On Democratic Socialism

The Democratic Socialists of America hate when you focus on the word “socialists” in their name. They will remind you they’re not Bolsheviks, not North Korea, and Not Cuba. They would like you to focus on the word “Democratic.” They fashion themselves to be more like what they believe to be an FDR Democrat. They believe in a big, active government. They want the government to not “seize the means of production” as Karl Marx wanted, but to implement more “soft socialism” measures like Social Security and Medicare. There are harder line elements that are actual Communists, but for the most part Democratic Socialists simply want you to know they are progressive Democrats, and not capitalists.

This may seem harmless, and on policy it mostly is. Every Democrat running for Federal office in the country this year is supporting Social Security and Medicare, calling for a more expansive government role in health care, talking about a fix for student loan debt, calling for some kind of increase in the minimum wage, and decrying the GOP tax cuts for the rich. It’s unanimous, basically. On the policy side, the difference between moderate Democrats and Democratic Socialists is a degree or two of detail. No matter how much Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attacks a Tammy Duckworth, find me more than a small hand full of issues where their disagreement is more than “how much further” one will go than the other.

The problem, of course, is that AOC and the DSA want you to believe the differences between them and mainstream Democrats is extreme. They are ready to have an ideological war with Democrats to enforce their rigid ideological view of what is and isn’t acceptable. If a Democrat is for a Medicare buy-in plan (also known as the “public option”) instead of “Medicare-for-All,” they’re a neoliberal. If a Democrat is for an immediate increase in the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 or $12, with gradual increases to $15, they’re a corporatist. They ran around calling Sharice Davids, a Native-American lesbian “the establishment” in the KS-03 Primary, without ever considering how ridiculous they sounded. They also never seemed to comprehend that maybe their positions are simply a little bit too much for a white-collar suburban district in Kansas to swallow. Democrats probably can’t elect a majority to Congress that is as ideologically pure as they are. They’ve bought into the untrue myth that most independent voters are actually leftists like them- when they’re generally less engaged, bland moderates that don’t want their taxes to rise or their services to be cut. Instead of being allies to electable candidates in moderate districts, AOC and the DSA have made it their mission to support expensive, pointless, and damaging primaries across the country.

The bigger issue I have with the DSA crowd though is not rhetoric, particularly since I don’t disagree with their ideals, or entirely hate most of their positions. It’s the larger ideals behind re-branding the American left as “socialists.” I don’t support Marxism becoming our organizing ideology economically, and neither really do they. Whether or not they know this, what they are calling for is a mixed-capitalist economy, which is what Democrats have supported and Republicans have opposed since 1930. By branding themselves as “socialists,” they are casting themselves in the same net as Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Mao’s China, or the old Soviet Union, when in reality what they want is some sort of hybrid of FDR and French Socialists. They are casting themselves in with global leftist leaders at a time when most of them are inept clowns. Maduro is overseeing a failed state, Corbyn is celebrating Palestinian terrorists from the Munich Olympics, the French Socialists didn’t even make the Presidential run-off, the German left is invisible, and the Israeli left has ceased to even matter. I’m not sure any of these folks actually represent the American Left in any way, but they’re not the comparisons any functional person should want.

When we get down to it, the chief beef the DSA crowd has with the Democratic Party is the decision under Presidents Clinton and Obama to highlight “identity politics” over class identity. In choosing what to make “non-negotiable,” Democrats have chosen to put their focus on Civil Rights and “social issues,” while choosing to compromise on taxation, the minimum wage, and Wall Street regulation. The DSA folks don’t seem to agree with this approach, not because their social conservatives, but because they have different priorities. This is a healthy debate to have, provided you don’t have Twitter trolls calling their opponents “neoliberals” and Jane Sanders calling for Hillary to be jailed. Their rhetoric has become toxic.

I’m not a fan of AOC, Bernie Sanders, or the DSA, but it’s not so much of a reflection of policy difference as it is a rejection of their rhetoric, degree of extremity, and priorities. I don’t think labeling the left as “socialists,” or even really anti-capitalist is helpful. I don’t think embracing failed leftists abroad is the look the Democrats need. In short, the policy differences may be slight between mainstream Democrats and more ideological leftists, but the gap is big enough for me to want to note “I’m not them.”

