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Essays and opinion pieces from our hosts and listeners involving American politics touching on current events, politics, history, and the like.

Do Your Job But Live Your Dream

by Kevin Kelton

It used to be that a young person graduated high school or college, tossed aside the whims of childhood dreams, and set out to build an adult career that would be self-actualizing while also supporting them and a family. Entry-level white collar jobs were plentiful, and even a mechanic or machinist could enjoy a skilled trade they love and the protections of a union job. But for many people trapped in today’s service and gig economy, the dream of a fulfilling professional career has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with driving for Lyft, waiting tables, or working another service job to pay the bills. It’s all honorable work. But it’s not self-actualizing. It’s not who you are.

That’s why I think every person needs a passion or dream and should be encouraged to pursue that passion as long as they can. I got lucky and turned my dream of being a comedy writer into an actual career. But you don’t have to make money at your dream to live it. Golfers don’t get paid to hit the links once or twice a week. Nor do amateur bowlers, tennis players, painters, photographers, bloggers, and on and on. With the advent of YouTube and podcasting, even wannabe video stars and political pundits (like me) can do their thing. I am constantly amazed and impressed by the vast amount of talent out there in the world. And thanks to technology, you don’t have to win a network role or an Emmy to be a star.

Yet I’m constantly surprised and saddened by my Facebook friends who are missing this important component of a happy life. Every life will inevitably suffer the ups and downs of financial stress, illness, loss, and mental health struggles. Without the important nutrients gained from a balanced diet of joy and fun, the bad calories of daily life will ultimately rot the soul.

Actress Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) told her story of how she came to live her dream recently, and it made me think we need more stories like hers out there for people who are trying to find fulfillment in their humble lives. If you’re just living to make the rent or raise the kids, you are only living half a life.

So with that in mind, here’s my story of how I came to live a dream. Not everyone will be as lucky as me. But hopefully my story will motivate others to at least take their shot.

I went to college without any inkling of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The only thing I loved doing was playing hockey, and I knew that short, skinny kids with moderate skating skills don’t make the NHL. But I did like comedy. I liked watching it on TV, listening to comedy albums, and, once my brother Bobby began doing standup comedy in New York, hanging out with him and helping write his act. Night after night during my breaks between semesters, I would trek with Bobby from comedy club to comedy club, watching him and the likes of Ed Bluestone, Alan Zweibel, Bob Shaw, Barry Diamond, and dozens of other standup comedy black belts whose names aren’t familiar to most readers. While I pursued a degree in business administration, I was earning an virtual masters degree in comedy just by osmosis. Soon I began applying those skills on my college radio station, where I cohosted and cowrote a National Lampoon Radio Hour-style show.

But it was just a hobby. I wasn’t pursuing a career or money. I was having fun. Like playing hockey.

As my senior year of college was coming to a close, I was wondering where I would fit in in the adult world. I thought I might have the skills to write copy at an ad agency. But it wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up. Which, if based on the metric of graduating college, was only weeks away.

One night about a month before finals, I attended a campus seminar about finding your first job. Seems like the practical thing for a business student to do, right? The frivolous days of college radio were ending, I was going to need a job, and it was time to grow up and get serious about life.

The speaker, an author on the topic, started by telling everyone to take out a piece of paper and write down the three things they’d be in life if they could be anything in the world. My list, predictably, was:

  1. hockey player
  2. comedy writer
  3. radio newscaster

The speaker then instructed everyone to “cross out numbers two and three, look at number one, and focus the next two hours on what you can do to become the thing you love.”

That’s when I did the singularly smartest thing I have ever done: I crossed out number one. Because I knew that nothing he said in the next two hours about résumés and job interviews was getting me in the NHL.

So I returned to my dorm room and set out to convince my roommate, Mark, a theater major and my cohost on our little college radio comedy show, to cowrite a TV spec script with me. I honestly do not recall how I knew what a spec script was.

Mark, who was waist deep in studying for finals and writing his thesis project, two one-act plays, thought the idea was absurd. “Are you nuts? We have finals in a month!” I rebutted his forceful protest with the best counter-offer I could come up with: “What if I do all the typing?”

Mark reluctantly agreed, and I spent the next month typing out the “Barney Miller” script we’d rift on during study breaks. (For those under 50, “Barney Miller” was the “Brooklyn Nine Nine” of my time.) I sent it to my brother and to a cousin who was also in the TV business. My cousin and my brother’s agent both got back to me with vague words along the lines of “it shows promise.” That was all I needed to hear.

Two months later, I arrived in Los Angeles with a beat up Ford Mustang (purchased with bar mitzvah money), $2,200 in college loan debt (the equivalent of about $10K today), and two more spec scripts that I wrote in motels at night during my drive across country. (I was always a fast writer.) Aside from a six month day job as a bank teller to earn rent money (where I spent my lunch hours writing jokes in the breakroom), I never stopped pursuing the dream. I won’t bore you with the rest. Suffice to say, with a lot of hard work, tenacity and resilience, I eventually broke through and enjoyed a fairly successful career as a TV writer (including writing for “Saturday Night Live” – another dream fulfilled).

All thanks to that speaker in college who advised me to become a hockey player.

Granted, I had a lot of built-in advantages not available to everyone; I had a brother in the business to help me navigate the terrain, and a bit of born-with talent I was able to match to my passion. But getting paid to do it was still a long-shot dream that required the one thing we are all born with: a driving desire to like how I spend my time.

To button my point, I didn’t need to get paid to live out my dream. I stopped getting paid to write long ago, but I still do it to this day. In fact, I’m doing it right now. And though no one will pay me a dime for this longwinded and self-indulgent essay, I enjoyed the two hours I spent writing it as much as writing a sketch for “Saturday Night Live.” This was my day on the golf course. I hope I broke 80.

