All Hands on Deck at The People’s Summit

The People's Summit
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spoke and then posed for this photograph with the over 5,000 leaders, organizers, activists, and followers at the 2017 People’s Summit in Chicago.

You cannot build a movement for the common people if you hold the common people in contempt. — Thomas Frank at the 2017 People’s Summit

Chicago, IL — This past weekend Jered Weber and I attended the 2nd annual People’s Summit. The first one in 2016, was held shortly after Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), went from a little known and self-described democratic socialist to the brink of the Democratic Party nomination. Taking on Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State in the first Obama administration, who had nearly every endorsement from Democratic elected officials and party leaders, as well as the support of corporate America, Sanders received 46% of the primary vote.

Assembling a coalition of millennials who had previously helped put then-Senator Obama over the top in the 2008 presidential primary and general election, progressives, independents, and populists, Sanders shocked the country, especially the donor and billionaire class by proving that in the Age of Citizens United, there was another way forward. There was another way to run a viable national campaign without having to offer fealty to the Super PACS, corporate lobbyists, and special interests holding the country back in the 20th century.

And what was remarkable to so many who flocked to the campaign, new and old, of all different generations and backgrounds, was that it was the ideas and message that mattered. It was the positivity of the campaign and its focus on the issues, and it was the remarkable consistency and authenticity of the candidate throughout the years.

Sanders repeatedly explained that when the people come together in common effort, they win. It was never about him, it was about a “future to believe in.” And we now know it was never about him because the campaign never ended, because ultimately, it was more of a movement than a campaign to begin with.

And that is where the People’s Summit comes in.

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The People’s Summit is first and foremost, an Ideas Summit.

Not just ideas for the future of the country, but also ideas on how to fundamentally improve and outright save our democracy. Those critical of the People’s Summit only needed to give these ideas attention at the Center for American Progress and perhaps they would not have to get mad that not everyone is falling in line and “uniting.” Before moving on to an analogy for what to think about the People’s Summit, let me just say that no matter which route one prefers to moving this country forward, there is no need to come together on the issues, on party unity, or anything other than basic civility and decency because we still have three years to go. In other words–see you in 2020.

Bubbles need to be pierced, and introspection and national conversations must continue en masse.

Now onto how to think about the People’s Summit in terms of what it means for the future.

Each year movement conservatism (or what passes as that these days) has its annual ideas conference called the Conservative Political Action Conference, put on by the American Conservative Union. Think of it as a “State of the Movement” address to conservatives from all across the country. Upcoming elected officials and advocates often get heavily promoted and featured at the conference. In addition to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and others, CPAC gathers all of the various grassroots conservative groups and organizations from around the country. Not being included almost serves as a statement that one is not “conservative” enough or not a “true conservative.”

CPAC operates very much like an ideas and state of the movement arm of the major American political party on the right–the Republican Party.

In 2003, recognizing the power think tanks, ideas conferences and so forth had in propelling the conservative movement to electoral victories through its political arm–the Republican Party, John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress, which is both a think tank and has an annual conference. There is no mystery that the annual CAP conference and its ideas are heavily attached to the Democratic Party. But while the Democratic Party was slow to jump on the think tank bandwagon and invest heavily in the think tank model in comparison to the GOP, its adoption of that model and investment in it represent the final shunning of its historical roots as the FDR “party of the people.” Consider this, CAP founder Podesta was national Chair of the Clinton campaign, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, and later counselor to President Barack Obama, made several versions of this sentiment throughout the 2016 election cycle:

For every working class voter we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.

That’s the thing with the establishment or corporate Dems. I’m not much of an ideologue, I have a governing and leadership philosophy yes, but at the end of the day I have a healthy respect for facts. A respect that is lacking in so many political leaders and those who cover and follow our nation’s politics today. I’m fine with compromising. All democracies and constitutional systems require it. However, what incentive do people who do not like to compromise their belief systems have to follow a strategy that not only is not their views in key areas, but also does not and has not won? I submit these simple truths about where the party stands in terms of electoral strategy:

And I direct these six points of logic to the failed Podesta mentality from above and a similar mentality echoed by (permanent) Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated that “for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2-3 moderate Republican voters.”

  1. There are not enough professional class voters to form the consensus.
  2. The ones who realigned from the GOP to the Democratic Party did so years ago.
  3. The ones still in the GOP are rich and unpersuadable.
  4. Working class voters are more numerous and more diverse than ever.
  5. Some of them are even organized already, through this thing called collective bargaining.
  6. You can’t build a party of the people if you have contempt for the people. You have to talk directly to the people about the issues, all the people.

Please note that when I say the working class I always mean that anyone who has to work for a living to keep existing. Many choose to work for a living and that is great, but their livelihood does not necessarily depend on it, and they likely have multiple streams of passive income.

Speaking of passive income, George Soros, a major funder of CAP and constant boogeyman that the right wing media likes to use to discredit policy agenda and goals, is not too different from the Koch brothers or any other member of the billionaire class engaged in electoral politics in the Citizens United age if one does not personally agree with George Soros. And that is the problem.

Neither party is seriously committed to taking on big, unaccountable, but organized money in politics.

If you are super-rich in America, or anyone really who can sit on their hands making millions in passive income revenue streams, and if your preferred party (whether Dems or GOP) does not win, you always have the other major party to protect your interests for the most part, with only a few exceptions.

It’s the same model. Controlled by the donor class, and dependent on the labor of others to keep itself in power both politically and economically.

And this is where the People’s Summit comes in. Ideas and voices, organizers and activists, leaders and followers that were shunned or not invited to CAP.

I would argue the People’s Summit is an ideas conference, that allows for networking, learning, and updating on the “state of the movement”, similar to CPAC. As of now, it is without a political party attached to it, but I have no doubt, shall a viable third party arise in the next few years, it will be called the People’s Party and it will have started and spear-headed by the 5,000 or so people that have attended the Summit, and those that followed along online, etc.

The central organizing goal of the movement, like the Republican Party, the last third party to replace a major party before in the 1850’s with slavery, is the biggest moral issue of our time — economic inequality and the forces that continue to make it worse, organized big money in politics and legalized bribery and corruption.

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A Future Beyond Party Labels and Endless Partisan and Media Sensationalism. A Future that is not just Resistance, but Beyond Resistance

In the weeks to come, this website will be recommitting itself to trying to churn out regular content the best we can. Apologies if we miss the mark on that front, as we all have busy lives in addition to written commentary, podcasting, etc.