The Inept Harrisburg Republicans Plan to Survive the Democratic Blue Wave

Republicans are in trouble nationally. Democratic voters are more enthusiastic about voting this year, both in primaries and special elections. Democrats for Congress are out raising Republican incumbents. Republicans in tough seats are retiring. Trump’s approval is underwater, and has been consistently. They’re struggling to win elections in rural Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

The struggles of Republicans may not reach the Pennsylvania state legislature though. Gerrymandered maps still stand, at least for now, and protect the Republicans. Democrats are in deep minorities in both houses, and haven’t won a majority since 2008. The Democrats’ House campaign arm had about $11k in the bank for their last report, while their leaders had flush bank accounts for themselves. Despite some strong candidates, nearly one in every district up this year, Democrats may not reap the rewards they should, particularly if organized labor “tightens it’s belt” on political spending after the Janus decision.

Republicans are preparing an offensive anyway, realizing they could still take losses this year, given the environment. Republicans are preparing to run their 2018 campaign on HB 76- a bill that would eliminate property taxes. That sounds really good, particularly in the Western and Northeast Pennsylvania battleground districts where Republicans can play offense to the blue collar electorate. The bill doesn’t work though. It leaves a $4 billion hole in the budget, with no mechanism to find that revenue. It does not address local school district and municipal debt, leaving the locals to fend for themselves when paying off bonds for large capital projects. The bill shifts the revenue burden onto local property taxes, causing large local tax increases. The bill will cause layoffs and cuts to services. HB 76 is nothing more than a political gimmick bill, masquerading as legislation. You don’t have to take my word for it- the Republican House Appropriations Chair doesn’t support it, because it’s a budget buster. The bill simply cuts taxes, kills education funding, and causes huge local tax increases.

The question is, what’s the Democratic alternative? HB 504 passed the House several years ago, but never got a Senate vote. That bill cuts property taxes, on average by 72%. It makes up the revenue by shifting to small increases on the EIT and PIT, both of which are more broad based. Property taxes can be cut, and made up for with taxing Marcellus Shale at a rate on par with other gas producing states, as opposed to the inadequate 1% “impact fee” Pennsylvania initially came up with. Ending the “Delaware Loophole” that shields corporations from state taxes, legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, and selling more licenses for gaming and/or beer sales also can help the state find revenue. Just bringing HB 504 back up for a vote and passing it would provide immediate tax relief for low income Pennsylvanians and seniors. That’s an immediate, viable plan.

Instead, Republicans will attack incumbent and challenger Democrats using the broken and flawed HB76. They’ll say Democrats have stood in the way of property tax elimination. Don’t believe them. Republicans have controlled the State Senate since 1995, they’ve controlled the House since 2011, and 20 of the last 24 years overall. If Republicans want to pass this terrible legislation and eliminate property taxes, they can do so on a party line at any time. They won’t though, because they know it doesn’t work. Don’t send more of these conmen to Harrisburg to grandstand and not act.

It’s Time to Re-Think Who “Won” the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and World Wars

It’s 2018, and Germany has a roaring economy, universal health care, and an impressive infrastructure. China is building a world order that doesn’t center around us. France, the United Kingdom, and Canada are adjusting to life without an absolute alliance with us. Russia interfered in our elections, got away with it, and is being rewarded with Presidential summits. We have a President who is a reality TV star, who bankrupted a casino, and who tweets in all caps, LIKE THIS!

You’d have to pardon anyone wondering out loud if the story of American Exceptionalism that came out of the 20th Century was a myth.

While Europe built strong social-safety nets, Asia innovated, and Russia put their energy into mastering the internet, the United States built the largest military industrial complex in the world. While America built up corporate profits, built up a credit bubble, slashed taxes for the wealthy, and increased the income inequality gap, Germany went in the opposite direction, in a span of less than 30 years. While America assumed the success of the 1950’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement, the electoral polarization that came from it became bad enough that Russia preyed on our racial tensions in interfering with our 2016 elections.

At the end of the 1980’s, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union was in collapse, and China was “modernizing” their economy towards capitalism. Kids were taught about the progress that had been made by the Civil Rights movement in school. The 1990’s were a period of remarkable, broad-based economic success in America. The United States was considered the world’s greatest military superpower, and used that power and influence in places like the former Yugoslavian republics. We were instrumental in peace agreements in the Middle East, even bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together in the Clinton years. It seemed as though America had defeated the evil of the world, and was creating a peaceful, prosperous world order.

The 21st Century has to make us ask questions- children in cages, Iraq, white nationalists coming out of the shadows, Russian hacking of our elections, mass shootings with no government reaction, Abu Ghraib, tens of millions uninsured, massive student debt, Gitmo, sham summits with foreign dictators, no action on climate change, a massive bank meltdown, and so much more. Is the United States still making progress? Does our federal budget and government match our values? Have we made the right choices on how to spend our dollars? How did we squander the booming economy and budget surpluses we ended the 90’s with? How did we end up with a crumbling infrastructure, school shootings, a health care system that leaves millions behind, no plans for clean energy development and energy independence, white nationalists in the streets, school students testing out rather mediocre against other countries, but the largest military budget in the world, by leaps and bounds?

