Check, please!

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An article I read the other day got me thinking about the practice of tipping servers, bartenders, etc. I was perusing the internets, as I am wont to do, and I came across an article about DeAngelo Williams, who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently he left a lousy tip at a restaurant–to the tune of $0.75 on a $128.25 bill. Now, in his defense, the service was apparently horrible.

He waited an hour and half for his food, then got the wrong order, and generally put up with lousy service. Thus the lousy tip. That seems fair. Naturally, the server didn’t think so. So she put him on blast on Twitter. She was promptly fired by the restaurant. Which is probably a good move on their part. Shaming customers after you gave them bad service, especially famous customers who have the eyes and ears of many followers, is just bad business.

But it made me think about tipping in general. I realize it’s probably not going to make me popular, but I hate the idea of tipping. And I hate how pervasive the practice has come. It seems like everyone is obligated to tip people in the food service industry, no matter what they do. They even have a spot for a tip on the receipt at the local ice cream parlor. For someone who literally spent 30 seconds scooping ice cream and putting it in a bowl.

The problem is that for a lot of people in the food service industry, the tips are what they depend on to survive. And I get that. I empathize with that. But it doesn’t make me the jackass. The jackass in this scenario is the employer, who refuses to pay their employee enough money to, you know, actually live. In many states it’s perfectly legal for employers to pay people below the federal minimum wage, because the tips will make up for it. And so you have someone who makes $4/hour who will pretty much be screwed if I don’t leave a tip.

The situation is certainly shitty for the employee, but I’d argue that it’s also shitty for the customer. The employer is essentially making ME subsidize a cut in their employees’ wages. That’s the egregious part, that some asshole thought, “Hey, if people are tipping my employees, I can pay them less.” At the risk of sounding like a commie pinko, people should be paid for the job that they’re doing according to the law and human decency. It’s abhorrent that people are allowed to pay some employees wages that essentially impoverish them while passing the buck to the consumer.

It’s the perfect system. If I protest it and don’t tip, I’m the bad guy because I’m taking away someone’s livelihood. If I tip, then I’m just letting the assholes win. Of course the argument from the assholes is that if they pay their workers more that the prices at the restaurants and bars will increase. You know, that old chestnut.

First of all, bullshit. We all know you’re overcharging us for food and drink in the first place. Don’t act like $12 for a Mai Tai is a steal.  Second of all, if I end up paying $20 for a $15 meal because of the tip, then I’m already paying more, you ass. Forcing me to tip is already making me pay an artificially inflated price. But this “Oh, I’ll have to drastically raise your prices to be fair to my employees” threat is completely hollow. There’s this place that tripled their profits after getting rid of tips and paying their employees more. In my neck of the woods, several places are eliminating tips. They are, of course, raising their prices…by 18%. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that in some places “expected gratuity” can run to the tune of 20-30%.

 

I’ve never really understood why this business model only exists in the food business and not other industries, but that’s the way it is. And that’s the social convention. To the point that even thinking about not tipping someone makes you a douche. But instead of being mad the customer, the employees should really be mad at the real douche–the one who won’t pay them fairly to begin with. It’s not that I don’t think you deserved the tip–it’s that I think you deserve a decent wage to begin with.

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Income and Wealth Concentration

 

Being against income and/or wealth inequality has become synonymous with communism in our public discourse. This charge is commonly made against liberals and progressives like Bernie Sanders. In reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Although on the surface, I could see why the argument would be tempting (aside from the obvious political rhetoric it generates). If someone is anti-inequality then it must naturally follow that they are pro-equality. While this is technically true, it’s that word “equality” that really throws a wrench into things, because it makes it sound like if you’re against income and wealth inequality you’re then for income and wealth equality. And from there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to “everyone makes the same amount of money.”

Of course that’s never what Sanders or his followers have argued. And as far as I know, nobody in this country–even the most progressive liberals–is arguing that everyone should make the same amount of money. Bernie and his supports were never anti-money or anti-wealth, they never wanted to punish success and redistribute the country’s wealth until everyone was equal. That’s a nice conservative political narrative, but it isn’t factual.

