Ilhan Omar’s Sin: Crossing the Pro-Israel Lobby

Ilhan Omar invoked the name AIPAC and discussed the role of money in politics in reference to the U.S.-Israel alliance. That doesn’t make her an anti-Semite. (Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull)

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

When Rep. Ilhan Omar intimated that the United States’ alliance with Israel is motivated primarily by money and later responded to a tweet asking who she thinks is paying politicians to be pro-Israel with the one-word reply, “AIPAC!”, the first-term senator could’ve chosen her words better. After all, it’s not truly all about the Benjamins. There are legitimate cultural, ethnic, geopolitical and religious concerns to be had with mapping out the two countries’ strategic partnership.

All the same, Omar’s comments clearly struck a nerve, and not just because of her purported anti-Semitism. That she was so swiftly rebuked by members of both parties suggests that, despite her indelicacy, she was more right than many of her colleagues would like you to know. In addition, the backlash Rep. Omar has received provides yet another lesson about the substantive role money plays in American politics and the degree to which it holds sway over the two major parties.

As always, context helps. This past Sunday, an article appeared on Haaretz.com regarding House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s vow to take action against fellow representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their criticism of Israel. In McCarthy’s mind, these women’s views are on par with or worse than that of Steve King, whose defense of white supremacy has prompted bilateral calls for his removal from key House committees, and in some cases, his outright resignation.

Even the authors of the Haaretz article noted it was unclear to what comments McCarthy was referring and, thus, to what extent anti-Semitism played a part. Speaking less diplomatically, though, come the f**k on.

In Tlaib’s and Omar’s case, their most notable “offenses” have been their support for the BDS movement, which advocates for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions of Israel for creating what supporters of the movement liken to an apartheid state. It’s a controversial movement in that its criticisms of Israel are met with their own countercriticisms that A) Israel is not an apartheid state, B) BDS is anti-Semitic, and C) these criticisms of Israel would seek to delegitimize it.

In King’s case, meanwhile, it’s repeated defense of white supremacist talking points. The man has also repeatedly re-tweeted and met with far-right nationalist leaders across continents. At the very least, McCarthy is engaging in a bit of disingenuous whataboutism. Either way, it’s an implausible false equivalency. Besides, Tlaib and Omar are new to the D.C. scene and don’t possess nearly the stature and platform King does given his veteran experience in Congress. Rep. King has been dining on nativist bigotry while holding a federal public office seat for over a decade now.

With all this in mind, journalist Glenn Greenwald reacted to the cited piece with a tweet broadly condemning U.S. political leaders for their defense of a foreign nation at the expense of Americans’ free speech rights. To which Omar retweeted Greenwald with the titular line from the seminal Puff Daddy hit, setting off a political firestorm.

In the minds of many, it wasn’t just that Omar was inaccurate with her invocation of AIPAC and the Israel lobby, but that she appeared to do so by trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes. For Omar’s detractors, here were the tropes about “Jewish greed” and “Jews control the world with their money” all over again. The reference to AIPAC also ruffled feathers by suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is not an actual political action committee or PAC, gives donations directly to members of Congress. AIPAC merely encourages people to be generous with their contributions to pro-Israel members of the House and Senate. And it spends its money on lobbying, not on individual candidate campaigns.

But lo, how it spends on lobbying. As Matthew Yglesias of Vox fame explains, in 2018, AIPAC spent $3.5 million on lobbying, far and away the most when it comes to foreign policy influence (second on the list is UNICEF, which managed less than $1 million). This doesn’t include what Yglesias describes as “lavish” accommodations and airfare for trips to Israel for members of Congress and their families.

Accordingly, for all the furor over Rep. Omar’s tweets, precipitated by a largely unfounded attack on her and another female Muslim congresswoman, there was a teachable moment about how money in politics impacts stated policy positions and influences policy directives. In the ensuing outrage, however, that got lost.

Instead, people tweeted their dismay, pro-Israel members of Congress expressed their indignation, and even Chelsea Clinton somewhat bizarrely weighed in to advise Omar against reliance on anti-Semitic tropes “as an American” and, evidently, as a self-appointed arbiter of responsible language toward Jews and Israel. By the time Nancy Pelosi was condemning Omar’s remarks, the track to the Minnesota representative’s apology was well-oiled. Within a day of her initial retweet of Glenn Greenwald, Ilhan Omar issued a public mea culpa, taking absolutely the right tone. She professed that she never meant to offend her constituents, Jews, and the combination therein and indicated a willingness to accept criticism and learn from episodes like this.

As mentioned earlier, the magnitude of the outcry against Omar and the rapidity with which it occurred were striking, and the fallout from the fracas is still being felt. President Donald Trump himself, a man who is no stranger to controversy, rejected Omar’s apology as “lame” and made his preference known that she be removed from committees or asked to resign much in the way Steve King has been. Indeed, even for some of those who appreciate the nuance of what Omar was saying and the point she was trying to make about the corrosive nature of lobbyist money, they lament how she has given cannon fodder to the Republican Party and risked driving a wedge between her own party. So much for the power of social media.

And so much for that teachable moment. What could have been a meaningful dialog on the role of money has since degraded into a reflexive conversation about what constitutes anti-Semitism. This is not to say, of course, that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist or that it isn’t on the rise. Heck, a man ran unopposed as a Republican for Congress in the state of Illinois as a Holocaust denier just last November and got 25% of the vote. Still, if there was a lesson learned, it was not ours, but rather Omar’s. The lesson was to watch what you say about the pro-Israel lobby, and while instructive, it’s not all that gratifying for her or the rest of us.


Ilhan Omar’s apology was intriguing in that it was “unequivocal,” yet still strove to reaffirm the problematic nature of lobbying as it concerns AIPAC, the fossil fuel industry, and the NRA, to name a few. For the townsfolk holding torches and pitchforks, this was only salt in the proverbial wound and a hollow apology. From my standpoint, I believe Omar was sincere in what she said and that her allusions to Jewish stereotypes concerning money were unintentional. Granted, she could’ve chosen her words better, but there was more substance in her words than reporting on this to-do would lead the casual news consumer to believe. If her apology seemed forced, it’s likely because it was made to appease the members of Congress who disagree with her stance—both those who would weaponize it for political gain or discourage it because of fear of that very phenomenon.

In referring to the disingenuousness of Kevin McCarthy’s part in all of this that started this controversy off and running, his participation is not without a sense of irony. McCarthy made an appeal prior to the MAGA base in October warning voters to choose Republican in the 2018 election so as not to “allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election.” If Omar’s tweets can be branded as anti-Semitic, McCarthy’s (now-deleted) tweet sure can.

He’s not the only one. For all of the kosher meat Donald Trump has been throwing to the Zionist cause since being elected, prior to that, he was using anti-Semitic tropes and depictions of cash next to pictures of Hillary Clinton, dog-whistling from his platform as presumptive Republican Party nominee. Just because these men aren’t Muslims or don’t support the BDS movement doesn’t mean the allegations against them are any less valid.

As much as AIPAC’s mention has been papered over by the mainstream media, moreover, there are those who would defend Rep. Omar for her attention to a group that routinely deflects criticism from its membership and from the Israeli government, branding dissent as anti-Semitic and intimidating those who advocate for anything other than the status quo. Glenn Greenwald, for one, sees Omar’s censure as a segment of a pattern, pointing to attempts by Haim Saban, the Democratic National Committee’s top donor and outspokenly pro-Israel, to label Democrat Keith Ellison, also a Muslim, as an anti-Semite because of his public condemnation of Israeli expansion of settlements into contested lands.

It’s not like AIPAC has exactly been flying under the radar lately, either. As Ryan Grim of The Intercept recently reported, leaders of the pro-Israel lobby were caught on camera discussing the extent and nature of their influence, detailing how the Committee and its donors organize events in such a way so as not to be tied to the funds they generate. Plus, there’s the whole business of AIPAC using Ilhan Omar’s controversy in it of itself as a cause for a fundraiser. Nothing demonstrates your indignation and your support of Israel like a hefty donation. Please—be generous.

