“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” June 7, 2016
“I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” October 7, 2016
“I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.” June 14, 2016
Freedom of religion’s a fundamental constitutional principle…It’s a founding principle of this country.” December 8, 2015
I applaud all of these statements. So should you, Mr. Speaker, since they are all statements you made each time Donald Trump said something offensive. I respected you more and more each time you denounced Mr. Trump’s latest comments on the campaign trail last year that were contrary to our American values.
But now I see that I was wrong. I was wrong to respect you and think that you were a compassionate person. It is clearly obvious now that your only objective was to ensure another Democrat did not win the presidency and to prevent your base from getting angry with you. It is clear you wanted to win no matter what.
I do not expect you to care about the comments of a registered Democrat in Connecticut. I do expect you, however, to care about your family and those closest to you, because I believe that all of us- including our soldiers overseas- are in danger thanks to the current administration’s lack of understanding of foreign affairs, strong-arming tactics, and erratic behavior.
I completely understand wanting to get a Republican elected. I would have been content with Governor Kasich, Senator Paul, or any of the other Republican candidates for president that ran in 2016. I would even be happy to have Vice President Pence as president. But I find it extremely difficult to believe that you can look your family in the eyes and tell them that supporting a man who objectifies women, denies facts, and makes vague threats to our allies and enemies alike is the man you feel comfortable with as the most powerful person in the world. That you find him to be an example for your children and children around the country to look up to and admire for his conduct.
I would not be sending this letter to you if any other Republican had won the presidency. I realize as Speaker you have to worry about your members and keeping control, and speaking out against the president of the same party would cause angst amongst your Republican colleagues. To me, the president’s erratic nature and abnormal behavior for a president goes beyond party and simple policy disagreements. I feel strongly that he is a threat to national security (which is something I do believe you and many of your Republican colleagues believe is your party’s strong-suit) because of his policies and comments that I believe will embolden those who wish to do us harm.
I do not claim that Secretary Clinton would have been a good president. I do not question Mr. Trump’s legitimacy to the office. I do, however, question those who condone his behavior and words, which I now know you do since you have completely ignored your previous statements on Mr. Trump’s behavior.
My hope is that in the coming weeks and months, you and some of your colleagues stress the importance the president toning down his rhetoric and focus on jobs and rights for all Americans, not ratings and annoying our allies and focusing solely on the base that sent him to office. At this point, I feel it is a lost cause since no one has the guts to stand up to him and stand by those comments.
I was hopeful that person was going to be you. But as I said….it is apparent that I was wrong.
Yes, someone else is chiming in with their opinion on certain executive orders. But as you will see, it is a bit different than other analyses that you might have read so far.
The problem with the executive order President Donald Trump signed Friday that brought the immigration of refugees from several Middle Eastern nations to a near standstill is that the order should not be framed in terms of race (though it does play a giant role that should not be overlooked). It should be framed in terms of constitutionality and legality of the order. Because framing the order through race, the argument becomes “us vs. them”, and divides people further. However, by framing it constitutionally, the argument against it becomes just “us”. Because that order having any kind of success, it establishes the precedent that the chief executive of the United States- one person- can ban certain groups of people from the country whenever he or she deems it is in the best interest in the nation’s security. This is a civil rights issue for every American.
Think about it like this- today it’s people from a few countries in the Middle East that are targeted. However, if Trump or any other president in the future decides that people from Ireland, or Italy, or South Korea, or Brazil, or Egypt, or Finland, or [insert country/race], based on what one person from [insert country/race] did something wrong or criminal here in America were targeted with similar executive orders. Or people that have brown hair, or those who have joined an organization that president does not agree with. That president apparently can simply direct their expulsion via executive order. That’s the issue that I see with this ban. It’s arbitrary, and one person can decide who’s in and who’s out. What is to stop another president from acting in any way I’ve stated above (or doing so in worse ways that I did not mention)?
