News

Points for Resistance Summer Postcards - 2017

Resistance Summer

This summer has been slated for resistance activities in the US and around the world that are both serious and fun to put on and do.

The DNC is helping Dems Abroad global to help our country committees print and distribute postcards for our members to send to Senators and Representatives.

These are distributed free of charge, though from 4th July and on, you’ll have to buy your own stamp. A donation toward future efforts will not be refused. :)

Find addresses

Senators at https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Representatives at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

NAMELY …
Search further for regional offices that may be less busy and more effective.

Size your stamp first! Then, address your card

Post card ‘uncovered’ to US costs €.80. Some stamps, e.g. Theodorakis, are huge.
Post card in an envelope to US costs €.90 and may be impounded to search for ‘contaminents.

Write your message

Be brief. They won’t read your ‘prose’ very carefully. But do make your point, e.g.:

  • · Hands off Obamacare!
  • · Medicare for ALL!
  • · Protect our National Monuments!
  • · NO tax cuts for the wealthy!

Keep an eye out for breaking legislation. Send a card. You’ll feel better for it!

THIS WEEK: Healthcare is still very much ON THE TABLE!

It is likely the GOP will try to push through the vote in the Senate that was delayed before the holiday break. Any delay in passing the atrocious AHCA legislation means that their equally bad “fund the rich” tax package will also be delayed. In the best of possible worlds, AHCA will die entirely and we can look at healthcare proposals that actually help American families live a productive life, free of pain and the worry of not being able to care for loved ones. Here’s the main picture.

For all men, women and families.

  • · The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 million more people would be uninsured in 2018 under the new plan than under current law.
  • · By 2026 the number of uninsured would reach 51 million Americans. While the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has made strides to cover more Americans, it is estimated that 28 million would still not have health insurance in 2026. Either way, we have a long way to go.
  • · Many believe that it is time to explore other options for how we provide healthcare in the United States. National Nurses United and The Sanders Institute have published a paper that speaks to the current state of healthcare in the US and explores the option of a Medicare-for-all single payer system. We may not all agree, but it is an option to consider.

From DA Women’s Caucus, the main issues re women’s health.

Healthcare is key to women’s well-being and economic stability.

  • · Repealing the Affordable Care Act will disproportionally impact women, particularly low to moderate income women and women of color.
  • · The repeal bill would eliminate critical protections in the Affordable Care Act that prohibit discrimination against women in the provision of health care.
  • · Insurers would no longer be required to provide women coverage for services such as maternity care and they would be allowed to charge women more that coverage if they do offer it.
  • · And it will erode women’s access to reproductive healthcare by dismantling no-copay birth control and defunding the organizations that provide this care.

DAGR is distributing Resistance Summer Post Cards to key volunteers around the country. If you’d like to get a few (20) to write or share with any Americans you know, just ask your Chapter officers or send a note to the Secretary.


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ICYMI -- DAGR at the Concordia Europe Summit

Concordia Europe Summit and DAGR

Last week, June 6-7, DAGR Treasurer Alec Mally, retired Greek diplomat Dimitris Tsikouris, and I attended the two-day Concordia Europe Summit. Our invitation came not without some effort and most particularly that of DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake. His willingness to help was a result of the effort our global leadership has made to put DA on the DNC radar.

Finding sustainable, long-term responses to refugee flows around the world was the focal point. Cooperation, particularly trans-Atlantic, and support for international institutions that promote that cooperation were pointed to as essential.

Greece was chosen as the setting for this first Concordia event in Europe because of the particularly heavy refugee aide burden the country has shouldered in the midst of its own economic crisis. Also, note that the Logothetis family, central to Concordia founding and support, is proud of its Greek heritage.

Initially, we wanted to be at the Summit to greet former Vice President Joe Biden. Well, we managed to sit in the same room. Mr Biden was whisked in and out, on a tight schedule. There were no selfies with the V-POTUS! What we got instead was a crash-course in what can be done to make the world a better place … as well as quite a few people wondering if Mr Biden might not be persuaded to run in 2020.

