Waiting for Galt

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Who Is John Galt?

by Carson Starkey

Americans are living through a unique time of political paradox. Elected officials and ideological enthusiasts possess the capacity to blanket media outlets with an endless variety of messages. They can hoist the banners for the War on Christmas, announce the urgent need for English-only or flag burning constitutional amendments, and trumpet the inevitable anarchy that follows from women wearing pants. Ordinary voters are under constant surveillance whenever they’re not screeching at passing cars or talk radio programs. Traffic cameras capture every move in urban life. Police departments shake down working people with fines and tickets designed to raise revenue while shuttling mostly people of color into feedback loops of poverty and incarceration (Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ferguson Report, March 5, 2015). In a time of unrestrained access and monitoring, we can  rely on one phenomenon to remain mystical and undefined…conservative public policies.

We can draw a straight line from Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia planters telling their social subordinates (usually people of color, women, and the economically disadvantaged) to accept The Almighty’s judgment to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan assuring Fox News viewers that they have soon-to-be-disclosed but for now secret plans for every socioeconomic ill. Donald Trump will defeat ISIS…somehow, but he can’t tell how or when. Congressional Republicans will find a way to insure more people with lower costs by repealing the Affordable Care Act…somehow, but they can’t explain when/how that will happen, what the trade offs will entail, or who will make sacrifices. For the past forty years, conservatives have been promising higher wages and greater economic security for the majority of Americans, but they always get distracted by massive upward redistributions of wealth in the form of rich people welfare (tax cuts and subsidies), and forget to administer their previously promised plebeian quality of life expansion. Which goes a long way towards explaining why wages have been stagnant since Bruce Springsteen first introduced us to Mary’s swaying dress (Economic Policy Institute, “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts, January 6, 2015, Reference to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” from the “Born to Run” album, 1975).

We soon observe that the Puritans, planters, and free market Praetorians never disclose their highly touted solutions. They stay perched in their fortresses, plantations, and penthouses, smirking through slavery, monstrous economic inequality, and foreign policy catastrophes. Are John Galt’s acolytes secretive, dishonest, or clueless?

Much like the work of Ayn Rand, the answer is unsophisticated and disheartening. Little about our political and economic history can be described accurately as prologue. American conservatives lack originality, though we should stress that they always have plenty of ideas, as a common refrain among liberals is that conservatives have run out of ideas. To borrow from Sam Elliot’s immortal Big Lebowski Narrator, far from it dude. You can thank Saint Louis Park, Minnesota after you finish reading this entry. Conservatives have plenty of ideas…aggressively unpopular, unfair, unworkable ideas that, when implemented by elected officials and other powerful individuals, impose needless suffering on large swathes of less powerful people. Their policy solutions are always variations of faith-based healing. Pray to somebody-Republican Jesus (who directs His followers to harm the poor, use violence to solve every problem, and create incomprehensible financial instruments in The Temple), John Galt, Alan Greenspan, a buffoonish Macy’s tie salesman with a silly toupee, or a polytheistic assortment of billionaires-and hope that your chosen omnipotent figure alleviates your earthly suffering. When your prayers go unanswered, go back to work and await further instructions from the appropriate cable news commentator.

The boring truth is that Nick Hanauer was right. If conservative policies have or had any connection to reality, America would be a wildly different place than it is in 2017. We’d be drowning in jobs because rich people would have trickled oceans of wealth down upon us as byproducts from their obscene tax code-derived welfare gifts that Ronald “avowed segregationist and apartheid supporter” Reagan and George W. “trillion dollar investor in Iraq and Afghanistan” Bush bequeathed them. Instead, Americans live with horrific, multi-generational poverty from Appalachia to East Los Angeles. (Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk, March 2012).

Now would be a good time to stop waiting for John Galt, because nobody has ever laid eyes upon him. Which means that he’s not coming. Not now, not at any time during President Tie Salesman’s administration, and not ever. You can mourn that fact, or you can take actions to improve your quality of life.

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John Galt Does Not Exist.

by Troy Olson

Exactly. Who is John Galt? Not Donald Trump, not Mark Zuckerberg, and quite frankly – not anyone who has ever actually existed on this planet.

There are a few that certainly come close, but even they had to have parents, a community, teachers, mentors, a road and a bridge to make their work, ideas, or innovations possible.

President Trump and the one-party state is not building roads and bridges, they are building a wall and using fear and hate to make terrified people more terrified. Where will it all end?