I also pursued other dreams in my life as well to keep me sane when work wasn’t enough, including earning a black belt (achieved), hosting a political talk show (achieved on a small scale), and being a great dad (a work in progress). I even continued playing ice hockey into my mid-thirties and got to an adult league championship game (which we lost). Some dreams never die.

What do you love to do? Find it and do it. Even if it’s a few hours at night or on the weekend. Write. Paint. Compose. Play. Cook. Dance. Travel. Shoot an average round of golf or a game of pickup hoops. Buy the motorcycle. Build the boat. Whatever it is, add a little dash of it to your life. You don’t have to become a pro or even be good at it. You just need to love doing it. 

And never listen to someone who tells you your dreams are impossible. Had I gotten that same sage advice a few decades back, I might be in the Hockey Hall of Fame today.

Kevin Kelton is the cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of the Facebook political group, Open Fire.

Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of September 10, 2018

by Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU co-host

OMG, MPU-inverse. This week. This freakin’ week.

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting focused on the midterms. It’s go time and we’re all geared up to phonebank and canvas and write postcards and register voters or something to make sure this upcoming election has record turnout and awesome outcomes. That’s what fall is supposed to be about.

Then we got smacked with news that Paul Manafort is going to cooperate with Bob Mueller’s investigation. Holy shit! That was a plot twist, right? I can’t wait to hear what this guy has to say! And is he gonna say it in English or is he going to revert to the original Russian to detail his involvement in the Trump campaign?

But what’s really weighing on me this week is the story about a letter Senator Feinstein referred to the FBI. The letter, which was sent to the Senator and to Representative Anna Eshoo by a constituent, details an episode in which Brett Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault an acquaintance at a party in high school. Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer detailed the contents of the letter – though not the name of the sender – the New Yorker on Friday.

When the details were revealed, Washington kind of exploded.

Now, Brett Kavanaugh isn’t the first Supreme Court nominee to be accused of sexual misconduct. Hell, he isn’t event the first Supreme Court nominee in my lifetime to be accused of sexual misconduct. I remember what people said about Clarence Thomas and what they said about Anita Hill. I remember and my heart is so heavy for this unnamed woman. Because she must remember all of that too and now? Now she must be so afraid.  All I can think about is how she feels right now, how she’s felt these last weeks since the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

She was afraid the night a high school boy held her down and tried to assault her. She was likely afraid in the days after that, wondering what she should do, what she should say. She was probably afraid of what people would say to her and about her. She was afraid of what would happen to her, to her family, to her future.

So she spoke to a therapist instead of to the police and lived her life for the next 30 years. 

Then that boy from her past appeared in her newspaper with the words “Supreme Court Nominee” under his photos.

What could she have felt then? Was she afraid?

She knew things about him than no one else knew and she was the only person who could tell her story. And she wanted to tell it.

But she was probably afraid. Afraid of what would happen to her, to her family, to her future.

She has seen what happens to women to tell the tales of powerful men who commit terrible acts. The women aren’t hailed as heroes. They are vilified and questioned and harassed and abused in a million ways. Look at Monica Lewinsky. Look at Anita Hill. Look at the women who spoke about Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves and Louis CK. Look what it took for people to believe the stories about Bill Cosby. 

Hell, look at the young men abused at Ohio State and the boys assaulted by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Victims have to climb a mountain just to get a platform from which to be heard.

But she also knows that the only way to share her story is to tell it, to climb that mountain, to find a platform. So she told it. She told two other women, powerful women, women positioned to relay her story through official channels but who could also, maybe, just maybe protect her, too. She told them to use her story but not her name. She gave them the truth but tried not to give away her life in the process.

They did what she asked. They redacted her name and told investigators and the White House. They made her letter available to the Senate as they deliberate. They tried to walk the tightrope of sharing but not sharing too much.

And now the attacks on her credibility are ramping up. She sees her classmates from the time signing letters saying her story can’t be true. She is hearing analysts calling her honesty into question. She is seeing Senator Feinstein and Representative Eshoo being criticized for doing as she asked by protecting her identity. And she knows what will be next.

She knows that internet sleuths are probably right now trying figure out her name. The trolls beneath the bridges of Reddit and 4chan are right now prying into her community and trying to unearth her identity. She knows there are forces are so prepared to exonerate a man that they will cheerfully destroy a woman who dared to speak her truth. They will find her and her spouse and her children. They’ll share her name, her address, her children’s’ school, her relationship history, any arrest record she might have, her work history, everything about her. They will slice open her life and spread it out, hold it to the light and ask the world to examine her and find her wanting.

This will happen and she knows it. And she is probably afraid.

The bravest person in America today is this woman, whoever she is. After 30 years of private pain, she took her pain public. She was wise enough to withold her name from the story but she knows that was just a delay. Soon enough, her world will be different and there is no way she can stop the violation Brett Kavanaugh started all those year ago when he held her down and covered her mouth to silence her.

She may not have changed history but she is a person of great courage for trying. 

Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of September 3, 2018

Actual photo of a recent NY Times op-ed columnist.

by An Anonymous Trump Staffer Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU co-host

Greetings MPU-niverse! We’ve made it through the last days of summer and, here on the east coast at least, we’re experiencing the rainy weather associated with hurricane season. You all remember hurricanes, right? The kind of storm that can disable the entire utility structure for an island under US control, like what happened in Puerto Rico last year? And a year later 11,000 people still don’t have power? Yeah. That.

