Will the DNC Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory Yet Again?

President Donald Trump faces an exceedingly narrow path to re-election in 2020. In order to beat him, the Democratic nominee only needs to pick up 38 electoral votes. With more than 100 electoral votes in play in states that Trump won narrowly in 2016 — especially Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida — all the Democrats have to do is pick a nominee ever so slightly more popular than Hillary Clinton.

That’s a low bar that the Democratic National Committee seems determined, once again, to not get over.  As in 2016, the DNC is putting its finger on the scale in favor of “establishment” candidates, the sentiments of the rank and file be damned.

Last time, the main victim was Bernie Sanders. This time, it’s Tulsi Gabbard.

Michael Tracey delivers the gory details in a column at RealClearPolitics. Here’s the short version:

By selectively disqualifying polls in which Gabbard (a US Representative from Hawaii) performs above the 2% threshold for inclusion in the next round of primary debates, the DNC is trying to exclude her while including candidates with much lower polling and fundraising numbers.

Why doesn’t the DNC want Gabbard in the debates? Two reasons come to mind.

Firstly, her marquee issue is foreign policy. She thinks the US should be less militarily adventurous abroad, and as an army veteran of the post-9/11 round of American military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, she’s got the credentials to make her points stick.

Foreign policy is a weak spot for the increasingly hawkish Democratic establishment in general and the front-runner and current establishment pick, former vice-president Joe Biden, in particular. As a Senator, Biden voted to approve the ill-fated US invasion of Iraq. As vice-president, he supported President Barack Obama’s extension of the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s ham-handed interventions in Libya, Syria, and other countries where the US had no business meddling. The party’s leaders would rather not talk about foreign policy at all and if they have to talk about it they don’t want candidates coloring outside simplistic “Russia and China bad” lines.

Secondly, Gabbard damaged — probably fatally — the establishment’s pre-Biden pick, US Senator Kamala Harris, by pointing out Harris’s disgusting authoritarian record as California’s attorney general. Gabbard knows how to land a punch, and the DNC doesn’t want any more surprises. They’re looking for a coronation, not a contest.

If the DNC has its way,  next year’s primaries will simply ratify the establishment pick, probably a Joe Biden / Elizabeth Warren ticket, without a bunch of fuss and argument.

And if that happens, the Democratic Party will face the same problem it faced in 2016: The rank and file may not be very motivated to turn off their televisions and go vote.

Whatever their failings, rank and file Democrats seem to like … well, democracy. They want to pick their party’s nominees, not have those nominees picked for them in advance. Can’t say I blame them.

Nor will I blame them for not voting — or voting Libertarian — if the DNC ignores them and limits their choices yet again.

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Reading is Fundamental; Congress Should Try It

As the US House of Representatives took up the Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare,” in 2010, then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) famously told her fellow members of Congress “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

The 900-plus page bill (which eventually sprouted thousands of pages of implementing rules and regulations) had been posted to the web only days before, printing and distribution of hard copies was taking time, and some members felt that its content bore careful consideration and discussion before a vote.

They ended up passing it anyway, but they were right to worry. Since the ACA became law, its provisions have created considerable confusion and debate in the public square, among regulators, and in the courts.

Is it really too much to ask of US Representatives and US Senators that they know what they’re voting on before they vote? Apparently so, and it’s easy to see why.

Legislation that arrives before Congress these days isn’t even really written by members of Congress. It’s written by staffs of lawyers and “experts,” then its details are thrashed out between teams from those staffs.

By the time a bill actually comes to a vote, it’s often long, confusing, and full of devilish details that any given member might vote against if he or she noticed them. They count on their staffs (and lobbyists who influenced the legislation) to notice those details for them. Congress is effectively a 535-headed rubber stamp, albeit one of mixed “yeas” and “nays.”

It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way. In 2006, Downsize DC proposed the Read The Bills Act. It’s about 3,000 words long, but  its core provision requires that “before final passage of any bill (other than a private bill) or resolution, the full verbatim reading of the text to each house of Congress.”