What we progressives need to do in order to take back the conversation is to re-label the issue. Instead of income or wealth inequality, I would propose that the term be changed to “Income and wealth concentration.” Because really, the problem isn’t that wealth and incomes aren’t equal–the problem is that too much of the wealth is concentrated in too few hands. 

Now we can debate until the cows come home what “too much wealth in too few hands” actually looks like, but I’d be willing to wager that any economist worth his or her salt and anyone with a modicum of common sense would agree that giving too much of the money to too few of the people is bad on several levels.

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This might be a good place to start defining what’s “too much”

First there are the social and political consequences. When too much wealth and income goes to a small amount of people, everyday folks are going to stop and look around and say, “Hey, I’ve worked hard my whole life and I just can’t seem to get ahead.” And that’s how you get this man as a presidential candidate:

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Pictured: a sack of shit with a tie and bad toupee.

And they have a point to a certain degree. Most people, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that the amount of work put in should be reflected in pay: the harder you work, the more you make. Makes sense, right? Well, take a CEO who makes $20 million a year and compare him to his janitor who makes $20,000. Does the CEO really work $19,980,000 harder than the janitor? Put another way, does the CEO work 1000x harder than the janitor? Well unless he works 40,000 hours a week, no.

Now obviously, that isn’t the same thing as saying that the janitor and the CEO should make the same amount of money. Clearly, the CEO has the job that carries more responsibility, that requires more education, experience, and expertise. The CEO should indeed make more money. But there’s no magic economic formula that justifies the dramatic differences in pay between the top brass and their workers. Making 1000x more than your employees is pure greed. If someone can mathematically demonstrate to me why the enormous gaps in pay we see are good, I’m all ears. Saying that income is tied to labor and value sounds great, but when you look at the work that people do and their pay, that clearly isn’t the maxim that we follow.

Which brings me to the economic reasons why wealth and income concentration is a big deal. At any given moment, there is a finite amount of money or resources in the economy. The economy is capable of generating new wealth and new resources, but at any one time there is a discrete amount of economic capital available. Now, what happens when more and more of the existing AND new capital is given to fewer and fewer people? The short answer is that it’s taken out of the economy, i.e. consumer purchasing power and spending stagnates or falls.

You know when someone says, “That’s more money than you could spend in one lifetime!” Well, yeah, that. Rich people don’t spend their money. That’s precisely why they’re rich. Give one man a billion dollars and he’ll save or invest most of it–give a million people $1,000 and they’ll spend it, pumping it right back into the economy. That’s why wealth and income concentration is important.

Now, we can have discussions about how to prevent those bad things from happening, and that’s where we’ll fall along ideological lines. What gets me the most is that even if we can’t philosophically agree on what exactly constitutes greed, we can very much objectively look at the quantitative data related to wealth and income concentration and the economy. I like data, so I’ll let the data do the talking:

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Now I know that correlation doesn’t imply causation. But a trend is worth investigating. It seems to me like it would be a truly remarkable coincidence that those lines just happen to peak right before the Great Depression and again right before the Great Recession. It also seems like it would be an improbably huge coincidence that the flat part of those lines happens to fall during the booming decades between WWII and the Reagan years.

It’s, I don’t know, almost like when too few people have too much of the money the economy tanks, and when the wealth is less concentrated at the top we have a stable if not booming economy. Imagine that. Food for thought.

Why does sex ruin a career?

Anthony Weiner just couldn’t keep it in his pants…again. And this time his wife has had enough, apparently. And truthfully, I can’t say I blame her. I’d leave him, too. Certainly, the end of a marriage is hard on both parties and difficult enough to go through. But for this couple, there’s an added layer of complexity–both of them are in the public eye thanks to their political careers.

Weiner is an ex-congressman and was a mayoral candidate in NY. His wife, Huma Abedin, is working on the Hillary campaign. Certainly, Abedin will come out of this unscathed, since she’s the one who was cheated on. But Weiner’s comeback is completely derailed. Again. The first time this happened, he resigned his seat in congress.

