Wednesday, June 27, 2018

We're Doomed ... But Not Permanently


We're are so screwed.

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement form the Supreme Court, effective July 31st. This means that the orange idiot is going to have another SCOTUS nominee, Mitch McConnell is going to rig the rules of the Senate to ensure a swift confirmation and prevent any dissent (and pretty much guarantee that the American public is left out of the conversation entirely), and we, the American people, are going to suffer. A lot.

I'm not going to go into all the details about just how we are going to be violated by this development; I'm sure everybody is well aware of the ramifications for LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, etc. Instead, I am going to focus on what we can do about this.

Nothing.

At least, not within the framework built by the founding fathers. The Supreme Court is separated from the general public by a pretty sturdy firewall. This was by design, in that it prevents the public sentiment du jour from playing a role in SCOTUS nominations. Unfortunately, it also means that -- well, public sentiment is prevented from playing a role in Supreme Court nominations (one need only look at Mitch McConnell's shenanigans over Merrick Garland in 2016 as proof of this).

So what can we do?

Unfortunately, the only option at this point is to change the Constitution ... and if we use the avenues provided by the Constitution itself, our options are really limited, bordering on impossible. To begin with, there really is no legal avenue for the population -- even a majority, if it exists -- to change the Constitution. The only ways are the amendment process or a Constitutional convention -- both of which must originate in the House of Representatives. In addition, even if there was some way to make one of these happen, the fact that it has to be ratified by two-thirds of the states -- you know, those things that have 33 out of 50 governors that are Republican --is a massive roadblock. Add to this the prospect of having all this done in time to stall the nomination of Yosemite Sam or Lex Luthor or whatever demented, lame-ass pick trump comes up with, and the odds of this happening become infinitesimal. Not zero, but it is more likely that Iron Maiden is going to release an album of 12th century Danish folk songs in the original Teuton dialect. So if those avenues aren't open to us, then what can we do?

Unfortunately, the time has come for revolution.

This government is no longer legitimate. It has gone from a constitutional republic employing representative democracy to, basically, a marketplace in which policy is for sale, with trump as the Huckster-in-Chief. Consider that he won a presidency despite getting nearly three million fewer votes, or that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nationwide (the lousy turnout is on us, and holy crap are we paying for it now), or that the 49 Democrats in the Senate represent nearly 50 million more people than the 51 Republicans.

This is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This has become a government of the privileged, by the large donors, and for the lobbyists and corporations.

It is time to let these people who are in power, who have spent their days lining their pockets at our expense, who have refused to listen to the American people when they speak, who have proven to be craven, and corrupt, and unprincipled, and dishonest, it is time to let them know exactly how we feel about their actions.

They have to earn the right to represent us, and for too long they have taken that duty for granted and have tried to turn it around as us having to earn the right to have them as representatives ... with some success.

And it's not just Republicans. Democrats are just as complicit in this. All the chest-beating, wailing, rending of garments, etc. we see on the campaign trail is just so much theater, designed to convince us that there are differences between the two parties when the reality is that they are all -- without exception -- greedy, self-serving, and selfish.

It is time for them to go. But how?

There are several different ways.

We can blockade them in their offices, forcing them to stay put until they start working for us. We can withhold revenue -- campaign donations, taxes, anything to put a dent in their coffers. We can be vigilant and aggressive in calling them out for bullshit practices such as Mitch McConnell holding up Merrick Garland's nomination for purely partisan gain, or Maxine Waters trying to out-douchebag trump, or the constant drumbeat I hear from several progressives that we should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama's term, or trumpeters insisting that Russian interference wasn't a thing when there is enough physical evidence that it was to choke every horse on the planet.

This is not our government. This is not what was agreed upon. The government that Abraham Lincoln described as being "of the people, by the people, and for the people" no longer exists, and hasn't for over thirty years.

This is not our country. The promise enshrined in the original Declaration of Independence -- guaranteed rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- has been replaced by a guaranteed right to misery, slavery, and the pursuit of escape.

This is not our America. The America for which we all strive, a land of peace, prosperity, and equal opportunity for all, never came to be and instead became a land of constant war (both internationally and domestically, in the form of increased militarization of the police), and widening class inequality.

This is a moment in history, a moment when each of us is called to take a stand on one side or the other. There is no more neutrality. The days of standing on the sidelines, waiting for others to figure it out, are long gone. We all have skin in this game, whether we wanted to or not. So the question becomes this:

Are you going to be on the side that wants to keep us in the dark, that wants to use us for cannon fodder for illegitimate wars, that views us only as an ATM during campaign season? Do you want to side with the forces that would keep us apart, sniping and bickering at each other, because it is easier to distract us from their real doings that way? Are you going to support a government that is willing to lie, cheat, steal, and kill for partisan gain (and yes, this applies to both sides)?