In DC, the biggest storm is the storm of speculation about who wrote the anonymous op-ed from inside the Trump administration. The piece, published in the New York Times, confirmed that even Trump’s staff thinks he’s an incompetent shitweasel. Trump is so furious about it that he told the press corps that he wants Jeff Sessions to open an investigation into the matter. The Justice Department responded by saying “Writing columns isn’t a crime, you incompetent shitweasel. We’re not investigating anything.”

So far, no members of the MPU cast have confirmed or denied their involvement in the column. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to see if any of us are implicated.

Meanwhile, here’s all the news that’s  not fit to ‘cast!

The Greatest. Don’t @ Me: Last week on the podcast, we talked about the new Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. We all had lots of good things to say about Kaepernick and Nike and the rights of people to express their opinions in the manner they see fit. And this was before we even saw the ad.

Now that the full film has been released, I’m even more psyched for one very simple reason. In the narration, Kaepernick says that Serena Williams is the greatest athlete ever.

BOOM.

For years, fans of Serena have been saying that about her and there’s always some analyst – usually male – who’s right there saying “But Pete Sampras…” or “Well, there are a lot of other athletes in other sports…” before mumbling something about Muhammed Ali or Michael Jordan or someone.

No. NO. Serena is at the top of the damn athletic heap and there is no reason to argue against it. Thirty goddam years that woman has gotten on the court and won. She won big, she won small. She was number one or she was fighting her way back to number one. She got injured and came back. She got pregnant and won a Grand Slam. She damn near died after giving birth, came back, and made it to the finals at Wimbledon. She’s out there tearing up the US Open court this very weekend. She trains, and she works, and she wins. She has done it longer than any other athlete you can name and she’s done it with more grace.

She’s the greatest athlete ever. Thank you Nike for saying it out loud.

And Another Thing: While I’m airing grievances here can we talk about Michelle Obama? About a month ago, she showed up on every social media feed in the country doing a video with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, and Chris Paul telling us all to vote. She’s co-chair of When We All Vote. She’s the face of a a major get out the vote initiative. She’s doing the work.

Then yesterday, her husband shows up and gives a speech and he’s the hero of this election?

Bruh.

Look, I know. I KNOW we all feel like Barack Obama is the savior we need but c’mon. He didn’t save us from Trump in 2016 and he can’t flip Congress single handedly this year.

Michelle is a symbol for all of us who are doing the work this election cycle. From the record number of women who are running for office to the activists who are drawing attention to the continued detention of children to the protestors keeping the Kavanaugh hearing in the news to the thousands of volunteers making calls, knocking on doors, and sending postcards, people are doing the work.

The work is what matters, not the speeches. You can appreciate Barack at this moment but we should all do the work like Michelle.

Yes, You’re Right: If you think the subtext of this whole column is that women of color don’t get enough credit for their impact on our country, you’re entirely correct. Gold star for you.

Science Lesson: During his confirmation hearings this week, Brett Kavanaugh – who got a medical degree from FUCKING NOWHERE, I might add – said something about certain types of birth control being “abortion causing drugs”.

I’m going to assume that Not-A-Doctor Kavanaugh was talking about emergency contraception, sometimes known by its brand names Plan B or Ella. These are hormone-based medications that can be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy. They start a cascade of biological responses that suppress ovulation so that if there are any sperm flailing around a uterus, they won’t have any eggs to fertilize, thus no pregnancy occurs.

If the person taking the emergency contraceptive has already ovulated or ovulation is imminent because the necessary hormone surge has already occurred, the medication is ineffective and pregnancy is a very real risk. Not guaranteed, but there’s a distinct probability.

Once upon a time, the scientists who developed these medications thought perhaps one of the effects of them would be changes to the uterine lining that could prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. During the approval process with the FDA, they listed this as a possible effect and the FDA had them put it on the package insert for the medications, where it remains to this day.

Those inserts were written about 20 years ago and have not been updated, despite additional data about how the meds actually work.

What scientists now know is that the medication suppresses ovulation pretty effectively. When people take the drug at least 2 days before they’ve ovulated, they tend not to get pregnant. The part about preventing a fertilized egg from implanting? Yeah, that didn’t turn out like that thought. The drug doesn’t do that. To quote the scientific findings “There are no data supporting the view that levonorgestrel can impair the development of the embryo or prevent implantation.”

How can we be sure of that? Well, it’s pretty simple. If the drug prevented ovulation AND prevented implantation, it would have a near-zero failure rate and no one who takes it would get pregnant. Instead, continuing research shows that ,“In each study, none of the women who took LNG EC before ovulation became pregnant, but among those who took it on the day of ovulation or after, roughly the same number of pregnancies resulted that you’d expect to see with no use of emergency contraception.”

So, the moral of the story is emergency contraception only works by suppressing ovulation, it doesn’t cause abortions in any form, and the Republican party has a SCOTUS nominee who believes in junk science and right-wing scaremongering.

That’s it for me, folks. Tune in Monday when we drop some knowledge in the More Perfect Union!

Keep the ‘Adults in the Room’ in the Room

by Kevin Kelton

For almost two years Americans have been saying, “I hope there are adults in the room to protect the country from President Donald Trump’s worst instincts.” Now an anonymous high administration official has come forward to say s/he and others are doing just that, and everyone is yelling that it’s a cowardly coup.

No, it’s not. It’s exactly what a presidential advisor should be doing.

Avoiding or delaying bad decisions and directing the president to better ones are what the “adults in the room” are hired to do. They are the experts in their respective fields. If they know their president works best when he has a cooling off period before making a rash decision, they should do everything they can to give him that time to reflect – not let him fly off the rails by himself. If an impulsive president wants to sign an order to assassinate a foreign leader or launch a precipitous trade war, I want someone there to slow him down. Hell, I wish someone had done that to George W. Bush before he invaded Iraq.