Several things about this seem somewhat ridiculous and perplexing to me. The first is the nature of the scandal itself. Weiner loves sexting–sending women lewd photos of his junk, basically. But as far as I can tell, that’s the extent of his activity–he never actually consummated things with any of the women he corresponded with; they were just dirty pictures. Certainly his wife has every reason to be angry with him and to leave him. But why does the outrage extend to the general public? Which leads me to my second question.

Why does sex ruin a political ruin? And in this instance, not even sex, just racy photos? By all accounts, Weiner was a talented and effective politician. So who gives a fuck who he texted his dick to (aside from his wife, of course)? Why is this an issue as far as his job goes? It shouldn’t be. And quite frankly, no sex scandal should be career-ending for a politician, unless it somehow kept them from doing their job. Otherwise, if their job performance doesn’t suffer, leave their personal life out of it.

Really, cheating on a spouse isn’t anything new. Millions of American’s cheat on a spouse or significant other every year. Should all of them lose their jobs? If not, then why are politicians held to such scrutiny? Certainly they live in the public eye. But so do celebrities. If an actor cheats on his wife, he isn’t blackballed by Hollywood studios.

Okay, maybe it’s because politicians are supposed to be moral paragons? But where in any political charter or document does it say anything about that? Thomas Jefferson banged his slaves. Ben Franklin liked to get it on with Parisian prostitutes. Can you imagine if someone had told them, “Sorry, but because you guys couldn’t keep it in your pants we’re erasing your names from the Declaration of Independence and forbidding you from being politicians.” Get out of here.

Many of our politicians throughout history and into the present day have had a sexual appetite that extended beyond their spouse. And that includes politicians on both sides of the aisle. Republican or Democrat, doesn’t matter–they’ve all had their share of cheaters. Whether we’re talking about JFK or Bill Clinton, or Newt Gingrich or Rudy Giuliani, cheating happens. But it should stay a private matter (unless whatever happened was criminal in nature, of course).

Really, what I suspect is that we have been ruled by the “Moral Majority” on the right for so long that this arcane Victorian standard we hold politicians to has just become commonplace. Which is really stupid, because it’s the not the job of our politicians to be model spouses or celibate. It’s to effectively govern. Which someone can totally do while being a lousy spouse.

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White Salmon River

Another water post! But this time it’ll be a lot more lighthearted. Instead of talking about the fragile state of our planet’s water system, I’ve decided to talk about a white water rafting trip I took this weekend.

I love water. I love being around it, in it, you name it. I’ve always been into kayaking and rafting, but I’ve never taken a guided trip. My girlfriend’s sister recommended we try a tour on the White Salmon River, and I can honestly say it didn’t disappoint.

A little background. The White Salmon River is a 44 mile stretch of water that empties into the Columbia River. There used to be a damn up there, Condit Dam, but it was demolished in 2011. Part of the trip was a little history lesson, and we went right through where the dam used to be. You could still see the high water marks on the canyon walls, and holes in the rock where they blasted. Our guide was also very familiar with the geological history of the river and the Columbia Gorge in general, which was pretty cool. Oh, and there were Steelhead everywhere.

Now, for the trip. The launch site is up in Washington, right across the river from Hood River, OR. It took us about two hours to drive there from where I live in Portland. Very reasonable drive, and very scenic.

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The bridge from Hood River to Washington

Once we got the launch site, there was an orientation for all the newbies who weren’t used to being on the water. Then we all got to gear up. Each raft holds up to six people (not including the guide). In our party were: me, my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s sister and her boyfriend, and her sister’s boyfriend’s brother and his wife. Wow, what a convoluted chain of people. Anyway, here we all are, suited up and ready to depart:

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Yours truly is third from the right

As it turned out, it was the perfect day to be on the water. It was about 85 degrees out, and the water was about 40; it’s snow melt from Mt. Adams. Needless to say, being soaked felt nice in the heat. It was also perfect because the water level was low enough to allow us to run Husum Falls, which was what I was most looking forward to.

