What’s in a Name: 3 Pieces of Legislation with Misleading Titles

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Upon winning independence, our founding fathers were wary of centralized power. They understood the corrupting nature of power, and set about creating a system meant to balance power, and reduce greed and corruption. 

Our system of “checks and balances” is supposed to ensure that the government doesn’t violate the constitution, and they were successful.. for a while.

Arguably the first erosion to this system came in 1913, when the 62nd Congress voted to pass the 17th amendment. Prior to 1913; the general population would directly elect members of their community to represent their interests in the House of Representatives, while state legislatures would pick 2 citizens of the state to serve the interests of the state at the federal level. When state legislatures picked Senators to represent their state, the Senator holds no power, if you’re not living up to your obligations, than the legislature would replace you.  Counteracting the members of the house who would stay in power by using charm to win re-election. The general population lives in an echo-chamber. If you’re a liberal, you watch MSNBC and read Slate on your phone while driving the kids to school.  If you’re a republican you watch “The Five” on Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh on your lunch break. When you think about it, it’s incredibly easy to trigger Democrats,Republicans, and Libertarians.

For example most Democrats LOVE giving their takes on these topics:

 

  • Income inequality
  • Healthcare
  • Identity politics 
  • Environmental concerns
  • Abortion
  • Guns
  • Taxes not being high enough

 

While Republicans will lose their mind for:

 

  • Illegal immigration
  • Military spending
  • Police
  • Guns
  • Taxes
  • Christianity
  • Muslims
  • Abortion

Libertarians? We will lose our mind for just about anything, but if you want to get us going discuss:

  • Roads
  • Military
  • Public Education
  • Free Markets/Regulations
  • Entitlement Programs
  • Ron Paul
  • Government spending

 

We’re all hypocrites. Democrats care about identity politics, unless you’re a person of color who may disagree with you politically.  They want government mandated equality for every gender and race, except white guys. Republicans think we spend too much. Specifically on regulations, bureaucracy, and entitlement programs; but balk at cutting military spending, despite finding $125 billion in administrative waste, or any government spending that helps them remain in power; you’re a conservative farmer who wants to cut food stamps? Alright, how about after we cut corn subsidies? Last month I wrote about how Social Security is destroying our country and Republicans went ballistic. Libertarians are the most annoying people on the planet, nobody’s a “real” libertarian, we have a portion of the party that wants free markets, but is anti-immigration and “America first.” We have a county chair in Michigan who supports Antifa, and our Vice Presidential candidate appeared to be actively supporting Hillary. Literally no consistency.

Our general stupidity, and tendency towards hypocrisy has allowed the career politician to thrive. Knowing we react to buzz words and topics that sound sexy, they use psychology to garner support. Just look at the title of the bills they write .

The Patriot Act

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Sixteen years ago next month, on 10/26/01,  George W. Bush signed the “USA Patriot Act” into law. Passed in the aftermath of September 11th by a vote of 98-1 in the Senate, and 357-66 (it is worth mentioning that the only Republicans to vote against this bill were Robert Ney, Butch Otter, and Ron Paul) in the House, in an attempt to curb terrorism.  

To put it simply, the legislation was passed in a panic with very little debate. Former Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 3162 on October 23, 2001, the House passed it the next day, and within 72 hours we had passed legislation that massively expanded the scope of the federal government.

There is nothing “patriotic” about the “Patriot Act.”  The indefinite detention of immigrants? That violates the sixth amendment. “Enhanced surveillance?” That’s led to NSA wiretapping, a clear violation of the fourth amendment. A lot can be said about some of the shady things in our Constitution, but the most important political document in American history isn’t the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence; it’s the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. Both collections of essays helped develop this country; while the Federalist Papers defended the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists demanded there be a Bill of Rights to protect the people from the government.

The point is, the first ten amendments to the constitution are so important that it almost tore apart this country.  And in a moment of panic, we passed laws that violate the bill of rights.