Alec covered Mr. Biden’s remarks for New Europe magazine, “Concordia European Summit: Joe Biden tries to contain Trump’s transatlantic shockwaves”. He said there were so many great quotes, it was hard to decide, but here’s a sampler:

Vice President Biden’s remarks were clearly intended to calm European fears of precipitous American disengagement from the world under the Trump Administration, as well as to address some specifics of the U.S.-Greece relationship, both recurring themes of the Concordia European Summit: 

--A strong Greece is essential to U.S. security.  The same rationale President Harry Truman used in 1947 when requesting aid for Greece and Turkey applies today.  Quoting Truman: “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.”

--President Truman did not refer to charity or moral superiority when he asked Congress to allocate aid to Greece, it was a case of self-interest to protect the welfare of the United States over the long haul, and it worked.

--Biden said the U.S. needs Greece back on its feet, and on a sustainable footing which will allow for job creation. “That requires debt forgiveness, in my view.” (No further elaboration)

--On challenges in the region:  Biden believed a Cyprus solution is tantalizingly close.

You can read the rest of the article at New Europe. Be sure to include #Concordia17 in shares and tweets.

On to the Conclusion

While prepared to be skeptical of the emphasis on P3 (public-private partnership), I was pleasantly disappointed. Rather than profit, the emphasis was on duty, service and best practices. George Logothetis, summed it up, straight from the heart, without notes or teleprompter. Watch the livestream; his eyes never leave the audience.

It’s going to take some time to sort out everything I heard, and I will be reviewing the recorded livestream. It’s recommended if time permits. Mostly very agreeable, a few points less so, but thought-provoking – and encouraging – throughout.

by Karen Lee, DAGR Chair

Concordia Live Stream

These videos are of whole sessions, each about 4 hours long. Allow time for them to load and buffer and then use the slider to skip to parts you may want to watch.

Day 1

Afternoon Session (4 hrs 53 mins)
Video w/out sound starts at about 16 min
Meeting opens at 26 min, video about Concordia, remarks by founders
Remarks by President Provopoulos at 37 minutes, interpreter’s voice.

Day 2

Morning Session (4 hrs 15 mins)
Video w/out sound starts at about 15 min
Meeting convened at 26 mins
Former V-POTUS Biden is introduced by Mike Manatas at 29 mins
George Logothetis stirring speech at 39 mins
Round-table on future of Europe at 1:54:00

Day 2

Afternoon Session (4 hrs 15 mins)
Video w/out sound starts at about 7 min
Archibishop Bartholomew introduced at about 8 mins
PM Tsipras closing address (interpreters voice) at about 3:36:00

 

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Celebrate Athens Pride with DAGR

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Love trumps hate: The Democratic Party supports the protection of the civil rights of the LGBQT community. DAGR shows its support by participating in Athens Pride. We will staff a booth during Pride events in Syntagma Square, promoting our support of LGBQT issues and seeking out US citizens in Greece to become DAGR members and future voters in the 2018 midterm elections. Athens Pride is a day devoted to commemoration, celebration, education, promoting action and engagement -- and fun!!

Join us! 

Volunteer to help us staff the DAGR information booth in Syntagma Square, from 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. You can staff the booth for an hour-long shift and then spend time enjoying the festivities. For more information, email Steve Medeiros, DAGR Vice-Chair. To volunteer, fill out the form!    

Be part of the evening's celebration in the Athens Pride Parade
Join DAGR marching behind our "Love trumps hate" banner. The parade begins at 7:00 and runs for about 90 minutes. Bring your good will and your progressive energy (and a big smile!); wear comfortable shoes and rainbow colors (a rainbow pin or button is fine!). You may be moved to dance; there's usually some great music in the parade. 

To let us know that you will be joining us for the parade, just tick the “18:00 and join the parade” box on the volunteer form. You may also RSVP (parade participation) on our Facebook page

We  will follow up with specific information about meeting time/place. 

You can learn more about the Athens Pride organization on their website.

Prepping for Pride
What's a parade or march these days without clever and pungent posters stating principles, points of protest and expressions of community and solidarity? We will march in Saturday's parade behind a rainbow banner. You might want to make your own statement. If so, join us for a sign-making get-together at Steve's home in central Athens.

SignMaking Get-Together
Thursday, June 8, 2017
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Metro: Akropoli

Have some refreshments, talk politics --- with a focus on LGBTQ issues, make your perfect sign.

Tick “Yes, I’m in!” at the bottom of the volunteer form and we’ll send you the address and directions.

See you there!