US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) sponsored the Read The Bills Act in 2012. It didn’t pass. It should have.

Harvey Silverglate points out in his book Three Felonies a Day that “[e]ven the most intelligent and informed citizen (including lawyers and judges, for that matter) cannot predict with any reasonable assurance whether a wide range of seemingly ordinary activities might be regarded by federal prosecutors as felonies.”

We have way too many laws. Those laws are too long and at turns too vague and too detailed, depending on whether vagueness or detail better facilitate the arbitrary exercise of government power.

If Congress can’t be bothered to even know what’s in the laws it passes, why should the rest of us be bothered to understand and follow those laws?

It’s time to pass, and follow, the Read The Bills Act.

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How Our Culture Disempowers Teens

Teenagers are extraordinarily capable. Louis Braille invented his language for the blind when he was 15. Mary Shelley, daughter of libertarian feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote Frankenstein when she was 18. As a young teen, Anne Frank documented her life of hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Prize at 17.

The Impact of Low Expectations

These are remarkable people for sure, but teenagers are able to accomplish remarkable things when given freedom and opportunity. Instead, our culture systematically underestimates teenagers, coddling them like toddlers, confining them to ever more schooling, and disconnecting them from the adult world they will soon enter.

Our low expectations of teenagers create a vicious circle. We think teenagers are lazy, unmotivated, and incapable of directing their own lives, so we restrict their freedom and micromanage them. This process leads teenagers to believe that they are, in fact, lazy, unmotivated, and in need of micromanagement. According to Peter Berg, author of The Tao of Teenagers and a teacher who has worked with teenagers for over 25 years, this circle emerges because many of us were treated this way as teenagers. We may have a hard time trusting teens because we ourselves were not trusted. Berg tells me:

We know that many people in our society unfortunately don’t understand teenagers, don’t relate to them well, and actually, in my experience, have a fear of teenagers. In part, I believe this is because they struggled themselves as teenagers and were not treated well by adults. Coming from this mindset, it’s easy to underestimate teenagers and easy to view everything teenagers do through a lens that confirms that we should underestimate them.

Teens Crave Connection and Purposeful Action

When teenagers are trusted and treated well, they are incredibly enthusiastic and competent. I spent this week in Austin, Texas, with 14- to 17-year-olds attending one of FEE’s summer leadership seminars for teens. Far from being lazy and unmotivated, these young people were engaged and curious—even when confronting meaty material like Economics in One Lesson. In fact, I saw more adults dozing off during lectures than teens! Sure, teens like their smartphones and social media—but so do many of us adults. As Berg says:

What irks me the most is the myth of the lazy, always-on-social-media, disengaged teen. Teenagers are engaged and are far from lazy. Most teens today have schedules that many adults couldn’t navigate. Teenagers do care—maybe not always about things that adults think they should care about—but they do care about little things, big things, and everyday things. Teens want what adults want: to be respected, taken seriously, cared about, and treated fairly.

On the edge of adulthood, teenagers need and crave authentic connection to real, daily life, but they are increasingly cut off from this experience. Even as states like Oregon push to lower the voting age to 16, arguing that teens are fully capable of democratic decision-making, they raise the compulsory schooling age to 18. Be free to vote, but you must remain locked (literally) in coercive schooling.

Teens now spend more time in school and less time in work than at any other time in our history—even in the summertime. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 42 percent of teens were enrolled in school in July 2016 compared to only 10 percent in July 1985. Overall, teen labor force participation has plummeted from a high of 57.9 percent in 1979 to just 34.1 percent in 2011. Part of this decline is related to more emphasis on academics, extracurricular activities, and other structured programming for adolescents. But public policy may also be to blame.

The Minimum Wage’s Impact on Teens

Raising the minimum wage, as many states have aggressively done, has a disproportionate impact on young workers who do not yet have the skills and experience to justify an employer paying them a higher wage. As a result, these neophytes don’t get hired and thus don’t gain the necessary experience to ultimately warrant higher pay. It is widely understood that minimum wage laws lead to higher unemployment, particularly for young and low-skilled workers who are then prevented from gaining important entry-level career skills.