It is clear now that things were not quite what they once seemed, at least to me. It’s clear to me that our priorities for spending our collective dollars were wrong. It’s clear to me that Germany, who lost both World Wars, is set to be in a much stronger position moving forward than we are, 100 years after World War I. It’s clear to me that China has become far more effective and innovative at solving societal and global issues, without matching us in bombs. It’s clear that 30 years after the Cold War, Russia is effectively meddling in our elections, and causing America to damage itself. It’s clear to me that the successes of the Civil Rights movement have given way to a tyranny of the majority, where resentment and re-segregation is happening both politically and in regular life. It is entirely fair to me that we question how America spent it’s capital, it’s hard-earned global power. Rather than enriching our people, building a strong, stable society, we enriched the few and built a strong country for yester-year. Obviously in the short term, we have to defeat Trump, and get his ilk out of power. In the longer term, we have to reconsider our entire paradigm, ditch our toxically polarized politics, and reconsider the decisions and actions we’ve taken with our great power.

Summer’s End

I leaned against a tree for about 15 minutes, watching the sky light up over Bethlehem, as I’ve done virtually every Summer since I was in Middle School. It was the final night of Musikfest, the ten day, outdoor music festival in the city where I went to college, the night that ArtsQuest puts on a free fireworks show for the locals. Unlike years past, I chose to not watch these fireworks among the crowds, opting instead to watch them a mile or so down the river, where I could get out of town in a hurry when they were done. Today is, after all, a work day.

I’ve always called the end of Musikfest the end of the Summer in the Lehigh Valley, which usually is quite exciting for me. I am not a huge Summer person, other than the beach and baseball games part. I’m a Fall person. The Fall is for pennant race baseball, which my Phillies will play in this season. The Fall is election season, which usually is exciting for me, and really should be this year with Democrats poised for great victories. Fall is the return of football, which could mean the NFL, college, or my beloved Easton Red Rovers high school ball for me. Fall is Oktoberfest season. Fall is hoodies’ season. Fall is pumpkin everything season, especially my coffee. Fall is for bonfires. Fall is a great time for new music, buying new clothes, and at least for me, meeting new people. The Fall is edgy. The Fall is cooler, both in temperatures and in feelings. I’m a Fall person.

I’m not as excited as usual though, and I’m not sure why. My Phillies are good, but haven’t captured my imagination like the 2008 team of ten Summers ago did, yet. The Eagles won the Super Bowl, and I’m far too content with them. I plan on seeing Notre Dame and Penn State play live this Fall, but I’m not fully dialed in on college football, yet. Pumpkin spice? It’ll get here. Oktoberfest? Still a little bit away. The wardrobe changeover to Fall will wait until the heat goes away. It’s cool and rainy today, but it doesn’t feel like the Fall is here, yet.

Perhaps my discontent with politics, my profession, is over-shadowing the rest of the cool things about Fall. The 2018 election feels like a necessary evil to me, a must-win to stop the country from becoming a mirror image of Donald Trump, who disgusts me. The problem though, is that I’m as unexcited by the Democratic Party as I have been since I registered to join it in 2001. I want the Democrats to win Congress, in fact I see a need for them to, but I find myself mostly voting for them because the alternative are the white nationalists marching outside of the White House yesterday. It’s easy to oppose this Administration, but it’s not as easy getting out of bed and being excited to work for it when you increasingly find yourself rolling your eyes at your own side. Maybe that’s a downer for me.

Or perhaps it’s just raining, and I’m on my first coffee of the day at 1:55pm. You tell me.

American Politics 2040

Things change. The trajectory of things change. Nothing is set in stone that has not happened yet. This does not mean that you can’t take an honest look at your current trajectory and figure out where you are going. America could use that right now, but it’s leadership is simply unwilling or incapable of doing so. After the 2016 election, we need to really consider where it is we’re headed.

The Republican Party of Reagan and Nixon is changing, morphing before our eyes. They will become a more hard-line nationalist party, one that identifies heavily as white and traditional. They are still for low taxes and de-regulation, but are a more populist party that can support government “welfare” for those who they deem as “American.” They want to back away from being the world’s active superpower, particularly on matters of climate change and trade policy, and instead pursue a more isolationist world view on those matters. They are certainly not George W. Bush in his view of American leadership, instead agreeing more with Vladimir Putin’s regionalized powers view of the world. They reject the 20th Century, post World War II “western order” with our traditional allies in Western Europe, in part because they reject the globalist view of those countries. They’ll spend big on defense, but not to play “global policeman.” The Republican Party is becoming an “America First,” hard borders and isolationist economics party, one that embraces white identity and traditional values, is pro-military spending, dismantles collective safety nets in favor of arbitrary ones, and who opposes taxes and regulations to protect the public.