Despite calls for her head, so to speak, Omar has handled this whole situation with aplomb and has not backed down from her critics—at least not the Republican ones. She notably fired back at Pres. Trump pointing out to his track record of spewing hateful rhetoric following his aforementioned rejection of her apology.

Thus, as unfortunately as some would insist this all played out, the strength and—dare I say—chutzpah she and Rashida Tlaib have shown when dealing with negative attention suggests the Democratic Party’s diversity truly is a strength. It’s up to the Democrats to decide whether or not they’ll stand behind strong progressives like them or let moneyed interests dictate who they support and when.

Democrats: Get with Progressives or Get out of the Way

In: progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Out: incrementalist Democratic Party politics. (Photo Credit: U.S. House of Representatives)

If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is “no big deal,” why does she have so many critics on both the left and the right?

I ask this as one of the growing list of fans of AOC, but it’s an honest question. If she’s a flash in the pan, why bother talking about her at all? There are any number of reasons why Ocasio-Cortez has been derided by commentators. She’s uninformed. She’s too socialist. She’s too young. She doesn’t understand how the world works. The media is just latching onto her because she’s telegenic, “exotic” (a term used especially when you’re a person of color and white people don’t know what to call you), and because her upset primary win is still relatively fresh.

Those bits about her being little more than a pretty face or a stupid girl is the kind of keen observation and commentary (sarcasm intended) usually reserved for dissenters on the right, some of whom insist she should debate them so they can EXPOSE her and their devotees can sound off about how they DESTROYED her in circular discourse replete with strawman arguments.

Either way you slice it, the sexism abounds. Without wishing to get too high up on my high horse, I readily concede that I think AOC is good-looking, and that probably doesn’t hurt her appeal in my eyes. For the record, I don’t think shameless Republican Party defenders like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham are physically reprehensible either. The blackness of their souls is what truly makes them unattractive but that’s another matter entirely.

The point I’m trying to make here to address the rationalizations of conservative trolls, however, is that Ocasio-Cortez is more than a pretty face or a dumb millennial (I know, we millennials ruin everything). These lines of thinking are perhaps predictable coming from a crowd which prizes white cisgender males above all others and thus sees her as a threat. It’s the resistance she has encountered from members of her own party that has been perhaps more vocal and is nonetheless more aggravating.

For the kind of intraparty unrest to which I’m referring, look no further than this Politico piece from last week about “exasperated Democrats” trying to “rein in” Ocasio-Cortez. The article/hatchet job conveys a sense of Dems’ annoyance at her tendency to confront other Democrats via Twitter over policy objections as well as her liability to back primary challengers to moderate incumbents. You can’t go too far left in “swing districts.” She hasn’t earned a place in key committees yet. She’s too concerned with being a Twitter star/activist. She’s like Donald Trump with her use of social media, “snapping” at critics and colleagues alike.

On the Trump/AOC Twitter comparison, referring to notions of them taking to the app to “lash out” at people, let that be the only such parallel to be drawn between the two, especially since it’s a poor one. Ocasio-Cortez’s committee candidacy vis-à-vis her lack of legislative experience is also understandable, although at heart, it’s the member of Congress’s views that should be the driver of consideration, not necessarily his or her popularity or stature. That is, whether it’s someone’s first or fifth term, his or her commitment to the role and doing the right thing are what count.

The other criticisms, meanwhile, reflect a real schism within the Democratic Party, one that gets played up in the mainstream media to generate headlines but does encapsulate a genuine tension between the “old guard” of the party and its newer members and supporters. Do robust primary challenges make for stronger candidates and increase their visibility, or do they do harm by suggesting points of attack in a general election? Do progressive values translate across constituencies, or do platforms have to be tailored to the voting tendencies of each district? Should Democrats advance bold policy ideas regardless of perceptions of cost, or should they consider the practicality of their proposals and what is feasible in light of our surging national debt?

Judging by AOC’s popularity, for one, the answer in all cases favors the more progressive option and not the prevailing establishment Democrat logic. Speaking on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez specifically but with certain applicability to others who walk their progressive talk, Emma Vigeland, correspondent and producer for Rebel HQ, an offshoot of The Young Turks, slams the aforementioned Politico article in a video segment for the news outlet.

Highlighting references in the article about the first-year representative “making enemies” and the House Democratic Caucus striving to get her to “turn her fire on Republicans” with an effort that is “part carrot, part stick,” as well as the notion she faces a “lonely, ineffectual career in Congress” if she doesn’t play nicer, Vigeland has this to say about the condescending tone of the lawmakers cited within the Politico piece:

In what universe do these no-name Democratic lawmakers who have coasted by on corporate donations and meek opposition to the Republican Party have any standing to use a carrot-and-stick, scolding approach to the most exciting young politician that the party has seen in years, who has single-handedly galvanized the American people behind interesting new policy goals in the way that these incrementalist hacks could have never dreamed of?

Vigeland goes on to address the hypocrisy of her fellow Democrats calling out Ocasio-Cortez for attacking members of her own party—this is, in effect, the same thing they are doing to her. She also responds to the idea AOC “doesn’t understand” how things work in Washington, D.C.—even though she does and that’s why her primary campaign was so successful.

For Vigeland and others, that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost to “an orange, racist, cruel, historically dumb buffoon” signals something is broken within the party. The American people want real change, not just “business as usual.” It’s no wonder her stances on key issues poll well among supporters of both parties, and not just in her home district, but around the country.

Vigeland puts a bow on her presentation with these remarks:

We need a Democratic Party that will not stand in our way and if you don’t like it, get on board or get out. Because if you’re not backing proposals that will save our planet and raise wages and give people health care that already poll well above 50%, then you don’t belong in the new Democratic Party and you don’t belong in office. So stop crying about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and do some soul-searching about who you are there to represent and serve.

“‘People are afraid of her,’ said one senior Democratic aide.” Damn right.

These comments are a direct rebuttal to the hand-wringing the likes of Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman have done about Ocasio-Cortez being a symbol of where the Democratic Party is potentially headed. In line with Vigeland’s suggestion that these moderates do some soul-searching, they’ll undoubtedly have plenty of time for this while not serving as members of Congress.


Even as an admitted fan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I do wonder sometimes whether or not so much exposure is a good thing. There have been well-publicized flubs on details of foreign policy as well as statistical inaccuracies when speaking on issues. Her contention so far has been that she’s learning and that the essence of her arguments is on point, to which I’d broadly agree, but then the question of how long her “grace period” as a newcomer pops up. Accountability is important, left-wing or right-wing.

The main reason I express doubt, though, is that I don’t want her stardom to overshadow the presence of a number of promising up-and-coming progressives (and not just the ones like Rashida Tlaib who vow to “impeach the motherf**ker”). Movements can’t thrive on individual figures here and there. Constituents have to exercise their power alongside their elected representatives.

In this respect, it’s oddly refreshing to hear Donald Trump of all people give a “Who cares?” about AOC when asked directly about the first-year representative calling him a “racist” in her interview for 60 Minutes and not seeming to shy away from this characterization after the fact. Of course, much of his conduct until now would lead you to believe that the proverbial shoe most definitely fits, but he arguably takes a better tack than FOX News, whose scaremongering about Ocasio-Cortez would have its viewers all but frothing at the mouth at the very sight of her. Sure, he might undermine that by refusing to disavow Steve “Why Is White Supremacy Such a Bad Thing?” King, but give the Devil his due on his AOC non-response, at least.

All this aside, if Ocasio-Cortez can use her stardom and social media following to bring progressive issues and stances to the forefront of political discourse (yes, please, let’s tax the rich more!), then I’m with her. To reiterate and as Emma Vigeland would insist, establishment Democrats would be wise to get on board with younger, more progressive members of Congress/party supporters or simply get out of the way. There’s too much at stake and too much work we have to do.

On Punching Nazis, Serving Sarah Sanders, and Matters of Civility

not_that_sanders
Sarah Sanders getting kicked out of The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia has prompted conversations about whether people should be kicked out of establishments for their political beliefs and whether “civility” is warranted in these situations. While not all calls for civility have equal merit in light of their source, restraint, mediated by facts and precision of language, is still a worthy aspiration. (Photo Credit: Twitter)

You’ve probably seen T-shirts or memes devoted to instructing others to “PUNCH MORE NAZIS.” This sentiment, which invokes Richard Spencer—who doesn’t call himself a “Nazi” or a “white supremacist,” but an “identitarian,” though that basically means he’s a white nationalist and doesn’t want you to know he’s a white nationalist—getting punched in the face by a protestor on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, is one that many of us can probably get behind. After all, who really likes Nazis outside of actual Nazis?