As for the alternative description of this as a “soft coup,” that term simply doesn’t apply. A soft coup is the overthrow of a government by non-violent means. In the case of Anonymous, it’s clear s/he is executing most of the orders of the president and actively working to keep this administration in power until the voters or the congress decide otherwise.

In terms of him or her taking this action anonymously, there is solid historical precedent for that choice. Both Daniel Ellsberg (whom I admire) and Edward Snowden (whom I don’t) stayed anonymous after their leaks and only went public when circumstances forced their hands. And, of course, Mark Felt stayed silent for over 30 years before copping to being ‘Deep Throat,’ even denying it publicly many times. They all knew that going public off the bat might lead to job loss, prosecution, and public ridicule. Maybe the Trump administration’s unnamed turncoat only has so much courage. But better to show a little courage than none at all.

Finally, from a purely strategic perspective, having this person come forward and out himself is exactly what Trump, Mike Pence, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and all the other White House deplorables want him to do. Why would you want to take the same position on it as them?! If this person had penned it under his/her name, Trump would now be on the warpath trying to destroy his reputation the way he has with James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Jeff Sessions, John Brennan, Bruce Ohr, and other people who’ve publicly stood up to him. How would that help the situation? If a person wants to do the right thing while avoiding the fate of McCabe or Strzok or Sessions, can you blame them?

So no, I don’t want the coolest heads in the room outing themselves and being forced to resign so this maniacal despot can replace them with spineless sycophants.

You can excoriate “Anonymous” for selectively removing papers or not outing himself. I applaud him, salute him, and hope many more follow his lead.

 

Kevin Kelton is the co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and the founder of the Facebook debate group, Open Fire Politics.

My Fellow Democrats, We’re Becoming the Party of Freer Markets (Try Not to Faint)

by D.J. McGuire

When I chose to become a Democrat (a few hours after Trump was declared the victor of the presidential election), I expected a difficult period of adjustment. I’d left the GOP six months earlier, but leaving one major party and switching to the other one are two very different things.

Of course, Trump had ensured the two parties had flipped their supposed positions on national security. Those who have listened to the More Perfect Union Podcast since November 2016 are well aware that my opposition to Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime was what led me to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. Trump’s behavior towards Vladimir Putin in particular has made it far easier to be a conservative Democrat than I thought possible – not that it makes up for the damage to the free world. What I assumed would cause the largest headache was watching my old party on economic policies (where at least in theory they preferred freer markets) while my new one clung to its instincts for greater government intervention.

Nearly two years later, much to my surprise, that isn’t what I’m seeing. Sure, the Democrats are clearly moving leftward on health insurance, but they’ve moved in the opposite direction on freer trade (the voters far more dramatically than the elected officials).

Meanwhile, the Republicans…oh, dear. The party has largely swallowed whole Trump’s rampant protectionism, either lapping up tariffs as the great panacea or naively telling themselves it’s all about getting “better deals” – never mind that the only two agreements Trump has reached are either worse than the status quo (Mexico) or no longer operative according to Trump (the EU handshake).

Meanwhile, Trump has also spent time whacking the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, even complaining to Bloomberg about how he couldn’t depreciate the dollar for his trade wars because the Fed wouldn’t play ball.

Then came the social media wars. At first, I figured Laura Ingraham insisting on turning Facebook and Twitter into public utilities was just an extreme one-off. I was wrong (CNBC).

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will meet with state attorneys general later this month to discuss concerns that tech companies “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” the Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposed meeting between the country’s top prosecutor and state officials is the first major signal of potential antitrust action against Silicon Valley and follows recent claims by President Donald Trump of political bias and censorship by major social media firms.

Here’s what Sessions’ Justice Department had to say:

“We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Keep in mind, the hearing was supposed to be about how foreign intelligence uses social media to influence the American people. Instead, the DOJ is all about government mandates (or worse) about “political bias”.

If the Republican Party continues on this course (and given that Trump is pushing the matter, this is very likely), then it will become the party of nationalizing Silicon Valley, the party of putting America’s most dynamic and fastest growing sector under government control.

Michael Lind once pondered, in Politico, that “The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.” At the rate the GOP is going, despite the desire of many Democrats for government-monopoly health insurance, the switch will come much sooner than 2030. Indeed, one could argue it’s happening right now.

So be prepared, my fellow Democrats, and try not to faint.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

To My Fellow Conservatives: The Judiciary is NOT Worth It

by D.J. McGuire

The behavior and policies of the president continue to shock and to dismay – especially for conservatives such as myself (yes, I still use the noun). Freer trade is tossed aside for crippling tariffs amid complaints over “bad deals.” The dynamic information technology sector has become a target for nationalization among screaming heads such as Laura Ingraham. Allies are smeared where hostile tyrants are feted. Yet through it all, a large chunk of right-wing and center-right voters are, for now, staying with the withering husk that is the Republican Party for one reason and one reason alone – “the courts.” This post is my attempt to persuade them why this argument is a profound error.

Today’s Issues v. Tomorrow’s Issues

The first problem with the assertion that control of the judiciary branch is worth the exponentially increasing damage of the Trump presidency is that such control is specious at best. The issues that divide “liberal” (or if you prefer, “progressive”) and “conservative” in 2018 are not likely to be the issues that divide them in 2030, or in 2040, or in 2050. Unlike financial investment, past performance is an excellent indicator here.