Democrats are on a trajectory that is quite different. The Democrats are becoming a fully globalist party. Global trade, collective action with our Western allies on global issues, a pluralistic identity, a more open immigration policy, and a very science driven policy process are some of the hallmarks of the Democratic future. Democrats are embracing more socialistic concepts and collective actions and solutions. Democrats embrace a more active global voice, a softer “national identity,” particularly on matters of race and language, and more integration with the world.

Over the next twenty years or so, the two parties will battle over this “America First,” traditional-nationalist view of the world, versus a more globalist, collective, Civil Rights driven world view. Election cycles will be volatile, and leadership will change more often. Primaries will push both parties more clearly into their corners. The current divisions in this country will be more stark. The need for money in our campaigns, along with gerrymandering and voter sorting, will produce more “pure” parties in terms of their differences and positions.

About twenty years from now, half of America will live in eight states. The most important two data points in determining if a state, district, or county is red or blue will be:

  • The percentage of non-white voters. This is fairly simple, straight forward, and easy to understand. If there are a large percentage of African-Americans, or certain groups of Latinos or Asians, you can expect Democrats to do well. If not, expect it to be red. The exception comes out of the second point-
  • The existence of major metropolitan markets that are “winning” in the global economy. If you have a New York or San Francisco, you’re blue. If you have a failing regional urban market or ones that are too small, you’re red. This is they key delineation point among white people. White people in large, successful urban places like Philadelphia or Washington are usually Democrats. White people in white collar suburbs near those kind of markets are swing voters who will lean left. White voters everywhere else are trending the other way. The higher education and earning white people will live in the bigger, successful job markets, and trend Democratic.
  • What does this mean in the long haul? By 2040, I have these states as blue:
    • New York
      New Jersey
      New Mexico

    If you’re trying to think out loud on how many electoral votes that is, it should be about 220. Assuming Democrats win all of the Senate seats in these states, it’s 24 (If DC isn’t a state). Interestingly, these states should have just under 200 House seats, under my math, meaning the “friendliest” branch of the government for Democrats to win elections might be the House.

    What other states could be in play? Well, you’re looking for one of two things- major metropolitan areas that are attracting new economy jobs, and non-white voters. You need some sort of coalition between non-white voters and white voters who are “winning” in the 21st Century economy. What states have this?