This weekend the third season of the Agreeing Loudly podcast will be on just one topic and prompt: the Third Party option.

In addition, I’m hoping to finish up three articles in a “state of” series on the nation, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.

Bernie Poll
While we will never know for sure if “Bernie Would Have Won” — what we do know is that he is easily the most popular politician in America. And while there are loud voices among those 20% of self-identified Democrats that do not like him, especially in the media, corporate America, and on the Twitter-verse, the facts are that the “BernieBro” or lack of diversity myths do not hold up to scrutiny.

If this coalition translated to the electoral college, which I understand is a big leap of logic this far out, but bear with me here, if that DID happen, you would not just see a Sanders victory over the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time (candidate Trump) but you could possibly see the first genuine popular vote AND electoral college landslide since 1988 (and to a lesser extent 2008).

 

My Constructive Criticism of the Summit.

First of all, folks at the summit of all stripes were amazingly self-reflective of what could have gone better not just for the movement, but also for the 2016 Sanders campaign for President.

My two points for potential improvements to next years Summit.

  1. Get a vets or foreign policy-focused speaker to talk about and call for a national “Peace and Security” movement. There are massive levels of economic implications to our #ForeverWar policy that tie into the larger issues presented by the movement. The social and economic costs in caring for our veterans and veterans issues have been some of the best policy work that Senator Sanders has done, so it only makes sense to feature this going forward.
  2. Reach out to Republicans concerned with the direction of their party, big money in politics, and the growing, unsustainable levels of economic inequality. Perhaps this one will be more controversial, but if we’re truly to talk to everyone, we have to mean it. And we see evidence every day, not so much amongst Republican political leaders but we do see it amongst the rank and file and they are growing uncomfortable with the Trump-led GOP. The GOP is dominated by the interests of the donor and billionaire class even more so than the Democrats most years, and disillusioned Republicans becoming former Republicans would be a key feature of any future coalition, especially in current red to light-red states.

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The participants were divided on the question of a Third Party movement, but were engaged, passionate, and committed to the future no matter what — it’s an “All Hands on Deck” strategy for saving democracy for all and creating a 21st century economy that works for the many and not just the few. 

Division is nothing new in this political age. Like the rest of the country, there was a split in views at the Summit. Progressives and populists committed to taking on the corporate state are divided on how best to achieve the desired results of taking on big money in politics and tackling the moral issue of our time–the highest levels of economic inequality in a century. 

My unscientific observations of the sentiments is that the People’s Summit activists, organizers, leaders, and followers prefer starting a vital third party movement in this country. This is a sentiment I agree with more and more each day. However, for the time being, reforming the Democratic Party by taking it over seems to be the immediate goal and interest. A goal that has seen mixed results, winning some small battles early on, but losing the more high-profile battles like the DNC Chair election, California Democratic Party Chair election, etc. What is clear though is the ideas and message is winning over public opinion in America at-large. Significant portions of the speech last Saturday highlighted that.

And what is vitally true, is that we have now reached a 1955 William F. Buckley moment for progressives that this website had called for in 2015 and 2016 throughout the Presidential campaign as all of us ranted and raved about how badly the Democratic Party was going to bottom out in the coming years.

Progressives and populists have finally come to terms with the failure of the current model of the Democratic Party, and from this day forward–everyone knows that change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to the Democratic Party. And the more and more party leadership grasps onto and protects their hold on power, even in the name of electoral viability (which is a ridiculous reason when you’ve lost nearly every election), the more and more power the movement, independent of any party control–will be. One way or another, the neoliberal and professional class consensus is over. And thank God for that.

I do not say these things lightly. After all, I am a member of the professional class in this country, but I also think that the younger cohorts of the professional class (Gen X and millennials, those under 45 or so) have far more in common (because of issues with student debt, broader acceptance of diversity, etc.) with the concerns of the working class (now more diverse than at any time in American history) than the concerns of the professional class consensus, whose obsession with incrementalism, education and innovation as a key to mitigating inequality (when in reality, it’s rationalizing it), and insistence that all problems can be solved from Harvard or Yale yard, Wall Street or Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, or by lawyers or financial service professionals, etc.

If the leadership of the party would rather go down on the Titanic, so long as they have a first class seat, then so be it. The overriding focus of the People’s Summit was not to re-litigate the 2016 election, but to move beyond just merely resisting what the Trump administration is doing, because guess what? That only goes so far, both in practical day-to-day terms and in electoral terms.

Folks, the only way out of this is to win elections, and to win elections you need a party willing to adopt a better message. A message capable of capturing a large majority of the nation and turning out and inspiring more voters than at any other point in modern U.S. history, because there are significant obstacles in gerrymandering and voter suppression to overcome.

The ideas and message of the folks who attended the People’s Summit were not welcome at the CAP conference this year, so we took them to our own conference, in the same state where the last successful third party movement in America took off from, Illinois.

The Republican Party was founded as an abolitionist party to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country. Similarly, if neither major party takes seriously the issue of big money in politics and the fact that we are in a 2nd Gilded Age, then it is highly likely that the movement makes a clean break. But as of now, in practical terms, the prevailing consensus was that there is not enough time for 2018, and undecided about 2020.

One of the conference speakers Thomas Frank (writer, historian, and co-founder of the Baffler), put it best at the end of his most recent book “Listen, Liberal!” which was written almost as if he already knew the 2016 electoral result, even though it was published in the summer.

Direct solutions are off the table for the moment… Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way. There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to a build a vital third-party movement or to revive organized labor, the one social movement that is committed by its nature to pushing back against the inequality trend.

What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity–to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side. It is that sensibility, after all, that prevents so many good-hearted rank-and-file Democrats from understanding how starkly and how deliberately their political leaders contradict their values. Once that contradiction has been made manifest–once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. The course of the party and the course of the country can both be changed, but only after we understand that the problem is us.

Welcome to Thunderdome

Untitled
Agreeing Loudly’s Empiricist-In-Chief correctly predicted the naming of a Special Prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named just prior to this going to publication.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and Girls. Dying Time is Here…” — Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

By Justin Norris

As we watch the slowing moving car crash that is the Trump administration, and as we watch the GOP in Congress react to said car crash, it is important to remember a few important points.

First, Trump was never popular with most of the GOP elite writ large. Not just in Congress, but across the nation.

Second, like much of the country, it is doubtful that the GOP political establishment believed Trump was going to win the 2016 election.