Dwight Eisenhower selected as Chief Justice one of the most conservative office holders in the Republican Party – California Governor Earl Warren. Known at the time as a strike-breaker and a firm supporter of limited government, Warren’s libertarian outlook was given an entirely different label as social issues and law enforcement matters crashed into the public realm in the 1960s. Ike’s own Vice President became one of Warren’s top political critics. Nixon replaced Earl Warren with Warren Burger, who became one of the five Republican appointees to the Court to side with the majority in Roe in 1973The author of the dissent in that case was Byron White – the lone appointee of John F. Kennedy. Thirteen years later, Berger would change his own mind on the subject (yet another sign that ideological consistency on the Court doesn’t survive the passage of time).

The intervening decades have seen similar acts of temporal confusion. Donald Trump spent his campaign praising the late Antonin Scalia – the justice who cast the fifth vote the declared burning the American flag as constitutionally protected speech. While Bush v. Gore has become a bete-noir for much of the left in America, it’s not remembered that half of the Democratic appointees to the Court agreed to invalidate the Florida recount on which Gore’s last gasp depended (although none agreed with the smaller majority that insisted there wasn’t enough time to conduct a more proper recount there). Five years later, conservatives were thrilled when President Bush appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice. He was considered a sure-fire conservative…who cast the fifth vote to declare that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional – over the objection of “moderate” Anthony Kennedy.

What issues will drive conservatives in the 2020s and beyond? We really don’t know. As noted above, the right seems much more willing to regulate cyberspace today than even five (or two) years ago. Any attempt to nationalize Google will likely run into trouble from the very conservative court appointments that the right champions today. If the president attempts to exit trade deals without Congressional agreement (and largely in violation of the law), conservatives eager to rebuild Fortress America will find Bush and even Trump appointees in their way.

In other words, past and present “betrayals” of conservatives came not merely from judges and justices changing their minds (although that does happen), but also from electorate redefining what “conservative” means. Thus we find Reagan appointees invalidating laws against marriage equality in California and allowing charges against Paul Manafort to go forward (to conviction) in Virginia, among other things. I am all but certain Trump appointees will disappoint future conservatives, in part because they will take position that would make present conservatives (myself included) blanche.

The one exception to this may be the abortion issue. Indeed, nearly every conservative who still calls themselves a Republican cites it as the one reason they stay in the GOP. There is a problem with that, however.

Reversing Roe/Casey is a defeat disguised as a victory

As I was a politically precocious teenager, I’m in an increasingly unique position among any American under 50 – I remember what it was like when the judicially-imposed right to an abortion appeared to be coming to an end. It was after the Webster decision of 1989 weakend Roe, but before Casey v. Planned Parenthood reaffirmed it. Keep in mind, this was less than two decades after Roe, when the status quo ante was a real memory for most Americans.

For pro-lifers, it was a disaster. Pro-life Republicans were vanquished in 1989 elections, and pro-lifers in both parties were banged up in 1990 (as an example: a pro-life Democratic Governor in Minnesota was defeated by a pro-choice Republican challenger who had only been on the ballot nine days). Conservatives ran to the safety of economic issues in 1991 (and recovered nicely in the 1989 states’ legislative elections). George Bush the Elder went from 53% of the vote in 1988 to 38% in 1992 (and his two opponents – Ross Perot and Bill Clinton – were not pro-life by any stretch).

A quarter-century later, there are far fewer voters who remember the pre-Roe era, let alone look forward to it. Even if the Supremes reverse Casey, far fewer states will attempt to ban abortion than people realize. If anything, pro-choicers vocalizing their worst fears (albeit understandably so) are providing pro-lifers with their most perverse hopes. Odds are, both are wrong. For too long, abortion opponents have focused on changing a Supreme Court decision instead of saving children. The rest of the country has noticed, and is not happy.

The Benefits of “winning the courts” are ephemeral, but the cost is sure to be permanent.

Is this truly worth the damage Trump has wrought, my fellow conservatives? Is the chance to be disappointed by judges who change their minds (or by those who don’t when you do) truly worth the rupturing of our alliances? Is the erection of damaging barriers to trade really an acceptable price for the opportunity to be caught completely flat-footed due to forty years of political atrophy and neglect on the one issue that you claim is so important?

Before you answer, consider one more piece of historical evidence. The most politically charged Court decision of the 19th century was Dred Scott v. Sanford.

How well did that turn out for the victors?

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of August 27

Actual evidence of summer learning loss in American students.

By Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU co-host

Happy Labor Day, MPU-niverse! It’s another week in Trump’s America, only Trump is feeling all squirrely because no one it paying attention to him. The eyes of the world have been locked on the funerals of Aretha Franklin and John McCain, instead of on the White House. I just saw a tweet from a White House pooler saying Trump left the White House wearing a white cap and didn’t say where he was going. The weather isn’t great for golf right now but I guess Trump thinks it’s better than sitting around feeling mad that everyone is saying nice things about other people.

In other important news, the White House announced a renegotiated NAFTA agreement that may only include 2/3 of the North Americans countries. DJ will explain that on the podcast, in between bouts of primal screaming. And Andrew Gillum pulled off an incredible primary upset to become the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida. He then went on to quote Hamilton on Twitter so now I will love him forever.

I hope you’re enjoying a a day off and sales on major appliances, to celebrate the efforts of organized labor throughout American History. Meanwhile, here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

Good-Bye, Summer: Now that we’re at the end of the summer season, I want to talk about teachers and school calendars and money. Most kids in America will be back in school by Tuesday, after months-long breaks where they were helping their parents bring in the harvest and get the farm ready for winter.

Wait…I’m being told that almost no American students were doing that. Instead they were being shuttled to summer camps or other childcare arrangements, or working parents were juggling schedules to cover for all the hours of childcare that they needed over the summer. Students who normally rely on the Free and Reduced Meals program are going hungry or their family’s grocery budget is strained to make up for the lack of school-provided food. And they’re forgetting what they learned the previous year.

