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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.

Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of October 1, 2018

Hello, MPU-universe. Chances are you are reading this through a red scrim of rage that has suffused your vision ever since the FBI released it’s “report” this week and it became clear that the GOP was going to finalize the nomination process of Rapey McLiarson and put him on the Supreme Court. Then, to add insult to injury, Senator Collins decided to go on the Congressional record and talk about all the ways in which Democrats are mean and bad and, oh yeah, she doesn’t really believe Dr. Ford.

Hope that all the dark money rules Kavanaugh will uphold are worth it, Senator Collins. I mean, none of us will have SuperPACs helping us get and keep jobs but at least you get to have that.

Anyway, we’ll discuss all of this in excrutiating detail on the podcast, so for now, here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast.

Founding Patriarchy: I don’t usually like to cite books I’ve haven’t finished reading but I’m going to make an exception here. (Yes, I know. I talk a lot about books. I like books, ok?) I’ve been slowly making my way through The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon for a while. The story of the intertwining of the Hemings family, the Skelton family, and the Jefferson family is a stark illustration of everything that was wrong with the institution of chattel slavery in America.

One of the things that I learned from this book is that American slavery had a deliberate and well-considered structure. When the Virginia Company incorporated rules for the new colony under King James, it modeled most laws off the British code but made a few adjustments.

For example, in Britain, a child inherited its status from its father. Therefore, a baby born to an enslaved woman and a free man was automatically free.  The Virginians changed that up so that status was conferred matrilineally. Thus, a child born to an enslaved woman was also enslaved, regardless of paternity. That means, that Virginia slave owners could make new slaves just by impregnating the women they already “owned”.

That is all as profoundly disgusting as it sounds. Chattel slavery is already an abomination, then Virginias addeed to that permission to rape (because there is no consent in such a situation, let’s face it), and then force women to bear children they never asked for, over whom the man would then have complete dominion. IT IS SO FUCKED UP.

And the architect of our independence Thomas Jefferson, as well as all his slave-owning buddies, were all up in that mess. That’s who founded out country. They weren’t saints. They thought this was just and right.

It took hundreds of years, hundreds of lives, and gallons of blood sweat and tears to get from the point where TJ would “own” his offspring with Sally Hemmings – who was his dead wife’s half sister, BTW, and also her “property,  given as a “gift” by their mutual father  – to the point where a woman with a PhD in psychology could walk into the United States Senate and say “I demand to be heard” and then be heard.

She was heard imperfectly and the outcome was disappointing but, make no mistake, Dr. Ford and every person who lifted her up as she made her way to the halls of power, walked away with a handful of gravel pulled from structure of white, male supremacy in America. She didn’t win but she will be written in history as one of the millions of people who helped to destabilize the patriarchy.

The fight is not yet over. But we have come so far from where it all began that we cannot stop now.

Speaking of History: A couple of my friends posted this wonderful essay that Howard Zinn originally published in 2005.You should read it. It’s entirely relevant and resonant today. He was talking about the confirmations of Justices Roberts and Alito and the despair the left felt over those.

The whole essay is a reminder that changes doesn’t come from the top. Change in America is a grassroots effort. We are at our most successful when the least among us walk in lockstep to march toward a single socially just goal. As Zinn puts it:

Our culture–the media, the educational system–tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.

Or, in more Hollywood terms, we have the evergreen line from Aaron Sorkin’s The American President: ” America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight.”

The part of America that is the final reflection of the white, landed patriarchy is grasping to retain its power. That is undeniable. However, it is within our power to stop it. It won’t be easy. We’ll need to throw some tea into the harbor. We’ll need to flip a lot of state legislatures. But we can do this.

Remember that America is us, not the Court, not the Congress, and not the Constitution.

As Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Is Raising the Minimum Wage Really Progressive? Why I Say No.

by D.J. McGuire

Amazon’s announcement that it will pay all its employee no less than $15 per hour (with a call for the rest of American businesses to do the same) has added fuel to the flames of the minimum wage debate. As usual, I find myself at odds with nearly every other Democrat on the matter. The main thrust behind this is the assertion that the low-paid are being cheated by their employers, and thus the employers must bear the brunt of fixing the problem by paying higher wages. There is also a Keynesian macroeconomic argument that endorses transferring income to the lower paid as a way to stimulate aggregate demand. The former argument is simply wrong, while the latter is merely misguided. In fact, I would argue that income supports (like the Earned Income Tax Credit) are more efficient and equitable than a minimum wage hike.

For starters we have to remember how wages are set in a competitive marketplace. Labor demand is what economists call “derived demand” – in that it is derived from the expected revenue the firm can expect from its workers. Higher prices and higher production mean higher wages. In other words, what truly drives wage rates in competitive markets are the customers (i.e., us). So, first and foremost, this is our fault. Secondly, while the emphasis of the minimum wage debate has been on large firms like Amazon and Walmart, a very large portion of firms affected are small businesses (including franchisees, which are small businesses in corporate garb).