    • North Carolina- I almost put this state with the group of blue states, because of the “Research Triangle” and Charlotte areas, but there are large rural swaths in this state that can and will probably keep it competitive. This will become to Democrats what Pennsylvania has been, a “must have,” in order to win.
    • Florida- I’m not overly bullish on Florida’s long term prospects for Democrats, in part because the Latino population is simply less liberal leaning than those in the West- in part because they come from different places and are less connected to the immigration issue. Florida will remain a competitive state though, because it is diverse, and has the Miami and Tampa areas that fit the bill as metropolitan areas.
    • Pennsylvania- Pennsylvania will not be the Democratic lock for national candidates that it was from 1988 through 2012, but it’s not going the wrong way completely anytime soon. Why? Philadelphia is a giant market, and to a lesser extent the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area) will remain relevant. The state won’t remain cleanly “blue” though because Northeast PA is increasingly behaving like Central and Northwest PA already were. Democrats need to dig into the Lehigh Valley and Pocono regions in order to win statewide contests in the future. The polar opposition behavior of the rest of the state will make those areas the key.
    • Minnesota- In 2016, one of the under-reported stories of the election was how Minneapolis-St. Paul and their suburbs had to bail Democrats out. That is looking like the new norm. With some of the “generation Mondale” Democrats leaving the more rural Congressional seats, Democrats are at risk of atrophying further in those parts of the state. The “Twin Cities” will increasingly be pitted against more rural, conservative areas in competitive races.
    • Connecticut- How is Connecticut a swing-state in 20 years? I’m not very bullish on Democrats future hopes in New England right now. If you look right now, Democrats only hold two of the six Governorships. They could lose Connecticut this year. The region is very white. The only state with a mega-market in it is Massachusetts. What keeps this state from going away from Democrats? Suburban New York and Boston voters. Higher education centers and highly educated voters. Hartford. Even with those things, New England is quite white and not huge fans of taxes. Expect this state to be competitive.
    • Colorado- Put this state next to North Carolina as a state that I almost made Blue. Educated millennial voters have moved to metro Denver at a fast clip. The Latino vote should grow in Colorado moving forward. Even so, it’s a “Denver vs. the world” effect out there. In large sections of the state, Democrats probably won’t be overly competitive. This state, like Pennsylvania and Minnesota, will constantly come down to turnout in their largest metropolitan market. Denver isn’t as large as Philadelphia, so their margin of error will be a little smaller. Fortunately the state’s demographics are a little better than Pennsylvania’s in 20 years. It will still be a battle.
    • Nevada- There’s Las Vegas and the “rest of Nevada.” Democrats aren’t going to win much in rural Nevada, meaning their margins in Clark County will need to continue to decide elections. Democrats should continue to win the Las Vegas market, but they don’t win it as crazy big as one might think. Lots of older white people live in Clark County, which narrows the margins. Democrats are held up by a sizable Latino voter shares and organized labor’s considerable strength in Las Vegas. If Republican sabotage of labor weakens Vegas labor, this state may be red. Labor’s strength may decide this state’s political future.
    • Washington- If you remove the Seattle market from Washington, it’s already red. That divide probably won’t lessen in years to come. As long as Seattle remains a destination for young workers, Washington will remain blue. Still, this state’s political future will entirely ride on Seattle’s turnout, so it’s not a safe bet in twenty years.
    • Rhode Island- Either Rhode Island will continue to perform like a well-educated Boston suburb, or it will perform like an extremely white, Catholic state. Like Connecticut, I like the chances of Democrats better in the southern part of New England than the north. I still think Democrats will have to fight for it.
    • Oregon- Take everything I wrote about Washington, and put Portland in the place of Seattle. While this state is traditionally liberal, it’s also largely rural and white, which I’m predicting to be the data points that matter. Can Portland keep it Blue? Maybe. It’s not a lock though.
    • Vermont- How can I put Vermont here? The home of Bernie Sanders as a swing state? Well, there’s a few things to consider here. First, they have a Republican Governor right now, which isn’t terribly odd for them. Second, it’s very rural. Third, it’s a very pro-gun state. Vermont’s perceived liberalism may not be as “baked in” as others think, especially as the parties shift. Burlington is not a mega-market that can keep Vermont “blue” on it’s own.
  • So how important are those states in 20 years? About 125 electoral votes worth. 22 Senate seats worth. Another 100 or so House seats. If Democrats do well in these states, they can cobble together Electoral College victories and small House majorities. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a Senate majority between these states and all the ones in the base.
  • What this means of course, is that Democrats will need to keep several states competitive enough to win sometimes that I did not put into this mix. Perhaps Arizona will belong in this group, or Mississippi, or South Carolina, none of whom are on my current list. I’m not bullish on the current trajectory of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio- mostly because their major urban markets have seen major population declines, and I am not certain they can overtake the declining returns of national Democrats in their more rural areas- but Democrats will need to compete in them and occasionally win to build governing majorities. I should include New Hampshire and Maine here, two rural, white New England states that don’t feel like they trend with us in this re-alignment. These states moved far towards the Republicans in Trump’s 2016 win and have Republicans as Governors currently. Even so, Democrats probably can’t check out on them.
  • Obviously trends can change. The middle-aged and elder Trump voters and their brand of politics will begin dying during the next 20 years, and young Republicans could make the party more libertarian. That may calm some of the white-nationalist rhetoric- though I’m doubtful, and I know that doesn’t drastically change their policies. The internal Democratic fight- of identity vs. ideology- isn’t over yet. Things can happen. Changes will happen.
  • No matter how much I shift things though, I keep coming back to the same two definitive data points- non-white voters and major metropolitan, global marketplaces. No matter how I apply those, the future for Democrats, on the current trajectory, is threading a needle in every election. The Democrats may never lose another popular vote for President in this country, but have many repeats of 2000 or 2016 in the future. Because Democrats win many of their House seats with more than 75% of the vote, even in a country where the majority want a Democratic House, Democrats May never see majorities the size of the one they had in 2009-10. Because half the country will live in eight states in 2040, and most of the non-white votes will be in those states, the Senate may very well simply exist to thwart the desires of the nation’s majority through a safe, conservative Senate Republican majority.
  • Here’s the part though that is most concerning. The open antipathy between the bases of the two parties may create a situation in the future where the minority of the country, the rural white states, rules with an iron fist over the majority of the country in those eight big states. I’m not sure if it will rise to the level of apartheid South Africa, or Saddam’s Iraq, but the Trump era must make you concerned about it. If “owning the Libs” is the motivating factor of the Republican Party, rather than governing an increasingly diverse country and improving outcomes for even those across the partisan divide, our union will be severely tested in ways not seen since the Civil War. That’s a dark future to look forward to.
  • Politics Ain’t Working in America