The whole idea of a summer break that spans more than two months is stupid and antiquated and needs to stop. In this day and age of families that need two incomes to make ends meet, trying to find affordable childcare during the long break from school is a hardship. Not only is there a financial cost attached to summer programs, there’s often a logistical cost in getting kids to and from summer programs – a logistical problem that doesn’t exist when kids just have to walk to a corner to meet the school bus.  Academically speaking, summer learning loss is a verified problem, as well.

All of these issues affect lower income families more than they affect families with more money, of course, but all kids are affected to some degree. Basically, summer break makes kids dumber, and hungrier, and makes parents poorer and more stressed.

It’s time to re-examine the school calendar and do what’s best for students and families. This upcoming election is a perfect opportunity to get some lawmakers who are willing to do that.

Show Me Your Papers: This item is for the women and transfolks and others who have changed their name at some point in their lives. And also for adoptive families, especially families who adopted from overseas. I have a message for you and I want you to pay close attention:

Go find all the paperwork that documents your name changes over the years. Collect it all in one place and be able to lay hands on it easily. Birth certificates, social security records, marriage and divorce decrees, adoption papers, passports, student IDs, drivers licenses and other state issued ID. Find it all, collect it, and put it somewhere safe.

I’m telling you to do this because Fuckface von Clownstick and his goons are now accusing US citizens born near the border of them faking their citizenship verification. This is happening to people as they try to return from trips over the southern border or as they try to renew passports. They’re saying that the birth certificates could be faked and the people may have been born in Mexican territory.

If they can make up spurious accusations like this, they can certainly call into question the validity of a birth record wherein the name doesn’t match current ID.

I hope we don’t reach the point where we’re all being required to prove that we are who we – and our official IDs – say we are, but I’m not ruling it out. So, find your paperwork and keep it close. Better safe than sorry.

Wrap It Up: In a distressing trend. the CDC has confirmed an uptick in sexually transmitted infections. It’s so serious that David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STDs (NCSD) is calling on President Trump to officially declare a state of emergency.

Heck, even Trump knows that STI’s are serous, famously saying that avoiding them was his personal Vietnam. (Yes, he really said that. Yes, he’s an asshole.)

The distressing part of any discussion about STIs increasing is that we have known for decades how to prevent them. Proper use of condoms, regular testing for people engaging in sexual activity, and giving people adequate knowledge about sexual health all works to prevent the spread of STIs. This isn’t news and the fact that we don’t do more to ensure such measures are universally accessible is a poor reflection on us as a society.

The CDC has a great infographic about STI prevention. You can find it here. Go ahead and be part of a public information campaign and share it on your own social feeds. Let’s make information go viral, not infection.

 

We’ll be recording Monday evening this week so look for a new podcast to drop Tuesday. Until then, enjoy the long weekend!

 

John McCain: Beacon of the Baby Boom

by Kevin Kelton

A lot of people this week are honoring Sen. John McCain for his service in Vietnam, citing his valor as a POW. But McCain’s place in history has deeper significance than just that story itself. Here are three reasons that John McCain will forever live in American history.

  1. There are only four names that people will remember in fifty years about the military men of the Vietnam War: Gen. William Westmoreland, Lieutenant William Calley, Lt. John Kerry and Lt. John McCain. The first two will be remembered as villains, and Kerry, the hero turned war critic, will get mixed reviews in some quarters. Only John McCain will universally be remembered favorably for his distinguished service in Vietnam. Of course, each family that lost a relative will long remember their loved one’s honorable sacrifice. But in the annals of history only McCain will famously embody it. He will be the George Washington or the Ulysses Grant or the Douglas McArthur of the Vietnam era. 
  2. The historic heroes of any war reflect the national sentiment about that war. George Washington and Patrick Henry are remembered for their selfless love of country. George Patton, Audie Murphy, Sgt. Alvin York and others from World War II are remembered for their steely determination to defend the world from fascism. The image of the Vietnam War will be more nuanced, about a long quagmire that engulfed a nation and held it hostage. In that regard, McCain perfectly embodies Vietnam. His legacy is not about victorious battles and defeating an enemy. It’s about being taken hostage in a war that was un-winnable, and serving honorably while being held hostage for a long time.
  3. Finally, though he was born a decade before the start of the baby boom, McCain’s life is a perfect metaphor for the baby boom generation: a generation born into war and painfully tormented by it, that then went on to build the best world they could for the remainder of the 20th and 21st centuries.

John McCain embodies all of that. He is the epitome of the best of the baby boom generation. And that is why he will forever be an American legend.

The “US-Mexico Trade Agreement” is a step backwards for trade and for America

by D.J. McGuire

Donald Trump did not advance the cause of freer trade with his partial agreement with Mexico. If anything, the “deal” raises barriers to trade rather than lowers them, while moving the North American Free Trade Area closer to the backward and sclerotic model of a customs union – and that assumes he doesn’t exclude Canada. If Canada ends up on the outside looking it, things will be even worse.

As usual, Trump himself gave no details during his Oval Office press conference with his Mexican counterpart – Enrique Pena Nieto – on speaker phone. About the only specifics we got were that Trump wants to “terminate” the North American Free Trade Agreement and replace it with this new agreement, if Canada signs on. If Canada refuses, Trump will slap a 25% auto tariff on them and call it a day.

Oh, and Canada apparently has until Friday to make up its mind (Daniel Dale, Toronto Star).