The reason the Patriot Act keeps getting extended (last extended by Obama in 2011), is that no politician wants to appear weak on national security, and being against the Patriot Act means you support terrorism, so politicians continue to support it. Even though it doesn’t  work and often ruins lives.

Affordable Healthcare for America Act

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The “Affordable Healthcare for America Act,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare” was President Obama’s landmark legislative achievement. FDR had “The New Deal,” Johnson had his “Great Society,” Barack Obama has “Obamacare.”

Signed into law by the 111th Congress in March of 2010, with a single Republican voting for the legislation (Joseph Cao, Louisiana). 39 Democrats voted against the bill, bringing the final tally to 220 for, and 215 against.

The legislation is exceptionally long, and provided healthcare to 24 million uninsured Americans (at the threat of a tax for non-compliance). After surviving the Supreme Court, Obamacare premiums have continued to soar. As the “New York Times” points out;

“While fewer than 20 million Americans buy their own insurance, the tribulations of the individual market have captured most of the public’s attention. The average cost of a benchmark plan in the individual market rose 20 percent this year, according to Kaiser, as insurers tried to stem their losses. “

Although they later go on to defend the Affordable Care Act, the fact is that using the the term “affordable” is a misnomer. Being forced to pay for insurance you don’t want, that rises at a rate of 20% annually, under threat of punishment is the exact opposite of “affordable.”

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984

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Unlike some other pieces of legislation, “The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984,” enacted by President Reagan in October of 1984, doesn’t have a flashy nickname. The name itself is straightforward and to the point. An idiot could conceive what this legislation was meant to do. When enacted it became the first comprehensive revision of the United States criminal code since 1900. Like the Patriot Act for Bush, and “Obamacare” for Obama, “Comprehensive Crime Control” was meant to be, and is, a cornerstone of Reagan’s legacy.

The name itself is brilliant. Nobody likes crime, crime is bad. We need to get rid of crime.

But what is crime?

We all have our own moral code, our own sense of right and wrong. We all define crime differently. A soccer mom from Kansas is going to have a different vision of right and wrong than a poor kid from LA.

The benign nature of the name meant most people wouldn’t pay any attention to it. The goal was if you were against crime, than the average American wouldn’t give it a second glance.

Problem is the legislation was not benign. This country was founded on a set of principles that valued the individual over the community, the community over the state, and the state over the federal government. When it came to legal affairs the founding fathers preferred to leave the punishment of citizens to locals. A soccer mom in Kansas and a poor kid in LA have different experiences, values, and ways of life, it only makes sense that there would be minimal federal oversight on criminal affairs. That was true until small government conservatives created the United States Sentencing Commission, and put them in charge of normalizing prison sentencing.  Their recommendations became the “Armed Career Criminal Act,” creating mandatory minimums. Mandatory minimums have had a jarring effect on society. Disproportionately affecting people of color, and lower economic status, hurting multiple generations. Mandatory minimums created career criminals, comprehensive crime reform just created more crime.

The legislation also reinstated the federal death penalty, increased penalties for marijuana possession and cultivation, and created the despicable act of civil asset forfeiture .

All of this was able to get through because the name was self-explanatory and boring.
How a lawmaker labels their legislation matters. These pieces of legislation affect hundreds of millions of lives. What they pass matters. Using clever, or boring names and nicknames to either attract or repel attention is manipulation that pays off in votes. We need to demand better.

 

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2018: A Make It or Break It Midterm for Libertarians

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Logging onto Facebook this morning I was met with a pleasant surprise – a message reminding me that it had been a year since I had signed on to the Gary Johnson campaign.  The public declaration that I was done with the Grand Ole Party meant absolutely nothing to the people on my friends list, let’s be honest most people don’t give a damn about your political leanings unless you’re constantly flaunting your beliefs.  The announcement did, however, mean a lot to me.

Prior to last July I was a Republican who had gradually lost faith in the Republican Party.  I was sick of the hypocrisy, the blatant violation of our civil liberties, the lack of fiscal conservatism, and the message of the Republican nominee for President. I felt, at the time, that Gary Johnson could legitimately carry a state in the general election.  My optimism turned out to be wrong; Johnson/Weld did not carry a state, nor did they receive an electoral vote.  Despite that, the ticket received nearly 4.5 million votes, carrying 3.27% of the vote, while appearing on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington DC. Disappointing according to my own expectations? Yes. But the election was monumental for the Libertarian Party.