Third, The Republican civil war was, and is, real.

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When you take these things into account it goes a long way towards explaining the peculiar predicament we find ourselves in today. There was no real plan, and the political establishment for both parties are playing it by ear.

To lend some context here, we should discuss the nature of governance in the American political system. As any student of American politics can tell you, eliciting lasting change within the separation of powers system is difficult under the best of circumstances. Because of how our system is structured there are numerous choke points throughout the legislative process for which bills can die. Indeed, the most likely outcome for any given bill is an unceremonious death. If one has any hope of getting bills enacted into law it requires large enough political coalitions in both chambers of Congress to circumvent the many different choke points, and then it must get past presidential action. And things have only become more difficult as political polarization has increased in recent times.

Since the political parties have become increasingly ideologically homogenous, and because the political parties have moved farther apart both ideologically and politically unified government has become critical for the political parties if they have any hope of enacting their agendas. This is why the GOP elites have been willing thus far to seemingly ignore anything approaching principles. They know this may be their only real chance to push through their agenda for some time. So like any good political opportunists, and most of the denizens of Washington are political opportunists, they know they would be fools to not at least try to take advantage of the hand they’ve been dealt.

This is precisely why folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and much of the GOP rank and file in Congress have been willing to play along up to this point, and why most of them will continue to play along. They have their eyes on the prize.

Like all good cons, this includes a gamble. The GOP elite know that Trump is deeply unpopular. They also know that Trump is incompetent. They’re hoping that despite this they can get through much of their agenda before everything implodes. They hope that winning the legislative victories their political base so deeply craves will be sufficient to shore up enough political support as to withstand the likely backlash they will face in the 2018 midterm elections. And even if the majority does not survive the midterm, they will have at least moved the agenda forward and hopefully put some points on the board by making lasting policy changes.

As far as plans go in American politics this is not a bad one. Indeed, if these were normal times, and if this was a normal president, I’d say this plan would have better than fair odds of working.

But these aren’t normal times, and this isn’t a normal president.

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Some people will read the preceding statements as partisan or ideological. I want to be crystal clear on this point. They are not. Yes, I absolutely have my own political preferences, but I am not discussing those preferences here.

If these were normal political conditions we would not have a sitting president with record low approval ratings for this point in a presidency. We are only a little more than 100 days in, and to date the president has fired an attorney general, fired a national security advisor, fired the head of the FBI, given code word intelligence to the Russians (in the White House no less), and if reporting is to be believed, the president is likely going to fire more members of White House staff by the end of the week. And these are only but a handful of the things that have happened thus far.

Within a little more than 100 days we have had John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, state in a public forum that things are starting to look a lot like Watergate. Jason Chaffetz, the epitome of political opportunism, and chair of the House oversight committee has gotten the Speaker of the House to sign on to a letter formally demanding that the FBI hand over all materials related to communications between former director Comey and the president.

This is not normal. Not by a long shot.

As previously stated, the Republicans in Congress knew Trump was inept. To be fair, Trump is, by all accounts a complete and total political amateur, so some ineptitude would likely be inevitable, even he had good instincts for governance. However, Trump has shown a shocking level of ignorance as it relates to the separation of powers system in general, and the nature of governance for the executive branch in particular. In other words, the GOP had no idea just how incompetent Trump really is. Nor did they know how petty and vindictive he really is. And they are all together unprepared to deal with it.

Another wrinkle in the plan is the lack of a plan. Since the GOP didn’t think they were going to win, they did not have any cohesive policy initiatives ready at the starting gate. Paul Ryan has had a list of talking points and unscored, half-baked, initiatives he has been selling for years, but none of them were ready for them to pull the trigger. This has left the GOP scrambling to cobble things together as they have gone. And the results have been disastrous.

Part of the reason the GOP was left flat footed stems from the nature of the GOP caucus in the House, and to a lesser extent, the nature of the GOP conference in the Senate. The GOP, especially in the House, has been fighting its own intraparty war for years now. Though it is cliché to say, the different party factions really do believe they are fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. For outsiders, the differences between the GOP factions may seem trivial, but for insiders they are deeply important, and within the more extreme factions there is a rallying cry for purity at all costs. In other words, there is a lot more disagreement among Republicans than many realize.

This conflict was apparent in the fight waged between House Republicans to get the healthcare bill through the House. The party nearly ripped itself to shreds getting the bill through to the Senate, and the resulting bill is so unpopular the Senate GOP essentially declared it DOA. And repealing and replacing Obamacare was supposed to be the easy part of the agenda. It will only get harder from there.

Despite this, the Republicans in Congress are still largely standing by the president, at least publicly, because they know they may not have this kind of opportunity again for some time. Trump may be deeply flawed but he is still the only viable political option they have at this juncture. But as the scandals deepen, and the drip, drip, drip of news stories continue, the likelihood of political derailment increases. And the longer this goes on, the harder it will become.

Which begs the question, what now?

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As the public moves farther away from Trump, and as his unpopularity deepens, the likelihood that Trump will take the GOP down with him increases. The signs are already coming into place that the 2018 midterm elections could be disastrous for the GOP in Congress.

For example, despite flooding special elections with unheard of amounts of money Republicans have either narrowly held on to a seat that they normally carry by over 20 points, or the race has been forced into a runoff. The GOP will not be able to defend all of their districts this way in the midterm, and some analyses suggest that if the midterms were held today only between 100-150 ‘safe’ Republican seats could withstand the backlash.

Moreover, several credible polls have come out in the last two weeks suggesting that Democrats hold a double-digit lead in the so-called ‘generic ballot,’ a routine polling question asking respondents to either state their preference for who should run Congress or state which party they would vote for. One poll puts the gap at sixteen points. To put this in context, an eight to nine point gap often signals a defeat for the majority party.

However, the election is not being held tomorrow, and a week can be a lifetime in American politics, let alone almost two years. The Republicans have time, and unless things get worse, or even if they stay the same, the GOP in Congress will have little incentive to break away from the Trump administration for some time.

But what about Watergate? This is a question I’ve heard often in the last few days, and I readily admit that the comparison easily comes to mind. It is true that the Republicans in Congress turned against Nixon, and stood for the republic against their own president. However, it’s important to point out that the Republicans were the minority party at that time, and most Republicans did not turn against Nixon until the end, after two long years. Even still, some Republicans stood with Nixon to the bitter end. It is entirely possible that if Republicans controlled Congress the situation would have played out quite differently.

