Party Conventions and Delegates

And Why We Should Care

Democracy is cumbersome, inefficient, time-consuming, difficult, and frustrating. It is one of humans’ greatest inventions. If only works if we really want it. By now, numbers and types of delegates are probably swirling your head. This should help.

PRIMARIES AND CAUCUSES
First, there are no laws regarding political parties and their processes. State laws control only voter registration, polling places, and election rules. Each party – Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, and even Communist – sets its own rules for how it will nominate candidates for public office. Generally, the parties operate through committees.

The Democrats and Republicans each have local, county, state, and national committees. The Democratic and Republican party structures are very similar. State laws allow only parties with significant public support to appear on ballots. The smaller parties have their own private processes. Federal law is primarily concerned with prohibiting discrimination.

The argument that closed primaries disenfranchise independent voters is bunk.
The public selects the delegates, not the actual candidates, during the spring primaries and caucuses.
When you choose to register as a Democrat, you get to choose the Democratic delegates. When you choose to register as a Republican, you get to choose the Republican delegates. When you choose to register as an independent, you don’t get to choose delegates.
If you’re not a Green, Libertarian, or Communist, you don’t have a right to choose their candidates.
You live with the consequences of your choices.

The delegates adopt the platforms and select the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates at the conventions.

DELEGATES
During the primary season, several candidates compete for each party’s nomination. Gradually, the weaker candidates drop out, and the stronger advance. Democratic and Republican voters express preferences for candidates, but actually choose convention delegates. The two parties’ processes are similar.

The parties’ national and state committees use a complex mathematical formula to decide how many delegates each state gets. There are 3,200 total Democratic and 2,510 Republican delegates.

Each state committee decides the specific rules for choosing delegates in its respective state. The process includes votes by local and county committees.

There are two types of delegates – pledged and unpledged. Pledged delegates are elected at the party primaries in the spring. They are required to vote for their candidates on the convention’s first ballot. They may vote for their choice on subsequent ballots. Unpledged (“super”) delegates include party leaders and elected officials. Democrats are beginning to consider eliminating superdelegates, but that won’t happen this year. Unpledged delegates can vote for any candidate on any ballot.

You can see updated counts of each candidate’s delegates at FiveThirtyEight.com.

As much as some people like to gripe, these rules are not secret at all.
You just have to put a little bit of effort into finding and reading them.

CONVENTIONS
It doesn’t matter if there is no acclaimed nominee before the convention. When there is more than one viable candidate, or a single candidate with significant disapproval, the parties resolve it on the convention floor, through their rules. That’s what they mean by a contested convention.

Right now, both parties are operating on temporary rules adopted in August 2015. The week before the convention begins, the party leaders and Rules Committee adopt final convention rules. Since there are no rules for the 2016 conventions yet, all predictions of candidates or contested conventions are just speculation. Considering current events, I bet we’ll see some interesting changes. Anyone can still win either nomination.

The conventions’ primary purpose is to nominate the parties’ presidential and vice presidential candidates for the November election. However, there are other goals too.

At the convention, the parties will adopt their platforms for the next four years. The platform is the statement of the party’s official positions on public policy issues such as the economy, foreign policy, taxes, the environment, education, and social issues. Each position is a plank in the platform. Platform committees have drafted the statements and convention delegates will vote on each plank. Once adopted, the platforms will appear on the parties’ websites.

The convention is also a pep rally to inspire party officials, campaign workers, and voters. To that end, each party invites some of its prominent leaders to speak to the delegates and the public.

The Republican convention will be in Cleveland on July 18 through 21.
The Democrats will convene in Philadelphia on July 25 through 28.

So, these are my predictions for the conventions: The parties will provide us with a lot of drama but in the end, they’ll get their acts together and choose candidates. They always do. Don’t be surprised if it happens late at night.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE
So, now that we’ve whittled down nearly two dozen original candidates to just two, we have a general election campaign. Traditionally, the formal campaigns begin after Labor Day. But don’t expect tradition this year. We’ll be lucky if they wait until the end of July.

At the general election in November, the voters express their presidential preferences, but they actually choose electors. The Electoral College meets on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The Constitution’s 12th amendment specifies the voting process.

Each state uses its own method to choose its electors. In most states, the parties choose their electors long before Election Day. They’re usually party officials, state or local government officials, or influential party members. The party whose candidate wins the popular vote participates in the Electoral College. The other parties do not participate.