Husum falls is the largest commercially navigable falls in the US. It’s about a 10 foot vertical drop. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a rubber raft it’s monstrous. And a hell of a lot of fun. Luckily, part of the package was to have pictures taken as you went over the falls (For those souls not brave enough or not old enough to go over the falls there was the option to portage). I was lucky enough to be one of the people at the front of the raft (it was super awesome!). I’m the one on the front left of all these pictures.

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The approach
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Weeeee!
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Splash
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It was brisk, to say the least
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Nobody fell out! My girlfriend, Kelly, raising her fist in triumph. Or doing her best Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club” impression.

We were the first ones to make the run, so we got to chill out and watch everyone else behind us go over. It was pretty entertaining. Nobody else fell out either which is both wildly successful and not very entertaining. After Husum falls was Rattlesnake Run. Our guide had us all sit up at the front of the raft as we ran the rapids.

 

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This doesn’t seem so bad…
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Oh God, what have I done?!

And this time, someone fell out! My girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend took a tumble out of the raft on ol’ rattlesnake. It was hilarious.

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Bwahaha
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Nothing to see here, folks!

All in all it was a pretty epic day full of laughs and adventure. If any of my readers are in the Pacific Northwest or ever plan to visit, I highly recommend this trip.

Where’s the water?

I read something deeply disturbing to me the other day in a CNN article. You can read the story here. The disturbing part of that story isn’t that Trump and Clinton are virtually tied in Nevada. Well, actually, that is disturbing. But it isn’t the *most* disturbing part. No, the most disturbing part comes at the very end of the article, where it talks about the top three issues for Nevada voters.

  1. Jobs and the economy
  2. Terrorism and national security
  3. Supreme court picks

On the surface, these aren’t really very surprising. I’d guess that they reflect national concerns as well. But there’s something missing from this list that I would think that Nevadans would be particularly worried about.

Water.

In case nobody has ever been, Nevada is literally entirely desert. The whole state only receives 9″ of rainfall annually on average. For some perspective, my hometown of Portland, OR gets 39″ per year. That’s a pretty big difference. And it’s especially important given the fact that Nevada is running out of water.

Actually, a lot of states are running out of water, but you never really hear about it with the exception of the California drought. What’s amazing to me about California is that, although the plight of their water system and supply is reported on in the news, people don’t really seem to care. Which is really a shame, because, you know, you can’t live without water…

You’d think that California’s neighbor to the east would be paying very close attention to that situation. But alas, polls seem to indicate otherwise. But there’s something that Nevada can’t escape from: a dwindling water supply.

Lake Mead is created by the Hoover dam, and supplies most of Nevada (and several other states, including California) with water. The problem is that for the last 14 years, Lake Mead has been shrinking. In fact, according to one estimate, since the year 2000 the lake has lost 4 trillion gallons of water. That’s a metric shit ton of water. And it only gets worse.

As of writing this, the lake is currently projected to hit 1,079 feet at the end of December; federal guidelines call for a shortage at anything less than 1,075 feet. And there’s a 59% chance that the government will have to declare a shortage in 2018. The reservoir hasn’t been that low since 1937. Why are these levels a big deal? Because the water pumps sit at 1,000 feet–anything below that and the pumps won’t have anything to pump (AKA nobody gets water).

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A little before and after. Lake Mead hasn’t been filled to capacity since 1983.
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The white on that hill is where the water level used to be.

To be fair, Nevada has done a good job at enacting efforts to conserve water. Even though the population has grown, water consumption is down. But conservation only goes so far, because people watering lawns is only a tiny fraction of the problem. The biggest problem is that the planet is warming and drought is increasing, and flushing a toilet less isn’t going to stop that pattern.

The problem is actually twofold. First, an increasing population has a greater demand for water. Second, a warmer planet means less snowfall, and decreasing snow packs mean less run off, which means rivers and lakes receive less water. And this problem isn’t limited to the Southwestern United States. It’s global.

In fact, in 2015 the World Economic Forum declared the water crisis the world is experiencing to be the #1 risk to the globe based on impact the society. Think about all the clean water does.