Meanwhile, the economic impacts of a minimum wage hike are both damaging and avoidable. Firms will respond by either cutting production (and laying off staff), increasing automation (also laying off staff), or raising prices; the most likely outcome across the economy is a combination of the three. So employment will fall and prices will rise. In effect, for consumers, a minimum wage is a hidden sales tax – and a sales tax is one of the more regressive types of tax out there (i.e., it hits the poor the most). Remember this the next time some wealthy pundit (yes, Bill Maher, I am looking at you) complains about “paying for welfare” of low-paid workers; their solution is that poorer Americans pay for it instead. This goes double for folks in the IT industry, which sees demand for their products rise as more firms switch to automation. In that context, the actions of Amazon – whose largest profit center, by far, is Amazon Web Services (cloud services) – take a much more self-interested hue. Moreover, a higher minimum wage benefits not just the working poor but also the working young (many of whom are not poor at all) and is thus inefficient.

By contrast, a negative income tax (of which the Earned Income Tax Credit is a kind) avoids all of the negative effects of a minimum wage increase, while being more equitably funded (via governments, whose reliance on income taxes ensures a less regressive impact).  Moreover, to call it “welfare” is to deny the fact that income taxes (as labelled) are not the only taxes out there. The low-paid also pay taxes on gasoline, food, shelter (via property taxes either paid directly if they own property or via higher rents from taxed landlords), and nearly everything else with a sales tax. They also still pay taxes on income (don’t forget the payroll tax). Additionally, a larger EITC would have the same macroeconomic effect on aggregate demand without the inflationary effect of higher prices.

To be fair, there are some who argue that a minimum wage hike won’t reduce employment. They focus upon markets that are less competitive – and thus, where firms have enough market power to separate wage rates from derived demand. However, I think those markets, while more likely to get our attention, are fewer than most realize. More to the point, they can be more efficiently addressed by reforming antitrust law to take into account the effects of monopolies and oligopolies on resource markets (such as labor) rather than just product markets.

Most progressive (perhaps all of them) consider minimum wage hikes to be in line with their values. Policies, however, are about methods, too. I would humbly submit that expanding the EITC and addressing gaps in antitrust law would be a more efficient and more equitable set policies to help the American working poor.

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

Pop Goes The Politial Culture, Week of September 24, 2018

Actual photo of 2018

Oh, hi there, MPU-universe. Hang on a second. I’m just trying to put out this dumpster fire over here but it just keeps burning.

This week has been truly amazing. We saw a Supreme Court nominee yell at all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee but no one asked him if he thought he could rule fairly on cases involve Democrats considering his open animosity toward them (Spoiler: I bet he can’t). We saw Trump declare to the world that he and Kim Jong Un are in love. And we saw Kate McKinnon steal the entire SNL cold open with her impression of Senator Lindsay Graham.

Other people will try to say Matt Damon was really the funny one on SNL and he was but let’s be real. For everything else that is wrong with America today, at least we can all know that we live in the same moment in time as Kate McKinnon.

We’ll get to all of this and more when we record later today, but for now, here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

We Need Diverse Books: As many of you know, I am a reader. I read the way most people watch tv: for hours a day as my primary source of entertainment. This is not an indication of intellectual prowess; I just prefer book to tv because books are quieter. The books I read often involve a grisly murder and an intrepid investigator who is probably harboring an inappropriate love interest while also solving crime. It’s genre fiction, not great literature.

My resolution for 2018 was to read more books by authors of color. I felt like this should be an easily achievable goal and, to a certain extent, it is. There are a lot of really amazing books by authors of color on the market at any given moment. These are books that deal with untold episodes of history and explore the cultural role of under represented peoples. They are Important Literature.

But as we established, I don’t always want to read Important Literature. I want a murder and an intrepid investigator and all that. And I’m not the only one. Mysteries and thrillers often top the best seller lists. But they’re often by white people! And the intrepid investigators are white! Sometimes you find characters of color making guest appearances in the book but they aren’t the prime focus.

Look, I know damn well there are smart women of color writing mysteries and thrillers and chick lit and other kind of genre lit. But I have to go hunting through the internet begging for recommendations for authors of color. Meanwhile, Goodreads and Amazon send me lists of white authors right to my inbox every day.

It’s time for more diversity in publishing. ALL of publishing, not just literary fiction and cultural criticism. Genre fiction needs more diversity as well.

Get on that, publishers.

P.S. If you want to know exactly what I’m reading, I’m on Goodreads. Let’s talk books!

Book Club: Speaking of books, I had a book club meeting this past Friday. We read Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice McFadden, which was excellent, by the way. (And she is an author of color!) But when women gather in 2018, we help each other to cope however we can. This week? I brought cake.