Some states require specific votes from electors, others don’t. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia require their Electoral College members to vote for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote. That’s the “winner takes all” system. Maine and Nebraska have a “district system” in which two votes are given to the candidate who won the state’s total vote, and the remaining votes are distributed to the candidate who won each Congressional district. In the remaining 24 states, electors are expected, but not required, to vote for the candidate to whom they have pledged. Sometimes, despite the law, electors vote for a different candidate. They are called “faithless electors” and can face a fine and lose their electoral positions. It rarely happens and has never affected an election.

You should care about this because you are an American. It is your responsibility to know how your own government works. And if you’ve read this far, you obviously do care. So take that caring a step further. Educate yourself. Read a newspaper. Learn about the issues. Lobby your public officials about issues that concern you.

So that’s it. There’s still a long road ahead of us.vote

BE SURE TO VOTE ON NOVEMBER 8.

For more information:
Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Convention
DNC Delegate Selection and Convention Rules
Republican National Committee
Republican National Convention
RNC Delegate Selection and Convention Rules
Community Matters 2016 Elections
FiveThirtyEight.com
Why We Need More Lobbyists

Contact Pat to get email notice of all new Community Matters articles.

 

We’re Waiting for YOU, Mr. President

Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs. Work Creates Jobs.

President Obama visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday to gather support for his American Jobs Act. He appeared at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in South Side, where he toured the apprenticeship facility before addressing the crowd of about 300 local politicians, building trades union leaders, apprentices, and their instructors.

It was a well-run event, managed by competent, considerate White House staff, Secret Service, Pittsburgh Police, and IBEW volunteers. Obama appeared about 25 minutes late – not too bad for a Democrat.

He gave pretty much the same speech he’s been giving throughout the country, and that’s fine, since that’s the message that he needs to send. He talked about entrepreneurship, green jobs, and restoring American manufacturing. He noted that those long-term initiatives are important, but the economy needs a jolt right now. He spoke prior to the Senate’s preliminary vote on his American Jobs Act Tuesday, calling it the Senate’s “moment of truth”. Senate Republicans – and two Democrats – failed the American people yet again when they refused to end their filibuster.

Obama exhorted the crowd – and all working people – to contact legislators and demand to know why they won’t support the Jobs Act. He wants us to ask our representatives to explain exactly why they don’t want to put construction workers, contractors, teachers, first responders, and others back to work. He wants us to find out why they don’t want to fix our roads, bridges, sewers, damns, and schools. He wants us to contact legislators, tell them we need the bill. He said, “Any senator who votes “no” should look you in the eye and tell you exactly what they’re opposed to”.

Obama knows why Republicans are blocking the bill. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that defeating Obama is the Republicans’ “number one priority”. Defeating Obama next year is more important than your family’s economic security. It’s more important than your kids’ education. It’s more important than public safety.

Obama’s too polite to say it, but I’m not. Republicans don’t want an educated workforce. Republicans don’t care how many Americans are unemployed. Republicans don’t care if our bridges and sewers are crumbling around us. The money in their pockets is more important to them than American lives. So yes, contact your members of Congress. Visit, write, fax, call, email, or use telepathy. Whatever it takes, tell your family’s story. Ronald Reagan and his buddies began the class warfare 30 years ago. It’s time for us to finish the fight. Stand up for yourselves. Defend your family. Tax cuts don’t create jobs. Work creates jobs.

Obama asks all of us to stand with him and demand that Congress “pass this bill”. We are with you, Mr. President. We’ve been here all along. But we need to know that you’re with us. Stand your ground. Stop appeasing the republithugs. Stop giving in to the Republicans’ childish demands. Stop surrendering every time John Boehner says boo. Can the American people trust you, Mr. President, not to abandon us again?

A magnet on my refrigerator says “Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.” Maybe I should send it to him.

Like I always say, Republicans have no morals; Democrats have no balls.
Where does that leave us?

WE ARE ONE.

For More Information:
President Obama’s American Jobs Act
Get Your Message to Your Legislators
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Text and Summary of Jobs Act
Infrastructure Spending Stimulates the Entire Economy

Republicans Want to Steal Your Vote

In 1957, then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson spoke for a proposed voting rights act: “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”  Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act as president in 1965. Today, the Republican Party, tea parties, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Koch brothers’ stooges are working feverishly to strip poor, minority, young, and elderly American citizens of their right to vote.