For the longest time the biggest hurdle facing the growth of third parties in this country has been ballot access.  A lack of ballot access ties up a third party’s limited resources, forcing them to focus on things other than campaigning.  Heading into the 2018 midterm elections, the Libertarian Party will have ballot access in 37 states.

What’s more important than ballot access, however, is that the Libertarian Party has incumbents that need to win re-election; Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke, along with New Hampshire State Representatives Brandon Phinney, Caleb Dyer, and Joseph Stallcop all ditched their former parties, and registered as Libertarians in the last year. Now they all face re-election bids without the backing of the powerful two party duopoly. 

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Brandon Phinney is one of 3 libertarians in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives 

All the aforementioned candidates had their own reasons for ditching their former parties. Joseph Stallcop, who serves in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives representing Cheshire 4, was elected as a Democrat. His decision to switch to the Libertarian Party, he told Authentic Liberty, was based in part because of the disrespect his ideas and views were generating among Democrats. Stallcops colleague, Brandon Phinney, explained his decision to switch parties as frustration with the direction, and leadership  of Republicans, a familiar sentiment. When Authentic Liberty asked Senator Laura Ebke why she switched parties, she pointed out several moments where she realized that the Republican Party no longer represented her values. Senator Ebke told us that “the recognition that the Republicans were going to nominate Trump, and then a “call out” for not being an adequately “platform Republican” at the 2016 State GOP convention by the Governor–when he called out a number of us by name” appeared to be the last straw. Like many people, Senator Ebke realized that the GOP didn’t care about policy, but party.

While Representative Stallcop is unsure if he will be running for re-election next year (he is set to graduate from college), the state of New Hampshire presents an interesting scenario for Brandon Phinney and Caleb Dyer, his colleagues in the only libertarian caucus in the nation. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states that allows for “fusion tickets,” which allow one candidate to run under multiple parties. Both Phinney and Dyer, former Republicans, could choose to seek both the Republican and Libertarian nominations for their districts,and in a comment to Authentic Liberty, Phinney stated that this is his intention; in doing so they would eliminate potential rivals while having their names appear multiple times on the ballot.  That scenario could be interesting, and increase their odds of reelection, but could also make them beholden to the whims of two different parties. A victory on a fusion ticket would also minimize the importance of the Libertarian Party; if, in this hypothetical situation, both candidates win both the Republican and Libertarian nominations, then win the election, outsiders could say that they only won because of the Republican Party, marginalizing the importance of libertarians.

Senator Ebke’s situation in Nebraska is also interesting. She serves in the only unicameral state legislature in the nation, and in Nebraska, all state elections are

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Senator Laura Ebke is up for re-election in 2018

nonpartisan, when voters step into the ballot box in 2018 they will see a list of names with no party affiliation. Senator Ebke believes the nonpartisan nature of Nebraska’s state elections probably helps her, as she explained to Authentic Liberty “while many people will know the affiliation, the fact that it isn’t listed on the ballot, nor do we organize by party in the legislature–probably helps me some.” Senator Ebke says that the biggest difference she has noticed during her re-election bid is her ability to effectively raise money; “Libertarians–as a whole–seem to be far less likely to part with their money–whether $25 of $100. Republican (and probably Democrat) activists are used to being asked for cash, and attending fundraisers.”  With that said, she has had some success raising money for her re-election, and she will continue to need our support, if you’ve got $10, you can make a donation here.

Winning re-election to these offices should be the focus of the Libertarian Party. As we move forward we cannot simply be content with the occasional officeholder quitting their party out of protest, and registering as a libertarian.  Libertarians need to learn how to win elections; we need an effective, proven blueprint, and we need to show the Republicans and Democrats that we can do more than just steal a few votes. The best way to do that is by continuing to seek support from the party at both the state and national level. If we cannot support our candidates and win elections as libertarians, then party members really need to question if there is any advantage to running for office as a libertarian.