As sympathetic as we may be to the idea of Spencer and his ilk getting decked, however—or, for some of us, wish we could’ve been the ones to do it—just because we can punch more Nazis, does it mean we should? Political theorist Danielle Allen, in an August 2017 column for The Washington Post, emphatically rules for the negative on this question. She writes:

White supremacy, anti-Semitism and racism are false gods, ideologies to be repudiated. They must be countered and fought. We must separate the violence that flows from those ideologies from the ideas that animate them. Different tools are at hand for fighting each.

We need to counter extremism’s violence not with punches but with the tools of law and justice. Where hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism are perpetrated, our judicial institutions must respond. We as citizens must make sure institutions do their jobs, not plan to take the law into our own hands.

When the legitimacy of legal and judicial institutions has come into question — as has occurred because of police shootings and mass incarceration — we must strenuously advance the project of reforming those institutions to achieve their full legitimacy. But to take the law into one’s own hands is only to further undermine legal and judicial institutions. It provides no foundation for reform.

As Allen sees it, we need to be thinking more Martin Luther King, Jr.’s brand of civil disobedience and nonviolence, and less, you know, Charles Bronson’s brand of vigilantism from Death Wish. In doing so, we must address the failings of major institutions—namely the courts, the criminal justice system, and the legislative branch—enduring the process of advocacy for reform. Punching Nazis, while perhaps providing more immediate satisfaction, doesn’t put us on the same long-term path of reform.

In fact, as Allen stresses, countering violence with more violence only takes us further away from the peaceful society many of us would envision—one devoid of white supremacists and their hate. It does not make our world any more just than it was before we started throwing haymakers, rocks, and the like. It certainly doesn’t make it any more stable.

In other words—Danielle Allen’s words—”Once political violence activates, shutting it off is exceptionally difficult.” Her closing remarks reinforce this theme, with special attention to the morality of nonviolence as well as the impracticality of its opposite:

Why should anyone believe that people who have been committed to political violence will change their minds and recommit to peaceful forms of litigating conflicts? That kind of distrust erodes the foundations of stable political institutions. The path to justice always lies through justice, including the basic moral idea that immediate self-defense is the only justification for the use of force. We need moral clarity on this point.

Along these lines, violence is not the cure or negotiating tool we might conceive it to be. As the saying goes, it just begets more violence, and makes people that much more predisposed to taking sides and fighting, rather than willing to change. When people are made to think of political and social matters in terms of a war, they treat it like one—casualties and all.

The topic of punching Nazis is an extreme example, but one that facilitates a conversation about how we as Americans try to interact with and otherwise react to people with whom we disagree on matters of culture, politics, and morality. Recently, Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant named The Red Hen in Virginia because of her connection to the Trump White House.

The owner of the restaurant, Stephanie Wilkinson, was home when she got a call from the chef that night, who expressed to Wilkinson the notion that the staff was concerned about Sanders’s presence there. For Wilkinson, Sanders’s defense of Donald Trump’s policies within her role as White House Press Secretary was a deal-breaker. As she (Wilkinson) feels, it’s a matter of moral standards. Compassion. Cooperation. Honesty. These are not the kinds of things that Sanders and her briefings are not known for, and as such, Wilkinson took a stand. What’s more, Wilkinson said she would do it again if given the same opportunity.

News of Sanders’s removal from the restaurant has prompted all sorts of reactions, many of them indicative of a political divide that events such as these only seem to help widen. If The Red Hen’s spike in popularity on Yelp is any indication, the actions taken by its owner have proven very polarizing indeed, with scores of 1-star and 5-star reviews being affixed to the restaurant’s online profile in light of the controversy. While I suppose the treatment of guests should be a factor in reviews of eateries, lest we call these new additions illegitimate, to say nothing of the other elements of the customer experience really seems like a waste of an entry. I mean, what if the trout Grenobloise is truly transcendent? You can say what you want about the owner—but leave her and her restaurant their fish dish, OK?

Beyond reputation assassination via social media from anonymous sources, there are other issues raised by Sarah Sanders getting the boot from The Red Hen and subsequently calling out the restaurant on Twitter. For one, Sanders did so in her official capacity as Press Secretary, and that’s an ethical no-no. According to Walter Shaub, former ethics chief under Barack Obama and Trump, Sanders’s condemnation of a business for personal reasons using her government account can be construed as coercive and a violation of a corollary to the ban on endorsements that someone like Kellyanne Conway has blatantly disregarded in the past. As Shaub reasons, Sanders can “lob attacks on her own time but not using her official position.”

Also, people have drawn a comparison between the way Sanders was refused service for her political positions and the way some businesses have sought to refuse service to homosexuals, claiming “religious freedom.” As far as detractors on the right are concerned, this is just bigotry on the part of the left, but this is a false equivalency; since it has come up frequently enough, it’s worth addressing. Sanders chose her line of work and accepted her current position, and continues to serve as Press Secretary of her own volition. Gays and lesbians, on the other hand, don’t choose to be gay. It’s who they are. The best argument one can try to make is that Sanders, were she to proverbially fall on her sword, would put her career and her livelihood at risk. Still, that’s a stretch when considering the ostracism members of the LGBTQ community have faced over time.

The issue that appears to loom largest here, however, is the matter of whether or not owners of establishments should refuse service to patrons based on their political beliefs or their association with a disinformation machine like the Trump White House. This is where I’m a little unsure that Stephanie Wilkinson’s choice is the right one. Now, it’s one thing if Sanders and her group were actively trying to cause distress to members of the staff or other patrons, or they were trying to espouse discriminatory views. If I were a restaurant owner, I wouldn’t want, say, Ku Klux Klan members waltzing into my place and ordering cheese and crackers. There are limits to freedom of expression, to be sure.

Assuming Wilkinson has the right to ask Sanders and Co. to leave, though, whether or not she should ask them to leave is a subject worthy of debate. It’s like refusing to serve or otherwise accommodate someone wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. In April, a New York City judge ruled a bar was legally allowed to refuse service to a man wearing a “MAGA” hat, as it wasn’t discriminating based on country of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other demographic characteristic. It also didn’t help the man’s cause that he reportedly was verbally abusive to staff. In Sanders’s case, meanwhile, there is no indication that anything more than her presence was the source of unrest. Even in the court of public opinion, this seems like less of an open-and-shut case.

What especially gives me pause is that few people seem to be on Sarah Sanders’s side on this one, and I’m not sure if this is my failing in my refusal to join in, or just the left looking to stick their tongues out at a Donald Trump supporter like the White House Press Secretary in the midst of the administration’s flagging popularity, and as we plumb the depths of a crisis facing immigrant families which feels less like border security and more like ethnic cleansing.

Other Trump administration officials have met with similar treatment, with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and senior policy advisor Stephen Miller both being met with protests as they ate at—irony fully noted—Mexican restaurants. It’s not just Cabinet members and racist advisors to the President, either. A video of New York-based attorney Aaron Schlossberg berating and threatening employees of a restaurant with deportation because they spoke Spanish went viral, and condemnation and ridicule were soon to follow. Heck, a GoFundMe page was even erected to pay for a mariachi band to play outside the man’s office. At a moment in time marked by visible tension between groups, especially whites who support the President vs. minority groups and their defenders, everyone seems to be fair game. The racist rants of yesteryear now run the risk of damaging people’s careers.

In all, there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for Ms. Sanders—and I don’t know that there should be, quite frankly—but despite what someone like Rep. Maxine Waters would aver, maybe these officials shouldn’t be kicked out of restaurants, and definitely, I submit, they shouldn’t be harassed. That is, if one were to convey his or her opinions to them in a civil manner, it’s one thing, but it’s another to shout epithets at them while they try to eat enchiladas.