    Sixteen years ago this month I got involved with politics and the Democratic Party. Politics were pretty different then. Republican moderates held more urban seats, and Blue Dog Democrats held rural seats. George W. Bush was reaching out to Latino voters as best he could, and his electoral results showed that it was helpful. Democrats were still competing in Missouri and in the parts of Western Pennsylvania not calling themselves “Pittsburgh.” Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson worked with Democratic President Bill Clinton, while Democratic Senator John Breaux worked with Republican President George W. Bush. I guess I’ve now been involved long enough by age 35 to opine for the old days.

    None of that stuff is remotely relevant in 2018. There was no Alan Simpson for Barack Obama, and there sure as hell isn’t a John Breaux for Donald Trump. Frankly, that kind of bi-partisanship gets you primaried out of office in 2018. The interest groups basically run the two parties, which has forced most elected officials into their ideological corners. Gerrymandering and outside money force ideological conformity that didn’t even exist fifteen years ago. Bi-partisanship is essentially dead, not that the era of Donald Trump is really making anyone long for it anyway. Trump’s existence is to troll his opponents, and some of his supporters even will tell you they don’t care if he got Russian help- at least he stopped Hillary. I think most Democrats would tell you we don’t care how we beat him in 2020 either, it’s a moral imperative at this point.

    More than anything though, the changes in our politics are about sorting. Democrats have lost almost all of their rural seats in Congress, besides those that are majority-minority, and are essentially an urbanized party now. Save for a few urban enclaves like Staten Island, the Republican Party doesn’t exist at all in urban America. Congressional elections are decided in suburbia now, but neither party’s messaging really reaches them- because most Congressmen represent gerrymandered, base districts, and fear primaries. These voters often find themselves disgusted and disinterested in politics, and end up just voting against one side of the other. The overwhelming majority of districts are decided ahead of time, the other districts are full of disgusted voters, and we wonder why Congress can’t get much done? We used to think we all had the same goals, and different routes there. That’s just not true anymore. The America each side wants is no longer the America the other side wants.

    From a political standpoint, we can work around this- the majority rules. Whoever wins the election does what they want and governs for their side. Of course, this constantly leaves the minority party’s voters discontent with America. It leads to fluctuations in policy as Congress and the Presidency go back-and-forth like a yo-yo. A Democratic government passes a comprehensive health care bill in the ACA, and the succeeding Republican Congress and President do everything they can to sabotage that bill. A functional, consistent government that works is nobody’s goal. Achieving ideological victory is the motivator for Congress.

    America’s great achievements- the interstate highway system, landing on the moon, Civil Rights legislation, and others- were bi-partisan, collective victories. That seems like pie-in-the-sky now. While I think both sides have become very ideological, I have to say I don’t assign equal blame- today’s Republicans literally questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship, and generally treat Democrats, particularly minorities, as lesser or non-citizens, and question their patriotism. In this kind of environment, things don’t get done. Infrastructure crumbles. Thirty or forty million people don’t get health care. Our students fall to the middle of the pack in education outcomes. A broken immigration system doesn’t get fixed. Our children get mowed down by madmen with machine guns. Common-sense energy policy that protects our environment can’t get passed. Just partisan fixes that favor major funders of the majority party can pass. Problems can’t get solved.

    Our constitutional system was not drawn up to deal with a country literally divided along identity lines. Racial, gender, urban vs. rural, education, and other divisions have created a country where we don’t have shared goals. Globalism has moved so many of the good jobs to population clusters, or big cities. Self-sorting among the people has made a situation where most of the Democrats are in the big cities, and most of the Republicans live in exurban or rural areas. Our federal system, particularly the electoral college and Congressional re-districting, gives one side an advantage on the other. In twenty years, half the country will live in eight states. We are heading towards a divided society not unlike those in third world countries, or at the worst case scenario, apartheid-era South Africa. If we continue on this path, Donald Trump may end up being the calm before the actual storm.

    Random Stuff About Me

    People seemed to like my last “about me” piece, so I figured I would do another. I’m terrible at humanizing myself in real life, but I’m a little better here.