Presidents have often tested the limits of executive power- from President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to “pack” the Supreme Court to Presdient Nixon’s attempts to spy on and retaliate against his political enemies and the media and claiming executive privilege when it came to withholding evidence, to President George W. Bush’s war powers and the powers given to him by the Patriot Act to direct the erosion of the right to privacy for American citizens to President Obama’s renewals of the Patriot Act, his concerning use of drone strikes, and high use of executive orders to implement change that should have been done in Congress. Trump’s predecessors have given him the ability to act in this manner, and to this point past presidents have acted with at least some restraint. It was only a matter of time until these gradually expanded executive powers fell into the wrong hands, with Trump being the current case in point.
This brings me back to my original point. It’s clear that our government has lost its way, and it has been losing its way for some time. When the Founding Fathers were shaping the document that became our Constitution, they made a clear attempt to give most of the power to the new government to the Congress. Both the president and Supreme Court had power for sure, and all three branches could and should act as checks in cases of abuse by another branch.
I fear that our society has become so insulated and polarized that both sides would scream at the changes I will advocating for in the paragraphs to come. These changes would be twisted and mangled into monsters, so unrecognizable after going through the cable news treatment and repeated within the echo chamber of our own online communities where we hear only what we want to hear and accept opinions as fact and fact as lies.
I do not pretend that any of these solutions are the product of my own mind; they are simply ideas I have read that I am putting into one place.
One of the few powers that is explicitly handed out in the Constituon is the power of Congress to create laws and be in charge of the money. The president cannot raise or move funds if Congress does not specifically allow him/her to do so. However, as the executive branch has grown over the years, that power has become somewhat muddled. Politico can take you through in finer detail:
Article I gives Congress full power over the collection and expenditure of public funds. The president has no independent spending or taxing authority absent congressional authorization, and must come to Congress annually with hat in hand.
Yet, Congress has been extraordinarily deferential to the executive branch, most conspicuously by authorizing executive agencies to collect and spend funds with little congressional direction. Last year, these fees, fines, and collections amounted to $516 billion, or one-seventh of the total budget, which is not going through the annual appropriations process. That is almost equal to what the nation spends on national defense. The high tide of this give-away of congressional spending power came with Dodd-Frank. It funds the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) with money from the Federal Reserve (a quasi-governmental entity). The Bureau also can fine financial service providers and then give the money to private parties operating “consumer education” and “financial literacy” programs. Congress has no say over the use of such public funds.
The legislature can assert some control over Trump’s freedom to spend by directing agencies to turn more of the money over to the Treasury, where it must sit until Congress re-appropriates it. Legislation introduced last Congress by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) would do just this, but Congress would be wise to first map out which agencies are spending what and why, and decide which agencies should have their spending authority curbed. (Remarkably, Congress is largely unaware which agencies are collecting what fees and fines and for what purposes, as a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing recently demonstrated.)
Obviously it is concerning that Congress would be so “extraordinarily deferential to the executive branch.” The $516 billion number that the executive branch is allowed to control to various extents is such a vast number that goes unaccounted for by Congress. Imagine what a dent the would create in our national deficit (which stands roughly at $560 billion for 2017, with a likelihood that it rises over the next several years as the link to the Wall Street Journal suggests) if Congress collected that money instead of the money staying in those agencies.
Campaign Finance Reform
By every measure, the way campaigns for office are financed in this country has gone off the rails. Neither side seems eager to do anything about it since both Democrats and Republicans benefit from the contributions of corporations thanks to the Citizens United decision, donations to “independent” political action committees (PACs), and undisclosed contributions. Take a look at the pie charts below (courtesy of OpenSecrets.org) to see the breakdowns of where campaign contributions came from during the 2016 election cycle.
As you can see, large individual contributions and PACs take up most of the territory on those charts, and therefore end up with most of the influence over members of Congress. For example, during the vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2015, contributions from oil and gas corporations seemed to play a significant factor in getting members of Congress to vote for it. The following from AOL Finance explains:
Senators and representatives who voted for the measure received far more in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry than those who opposed it, according to an analysis by watchdog group MapLight.org. Working from public contribution data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, the organization matched votes on the bill to the money received by members of Congress from the oil and gas industry.
House representatives who voted for the bill on average received 13 times more in oil and gas contributions ($45,375) than those who voted against it ($3,549). Democratic representatives who voted for the bill received, on the average, $18,141, roughly five times the $3,444 received by those who voted against the bill.