Well for starters, it won’t work. New policies will indeed be undertaken and passed, implemented and forged. But America will not be made great again or whole again, and what is great about America will recede before us as long as Trump and the one party GOP state is in office. I want this country to succeed. Usually I would cheer triumphantly for our leaders to succeed in helping improve the country. Not this President, and not this administration. For their political success will be the undoing of centuries of democracy, norms and traditions, and their policies will not work because the last four decades already inform us that they will not work. That’s right. Everything they are undertaking has already been attempted and failed miserably by policy outcome measures and the preferences of the American people, who as seen below, prefer a set of wildly different policies.

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While Trump will say the people are behind him, when it comes to their policy preferences, soaking the rich with more and more welfare handouts will prove disastrous for the financial and democratic health of this country.
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A broad cross-section of America feels that we should be increasing income taxes for people making over $250,000 per year.

Simply put, we know that policies of tax giveaways to the rich, corporate socialism, and forever war won’t work because the last 40 years have happened.

The thirty year time span after World War II, when the labor share of income was at its highest, was the most broadly prosperous time in American history.

Why? Because we invested in people. Wages rose with inflation and productivity rather than stagnated. We led with ideas and committed to the fundamental aspects of our national character that actually made us great:

1. Quality public education, for more and more people.

2. Investments in continually modernizing infrastructure like roads, bridges, and the interstate highway system.

3. Yes, Open Immigration laws so that the best and the brightest are drawn here, and so that those seeking opportunity add to American life, continually energizing our society with new ideas and perspectives. This one has had a few interruptions, but broadly speaking throughout American history our laws have been welcoming.

4. Government support for Research and Development (remember when we went to the moon?).

5. Implementation of necessary and proper regulation on private economic activity (sorry folks, Donald Trump won’t magically make your 401k go up, but the next financial crash brought to you by Government Sachs and the big five surely will deplete it).

Even before Trump, we have been drifting away from all of this.

If you think doubling and tripling-down on these policies is going to actually “Make America Great Again” I’ve got some land to sell you on the planet Alderaan.

#MakeAlderaanExistAgain

All of these policies, whether by the administration or by Speaker Ryan and the GOP Congress are built upon an Ayn Randian worldview that fundamentally, like Karl Marx before, misunderstands and misrepresents what a human being actually is and wants. Human beings are not cut out for the rugged individualism of Atlas Shrugged, or Steve Jobs biopics.

Individualism has its place, but without a compassionate community to support, foster, and nurture people into productive members of a civil society, then all is lost. Human beings are by our very nature-overwhelmingly social beings. All religions and biological theories of human beings recognize this key distinction. Even our love of ideas springs from our love of people. We would not have made it this far if we just wanted to construct walls, divide, and hate one another.

Just as elements of collectivist thought failed to account for the spirit of individualism present in our society, so to will the Randian politics implemented by authoritarian measures. These policies will fail and ruin this land. Because this is not what people are about. We take care of our own, and we do it with a little help from our friends.

#WeAllDoBetterWhenWeAllDoBetter

Public Integrity Alliance v. Tucson, and the 21st Century Battle for American Voting Rights

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Public Integrity Alliance, Inc. v. City of Tucson, a pending petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenges the Constitutionality of ward district lines in municipalities.

The 14th Amendment was passed nearly 150 years ago. The Equal Protection Clause later went on to expand the scope of the Bill of Rights and apply it directly to the states. “Equal protection of the laws” has been cited in landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education (1954). It is one of the most important parts of our Constitution as it currently stands. Today, it could save our democracy and continue to inch us closer to a “more perfect union.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Public Integrity Alliance, Inc. v. City of Tucson (Public Integrity), responding to their writ of certiorari. This case will provide a fresh and interesting precedent for advancing electoral and voter advocacy projects under the Age of Trump. Public Integrity advances the following issue:

Whether the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment permits the City of Tucson to exclude certain registered voters from the primary election for a citywide representative based solely on the geographic location of such voters’ residence within the city.

The City of Tucson employs a “hybrid” municipal electoral system. Primary elections are conducted under ward district lines, while  general elections are conducted citywide and on an at-large basis. Early indications from the Court are that this system violates the “one person, one vote” maxim of the equal protection clause, disagreeing with the 9th Circuit below. The Court’s decision to hear Public Integrity is based on previous rulings holding that geographic location is not a “permissible basis for distinguishing between qualified voters”, Gray v. Sanders (1963), and Smith v. Allright (1944), in which future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued that Texas’s Democratic primary system allowed whites to structurally dominate the politics of the one-party South at the time. The Smith ruling unmistakably connected the primary process to the general election as one continuous electoral event for purposes of the 14th Amendment.