Republicans Announce 2018 Budget; Economy is Still Screwed

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For years Libertarians, and a select few Republicans have been talking about this countries out of control spending problem, and our massive debt. On Tuesday morning House Republicans introduced their 2018 budget, which if passed as is tomorrow morning, would give Republicans like Paul Ryan a “win,” but would do little to help this country in the long-term. 

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan and the GOP are trying to trick us.

The House plan would slash federal spending by $5.4 trillion dollars over the next decade. While cutting spending on mandatory programs, like medicare and medicaid by $4 trillion over that same period of time. If passed as is, the budget would pave way for Republicans to attempt to overhaul our tax code for the first time since 1986.

Overhauling the tax code has been talked about for years, but has gained little traction, and it is unlikely that Republicans will be successful in their endeavors this time for a few reasons. First, the budget would have to pass both the House and the Senate, with no changes; which seems unlikely. Second, this congress has given us no reason to believe they are serious about fiscal change; especially after they failed to repeal the taxes created by Obamacare, which Republicans in the House and Senate both said would be vital to overhauling the tax code.

Despite that, Paul Ryan has pushed forward; calling for less tax brackets, switching to a territorial tax system, and repealing the “Alternative Minimum Tax” which, when passed, meant well, but has damaged the middle class,

[the AMT] was designed to keep wealthy taxpayers from using loopholes to avoid paying taxes. But because it was not automatically updated for inflation, more middle-class taxpayers were getting hit with the AMT each year. Congress traditionally passed an annual “patch” to address this until, in January 2013, as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal, they passed a permanent patch to the AMT.

What the budget doesn’t contain, however, is any cuts to defense spending. In fact, the budget calls for  $621.5 billion in national defense spending, up from $598 billion in 2016.  Just for comparison, the next biggest defense budget in the world last year was China, at $146 billion. 

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via WaPo

 

Hawks on both sides of the aisle see the increased defense spending as a good thing. They don’t care that we spend more than any nation on earth on defense, as long as they save face with the military. This is despite the fact that the Defense Business Board found $125 billion dollars in administrative waste related to defense spending over the next five years. Legislatures could have easily cut this spending without closing a single base, or putting this nation at risk, but playing politics is more important than economic collapse.

The proposed spending cuts are a drop in the bucket, when considering we have nearly $20 trillion in national debt. The Congressional Budget Office seems to agree, and has released a particularly grim outlook for our economy over the next 10 years.  The American Enterprise Institute describes why the CBO’s report is so troubling;

“ [the] baseline — a forecast of federal revenue, spending, deficits, and debt — assumes current laws and policies will remain as they are today for the next 10 years. President Trump has modified a small number of relevant budgetary factors since taking office, particularly the level of defense spending in 2017. But, for the most part, CBO’s projections reflect the policies put in place during the tenure of the Obama administration.”

The cuts proposed by Republicans are like a Kardashian: aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately worthless. In 2018, the CBO expects the deficit to be $563 billion, down from an expected $693 billion in 2017. However, by 2027, the CBO expects the deficit to rise to $1.5 TRILLION which would be an expected 5.2% of our GDP.  The projected deficits will push federal debt to 90% of our GDP by 2027, up from 39% in 2008. Considering that from 1983 until 2008 GDP grew at an average  of 3.3%, and in 2019 and 2020 the CBO expects GDP to grow at just 1.5%, our economic future looks grim.

While the outlook is just a prediction, it’s hard not to be a little pessimistic about the whole situation.  If we want to affect real change, and truly make America great again, then we need to make an effort to elect politicians who are unafraid to make painful, unpopular decisions. In his classic book on economics; “Economics in One Lesson,” Henry Hazlitt demonstrates the need to look at the long-term outlook of every policy decision we make, even if it makes us worse-off in the short term.  Unfortunately, we live in an age where politicians are constantly campaigning, kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with later. For a society so hell-bent on leaving the earth in better shape for our children, we sure seemed to have forgotten that we will also leave them our economy.