Once one starts digging, it does not take one long to find how widespread this occurs and how often it does. It’s not illegal. But the rules certainly do favor the wealthy. This is undoubtedly a big reason why some people felt a draw to Trump when he would say “the system is rigged” or we need to “drain the swamp” in Washington. If the president is serious about “unrigging” the system, this would be a good way to start. A serious, bipartisan attempt to change the way campaigns are financed and give people the feeling that their voices are not being drowned out by powerful individuals and corporations would go a long way in restoring faith in government and its ability to govern, and may even earn Trump points among Democrats and progressives.
Gerrymandering has been a major force in creating the division we see in politics today. States legislatures are in charge of breaking down voting districts, which they can do every ten years following the census. Depending on which party is in charge of a given legislature, that party can redraw districts to benefit them and make them “safe” districts. This unsubtle way of making sure your party stays in power has caused parties to drift further away from the center, with candidates and congresspeople taking positions further and further towards the extremes of their respective party. There is no incentive for them to put forth a bipartisan face to their districts when they are nearly guaranteed to win.
Obviously, gerrymandering is not the sole reason behind the high reelection rates among members of Congress (particularly in the House, as shown in the chart above). But it is a bigly (yes, I went there) factor.
There has been a push in recent years to take gerrymandering out of the picture. For example, FairVote, a non-partisan non-profit organization that advocates for fairer voting procedures and laws, has called on Congress to consider the organization’s “Ranked Choice Voting Act”. Here is what FairVote has to say about how their proposal would work:
FairVote’s flagship proposal for Congress would replace the winner-take-all single-winner districts with fewer multi-winner districts. In each multi-winner district, three, four, or five winners would be selected by ranked choice voting. In each district, the majority would elect most of the seats, but voters outside the majority could elect their fair share too, meaning that nearly every voter would have a representative they supported and helped elect. The total number elected in each state would stay the same, but district lines would not determine winners: voters would.
Now one might ask why a state legislature would pass laws like this that would affect parties so severely. As of this writing, Republicans control both chambers of a state legislature in 32 out of the 50 states, while Democrats hold control in 13 states. Republicans also control governorships in 33 states (Democrats have 16 governors). Surely there is no incentive for, let’s say, Republicans in Texas or Democrats in California to risk losing those strong majorities now (and redistricting powers) in order to have voting that is more fair.
Here’s why: Have you even been in a fight with someone- let’s say a significant other- and at one point the person you’re verbally sparring with says “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll be the bigger person.” From that moment, that person has the edge over you and will always be able to say “I was the one who [insert action/activity] and put my ego aside.” They can always claim to be more willing to look like the unselfish one.
In Maryland, a Democratic state senator made such a move. Jamie Raskin, who represented Maryland’s 20th district in the state senate from 2007 until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives last year, introduced a bill into the Maryland Senate early in 2016 that would solve the problem of gerrymandering. The point here isn’t that this is the ideal solution to the issue or that it should be enacted. The point is that a Democrat introduced this bill in a state where districts that are drawn heavily favor Democrats. If this bill or a version of this bill were to pass the legislature there and signed into law, this would surely make Democrats look like the more agreeable party and the one demonstrably looking to make sure the voices of all its citizens are heard and not just the Democratic voices. A bill with that type of affect and message would also tap into the populist feeling that the campaigns of Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders so successfully exploited.
We the People can make all of this happen. If only one point sticks with you the reader, this is the one that I hope does. We can make it all happen. We can do this by not only paying attention to politics when it comes time to vote. We can do this by calling, writing letters, and emailing incessantly to force action from our elected representatives. We can do this by protesting. These changes I have written about here are not liberal or conservative changes. They’re changes that are meant to enable voices on both ends of the political spectrum and protect all of our freedoms. They are not going to stop disagreements, nor should they. The debate and discussion on issues that affect us is a concept as old as our country. These potential solutions only further ensure that everyone feels as though their perspective and opinion is being heard, which should lead to greater compromise and less mistrust.