 

We didn’t even cut slices. We just went at it with forks, Tina Fey style.

You gotta do what you can to survive, these days and what I needed was angry cake.

Check Your Breasts: Finally, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That means you’ll see pink ribbons clashing with Halloween decorations everywhere you go. It’s a cultural happening. But it’s also a serious health issue and one that any human being with breast tissue is at risk of contracting.

The American Cancer Society has guidelines for early detection of breast cancer. Check them out and work with your doctor to figure out what our risk factors are and what types of exams you need. Cancer screenings are covered without co-pay as a matter of law under the ACA so your clinical exam or mammogram won’t have any out of pocket fees if you have insurance. If you don’t, look into the Breast And Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program through the CDC. That can help you get the care you need even without insurance.

That’s all from me this week, folks. Tune in to The More Perfect Union podcast when it drops on Monday!

Pop Goes The Political Culture, Week of September 17, 2018

Actual selfie of Rebekah whenever she reads about people excusing Brett Kavanaugh.

by Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU-cohost

Welcome back, MPU-inverse. How are you? I’m exhausted.

I would like just one week in 2018 to last an actual week. It seems like weeks this year have all lasted about a century and a half. They are all jam-packed with headlines that would make Jerry Springer go “Nah, man. That sounds too fake. Can’t sell it.”

But it’s not fake! It’s all happening! We really do have a Supreme Court nominee being questioned about his role in a sexual assault. Rod Rosenstein really was saying stuff – maybe joking, maybe not – about the president being unfit to serve. There really are going to billions of tariffs on Chinese goods right before the holidays! IT’S ALL REAL!

We’ll talk about all this and more on the podcast for for now, let’s check the lighter side of the world. Here’s all the news that’s not fit to ‘cast.

Be Less Crazy: This week has a lot of women losing their damn minds as we discuss the validity of sexual assault allegations and what constitutes valid enough. It feels like women are screaming “Just treat them all as valid and investigate them all and don’t pick us to pieces!” and large swaths of men are saying “Yeah, ok, but how do we know bitches don’t just be cray?”

If you are getting defensive and want to say “That’s not what men are saying, Rebekah, what we mean is…” Just stop. Stop thinking and keep reading. This next part is for you.

Feminism has been a powerful movement. Women have worked for centuries to make sure that the women who come next have it just a bit better than they did. And it’s worked. Women in America today have it better than women in America have ever had it.

It’s better not because women have gotten better. It’s better because men have gotten less crazy.

Let me explain. In a fantastic interview in 2014, Chris Rock – who is a fucking oracle for our time – summed up the state of progress for black people by saying this:

“There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before…So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

The same is absolutely true for women. It’s not that women have changed; it’s that men have gotten less crazy.

But I’m here to say that some of you are still kinda crazy and you have to stop. Just stop. If you’re the guy saying “Well, why didn’t she report it at the time”, if you’re the guy saying “He was a teenager”, if you’re the guy trying minimize the emotional wallop of seeing an sexual assailant being seriously considered for the Supreme Court, this just 2 years after an alleged sexual predator was elected president, you are still too crazy. You are still making it harder for women.

This is true if you are a woman or non-binary too. If you are in any way making excuses for Brett Kavanaugh, you are still too crazy.

Listen, I’m a grown up and I can handle the IV drip of rage I feel when I see people being deliberate obstacles to the progress of others. I grew up on it. But my daughter is six years old. She hasn’t been handed a plateful of rage yet and my job as her feminist mother is too reduce the helping of rage she’ll have to digest in her lifetime. Maybe I can’t give her a life of unadulterated joy but I’ll be damned if she has to be as angry as I am. As my mother was. As all the feminists before her have had to be.

So for the sake of the girls and kids of color and LGBTQA kids all coming up: be less crazy.

Wolfpack: If you’re depressed and/or angry about the previous section of this column, it’s ok. I am, too. Fortunately, we live in a  time when Abby Wambach gives kickass graduation speeches as women’s colleges and we can watch them online. I strongly encourage you to watch her right now and then throw away your own red riding hood. It’s time to be the wolf you were always meant to be.

That’s all I’ve got this week, folks. Be less crazy and be like a wolf. Maybe that will make everything all better. Meanwhile, tune in to The More Perfect Union Podcast when it drops on Monday!

Partisan Politics Metastasize to Supreme Court

by Kevin Kelton

When Americans bemoan the divisive hyper-partisan tone of our politics today, we invariably point fingers at the current POTUS. But he is only one of many poisonous factors. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, Trey Gowdy, Devin Nunes, Louie Gohmert and others like them are just as guilty, if not more so.

What Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley have done to the Supreme Court confirmation process is barely short of criminal. It’s certainly unconstitutional. The confirmation of a SCOTUS nominee should be of the highest integrity. The confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh has been anything but. And now credible charges of sexual misconduct have surfaced. Even if they came at the last minute, they are serious, worrisome, and worthy of a thorough inquiry.

