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prohibition of lead ammunition on federal lands and waters, issued the day before Trump's inauguration, has been rescinded by Ryan Zinke the new U.S. Interior Secretary.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.
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"...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Graceful Closure to MoveOn EC petition drive
Reply-To: "Michael Baer" <email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
MoveOn Abolish the College petitioner
2017 … Looking into the abyss. Really hard to get excited about. My virtual office floor is littered with discarded drafts. Pre-Holiday “Greetings!” turned to Inter-Winter-Holiday to Last-Day-of-Old-Year, each as depressing as the first.
After a weirdly stellar year wound down to that November whimper, there just didn’t seem to be a way to greet the New Year without a frisson of fear, a dollop of dread, a tremor of Trump.
Okay. There. Now I’ve said it. I, maybe like you, have been twittered and pm’d into believing the worst year ever was about to be nudged out of first place. Is there any hope?
Someone also said, “Hope is what you say you have when you don’t have a plan.” Well, guess what. DAGR has hope, talent, and we also have a plan!
A Field Plan, in fact. It breaks down into two main parts.
2017: We build community, recruit even more volunteers and hone our skills.
2018: We do our part in one of the most crucial midterm elections of recent memory.
As members of the Party, not just ‘usually-vote-Dem’ types, we have a voice in Party policy as Dems Abroad, as well as a responsibility to help make it happen.
So, let’s get on with it!
Coming Along and Coming Up
The 2017 ‘off year’ will give GOTV a breather, but Issues and Fundraising rise to shine.
Issues will be critical to confront legislation expected from the new puh-puh-pruh-ceck-preh (try again) president and hedgem…, er, henchmen. The devil will be in the details, along with unrelated amendments and killing Obamacare, while the press spins it all as ‘new normal.’ Stay sharp!
Fundraising will be as painless as possible, but we are now a bona fide non-profit org for Greek tax purposes! See details, rationale, and photos. To be legal, we’ve had to take on new, though minimal, expenses. And need to add VAT into any ‘commercial’ activities.
Last week, the Secretary snail-mailed to members who’ve been out of contact for 4 years and stand to be removed from our membership count. DAGR was also asked to mail to Cyprus, which does not yet have a country committee (CC). See what we sent here.
Jan 1-31 The 31st is the last day for DAGR and all Country Committees (CCs) to confirm our membership to DPCA (DA global). This number determines how many votes we have in the DPCA. DAGR has had 4 for the last 2 years. We’ve grown, especially in 2016. Will we gain votes?
Until Jan 18, Nominations are open for DAGR board and Chapter officers. Elections are tentatively set for Feb 19, with the AGM, a short program and lunch option. Details TBA. In the meantime, think about who you’d like to nominate and look for an email later this week with nominating forms and ‘job descriptions.’
Jan 20-21 The Inaugural and the MillionWomensMarch. DAGR Women’s Caucus is working on the ‘march’ or alternate observance. Frankly, we can’t decide WHAT to do about that coronation in DC. Weigh in with your thoughts in our google query. Add your ideas, too, if you’re from outside Athens and would like to form something up in your area.
Jan 20-21 also looks like a good time for an εγκαινια (open house) at the new DAGR ‘headquarters’. Work parties start on the fix-up this week. See here for items you may have to donate. Or if you’d like to help with the clean-up/fix-up work.
Feb 19 Probably. DAGR AGM, Chapter AGM’s, ExCom elections, lunch and program. Details TBA.
Feb 23-26 – The Democrat National Committee (DNC) will meet and elect a new DNC Chair, replacing Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who resigned in August, and interim appointed chair, Donna Brazile. The current shortlist is topped by Rep. Keith Ellison on the progressive side and Labor Secretary Tom Perez for the ‘party regulars.’ For more on the Process, check the DA website, main News page.
In case you/we missed these:
Following on from NPR: 2016 ... Is it gone yet? Yeh? Whew!
Here’s to making the best of 2017!
Karen Lee, Chair DAGR 2015-2017
As you may be aware, there are several requirements in order to be a member of Democrats Abroad. One must:
1. Live outside the United States at least six months of the year, with a local physical address or local phone number in the host country,
2. Be eligible to vote in the next US election,
3. Support the goals and values of the Democratic Party of the United States.
Once joined, membership is good for four years. Each time DA has contact with us, the four years is extended from that new contact date. These contacts include but are not limited to attend an event, be reached by a phone volunteer or use the VoteFromAbroad website to register to vote or to update our contact information.
However, if we don’t connect for four consecutive years, our membership expires. Of course, this may mean we changed our ‘abroad’ address, phone number or email, we had no phone or computer, or we returned to the US.
Dems Abroad doesn’t like to lose members, so we make every effort to get in touch.
Dems Abroad Greece was asked to call members in Cyprus during the fall 2016 Get-Out-The-Vote drive, and we managed to reach a few, but by no means all. Now we’re reaching out, once again, to make sure we have contact with everyone who’s still eligible to be a member.
Here’s how you can let us know you’re still in Cyprus and still want to be a Democrat Abroad.