At the end of the day, we may find the positions of Nielsen and Miller reprehensible, but they’re human beings. Like you or I or the immigrants who live in fear of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, they still need to eat and spend time with family. While I suppose Sanders and her group could have just gone, say, to a Chili’s instead, to try to abnegate the humanity of one because of his or her own abnegation of another’s humanity is to make two wrongs without making a right. It might feel good for a spell, but as with punching Nazis, it doesn’t put us on a path to reform.

To boot, for those looking to discredit people on the political left as intolerant in their own right, the decision to ask Sanders to leave The Red Hen has the power to turn her into somewhat of a sympathetic figure, and given that she’s served as the mouthpiece of an administration which doesn’t seem to have the word “sympathy” in its vocabulary, such is a regrettable turn in these cultural conflicts because concern for her feels unearned.

It comes on the heels of criticisms levied on her by Michelle Wolf, for which members of the media were quick to come to her (Sanders’s) defense, a defense not only unearned, but undeserved given that Wolf was only pointing out Sanders’s role as an enabler and liar for President Trump. Thus, when Sanders tweets to say that The Red Hen’s owner’s actions say “more about [Wilkinson]” than they say about her and that she tries to deal respectfully with those with whom she disagrees, you tend to hate that she seems even somewhat credible—compromised ethics and all.


I know my position is liable to be upsetting to some people because it screams Democratic centrism to them (Chuck Schumer, among others, has criticized the desire to harass Trump administration officials). Believe me—I don’t wish to be lumped in with moderates when the Democrats’ refusal to move further left is one of my chief frustrations as someone trying to become more engaged with politics. And I certainly don’t wish to appear as if I agree with Donald Trump, who, though he has much more important things to do—facilitate peace on the Korean peninsula, help Puerto Rico, reunite kids with their families, etc.—felt compelled to rant about The Red Hen’s decision on social media. Say what you want about POTUS, but he’s consistent, you know, in that he never misses a chance to point a finger in a petty way.

Or some might just plain disagree. Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week, defends incivility toward Trump administration officials with points such as these:

  • In the situations recounted above, no one beat up these officials, broke any property, or threatened them in any way.
  • If anyone is “uncivil,” it’s the con artists, criminals, and/or racists of the Trump administration and people of a like mind such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa.
  • President Trump is, like, the most uncivil of us all, and he has a platform much bigger than any dissenter on the left.
  • This is a natural and perhaps unavoidable reaction to a lack of immediate electoral solutions or an absence of meaningful legislative representation.
  • Fretting about civility on the left internalizes the belief that it is pointless to try to appeal to people on the right, especially the far right, on moral and rational terms. Moreover, it sows division within “the Resistance.”

Cooper also dismisses concerns about incivility from the left being used as political capital for Trump and other officials, and while I agree to a certain extent that one shouldn’t necessarily worry about the feelings and potential votes of others in the course of public discourse, I also think that these definitions of “civility” and “incivility” are somewhat vague and get muddled with moral judgments. Being “civil” doesn’t necessarily relate to the moral rectitude of your behavior or your speech, but merely to formal courtesy and politeness in their expression. By the same token, however, “political civility” isn’t exactly the same thing as civility as per the dictionary definition, so maybe the problem is simply with our specificity of expression and how we delineate the terms, first and foremost. The line is an apparently fine one, and who is using this terminology is as important as what words are being used.

Plus, for those decrying this fussing over civility as just a ploy to stifle free speech, while addressing how to reach people in the face of carelessness or lack of composure is critically important, and while not all calls for civility are equal considering the source—this can’t be stressed enough—this doesn’t strike me as an occasion to participate in relativistic exercises. So Trump’s henchmen and henchwomen are uncouth. Does that mean we should all up and call them “feckless c**ts” in the style of Samantha Bee? Even if I feel Bee, like Michelle Wolf, shouldn’t feel duty-bound to apologize, her use of profane language didn’t make her argument more credible. At least we should be able to agree on this point.

I get it—so many of us are angry at Donald Trump and his enablers, and heartbroken about the plight of immigrant children, and feeling powerless with the midterms months away and 2020 still seeming remote, and tired of the onslaught of bullshit day after day. It’s not easy. Then again, it never was going to be easy, and for all the hemming and hawing about civility, if this is not to be the goal, at least we can aim for precision of language and factual correctness. Even in the face of haphazard tweets and “fake news,” rationality and truth yet have value.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm, and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


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Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.

Note to Media: Stop Enabling Apologists, Liars, and Racists

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What self-respecting New Jerseyan has a New Jersey pillow on his or her couch? I mean, really! (Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Caruso/NorthJersey.com)

By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”

The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.

Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:

An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”

Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”

Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.

Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”

Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?

This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:

You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.

Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:

It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.

As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”

Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.


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Jeffrey Lord has what the kids call a “very punch-able face.” (Image retrieved from rawstory.com).

Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.

Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.

Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:

Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.

Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?


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Steve! I loved you in Westworld! (Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.

King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.

This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.

That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.

His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.

“I meant exactly what I said.”

Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.

Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.

For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.

So, Um, Why, Again, Is the Electoral College Still a Thing?

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A poster for C-Span Classroom’s 2016 Electoral College Map, or, “Hey, kids! Let’s learn about how convoluted the Electoral College is!” (Image retrieved from c-spanclassroom.com.)

In case it has yet to dawn on you or you failed to observe my mention of it in my last post, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, but only because he had enough electoral votes. This is to say that although Trump has 290 electoral votes to his credit, and potentially at least 16 more assuming Michigan shakes out in his favor, in terms of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton has the edge by more than 500,000 votes. Considering over 120 million ballots were tallied in this election, that’s a fairly slender margin, but it’s a margin of victory nonetheless. Moreover, if the presidency were decided based on the popular vote as opposed to the jumbled electoral math of fifty states with different relative worth, that would mean Clinton would instead be our forthcoming Commander-in-Chief. But despite the fantasies of many, this is not the case. Barring impeachment or arrest, Donald Trump will be America’s president for no fewer than the next four years following his inauguration.

This raises the obvious question, then: why doesn’t the popular vote decide who wins presidential elections? Putting this another way: who came up with this stupid Electoral College business anyway? The Electoral College, perhaps not necessarily in name but at least in function, was discussed as early as 1787, when the Founding Fathers were deciding as part of the Constitutional Convention how to pick a President of the United States. The Virginia Plan, which served as the basis for much of the Convention, proposed that Congress elect the President. Even then, though, policymakers recognized that leaving such matters exclusively to Congress was a shitty idea. Not only did such a system bypass the popular opinion completely, but it ran the risk of the congressional majority voting merely along party lines (as opposed to more ideological reasons), or that such a voting bloc could be influenced by a foreign government (as opposed to, ahem, serving the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, as it does now). Leaving the decision of who would become President exclusively to voters, meanwhile, also had its unpalatable aspects, especially to the Southern delegation, because slavery might become an issue, and that might open up a whole different can of worms. Not long removed from a revolution which necessitated bloodshed, and with unity a priority, this therefore did not seem like an ideal solution.

Thus, in the spirit of compromise, we got a version of what we know today as the Electoral College, a concession especially appealing to delegates from smaller states who were concerned that without a system that places relative importance on individual votes in lower-population areas (today, for instance, a single vote in Wyoming is worth much more in terms of determining the state’s direction for the Electoral College than a single vote in Texas), big states and cities could vote according to an agenda that ignores the little guy, so to speak. It is in this spirit that we consider attempts to do away with the Electoral College, even as recent as a few decades ago. In 1968, ol’ Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, despite only beating Democratic challenger Hubert Humphrey by about 500,000 votes in the popular vote—less than 1% difference—won the electoral vote by more than 100 votes. This seeming discrepancy was enough to give the public some concern, which, in turn, gave members of Congress cause to strike while the iron is hot and try to implement change. Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from the state of New York, first introduced proposed legislation by the name House Joint Resolution 681 to call a winner in presidential elections based on the popular vote, as long as a presidential and vice-presidential tandem earned 40% or more of the vote. The measure easily passed the House Judiciary Committee, of which Celler was a member, in April 1969, and cleared the House of Representatives as a whole, too, by a fairly wide margin. The bill even had the support of Nixon, the man who just won the election by so controversial a vote differential.