Obviously you need water to drink. But we also need it for sanitation. And for agriculture. No water, no food. No modern sewer system. Industry relies upon water, too. You can’t have life and you can’t have an economy without water. Let’s take one of those examples, agriculture, and look at it further.

It takes 1,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of wheat. It takes 1,400 liters to produce the same amount of rice. And it takes a whopping 13,000 liters to produce 1 kg of beef. In Nevada, agriculture consumes 80% of the water supply. In point of fact, the USGS estimates that 38% of freshwater withdrawal in 2010 was due to agriculture, but that agriculture accounts for 80%-90% of consumptive water use. You can read the report here.

There are certainly things we can do to help mitigate things. Better irrigation systems. Growing less water-intensive crops. Simply growing less. We currently produce more than we consume and export, which is a huge waste. But the problem won’t be solved until we address climate change, since that’s the biggest contributing factor to the problem, and it’s only going to get worse as time goes on and we continue to burn fossil fuels.

Which is why it’s so disheartening for me to see that in our political system, the link between the environment and the economy and jobs and security is either ignored, downplayed, or outright denied. It’s preposterous to me that people who are actively experiencing drought that will significantly impact their lives for potentially generations to come care more about who gets to pick supreme court justices. And I know conservatives get a lot of flack for being science deniers, but the left has their share of it too, especially when it comes to this issue. I was very dismayed to hear Bernie and Jill Stein talk about the evils of GMO foods. Not only is their no evidence that they’re harmful, but genetically engineering crops to use less water is going to be a very important part of future conservation strategies.

Ultimately, though, I’m waiting for a candidate to really spell it out for the people: all of the petty political things we argue about mean diddly squat if the environment collapses. Some politicians kind of dance around that or pay good lip service to the environment on the campaign trail, but inevitably the conversation returns to creating jobs and ISIS. There is no economy without water. There is no life without water. Who gets to pick supreme court judges is important, but not because of abortion or trade deals or gay marriage; it’s important because of who gets to rule on future cases involving conservation and the environment. And at the same time, realize that taking action on the climate *is* taking action of the economy, and jobs, and national security. They’re all tied together.

 

The media is the problem

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the media does a real disservice to American society in terms of our elections. I’d go so far as to say that next to money in politics, the media is the most damaging thing to our electoral and political processes.

This all started because of something that happened on Facebook. An acquaintance of mine who’s very pro-Hillary posted something about how scary it is that Jill Stein is “Anti-vaccine.” The post came with an article, which I read. In the article, Stein says nothing about vaccines being evil. What she said was that people have “A lot of questions about vaccines.” That’s definitely true. People do indeed have a lot of questions. Some of those questions are either stupid or unwarranted, but they’re questions nonetheless. What she said specifically about vaccines is that she has a problem with the FDA being so closely tied to the medical industry. The words straight from the candidate’s own mouth:

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In reality, there is no anti-vaccine controversy here because Stein isn’t anti-vaccine. The next criticism is, well, that just plays into the conspiracy that Big Pharma really controls everything.

While that might be true, it’s also true that Stein’s position is all about social responsibility, and that extends to corporations. But being anti-corporate isn’t the same thing as being anti-vaccine, and it isn’t even the same thing as confirming or suggesting that the government and drug companies know that vaccines are bad and conspire together. But that fact is lost on the media, which only cares about ratings and clicks.

I considered unfollowing (not un-friending) this person on Facebook, but then I realized that she wasn’t the problem. It seemed like everything I was following in social media had something to say about politics. Even pages that have absolutely nothing to do with political issues seemed to throw their two cents in. So I made the step to give up social media until the election is over. After November, I’ll re-evaluate and determine if it’s worth going back.

But the experience made me realize just how detrimental the media is to our national political discourse. The media doesn’t report at all on Stein or Johnson, who in my mind are just as viable candidates as Trump or Clinton. But the media gets to control the narrative, to direct the conversation. And the direction they take the conversation frequently seems to be at odds with what would in my mind constitute a healthy political environment.