That being said, cracks are beginning to form. Some rank and file Republicans are openly discussing impeachment, and some GOP leaders are calling for more stringent investigations. But that’s all it is at this point, talk. If things remain as they are, and do not get worse, it is possible that the GOP will stick with Trump and take their chances in the midterm elections. But if things continue to get worse, which I think is likely, I fully expect more and more rank and file Republicans will break ranks and openly run against Trump because they want to try and save their seats. If things continue to get worse we will reach a point where congressional leadership will cut their losses and turn against Trump to try and salvage the party brand, if not the majorities themselves.

And this may not result in impeachment. At this juncture impeachment is a real possibility, which is not something I was willing to say two weeks ago, but I still don’t think it’s likely. At least not soon. I think it’s more likely that if things continue to deteriorate GOP leadership will cave and put together a bipartisan commission to investigate. If things get really bad they may move to appoint a special prosecutor. It is also possible that events will connive to take things out of their hands.

For example, the Justice Department could conceivably appoint a special prosecutor, or the different grand juries could deliver indictments. In which case the calculus for the GOP largely remains the same. Except now they have some additional cover, because they can point to the nonpartisan investigations and say, ‘we should not be hasty until the investigations conclude.’

However, I think it’s likely that most of the GOP’s legislative agenda is dead. Credible polling data consistently shows that a solid majority of likely voters are strongly opposed to Trump and the GOP legislative agenda. Solid majorities also favor thorough nonpartisan investigations. And as the media dedicates more time and resources to covering the cascading Trump scandals it will destroy any momentum behind legislative prerogatives, regardless of whether there is ultimately an independent investigation(s).

Given how egregiously the GOP in Congress broke from norms, protocol, and traditions during the Obama administration I don’t feel bad for them.

Unfortunately, as it was during the Obama administration, this is bad for the republic.

But if Republicans in Congress are indeed reaping what they have sewn then my response is this:

Welcome to Thunderdome.  

This Week on the Interwebs

The Controlled Burn
A lot happened this week, but I keep coming back to the Joker line in The Dark Knight, sometimes people just want to “watch the world burn.” Not much unites the country these days, but one thing nearly everyone under the age of 45 can agree on, the status quo has not been working for some time.

Beginning a new regular-to-semi-regular series on this website, an internet and news of the week round-up that will be graph-laden and told in a very ad-hoc manner. For the article and commentary news round-up, Pat Meacham has you covered.

Depending on your perspective, this week was either the beginning of Watergate Part II (dir. by Oliver Stone, I’m assuming….), or just another week of the “liberal conspiracy media” trying to ruin the Trump agenda. We’re not doing a very good job as a society of “piercing bubbles” so far, although I will continue nonetheless.

Approval 2 (Boomer Division)
We just crossed the 100 days marker not too long ago, here is where Trump stands, and keep in mind this was before the Comey firing. Most importantly, look at the general trend of the erosion of trust and support for Presidents (in line with eroding support for other American institutions) over the years. Post-Watergate I, partisanship was high but then confidence was briefly restored before returning with a vengeance as soon as the boomer generation assumed complete control of all elected branches of government (Fmr. President Clinton and onward).
Approval 1
Yes, President Trump is different than previous times of polarization and partisanship. He is the most polarizing President in the history of polling. This graph is from right after the inauguration. 
Russia GDP Growth Rate
I don’t pay much attention to the particulars of the Russia investigations. I have no doubt in my mind Putin and Russia wanted Trump elected. Why? 7 straight quarters of negative GDP growth. Russia under Putin has not thrived at all, just the opposite. And if our nation emulates their system we will suffer the same fate (minus differences in natural resources, etc.) and even more stagnant growth (more on this later).

….while we’re on the subject of the future of U.S. public policy…

And America
From the Willy Wonka Honest Trailer on YouTube–check it out if you have time. Hilarious and also this…
What Obesity Used to Look Like
More than 1/3 of U.S. adults are obese and 17.5% of children, couple this with the damning statistic of 20% of U.S. children being in poverty (obviously, through no fault of their own), compared to 4.8% for the Netherlands, there is a lot of room for improvement beyond meaningless and mostly symbolic statements like: “the children are our future.” The obesity crisis has gone under-reported in the U.S. media and has been but one of many reasons that there is no easy fix to the U.S. health care system.

Speaking of….

Fate of 18 Midterms on Older Boomers
If you think the impact of the AHCA passing will surely deliver both houses of Congress to the Democratic Party, think again. You’re counting on a demographic who has voted reliably Republican or Democrat for some time. 
Truth
Ain’t this the truth….
The Pre-existing condition
Please tell me again how the “children are our future?” And why did Hillary Clinton not run on ending child poverty? “It’s Time” to do X, Y, and Z would have been a far better appeal than “I’m With Her” or “Stronger Together”, but I digress. All of this assumes the elites of the Democratic Party knew what they were doing.
Math Is Hard For Fox News
Fox News has had cosmic justice enforced on them in abundance lately. Scandal after scandal, but they can still trot out their old reliable trademark of using accurate statistics to incredibly mislead people. Jeez… if only former President Obama had pressed the job creation button on January 21st…

While we’re on the subject of President Obama, the following undermine GOP arguments that he spent too much during his administration.

So it looks like it wasn’t wild spending, but rather something else that has caused the new normal of sluggish growth. It certainly isn’t sluggish for the wealthy and big corporations….ah, the “job creator” class, what an utter myth.

Consumers create jobs for the most part and workers create value. And until even the so-called “capitalists” of this country understand that, we’re going to suffer from stagnant growth because…. the masses are nearly out of money because…. see below.

Distribution of Income During Expansion
The story since the late 70’s has been unequal growth, wages not rising with productivity and inflation, and its starting to catch up with us no matter who is in charge. Why? Because Tom Frank is right–there is no “party of the people” right now and hasn’t been for some time (circa late 70’s, notice a trend here?)

This has led to a distribution that looks like this….

wealth in america
Clearly, something will have to give here.

There are some that will keep banging the drums for the “magic”, but most working people pounding pavement and trying to take care of their families know the truth–the link between effort and reward is gone and has been for some time.

Want to know what’s behind the actual American carnage and why none of 45’s and the far-right to Alt-Right cabal’s policies will work? Because there is a fundamental disconnect between the world that elites inhabit, and organized money protects, and the actual reality of what is going on and has been the trend in American life for some time.