As we know of Congress, however, there was still one final hurdle to clear on the way to enacting law: the United States Senate. Or as I like to call it, “the place where good bills go to die.” Senate Joint Resolution 1, known as the Bayh-Celler Amendment for its namesake from the House, the aforementioned Emanuel Celler, and its co-sponsor from the Senate, Birch Bayh, Democrat from the proud state of Indiana, was introduced to the Senate at large in 1970 after passing the Senate Judiciary Committee 11 to 6. Whereupon it was quickly filibustered (why the filibuster is a thing, too, is not immediately apparent to me, but this is neither here nor there), besieged by conservatives from both parties, notably those from smaller states who saw the Electoral College as an important bargaining chip so as not to have their power ignored in favor of the bigger, more populous states or the national collective. The measure failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to end the filibuster, and with Richard Nixon opting to go no further to try to persuade his Republican brethren to support getting to the magic number of 67, by the time 1971 rolled around and Congress was open for business, the bill was as good as dead. In short, the Bays-Celler Amendment got fili-busted.

There goes Congress again—standing in the way of progress, am I right? Wait, am I right? Might I actually be missing the big picture in railing against the Electoral College, and sounding like all the sore-loser Democrats/liberals who thought the Electoral College was all fine and dandy until their candidate failed to win? Let’s circle back for a moment. As the corresponding article on Wikipedia so neatly outlines, there are several reasons why proponents of the Electoral College argue for its maintenance. They include:

1. Prevention of an urban-centric victory

OK, so we’ve kind of already beat this idea to death. Those in favor of preserving the electoral system we currently use in the United States believe the Electoral College is a safeguard against presidential candidates drawing votes exclusively from cities and bypassing more rural regions en route to the White House. I tend to think this reason for propping up a method based on somewhat complicated tabulations of electoral votes is overblown, however, in that it overestimates how much of the U.S. population resides in urban locales. One vote counting the same no matter where you come from seems fair, and at any rate, the argument can be made that if certain states or regions feel neglected, it is up to their congressmen, congresswomen and governor(s) to demand better representation on a national level. I’m not sure I necessarily subscribe to this last point, mind you, but I do think this justification for the Electoral College can be argued against.

2. Maintenance of the federal character of the nation

I feel like, to an extent, this is saying #1 in a different way—by giving a minimum number of electoral votes to a less populous state, this enhances the value of each vote alongside the value of a vote in a more populous state, given the winner-take-all paradigm. In turn, since each state’s electoral count matters in the general election, individual states are empowered to make laws on voting and voter enfranchisement—provided, of course, these news laws do not violate existing constitutional principles. I’m admittedly on the fence on this one. I do think there is merit in voters in states like Alaska, Montana, and North and South Dakota feeling as if their vote matters more and that their state’s agenda is not being disregarded. That said, having so many different laws on voting from state to state seems to make things woefully fragmented when the process should be the same for each person casting his or her ballot. As tends to be the case, it’s a fine line to walk between states’ rights and the need for a national consensus.

3. Enhancement of the status of minority groups

I’ll just quote this directly since this is the sum total of this particular argument:

Instead of decreasing the power of minority groups by depressing voter turnout, proponents argue that by making the votes of a given state an all-or-nothing affair, minority groups can provide the critical edge that allows a candidate to win. This encourages candidates to court a wide variety of such minorities and advocacy groups.

I may be oversimplifying, but what this sounds like is an excuse to pander to Asians, blacks, Latinos and other minorities. Not thrilled with this justification, in that event.

4. Encouragement of stability through the two-party system

I’m sorry, but before I even get to explaining this bit, let me preface by saying that by allowing Donald Trump to secure the Republican Party nomination and win the presidency, we’ve kind of turned the notion of “stability” of the two-party system on its head, no?

5. Flexibility if a presidential candidate dies

Gee, um, great?

6. Isolation of election problems

The argument here is that if fraud in significant numbers occurs in one state, its effect on the election can be blunted by the limit of electoral votes that state receives. Then again, in instances like Florida’s need for a recount in 2000, the likes of which were enough to decide an election, the counterargument is that this doesn’t really isolate that state’s problems. Ah, 2000 Presidential Election, will your manifold historical lessons never cease?


If the above defenses of the Electoral College are the best we have to offer, the associated benefits are questionable on their merits alone. Great—we have the Electoral College so we, um, don’t forget farmers in Butte, claim we carry hot sauce in our bags, vote for the lesser of two evils, have a back-up plan in case someone dies, or limit the damage when a given state screws the pooch. In light of the criticisms of this institution, moreover, these merits are even more questionabler, and that’s not even grammatically correct!

Besides, as noted earlier, the seeming fairness of the “one person, one vote” setup should the popular vote prevail, the trappings of the Electoral College are such that 1) candidates will spend inordinate amounts of money and time on “swing states,” 2) because of the winner-take-all nature of deciding states, turnout is discouraged in those states in which a result in favor of one major party is presumed likely, further encouraging candidates to ignore non-swing localities, 3) if fraud and other forms of voter disenfranchisement do occur, it’s harder to know because of the emphasis on electoral votes, 4) American territories like Puerto Rico have no say because they don’t get electoral votes, 5) third parties, who might offer credible alternatives in case both the Democratic Party and Republican Party representatives suck—as in this election—are SOL, and 6) we have to justify graphics and touch-screen maps to plot out possible Election Day scenarios just to see who can or will win. As a voter in the state of New Jersey, I felt and still feel that, beyond voting for down-ticket major-party candidates and specific ballot initiatives, my vote for president was essentially meaningless, since Hillary Clinton was almost certain to take the state. You know, besides the notion Jill Stein wasn’t going to win. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit!

Going back to the notion of proposals to overturn the Electoral College as “loser talk” and criticisms of protests of Donald Trump’s win around the country as mere whining, though I’m understandably biased on each count, I think these challenges are not unfounded. Regarding the former, the Electoral College seems to be, among other things, a vestigial holdover from the formative days of the United States when slavery was widespread and the Founding Fathers, while encouraging democratic principles, seemed intent on limiting the power of the general electorate to do damage in terms of electing terrible political candidates. When some of today’s lawmakers (e.g. Louie Gohmert, Steve King), however, are evidently intent on taking America down an anti-gay, anti-minority and otherwise regressive path, the supremacy of discretion of elected officials over the public, as in the belief that whites are inherently superior to other races, appears unfounded.

Concerning the latter, meanwhile, right, there weren’t Republican protests when Barack Obama was elected. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison, though. Obama ran on a platform of hope and belief in the American spirit. Trump ran on a platform of absent policy goals, fear, hate, ridicule and wanting to go backwards to a mythical time when the United States was “great.” These shows of defiance, such as the symbolic safety pin people have taken to wearing, I believe, are or should not be levied against the democratic process itself, but rather a candidate that made divisiveness a cornerstone of his campaign. In other words, this is a show of solidarity with those groups that stand to be most negatively impacted by President Trump’s policies. Besides, it’s better to let dissenters get their protests out now, rather than do what Republicans have done for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency: undermine his credibility right down to suggesting he was born in another country. Death by a thousand paper cuts, I know, but it’s still character assassination—and perhaps more insidious for how drawn out the process of chipping away at his legacy has been at the hands of the GOP, often in overstated terms.

Chances are no progress will be made in the foreseeable future on abolishing the Electoral College. After all, our current system achieved its desired result: producing a winner. When the W is all that matters given the winner-take-all electoral format, and when candidates like Donald Trump can evidently say and promise anything to secure enough people’s votes, there arguably won’t be enough impetus for change from either the general public or our appointed lawmakers. Which is a shame, because the Electoral College, like so many potentially unfair American institutions, deserves to be revisited and scrutinized.

Do We Deserve Better Than Clinton and Trump? Maybe, Maybe Not

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Ralph Nader would urge you to vote based on your conscience this November. The two questions you need to ask yourself: 1) Can you do with that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? 2) Does it matter? (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I’m reasonably sure you’re familiar with Ralph Nader. If you were eligible to vote in the 2000 election, then you’re definitely familiar with the man. Nader, who has made a career out of activism on behalf of consumer protection (his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, is considered influential on safety standards for motor vehicles, not to mention consumer advocacy as a whole), environmentalism, humanitarianism and principles of democratic government, has run for president several times—either as a write-in candidate on individual state ballots, or as an official nominee of the Green Party or Independent Party.

