Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I never thought I'd see NPR put out what was essentially a hit piece on someone who has been dead since the 1940s, but they did it. It was almost staggering to see the lack of any insight whatsoever on the part of what is supposed to be that liberal radio bastion, when ideals like full employment, weekends off, and pensions have been seen as a liberal brass rings for decades. Instead, we have publicly-funded radio telling us that we should be working more, and we should be happy about it.

But let's examine the 40-hour week, shall we? New studies are showing that not only are workers happier when they work six hour days for the same pay scale as an eight hour day, but they are also more productive. Flatly put, an 8 hour day encourages goofing off. We've all done it: you punch in to work, get to chatting with a coworker, checking the news or even just daydreaming and before you know it it's halfway to lunchtime and you're out for a coffee break. Now, what fool is going to go up to their boss and say "Chief, I'm terribly sorry, but can you please dock my pay for the last two hours? I haven't been performing anywhere near up to snuff, I'm afraid." Heck, in a country like America where productive has far outpaced compensation, we're all scrabbling for every dime we can get.


And so, we have a fundamentally broken system: people don't work as hard because they need the hours, but they're essentially wasting up to 10, 15, maybe 20 hours a week doing not-work. But no one's going to say anything about it: we've got a good thing going here, don't mess it up. If I got bumped down in pay, we'd have to give up some of the few creature comforts we actually have in this stagnant economy. And so, solidarity takes on a strange new twist: we have a largely union-less working population staging what amounts to a 20 year slowdown in work, all just to make sure we have food on the table. And, most despressingly, while we could push for less hours, better pay, and ultimately a happier and more productive workforce, 30 years of Reaganomics has taught us that the system is hopelessly rigged and that you just need to keep your head down and get as much as you can before the next boom is followed by the next bust.

This isn't any way to live, particularly in the richest, most prosperous country the world has ever seen. Get involved: support labor, support organizing, support card checks, support solidarity. If we all were to work together, we could effectively spit in the eye of the selfish, objectivist, money-grubbing and greed-uber-alles culture that has put us in this thoroughly broken situation. As Ben Franklin one said, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Who knows what the next crash in this money-mad system will do, or whether it will put you, or me, or all of us out of a job. We can't afford to wait for the noose to come around our necks, we must work to fix the broken system now!

Seek to Understand

A tisket, a tasket... Hillary Clinton's #@$% basket.

No doubt you've heard by now about Mrs. Clinton's statement about 50% of Republican nominee Donald Trump's supporters fitting into the now-famous "Basket of Deplorables." While it wasn't the best thing she could have said (and in fact just cements in the ugly, elitist snob stereotype that the upper crust of the Democratic party has been attracting since Al Gore) let's look instead at what she said afterwards the soundbyte:

“But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

This should have been the focus of her statement. This should have been what everyone was paying attention to. Unfortunately, the current state of broadcast media seems more akin to ambulance chasers than journalists, the leading comments got more play... which is an utter shame.

I'm not Secretary Clinton's biggest fan; far from it. Like 60% of Minnesota, I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. However, in the above paragraph Mrs. Clinton hit on something so incredibly important and necessary for this bizarre election cycle that it bears examination. It's easy to just write off Trump supporters as all evil or all racist or all stupid... but where does that get us on the day after election day? Fellow DFLers, we must remind ourselves that this is, as of recent polling, darn near half the population of the entire United States of America. To discount them outright as misguided, sad, or uninformed is to not only sabotage any chance of meaningful dialogue, but also to destroy any chance for future compromise and teamwork.

There is a lot said by Mrs. Clinton that is true: after 30 years of triangulation, welfare reform, and trade deals, the Democratic Party is being perceived as a part of elites, and we must work to fix that. People are angry, and they would rather burn down the house with all of us inside it as long as it meant something would finally be done to address their desperation. We can't keep pretending like they don't matter. We can't keep insisting that they don't count. They are our constituency just as much as anyone else, and simply engaging in gang warfare of Red vs. Blue is what got us into this paralyzed state of government to begin with.