No reasonable person can deny that in light of the Christine Blasey Ford allegations against a nominee being considered for a lifetime judicial appointment, a full investigation is not only warranted, but absolutely required for history and posterity.

Yet for purely political reasons, McConnell and Grassley are attempting to  jam the nomination through to ensure they can fill the open seat with a reliable conservative. Were they men of honor, character and integrity duty-bound to the Constitution, they would take the political hit of delaying the vote another week for the greater good of protecting the SCOTUS confirmation process in the eyes of the world. The last thing this nation needs now is a sitting Associate Justice who forever serves under a cloud of criminal suspicion and moral doubt.

If the allegations, which are credible on their face, are proven un-corroborated or unfounded after a full investigation, then Kavanaugh will eventually be seated, even if it’s a few days after the Court resumes business in October. If Prof. Blasey’s claims are credible, let him step aside for a more worthy, equally conservative nominee.

Similarly, Nunes, Gowdy and Gohmert have proven over the last two years that hyper-partisanship can be effectively used as a bludgeon to bastardize the governing process. There are offenders on the left, too, including Maxine Waters, Jill Stein, as well as former congressmen Alan Grayson and Andrew Weiner. Even Bernie Sanders occasionally wages hyper-partisan gamesmanship to advance his Social Democrat agenda and presidential aspirations. While hardball politics are certainly not new or confined to one party, the current crop of GOP spitballers take the cake for polluting the national dialogue in the quest for purely ideological results.

Is there a slight risk that delaying the vote might make it difficult for Republicans to fill the seat in the lame duck congress? Yes. But that risk should be weighed against filling the seat with a man not worthy of the honor or the job. Brett Kavanaugh is not a god or a prophet. He is simply one man, one nominee. He has no god-given right to a Supreme Court seat if it can be proven he does not possess the moral fiber that sacred seat of power demands. It’s not worth it to poison the reputation and honor of the Supreme Court for a generation just to ram him through.

Men of real integrity and love of country would know that. Men who don’t are a blight on our democracy.

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

No, my fellow conservatives, the regulation rollbacks aren’t worth supporting Trump either

by D.J. McGuire

The standard defense a Trump supporter uses – well, the ones not wholly subsumed by racism or by authoritarian cultism – involves three political issues: the federal judiciary, the 2017 tax “reform”, and regulation rollbacks. I’ve already discussed why the 2017 tax law should bring no smile to a conservative’s face; I’ve also explained how fleeting “control” of the judicial branch really is. That leaves the regulation issue.

Theory versus Practice

In theory, fewer regulations is a standard supply-side economic policy: regulations increase costs on businesses and make it harder to smaller firms to compete with larger ones. In practice, it’s a bit less clear. None other than Charles Koch himself funded a study by Mercatus economist Alex Tabarrok that revealed the effect of regulation on American entrepreneurship to practically nil (Washington Post). Mercatus itself is of two views on the subject (others at the institute came to a different conclusion), but my point is that we’re not talking about something as cut and dried as most Republicans believe.

A Lack of Political (or any) Precision

Of course, most Republicans themselves are not fond of throwing every federal regulation ever written on a massive bonfire. The reason for the regulation also has an impact. Just as those of us who prefer limiting government’s size, scope, and cost take issue with “across the board spending cuts” – which make no accounting to necessary versus unwise expenditures – any trimming of regulations should have some form of precision or priorities. This is not the case with President Trump’s attacks on red tape. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever – save that Trump will go after any regulation brought to his attention. Not only is that poorly thought out, it also exacerbates the influence problem that many Republicans have with excess regulation in the first place: the politically connected game the system. Thus does an exercise in apparent government scope reduction turn into the figurative “swamp.”

The Lack of Staying Power

This fuels the same problem that the “courts” argument has – a lack of longevity. In this case, regulation rollbacks will be even more fleeting than judicial appointments. The next Democratic Administration could reinstitute much of the rollback (as there is little to no change in actual law involved). Even during this Administration, a Democratic House could insist on regulation resurrections in their budgets.

In short, Trump’s moves against regulation are too unpopular and unplanned to survive a change in the political winds (including perhaps one of gale force coming within the next two months). It is yet another false benefit to be weighed against the ever increasing cost to American political and economic health inflicted by this president.

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

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, a best-selling author on the topic of career development, 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 for the next two hours on how you can become that.”

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

So I looked at #2 and spent the next two hours asking myself, Why are you looking for a job in advertising when you really want to be a comedy writer?

After the seminar, 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 writing his Theater major final 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 an old manual typewriter, $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 kept writing spec scripts, started doing standup to showcase my material, sold jokes to whoever would buy them, and kept networking to make things happen. 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