1. Fill out your current contact details on the enclosed form and mail it back to Secretary - Dems Abroad GR, C. Moschopoulos Thermopylon, 83 Argyroupoli 16451 Greece OR …
2. Call us at +30 210 991 8107 or +30 693 270 0095 and give us your new contact information over the phone. OR …
3. Visit the VoteFromAbroad website, fill out your information, and click ‘Update my membership’ before you click ‘Submit.’ The website is www.votefromabroad.org
Although Democrats are disappointed in the 2016 election results, we can’t give up. It simply means we have a lot to do to prepare for 2018.
Should enough members in Cyprus want to form up a country committee, DAGR will be more than willing to answer your questions and help mentor your efforts.
So, we really hope you’re still in Cyprus and we really hope to hear from you!
Karen Lee, Chair, for the Democrats Abroad Greece Executive Committee
DAGR is now a bona fide, Greek-filed, non-profit tax entity!
Photo thanks to Stacey Harris-Papaioannou
Actually, it happened just over a week ago. We finally got the tax number (ΑΦΜ) and have been working through details with the accountant. More work lies ahead, but this milestone allows DAGR to legally, and vigorously, conduct a full range of fund-raising activities.
The new ‘edra’ is a little storefront in Patissia, at Zervou Ilia 23, in the block below the Patission-Galatsiou intersection. Bus and trolley lines pass three blocks above; the train (green line) is about 10 minutes walk below. There’s a bank and a very decent restaurant just up the hill and a small hospital just below. The rent is dead low, covering the annual ENFIA and income tax on the amount collected for the ENFIA.
In Greek commercial tradition, the ‘grand opening’ will be held as soon as a bit of paint-up-fix-up is done. We’re looking at mid-to late-January and, in addition to members, plan to invite our new neighbors, including the mosque across the street. It’s a way of saying this crisis-pounded neighborhood is on the mend.
On Tuesday, a small committee made a shortlist of repairs and furnishing donations needed. Watch for more information over the holiday break. Read on for the back-story.
The new headquarters, before. Needs a bit of work. Photo thanks to George Malamo
DAGR Non-Profit Tax Entity: Rationale
Under the Democrats Abroad (DPCA) Charter, we must comply with two sets of laws: US Federal Election Commission (FEC) law and each Country Committee’s host-country laws. Like most other developed countries, Greece requires non-profit organizations to be registered and to fulfil certain reporting, and possibly tax-paying, requirements.
There was a time, here, when non-profit orgs could sort of do whatever to raise funds, and no one took much notice. As EU membership tightened a lot of laws, more orgs found it wise to officially register.
For the last year or so, ExCom has been increasingly aware of government efforts to crack down on tax avoiders and, while DAGR is small potatoes, our need to publicize events could make us ‘low hanging fruit.’ So, members who attended events may have noticed that the ticket prices have been super low (i.e. no mark-up) and collected by the restaurant or hotel.
As the Democratic Party does not have dues, DAGR’s ability to seed events or buy ads has been curtailed. We put fund-raising on the back burner and concentrated on ‘people-raising.’ It hasn’t worked out too badly. Combined with election year energy and extra efforts by global DA, membership in Greece grew some 20%. That lesson will be central as a newly revitalized Fund Raising Committee plans approaches for the next 2-year cycle.
DAGR just moved higher up the tree! (Thanks to Antieris.nl for loan of the graphic)
DAGR Non-Profit Tax Entity: Background
DAGR began talking seriously about a non-profit ‘syllogos’ just after the 2009 Inaugural. Nearly a year was lost satisfying problems with DPCA rules. Then, DAGR got up and running again in 2010. Money was collected, a small group of members formed up a ‘board’ to apply and had a lawyer draw up the papers. They were filed in 2012. And then the long road got longer.
Filing the ‘establishing’ papers with a Greek court (Μονομελές Πρωοδικείο, Αθήνας) and publishing the new entity in the government journal are the first steps. After that, a tax number must be applied for, and that requires an ‘edra,’ aka a base of operations, a real mailing address, not virtual post box.
Over the last four years, various addresses were sought, found, failed or rejected. Under US FEC law, only a US citizen could donate a space. Our small budget ruled out renting an office downtown. Shared space was considered, either with another NGO or in someone’s home. The original court filing stated ‘in Athens,’ which eliminated willing officers’ homes in nearby suburbs. (Short of closing out and refiling from the gitgo, the stipulation re Athens couldn’t be changed till the tax number was acquired. Catch 22.)
Other possibilities failed because someone’s visa renewal was in delay, or someone’s past tax hassles made them hesitant, or someone’s landlord had died and the heirs had not yet got clearance to permit sharing or subletting. We came very close a year ago, when a member’s husband offered an ‘apothiki’ in a pleasant, midtown building. We joked about meeting in our closet. The tax office rejected it because it didn’t have in-space electricity, i.e. was not a bona fide address on the DEH electric grid. The lease, filed on TaxisNET, was cancelled on TaxisNET and the search went on.
