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

obamacare

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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Five Forgotten Founding Fathers: John Hancock

 

With only a week before we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence; which, for our foreign readers, is an American holiday where we celebrate freedom from the British Empire by drinking a reckless amount of beer before playing with explosives, I thought it would be fun to profile some of the guys responsible for making the fourth so special.

Everyone knows who John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington are, but revolution was a team effort, and much like how the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t have won the 2015 NBA Title without Andre Iguodala, America wouldn’t be possible without John Hancock.

Most famous for being the largest signatory of the “Declaration of Independence,” Hancock was a fundamental player in the uprising of the colonies.

Early Life

Born January 23, 1737, John Hancock was named after his father, a clergyman who baptized John Adams in 1735.  The senior John Hancock, died while his son was still a child. Holding the belief that a child should have a father figure, his mother Mary sent John to live with his uncle Thomas, a wealthy merchant, and his aunt Lydia in 1744.

Thomas and Lydia had no children, and raised John as their own. Thomas soon began to groom John to take over “Hancock House,” which imported manufactured goods from Britain, while exporting rum, whale oil, fish, and other goods.  The business meant that the Hancock’s were one of Boston’s wealthiest families.

John Hancock was considered to be exceptionally smart. Upon graduating from Harvard at age 17, he went to work for his uncle, where he negotiated some exceptionally profitable trade contracts between “Hancock House” and Britain during the French and Indian War.  His success led him to spend a year living in London, where he witnessed the coronation of King George III in 1761.  

John Hancock was a man who actively sought wealth and power, joining the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew in 1762, gave him access to some of the wealthiest and most influential residents of Boston, connections he would leverage in his political career and during the revolution. In 1763, due to his uncle’s failing health, John Hancock took control of “Hancock House,” cementing his rise as an influential Bostonian.

The Hancock family had a generous history, endearing themselves to the city of Boston by giving generously to the church and the poor.  Upon his death in 1764, Thomas Hancock freed the family slaves, and there is no record of John Hancock ever trying to buy or sell slaves.

Political Beginnings

The French and Indian War, known as “The 7 Years War” elsewhere, had historically high costs due to the location (travelling across the ocean to fight in North America), bribing Native Americans, and loss of product due to smugglers. This caused the British debt to double between 1754 and 1763. 

The 7 Years War doubled Great Britain’s debt in only 9 years.

The “Molasses Act” which had been enacted to raise funds for the war, was set to expire in 1763. Lacking funds, it was extended and in 1764 and became known as the “Sugar Act.” The tax caused outrage, especially in Massachusetts where Samuel Adams and James Otis led protests against “taxation without representation.” The argument essentially boiled down to the fact that Adams did not feel that Parliament could enact taxes against colonists if the colonists had nobody arguing on their behalf in Parliament.

Around the same time, John Hancock; the influential, wealthy, and generous merchant, was selected as one of Boston’s five “selectmen” in charge of governing Boston.  Initially Hancock looked to take a moderate stance on the “Stamp act” and resulting protests.  He wanted to maintain his standing as a loyal British subject. That began to change, and in 1765, possibly inspired by his friend John Adams, Hancock actively joined the resistance.  His popularity got him elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1766.

Igniting the Flames of Revolution

The passage of the “Townshend Acts” by British Parliament in 1767 levied new taxes on merchants in the colonies.  The acts established the “American Customs Board” as a way to catch more smugglers. Colonists rightfully felt that these acts posed a threat to their established tradition of self-government, leading to protests against “Taxation Without Representation” taking place across Massachusetts.  

These acts directly affected Hancock on April 9, 1768 when two customs agents, known as “tidesmen,” tried to board one of Hancock’s briggs, “The Lydia.” When Hancock realized they lacked a warrant, he refused them entry. Massachusetts Attorney General Jonathan Sewall ruled in Hancock’s favor. Some of Hancock’s admirers refer to this act as the “first physical resistance of British authority” and therefore credit Hancock with starting the revolution.

The “Townshend Acts” led to the “Boston Tea Party.”

Hancock came under further suspicion in 1768 when his ship Liberty  showed up to port carrying only ¼ of its capacity. Britain suspected he was unloading most of his haul in order to avoid taxes. Upon being brought up on charges, Hancock enlisted his old friend John Adams to defend him against the crown.  After a long, drawn out trial which took five months, the charges were inexplicably dropped.  

The incident with “Liberty” helped to reinforce the British decision to crack down on opposition throughout Massachusetts.

Revolution

Hancock’s political career was kicked into high gear in 1774, when  Massachusetts selected him to replace James Bowdoin at the second continental congress. On May 24, 1775, his colleagues named him the president of the Second Continental Congress.  

Hancock’s position was unique.  Not only was he the president of Congress, but Hancock simultaneously served as the president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, giving him an enormous amount of power.  At the time, Massachusetts was Great Britain’s biggest problem, so by electing Hancock as their president, the Second Continental Congress was recognizing Hancock’s importance. Specifically his ability to effectively communicate with both rich moderates, and radical Patriots.

The thought of revolution made Congress a target. In April of 1775 the Lord of Dartmouth ordered British General Thomas Gage to arrest members of the Provincial Congress on charges of treason and rebellion. Feeling emboldened, on April 18, 1775 General Gage sent troops to Concord to seize military suppli

The battles of Lexington and Concord marked the first military engagements of the revolution.

es being stored by the colonists. Patriots also believed that Gage was heading to Lexington to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been resting at Hancock’s old family home. This prompted Paul Revere to ride to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams of impending danger. The two managed to escape right before the Battle of Lexington and Concord which became the first battle in the American Revolution. After the battle, General Gage issued a pardon to any colonist who would lay down their arms. The pardon excluded Hancock and Adams, which strengthened Patriot resolve.

 

John Hancock was so much more than the first signatory of the “Declaration of Independence.” He was a businessman, a philanthropist, an assemblyman, the president of the most important Congress in American history, and a rebel who would later serve as the first governor of Massachusetts. His unique position as a wealthy merchant who believed in revolution helped to energize Boston to rise up against the British.  This fourth of July, crack a cold one in honor of John Hancock.

3 Things to Watch in 2018

2018 election

 

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

UBI

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

rural america

 

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.