 

Third Parties Could Have a Future, If New Bill Passes

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It’s no secret that the two party duopoly in this country has done everything in their power to suppress political freedom in this country. From filing lawsuits to deny minor parties ballot access, to refusing to let non Republican and Democrats debate, many people feel as though they have no choice but to vote for the “lesser of two evils” or else risk “wasting” their vote. Well, legislation introduced late last month is designed to change all of that.  

In late June, Democratic Virginia Congressman Don Beyer, along with his Democratic colleagues Ro Khanna (CA), and Jamie Raskin (MD) introduced legislation that would radically alter the way we elect our representatives. Nader vote

As it currently stands, individual state legislatures are in charge of drawing up congressional districts.  What generally tends to happen, in this scenario, is that the governing party draws up districts in a manner that is most beneficial to said party. This gerrymandering means that a Republican controlled legislature in Wisconsin, or a Democrat controlled legislature in Connecticut can use their power to ensure that their opposition will have a tough time winning an election.  This gerrymandering means that 97% of congressmen get re-elected.

Under the “Fair Representation Act,” that would change. According to Rob Richie, Executive Director of the advocacy group “FairVote,” this legislation creates an

“ impartial, national standard that gets at the core of FairVote’s mission: Giving voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.”

The bill has three major components. RCV_Easy_Ballot_Ranked_3.jpg

First; it would ensure that an independent board, not state legislatures are drawing congressional districts. By having an independent board handle redistricting, it eliminates one political party from drawing up districts that specifically help that party.

Second; the bill would establish “multi-member” districts. This means that if you’re living in Michigan’s third district, instead of having one person represent that entire district, you may have 3 people representing that district. That way there is a chance for every group to receive equal representation.

Finally, and most importantly, this bill would change our voting system from a “winner take all” system, to a “ranked choice voting” system.  As it currently stands, if a candidate wins 40% of the vote, and their opponent receives 39% of the vote, the person who received 40% of the vote wins the election, even though 60% of voters voted against them.  

In a “ranked choice voting” system, voters would be allowed to rank their candidates based on preference.  So if you’re a Libertarian, who wants to vote for the Libertarian candidate  but also doesn’t want to help elect a progressive socialist, you won’t have to compromise on your values and vote Republican. Instead, what you would do, is vote for the libertarian candidate, ranking them as your first choice, then you could vote for the Republican as your second choice. Because in a “ranked choice voting” system, candidates need a majority of votes to win the election.  

So let’s say you vote for a Libertarian as your first choice and a Republican as your second choice.  If the Libertarian only receives 10% of the vote, and the Republican receives 45% of the vote, while the Democrat receives 40% of the vote, there would be no official winner.  In that scenario, the election committee would then look at voter’s second preference, so if that 10% who voted Libertarian all had the Republican candidate as their second choice, the Republican would win with 55% of the vote.  

While ranked choice voting seems like it wouldn’t make much of a difference, especially if the two major parties continue to win elections, it would erase the “wasted vote” stigma, and over time third party candidates would have a legitimate shot at winning more elections.

Austin Petersen Announces Senate Run

 

Yesterday, as American’s complained about the Fourth falling on a Tuesday, former Libertarian Presidential candidate Austin Petersen, in front of a crowd of several hundred supporters, announced his intention to seek Missouri’s Republican nomination for US Senate.  

Petersen stands with his father before his announcement.

The announcement that Petersen would be running for Senate came as no surprise – for months the 37 year old has dropped some not-so-subtle hints that he planned to challenge Senator Claire McCaskill in 2018. What was somewhat of a surprise, however, was that Petersen was deciding to switch parties.

The decision to run as a Republican wasn’t easy for Petersen, and in his farewell letter to the Libertarian Party, Petersen describes what led to him making such a decision;

For the last eight weeks, I’ve spent six hours a day calling my supporters to ask them their thoughts on how I might best advance liberty. I took the time to listen to every single persons’ opinion about a potential opportunity to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate here in my home state of Missouri.