It was the 2000 presidential election, however, where Ralph Nader’s third-party bid became perhaps the most relevant, at least in terms of perceived influence on the outcome. As you may recall, in the swing state of Florida, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a margin of less than 1,000 votes, an amount Nader garnered more than 97 times over. The easy reading was that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election and left us with a man-child as the President of the United States. As Nader and others pointed out, however, and quite rightly, I might add, there were other factors at play. For one, there was a whole recount fiasco—hanging chads and all—that necessitated a controversial Supreme Court ruling and prompted critics to insist the Republicans stole the 2000 election. Also, it’s not as if there weren’t Democrats who voted for Dubya, aside from the notion that it’s not as if Ralph Nader intentionally set out to sabotage Gore. Moreover, Al Gore didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee in 2000. On those three counts, or three strikes as it may be, the “Nader as spoiler” theory swings and misses.

In this election in 2016, Ralph Nader will not have a bearing on the outcome—real, imagined or otherwise. With respect to third-party options, the names most likely to serve as flies in the proverbial ointment are Gary Johnson, representative for the Libertarian Party, and Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party nominee. Nonetheless, as a political commentator in an election cycle in which both major-party candidates are disliked by a significant portion of the potential pool of voters—and thus, choices outside the Republican-Democrat red-blue binary stand to have a real impact—Nader’s voice carries a certain amount of weight. When asked by Jorge Ramos for his thoughts on Bernie Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader expressed the belief that the move, in its enumeration of meritorious policy positions on Clinton’s part, was more politically calculated in his (Bernie’s) favor than others might read or spin it:

He set her up for political betrayal, which would allow him to enlarge his civic mobilization movement after the election and after she takes office. So I think it’s a very astute endorsement.

“Betrayal.” Not mincing words, are we, Mr. Nader? I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is being quite as scheming as Ralph Nader would give him credit for, as I believe Sanders’ top priorities are 1) beating Donald Trump, 2) promoting a truly progressive agenda for the Democratic Party, and 3) mobilizing support within the Democratic Party among workers and younger voters—as well as encouraging the Democrats to do their part for less wealthy Americans and the middle class. Then again, as a Sanders supporter throughout the primary, I might be naturally more inclined to believe Bernie threw his influence behind Hillary for the best reasons.

What intrigued me most, though, concerning Ralph Nader’s opinions put forth in the Ramos interview, was not his musings on Bernie Sanders’ political machinations, but rather what he thought about voting for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. As is no huge surprise, Nader said he would most likely be voting for the Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate, but as regards what you should do with your vote, Nader is one of those dreadful sorts who believes in voting based on your conscience—for crying out loud! In Darth Nader’s own words:

I always believe, Jorge, in voting your conscience. Not tactical votes, not least-worst votes. If you do tactical, least-worst votes, you’ve lost your bargaining power over the candidates. They never look back when you basically say to them, “Well, I don’t like either candidate but you’re not as bad as the other one.”

This man can’t be serious, can he? After all, this is America! It’s Democrat or Republican! Blue or red, red or blue! We don’t need another party confusing things! Unless, God willing, that party is the Bull Moose Party! Loves me some Bull Moose. But, yes, Ralph Nader, we can’t afford to play games with this election! The stakes are too high! When will I stop yelling?!?

Before we so quickly dismiss Ralph Nader’s assertions as the ramblings of a crazy person, might there be some validity to what this madman is saying? Have we, by implicitly giving our consent to party politics and feeding the “lesser of two evils” trope over the years, paved the way to our own dissatisfaction now manifested in a likely two-horse race between Hillary “Never Met a War I Didn’t Like” Clinton and Donald “No Mexican Wall Is Too High” Trump? Isn’t now the perfect time as a people to vote third-party and give the Democratic and Republican Parties their due comeuppance?


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Donald Trump, as President, would restore law and order to our once-proud country. By himself. With his magic powers. (Photo Credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

On the heels of the Republican National Convention, let’s first address the elephant in the room—the state of the Grand Old Party. Given the four-day scope of the event this past week in Cleveland, I initially thought about doing a whole post recapping it—though you’ll soon see why I’m covering it in (somewhat) abbreviated fashion. Donald Trump and the way he’s conducted his campaign have put him at odds with a number of Republican leaders and figureheads—as well as non-politicians with half a brain in their head. In fact, the public figures who made it known they would be skipping the Convention reads like a “Who’s Who” of Republican leadership over the past 15 years or so, or more: George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Governors Matthew Mead and Brian Sandoval, of Wyoming and Nevada, respectively, and others.

In their absence, though, there were apparently enough B-list celebrities, crazy people and idiots to go around. Here are some of the highlights—if you can call them that:

Monday: “Make America Safe Again”

  • For some reason, Scott Baio was there. Yeah, you know, Charles in Charge, of our days and our nights, as well as our wrongs and our rights? He had some fairly generic comments to be made: it’s not about getting free stuff—it’s about sacrificing; Donald Trump is not the Messiah but a man who wants to “give back..to the country that gave him everything;” Hillary Clinton sucks. You know the deal. Nothing particularly illuminating. Thanks, Scott. You can go back to being all but irrelevant as an actor now.
  • Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said something about both he and Trump having wives hotter than they are. How exactly does this “make America safe,” again?
  • Rudy Giuliani, touting his record on crime, actually addressed keeping American safe, albeit with a heaping helping of pointing out the dangers of “Islamic extremist terrorism.” His remarks were largely straight out of the GOP playbook: Obama made a shitty nuclear deal with Iran, Hillary Clinton sucks and had a shitty response to Benghazi, Syrian refugees are all potential terrorists in the making. Are you sensing a theme with respect to Hillary yet?
  • The speech of the night, however, belonged to Michelle Obama. I’m sorry, Melania Trump. It’s easy to get those two confused. Before I get to the story that Melania Trump’s speech became, let me first say that I find it highly odd, even for the ever-strange Trump campaign, to have a Slovenian immigrant born Melanija Knavs as the keynote speaker on a night devoted to keeping America safe from foreign influence. Just putting that out there. Now, let’s get to the speech itself. It soon became apparent that Melania’s address bore more than a passing resemblance to the one Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. I’m not sure what the standards are like at the University of Ljubljana—from which Melania dropped out but insists she received an architectural design degree—but at most universities, that’s the kind of thing that could get you kicked out for plagiarism. If Melania Trump was hoping to distinguish herself as more than just a pretty face through her speech, this controversy sure didn’t help matters.

Tuesday: “Make America Work Again”

  • Another day, another round of Trumps. Among the headliners on Day 2 were not one but two members of the Trump Tribe. Donald Trump, Jr. took to the podium, but in as similar vein as with Melania’s speech, discussion of its actual content was lost in the ensuing conversation about parts of his speech being hand-me-downs from a previously published article in American Conservative by F.H. Buckley. Even if sanctioned by Buckley himself, for Trump Jr. to deliver an address with borrowed material only a day after allegations of plagiarism with Melania Trump’s speech raises questions about the campaign as a whole. Tiffany Trump, whom I previously believed was only a myth, also made a rare appearance in support of her father. Tiffany, a recent graduate of Penn, made a speech that seemed like something you would hear out of a university commencement, and tried to make her dad seem, you know, human. People seemed to think it was a good speech, I guess, though being able to talk coherently for an extended period of time is a fairly solid achievement for that crowd. Also, it probably helps that she’s a cute young blonde. Whatever. As with a Slovenian waxing political on a night devoted to border security as an extension of foreign policy, there would seem to be a certain degree of irony inherent in two of Trump’s spawn—privileged descendants of a likewise fortunate heir of his father’s name and legacy—being centerpieces of a night devoted to getting the average American back to work. Then again, rarely do things make much logical sense in the political world of Donald J. Trump.
  • Paul Ryan waved a Steelers Terrible Towel for some reason. Ryan, you f**king moron—they do that in Pittsburgh, not Cleveland!
  • Checking in on Dr. Ben Carson—yup, still insane. His speech, in a stunning turn of Six Degrees of Separation, somehow tried to link Hillary Clinton to famous organizational guru Saul Alinsky to…Lucifer. Yes, that Lucifer. In this respect, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee is not only connected to the Beast himself, but by a slender two degrees, at that. Dr. Carson, I’m not sure what you’re smoking, but whatever it is, I think I want some.
  • And then there was Chris Christie, who not only failed to win Donald Trump’s pick to be his running mate, but apparently failed to secure a spot among the Tuesday headliners. As he exhibited in the primaries, Christie committed to talking about the one political topic he can seem to discuss with conviction and regularity: just how much the Republicans in attendance hate Hillary. In particular, Chris Christie hearkened back to his experience as a prosecutor to submit evidence of Clinton’s guilt in various foreign policy dealings, as well as the unending well of criticism from which the GOP can draw attack material ad nauseum: the State Department E-mail scandal. Again, nothing to do with the economy or jobs. Just rehearsed, tired attack points against Hillary, which, even if legitimate, sound desperate coming from Christie, not to mention hypocritical noting his own history with investigations of impropriety. Chris Christie, sir, you are a heel.