America’s segregated South had a long tradition of “whites only” voting. Even though the Constitution promised the vote to all citizens, white officials used poll taxes, voting tests, intimidation, and physical violence to keep blacks away from the polls. In 1964, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman worked to register black voters in rural Mississippi, until they disappeared late one night. The FBI found their bodies about six weeks later. In 1967, a federal jury convicted fifteen Ku Klux Klan members of conspiracy related to their murders. Today, the 1965 Voting Rights Act protects voting rights for all Americans.

For more than 40 years, Republicans and Democrats waged intensely competitive election fundraising and voter registration battles. When they realized that they were losing in 2008, RepubliKlans concocted a phony “emergency” and tried to steal voting rights from poor-minority-youth voters in several states. Their plan failed. Poor, young, minority, and senior citizens voted in record numbers, mostly for Barack Obama.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision declared that corporations are “people” and thus entitled to spend limitless cash to influence elections. Republicans jumped for joy, but their euphoria hit a snag. Since voting is limited, for the moment, to real flesh-and-blood people, corporations can’t vote yet. Real people still outnumber the corporations and their handlers. Obama’s successful presidential campaign proved that good community organizing and righteous dedication can beat their big bucks. So they created a plan to suppress the vote. Again.

Right-wing legislators and corporations created ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to write model legislation for all state legislatures to restrict all individuals’ rights and expand corporations’ rights throughout the U.S. ALEC then funds the lobbying and organizing campaigns to get those bills enacted at the state level.

Your friendly neighborhood RepubliKlans are screeching about busloads of illegal immigrants driving around American towns voting at multiple polling places and about millions of unregistered people standing in lines throughout the land just waiting their turns to cast fraudulent votes over and over and over again.

Give me a break. The United States does not have a problem with unregistered people voting, or with anyone voting too many times, or with illegal immigrants voting. We have enough trouble getting people to vote at all.

THINK about this folks. If these abuses were so rampant, surely the thugs would be able to produce just one piece of actual physical evidence of such crimes. But no. All they have is stories. Stephen King doesn’t have that many horror stories. I’ve looked for evidence of voter fraud. There just isn’t much to find.

Lori Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College, investigated allegations of voter fraud. She found that from 2002 to 2005, only 26 people were convicted of voting improperly. One was guilty of registration fraud, twenty voted while ineligible, and five voted more than once. Her 2010 book, The Myth of voter Fraud, updates that research and reaches the same conclusion. Republican allegations of widespread voter fraud are simply lies.

As always, RepubliKlans press on, despite the truth. They’ve introduced strict ID requirements for voters in every state. They want every single person to show a state-issued voter identification card, with a photo, before they can vote. So what’s the big deal? Why can’t a registered voter just show a driver’s license?

Actually, it is a big deal. Many young and low-income potential voters don’t have driver’s licenses. Many of the elderly give up their licenses when driving becomes difficult. States charge fees for non-driver photo ID cards and you must apply in person on weekdays. Students and low-income people can’t afford to miss a day’s school or work for that and often can’t afford the fees. The application process is difficult for those who are marginally literate. The elderly have trouble getting to the application office because they no longer drive. Think about how many of your own friends and family would be unable to vote with a law like this.

See. The law keeps the poor-minority-young-elderly from voting. And that’s what they really want. Gee. I wonder who would benefit from that.

They say they want to prevent “voter fraud”. Once again, they don’t believe this junk. They want you to fall for it. 

Republicans are all about freedom. They don’t like taxes. They don’t like regulations. They want to take BIG GOVERNMENT from our backs. Uh huh. They love freedom right up until it reaches your front door. Why are the RepubliKlans regulating a problem we don’t have, and ignoring the problems that we do have? How’s that for big government on your back?

This attack on the poor-young-minorities-elderly is just the beginning. If we let them get away with this, they’ll come for you next. Yes, really. They’ll invent some new phony emergency and their creative solution will involve restricting YOUR right to vote. It’s all part of their plan to destroy the middle class.

Contact your state representatives. Tell them to vote AGAINST new voter ID laws.

Don’t be afraid to vote. You can verify your registration, find your polling place, and other information at your state election office.

They don‘t want to keep you from voting twice. They want to keep you from voting at all. The only way to stop these abuses is to prove that they don’t work. The only way to do that is to VOTE.