According to a July report by the Congressional Budget Office regarding a proposed $15 federal minimum wage,

The $15 option would alter employment more for some groups than for others. Almost 50 percent of the newly jobless workers in a given week—600,000 of 1.3 million—would be teenagers.

Writing for PBS, economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth reported the same thing in 2016:

Young people would be harmed the most by increasing the minimum wage. Almost half of minimum wage workers are under 25, and 19 percent are teens.

Only 1.8 percent of US workers were paid at or below the federal minimum wage in 2015, so it’s a small segment of the overall population at this pay level but a large percentage of young people.

Rather than criticizing teenagers as lazy and in need of more control and structure, we should recognize the ways our culture infantilizes its teens. We confine them in coercive schools and school-like activities for most of their adolescence, limit their autonomy, and prevent them from working in jobs and gaining valuable career skills. Is it really any wonder that they may retreat into their cell phones when they get the chance? It might be the only moment of their day when they are actually in control and connected to the wider world.

From rising compulsory schooling ages to rising minimum wages, we treat teens like toddlers and separate them from the genuine adult world they will soon join. As Berg says:

For many teens, their days consist of an expectation to live a story or script that others have created for them.

Maybe we should give teenagers the freedom and opportunity to create their own scripts and witness the remarkable things they will do.

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American Politicians Use Jews as Pawns to Excuse Their Meddling in Israeli Elections

On July 23, the US House of Representatives passed (the vote went 398-17, with five voting “present”) a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

The resolution was an outrageous condemnation of the freely chosen economic actions of millions of Americans.

Worse, that condemnation was made on the express behalf of not just a foreign government but the specific policies of one foreign political party (Israel’s Likud Party and its leader, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Its intended purpose is to give Likud and Netanyahu the advantage of perceived US support in Israel’s upcoming election.

Worst of all, the resolution’s proponents made — and now that it’s passed, will continue to make — extensive use of overt, undisguised race-baiting, posturing as defenders of Jews while smearing their opponents as anti-Semites.

What are the purposes of the BDS movement?

To pressure the government of Israel to meet “its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully compl[y] with the precepts of international law by: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Who supports BDS?

Yes, some BDS supporters oppose the existence of the Israeli state as such, and some of them are anti-Jewish bigots. Go figure.

Other BDS supporters are Jews, including some Israelis. Being Jewish or Israeli no more entails supporting one political party’s agenda than being American does.

BDS harnesses the consciences of individuals — individuals of all religions, nationalities, and ethnicities — to voluntary action pressuring the Israeli government to abide by the same standards of international law that the US  government routinely, and with great pomp and circumstance, imposes coercive sanctions on other governments for supposedly violating.

The anti-BDS resolution is a far more overt, and likely far more effective, instance of US government meddling in Israel’s elections than anything the Mueller Report credibly accuses the Russian state of doing vis a vis the 2016 US election.

That’s disgusting.

But not as disgusting as its supporters’ virulent resort to racial politics and their abuse of Jews as, to steal a phrase from a recent New York Times op-ed by Michelle Goldberg, “human shields” to distract our attention from what they’re actually up to.

Shame on the House.

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Peckerwood Populism is About Political Strategy, Not Personal Belief

The controversy around President Donald Trump’s recent tweets targeting “The Squad” — four Democratic members of Congress who are all women, all people “of color,” and all of whom Trump seems to think aren’t “from America” (one came from Somalia as a young woman and became a US citizen at 17; the rest are “natural born” US citizens) — largely centers around perceptions of his personal bigotry.

Is  Trump a racist? A xenophobe? A misogynist?  His public history, going back at least to the early 1970s, offers evidence for all three accusations. Some people find that evidence compelling, some don’t.

But to focus on Trump’s personal beliefs in any of those areas is to miss the point. He’s not an individual actor living out his life in private. He’s a public actor, leading a major political party, occupying the highest political office America has to offer, and campaigning for re-election to that office.

