Where do we go from here?

Preliminary thoughts:
1. Left-leaning folks, we’ve got a lot of work to do. OH, IA, MI, WI? All blue in 2012 by solid margins. Obama’s approval on the eve of his lame duck period? 52.1% – higher than Reagan’s was. Trumpism can be overcome.
But there are a lot of folks in forgotten parts of this country who have been sneered at and condescended to by our elites for a very long time. If we want to claim to be a party that stands against hate and discrimination, then we should also erase the word “redneck” from our vocabulary. Highly recommend you all pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and read it carefully. I may not agree with his policy prescriptions, but Vance’s testimony of why people feel left behind is powerful and moving and deserves your attention.
The result of their marginalization is President Trump. If Democrats want to be the party of working people, then they should represent working people. It will take hard work and humility and education and actually listening to what people have to say, but I believe it must be done.
2. At the same time, blame must also fall on a GOP that sanctioned the growth of racist and xenophobic rhetoric in conservative media and conservative candidates for the sake of political expediency. If Democrats left working-class white folks in a ditch, the GOP has turned a blind eye while agitators of hate poisoned it.
Shame on the GOP leaders who put political gain above the integrity of our institutions, their own conservative principles, and basic human decency. Shame on a party which has arrogantly incubated this alt-right movement, believing its rhetoric useful but its effects harmless. But now the cat is out of the bag – the GOP is now undeniably the vehicle for a resurgent white power movement.
3. Seguing off (2), a Trump presidency lends unavoidable legitimacy to the worst of America. Just a few days ago, a black church was set aflame and Trump slogans were graffiti-ed on the side. A Muslim student in Wisconsin was beaten to death in a college town. LGBT and especially trans persons continue to be murdered at a disproportionate rate. The election of Donald Trump, who has been endorsed by David Duke and has retweeted and stumped on white supremacist messaging, will embolden these domestic terrorists. Be vigilant. Exercise your right to protect yourselves. And those of us on the outside who see it coming need to help however we can.
4. Seguing off (3), we must be careful to identify the right enemy. The enemy is authoritarianism, the politics of fear, and the white nationalism that fuels it. Whatever policy differences we have pale in comparison to the threat of a President (empowered by an office which has expanded itself drastically under the color of law for decades essentially unchecked) who has no knowledge or respect for our civic values or the integrity of our institutions. Americans of goodwill, liberal and conservative, can and should work together to create a coalition of principle that in two years, and four years, and in every election after that must put this ideology in the dirt where it belongs.
This is the beginning of a new chapter in a fight that’s been raging since the founding of this country, folks. If you love America like I do, it’s time to get off the sidelines. We live in a world which encourages us to exist in a hermetically sealed bubble of material consumption and politico-cultural echo chambers. Make your life about something bigger than yourself – not in a casual way, but as a central pillar of your decision-making. That’s the kind of action we’re going to need, and I intend to do everything I can to see it through.

(One Reason) Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

Headed to Nevada later today to Get Out the Vote for Hillary Clinton (obligatory #imwithher).

Someone pointed out that I’d yet to make a strong affirmative case for her candidacy. Giving you all the reasons I’m voting for Hillary (and against Trump) would be long and likely unreadable in a blog format, so instead I want to focus on one reason that very important to me as a Christian and attorney for the public interest.

One of the most important qualities of leadership is to have a servant’s heart: to be oriented in a fundamental, selfless way around the needs of the people you represent. When it comes to politicians, this is, sadly, a rare thing – and even if a candidate has one, it is often obscured by petty partisanship, political cronyism, and the ruthlessness of their own ambition.

While it has been often so obscured, I believe at her core that Secretary Clinton has the heart of a truly dedicated public servant. Not because of her rhetoric, which has been pockmarked by the hypocrisies of political expediency, but by her long record of service.There are a lot of lawyers in politics, but few have the track record of legal service to the poor that Hillary does, including but not limited to:

1. Her commitment to public interest advocacy in law school, and later work at the Children’s Defense Fund
2. Her pro bono work and scholarly research in private practice
3. Her co-founding of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and policy advocacy as Arkansas’ First Lady
4. Her expertise and influence in the White House as our nation’s First Lady pushing for (ill-fated) health reform and (successfully and with bipartisan support) the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

This is obviously an area close to my heart, but I believe firmly that people just don’t get into that kind of work unless they have a deep-seated belief in the value of service to the poor. There is no incentive or niche for the purely self-interested. The work can be heartbreaking, it doesn’t pay very well, and oftentimes the lawyer and their client is at the mercy of forces outside their control. The lawyer is sometimes simply doing everything in their power to make the best of a situation with no good outcomes.

To do this work, and to do it with zeal and success, requires grit and passion. It requires you to care deeply about achieving justice on behalf of society’s least. Hillary Clinton has shown me that she does care about these things.