And this is why the most relevant historical force in the 2016 Presidential election was not Donald Trump–but rather it was Bernie Sanders.

He has proven that small dollar donations can break the donor class monopoly of our political system, or at the very least has proven you can put up one hell of a fight and maybe next (demographically speaking) things will break your way. If it is not broken up, it’ll be hard for much of anything to be made “great”again, although I’d very much settle for “good” outcomes at this point.

Indeed, Mr. Norris was right. We are cursed to live (or fortunate to live?) in interesting times. Anyone who has been following developments between the Alt-Right and far-left clashing on college campuses lately, or developments like this can conclude that we are cursed to live in interesting times.

So I keep coming back to the Joker and “watching the world burn.”

There are those who have settled into the world as it is and those (overwhelmingly under 45) who are dreaming of the world as it should be. I think the common thread that binds a lot of millennials, most Gen-X’ers, and younger folks together will be our desire to “burn it down.”

The key difference will be what type of burn. At the outset I showed a “controlled burn” that farmers utilize to help the soil and rotate crops. I believe the controlled burn is far preferable to what the Alt-Right is and wants, which I will call the “moral hazard burn.”

The Moral Hazard Burn
That’s all for now, folks.

Take care of each out there. And stay tuned for Agreeing Loudly and the Margin of Error.

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

scales-of-justice-450203_960_720
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. 

 

 

Judiciary is Conspicuously Missing from WhiteHouse.gov as Being Part of the Federal Government

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As of 10:20 PM EST on January 29th, on the tenth day of the Trump administration — the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government is conspicuously absent from WhiteHouse.gov

According to the Way Back Machine on the InterWebs, the Obama Administration had The Judicial Branch of  the Federal Government on its website. While this could have been an oversight, rather than a deliberate political move, like the status of LGBT Americas, Climate Change, Health Care, and Civil Rights, I believe this is a deliberate attempt to delegitimize the Courts, which are the last vestiges in the way of one party fascist rule (in addition to the rights guaranteed us by the Constitution, which must be enforced each and every day by WE THE PEOPLE), and the basic decency and goodness of the American People and our communities.

It takes a long time for the Courts to change over. As you may know, the Supreme Court has had a right wing tilt for a generation or two, but the lower courts have turnover at a much faster pace. While an obstructionist GOP often blocked President Obama’s nominees to the Federal courts – he was able to appoint a total of 329 federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayer and Justice Kagan.

This legacy of judicial appointments also includes 55 Courts of Appeals judges, 268 judges to the District courts, and a couple dozen more to specialty courts under Article III  (International Trade), Article I (Federal Claims, Tax Courts, Veterans Claims, Military Commission Review, Armed Forces), and Article IV Territorial courts.

This eight year legacy of judicial appointments, the day-to-day bureaucracy, and the majority of the American people stand in the way of significant parts of the Trump Agenda. We’ve already seen constant attempts to delegitimize the media (although they do a pretty good job doing that on their own), and I believe we’ll see more and more of this as long as District court judges stay executive orders, rule legislation unconstitutional, etc. This “battle of the Federal Government branches” mathematically can only last eight years, or even fewer than that.

Why? Because if we allow one party rule under this President and his administration for that length of time, the judges appointed will be far more favorable to executive orders like the one that swept across the nation this weekend.

This has been a dispatch from Publius – a Public Citizen of the “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” – writing from the island where Lady Liberty welcomes new Americans to the land of opportunity, holding a torch, which will burn a little less brightly if WE THE PEOPLE – do not do our duty in the years to come.

Piercing the Bubble: Reflections on Tuesday

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If there is a universal lesson to be learned from Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 — it’s that we should avoid painting people with too broad of a brush. We must work to get out of our own (often) self-imposed “bubbles” and pierce other ones, to remind your neighbor and fellow American that you’re still here too.

First off, I apologize. We got it wrong. But then again, so did everyone. While Agreeing Loudly got the numbers at the Presidential level wrong, if you look at our back catalogue of podcasts and articles, a lot of the analysis was there all year, serving as a caution and a warning that hard times and danger was ahead for the Democratic Party. Ultimately, I followed Nate Silver and the previously reliable polling aggregations. I said we’d barely hold out in 2016 and then 2018 and 2020 would be rough, which would then lead to rock bottom. 2016–meet rock bottom. 

We do this site because we care about the future. We all get busy at times and have things get in the way but at the end of the day — I am incredibly proud of our first year-plus content. I want to encourage listenership to the back catalogue and readership of previous articles. I think it will help provide context to what was driving the decline of the Democratic Party.

I’d also like to point to a few of my favorite “Agreeing Loudly” contributor inventions:

Satire Is Pointless by Carson Starkey.

This is more true than ever now. I struggle to come up with the words of a great dark comedy that would equal this. Satire and reality truly have merged these past few years and AL.com contributor and MoE co-host Carson Starkey was right on top of that development. Which led us to…

Sadly, not satire.

I’d also like to call attention to the name of the site: Agreeing Loudly.

Intended or not, for me the namesake of this site is a reference to the “bubble.” We’ve all been in them. We’ve all lost sight of reality before because we were so focused on improving  things and accomplishing the task at hand, surrounded by like-minded people.

The brilliant and nuanced podcast the “Margin of Error”, an essential listen featuring nearly weekly guests with co-hosts Allan Branstiter and Carson Starkey. The podcast manages to be simultaneously succinct and in-depth. I cannot help but think of the refrain I repeated all year about the ultimate 2016 result. Hillary Clinton will win by the margin of error. However, the funny thing about the margin of error is that by definition, the other candidate can win.

The Greater Recession: Party’s End (pre-written, now being slightly readjusted for the final result) was mentioned during the first and second parts to The Greater Recession article series. Party’s End of course refers to the Democratic Party. So while we missed the final numbers, I cannot say that I am overly surprised by what happened on November 8th.

Even if Hillary Clinton won on Tuesday, the problems of the Democratic Party existed and every contributor here at Agreeing Loudly ultimately believed some version of Tuesday was eventually going to happen, and it would happen no later than 2020. It looks like it has happened in 2016. We now know that the Obama coalition is entirely dependent on Obama (shocker… I know, something named after a person needs that person).

So where do we go from here? Ruminate on some of these themes I plan on discussing in the coming year.

The Political Spectrum doesn’t exist.

“We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.”

Please Join Us and Please Disagree Respectfully. Reach Out and Ask To Come On The Show. We want to hear from you, learn from you, and do everything in our power to help you all through this and build this site into something that you can take solace and ideas from as we prepare to exit into the long night that is the political wilderness.