Of the thousands of people I spoke to, all encouraged a run, hundreds donated, and the vast majority offered their opinion regarding which party I should align with. Over 98% of them, including registered Libertarians, independents, Republicans, and even Democrats, said to run GOP.

Those who think that running as a Republican would show Petersen’s “true colors” were right. During his 30 minute speech to the crowd, Petersen passionately discussed the issues that matter most to him; repealing and not replacing Obamacare, reducing regulation, auditing the Pentagon to find bureaucratic waste, criminal justice reform, lowering taxes, treating drug addiction as a public health problem instead of a criminal issue, etc. If his platform sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same set of values he ran on while seeking the Libertarian nomination for president last summer.  

Petersen’s announcement came one day after establishment favorite, Representative Ann Wagner, announced she will not challenge Claire McCaskill in 2018. In her statement on said decision, Wagner rationalized her decision;

“While I am grateful for the incredible support and encouragement I have received from across Missouri to run for United States Senate, I am announcing today my intention to run for re-election to the United States House of Representatives in 2018. The 2nd District is my home. It’s where I grew up, went to school, have worked and volunteered, raised my kids, and attend church every week — there is no greater honor than representing a place and people that I love.”

The former US Ambassador to Luxembourg has several reasons not to run for Senate, as the “Washington Examiner” reported;

“Republicans close to the congresswoman stressed that the decision had little, if anything, to do with the politics of giving up her relatively safe seat to run for Senate with an unpopular Republican in the White House and a healthcare agenda that has been rejected by a broad cross-section of Americans.”

With Wagner withdrawing her name from consideration, attention shifts to other potential Republican nominees. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Vicky Hartzler are both expected to explore their own senate runs, but it is Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley that seems to be the establishment favorite.  The 37 year old is a favorite of Mitch McConnell, and has only been on his current job for six months. Supporters have  urged him to run believing Hawley can unite all conservatives.  

While the charismatic Hawley has made waves recently for suing three pharmaceutical companies in the state (which could be seen as a political counter measure since Claire McCaskill has made opiod abuse a focus) friends of liberty should be wary of throwing their support behind a candidate supported by political insiders. After all, there are enough Senators who wax poetically about the virtue of the Constitution and civil liberties, right up until the point where they support warrant-less wiretaps.

While Hawley, if he announces his intent to run, may be the favorite heading into the Republican primary, Petersen is hoping to use Missouri’s own primary rules against them.

Missouri holds an “open primary” meaning that any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in the Republican primary.  Petersen hopes that this will play to his advantage as he intends to seek support not only among the base, but among Libertarians and Independents as well.  If Petersen is able to successfully convey his message, he could not only win the nomination, but pose a real challenge to McCaskill as well.

3 Things to Watch in 2018

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With the 2018 midterms approaching, the political climate in this country is going to be interesting to watch.  Sometimes it’s hard to predict what issues could be of importance, or what politico’s should be looking out for – but if you pay attention, you can make a few guesses as to how politicians will campaign, and what they will pay attention to.  After a crazy 2016 election, 2018 promises to be pretty divisive. 

Universal Basic Income

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As more jobs become automated, and the cost of social welfare programs soar, there has been growing support in the last few years to roll out a “Universal Basic Income” for all Americans.  A UBI is pretty straightforward. Each American receives a set amount of money from the federal government each month to cover some living expenses.  The idea is hardly new, and currently a UBI is being tested in both Finland and Ontario Canada.  Now it’s gaining popularity in the United States; not only among progressives, but among some libertarians who see a UBI as a more cost-effective alternative to welfare.

Silicon Valley has become increasingly vocal in their support for a UBI; so much so that Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley based firm that provides “seed” money to startups, is experimenting with giving 100 families in Oakland California between $1000-$2000 a month as a way to cover expenses.  Proponents like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk see a UBI as a way to combat automation stealing jobs, and income inequality.  The issue gained further attention on June 17th when Hawaii’s legislature passed a bill introducing a UBI to the state budget.  Although Alaska has been giving citizens oil money since 1976, if signed into law, Hawaii will become the first state to pass a UBI as a way to combat poverty.  

