elections. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig compiled data that compares electoral votes to population by state. His data set reveals how much each vote counts.


Electoral College Voters per Voter


Professor Lessig’s findings give a clear picture that not all votes are equal in America. In Wyoming, each voter accounts for 0.00124% of an electoral vote, while each voter in Michigan accounts for 0.00031% of an electoral vote. Ultimately, this means that a vote in Wyoming is worth 4 times as much as a vote in Michigan due to the electoral college.

In fact, a vote in Wyoming is worth more than three times more than a vote in each of the following states: Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Washington, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, Alabama, Texas, California and Arizona.

Ultimately, this lack of equality affects voter turnout. In a 2016 study, The Washington Post compared electoral integrity and voter turnout (electoral integrity was measured “using 49 core indicators, such as whether district boundaries were fairly drawn, elections were well managed, the electoral register was accurate, votes were counted fairly, and newspapers provided balanced election news”). The Post found that as electoral integrity increases, so does voter turnout.


Electoral Integrity


Election law in America is complicated and convoluted. There are many ways that Americans are disenfranchised and many others that place unnecessary burdens on potential voters. American politicians call the United States the “greatest democracy in the world,” yet our democratic participation, bound by unnecessary restrictions and burdens, demonstrates that that is not always the case. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and the legacy of the United States of America to move our country forward. We need laws that encourage and reflect our democratic identity.

Harry Belafonte Discusses Art And Activism

In this public conversation at the historic Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture, presented by Red Bull Music and Jill Newman Productions, Harry Belafonte speaks with writer and curator Kimberly Drew about balancing art and activism, legacy, and the power of folk art.


Voter Registration

Denuclearization Means The U.S. Too

The US demands that North Korea adhere to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and on that basis has encouraged the UN Security Council to impose sanctions in pursuit of denuclearization. Yet the brazenness with which the US demands not true denuclearization, but rather its own nuclear dominance, is stunning.

There are two types of foreign policy: one based on the principle “might makes right,” and one based on the international rule of law. The United States wants to have it both ways: to hold other countries accountable to international law while exempting itself. And nowhere is this truer than on the matter of nuclear weapons.

America’s approach is doomed to fail. As Jesus declared, “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Rather than perishing, it’s time to hold all countries, including the US and other nuclear powers, accountable to the international rules of non-proliferation.

The US demands that North Korea adhere to the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and on that basis has encouraged the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea in pursuit of denuclearization. Similarly, Israel calls for sanctions or even war against Iran to stop the country from developing a nuclear weapon in violation of the NPT. Yet the US brazenly violates the NPT, and Israel does worse: it has refused to sign the treaty and has claimed the right to a massive nuclear arsenal, acquired through subterfuge, that it refuses to acknowledge to this day.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, with signatories agreeing to three key principles. First, nuclear-weapon states pledge not to transfer nuclear weapons or to assist non-nuclear states’ manufacture or acquisition of them, and non-nuclear states pledged not to receive or develop nuclear weapons. Second, all countries have the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Third, and crucially, all parties to the treaty, including the nuclear powers, agree to negotiate nuclear – and indeed general – disarmament. As the NPT’s Article VI puts it:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The core purpose of the NPT is to reverse the nuclear arms race, not to perpetuate the nuclear monopoly of a few countries. Still less is it to perpetuate the regional nuclear monopoly of countries that have failed to sign the treaty, such as Israel, which now seems to believe that it can evade negotiations with the Palestinians because of its overwhelming military power. Such is the self-destructive hubris conjured by nuclear weapons.

Most of the international community – with the conspicuous exception of the existing nuclear powers and their military allies – reiterated the call for nuclear disarmament by adopting in 2017 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty calls on every nuclear-armed state to cooperate “for the purpose of verifying the irreversible elimination of its nuclear-weapon program.” Whereas 122 countries voted for it, one voted against, one abstained, and 69, including the nuclear powers and NATO members, did not vote. As of last week, 58 countries had signed the treaty and eight had ratified it.

The US demands that North Korea live up to its NPT obligations and denuclearize, and the Security Council agrees. Yet the brazenness with which the US demands not true denuclearization, but rather its own nuclear dominance, is stunning. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, published in February, calls for a massive modernization of the US nuclear arsenal while paying no more than lip service to its NPT treaty obligations:

“Our commitment to the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) remains strong. Yet we must recognize that the current environment makes further progress toward nuclear arms reductions in the near term extremely challenging.…This review rests on a bedrock truth: nuclear weapons have and will continue to play a critical role in deterring nuclear attack and in preventing large-scale conventional warfare between nuclear-armed states for the foreseeable future.”

In short, the US demands that only other countries denuclearize. Denuclearizing itself would be “challenging” and would violate the “bedrock truth” that nuclear weapons serve US military needs.

Aside from America’s failure to abide by its NPT obligations, another huge problem is that US military needs are not really about deterrence. The US is the major war-making entity in the world by far, fighting wars of choice in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. Its military has repeatedly engaged in regime-change efforts during the past half-century, wholly in violation of international law and the UN Charter, including two recent operations to overthrow leaders (Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi) who had acceded to US demands to end their nuclear programs.

We can put it this way: power corrupts, and nuclear power creates the illusion of omnipotence. Nuclear powers bluster and boss rather than negotiate. Some overthrow other countries’ governments at their whim, or at least aim to do so. The US and it nuclear allies have repeatedly arrogated to themselves the right to ignore the UN Security Council and the international rule of law, such as the illegal NATO attacks against Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and the illegal military incursions by the US, Israel, the United Kingdom, and France in Syria in the effort to weaken or overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

By all means, let us urge a rapid and successful denuclearization of North Korea; but let us also, with equal urgency, address the nuclear arsenal of the US and others. The world is not living under a Pax Americana. It is living in dread, with millions pushed into the vortex of war by an unrestrained and unhinged US military machine, and with billions living in the shadow of nuclear annihilation.