Winston Churchill spent time in the wilderness. William F. Buckley created an intellectual movement of conservative principles while in the long political wilderness. It took him twenty five years to see the President that he had dreamed of. Something tells me that if Buckley were still alive, he would be mostly horrified by what just happened even though the movement he created now has more power than at any time since the 1920’s (which of course led to good things right… right?)

President-elect Trump is now mere months away from taking the Oath of Office. He is our President, but that doesn’t mean he is a good man. Because he is not. And if he wants me to change my mind on that he will have to show me something dramatically different.

We must pierce the bubble and learn. We must seek common and mutual understanding and stop speaking past one another if this country is to ever be united again in any meaningful way. I hope for the sake of all of us that President-elect Trump succeeds. I have my doubts. I strongly believe that you have to spend time in the batting cage to get a .300 batting average. Donald Trump has maybe watched some baseball games. Clearly he understands now what people like about it. But it will be very, very hard for him to hit .300 or even .200 or .100. Instead what we are seeing so far is hired guns on steroids, intent on threatening hundreds of years of our traditions and social contract. In these times, here is another thing to bring back: constitutionalist liberals.

Make no mistake the game will get played. And now more than ever, it must be a sell out crowd. Because the whole world is watching and worrying just like us.

Lets go to the ballgame. Lets sing the national anthem still. The team might finish in last place, but we have to show the world that we still care.

In the mean time and in the immediate term, lets take care of one another. We still have strength in numbers.

I ask those that will be vulnerable to be careful, be smart, be brave, and resilient. And I ask those who have privilege to love and support the vulnerable and the hated. It’s not just the bare minimum we can do right now and the right thing to do, but it is the only thing to do.

Call out hatred when you see it and stand up next to the hated. Not because you are trying to persuade the hater, but because we must show solidarity, love, and support for those that are hated.

 

 

2016 Election Preview & Predictions: Part Three – State Elections

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What we often forget is  ultimately the U.S. Presidential Election is a series of state elections. In the final part of our election series, lets take a look at the 50 states (Gubernatorial elections and state legislative elections).

I have no doubt that these will be the hardest predictions to nail down for two reasons: one, the lack of available polling for many state legislative races and even many gubernatorial races (in safe D or safe R states), and two, given the historically high unfavorable ratings at the top of each ticket, it is harder to predict any sort of down ballot affect that usually is in play. Traditionally, for reasons of higher name ID and concentration of media coverage on the top ticket races, Presidential candidates and statewide candidates get more votes and a higher percentage than their down ballot counterparts. At least in theory. Local candidates who have a special relationship with their constituents often do much better than the top of the ticket, but I digress. Let’s start with the statewide races, then state legislative control in all 50 states, and end with going specific in the three states that I have been a resident in at some point in my life (Minnesota, North Dakota, and now New York).

General predictions for the makeup of gubernatorial power in the states.

Currently

GOP: 31 Governors, DEM: 18 Governors, Independent: 1 (in Alaska)

New (prediction)

 

GOP: 31 Governors, DEM: 18 Governors, Independent: 1 (in Alaska)

Overall, most gubernatorial races happen in midterm elections, which will give the GOP a strong advantage as long as the Democratic Party continues to win the White House. Of the few gubernatorial races this year (12 in total), I predict the Democrats easily retain Washington, Oregon, and Delaware, while the Republicans easily retain North Dakota and Utah, which leaves us with closer races in the New Hampshire, Vermont, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, and Montana.

Of those seven, the GOP will pick-up Vermont, West Virginia, and just narrowly miss out on picking up New Hampshire and Missouri. The Democrats will pick-up Indiana and North Carolina narrowly, retain Montana by at least 5 points, and  narrowly retain New Hampshire and Missouri (where GOP candidate Eric Greitens has ran a frightening campaign, foretelling things to come, stay tuned next week for more on that.)

In other words, no change in the gubernatorial makeup and control of the various executive branches in the states.

General predictions for the makeup of state legislative power in the states.

Currently

The GOP controls 68 out of the 98 chambers (higher chambers and lower chambers) at the state legislative level.

New (prediction)

The GOP controls 65 out of the 98 chambers, which means Democrats net a total of 3 state legislative chambers.

The GOP will pick-up the Kentucky House, a coda if you will to the past realignment and death of the old south where the Democrats were able to compete locally many cycles after they began losing the once solid south at the Presidential level.

The Democrats will pick-up the Colorado Senate (go Jered Weber!), Nevada Assembly, New Mexico House, and the biggest surprise and reach here, the Arizona Senate. In other words, continued signals of the longer term blue trend of the Mountain West and Southwest.

*Note: the state of Nebraska has a unicameral non-partisan state legislature, but let’s not kid ourselves here… that’s another one in the GOP column if we’re being honest.

Now for a spotlight on a few states.

First, the state of North Dakota, which has the honor of being the only state where a Democratic Party has promoted millennials and young people to positions of party and public leadership. Because when you are losing 45-0, why not just call up the farm system and start building…

NORTH DAKOTA

Senate: Current 32-15 Republican majority against the Democratic-NPL (Non-partisan league)

House: Current 71-23 Republican majority against the Dem-NPL

New (prediction), in solidly red North Dakota, which has gone even darker shades of red during the eight years of the Obama Administration (Obama won this state in the 2008 Democratic Primary and finished within 10 in the 2008 General Election), the Republicans easily hold on to their supermajorities in both houses. It’s hard to even imagine where the Dems would pick up seats here other than maybe a few seats out of Fargo. I expect Donald Trump to do better here than most states tomorrow and that could have its own wave effect on the few rural Dem-NPL legislators that still have seats. So I’ll call this one a wash, with virtually no change in either the state house or senate.

MINNESOTA

Senate: Current 38-28 DFL (Democrat-Farmer Labor) majority (or 39-28 if going by 2012 election)

House: Current 73-61 Republican majority

New (prediction)

Senate: 36-31 DFL (the GOP has a net pick-up of 3 seats)

House: 70-64 GOP (the DFL has a net pick-up of 3 seats)

Analysis: The changing demographics (featured earlier in this brilliant and illuminating podcast episode of “This American Life”) propel St. Cloud to deliver pick-ups for the DFL in Senate District 14 and House District 14B.