Wednesday: “Make America First Again”

  • Also known as the Vice President and Also-Rans portion of the program. Because it wouldn’t be a day at the Republican National Convention without hearing from at least one Trump, on Wednesday, we heard from Eric Trump, who, guilty by association, has had to assert the notion he didn’t lift his speech from an existing document. Regardless of who wrote his words, Eric spared no shred of Republican rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to absorbing: our current foreign policy is inept (*cough*, Obama, *cough*, Hillary, *cough*), the Second Amendment and Christmas are under attack, the national debt is too high because of Obama and high taxes (warning: may or may not be true), foreign countries are taking all our jobs, and so on and so forth. After that, Trump began the obligatory deification of his father, painting him as a man who has “revitalized run-down neighborhoods, shaped skylines across the country, and turned dreams into reality his entire career.” (Warning: may be seriously untrue.) Eric Trump finished by, among other things, extolling Donald Trump, Sr.’s record of giving to charities, which, as I’m sure you can guess by now, may or may not be true. Eric, I’m glad you’re so proud to be a Trump, but this does speech does nothing for me—or for the people who might actually believe it.
  • We also heard from Newt Gingrich, the man who almost was Trump’s VP pick, and Mike Pence, the man who, for whatever reasons, is that pick. Gingrich talked about keeping America safe, which he and the convention organizers apparently failed to realize was more appropriate for the first day of the Convention, but OK. He had a lot to say, but it basically boils down to these essentials: radical Islam wants to kill us all, Hillary Clinton is dishonest, we need a big military and a big wall, our police are great and so is Donald J. Trump. Stop me if you’ve heard this all before. As for Pence, whom Trump finally allowed to speak and who formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for Vice President, I’ll allow Katie McDonough of Fusion to put it succinctly: “Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night with a speech designed to communicate one thing: He is boring.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Last but not least, we had the also-rans. Wisconsin’s shitty governor Scott Walker said some things, and presumably, made a point, but evidently is not worth the trouble it takes to find the transcript of his commentary. Marco Rubio was there in video form, and more than one observer said his delivery resembled, more than anything, a hostage being filmed. And then there was the show-stealer himself, Ted Cruz. Cruz, despite not being well liked by, well, most people and small children, will likely run again for President in the future. This may at least partially explain why he delivered a speech, but somewhat surprisingly, ended it not by endorsing Donald Trump, but rather asking the convention-goers to vote their conscience. A regular Ralph Nader, this guy! Whatever his reasons, this was my highlight of the Republican National Convention, in that it was so straight-up gangsta of him to not endorse Trump. Ted Cruz, you may have heard boos that night and may continue to catch grief from other Republicans from bucking the trend, but I, for one, give you mad props. Respect, Felito.

Thursday: “Make America One Again”

  • With Big Papa himself officially accepting the Republican Party nomination, could there be a better theme for the ultimate night of the Convention than “Make American One Again?” This coming from the ultimate uniter, Donald Trump. (Please, try to hold back your eye-rolls, smirks and snickers.) Before the main event, you did have your fair share of notable “undercard” speakers. Republic National Committee chair Reince Priebus, whose name sounds like it belongs in the Game of Thrones universe, made an appeal to unity for Republicans—you know, to beat that dadgum Hillary Clinton. Prince Rhombus, sorry, Ranch Prius, dammit, Reince Priebus had this to say about what separates Republicans from Democrats: “What separates Republicans from Democrats is our belief in better. We believe in better schools. A better health care system. A better economy which rewards hard work no matter where or when you punch the clock. And most of all, we believe in a better chance at the American Dream for everyone.” Because Democrats want everything to get worse? Whatever, Ponce Rebus. Sell what you need to sell.
  • Peter Thiel, German-born co-founder of PayPal, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist, also took to the mic. As a foreign-born homosexual man living and working in Silicon Valley, you’d think Thiel would be a weird choice for the closing night of the Republican National Convention. And um, you’d be right. Matt Rosoff, in a piece for Business Insider, notes how Peter Thiel made numerous points that seem to be at odds with mainstream Republican thinking, particularly on the subjects of investment in science and technology, and the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, though, he’s unfortunately on board the Trump Train. And, for whatever reason, he’s got a real bugaboo about who uses what bathroom.
  • Ivanka Trump, apparently the member of the Trump Tribe with highest standing outside of “the Donald” himself, served as the lead-in to the man with top billing. I’m not going to dissect Ivanka’s eloquent and impassioned speech except to say that numerous critics said she sounded more like a Democrat (probably in an effort to woo independents and women voters) than anything. In addition, and as has been argued repeatedly, with Ivanka impressing as much as she did and does, um, it looks like the wrong Trump is running for President. I mean, I know she’s only 34, but she’ll be 35 come November. That works, right? Shit, if Canadian-born Ted Cruz can run for President, why can’t Ivanka Trump?
  • Finally, the event we were all waiting for—sort of. Donald Trump, ever the strongman, depicted himself as the law-and-order candidate. In doing so, he delivered an address that the media roundly characterized as “dark.” In his tone of doom and gloom, Trump argued that anyone who doesn’t recognize the dangers that exist for the United States (hmm, could that be someone like Hillary Clinton?) is unfit to lead it, and that the time for political correctness is over. He also rattled off a number of “facts” about what a shitty state the country is in. And then he went in on Hillary directly, describing her legacy as one of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” The rest was a mish-mosh of his familiar themes: putting “America first,” I am not a politician or a member of the establishment, Hillary this, Hillary that, the police are great, so is Mike Pence, say no to Obama and the Syrian refugees, sanctuary cities are bad, walls at the border are good, laws should be enforced, laws should be enforced, did I mention laws should be enforced?, we’re going to bring jobs back to America, we’re going to lower taxes, we’re going to repeal ObamaCare, we must protect freedom of religion and the Second Amendment, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! There. I just saved you more than an hour. You’re welcome.

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Congratulations, Debbie. You played yourself. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon)

This is where I’m supposed to warn you not to let the crazies get the keys to the asylum. This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to let bigots like Donald Trump, Steve King and David Duke think they’re right by openly running on platforms characterized by a belief in white supremacy. This is where I’m supposed to point out that “putting America first” is a red herring when, for all our griping about terrorist attacks in Orlando and shooting of cops in Baton Rouge and Dallas, we can kill 85 Syrian civilians in an air strike, call it an accident, and sweep it under the rug. This is where I’m supposed to plead with you to consider that Trump is a bully, a fraud, and someone who still won’t release his tax returns, even though the IRS literally has no problem with it.