Earth Day 2017 - Climate March, April 29

Wildlife under threat

Separated by a week, Earth Day’s March for Science and this Saturday’s Climate March are connected by the interactions we collate together as ‘environment.’ Climate change and unpredictability affect wild species as habitats are destroyed or altered and food supplies diminish. The presence of wild species, however, is more than the iconic natural world we draw reassurance from. Each plant or animal plays its role in the chain of life, enhancing or controlling other species. The balance has been thrown off, and efforts to restore balance are again under threat.

DAGR Issues Chair Kristin Zissis lists the crucial threats that have come up in just the first 100 days of the Trump administration.

During Donald J. Trump's first 100 days in office, the environment and in particular wildlife have been fodder for the  Republican grist.  First there was H.J. Resolution 69, written by Alaska Rep. Don Young, overwhelmingly approved by Republican senators 225 to 193 and signed into law by President Donald Trump (remember how he defended his sons' torture and killing of endangered species for sport) this past March. This bill legalizes the shooting or gassing of hibernating bear, wolf and coyote mothers along with their sleeping pups and cubs, the spotting and shooting of bears from aircraft and trapping of bear, wolves and wild dog in steel-jawed leg traps and snares in Alaska wildlife sanctuaries.

 In addition, the Obama-era prohibition of lead ammunition on federal lands and waters, issued the day before Trump's inauguration, has been rescinded by Ryan Zinke the new U.S. Interior Secretary. Conservation groups say that lead ammunition can poison wildlife, especially predatory birds who feed off carcasses (California Condor, Bald Eagle, etc). The National Rifle Association applauds the move as economically supporting the sport of hunting. The gutting of the EPA (killing Obama-era regulations on industrial poisoning of water supplies) and the proposed border Wall (which threatens 111 endangered species through the disruption of their migratory patterns) further threaten the environment and wildlife. According to Dr. Shonil Bhagwat, a senior lecturer in Geography at the UK's, Open University, the Concrete Wall, in particular, would "split animal populations, making it harder for them to breed and increasing the risk of diseases. Species at risk include ocelots, bears, bighorn sheep, the US’s last remaining wild jaguars, and the bald eagle – the national bird of America."

Finally Dow Chemical is lobbying the Trump administration to "set aside" 10,000 pages of findings that three commonly used pesticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) are harmful to about 1,800 threatened or endangered species. The EPA now run by Scott Pruitt, climate-change denier, who said he would reverse “an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children's brains.” It should be noted that DOW CEO Andrew Liveris serves as an adviser to President Trump and has donated $1 million to underwrite inauguration festivities.

Sources:

http://blog.humanesociety.org/wayne/2017/02/u-s-house-sanctions-killing-hibernating-bears-wolf-pups-dens-federal-refuges-alaska.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/republicans-legalize-the-killing-of-baby-bears-wolves_us_58d1efd7e4b002482d6e6c6f

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/dow-chemical-donald-trump-pesticides-damage-species-critically-endangered-white-house-a7692731.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-mexico-border-wall-us-threatens-111-endangered-animal-species-a7591206.html

http://nypost.com/2017/04/20/dow-chemical-lobbying-trump-to-bury-results-of-pesticide-study/

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/04/dow-chemical-endangered-species


EARTH DAY 2017

Earth Day 1970: The Way It Was

Left: An Earth Day poster of 1970 by Ralph Bently. I had this poster in my dorm room at college for several years. Annie R
Right: One of hundreds of posters, by hopeful humans worldwide.

Retrospective on the first Earth Day march, by Dr. Annie Rassios, Grevena

Perhaps we should go back to the time of the first Earth Day. It was a very troubled time, more troubled perhaps even than today if you can believe it.

We were stuck in the midst of the Viet Nam war: we were losing our schoolmates to the war, to the first wave of recreational drug use, social unrest and race riots were nearly daily phenomena. The killings at Kent State followed the first Earth Day by just a matter of days, showing how “afraid” the authorities were of “us.”

So there we were, about a hundred of us if I recall correctly, marching from our high school into downtown to “protest” for our love of the Earth: we had all read Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring. Once the local businesses we passed figured out we weren't war protesters (this time), we were accepted, smiled at, treated with somewhat of a condescending acceptance by people passing by in their immense V8’s – this was also the time before the oil crisis, when smog levels were at their worst, when it was perfectly okay to dump mine wastes into streams, and only Lady Bird Johnson seemed concerned that the USA was becoming an eyesore.