In general, the split in the DFL between metro-area environmentalists and rural labor unionists and farmers will continue to show up at the ballot box. Rural voters in CD8 and 7 have fewer reasons to vote for the DFL each cycle and that will show up most strikingly in Nolan’s close re-election to the House, a seat that looks to be in deep trouble for the ’18 midterms. The down ballot effects will be seen at the state legislative races while the DFL continues to recruit solid candidates, and party-build well in the suburban metro areas. In the Senate, the GOP will gain seats in SD 1, 17, 24, and 36 to cut in slightly to the overall DFL majority in the state senate. In the house, the DFL has a net-gain of 3 seats, with pick-ups in 21A, 24B, and a hold in 48A. Despite Trump and Jason Lewis on the ballot, the down-ballot MN-2 legislative races hold for the GOP in 56A, 56B, 57A, and 57B. If a few of these races however are called for the DFL, then the Republican majority in the state house is in jeopardy.

NEW YORK

We end with my home state of New York. The disfunction of corruption of both major parties here is seen even in their state legislative election tallies. Low turnout (bottom 5 in the nation usually), and tight election laws by blue state standards will make tomorrow frustrating. We’ve shined the spotlight on three states tonight, North Dakota, a red state trending further red. Minnesota, a blue state trending red. Now New York, a blue state trending further blue, but like another blue state, Illinois, embodies many of the problems with the modern day national Democratic Party.

Senate: Current 32-31 GOP majority

Assembly: Current 106-42 Dem majority

Analysis: The Assembly is safe Democratic hold, and the Senate is anyone’s guess and a true coin toss. Why? Let me explain first how the GOP even gets to their majority. In the New York State Senate, which as I pointed out in an earlier article, has had an unsurpassed string of public corruption and grift, has 29 elected Democrats (with five of them being considered Independents that caucus with the Democrats in Albany), 29 elected Republicans, with 1 Democrat who caucuses with the senate Republicans in Albany. Leaving us with 4 true toss-ups. I’m splitting the difference and saying that the NY State Senate ends up with 32 caucusing as Republicans to hold the majority (29 actually endorsed by the Republicans, and 3 Democrats who caucus with them), and 31 Democrats or elected state senators who end up caucusing with the Democrats.

In other words. Albany is a mess, folks like Andrew Cuomo are not the future of the party, but rather its extreme neoliberal past that ought to be in the rear view mirror as soon as possible. The best news to come out of New York state tomorrow night will hopefully be the election of Teachout in the New York 19th Congressional District.

Now go vote tomorrow if you haven’t already!

Corruption, Overreaction, and Fact-Free Politics at the New York State Senate

by Troy M. Olson

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Jay Gould, political cartoon retrieved at wikipedia.com and in the Public Domain.

In our great country, there are three main regions: New York City, Los Angeles, and the Midwest. Politically speaking, if you value vaguely responsive, effective, and non-corrupt governance, you’ll want to be somewhere in the Midwest, or as the “Agreeing Loudly” podcast now calls it—Central Earth.

I grew up in the Midwest, the part of the Midwest that in comparison to many other states, has relatively good governance and relatively active citizen populace. In my home state of Minnesota, voter turnout and citizen participation is routinely the highest or close to the highest in the United States. I have been spoiled.

In so many ways, I love the new city and state I am a resident of, but politics are not one of those reasons. As a (mostly) partisan Democrat this may come as a shock to some of you since I am now living in a deep blue state, having moved from a lighter blue state.

However, New York State and City politics have a long history of corruption, kickbacks, and shady business deals. The most notorious example being the subject of the above cartoon, Jay Gould. Gould was a first Gilded Age-era railroad developer and speculator who was so successful with his politico to corporate “grift machine” that he became the 9th richest American of all-time adjusted for inflation. 

Perhaps you’ll recall the “Tammany Hall” political ring portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film “Gangs of New York.” While Gould did not feature in this fictional story inspired by true events, his political contact and professional “grift machine”-hack friend Boss Tweed, the head of the “Tammany Hall” political ring, was in the film. Perhaps you’ll recall him handing “vote Tammany” flyers out to the Irish immigrants as they were coming to New York City in droves during the 1840s to 1860s. Tweed’s main political opponent in the film is portrayed excellently by Daniel Day Lewis as William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting heading up the nativist faction of New York politics. Xenophobia or professional “grift machine” robber barons? Not very good options and probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he envisioned a nation of enlightened citizens. However, this story is repeating itself in New York politics today.

Continue reading

Antonin Scalia: Dead at 79

by Troy M. Olson

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Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court, photo courtesy of Wikipedia and in the Public Domain.

Within the last hour, the news has broken a story that a titan of U.S. Constitutional Law and theory, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. Justice Scalia, known for being the most conservative (or second most) member of the Court, was also the intellectual anchor for the Constitutional theories of originalism and textualism.

At some point in the future I’ll be following up on what this shocking turn of events means for the makeup of the Court, how it will effect the 2016 Presidential Election, and some of the logistics and politics of it all. For now though, I’d just like to share a few stories about a person who I have had to read more words from than just about anybody I can think of.

Depending on your political persuasion, you either find Justice Scalia to be a fierce advocate for the Constitution as the framers intended it, or you are somewhere to the left of that (much of the country) and find him completely out of step with where the country is historically, economically, socially, and culturally. I, however, fall into the obscure third category. Like many on the left of center part of the political spectrum, I cannot stand Justice Scalia. He is like that crazy old Uncle at Thanksgiving meme that you love to hate.

As many progressives, liberals, and even moderates and centrists can attest to, he was a hell of a good (if frustrating) read for anyone who has attended law school. I have read Scalia a lot, have disagreed with nearly all of it, but I cannot help but admire the zealous advocacy in pursuit of his arguments. He was a worthy intellectual opponent and as more and more of the political right in this country becomes consumed by the rising tide of book burners, I cannot help but miss people like William F. Buckley, and now, Justice Scalia, who at least advanced arguments that were thoughtful, well defended and argued, even if you hold those views and arguments in utter contempt. I often heard this statement or some version of among my liberal law school classmates: “I cannot stand Scalia, but he is fun to read, and I have a hard time matching his arguments. Which frustrates me even more!”

Two U.S. Supreme Court Justices have spoken at UST Law School where I  graduated from in 2014. Justice Scalia was one of them. Depending on the day, I either immensely enjoyed my time at law school or was incredibly frustrated by the experience. On those days when it was frustrating and you did not want to read another word: he made the long and brutal slog, just a little bit more entertaining.