Or are you going to stand up and demand that we -- all of us -- be treated equally, and with respect? Will you put your foot down and refuse to be shuffled around, lied to, cheated, conned, stolen from, and possibly killed simply because you disagree with policy? Are you willing to put the rule of law above personal or partisan loyalty?

There are 535 members of Congress. One president. Nine Supreme Court justices. They don't like to advertise the fact that we outnumber them, but we do. On the order of over 600,000 to 1. This is the one area in which the odds are in our favor.

We can do this. #OurRevolution

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Let's Slow It Down A Bit, Folks


I have heard from a lot of trump supporters crowing about the economic news. Stock market at record highs. Repatriation of funds. Tax cuts. And so on. And while my first instinct as a rational, thinking being was to start picking these apart as lies and propaganda, I decided to look a little deeper. So I did.

It's all lies and propaganda. However, it's not a trump thing.

Here's the thing. Almost without exception, previous administrations have made economic policy based on how it's going to affect the next election. Economic security is high on the list of to-dos during a president's first term, and going into the midterms on the second term, but that last election ... well, they're term-limited, and they have a sweet pension, so what do they care?

In this way, President Obama was an outlier (or, if he wasn't, he made it look like he was). Following the crash of 2008 (for which some of the more ridiculous trumpeters try to blame Obama, even though it happened four months before he took office), Obama instituted measures that turned the economy from negative to positive in a controlled, measured fashion. Using a combination of stimulus packages and close collaboration with the Federal Reserve, we ended up with a recovery that was slow, steady, and thoroughly unexciting.

Contrast this with the 90s. We were coming out of a recession at the beginning of President Clinton's first term, and he presided over an unprecedented period of expansion in our economy -- which lasted until early 2001. Then it all started to crumble, with some causes being internal (the internet bubble bursting, for example) and others being external (9/11, which shut down Wall Street entirely for a week). Bush administration efforts to shore it up largely failed, primarily due to a fundamental lack of understanding of what they were doing.

Quite frankly, I want a boring economy. Boring economies are stable economies. Exciting economies are inherently unstable, and we are seeing this now, with wild swings in the stock market on a day-to-day basis being only the most visible indicator.

When I was a teenager, a skateboard was my main mode of transportation (stick with me here; this analogy will make sense in a minute). One day I was riding down a long, steep hill, getting up a pretty good head of steam, when I started to experience the Wobble of Death (anyone who has been on a skateboard knows what I'm talking about). I tried locking my ankles, but it had gotten too severe. I ended up eating pavement and breaking my left wrist. The next time, though, I tightened up the trucks (the axles that also contained rubber bushings allowing me to steer) on the skateboard, and everything went just fine.

Our economy is like that skateboard, and regulations on the banks are us tightening the trucks. Prior to 2008, we had loosened the trucks. This made the economy more maneuverable and able to respond quickly, but with the added risk of a loss of control in extreme conditions. After the crash, Obama tightened the trucks and, while the economy was not quite as agile, it was steady, and safe, and cruising along nicely.

In the past year and a half, the trump administration has rolled back some banking regulations and loosened others. This has the effect of making the economy as a whole more agile, but now we are starting to see indicators that maybe we are starting the Wobble of Death -- the Dow up by 500 one day only to fall by 350 the next and climb by 250 the day after that -- and if so, a crash is not too far behind. If this administration holds true to the behavior of almost all of the previous ones, what we will see is an economy that goes gangbusters until shortly after the 2022 midterms, at which point it will start to unravel and it will be incumbent on the next person to hold the office to clean up the mess.

What I would like to see is economic policy that takes a longer view, beyond the next election. I would like to see someone adopt the same approach as Obama: keep growth under control so it doesn't run away from us. To achieve this, we need to take the following steps:
Restore full employment
This can be accomplished by the Federal Reserve adjusting interest rates to curb inflationary pressure until wage growth has stabilized and grown stronger. Congress and the Executive Branch can contribute to this by making public investments (infrastructure, for example) that can both create jobs and spur future productivity growth.

Enhance and enforce labor standards
Low and moderate wage workers are seeing the lowest level of collective bargaining power since the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1935. By decimating unions and implementing "Right to Work" laws (which are actually "Right to be completely screwed over and get no benefits" laws), conservative lawmakers over the past few decades have almost completely erased gains in the lower ends of the economic spectrum that led to the booming economy of the postwar years (1946-1957), one of the most prosperous periods in our nation's history.

Policy actions such as a higher minimum wage, expanding rights to overtime pay, paid sick leave, protecting the labor rights of undocumented workers (you know, to do those jobs that nobody else is willing to do), and restoring collective bargaining rights will help in this effort, as well as renegotiation of trade treaties that provide incentive to offshore jobs.
We can maintain a healthy economy. All it takes is a willingness to take a longer view.


I gotta lie down.

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