If you want to have better outcomes outcomes, you have to control the rules. In recent years, the Republican Party has mastered using voting and election laws to control political outcomes. While the Democratic Party was writing articles and speaking of “demographic inevitability” the GOP was actually rigging the system in its favor, through use of Voter I.D. laws, gerrymandering, and recently, chipping away at key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats should have been fiercely defending this unconstitutional and overtly political usurping of our democracy and defending all constituencies, but they were complacent, far too assured of their historical inevitability.

There is, however, another issue that is nearly as old as the Republic itself percolating behind all of this. The two party duopoly. Nowhere is this more evident than in closed electoral systems, as opposed to open electoral systems. Whereas taxpayers fund primary states, the party pays for caucuses and conventions. Herein lies the difference. It is quite clear, that closed primary elections are unconstitutional. While the Constitution affords great latitude to states and localities in elections, there is no mention of political parties at all. Our nation’s first President, George Washington, warned against factionalism and the growing influence of political parties. For many historical reasons, political parties were not only inevitable in our system, they have often served as the primary organizing tool for American citizens to reach shared goals. Parties have had a special role to play in American history, achieving high heights, but also being attached and at times, the chief driver of tragic consequences. As we wind down the 6th party system and into an unknown and yet to be completely characterized 7th party system, it is important to go back to our roots. On behalf of the “We the People”, the public, and the U.S. Constitution – it’s time to fight back.

Public Integrity will be an interesting test case because it will test the current makeup of the Court’s willingness to hear electoral and voting rights challenges on the basis of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. If and when the Court decides to rule (most likely sometime this summer) that equal protection of the laws is violated, and even if they do not, I would argue closed primaries are much clearer violation of the equal protection clause than ward district lines. Allowing political parties, specifically the Democratic and Republican parties to have such strict control over the electoral system is arguably what has produced an authoritarian, ideological demagogue as President with one of the parties backing him up thus far.

The New York state primary is a textbook example. Not only is the primary closed, but you also have to be registered with the party seven months before the primary election. This disenfranchises new New Yorkers and permanently disenfranchises political independents or unaffiliated voters, the largest self-identified voting group in the country, and the third largest in the state of New York (barely behind the Republican Party, further behind the Democratic Party). Fusion balloting or cross-endorsing despite some encouraging results, has not proven to be an effective check on forcing this false dilemma onto the electorate.

It is unfortunate that a state with the proud legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Al Smith, Fiorello La Guardia, and a state that served as a test bed for many New Deal policies, has been reduced to finishing in the bottom ten in the United States in voter turnout, bottoming out at 48th during the 2014 midterm elections. This trend toward lower turnout is not unique to New York; rather it is unique to closed primaries themselves. Closed primaries have reduced political competition and serve as outdated models used by once-vaunted political machines that can more appropriately be called, anti-machines now, given that political machines are supposed to turn out the vote. Gone are the days of Tammany Hall and Mayor Daley. We have arrived at a time where our country has voter turnout that lags behind all other developed, industrialized democracies. Closed primaries are part of the problem, and they are unconstitutional. This question should be advanced:

 

Whether the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment permits a closed primary electoral system, funded by taxpayers, that discriminates on the basis of party registration and timing of party registration.

Another reason why New York State is the ideal test case for 21st century voting rights precedent is the state appoints its Secretary of State rather than elects it as a Constitutional office. Thirty-five states elect their Secretaries of State. As we saw in the 2000 Presidential election, which turned on a couple hundred votes in the state of Florida, Secretaries of State in all fifty states are very important offices, too important to be left to the partisan will of Governors and legislatures.

The appropriate check on the proper administration of free and fair Constitutional elections is the voters. The devil’s advocate might say that new electoral laws passed through the legislature are the proper avenues for this. Indeed, New York Attorney General Eric Scneiderman’s proposals are a step in the right direction. A step that should have been taken years before the 2016 Presidential Election. It’s no secret that entire precincts in Upper Manhattan and elsewhere officially recorded that then-candidate Barack Obama received 0 votes during the 2008 Presidential Primary in New York. The best way to check this is to open up, modernize, and allow the voters to hold those administering and implementing elections accountable. Therefore, this Constitutional issue should also be advanced:

Whether the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment permits a state to appoint its Secretary of State, who is tasked with administrating free and fair elections, rather than elect this position and allow citizens to check and balance.

Getting rid of closed primaries and unelected Secretaries of State would likely destroy the last few political machines that still exist, and rightfully so. These machines are antiquated, out-of-touch with the concerns of the people. This combined with gerrymandering, voter I.D., and other draconian measures, have contributed to an erosion of voting and citizen engagement that is so severe that for it to endure any longer, is seriously unhealthy for any democracy, let alone the oldest democracy on Earth. But this democracy is now in more danger than at any time since the Civil War.