20 million Americans participated in rallies and rather innocuous protest marches such as ours under the urging of US Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970. There wasn't much we could do about the war in Viet Nam except yell; there wasn't much we could do about civil unrest except to naively believe in the power of love. But maybe, just maybe, we could save the planet. We believed we could just by marching down Main Street.

Hard to imagine, but it was, believe it or not, Richard Nixon who, following the Earth Day protests, created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Subsequent administrations have been hacking at these ever since. It was the ‘70s when recycling centers began to appear and be utilized and when the “crazy” environmental movement took shape.

The Earth today seems even more threatened than ever before. Maybe that little march of ours in 1970 was useless and silly, but I like to believe that maybe it did help to initiate the age of environmental awareness. We did not save the planet, at least, not yet.

Call me "crazy"...

Annie R

http://mrlreference.blogspot.gr/2011_04_01_archive.html

http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement


EARTH DAY 2017

2005 - Some Friends of DAGR Clean the Beach

Back in 2005, DAGR was still in the throes of mimeograph vs email. Outreach was limited. But HELADA, a little informal-progressive group had just formed up, and one of its founding members, Brady Kiesling, thought a beach clean-up would bring people out.

An archaeologist by training, Brady was also concerned about the state of some of the lesser-known Greek sites. On the Aegean side of the Attic peninsula, Rhamnous and its nearby beach bore a load of litter and offered the venue. It was one of the first such events here in Greece, for Earth Day, 2005. Two more followed, the idea began to catch on and other environmental/wildlife groups took up the challenge.

Beach clean-ups may not seem earth-shattering news now, but in 2005 they were rarities. Prior to the 2004 Olympics, formal* volunteerism was little practiced in Greece, and environmental issues were just breaking into mainstream consciousness. In the interim, a mix of EU messaging and funds, local concerns over air quality and clean seas, and global interest shared by media and the Internet have spawned a wide array of efforts. Not all have been well thought out or managed, but some are quite impressive, as are the innovative research projects going on in Greek universities. Volunteering and eco-friendly practices are fairly mature now.

Likewise, DAGR has progressed. We’ve learned to use the Internet. We still haven’t found a really useful group-work (freeware) platform. So, if anybody knows of one, please recommend! We’ve also grown and continue to grow, reaching out to eligible American voters across Greece. More than ever, we support the DA platform call for fact-based policy making.

As for the little HELADA group, formally known as the Hellenic American Democratic Association (a name initially a bit worrying to DAGR leadership), it remains independent, informal, and open to all, not just Americans. In that respect, it operates much like ‘Friends of Dems Abroad’ groups that assist a number of country committees. It’s a hub of information flowing in from and back out to the local community, with many of its members also active in DAGR. Like Dems Abroad, it places a premium on enhancing our understanding of the natural and social world through good, solid information.

So, we thought highlighting HELADA’s 2005 Earth Day anniversary was a fitting start to a week of articles addressing the importance of Science – and science-based decision making -- for a healthy, prosperous world. -- by Karen Lee, Chair DAGR 2017-19

*Informal volunteering, e.g. caring for family members or helping neighbors, was and is embedded in Greek society. The three enviro R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle were still foreign words at the millenium, nonetheless embodied in agrarian frugality, economizing of limited resources, and the rag men whose carts, and later small pick-up trucks, plied the streets collecting re-sellables. In a   popular song, a deserted spouse cries: “Take anything you want, Rag Man. I no longer have any need.” In fact, Greece has always volunteered and recycled; it just hasn’t always worn a name tag while doing it.

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Medicare – Make it Portable!

Issues: Social Security and Medicare

Medicare – Make it Portable!

by Karen Lee, DAGR Chair

We in Greece often gloss over reports on Medicare. Like other American retirees around the world, we can’t use its benefits unless we travel back to the US. And let’s face it, free medical treatment isn’t so free if it includes the cost of a plane ticket. A checkup combined with a family visit is smart; major medical with multiple follow-up visits is expensive and disrupting.

For this reason, ‘Medicare Portability’ is a plank in the 2016 Dems Abroad Platform!

As then-DA Mexico member Paul Crist* pointed out over 8 years ago, Medicare Portability is smart for everyone. US retirees who’ve paid into the program receive the benefits they deserve. Otherwise, they have to pay travel expenses OR pay out-of-pocket for local treatment.