    So here we go:

    • Your “Hall of Fame” of Bars- College Hill Tavern in Easton, Russia House in DC, Jameson’s in Waterloo, OBT in Bethlehem, 1818 in Palmer Township, Crest Tavern in Wildwood Crest.
    • How do you feel about being a Millennial?- Terrible. I’m not a millennial in any way but for when I was born.
    • What do you order at diners?- Salad bar. It’s my go to. I eat two to three salads and two cups of soup. It’s immaculate.
    • Where do you see yourself in five years?- Washington, DC or New York City. Maybe a beach, but that’s probably later.
    • Why do you hate suits?- First off, I’m not trying to impress you. Give me jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat. If you’re not impressed by our interactions, I’d rather be forgettable to you. Me wearing a suit requires a high bar. When I met President Bill Clinton last back in 2013, I told him he’s the only person I’d wear a suit for. I try to stick to that rule, but I’d probably violate it for President Obama or Britney Spears now.
    • Favorite Beatle- John Lennon. I appreciate that Kanye made Paul McCartney famous a couple of years ago, but John Lennon best embodies my personal values and beliefs.
    • Why don’t you like Uncle Bernie?- My beef with Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) isn’t so much over beliefs, policies, or values. I didn’t appreciate his lukewarm embrace of Hillary Clinton after the 2016 Primaries, when we were facing a fascist in the general election. I don’t appreciate his career of being a critic of the Democratic Party from the outside. I tactically don’t agree with him on abandoning the Democratic base (to be read “identity politics”). I don’t believe any “political revolution” is coming to a starkly divided America. I view his quarter century in Congress as largely (not to be read as “entirely”) lacking in achievements. I think his proposals, while correct in values, are mostly not thought all the way through or realistic. I think he created a cult of personality in 2016, and has moved the American left into unsustainable territory.
    • It’s 2018 and Cole Hamels is a Cub. What world is this?- Javy Baez wasn’t good enough. Good riddance, hail Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro.
    • Why do you hate guns?- I don’t, I’m just not an ammosexual. Despite being a white guy in Pennsylvania, I’ve never been hunting. It’s cool if you do though. I just think domestic abusers, felons, and the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. I think you should have to report your lost or stolen hand gun. I think hollow tip bullets shouldn’t be available. I think all guns should have serial numbers and be sold in a traceable way. I think you should be licensed and trained in keeping a gun safely. None of this stuff is extreme, and most gun owners would agree with most of it.
    • Lobster or Steak?- This is like picking between children. My answer is both. If you make me pick one, I’ll take the other off your plate.
    • Counting Crows or Live?- Another impossible answer. The two 90’s bands are doing a 25th anniversary tour right now. I love both, but I’ll pick Live only because they’re from York, PA.
    • The best rapper on Death Row Records was…?- Everybody and their mother says Tupac. The dude is an all-time legend. I get it. I feel like Snoop Dogg doesn’t get enough love though. He came up earlier in their rise, he’s like rap’s Beatles or Stones at this point. His career has lasted forever. He scared the $#*% our of suburbia. I’ll go Snoop.
    • Favorite New York Met?- Tom Glavine. I remember him more as a Braves legend, but he was a Met, too. He signed a ball for me at Veteran’s Stadium as a kid. He also imploded to help the Phillies win the division on the final day of 2007. He seemed like a genuinely good guy though, I like him.
    • Describe you at 15- Fast, tie-dye wearing, thin, bleach-blond, bad, unaware, sheltered, arrogant.
    • Al Gore or Joe Biden?- Everybody likes Joe more, right? He’s more personable. I think Gore is more politically in tune with me though. I loved him in my college years for his opposition to the Iraq War and putting climate change on the national map. He probably wasn’t my cup of tea of opposing explicit rap lyrics, or many other cultural issues in his Senate years, but what he became later was more me.
    • Why do you hate Socialism?- Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, China, the USSR… should I go on? Socialism takes on different forms in different countries, but it either always fails or morphs into capitalism or oligarchy. I recognize the need for socialist ideas and programs, like Medicare or Social Security. We live in a mixed capitalist nation, and removing all the socialism would be really bad. I fundamentally reject the idea of seizing the means of production and going full Karl Marx though too. The accumulation of capital and wealth is not our enemy though, and it’s only bad if our government fails to regulate and enforce rules (which it does fail to do, often).
    • Most amazing thing you heard this week?- My grandmother’s electric bill for last month was $14.40.
    • Favorite ice cream flavor- Vanilla. I’m boring.
    • Tacos?- Beef. Give me like ten. I’ll eat them all day.
    • Something You Like?- Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. It starts tonight. It’s the best ten days in the Valley all year. I walk around with a mug full of beer and listen to free music. And eat.
    • What are you doing this weekend?- Musikfest and Lebanese Heritage Days in Easton. I’m going to eat like a G-d damn king.
    • Celebrity fight you want to see?- Donald Trump Jr. vs. Lavar Ball. Hell-in-a-cell, please.
    • Coolest thing you heard this week?- Dave Grohl hangs out in Rehoboth Beach during the Summer. Can we make Dave our national king?
    • Favorite late night comic?- Recently I’m watching Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert. I liked Letterman the best though.
    • You would rather: a Phillies World Series or another Eagles Super Bowl?- I’m a Phillies-first guy. I want both though.
    • Thing that bothered you this week?- Hey, NFL fans- support the players, not the owners, in contract disputes. The players put their body on the line for your entertainment. The owners and not the players are guaranteed their money each season. The owners are the rich billionaires. Stop complaining about what the players make. It’s a tiny percentage of what wealth they produce for everyone involved in the game. Get your priorities right.
  • That’s it for today.
  • Civil Rights Progress Is Actually Harder Now