WE ARE ONE

For more information:

Register to Vote: State voter laws and registration deadlines

National Council of State Legislatures Voter ID Requirements

An Analysis of Voter Fraud in The United States

Voter Fraud and Election Integrity

How Safe is Our Election?

 

Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done

And What You Can Do About It

America has serious problems. We need serious adults, working together, to solve them. Our government is supposed to do that, but most members of Congress care more about pleasing their big bucks corporate campaign donors than in doing the job that we hired them to do. Republicans claim to believe in the “free market”. Well WE are the market they’re trying to reach.

There are two chambers of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution allows each chamber to make its own operating rules. The party holding the majority of the seats controls the chamber and committees have enormous power. The majority party leaders appoint all committee chairs, who are nearly always majority members. In this Congress, Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate.

There are 435 House seats, distributed among the states by population. The current House contains 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans. With a full House, a bill needs at least 218 votes to pass the House. Now, with two vacancies, 217 votes will pass a standard bill.

There are 100 Senators, two from each state. They include 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them, and 47 Republicans. In case of a tie vote, the Constitution empowers the Vice President, currently Joe Biden, to break the tie. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass most bills, but any senator can call a filibuster, which stops a bill dead in its tracks. It takes 60 votes, called cloture, to end a filibuster and permit a final up-or-down vote on a bill’s merits. House rules do not permit filibusters.

Every bill must pass both House and Senate, and be signed by the president, to become law. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. That’s 292 House and 67 Senate votes.

Given the numbers, House Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want to do. House Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass anything without support from at least 25 Republicans. The 53 Senate Democrats hold a technical majority, but Republican filibusters stifle nearly all Democratic bills. The Senate Democratic majority can prevent bills passed by the House Republicans from going further.

Teapartiers wield much more power than they deserve. They made SO much noise about “We the People” in the 2010 election, but only 14 percent of Americans are strong tea party supporters.  Only 74 House members and 10 Senators identify themselves as teapartiers, all registered Republicans. That’s only 16 percent of the entire Congress and 29 percent of the Republicans. The other 71 percent of Republicans are terrified to stand up to them.

Despite the Congressional oath of office, they owe their allegiance to the corporations who paid for their campaigns but they pander to the teapartiers. Mainstream Republicans are so out of touch with reality that they think the teapartiers represent public opinion.

Teapartiers don’t have a different vision of government, as traditional Republicans do. They want NO government. They want no services, no goals, and no sense of community. They whine incessantly about the Constitution, yet they’re always wrong when they quote it. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Congressman Ron Paul declared that every conservative who objects to government spending should “. . . take care of yourself, don’t ask the government for anything”. (Source, Paragraph 17) Sure. I’d pay money to see that happen.

And that’s why Congress is stuck. That’s why we need grownups in Congress who understand that we can only solve our problems with common sense and compromise. President Neville Chamberlain has compromised to the point where he might as well be a teapartier. Republicans stomp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue. Republicans have no morals. Democrats have no spine.

Every now and then someone suggests holding a national referendum on a particular issue, like raising taxes on gazillionaires, or same-sex marriage, or creating jobs. A referendum is a public vote on an issue rather than a candidate. That’s just not possible. Our Constitution does not permit a national referendum on any subject.

In order to hold a referendum, we would have to amend the Constitution. Then we would have to get a particular referendum question onto the ballot according to the procedures outlined in the amendment. And then we would all have to convince a majority of voters to support our particular position in the referendum. That would take about a billion dollars and about 10 years of serious community organizing. Good luck.

The Supreme Court may have given corporations the same status as people, but corporations still don’t vote. Real people vote. I vote. You can vote. We can’t count on Congress to do their jobs, so we have to push them. We all can influence Congress. Yes we can, but don’t waste your time with online petitions. They’re the least effective method of making social change. The article linked below has more information on influencing Congress. Demand that your representatives honor their oath of office.

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

We may be stuck in neutral until the 2012 elections, but this is a good time to learn the issues and exercise your lobbying muscles. Learn where your members and the committee chairs stand. Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Read newspapers. Watch C-Span. Yes, really. Read the Constitution. Ask yourself who benefits from public policies.

  • Who benefits from shipping jobs overseas?
  • Who benefits from destroying labor unions?
  • Who benefits from decimating public education?
  • Who benefits from demolishing the middle class?
  • Who benefits from gazillionaire and corporate tax cuts?
  • Who benefits from allowing the infrastructure to crumble?
  • Who benefits from unlimited corporate campaign donations?
  • Who benefits from cutting Social Security, Medicare, and social services?
  • Who benefits from preventing the poor and the unemployed from voting?