Good for Enrollees

For instance, retirees in Greece can pay 9.5% of their Social Security check to get IKA coverage. But with the Greek medical system struggling after ‘memorandum-imposed’ cuts, availability of some therapies and drugs may be insecure or inconvenient.

Moreover, while the premium for inclusion is needed from the Greek point of view, the fact remains, that many US citizens have already ‘paid’ into the Medicare system for services they are now paying for a second time.

Good for US Budget

The US budget would also gain from Portability. Because high-quality health services are much cheaper in most other developed countries, the system would actually pay out less for beneficiaries to get their treatment

US authorities have also argued that certifying health providers abroad would be complicated and cost-prohibitive. The fact is, most developed countries have their own state health systems and certification mechanisms. If a doctor or hospital is good enough for French, or Greek, licensure, they would also pass US muster.

What’s Holding Up Portability?

So, what’s the problem? Why not get on with enacting a Portability law that’s to everyone’s benefit? On the one hand, many US lawmakers are simply unaware of citizens abroad and their particular concerns.

More important are two major blocks of opposition. Corporate interests invested in medical profits contribute to candidates in both major parties. Results: 13 Dems, including a few high-profile ‘progressives,’ voted with GOP senators earlier this year to quash importation of drugs from Canada.  Their excuse was that the bill lacked a way to check the safety of the drugs. From Canada. Canada? Really?

Also, in the current climate, conservatives such as Speaker Paul Ryan, want to privatize the Social Security and Medicare systems. They argue that a privatized system will bring lower prices and better care for all. It’s an argument that defies logic when the pre-Obamacare uninsured and continuing high costs are compared to countries with state or mixed public-private health systems.

But, common sense be damned! These ideologues are certainly not going to enact a system that would lower costs and make quality services more available to all.

Bringing it Back to Greece

In the meantime, Medicare-eligible retirees in Greece have three choices. We can travel back to the US for diagnostics and treatments. Or we can pay for a private insurance plan here in Greece. Or we can purchase coverage through IKA, which seems expensive until compared with travel and other costs. With prodigious hunting, we might find a supplemental private insurance at a reasonable cost wherever we get services. Still, any way you look at it, we are not currently getting the benefits we, like our counterparts in the US, have paid in for.

Advocating on behalf of Medicare are AARP and other organizations, such as Kaiser Family Foundation and, of course, Democrats Abroad. For a solid overview, read the statement by AARP president, Bill Walsh, entitled ‘A Battle Looms’. The full report is available at the same link. They’ve run the numbers and looked at the possible outcomes. The DA 2016 Platform, pg 6, Medicare and Healthcare, is found here.

Medicare – buttressed by cost-savers such as Portability and drug-price negotiation – wins hands-down!

* Paul Crist, a former aide to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, had his ‘Medicare in Mexico’ pilot project ready in 2008, and returned to DC to promote it. Unfortunately, it was overtaken by the noisy negotiations that eventually became Obamacare, and has yet to be acted on.

 


!Think Thursdays in Greece!

All across the US and all around the world, small rapid-response groups are forming up to confront the Trump administration’s alternately heinous or just plain whacko agenda. Relying heavily on widespread desire to DO something and the sage advice in the Indivisible Guide, these groups have called themselves #resistTrump, or Trump Tuesdays or Resist Tuesdays. And more.

Early on, Trump Tuesdays or Resist Trump Tuesdays began falling out of favor. Why give the bozo more name recognition? Also, what if he IS impeached, or simply flies apart and is committed? Pence Tuesday? It just doesn’t have the same ring.

In Greece, or at least in Athens, Tuesday isn’t the most convenient day. Thursdays looked good, though, and the question of the name was tossed around. Think Thursday seems to have stuck for now, giving both a head-nod to the goal and a reminder to plan ahead for the next one. 

The goal is to combine a bit of self-education with some related action. Writing postcards to congressmen is more effective than clicking petitions online. And they can be gathered up and sent to DC in bulk. Phone calls to elected officials are also good, if the meet-up is held near a cheap or free phone service.  Or the task might be painting signs to carry in an upcoming march. Or knitting pussyhats to wear or sell. The sky is actually the limit.