I wish I’d gotten involved with the campaign earlier, but I’m going to do my tiny part this weekend, and I hope that some of you who may be on the fence or leaning toward the other candidate will consider what I’ve said. In the end, after drilling past conflicts on policy and scandals, looking for glimpses of a servant’s heart is critically important to me. And in this election, there is only one candidate who has committed to public service and laboring toward justice and the greater good: Hillary Clinton.

On Mass Shootings and Silver Bullets

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say. Until now, I’ve thought it better to simply support others’ speech – particularly my friends in the LGBT community, who have written with anger and grief and passion about this tragedy.

All the same, I feel compelled to talk about how disappointing it’s been to watch the debate play out more or less how it did with the San Bernadino shootings – with one side calling gun control advocacy a smokescreen for failures of national security, and the other side calling the focus on militant Islamism a distraction from failures of firearm policy.

Now, there are certainly folks who blame one cause or another out of (at least/at worst) a blind/nefarious desire to protect a pet political agenda or special interests. But when we reflexively assume this evil of everyone who disagrees with us, we choke progress and resign ourselves to future tragedy.

Working where the law hits the road in poor and working class communities, you see firsthand how no social issue operates in a vacuum – mental health affects housing affects employment affects parenting affects criminal justice affects systemic prejudice affects mental health, etc. etc. etc. – not as a chain, but as a massively complex web of causation and influence, at the heart of which rests a human soul.

As a result, tackling a problem like homelessness often feels like an “all-hands-on-deck” approach – thousands of people fighting on multiple fronts to help people in different ways. And at the end of the day, you’re not trying to control peoples’ choices, but rather to create an environment to both foster growth and mitigate harm. A community.

I submit that the problem of mass shootings in America is a similar knot of causes. Yes, mass shootings are a firearm regulation problem. They are also a mental health problem. They can also be a national security problem. The Orlando shooting was all of these – and it was also a hate problem. Untying this knot, stopping the number of mass killings in this country, if we want to do it right, will also require acts of thoughtful commitment. We will need to think hard about what freedoms we should sacrifice for security. We will need religious leaders to be vigilant against radicalization in their flock. We will need to work to fight homophobia through loud and fierce activism. We will need to fulfill the vision of the Community Mental Health Act through legislative wrangling and political horse-trading and incessant advocacy. We will need to find a way to place reasonable restrictions on the ownership of firearms. Above all, we must do all of this in a way which privileges people over ideology. Because when the welfare of people, not purity of thought, is the overriding motivation, you don’t walk away from the bargaining table – you’re willing to do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

I’m not naive – this isn’t going to be some kind of hand-holding kumbaya exercise. Some people will have the right ideas, and some will have the wrong ideas. We are absolutely allowed to have opinions on which of these is most important and which should be funded first – but none of us on any side should ever stoop to claiming out of hand that a mass shooting is a problem with X but not with Y – in other words, to put issues ahead of people. When we become enamored with our own self-righteousness we destroy the possibility of peace. We should be humble enough to recognize the complexity of these problems, and with the hearts of servants work diligently to fix them, with an unshakable focus on the human souls at their heart. This is what will lead to lasting change.Importantly, this humility requires our recognition of the dignity of those souls’ free will, and with it, the inevitability of evil. We cannot stop every mass shooting. But we can stop some of them – doing so will need everyone’s hands on deck.

Concerning Gay Billionare TechBros and Hulk Hogan

There’s a lot of dumb, bad discussion on the internet. A big part of what makes said discussion dumb and bad is the confidence with which one or both parties to the conversation state their claims. In the bowels of the gargantuan, rage-filled paragraphs with which these digital combatants typically bludgeon one another, it is often difficult to find a single sentence inflected with self-doubt. Everyone is an expert, and everyone’s opponents are drooling idiots.

And in American internet discourse, on no topic are Americans more confident than – well, aside from sports and movies – and television and video games, I suppose, and religion, and parenting, and specialty diets, and jet contrails, and vaccines…

Well, this rhetorical framing isn’t working at all.

*tape rewinding sound effect*

…And in American internet discourse, We the People are confident about many things, but particular, we are very, very confident about What Our Constitutional Rights Are. This, taken as a whole, is a very, very good thing. A free people should think about their liberties often, and be rightfully skeptical of policies which would infringe them. Fierce debate over where to draw lines when rights conflict is an essential element of good governance in a system of government like ours.

But the unfortunate side effect of this laudable hashtag fierceness is that people and pundits will often frame assertions about their Constitutional rights in the following, overly simplistic way:

Continue reading “Concerning Gay Billionare TechBros and Hulk Hogan”

Are Differential Wages for the Disabled Discriminatory?