 

The Ridiculous Notion of the “Business & Industry” Candidate

 

by Troy M. Olson

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After the article: check out the Iowa-centric “Agreeing Loudly” Flagship Podcast. 

It is safe to say we’ve all underestimated the popular appeal of Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. Left, center, or right, inside or outside the beltway, Main Street, Wall Street or Evergreen Terrace – anyone who pays nominal attention to American politics has to be somewhat surprised by his recent political fortunes. We’ll find out this week just how much that appeal in the polls translates into actual results of course, but we’ve all been just a little bit wrong about Trump.

What I’m interested in taking a look at is not so much the story this week but what the story and Trump narrative could be looking forward. Thus far, Trump’s candidacy is the closest you can get to the “internet comments” running for President. On one hand, his candidacy has been characterized as George Wallace-like in its level of cynicism. On the other hand, as Carson Starkey pointed out this week on Twitter: “Strange times when both parties feature candidates demanding fair trade, higher wages, and economic mobility.”

People forget that the ’68 Wallace candidacy featured similar xenophobia for one group (segregationists and white supremacists in the South), but economic populism for another group (working class voters in the North). Wallace carried the staunch segregationist hold-out states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. He was competitive in border states like Tennessee, Kentucky as well as the eastern old confederacy states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But where else did Wallace play outside of the South? The rust belt. Industrialized and working class states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. With Trump as GOP nominee, this type of campaign can only take him so far. This is why I think any ultimate Trump candidacy, especially once the larger GOP establishment gets involved, will be based first and foremost, on his life spent in business. In other words: Willard Romney 2.0 Real Estate Edition.

If you are hoping for a third consecutive Democratic administration, this is a good thing. After all, how is President Willard Romney doing? Every time the GOP has trotted out the so-called “business & industry” candidate that candidate has lost and lost badly. Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee and if they take his message in that direction, will go into the dustbin of losing Presidential campaigns. He would be better served strategically by playing to his strengths. Many of Trump’s supporters consider him like themselves: the “unpolished” or non-political “outsider” who disdains “political correctness.”

For someone who inherited a real estate fortune via contacts, businesses, and eventually, the Trump estate itself, this is a remarkable feat that Romney could have never pulled off.

Prior to Trump, Romney and GOP establishment attempted to position Willard as the problem-solving, turnaround artist of the private sector during the 2012 Presidential Election. Romney had spent most of his career in private equity; an impenetrable and unexplainable profession disdained by most voters from both sides of the aisle. Romney came off as overly patrician, too East Coast for a modern day GOP nominee, and compounded this image with his tone deaf 47 percent gaffe at a private fundraiser in front of millionaire and billionaire funders, who did not seem to appreciate the irony that they were the biggest recipients of “welfare” in the country in the form of tax cuts, subsidies and giveaways to choice-industries, friendly inheritance and estate tax laws, and immediate access to the best accountants and tax lawyers in the country to take advantage of every last rule in our convoluted tax code.

Prior to Romney, Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928 during an age where so-called serious people thought that “boom and bust” business cycles were a thing of the past. Hoover was an actual good version of the “business & industry” candidate image. Coming from a considerably more humble background, Hoover really did “bootstrap” himself upward to the extent that exists in a time when upward mobility, at least for those who had access to it (i.e. White Males), was actually more viable. Hoover had considerable success in the mining industry and was Secretary of Commerce during the 1920s. It seemed sensible to the GOP “Dukes and Earls” of the day to select Hoover to succeed Calvin Coolidge.

Less than a year into Hoover’s first year in office, the stock market crash, the Great Depression began, and it was the humble-pie background Herbert Hoover that played the role of the weak, apathetic, or ineffectual leader in history just prior to a great leader, FDR. Hoover’s philosophy that the economy will run and reboot itself, and that government should take little role in influencing the economy or ensure the economic security of people, fit in well with the “roaring twenties”, but became a tone-deaf, do-nothing figure during the early years of the Great Depression. It was FDR, the New Deal, and massive amounts of Government spending and Keynesian economics that characterized the years when conventional wisdom would have told us that a “business, industry, and economic” leader is needed to have a “calm and steady” hand. FDR was not only patrician, but his politics most resemble Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders today. How things have changed.  

 

So why have “business & industry” candidates or leaders fared so poorly? Mostly, it’s a complete fiction. There is no such “business” experience that prepares anyone for the U.S. Presidency. It can be part of a larger story, but it cannot be the story. Most business experiences create a knowledge of that specific industry, but not how other businesses might work and certainly not how macroeconomics works. Call it the Specialists vs. Generalists problem. 

Mr. Trump may know real estate, he may know the deal, he clearly has proven to be a great marketer of himself, but he is no business expert, and certainly no economic expert. His campaign has been razor thin on specifics, but lets look at two of them:

First, the “wall” and Trump’s plan to deport 12 million people. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, resulting in a considerable loss of “soft power” and respect around the world, his deportation and construction of a wall at the U.S. – Mexico border would also wreck the U.S. economy. Very few U.S. citizens are competing for the same jobs undocumented immigrants are currently doing. This labor shortage in these jobs would have a very real effect on the economy creating a “demand” problem.

Second, Trump’s proposal of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports is a pure economic fantasy. The resulting effect would not be aid to the manufacturing sector, but rather would be importing fewer goods period, which would then result in a loss of manufacturing jobs. A “supply” problem. People forget that the U.S. still manufacturers a great deal of goods, but we do it after importing cheaper raw materials, from countries like China. Trump thinks he is getting the best “deal” and doing good for American workers with this proposal. If he seriously believes that, who knows… but I always argue ignorance is more forgivable than cynicism and pandering to fears and prejudices. This proposal could have other negative effects that spill over into geo-politics. China would seek new trading partners to do business with and the second largest economy in the world would grow more isolated from the largest. Increasing tensions with China is the last thing the U.S. or China should seek in the 21st century.

Like Romney and Hoover before him, Trump would fail miserably as a “business” or “economic” expert candidate. Because he isn’t an expert at either. He is like most of us, a specialist.

Public leaders with high aspirations and ambitions should seek to be good generalists as much as possible, with a decent grasp of not just politics, but history, economics, philosophy, and the law as well, starting with the U.S. Constitution, a document I imagine Mr. Trump has never read all the way through.

The real qualities worth looking for in a President, the qualities that are transferable throughout history: leadership, judgment, and character. 

A subject for another day, perhaps further along in the primary season once we have more clarity.