Republicans are Empowering the (Democratic) States

This time it’s the SCOTUS conservatives’ ruling against workers’ common law right to litigate as a class. But it keeps happening that the Republicans are empowering states to take up the slack on issues big and small.

One of the unmentioned features of the revocation of the right to sue employers for wage theft is that states are victims too. They lose taxes when wages aren’t paid. They may even have a right of eminent domain on the causes of action in arbitration on behalf of employees, which would be a novel turn of law.

When President Trump fled from the Paris agreement, the liberal states stood up. When he uses ICE to attack undocumented workers, the states stood up. On the travel ban and on the right to pee. Up and down the line, they keep pushing the Democrats to take up the slack.

You must understand that power is a fluid. Where it is blocked by a dam, be it gridlock in the Congress or indifference to sanity in the White House, it will flow elsewhere.

With legislative stagnation for so long, we have long recognized the concentration of power in the executive and the dangers that poses. But it is entirely expected. If Congress will not legislate, then the limited powers of executive actions will be stretched to their limits.

And same with judicial powers. The worse that inaction bitrots the law, the more that judges have to intervene to account for equity.

But it’s different with the states. They have their own trilateral governments with their own laws and politics. And to some extent they are in competition against other states. So by pushing a wholly partisan agenda, President Trump is handing wads of capital to places like New York and California, to spend at their leisure.

A less direct example is the inaction in West Virginia, which led to a teacher’s strike for better treatment. That has now spread to other states. What does it have to do with Trump? It’s at least part of the climate of demonstration that his presidency has fomented, the spirit of Parkland and the Women’s March, that lends the nerve to teachers to finally say enough.

It’s the nomination of someone like Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. But it’s also the hopelessness of the current administration. Things aren’t getting better for teachers, and the current administration probably wants them to teach in coal mines, which is all the more reason to take action now, before they hand out the hardhats.


Why Shrink Government?

There are a number of ideas we hear from conservatives which are never explained (at least, I have yet to read a clear explanation; most of the conservative writers I’ve attempted to read are so full of contempt for those who have not yet drunk the punch that they render themselves illegible). They include anti-regulation rhetoric, anti-anti-poverty rhetoric, and anti-government rhetoric. Chief in the lattermost category is the idea to “shrink” the government.

The idea is famously recorded by the Norquip (25 May 2001 on NPR’s Morning Edition):

I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

The conservative position is that government stinks. That it is a fetter upon the economy. That taxation is a form of theft, robbing everyone of their hard-earned money to provide something they don’t want at a price they can’t afford.

By shrinking government, the thinking goes, they will reduce the harm. People will suffer less tax. The economy will do significantly better. A one-two punch: less tax plus more income. People will have more freedom, particularly to spend that extra money.

Here’s precisely where I get lost. They do not attempt to handle the harm. No talk of pandemic conditions. No discussion of the hapless fools too poor or unlucky that get sucked into the turbines of an economic engine roaring to produce supersonic growth conditions. The best you can get is some hand-wave toward churches that will pray away the pangs of hunger.

But millions of voters find it in their hearts to keep electing these Freedom Caucus types. No regard for the reason government exists, they would happily repeal any regulation just to get another stamp on their conservative-loyalty card.

In all fairness, the image of a gargantuan government comes easily to the imagination. But then, so is the lawless waste, that state of nature. The chief problem with the shrink-government trope is that most of the country is past that sort of thinking.

It’s not a question of bathtub-ready government or beast-sized government. It’s not even a question of right-sizing anymore. It’s just a question of, for any particular program (public or private), with any set of inputs and outputs, is there a better option. And these conservatives are unwilling or unable to engage in that sort of discussion, which is why they should not be involved at all. They should be voted out until they can help with the problems at hand, instead of trying to always return to some fetishistic first-principles analysis of why we should never have left the caves in the first place.

Anyone who really wants to shrink government can start by investing in poor economies so that we won’t need as much aid, military, or border security. The smartest way to accomplish the downsizing is by attrition of the need for the spending.


The Prospects for Federal Legalization of Marijuana

There are enough Republican senators from states where marijuana has been legalized: Alaska (2), Colorado (1), and Nevada (1) to tip the balance in the Senate on a bill to legalize Marijuana federally (or, if possible, at least some compromise that prevents federal law from being enforced in states that legalized).

The House? 26 Republican members hail from states with legal pot:

  • Alaska (1)
  • California (14)
  • Colorado (4)
  • Maine (1)
  • Massachusetts (0)
  • Nevada (1)
  • Oregon (1)
  • Washington (4)

With a split in the House of 239/193 (3 vacancies), the tipping point would be 24 members, which makes it close (and assumes that all Democratic members would vote aye while all non-legalization-state Republicans would vote nay).