A decade ago, I began writing on a phenomenon I call “Peckerwood Populism” (“peckerwood,” a regional version of “woodpecker,” became first a slur used by poor southern black Americans to describe poor southern white Americans, then a self-descriptor and symbol proudly used by white racists). Here’s my description of Peckerwood Populist politicians circa 2009:

“While the average Peckerwood Populist is probably not affiliated with overtly white separatist/supremacist groups, he buys into that stereotype of the voter he’s pursuing. He’s pitching his product to blue collar white voters.  … I’m not saying that the average white, blue collar voter is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate. For that matter, I’m not even necessarily saying that the Peckerwood Populist agitator is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate. What I am saying is that the Peckerwood Populist agitator believes that … he can get his hooks into the voter by playing on those assumed sentiments.”

Sound familiar?

At one time, overt Peckerwood Populism was the mainstream in southern politics, preached by segregationist Democrats and, as it lost popularity, “Dixiecrats.” As it became even less popular and less overt and switched parties (with Nixon’s “southern strategy”), its reach expanded outside the south and loomed large in American politics until at least as late as 1988 (remember the Willie Horton ads?).

Peckerwood Populism is enjoying a nasty resurgence in the Age of Trump (and Trump is far from its sole practitioner).

Why? Because the Republican Party has failed to expand its base. The core GOP voting demographic is still white, blue collar, and male. The party has failed to appeal to black, Latinx, and female voters to expand that base.

If you can’t expand your base, you win by working harder to get more of that base out to the polls. You throw them lots and lots of red, racist, xenophobic, misogynist meat.

That’s exactly what Trump is doing. Whether he really means the crazy things he says is (mostly) beside the point. He believes his base believes those crazy things. If he’s right, that’s a far bigger problem than Trump himself.

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Power, Not Policy, Drives American Politics

Claiming to speak for “we the people,” the framers of the US Constitution offered it as a tool to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

More than 230 years later, is the federal government doing a good job of delivering on those purposes? A poor job? Or is it, perhaps, up to some entirely different job? Let’s look behind Door Number Three:

According to the late  political philosopher Anthony de Jasay, the modern state is a “redistributive drudge …. If its ends are such that they can be attained by devoting its subjects’ resources to its own purposes, its rational course is to maximize its discretionary power over these resources. In the ungrateful role of drudge, however, it uses all its power to stay in power, and has no discretionary power left over.”

How much discretionary power does the federal government exercise over your resources?

Well, in 2019, actors in the US economy, including you, will produce goods and provide services worth more than $21 trillion. Also in 2019, the federal government will seize and spend more than $4.4 trillion of that $21 trillion.

Nearly one out of every five dollars’ worth of wealth produced in the US disappears down Washington, DC’s gullet. That’s a lot of discretionary power, and it doesn’t account for state or local government expenditures, or for exercises of discretionary power that reduce the amount of wealth created in the first place.

How much justice, tranquility, defense, general welfare, and liberty does that much discretionary power buy? How much SHOULD it buy?

Personally, I’d say we’re well past the point where giving more discretionary power to the state serves the ends touted in the preamble to the Constitution, and far into a situation where the primary activity of government in the United States is using its power to stay in power.

From any debate between candidates for public office, one may collect a veritable basket full of promises.

But listen closely to the promises and you’ll find that unless the candidate is a Libertarian, they’re  always conditional: Give me more power, give me more money, and I’ll give you X.

Those promises are a pig in a poke: Elect that candidate and you may or may not get some measure of X, but that candidate will definitely get the power.

Even Republican candidates who promise tax cuts tout a “Laffer Curve” equation under which lower tax rates will supposedly produce more total revenue — and with it more discretionary power — for them.

Do you consider keeping politicians in power a project worthy of nearly one out of five of the dollars you earn?

If so, by all means keep voting for candidates who advocate an ever stronger and ever more expensive federal government. There are usually at least two such candidates on your ballot for any office — they’re called Republicans and Democrats.

If not, vote Libertarian. Or abandon politics altogether.

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