You can be your own lobbyist. Your future is worth a couple of hours a week. Call, write, and visit your legislators. Volunteer for your candidate’s campaign. You know what’s important to you. Stand up for yourself. Demand that your representatives represent you. And then vote.

 And remember. WE ARE ONE.

 For More Information:

Congress by the Numbers

The White House

House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Information on all Congressional Legislation

On the Issues—Legislators, In Their Own Words

U.S. Constitution

C-Span

Get Your Message to Your Legislators

Watch Out America. They’re Coming for You Next

We Are All Welfare Recipients

 

America’s Liberal Roots, Shunning, and Other Random Thoughts

John Boehner is right in forcing President Obama to justify U.S. military involvement in Libya, as per the 1973 War Powers Act. However, we all know that he would never do it if Obama was a Republican.

Herman Cain is just one more tired example of a dimwit Republican. He’s been saying that he would require Muslims to take a loyalty oath to work in the administration if he were elected president. This violates not only the First Amendment, but also the Constitution’s Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Why are so many who claim to worship the Constitution eversomuch just too lazy to read it?

America’s political roots are decidedly liberal. Committing treason, seceding from the British Empire, acknowledging the inherent equality of all MEN, and fighting a revolution for independence were very liberal, radical actions. It is highly unlikely that such liberal founders would write an ultra-conservative document.

The First Amendment’s establishment clause creates the separation of church and state.

I’m very disappointed in Rep. Anthony Weiner for putting himself into such a position. I wish him well and I hope he gets his life back on track. We need people with his ideals in Congress. But I can’t imagine what makes so many men think that any woman wants to get messages like those.

I’m also disappointed in Obama for not closing Guantanamo, not prosecuting the cheneybushers for war crimes, not appointing Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, renewing the “patriot” act, and appeasing the republithugs at every opportunity. Will I vote for him again? You bet.

For 30 years, presidents and Congresses bought Alan Greenspan’s delusion that corporate executives will behave in something resembling a moral fashion, and thus don’t need to be regulated. This inspired our leaders to abdicate their constitutional duty to regulate commerce, leading to massive greed, corruption, and recession. Greenspan personally caused more damage to America and Americans than any other human being.

The Amish have a tradition of shunning community members who break their rules. I thought the practice was barbaric, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps we should explore this option for conduct unbecoming a human being. I nominate Greenspan for the first spot.

The politically illiterate complain about “big government” controlling everything because they think it really does.

A section of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History honors the heroism, bravery, sacrifice, and camaraderie of US military throughout the centuries and the world. Their Iraq war display appears in the same section with the September 11 display. The description says: “Because of concern about Saddam Hussein’s regime, in March 2003 the United States and its allies launched preemptive strikes in Iraq.” They actually have the audacity to post that lie on the wall. The U.S. went into Iraq because littledick cheney wants more money. And he got it. It’s despicable that so many died for so little.

Your parents, teachers, and counselors lied to you. There is no permanent record that follows you throughout your life. No one knows or cares how many times you had detention in high school. Grow up.

Republithugs have created voter ID laws to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The United States does not have a problem with unauthorized voting, or people voting multiple times, or illegal immigrants voting. It’s hard enough to get people to vote at all. This is about the republithugs trying, yet again, to SUPPRESS the vote. They’re trying to scare poor people and uneducated people into staying home. THINK ABOUT THIS, PEOPLE. Who benefits from low voter turnout, and keeping these folks away from the polls?

The republithugs claim that Congressional bills are not available for reading. They are liars. You can read every Congressional action at the Library of Congress site since 1996.

I don’t mind an honest difference of opinion, or a different philosophy of life. I do mind it when people flat out lie and make stuff up.

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Sloganeering signage has probably put more dents in fenders than in voter opinion.  (From a Larry Evans email, 10/26/10)

America doesn’t just happen. The founders did not create a nation to have its citizens abandon it. America doesn’t work unless we all pay attention to it.

Why does the boss deserve to make 500 times more pay than the workers do?

Think back to when you were a kid. Remember the one in the crowd who always whiiiiiiiiined “It’s not fair!” when stuff didn’t go his way. That kid is now a Republican.