Sit down with people. Talk to them. Listen to them. And when it's all done, and you say you're going to work as a DFLer to make things better, actually work to make things better for everyone. If we don't, we can't call ourselves anything better than those maniacal partisans on the right. We have to be better... but that doesn't mean we have to be nice. Reality has a well-known liberal bias, and we have objective facts on our side, particularly as the unique DFL: our policies work, but there's more that we can do. We need to make sure that everyone in Minnesota understands that we are working for the betterment of ALL, not just our donors or our friends. If we wall ourselves up in our fortress and say we're not as bad as the other person in the other fortress, that doesn't make us good. It's time we start walking the walk if we're going to talk the talk.

As President John Kennedy said, "We choose to... do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." The Democratic-Farmer-Labor party has a unique opportunity to be the truly Progressive alternative and win the votes of not just 51% of the people, but 60, 70, 80 percent. It won't be easy, it will be hard, but it's what needs to be done to continue the excellent policies of Governor Dayton and continue Minnesota's reputation as a bright, shining Star of the North in terms of prosperity, equality, and most of all, compassion.

"We all do better when we all do better."
-Paul Wellstone

The Lessons of 1896

I mentioned previously the similarities between this year's election and the tumultuous election year of 1968. As time goes on, this Presidential contest continues to defy nearly all historical trends... but it does have a tendency to borrow bits from here and there over American history. As a smart man once said: History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

For about thirty years following the Civil War, we had a sequence of fairly unremarkable Presidents who did little to improve the lives of regular Americans. In truth, both Democrats and Republicans had their share of dirty deeds during what historians now call The Long Depression: whether it was the Southern Democrats' hard-dying of slavery that led to the essentially brokered Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (the Democrats all but allowed his Presidential win against Samuel Tilden in 1876 on the condition that Federal troops would depart the Reconstructed South) or the Republicans pivot away from radical abolitionism and Lincoln-like social justice to the pockets of big business, it's safe to say that there's a reason most teachers skip this area in high school history class: it's not America's finest moments. In the late 1800s, as the 19th century was coming to a close, you would have likely found a similar distaste for government and politicians as usual if you swept through the tenements of New York, the ranches of New Mexico, or even the farms of Minnesota. Back then, names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan had obscene control of the American machine. Rackets like Tammany Hall bought the politicians, and in turn those politicians paid more and more toward the rich, making them even richer. Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age, where something rotten was simply covered in gold to look more pleasing. This would continue on for a few more decades, with more and more gold being ladled on top of decomposing garbage, until the entire thing collapsed in 1929.

Which is why the 1896 contest is so very peculiar: it marks the beginning of a turning point for both of America's major political parties. Democrats and Populists fused their campaigns around the ebullient William Jennings Bryan, whose fiery speeches effectively roused the rabble who were sick and tired of what they considered to be a broken system presided over by bought and paid for politicians. The country had been in economic turmoil since the Panic of 1893, and Bryan was selling some radical economic ideas to a populous desperate for anything to shake things up. Meanwhile, a businessman named Mark Hanna all but installed his man, William McKinley, into the nomination on the Republican side. All of Bryan's fire and gusto could do little to fight back the moneyed interest, and McKinley won easily on a platform of "solid money" and not doing anything too rash. As public opinion seems to slide more and more in favor of Mrs. Clinton over her opponent, it seems 2016 could be 1896 all over again.

What is important to look at, however, is what happened afterwards. McKinley, with the help of tabloid media, went to war with Spain in 1898. This not only bolstered the economy, but made McKinley look like a capable leader and secured his re-election in a 1900 rematch with Bryan. Unfortunately, McKinley's first Vice President, Garret Hobart, died in office and, in an attempt to stifle his rising star, the Republican party put that unapologetic Progressive Teddy Roosevelt in the largely ceremonial Vice President position. Chillingly, McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901, making those recent comments about "Second Amendment People" even more disturbing with historical context.