Finally, in a mid-October conversation with a member about an upcoming campaign event, the penny dropped. We could afford to pay someone’s ENFIA. She had a couple of disused storefronts in a Patissia neighborhood that had been pretty vibrant before the ‘crisis.’ We explored further and came to an agreement. At that point, the accounting firm, Computax, filed the tax papers and followed through.
Small but mighty! Photo thanks to Stacey Harris-Papaioannou
DAGR Non-Profit Tax Entity: Mythology and FAQs
Imagine 30 or so intelligent adults, each with some experience of or notion about non-profit organizations and Greek tax law, gained at different times or from different knowledgeable friends. Imagine about half of them getting further information from several different Greek agencies, in Greek. Imagine the laws and agency info sheets changing from year to year. Imagine that everything should be translated from English to Greek for filing somewhere OR translated from Greek to English so any member can read it.
Misunderstandings develop and persist. Here are a few FAQs that may help:
Is the new tax entity a separate organization?
No. It is registered as ΣΥΛΛΟΓΟΣ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΚΟΥ ΚΟΜΜΑΤΟΣ ΗΠΑ ΣΤΗΝ ΕΛΛΑΔΑ. It’s like your Uncle George. He’s George in the US, Yiorgos in Greece. Same body, same guy.
Who decides how to collect and spend ‘syllogos’ money?
The DAGR ExCom, following the rules laid out in the DAGR Bylaws.
What happened to the original ‘filing’ members and board they elected?
In a new organization, they would be subsumed into the membership and governing board. In our case, they give over to the duly constituted board and become part of the membership (which grew explosively, almost overnight, we could say, from the original 20 some). DAGR had to submit translations of minutes from the meetings where ExComs were elected, to show continuity from the ‘founding body’ forward.
Who serves on the entity’s governing board?
Same answer. The governing board of DAGR, i.e. the ExCom, is the governing board of ΣΔΚΗΠΑΣΕ, Greek-registered tax entity. Like Uncle George, one body, one head. The new board and officers must be reported to the oversight authority after each election.
Who IS the oversight authority?
There are three, with the Athens/Attiki Peripheria being the main one now. They make sure we comply with Greek law, keep our official papers up to date and file proper tax returns.
Founding documents were filed with the Greek court, the Monomeles Protodikeio, in Athens. These included the initial ‘founding board’ AND a Greek translation of the DAGR bylaws. If bylaws are amended, or the address locale is changed, this is updated at the court.
If there’s a change in address, etc, of course, the tax office (currently Galatsiou) is notified. The tax office may change if the new address is in another (ΔΟΥ) tax catchment area.
Who files all these documents?
The Chair is responsible for filing the court and peripheria documents. The actual work may be done by an ExCom member, e.g. Counsel, or any other appointee.
The Treasurer handles the money and ledger. In our case, filing was gratis, but we’re paying a low fee for Computax to ‘keep’ our books and file the VAT or other tax reports. We’re sorting out the actual procedure, as the accountant needs a working set, while the ‘real’ books are to be available at our ‘edra’ should the tax office want to inspect.
The Treasurer has to get income/outgo receipts to the accountant. (Alec is up for this as he discovered a great little piroshky place near Computax.)
We have to pay VAT? Why?
There are two ways money comes to non-profits. One includes dues (Dem rule: we don’t have dues), donations of money and in-kind, bequests, etc. The other is from ‘commercial’ activity. That might include, e.g., getting a per-person price on a set menu of €10 and selling tickets for €15. VAT would be owed on the €5 mark up.
Details are given in Peripheria info docs available at:
(Task bar, 2nd button > Για τον Πολίτη > Εντυπα > Δ/της Αθλητισμού και Πολιτισμού)
Photo thanks to Stacey Harris-Papaioannou
DAGR Non-Profit Tax Entity: Credits and Kudos
A few thank-yous are in order:
- the original filing ‘board’ of some 20 DAGR members of whom over half also hold Greek citizenship (a requirement) and hired Ira Kaliempetsou to draw up the Greek bylaws;
- John Lewis, who’s pressed the idea since before 2009;
- Alec Mally, who carried the ball for 2 years as chair and who will now shoot hoops with the accountant;
- Alexandra Jelkes, who had the portfolio in 2014 and provided a legal advisor (pro bono to us) when she had to put it down;
- John Bacalis, treasurer during the early effort and sounding-board for permutations since;
- George Malamo, on call for tasks and support (‘Just tell me what you need me to do!’);
- everyone who suggested a possible ‘edra,’ checked with their accountant or offered a prized real estate agent in the long search for an office site;
- Gina Senduka, now officially our landlord, plus her accountant and lawyer;
- Kostas Koufopantelis at Computax, referred by another non-profit NGO and now our accountant, and the very effective papers runner, Haris, whose smile sealed our welcome at two tax offices;
- Charity’s table and chairs, Stacey’s truck, committee bees’ time, and in-kind donations to come;
- Sarajane’s curtain, Nick’s floor plan, Steve’s painting party, everyone’s ideas!
Mea culpa if we’ve left anyone out here. Let us know; we’ll add to the list.