So, yes, in short, there is every reason not to vote for Donald J. Trump, and likely a great deal of merit in voting strategically to keep him away from the White House. At the same time, however, if we are thinking in Naderian terms and voting based on our conscience, how many of us can say we’re all in on Hillary Clinton, and not just because she’s someone other than Donald Trump? Speaking purely for myself, I know that I can’t endorse Hillary on her merits alone. Moreover, even though I’m putting forth my personal views, I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

Even before Wikileaks’ latest “gift” to the world, I have had my reservations about voting Democratic on the basis of feeling as if the Democratic Party has done little to earn my vote and yours. But let me tell you—the DNC E-mail leaks just dropped on the world don’t help matters from my perspective, nor do they inspire a sense of confidence in Hillary or desire for party unity among fervent Bernie Sanders supporters and serial Clinton haters. Sanders supporters, I will concede you, have looked and will look for evidence of a conspiracy against their candidate of choice, and for months have alleged Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been less than impartial in her dealings with Clinton and Sanders, arguing that she (Wasserman Schultz) has been influential in tipping the proverbial scales in the former’s favor.

For all their talk of a “rigged” political system and claims of the Sanders campaign that they have had to fight an uphill battle against an entrenched Democratic, if the DNC leaks show one thing, it’s that the conspiracy theorists are, well, at least somewhat right on this point. With nearly 20,000 messages recovered from a hack of the DNC’s E-mail server(s), credited to the mysterious “Guccifer 2.0” and believed to be the product of Russian intelligence, I am not about to try to parse through the entire message dump. Besides, most of these messages feature rather uninteresting and benign details within DNC operations. A prized few, however, shoot through the idea that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures within the Democratic National Committee were neutral in their private handling of Bernie’s and Hillary’s campaigns. Furthermore, their communications with the press—including figures such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, and Polirico’s Kenneth Vogel—suggest a favoritism toward Hillary Clinton, and worse, that the DNC may have worked to influence their content and undermine Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party nomination. In a piece for Heavy credited to Stephanie Dube Dwilson, a number of “the most damaging” E-mails are cited and highlighted. Among the revelations or potential revelations referenced in the article/slideshow:

  • The Democratic National Committee may have planned a joint fundraising party with The Washington Post.
  • Staffers, in talking about Rhode Island, a state that was reducing its primary polling locations and in which Bernie Sanders led in the polls at the time by a slight margin, derided the Sanders camp, suggesting they’d probably complain about the outcome regardless, and referred to the state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, as “one of ours.”
  • Mark Paustenbach, DNC staffer, suggested an anti-Bernie Sanders narrative to Luis Miranda, DNC communications director and the most-cited figure in the DNC leaks.
  • Miranda wrote simply, “lol,” to a report that Sanders welcomed an agreed-upon fourth debate in California in advance of the primary.
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz E-mailed Chuck Todd, saying that MSNBC on-air personality Mika Brzezinski calling for her to resign was “outrageous” and that “this needs to stop.”
  • DWS, responding to Sanders campaign Jeff Weaver’s comments on the unrest at the Nevada Democratic Convention, called him a “liar.” (In a separate E-mail, Wasserman Schultz refers to Weaver as an “ass.”)
  • Kenneth Vogel allowed the DNC to review an article about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising prior to publication.
  • The DNC may have crafted fake Craigslist ads for employment with Donald Trump’s organization, referring to Trump’s oft-cited disparaging attitude toward women.
  • The DNC may have planned to attack Bernie Sanders on his faith, implying he is an atheist to hurt his support among more religious Democrats.
  • Wasserman Schultz, after a CNN story in which Bernie Sanders insisted he would try to remove her as committee chair should he get elected president, wrote, “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.”
  • The Clinton campaign may have violated Federal Election Commission laws by making out donations checks to the DNC.
  • Donna Brazile, who had professed her neutrality on matters concerning the Democratic Party, said she would “not touch” a story on reservations held by the Sanders camp about adequate representation on the Democratic Party platform and in the Democratic National Convention, adding “because she would cuss them out.”
  • Luis Miranda referring to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Confessore as “good as we could hope for,” as the DNC “was able to keep him from including more on the JVF (the Joint Victory Fund).”
  • Paustenbach laughed when Sanders commented on state Democratic parties not having enough resources and the more undemocratic aspects of the primary process.
  • DNC staffers elected not to reference an MSNBC story talking about favorable unity within the Democratic Party among voters, as it was a “heavy Bernie piece.”
  • The DNC may have had people inside the Sanders organization as effective “plants” reporting information back to them.

Reportedly, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will resign from her post as Democratic National Committee chair following the Democratic National Convention, a move Bernie Sanders had called for following news of the DNC leak being made public, and one for which Sanders supporters had been clamoring for months. At the minimum, DWS’ removal as DNC chair needed to happen for general principles. That much was a given. The damage, meanwhile, in terms of perception, may be done, and this in turn feeds all sort of “Clinton-Lucifer” degrees of separation connections. OK, maybe that stretch is Ben Carson’s alone to make. But it does make one wonder whether or not all the Committee’s machinations made a difference in the race to the Democratic Party nomination, or if not, like Tom Brady and his deflated balls supposedly, why they needed to engage in chicanery in the first place.

Support for Hillary Clinton among Bernie Sanders supporters and progressives, theoretical or otherwise, has been an issue for the Clinton campaign and mainstream Dems for months now. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, hopes for party unity have been seriously rattled by the one-two punch of the Wikileaks E-mail dump and the nomination of Tim Kaine for vice president. On the latter count—surprise, surprise—the mainstream media thought it was a great pick. “Clinton follows her heart!” “Clinton employs sound strategy!” “Kaine is able!” Lame last-name-related puns aside, as far as the rest of the potential voting pool is concerned, however, the choice of Tim Kaine as VP is either boring, infuriating, or infuriatingly boring. As comedian W. Kamau Bell reacted to the news on Twitter, “One glass ceiling at a time everybody. 🙂 — Hillary Clinton in a group text to Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren.” Progressives, too, are not very enamored with Kaine, and a lot of it stems from his perceived support for the big banks in his signing of multiple letters aimed at regulators to loosen regulations for community banks, as well as his past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast-tracking it through Congress. Add to this the notion Bernie Sanders delegates have had to argue and compromise with top Democratic leadership to try to reduce the influence of superdelegates, a much-hated hallmark of the primary voting system, and you wonder whether or the Convention in Philadelphia will be even more “messy” as Sanders himself predicted months ago.


In his most recent essay on the state of the election, economist Robert Reich asks the pertinent question, “Does Hillary get it?” Likewise a critic of the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate for Hillary Clinton, he opens his post thusly:

Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.

A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”

Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.

In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)

But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

If what Reich believes is correct, Clinton’s “safe” pick is not all that safe given the current state of the American electorate. And now, because I feel compelled, let’s bring Ralph Nader back into the mix, and return to our main point. If, regarding the Republicans, we are taking Nader’s and Ted Cruz’s advice, and voting our conscience, rather than simply voting against Hillary Clinton, then Donald Trump, a man who preys on voters’ fear and hate, should never appear with an X on one’s ballot. If you don’t understand this by now, brother or sister, you’re reading the wrong blog. As for the Democrats, though, if you’re voting strategically for Clinton to Trump, then there is concern that you’re implicitly sanctioning their own bad behavior, in the form of arrogance, tone-deafness, and an unwillingness to play by the rules, and thereby thinking they’re in the right, or worse, that this much simply doesn’t matter. Under this assumption, the Democrats, like the Republicans, can turn around after the election and say, “Well, you voted for us.” In this scenario, give the Nader his due—we, as voters, will have lost all leverage in convincing both parties to reform to better reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Ultimately, when it comes to my advice for your vote, I’ve already been very clear that voting for Donald Trump—are you hearing this, Ben Carson?—is really making a deal with the Devil. However, if you’re voting for Hillary Clinton, more and more I’m convinced the only reason to do so is to choose the lesser of two evils, and even that seems likes a poor justification when the Democratic Party has seemingly done everything they can to screw the pooch on this election, and again, little to earn your vote. So, if you’re planning to “throw your vote away,” as the saying goes, and come November, give Jill Stein or Gary Johnson your consideration, maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe this is your chance to tell the Democratic and Republican Parties to clean up their act or else stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, to send a message that we deserve better. Either way, you can fire back at your critics and say—however condescendingly—”Well, I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump.” Besides, regardless, even if, like in 2000, the presidential race is as close as could be in 2016, when it comes to brass tacks, it won’t be Johnson or Stein which costs either side the election. It will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who loses.