TIMING

How often should Thursday groups meet? And where and what time? It’s up to us. Once a month? In a month, a whole flotilla of bad policy moves has raced by. Once a week? Might that be too often? Possibly, but it does allow for more timely response to the issues of the day/hour.

Also, the time of day is open. Groups of moms may find morning hours best. Those who work in the daytime may prefer an early evening. And those who are caught in between, in the center city, can stay on for happy hour before heading home or back to the office for evening hours. The idea is to gather five to ten people and get busy.

STARTING UP, SHARING THE LOAD

To test the waters, we’re starting out with a bi-weekly goal.  Women’s Caucus has stepped forward to get it rolling and will take responsibility for the first Thursday of each month, starting on March 2. Sarajane and new member Elizabeth Fullerton are putting together a how-to summary of activities Thursdays can use.

Elizabeth has also offered to prepare the first ‘topic’ on the Emoluments Clause. Emoluments is an obscure passage in the US Constitution that specifically forbids public officials making a personal profit from foreign sources // government activity. Whoops! It seems that one slipped by Mr Trump when he booked those foreign dignitaries into Trump Tower DC.

Issues Committee, chaired by Kristin Zissis, will pick up at least the 3rd Thursday. And Issues members, following narrower topic areas, will sound the alarm when one’s about to break into legislative life. If interest and the onslaught of bad legislation warrants, we’ll go to weekly.

MEETING SIZE

Think Thursday groups can meet in homes or coffee shops and cafes. The fare can be coffee, tea, a glass of wine, or a meal. Small groups don’t have to make reservations, hence no RSVPs. But we WILL want each group to send a report the next day: “Ten of us wrote 30 postcards!” “We tried different scripts for our Congress calls. What a hoot!”

And if staying an hour or two is not in the schedule? Just drop in and sign a card on the way to the market.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Women’s Caucus chair, Sarajane Leone refers to ‘community building’ a lot. It’s the reason we like face-meetings, even when we get the news by Internet. In these settings, we can express our personal concerns about the topic. And we can look at how a particular issue works in the US as well as how it affects us in our host country abroad.

Also among the objectives is to build local neighborhood friendships. Our small groups can share information and activity, inform each other, form carpools or just travel ‘pods’ to larger central events such as the women’s march last month.

Eventually, Athens, with its concentration of DAGR members, can develop ‘precincts’ within its chapters. The trick will be formalizing precincts without losing the spontaneity of the ‘ad hoc’ Thursday group.

Outside Athens, these smaller groups can help build the Thessaloniki chapter and to form up new ‘chapters-in-progress’ in outlying areas of the country.

The first month of the new presidency was given largely to opposing the right-wing billionaire Cabinet appointees. It caused Tom Price to withdraw his nomination, but otherwise game points went to the GOP. They, after all, control both houses of Congress.

With the nasty anti-Muslim immigration executive order, the emphasis began to shift over to executive actions and legislation.

 


Tax Seminar Feb 2017

Informative DAGR Tax Seminar 2017 at Hard Rock Cafe. Opening remarks were made by Chair Karen Lee, all posted online via Dropbox for those who attended.

Yes the FBAR is still there, but now we have been served FATCA for the second course. Angelos Kostopoulos presented US tax changes and  Karolina Adriakopoulou took us through the recent Greek tax changes...

So you need a US Bank account? Sign here...DAGR Treasurer and American Citizens Abroad Deputy Country Coordinator Alec Mally described what ACA does and how to open a US bank account at the State Department Federal Credit Union in Arlington Virginia through ACA, all without returning to the US.


Electoral College: And, One More Thing …

Graceful Closure to MoveOn EC petition drive

Reply-To: "Michael Baer" <mgbisme@yahoo.com>

A Remarkable Journey: Reflections of a MoveOn Petitioner    

Early January, 2017 Eight weeks ago, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The MoveOn petition that I had authored on a lazy afternoon in the summer of 2012 suddenly came roaring into significance. It gained a half million signatures to abolish the Electoral College (EC), in the first six days after the election.    I knew that such a petition, no matter how many signatures it received, would not be easily translated into successfully ending the EC. Since the Bill of Rights was approved in 1791, only 17 amendments have been successful and only two in the last 55 years. A supermajority of two-thirds of each house of Congress is required, and then it must be ratified within 7 years by three-fourths of all the various states. That means 34 Senators, or 13 states can block any amendment. I also learned that attempts to get rid of the EC have been tried numerous times. The greatest number of failed attempts to amend the constitution is this anachronism from our foundational document.