We the People can also make an active choice to improve ourselves as well. By taking responsibility for the improvement of ourselves, we indirectly make government improve (it is a government created for the people, after all). This means not only paying attention to credible news sources (both in the United States and abroad), but also taking the time to learn how our government operates and how each agency affects our lives.
The whole point of this sprawling article is to get people to realize what has happened and can happen if we do not put an end to bitter party politics and let parties divide us further. Our civil rights and economic freedoms are at risk, no matter what person or party holds the reins of the country in its collective hands. We should not let whichever party happens to be in the minority complain about rights, then let them forget all of those arguments once they become the majority party. We the People need to and should hold our politicians accountable. If one group’s rights are being marginalized by politicians, no matter what party they belong to, that is an affront to our rights as well because our rights can be stripped away just as quickly. Someone’s right to practice a certain religion is just as an important a right to acknowledge and protect as someone’s right to own a gun and protest. No one deserves any less or any more than another group.
So I believe we should make it as good and as worry free a stay as we can make it for every man, woman, and child. Straight, gay, bisexual, or pansexual. Transgender or not. Poor, wealthy, middle income. Working at a factory, in a skyscraper, or in a hospital. It makes no sense to let people struggle on their own when we can give them the ability to help themselves now. If we can allow people to live with just one less worry in their lives, then that is one step closer to freedom.
Giving the elderly of all shades of color a choice between buying medicine or food or paying rent is not freedom. Sure, they are technically free to make a choice. But what kind of choices are they? They are not really free. A recent college graduate who needs to work two jobs to pay for their student loans, car, rent, food, phone, clothes, and insurance while also needing financial assistance from their family is not experiencing freedom. Sure, they can choose not to educate themselves, or attempt to build a life for themselves. It’s a choice….but what kind of choice is it? They are really not free. What we have now is the illusion of freedom. Upon inspection, however, it reveals itself for what it really is- fancy words and aesthetics with no substance behind it. We can do better.
My vision of America is a vision where all people have rights. The right to guns. The right to health insurance and to go bankrupt when you get sick. The right to vote. The right to education. The right to love. The right to protest. The right to worship. The right to protect ourselves. The right to unionize. The right of workers to have fair wages. The right to live.
Government is a public service, and government officials only exist to serve the citizens who put them there. The sooner more presidents, senators, congresspeople, mayors, governors, and selectmen realize that and commit that fact to memory, the better off we all are. Imagine a world in which men and women who work at a job that puts them at risk for serious diseases are in no danger of losing their health insurance, and neither are their families. Or someone who has a pre-existing condition is covered and doesn’t need to go through their entire life savings in an effort to stay alive. This is about remaining on earth for as long as we possibly can and enjoying what the world has to offer with as little stress or life-consuming worries as possible.
While we’re here, we need to care. While we’re here, we need to be Good Samaritans. While we’re here, we need to truly feel compassion and empathy towards our fellow humans, not so we can feel good about ourselves when we look in the mirror, but so that others can have a mirror inside a home to look into. While we’re here, we need to heal each other and lift each other up in order to build a more perfect union. While we’re here, we can acknowledge our differences in an effort to make life better not for just one group of people, but for all groups of people. For when the winds of change blow, all the leaves on the tree blow together, not just the ones at the top, on the bottom, or to the side.
We need to do this while we are here….because it doesn’t last forever.
In late June 2016, two members of the United States House of Representatives- Cheri Bustos (D- Illinois) and Brett Guthrie (R- Kentucky)- announced they were planning on introducing a bill into Congress. Ordinarily, such a routine announcement would not even register on the radar of much of America, outside of Washington insiders and policy wonks. However, this announcement was no ordinary announcement (and not just because it introduced by a Democrat and a Republican). The House members introduced a bill that even by Washington standards was fairly shocking- an act that would limit the salaries of minor league baseball players. Titled the “Save America’s Pastime Act”, the two sponsors of the “common sense proposal” claimed the act would “close a loophole to ensure the long-term viability of Minor League teams in communities across our nation.”