Employers can legally refuse to hire people who have red hair, or beards, or who wear blue shirts.  Yes, it is discrimination.  It is also legal. The only illegal forms of discrimination involve race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age over 40, and disability.

Judging by the way that most people write these days, they should sue their third grade English teachers for malpractice.

Children who are babied grow up to be idiots, or victims, or worse.

The American Medical Association should expel from its membership any “doctor” who works for a health insurance company.  It’s a conflict of interest and a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.  Doctors are supposed to provide health care.  Health insurance companies prevent people from getting health care.  I don’t care how many medical schools you went to.  If you work for a health insurance company, you are not a doctor.

Real life is not like your TV.  Stuff takes time.

WE ARE ONE

For more information

Read the U.S. Constitution

Read a newspaper. Yes, really. Go to a store. Buy a newspaper. Read it.

Unemployment Compensation: Myths and Facts

The GOP is still trying to set Americans against each other.

America’s official unemployment rate stands today at nine percent, down from 10.2 percent in April, 2010. But what’s behind those numbers? How are the unemployed counted? How much money do unemployed people receive, and where does it come from? While most Americans will collect unemployment benefits at some point in their lives, those who don’t are frightfully ignorant of the system and the people that they are so quick to criticize. You’ll be very lucky if you never need unemployment compensation, but you should know how the system works.

Unemployment compensation is not welfare. Unemployed people are not lazy, or stupid, or incompetent, or criminals. Most people lose their jobs because their employers go out of business or can’t provide enough work for all of the employees. Not all people without jobs are counted as “unemployed”. Benefits don’t last indefinitely and they certainly aren’t lucrative. Membership in a labor union does not give you any more benefits or better treatment than anyone else. Since 1935, each state regulates and operates its own program under supervision by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Only those people who are actually collecting unemployment compensation payments are counted in the “unemployment” rate. Self-employed people, independent contractors, elected officials voted out of office, teachers and school employees on summer break, and those working “under the table” cannot collect benefits, and are never counted. Children under age 16, retired, unemployable disabled, incarcerated, those just entering the workforce, and people not looking for work are not counted. You are not counted after your benefits run out, no matter how hard you look for work.

You must be able and available for work in order to collect benefits. Your “base year” covers the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters. For example, if you applied for unemployment compensation today, your base year would run from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010. The first quarter of 2011 – January, February, and March – is excluded. The wages that you earned during the base year determine your benefit level. In Pennsylvania, you must earn at least $1,320 in your base year to collect any benefits at all. Your application will be denied if you quit a job without good cause or if you are fired for willful misconduct.

Actual benefits are about half of your wages from previous employment. The minimum payment in Pennsylvania is $35 per week. The maximum is $573. When unemployment levels are extremely high, the law permits states to cut benefits to all recipients by whatever percentage is necessary to ensure that there is enough money in the fund. Right now, all Pennsylvania unemployment benefits are cut by 2.3 percent. Unemployment compensation payments do count as income and are taxable to the federal government.

Benefits are stated as a weekly dollar amount, but are paid every two weeks for a maximum of 26 weeks in a 52-week period, called your benefit year. Construction and seasonal workers whose employment is sporadic might have several periods of unemployment in a single year. Those who find a few days’ work at a time can receive partial benefit payments. That may extend their benefit year for a few weeks until their total benefits run out.

Employers and employees, not tax dollars, pay for basic benefits. Employers pay a percentage of their total payroll amounts into the states’ unemployment trust funds. In a few states, including Pennsylvania, employees also contribute to the fund. No tax dollars go into benefits for the basic program.

Congress usually authorizes – and pays for – extended benefits of additional 13 or 20-week periods during recessions. These are the extended benefits reported in the media every few months. Federal law prohibits any benefits at all beyond 99 weeks. We call those people the 99ers and their numbers are growing.

Once you apply, the first week of your benefit year is called the “waiting week”. No, you are not waiting for a check to arrive in the mail. You will never be paid for that week. The Pennsylvania legislature has decided that you don’t ever need that money. Yes, really.

­­The term is deliberately misleading. It’s designed to fool people into thinking that they are receiving payments for all of the weeks that they are unemployed. They are not. Words have power. They are humans’ primary means of communication. So we need to change this name to something more honest. Today. I suggest that we call this the “UNPAID week”. Make your legislators understand what they’re doing to you and your family.