Even if Canada chooses to shoe-horn itself into this deal, the specifics we now have (CATO, AEI, and Dale) are still a net negative from the status quo. The “North American standard” for cars will be raised to 75% from 62.5% (i.e., unless the car is 75% made in North America, it won’t qualify for being tariff-free). There is a sunset clause (albeit stretched from 5 years, as Trump originally wanted, to 16) with a mandated review every six years. Investment protections were “gutted.” There may even be a new tariff power for the US against any new Mexican cars.

Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) is already worried (via Megan Cassella, Politico):

…there is reason to worry that this might be a step backward from NAFTA for American families – especially on fundamental issues of presumed presumed expiration of the deal, and empowering government bureaucrats rather than markets to determine the components of cars and other goods.

Indeed it is a step backward, as well as a step toward a serious sovereignty issue – a customs union. Unlike free trade areas, where nations can set whatever trade policies they like with countries not in the FTA, customs unions have uniform trade barriers that all nations must accept. The car percentage requirement is such a barrier; raising it as this agreement does makes it worse.

Again, this is even if Canada ends up in the deal. If not, further disruptions in trade due to Trump’s tariffs are likely. Moreover, whether Canada agrees or not, Trump clearly would like to replace NAFTA with this deal. That requires Congressional approval – trade deals are not treaties, but executive agreements, which means Congress has the power to enact laws that match the agreements, or invalidate agreements by refusing to enact said laws. Will the GOP-controlled Congress finally draw the line and refuse Trump’s demand.

Don’t hold your breath.

This is not an agreement that lowers barriers, but raises them. It does not advance freer trade, but attacks it. It will be more likely to add uncertainty than to alleviate it. It’s a bad deal for Mexico, for the United States, and for the rest of the world.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

John McCain is no longer with us. We are different country today.

by D.J. McGuire

Yesterday afternoon, Senator John McCain passed away. Personal tributes are pouring in, as one would expect from his record of service and sacrifice for his country. Many Americans admired him. For some of us, however, it was much more than that. I am among those who voted for John McCain; in fact, I voted for him three times (2000 Republican primaries, 2008 Republican primaries, 2008 general election). I am convinced that it would have been a better nation had he won in 2000 or in 2008. As such, I am more focused on the exit of John McCain, the political force.

Many of McCain’s admirers disagreed with him, strongly, on foreign policy. I was not among them. With McCain’s passing, the number of us who believe liberating Iraq was the right thing to do has likely fallen from six to five (I still think we few are right). McCain was always more willing to see America – and the American military – as a potential force for good in the world. For those of us who recognized “neoconservative” as an actual set of beliefs rather than a convenient anti-Semitic dog whistle, John McCain may have been the last, and was certainly one of the most vocal.

As such, his passing will have political consequences. Contrary to what the president and his sycophants would have us believes, there are still millions of Republicans for whom John McCain is far more the model than Donald Trump. I left the Republican Party earlier than most of them – and I think I joined the Democratic Party sooner than any others – but with McCain’s passing, I won’t be the last. The next time Trump undermines NATO, or attacks our allies, or cozies up to dictators, John McCain will no longer be there to remind those voters what their Republican Party was – but is no more.

So, we can expect the Republican Party to get smaller and more devoted to Trump, but the Democrats may experience some growing pains, as their coalition expands to include – well, to include more voters like me.

John McCain never assumed America was perfect. He was an active and avid reformer at home, but he knew that even as America strove to make itself better it could also make the world better. For those of us who agree with him, he will not only be mourned, but deeply missed.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of August 20, 2018

Taggart Lake, Grand Teton National Park by Rebekah Kuschmider

Welcome back MPU-inverse! I took a couple weeks away from my keyboard to vacation but now I’m back with all the insights into how politics and pop culture intersect.

In the hard news of this week, the head of AMI David Pecker got an immunity deal related to providing evidence around the Cohen investigation and  and so did the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. No one has offered me an immunity deal yet and I’m starting to feel left out. Then again, I don’t routinely aid and abet criminal behavior so I guess I don’t really deserve one.  Or need one. Unlike these guys, and the man they once worked for, they’re all in legal jeopardy without these deals.

I’m sure Kevin, D.J. and Greg will talk about all the juciest details on MPU but meanwhile, here’s all the news that’s no fit to ‘cast.

Me Too. Yes, Men Too: The New York Times dropped a shocking revelation that actress and #MeToo leader Asia Argento was involved in a scheme to pay off Jimmy Bennett, a younger actor who accused her of sexual assault. The details of the affair between Ms. Argento and Mr. Bennet are sordid, to say the least, as is the fact that Ms. Argento’s lawyers were drawing up all the necessary documents to ensure Mr. Bennet’s silence while Ms. Argento was first going public about her own assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.

I’m going to make two points here and I like to think they’re both important.

First: Yes, men can be assaulted and raped. If you don’t believe this to be true, or think it’s just a plot point from The Shawshank Redemption, you need to hit the nearest Google machine and start doing some research. (It’s not hard: the Catholic Church, the Ohio State Univeristy, and Terry Crewes are all in the headlines regarding victimization of men.)

RAINN estimates that 1 in 33 men will experience and attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. It happens to men and boys from all walks of life, assailants can be men or women.

It is incumbent upon us to be open and non-judgmental and willing to believe men and boys when they speak up about assault. A claim of assault from a male person is just as serious and as a claim of assault from a female person (or a trans person or a non-binary person or ANY PERSON). Step back from the crude jokes and quippy remarks and assume the person speaking is in the same kind of psychic distress as any other assault victim. Then get to work supporting them.

Next, it is important that we look at the dates of the alleged incidents. Ms. Argento claims to have been assault by Mr. Weinstein in 1997. The assault on Mr. Bennet occurred in 2013. If you think I’m going to say we must forgive Ms. Argento because she herself was assaulted first, you are wrong, wrong wrong.