These are challenging obstacles under any circumstance. The framers intended it to be that way. But we live in a particularly polarizing era, and the candidate of the minority has just been awarded the keys to the kingdom. His base is mobilized. To abolish the college under these circumstances would be about as easy as breaking into Fort Knox using a biodegradable spoon and a toothbrush.

But back in mid-November, with the momentum of 500,000 fresh signatures, it still felt possible, and worthy of my best effort. The strategy quickly formed to develop a Facebook (FB) Community Page to create “views” and “likes” to drive new people to signing the petition, and to use the increasing popularity of the page to try to win celebrity endorsements of one kind or another. The FB page would act as a forum for conversations, brainstorming, sharing of information and dialogs as an attempt to create a community “brain” capable of meeting the challenges, while simultaneously trusting that opportunities would present themselves for meaningful action as the story unfolded. Build it… and the path forward will emerge.

What emerged was an engaging drama. Trump chose unconventional (and often frightening) cabinet appointments. He engaged in twitter conflicts with China, Saturday Night Live, the Press, and others. We learned more about Russian hacking. Jill Stein raised $7 million in four days to investigate voting anomalies in Midwestern mid-sized swing states. Those state courts shut her down, but not before she exposed serious voter suppression activity, and legitimate suspicions of outright voter fraud.  A group calling themselves the Hamilton Electors raised the specter that electors had a duty to vote their conscience; country over party. Although it was an admitted longshot we watched with interest to see if the effort might flip the outcome or present the House with a compromise Republican alternative to Trump or Clinton. Our FB page reported all of it and more, posting three to five times daily on the various threads and stories, and in the process grew a following currently at 21,700.

Then, on December 19, the Electoral College endorsed Trump as anticipated with very few defections. We had imagined that such an outcome might create a backlash that could boost the petition drive further with another mighty wave of activity, perhaps pushing it over a million signatures. But in fact, the opposite happened. Signatures dropped from a range of fifteen hundred to three thousand per day down to a couple hundred per day and activity continues to wane. In the two weeks since the electors cast their ballots we have gained less than 2000 signatures. Granted it is the holidays, but it feels like the tide is out for a while.

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Another eye-opening part of this journey has been participating in the community conversation of the FB page via the comments section available below each posting. I began by advising the community to ignore the “Trump trolls” i.e., the hateful, rude, obnoxious, and childish commenters whose strategies are reducible to expletives, insults, untruths, and gloating, often invoking all four in a mere sentence.

Over time I ignored my own advice and began trying to engage the trolls. I thought I might disarm them by asking sincere questions or injecting chiding humor without overtly insulting them as an effort to draw them into civilized discussion. Sometimes it worked and I felt minor victories when the troll became a human beneath the façade. We still disagreed, but a bridge of respect had been established.

But there is a constant influx of new trolls to the FB page, as we strive to expand the reach by doing some FB advertising to people who identify as interested in politics, government and voting, which brings in all stripes. Encountering all that negativity begins to feel like toxic psychological warfare and the dreck starts to stick. After being provoked several dozen times, I began to feel the need to strike back; to “go low” with them. I have begun to do that, but what I hope is in a clever way.  

That is a bit of a detour from the MoveOn petition drive, and I realize it is not helping the cause, nor is it healthy for me. I have become polarized, and in turn polarizing to others. This was not my intent when I started. It’s time to drain my own swamp.

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Eight weeks, and the way forward has not emerged. However, my views on the Electoral College have evolved during the journey. I used to think it was just old and antiquated, never updated because of a few special interests in a former era, and that these interests might now be overwhelmed by popular sentiment, motivated by recent results, and organized into the tip of a spear to cut through the antiquated and unpopular ideas.

Now I see it as something far more nefarious. It arose as a compromise to slave states during the founding of our union. It remains a powerful tool in the toolbox of the white supremacist minority. Combined with voter suppression techniques now exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act, our voting system is deeply corrupted. Donald Trump was right about that: The system is rigged. 
  