The idea isn’t just popular among progressives.  Some libertarians have argued that a UBI is more efficient than the current welfare state.  Matt Zwolinski, of the Cato Institute, points out that we spend $668 billion dollars a year on social welfare programs that waste a lot of money. While a Universal Basic Income would not be ideal, writes Zwolinski, it would save the average taxpayer money.  Zwolinski even points to Thomas Paine, who supported a “Citizen’s Dividend” that comes from taxing land.

The argument among progressives, and some libertarians, then seems to be “how much does everyone get?” and “what do we do with other welfare programs?”  In order for a UBI to be feasible, the current welfare structure would need to end, and that may be the biggest issue of contention moving forward.

Social Justice

Social Justice

Over the last 5 years, social justice issues have re-emerged as a hot button topic in US politics. Incidents like the violent Berkeley riots, and the embarrassment at Evergreen State College  show just how polarizing issues surrounding race, gender, and “privilege” can be. While groups like “Black Lives Matter” have encouraged other perceived disadvantaged groups to step up.  

Over the last two years we have seen the uproar caused by the North Carolina bathroom bill that put limits on who can use what bathroom (parts of which were repealed in March). The bill cost the city of Charlotte the NBA All-Star game last season, and emboldened companies and universities are refusing to do business in the state. As other state legislatures consider similar bills, it is likely that we will continue to see protests. 

Social justice issues are starting to make their way into more and more pieces of legislation.  Canada, for example, added “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which means citizens can be prosecuted for expressing their displeasure of the LGBTQ community.  At home, Senate Bill 1006 would federally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Taking away the autonomy of individual states, the senate bill would be redundant for those currently debating similar legislation, and would disrupt the states from acting in their own best interest, even if outsiders find it controversial.  While House Bill 1869, the “Paycheck Fairness Act” would eliminate pay differences for men and women, this bill is designed to “eliminate” the “wage gap”.

Rural America

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There was a time where Democrats had a solid hold on rural America. Rural America flocked to the polls to vote for democrats who cared about issues that would affect them; including trade issues, protecting social security, and workers rights.  These Democrats were more centrist, and understood their constituency.  Over the last decade democrats have been losing this vote at an alarming rate.

Representative  Collin Peterson, of MN, is a rurally elected Democrat who claims that the democratic party has become “too liberal. Focusing on urban areas and social issues at the cost of white america.

Peterson also explains that Republican gerrymandering efforts have helped “pack” democrats into urban districts. This means that even if the state may be evenly divided as far as party affiliation goes, redistricting efforts have helped one party gain an advantage over another.  With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Wisconsin gerrymandering case Gill v. Whitford, it’s possible that redistricting efforts will change the makeup of the congressional districts, forcing candidates to run a more centrist campaign.

In addition to that, rural america became wary of the democrats for focusing on issues they either don’t care about, or are uncomfortable with.  The Obama Administration did their part with the introduction of the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” which rural america felt would cost them their jobs. Democrats continued to alienate rural, white voters by focusing on social issues that don’t affect them, causing many in rural america to feel neglected.  It will be interesting to see if the party tries to continue down this path, or make a major adjustment prior to 2018. It will be equally interesting to see how the Republican’s try and take advantage of this ideological shift.

Supreme Court Case Could Shake Up Congress

 

For the first time since 2004, the Supreme Court will be taking up a partisan gerrymandering case. Gerrymandering is a practice used by political parties to give one party a specific political advantage over another, and for the last several decades, it has been used by both political parties as a way to manipulate voting districts.  

Gerrymandering, in one picture.

The case, Gill v. Whitford, marks the first time since Vieth v. Jubelirer in 2004 that the Supreme Court will hear arguments centering on the idea of “partisan gerrymandering.” In that case, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the fifth, and deciding vote in the case that allowed partisan gerrymandering to continue. At the time, Justice Kennedy had made it clear that he would be willing to readdress the issue at a later date, if future plaintiffs could come up with a case that quantified a “workable standard” in which to base partisan gerrymandering off of.