In an ideal world, Election Day would be a national holiday for federal elections and state elections if they see fit to follow. If we are going to keep celebrating Columbus Day, I’m sure we can decide to set aside one Tuesday every two years to celebrate and renew our democracy by voting in a more free and open manner administrated by people that are elected by we the people. 

 

 

Episode 46: And the Award Goes to…

 

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On this month’s episode of Agreeing Loudly Coast to Coast, Bill Nentl makes his triumphant return from his multi-month suspension. In celebration of this momentous occasion, the Agreeing Loudly brain trust (minus one Pat Meacham) discuss their thoughts on who will win Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards, the latest Trumptastrophes, and some more public policy they think would make the world a better place.

Will Bill be able to make it through one episode without being suspended again? Tune in now to find out! Hate using your data for podcasts, then download it instead.

From Natural to Political: What Weather Can Teach Us About Political Disasters

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Agreeing Loudly is thrilled to introduce you to Monica Powell; writer, proud public school educator, and a new contributor to the site. Check out her bio here and check out her writing below.

By Monica Powell

It was the middle of winter and I stood at the busstop, jacket-less. My teeth chattered violently as we waited for the bus to arrive. My best friend threw her scarf around my shoulders. “You’re like a pigeon,” she said. “You keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”

Though ten years have lapsed since a school bus was my primary mode of transportation, I have lost neither the nickname nor the habit of being consistently underprepared for the weather. This memory came flooding back to me during the Women’s March, when I relied on the densely packed bodies (as opposed to my pathetically thin coat and socks) to keep me warm.

In the days since our 45th president was elected, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of preparedness. I think of the nation’s shock on election night, how millions of people–regular citizens, news pundits, elected officials, were all completely dumbfounded by the results of the election. Despite all evidence pointing towards this impending disaster, what made us “forget our jacket,” so to speak? And more importantly, how can we prepare for future storms?  

According to the New York Times, in the wake of an impending natural disaster, “even after all of the best practices in emergency communications are exhausted, 5% of the population will remain in harm’s way.” Perhaps when we look closer at the belief systems that provide us reasons to ignore natural disasters, we can find insight into how an entire nation managed to come face-to face with this catastrophic social and political disaster.

Reason #1: Gauging Risk

“It can’t be that bad.” Researchers heard this type of response again and again from people who opted to defy mandatory evacuation notices during Sandy and Katrina. Speaking from my own experience with a politically conservative father, I heard this sort of rhetoric many times leading up to the election. “He can’t be that bad,” my dad would insist. “He won’t be able to do half of the stuff he’s claiming to do.” Like the Katrina victim dumbfounded by their destroyed house, my father shakes his head in disbelief as our president gets to work making good on each and every horrific campaign promise. And this is only week one.

Reason #2: Lack of Exposure

It is difficult to be afraid of what you don’t know. Many who defied evacuation orders did so because they had never been in a hurricane and they couldn’t imagine the extent of damage it could cause. When you have no frame of reference, how can you possibly imagine the power of a hurricane? Sandy and Katrina victims quickly learned that these storms were beyond anything they could have imagined. Politically speaking, this was the circumstance for millions of Americans during the 2016 election. Having lived the last quarter century under Clinton, Bush and Obama, it is difficult to imagine a President Trump. It was difficult to imagine (for both liberals and conservatives alike) the amount of damage one man could truly cause.

Reason #3: People Have Short Memories

Oddly enough, it wasn’t only people who had never experienced a hurricane who opted to stay behind in Sandy and Katrina. It was like how the moment I got inside that warm bus, memories of the jacket-less cold were soon forgotten. Or how the pain of childbirth doesn’t discourage women from their second or third pregnancy. Humans have short memories, particularly for uncomfortable, painful things that they’d sooner forget. Memories of past hurricanes fade into hazy memories. When the next time newscasters are predicting a storm, many hurricane survivors will revise history, insisting it wasn’t so bad the last time, that surely this one couldn’t be worse than storms survived in the past. Half of our country chose to ignore the historical parallels between President Trump and one German Fascist. They willfully refuse to see the parallels between these two men, both obsessed with making broken countries “great again” through increased government control and racial and religious purification.

The most troubling connection between these natural and political disasters are the populations who are impacted the worst. In the four years to come, the people who will be hit the hardest will be the elderly, the poor, and racial and ethnic minorities. It is our job to protect those who will have the hardest time protecting themselves. It is our responsibility to stay vigilant towards all policies that come out of this administration, particularly those that put the safety of marginalized populations at risk.

In the 2016 Presidential election, this storm caught us by surprise. It is a matter of national security for us to create a disaster relief plan for the 2018 election. So call your representatives. Check your sources. Peacefully protest and march. Let’s make sure we are prepared.