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Many of you are aware of an alternative approach to neutralize the EC without amending the Constitution. It is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) or more commonly, the National Popular Vote movement. Briefly, the idea is to develop a consortium or compact of states that agree (through their respective legislatures) to cast all their electoral votes for the national popular vote winner. This year that would have been Hilary Clinton. Once the consortium reaches critical mass attaining the majority of the electors (270 at the current time), then the compact becomes binding.    

The strategy is very clever. As long as every state member sticks to the agreement it will have the desired outcome: the overall popular vote winner will assume the oval office. Currently the strategy is 61% of the way to its goal with 165 electoral votes in the compact. Notably, none of the consortium is from a traditionally Republican state.

To my mind, this noble end does not justify the means, which are egregious. If a state like Wyoming was in the compact this year and the compact was in effect, Wyoming would cast all their electoral votes for Clinton even though 80% of their voters chose Trump at the ballot box. That would understandably upset, and more importantly disenfranchise, an awful lot of Wyoming folk. Additionally, besides the potential for many states to individually reverse the will of their constituents, there is also a collective injury to all the states who do not join the compact. Here they are, playing by the rules created centuries ago, and a compact of other states just gave them the collective finger. We are already divided and polarized to a point where “civil war” has begun to enter the collective lexicon. I believe the NPVIC is a match light that can ignite the fuse to our doom, if it ever comes to fruition, which is itself a longshot.

So now what? If a constitutional amendment is impossible in the current climate, and the NPVIC is untenable and divisive, where does that leave us? I have come around to the idea of supporting Electoral College reform which does not require two-thirds of the congress and three-fourths of the states to agree. In fact, it is possible that only 5 people could decide to implement it as the law of the land.

The reform proposal would be to eliminate the winner-take-all aspect from the Electoral College. That protocol appears nowhere in the Constitution (nor does the idea of two party system for that matter). Winner-take-all evolved through the states’ rules setting process for choosing electors over the years. The method by which elimination of winner-take-all in the states could be enacted is through the Supreme Court. The argument is that winner-take-all is a violation of the 14th amendment, the equal protection clause.

It is a compromise because several small states will still maintain their substantial per person voting power advantage over voters in larger states. But it means that every vote will count, because states’ electors will be allocated based on the proportion of the popular will of the election. This year, California would break 35-20 for Clinton, and Michigan would have split 8-8. From reports I have read, the overall outcome would have been 270-263 for Clinton, with 5 electors being allocated to 3rd party candidates. The margin is quite close to the 2.1% popular vote margin.

The arguments for this proportional reform to the EC have been made by people far more scholarly and versed in Constitutional law than I, who is but an interested layman on both counts.

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On January 3, 2017, the 115th Congress was sworn in, with each member taking a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Never has the need to stand up for that oath been more essential in my lifetime… nor perhaps in my country’s lifetime. I made my own oath shortly after Election Day to stick with this journey at least until now, so that the petition with 616,221 signatures and counting could be delivered to the members of the new Congress. They will be sorted by the signers’ zip codes, so that each petition will be electronically delivered to each signatory’s House member and two Senators and President Obama. 

I want to thank each, and every one of you, who were catalysts encouraging me forward each step along the path of this eight-week journey. Many of you sent me invaluable letters of kindness and encouragement or thoughtful strategies on how to proceed. I have learned valuable lessons; about social media, about the Electoral College, about my fellow Americans and about my own nature.
 
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Close One Door, Another  Opens

The petition drive is over, but the movement continues. I was a young boy during the revolutionary times of the 1960s and early 70s. But as I reached adulthood and looked back, I marveled that people literally stopped an unjust war, won civil and voting rights for Black Americans and other dispossessed groups, and began the environmental movement. It happened because a large enough group of average working citizens took time from their busy lives and stood up and said, “ENOUGH! Our government and our culture have gone astray. We will not allow this to continue and just stand idly by, waiting for someone else to do something.”

Fifty years later, I believe we are at a similar crossroads. Will enough of us collectively stand up and say “Enough!” The Electoral College is just one battlefield of injustice. History has shown that the American spirit can rise to the challenge.  But will we? The answer is up to each of us to do what we can, to persist, and to realize that small things can become big things if enough of us take part. I believe it can be done… must be done non-violently despite the hate, anger and division we see in the polity. What does it take to make a Trump troll? We need to dig for those answers and diligently endeavor to find ways to include them in our collective solutions.

With deep gratitude, and hope tempered with foreboding,
Michael Baer

MoveOn Abolish the College petitioner