    There’s a common misconception about Civil Rights in America, that we made more progress on the issue in the 1950’s and 60’s than we are now. The theory tends to take the position that Civil Rights progress then has made white America more conservative, and opposed, to more progress. There’s decent evidence to that end- Democrats saw their share of white voters begin falling considerably by 1968.

    I think we’re missing a huge, key point there though- the perceived cost of Civil Rights to the majority has changed. For most of white America in the 1950’s and 60’s, Civil Rights was something happening elsewhere. It was mostly an issue of Jim Crow, Segregation, and “hillbilly” cops being violent in the South. African-Americans were merely asking for voting rights, physical safety, and access to public education, and mostly in just one region of the country. White people in other parts of the country found Bull Connor, George Wallace, and the Ku Klux Klan kind of embarrassing and hard to defend. It wasn’t hard to support Civil Rights against some other white people, in some other place. Besides, the South has always been rebellious and poorly behaved. The cost of supporting Civil Rights in the 1960’s, while historic, was relatively low for white people.

    Beginning with the push to integrate busing in the 1970’s, the math began to change. Integrated busing meant an end to de facto segregation in schools nationally. Confronting policing issues was one thing when it was Rodney King in Los Angeles, or a celebrity trial like OJ Simpson- it’s totally different when the shooting is down the road in South Whitehall Township, or Pittsburgh. Confronting the lack of minority inclusion in the ranks of our CEO’s, Senators, and Hollywood producers is less convenient. Providing quality public education, through spending actual money in impoverished urban areas can pit African-Americans vs. wealthier white suburbanites quite often. Confronting implicit bias and systemic racism means confronting one’s own behavior, not some other white person in some other place. It also means accepting the premise that the LBJ signed, 1960’s Civil Rights legislation was a start, not a conclusion on the road to a more just, equal society, which can be hard for some to comprehend.

    I understand that for many white people, Civil Rights progress just can’t be a priority for them. A lot of progressives mock this concept, but the truth is that life isn’t that great for white working class people in 2018. The factories with their unionized, family sustaining wage paying, unskilled labor jobs are gone. Opioid addiction, Wal-Mart jobs, ever rising local taxes, mounting personal debt, and home foreclosures are in their place. While they’re wrong, I understand why they are dismissive of the concept of white privilege. I’m not dismissing the racial bias and explicit racism that exists with a large chunk of these people. I’m simply acknowledging that we should have some sort of compassion for people who are frankly being defeated by life, are afraid of a changing world, and aren’t privileged enough to change their own lives, let alone the world. I’m obviously not too happy they decided to unleash the forces of Trump on America, but I do understand why it happened.

    Civil Rights fights moving forward aren’t going to get easier. Progress in 2018 is harder, and requires actual changes to everyday society. Not everyone is going to find “the juice is worth the squeeze.” Voters have always voted self-interest, and probably will continue to, meaning there may not ever be a majority of voters casting their ballots for a pro-Civil Rights agenda. With more political polarization and scarcer resources available, the reality is that progress is only going to be harder, not easier.

    Bethlehem, My Thinking Town

    Everyone has their place they go to think. It’s a place of comfort, a place to decompress your thoughts, a place where you can make sense of everything in life. For me, that place is a whole city- Bethlehem, PA. I “grew up” in Bethlehem, which is to say that I went to college here. I’m at peace when I’m back on campus at Moravian. I’m at peace when I go up to Lookout Mountain. Lately though, I’ve been doing most of my work over coffee in South Side Bethlehem. There’s a couple of really good spots, and I can mostly be left to myself there.

    I’ve had so many important moments in Bethlehem, some fun and some not. The annual Musikfest (which begins Saturday) is one of my favorite weeks of the whole year. Main Street is a great place to eat or have a drink. I would not mind eventually living in Bethlehem.

    I’m in Bethlehem right now having a coffee. Rest assured I’m thinking over some major decisions.