What I’m going to say is that rape culture begets rape culture. The cycle of abuse makes itself manifest in all sorts of ways: abused children grow up to be adults who abuse children, abused spouses become abusers themselves. And a Hollywood star who was raped by a bigger Hollywood star may in turn rape an smaller Hollywood star in the future.

We know this cycle for what it is and we must stop it. Time’s Up for sexual abuse of all kinds.

Everything Old Is New Again: When I was in Jackson, WY recently, I had a chance to browse a bit in the Jackson Historical Society bookstore. Anyone who has ever been in a bookstore with me knows that I kind of lose my mind, especially if there’s a section that could in any way be construed as feminist history. So when I found a shelf of books that were all about the role of women in the Old West, I was in heaven.

I picked up a tome called Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West by Michael Rutter. Rutter, a professor at BYU, has written a fascinating history of sex work in the west. While movies often make prostitutes seem like willing participants in it for a good time, the true story is – naturally – more nuanced. Poverty, shame, addiction, and coercion are part of the history, as they always are in tales of sex work.

One of the most informative and upsetting chapters was one about Chinese women in sex work. Often sold to traffickers by their own families, young women arrived in America and were forced into prostitution against their will. This was easily accomplished, as the general sentiment toward Chinese immigrants was hostile. This passage especially caught my notice:

It’s barely better than calling China a “shithole country”.

We’re never been good at welcoming in new minority groups to our country. It’s time to do better.

Crazy Rich Box Office: I haven’t managed to see Crazy Rich Asians yet but I’m dying to clap eyes on the movie. I read all of the books in Kevin Kwan’s hilarious trilogy about the super rich of Singapore and I’m more than ready for the visuals the books just couldn’t provide; sure words are good for humor and romance, but nothing but pictures will do when we’re talking about the kind of clothes, jewels and houses the characters in these books have!

Moreover, I’m delighted to have an opportunity to see a cast of Asian actors playing nuanced, interesting characters. And I’m not the only one. Minority movie goers are cheering Crazy Rich Asians for the same reason they also cheer Black Panther and for the reason minority theatre-goers lost their damn minds (in a good way) over the casting of Hamilton. This is a good movie with good writing and good production values and also represents non-white people in a way that’s all too unusual in Hollywood.

Just read this Twitter thread to see what I mean:

One interesting note, however. While is is true that movies and tv shows are still woefully behind the times in casting non-white actors (and in hiring them for technical positions behind the scenes), take a look at commercials sometime. I’ve been noticing this for a while but fewer and fewer commercial casts are lily white. Corporate America, with all the market research and focus group power, has noticed that people of all colors have wallets and they want to make sure to advertise to them. If you watch commercials, you’ll see and rainbow of actors making good union wages to sell you laundry detergent or breakfast cereal. It may not be glamorous work, but it’s paying the bill for actors who might not have been considered for those jobs only a few years ago.

This Is America: Finally, listeners of the podcast heard me talk about my visit to Yellowstone. I mentioned that I got to see Castle Geyer erupt at sunrise and just happened to get an amazing video of the experience. I’m sharing the video so you can all see  one of the natural wonders of our nation. This is America. This is what we’re all fighting for.

See you all next time, folks! Meanwhile, if you get an immunity agreement, don’t tell me. I’m still jealous.

Is the Past Prologue for Democratic Presidential Candidates?

by D.J. McGuire

The events of the last 24 hours (for which we did a special episode – you can listen here) have led many to wax nostalgic over Watergate (euphemism, people, euphemism). It’s also led me to ponder the era between then and now, and I’ve found something that could be ominous for nearly all of the potential 2020 Democratic candidates (including my preferred choice, Congressman John Delaney).

The early 1970s gets harder to remember with every year (the past is like that), but we should not forget that the American people’s revulsion with Washington corruption neither began nor ended with Richard Nixon. This was the era of the Church Committee hearings with subsequent intelligence reforms, campaign finance law reform, and a serious rethink of the structure of economic regulation. Right and left had their own answers to the conundrum of corruption – smaller government for the former, cleaner government for the latter.

One other result that has dramatically impacted the nation has been noticed less: the effect on presidential elections. We’ve had 11 of them since Nixon’s resignation. Here are the highlights:

  • Permanent coalitions are not in vogue: Republicans have won 6 elections; the Democrats, 5. Democrats have won the popular vote 7 times; Republicans, 4. Only once has a party won 3 in a row (GOP: 1980-88). Prior to Watergate, it happened five times.
  • More instability markers: Four times the winner did not win a majority of the popular vote. More to the point, the popular vote winner lost the election twice. That had only happened three times in the previous 184 years.
  • In only six of the the elections did the voters also give the winning party control of the House of Representatives – two of them were in elections where the president elected did not win the popular vote.
  • Yet one consistency came through: the candidate with less experience in Washington was elected nine out of eleven times – including three of the four times an incumbent president was re-elected.

The data point to a clear recommendation for the Democrats in 2020: do not nominate someone with more than four years experience in Washington D.C. Of course, that would rule out nearly every Democrat considering a run: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney, Sherrod Brown, etc. Even Kemala Harris, whose Washington tenure started 17 days before Trump’s, might have pause.

Granted, Trump himself “broke” more than a few rules in 2016, but he didn’t break this one. Moreover, the Trumpenproletariat’s instinct for whataboutism is likely to make voters even less likely to value experience in the nation’s capital. Democrats might want to look to Governors. One of them, Montana’s Steve Bullock, is already considering a run. Moreover, when incumbent presidents have lost in the post-Watergate era (1976, 1980, and 1992), a Governor has defeated them. Every time.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015