Today, The Atlantic ran an article on workers with disabilities and the sub-minimum wage.

Honestly, before reading it I didn’t even know this was an issue. In a nutshell:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), section 14(c) allows employers who hire individuals with disabilities to pay them less than the minimum wage. According to the article, 14(c) was originally designed to provide an incentive for companies in industrial sectors to hire disabled veterans after the First World War. Today, the program is used to employ individuals with a range of disabilities who might not otherwise be able to hold down a traditional job.

However, organizations such as the Disability Rights Network and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network argue that paying these workers less than minimum wage is an antiquated idea which demeans people with disabilities and creates perverse incentives to exploit their labor.

Hillary Clinton recently called attention to the issue on the campaign trail:

When it comes to jobs, we’ve got to figure out how we get the minimum wage up and include people with disabilities in the minimum wage. There should not be a tiered wage, and right now there is a tiered wage when it comes to facilities that do provide opportunities but not at a self-sufficient wage that enables people to gain a degree of independence as far as they can go. So I want us to take a hard look at raising the minimum wage and ending the tiered minimum wages, whether it’s for people with disabilities or the tipped wage….When people talk about raising the minimum wage, they don’t always talk about the legal loopholes that we have in it and I want to get rid of those and I want to get rid of that for people with disabilities too.
At first, I reacted to this article in roughly the way I think its author and the advocates quoted within it wanted me to – with outrage and empathy. However, once I did a few minutes’ research on the regulations surrounding the sub-minimum wage and talked to a few friends with experience on the issue, a more complicated picture emerged.
In my opinion, this article is misleading, and it and Secretary Clinton are advocating for the wrong solution to a real problem.

Continue reading “Are Differential Wages for the Disabled Discriminatory?”

A Little Home, A Little Dignity

The house I always see is a deep purple and sits on a freeway overpass. Beside the window, there’s a painted military decoration – three stripes of red on a yellow field with a splash of green on either end- and the words “Vietnam Veteran” printed beside. A miniature American flag flutters proudly above the door. It’s an inspiring oddity – a small oasis of comfort suspended by a concrete span over the rushing din of Los Angeles traffic.

These houses are the brainchild of a Los Angeles resident named Elvis Summers, who made headlines last spring by constructing tiny mobile homes for homeless people. It started with one shack for his neighbor, and has since blossomed into a passion project, with thirty seven built so far. For their residents, these diminutive dwellings provide privacy and dignity. We, who have places to rest at the end of the day, often take for granted the ability to retreat, to not interact with other folks, to not be subject to the gaze and judgment of another. While these little dwellings are not a long-term solution to helping people experiencing homeless get off the street, they represent a compassionate step in the right direction.

Bafflingly, the City of Los Angeles thinks otherwise. Having designated them as prohibited “bulky items” which, pursuant to recently-passed City Ordinances, can be confiscated from homeless people without notice, the City has begun confiscating the tiny homes. As of February 25, 2016, they have taken three of the thirty seven dwellings Elvis Summers built by hand, and plan to take seven more by the end of the week. This action is the culmination of a legal fight that has been brewing since August, when the City Council first took up the issue.

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#OscarsSoWhite Misses the Mark


Gotta say, I just can’t get behind the #OscarsSoWhite thing. For a few main reasons:

First, it’s a bad use of statistics. Year to year, in a profession which is still overwhelmingly comprised of white actors, and hundreds of performances are considered for a handful of awards, there is a fairly good chance that a person of color wouldn’t be nominated even if they were randomly selected. Saying that the Academy is “regressing” without statistical rigor is really just another form of shallow horse-race politics.

Second, the focus on the race of Oscar nominees is a bad proxy fight for larger diversity issues in our storytelling entertainment. As noted above, its methodology of diagnosis is suspect – as a result, its proponents seem disingenuous to the unpersuaded, and lose credibility as a result. Why are we focusing on Oscar nominations? Other advocates such as the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA have done such great work looking at diversity in Hollywood that doesn’t rely on weak, click-baity analysis.

Third, clamoring for merely greater minority representation in media ignores the fact that the quality of that representation also matters. Hattie McDaniel may have made history by being the first black woman to win an Oscar, but she also won it playing “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind.” Octavia Spencer was amazing in The Help (and won an Oscar for it in 2011), but ultimately she was still playing “the help”. For a long time now, advocates for actors of color have been pushing not just for more roles but better roles, where minority actors aren’t simply playing stereotypes, even when they win awards for it. Focusing on having more Oscar nominations neglects this critical part of the conversation.

Fourth and finally, the #oscarssowhite focus ignores the fact that nearly every Best Picture nominee this year centers on liberal-associated issues and cultural tropes. Let’s go through the list, shall we?

Continue reading “#OscarsSoWhite Misses the Mark”