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball released a statement shortly after the announcement of the act, pledging its “full support” of the bill (it should also be noted that according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan research group dedicated to tracking the influence of money in politics, Rep. Bustos received a $2,000 campaign donation from MLB’s political action committee, or PAC, in 2016. Rep. Guthrie and other members of Congress also received various amount of campaign donations from the PAC). The joint statement also makes reference to what spurned the creation of the bill, which is a lawsuit in California brought on by former minor league baseball players who are looking to make minor league pay subject to the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). Before we dig into what the lawsuit claims and discuss whether they have a valid point, let us first briefly direct what the FLSA does.
The Fair Labor Standards Act was one of the many bills passed into law by during the years of the Great Depression under the President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to support those Americans who were working and were trying to make a living wage. After several years of trying to pass similar laws through Congress, the FLSA finally passed in 1938 and established many aspects of working life that today we take for granted: standards involving child labor, the creation of a minimum wage, and standards on who is eligible for overtime pay. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the bill’s enactment brought the wages of roughly 700,000 up at the time of enactment and introduced a workweek which by 1940 was limited to 40 hours, with any hours over that being subjected to overtime pay.
In February 2014, three ex-minor leaguers (Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odl) filed a lawsuit against the MLB Commissioner’s Office and all thirty major league teams. The three plaintiffs in the suit (formally called Senne, et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al) claim that MLB teams violate the standards laid out in the FLSA and that ballplayers should be subjected to overtime and minimum wage laws during the regular season and offseason. It should be noted that in July 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, concluding that “the individualized issues that will arise in connection with adjudicating these questions [of minor league wages and overtime] will be extensive and will make class-wide treatment of plaintiffs’ claims virtually impossible”, decertified the lawsuit from a class action lawsuit, knocking some 2,000 fellow ex-players from across the country off the suit.
For a visual look at the pay minor league ballplayers receive, consider the above chart. This chart covers the salaries of each and every minor league player not on the 40-man roster (which will be explained later) in all levels of the minor leagues. To compare how those salaries stack up to other occupations in the United States, please see the chart below.
As one can see, wages for minor league baseball players fall well below those jobs that most consider to be worthy of just minimum wage. This does not factor in having to also pay for food, rent, cell phone bills, and many other expenses typical of an American worker. In addition, many minor leaguers must take offseason jobs to help supplement their meager minor league pay. While some might point to the large signing bonuses draft picks in the early rounds of the MLB Draft receive (the average signing bonus of a player selected in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2016 was $2,897,557), players drafted after the tenth round (a team’s signing bonus money pool is set before the draft and each pick has a dollar amount attached to it, per the CBA) of the forty-round draft typically do not receive bonuses over six-figures, or even high five-figures, especially college seniors with no negotiating leverage. Just over 300 players are drafted within the first ten rounds. Roughy 900 are selected in rounds 11-40. Of the 900 in that range that do sign contracts with the team that drafts them, they do so with meager salaries and low signing bonuses to draw on to pay for housing (which teams do help players get). Players also get a small amount of meal money, which often goes towards food that is not the healthiest for a professional athlete.
It is apparent that ballplayers in the minor leagues are getting taken advantage of, much in the way major league players were prior to their gains brought on by unionization and collective bargaining. Their meager pay does not justify the hours of work they put into their craft, both during games and training for them. For many minor leaguers, playing baseball is not an “apprenticeship”, as some have argued. It is a full-time job, and anyone who commits to a full-time job should not be forced to accept pay that falls well below the poverty line or minimum wage standards. A bill like the “Save America’s Pastime Act” does nothing but further harm those who want to play the sport, and harm those who want the participation and popularity of the sport to increase.
As for the fate of the aforementioned act, Representative Bustos pulled her support for the bill just six days after it was formally introduced to the House, saying that “while it’s important to sustain minor league baseball teams that provide economic support to small communities across America, I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players”, further adding that she believes “that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do.” The bill has been sitting idle in a subcommittee within the House Committee on Education and the Workforce since September 19. Both representatives won re-election to the House in November.
After the decertification of the lawsuit as a class action suit, the plaintiffs in Senne v. the Officer of the Commissioner of Baseball filed a motion on September 7 for an appeal on the restoration of the classification. While Judge Spero reconsiders the classification, the trial for the lawsuit, which had been scheduled to begin next month, has been indefinitely postponed.