Twenty six Republican Pennsylvania state legislators have introduced a bill to punish people for being unemployed. House Bill 916 would tighten financial eligibility requirements, put up bureaucratic barriers and hurdles, tighten eligibility for reapplication for benefits, slow the growth of maximum benefit rate, and readjust calculation of the benefit rate.

Once again the republithugs won’t be happy until we return to the good old days of unrestricted child labor, absence of workplace health and safety standards, sweatshops, and robber barons. If you live in Pennsylvania, contact your state legislators. Tell them to support working families who pay taxes, not the corporations that don’t.

Tell them WE ARE ONE.

For More Information:

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Introduction to Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment Lifeline – Help for Unemployed People

Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pennsylvania House Bill 916

Contact Pennsylvania Legislators

Rally for a Responsible Budget Was a Huge Success

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Completely Missed the Point

On Tuesday, nearly 7,000 Pennsylvanians rode in more than 100 buses, cars, and trains to Harrisburg with a single purpose in mind – to demand a responsible budget from our state legislators. The atmosphere was friendly and hopeful, as it always is at these events, with lots of hugs, high fives, and good conversations with total strangers. Even the weather cooperated. On the capitol plaza, state employees, some of them legislators, rushed past the crowds on their way to lunch, studiously avoiding eye contact.

Members of dozens of groups attended together, including

Pennsylvania State Education Association, Service Employees International Union, Working America

United MineWorkers of America, National Education Association, United Steelworkers Union

United Food and Commercial Workers, American Transit Union, American Federation of Teachers International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Home Care Workers

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, United Electrical Workers

UniteHERE (Hotel and Restaurant Employees), National Association of Letter Carriers

Keystone Progress, Pittsburgh United, American Federation of Government Employees

Communications Workers of America, Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Sheet Metal Workers

Pennsylvanians United for Single-Payer Health Care, and of course, the AFL-CIO.

Many other church, community, and student groups organized their own members to attend.

Unfortunately, the only Ironworker that I saw in the crowd was my husband.  WAKE UP, GUYS. THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT.

The CLEAR Coalition (Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues) did an excellent job of promoting the event, arranging free buses, free box lunches, and shepherding the crowd throughout the day. Buses arrived in the city between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. Participants had ample time to lobby their individual state legislators before the rally began at 1:00.

The participants belong to many different organizations, but united in their single purpose – to convince state legislators to adopt a budget that reflects Pennsylvanians’ priorities, not one that punishes working people and children. Pennsylvanians need and deserve a responsible budget. We want Marcellus Shale drillers and other corporations to be regulated and to pay their fair share of taxes. Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal is just one more event in the organized Republican attack on America’s middle class. It cuts more than a billion dollars from education alone, and about a quarter billion from social services, while giving ever more tax breaks to his corporate masters. My favorite sign of the day said “Tax the Fracking Gasholes”.

As usual, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s report didn’t do justice to the event. Reporter Tracie Mauriello called it “Dueling groups of private-school boosters and labor supporters demand to be heard at the state Capitol”. I guess she didn’t notice the title “Rally for a Responsible Budget” emblazoned on the bright orange T-shirts of the hundreds of rally organizers posted throughout the crowd. A single message on the thousands of signs, T-shirts, and 7,000 people shouting, “WE ARE ONE” should have been a clue. The tiniest bit of background research might have been useful. There were not “competing rallies”, dear.

The only picture published in the PG will elicit derision from the Republican crowd that they want to draw away from the Tribune-Review. The TR didn’t cover it at all, but at least they didn’t lie about it. Maybe our next event should be a rally for responsible journalism.

There will be more events like this. You don’t have to belong to a union to participate. For information and updates, contact the CLEAR Coalition or Working America.

If you want a responsible state budget, then say so. Right now. Click this link. It will take you to the Pennsylvania General Assembly page where you can find out who your state legislators are. They all have email contact forms. Contact them. Tell them what’s important to you. Tell them what you want. Spend five minutes to give your kids a better life.

Okay, Post-Gazette. Are you ready?  Pay attention this time.

WE ARE ONE

For More Information

CLEAR Coalition

Working America

AFL-CIO

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Article

Pennsylvania’s Corbett Continues GOP Attack on the Middle Class

WATCH OUT AMERICA! They’re Coming for You Next

Pennsylvania General Assembly

Read the U.S. Constitution

On May 4m, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen fired 67 bullets into a crowd of Kent State University student protesting the Vietnam War. Four students were killed. The struggle continues.