Roosevelt was sworn in and kicked off an era of Progressive policies from both Republican and Democratic presidents. Following another catastrophic war, however, the moneyed interests were able to win back the country just in time to drive it directly into the ground with the Great Depression in 1929.  As a final interesting note to the 1896 election, there was actually a little-known Third Party presence called the National Democratic Party, who attempted to keep the old guard of the conservative Democrats in line by running John M. Palmer and Simon Bolivar Buckner, two men pushing eighty years old. It is telling that the attempt to stop the populist and Progressive uprising in 1896 was spearheaded by two very old men who seem very out of touch; the same could be said for the old guard doing anything they can to stop Trump in 2016.

While we may seem to be at a place now in American History that seems unprecedented, the last century tells a surprisingly similar story. The biggest lesson to take away from it is this: as DFLers, we need to keep to our progressive roots. It will be a long, hard fight, and there may be temptation to take more conservative positions as the Republicans fall into disarray, but that is sacrificing long term prosperity for short term gain. We must continue to fight as a unique and Progressive arm of the larger Democratic structure and demand policies that do well for ALL Americans, and in a few short years we may see our new Teddy Roosevelt finally make good on the political revolution that has been roiling for decades. If we do not stay the progressive course, however, history could repeat itself and a surprisingly progressive and populist Republican, like TR, might just pull the rug out from under all of us.

But make no mistake: Progressivism will have its day in America, and that day is coming soon.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup.

The American Stew Pot


I was once told that the old idea of the "American Melting Pot" was a little... off. In reality, I was told, America is more like a stew: each of the ingredients add something to the entire ensemble, but overall retain their own structure. America is much the same, with little outposts of culture here and there because America doesn't force assimilation. Where you might see some potato or carrot, you see the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago or the Amish communities of the Midwest.

What makes America so great is that we don't force the whole stew into a blender, because any cook can tell you trying to put hot stew into a blender will just make it explode. If you must blend a stew, either wait for it to cool down or use an immersion blender. It may take longer, and you actually have to plunge into the thick of things, but at least there won't be an explosion. You can't expect the stew to go by your timeline or your personal wants, unless you want boiling liquid on your ceiling... and maybe some people do.

So you have your ingredients, and you prepare them: you first partially cook some of the ingredients with a little oil, add what will become the gravy, and leave it on to cook for a long time. If you're patient, you have an amazing dish... but what if someone looked at that stew pot and said "I bet I can do it better" by gussying it up? What if someone saw a perfectly delicious, if humble, dish and decided it needed more? What would being greedy in this kitchen get you?

Let's say this person wants to add a buttery crust to the top of this stew, making it more like a Great American Pot Pie. Now, there's nothing wrong with a pot pie, in theory, and I'm sure we all appreciate a good crust/gravy combination. The only problem is that the crust is going to take some time to make, so you'll have to try to speed up the cooking on your filling to make up for it. So you take the 90% on the bottom and turn up the heat. In making this crust, you had to cut some of the butter out of the stew beneath. Now, the meat or the vegetables get burned, but that's okay, this person says, because the crust will make it all worth it. It'll be so decadent, such a sight to be seen, that everyone will forget if the stuff underneath it is slightly burnt.

There's just one problem: in this person's quest to make the curst the envy of all, he added too much butter. To be blunt, the upper crust is too rich. As a result, putting in the oven will yield disaster: the crust will fall apart, and the stew underneath will boil up from the bottom, only hastening the destruction of the upper crust. Soon, instead of a tasty treat, you have an oily mess because the ingredients weren't distributed properly. In this person's quest to make something that looked super cool and fancy, it all ended in mushy, burnt nastiness.

So don't always try to re-invent the wheel. Make sure your Great American Stew Pot gets enough oil, and don't send it all to the top. If you must have an upper crust (and you can, that's okay) make sure you make it of strong stuff, and go easy on the richness. It might turn out to be a teeny bit tougher up there on the top, but it's worth it to not have an underneath on fire and an upper crust that can't support its own weight.

It's a recipe for disaster from the get-go, no matter how badly you want it to succeed. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it needs to be said, because when you have soggy, oily mush on top of burned filling, no one wins and, if you leave it the heat in long enough, hoping that will help re-form the upper crust... then everything winds up burned in the end.

At Your Service,

Doremus Jessup