Given that eight states have already legalized marijuana, 14 have decriminalized, and 29 have medical marijuana, it is inevitable that federal-level legalization will develop. The question is how close is the Congress from enacting that.

2018’s midterm elections could prove pivotal in the House for the election of a body with enough votes on the matter. You also can count at least four states considering legalization via ballot initiative (Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and Nebraska) plus three more medical initiatives (Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota). Passage would add more representatives to the count.

But assuming it does not, the question becomes how much leverage the legal industries, both recreational and medical, have to get non-legalizing states’ members to cooperate.

For example, the banking industry would see benefits to a change in law allowing for the marijuana industry to participate in the regular financial system. Given that the industry is poised to be worth some $40 billion by the end of the decade, that’s a lot of transactions and contracts for various businesses to profit from.

These subsidiary businesses, which include those who are supply-chain for manufacture, distribution, and marketing of processed products, as well as out-of-state home-growing/horticulture suppliers, all have some level of sway over legislators.

It’s not clear what would happen today, much less in a year or two, if the Congress took up a bill on repealing federal sanction of marijuana. Which gets to the other hurdle: leadership. Speaker Ryan is unlikely to allow such a bill to come to a vote any time soon. The dysfunction in Washington means that there are a number of high-stakes issues currently under consideration, with deals to be made or not. That includes the basic question of funding the government.

Such an environment is not ripe for an issue like marijuana to come up, so it will likely take one of two things (or both): the midterms turning the House into an especially pro-legalization body that’s ready to act, or AG Sessions deciding to crack down in legal states.


No, Seriously. We Have to Work Together.

The Republicans made a good show of trying to fix it all themselves, only to find out that they couldn’t agree. That’s fine. They should learn their lesson and we should all learn it. We can’t do it by ourselves.

Whether it’s finding a new balance on welfare and minimum wage, where we don’t want to subsidize Walmart workers, but we don’t want to push people out of work and onto welfare, or whether it’s on regulation where we want to be sure that we’re not poisoning our air and water, not destroying habitats, but we don’t want businesses to spend a ton of money just on paperwork, we have to come together.

That means we have to keep going back to first principles. What is the system there for, and if it’s there for the wrong thing, we need to change it to target our actual goals. And that’s hard, because it requires a level of honesty from politicians they’re not accustomed to. They can’t just hide behind calling the system a mess or sad, but have to say what they actually think it’s for.

On climate change, it’s harder as the Republicans hold somewhere between “it’s not happening” and “it’s not humans doing it.” On proposed actions, we see claims about killing jobs and high costs. For that reason, working together likely first requires establishing the baseline beliefs about jobs.

Jobs are there to do useful work. If the wages can’t be high enough to do needed work, the government subsidizes that job. Otherwise, the work isn’t important enough. Or, work for work’s own sake is good, and we should subsidize any work, no matter how useless. Or some middle ground.

Same on illegal immigration. Underpaid labor. Should the price of produce rise and we send those folks home, hoping their economies of origin grow to support them? Should we legalize them? Certainly the decision should not be made strictly on the basis of existing law. It should be what’s best. But that requires, again, someone like Trump to admit what their core goal is. Is it racism, or is it giving Americans those jobs, or just what is it?

But the alternative is basically to continue down the current path, which is a dumb beast of government that thrashes and turns randomly, wrapped in its own bindings, trying to see its way forward.


How to Build a Blanket Fort

In these trying times, we all just want to feel safe and stable. There’s nothing better for that than a blanket fort.

First, tell all your staffers to stay out! Next, go to the East Wing and get some blankets and bring them back to the Oval Office.

Now, you have to decide whether to build on the land as-is, or if you want to prepare the site. Both have tradeoffs. Site preparation takes more time, but offers a more customized fort.

The true shape of the scandal gripping this administration is still not known. New wounds were revealed in the possibility of obstruction efforts by the president. We still have no direct evidence of collusion with the Russian Federation, but we still have no real explanation why Trump keeps going out of his way to show loyalty to them.

There are also the ongoing questions of emoluments to the president, his financial situation, and other vague feelings of corruption.

The tuck method gives you the option to use extra pillows to line your fort’s floor (this is essential if you are also pretending the floor is democrats). But it is less secure than using pillows to anchor the blankets.

Even if Trump is cleared, the government as a whole is still miles away from where we really want it to be. Bipartisan, compromising, working to ensure the rights and liberties and lives of the people? Please. And this presidency has shown no desire to bring us there.

We badly want a functional government that we can all be proud of, but this pall has stayed over us as we all huddle in our blanket forts, hoping that the storm will clear and we can go back outside and play.