Last year a panel of 3 federal judges determined that the Wisconsin electoral map violated both the first and fourteenth amendments, and on June 19th the Supreme Court announced that they will hear arguments in the case. This isn’t the first time partisan gerrymandering has been challenged since 2004, but the Supreme Court sees the case as unique.

Why SCOTUS is Hearing These Arguments

On NPR’s “All Things Considered” Shawn Johnson explains why Gill v. Whitford is unique:

“this case is unique among other redistricting cases in the way that it went after Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative map. So it’s not unheard of for a court to strike down legislative maps on other grounds – diluting the voices of minority voters, for example. But this case really sets out a challenge. It says you can actually have a redistricting plan that’s so partisan that it’s unconstitutional, that it’s a political gerrymander… “

“what these plaintiffs were trying to do is go back and look at the results in Wisconsin in 2012, for example. President Obama did very well here. It was a decent democratic year. And yet Democrats gained no seats in the legislature, remained deeply in the minority. And even in 2016, even though it wasn’t part of this lawsuit, you look at Wisconsin – it was essentially a 50-50 year for races at the top of the ticket, like in the race for president or U.S. Senate. And yet Republicans actually added seats in the legislature to the point that even though Wisconsin is a 50-50 state, they have almost two-thirds of the seats in the legislature”

The case seems to be designed to entice Justice Kennedy.  In his 2004 decision, he alluded to the fact that he would be open to hearing future arguments on gerrymandering if the plaintiffs had come up with some workable standard to determine a level of partisanship.  In this case, the plaintiffs have come up with something they call the “efficiency gap.”

According to NPR, the “efficiency gap” measures”

“ what they call wasted votes. Let’s say you have a strongly Democratic district. And if a Democrat got a lot of votes there, but they only get one seat, they’re saying that they wasted a lot of votes to get those seats. If Democrats come up just short in a lot of other districts, they’re saying they wasted those votes as well.

So they compare that district-by-district to the statewide total, and that gives them this efficiency gap measure. And by that metric, plaintiffs looked back at redistricting plans throughout the U.S., going back to 1972, and Wisconsin’s redistricting plan was one of the most strongly political gerrymandered in history. “

The Brennan Center for Justice further points out that the Wisconsin gerrymandering is among the worst gerrymandering cases seen in decades.  

In 2012 Republicans won 60 of the states 99 legislative seats, despite only winning 48.6% of the popular vote.  In 2014 Republicans won 63 of the 99 legislative seats, with 52% of the vote.  The outcomes suggest that federal rules may have been violated.

Generally there are two federal rules surrounding redistricting.

  1.  Equal Population: for congressional districts that means districts need to be “as nearly as is practicable.” This means that states must make a good-faith effort to create districts with an equal population. For local districts the threshold is lower, they must be “substantially equal” meaning largest and smallest districts generally must be within 10% of each other population wise. At the local level, legislatures have a lot more flexibility to manipulate outcomes.
  2. Race and Ethnicity: the “Voting Rights Act of 1965” was designed to reverse tactics like “cracking;” a redistricting tactic designed to draw each district so that there are as few minorities as possible in each district, and “packing” which is concentrating as many minorities as possible into as few districts as possible.  Section 2 and section 5 of the “Voting Rights Act” are meant to protect the voting rights of minorities, ensuring that they get fair representation.

Why is This Important?

Gill v. Whitford has implications for congressional races in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.  If SCOTUS rules on the side of the plaintiff, the “efficiency gap” standard could be applied as a barometer for the active lawsuits in the above states. This means congressional districts could be redrawn, and favored parties could face a real challenge, possibly even giving some legislatures a tough election for the first time in years.

More importantly, the case could seriously affect redistricting efforts after the 2020 census.  Applying a new standard to redraw districts could put incumbents in a position of defending their seat against other incumbents, or, more likely than not, take away any unfair advantage they may have had entering the election.