It used to be that the news just reported the objective facts. But we’ve all seen how over the decades, and especially in recent years, this has devolved into opinion and commentary as news. This devolution of course meant that things began to separate along party or ideological lines. Entities like Fox News and MSNBC cater exclusively to ideas that their viewers want to hear, not information that their viewers need to hear. And so we get conservative and liberal folks who live in bubbles where the facts that support the other side of the argument don’t exist, and everyone else is wrong. The echo chamber is created.

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Go fuck yourself with a broomstick 

And social media only reinforces the echo chamber. It gives everyone a chance to repeat the talking points and the headlines, and the more people who do that, the more something like “Jill Stein is Anti-Vaccine” becomes a fact in the minds of many people. It gives people like Glenn Beck a chance to stir the pot and make opinion and drivel sound like news. I mean, honestly, who would argue that politic discourse wouldn’t be more productive and civil if the likes of Rush Limbaugh didn’t pollute the airwaves?

But the media loves shock jocks because they drive up the ratings, and more ratings means more money. Perhaps along with getting the money out of elections we should also get the money out of the news. As long as money is the prime motivation for reporting the news instead of informing, we’ll always get sensationalizing and editorials en lieu of actual facts and objective information.

Ultimately, though, this leaves me wondering how anyone is supposed to get legitimately objective information about politics in this country. I suppose you could limit yourself to what the candidates themselves say. Watch their conferences and rallies, read their press releases and websites, watch their interviews and ignore everything else. But the “everything else” is so pervasive and ubiquitous that seems like a huge task, especially if you’re not a person who’s adept at evaluating informational sources.

But something has to change, and it has to change soon. The media gave birth to Donald Trump by feeding that machine until it became a reality. Hopefully people will also rise up and take control of their media when they take back their elections.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Let’s talk about the booing.

Suffice it to say, the Bernie supporters at the DNC this week simply weren’t having any of it. And I can’t say that I really blame them, in light of the DNC emails that surfaced right before the convention. I’m angry as hell, too, and I would have booed as well had I been there.

It’s one thing to tell Bernie supporters, “Get over it, he lost fair and square.” But there was nothing fair or square about it. There’s now ample evidence to show that party officials actively colluded to make sure that he didn’t get elected. That’s horrible on a lot of levels.

What was particularly galling to me was how so many people on that stage could get up and talk about principles and integrity at a convention where the heads of the party basically cheated to get their candidate the nomination. That’s not the Democratic party I want to be in. That’s not any political party I want to be in. It’s major hypocrisy.

What role did Clinton play in any of this? I have no idea, but it probably was a stupid move to make Debbie Wasserman Schultz her campaign chair right after the scandal caused her to resign from the DNC. That doesn’t look good, Team Hillary, if you’re reading this. It’s why nobody trusts your candidate.

In an election where democrats are already split, it’s especially upsetting to hear idiots like Sarah Silverman telling people who are upset that they’re “being ridiculous.”

Really? If that’s your attitude toward cheating, Sarah, then you’re a shitty human being. It wasn’t funny and it wasn’t poignant. What it was was demeaning. You don’t win over a coalition of voters by denigrating and bullying them.

And yet…come November, I’ll still vote for Hillary. Only because I don’t want Trump to win. Come 2020, I sure as hell hope some other candidate challenges her for the nomination.

But just like Republicans have reaped what they’ve sown with Donald Trump, so too will the Democrats regret their actions when 2018 rolls around. They’ve made it abundantly clear that they simply don’t care about their voters. And when those congressional midterms roll around, it’s probably a safe bet to say that they won’t be taking back control. They’ll win a few seats, but it won’t be enough.

Because people will remember how they were treated. Especially young people.

This is what should upset people the most about how the DNC behaved. Young people don’t support Clinton. They don’t support the status quo. They support the likes of Sanders, Stein, and Johnson. The future of the party is probably going to be very rocky, because I’d guess that young people will turn away from it in droves. Whether that means they’ll all identify as independents or join third parties is anyone’s guess.

Personally, I hope more of them join third parties, because it’s clear that the two parties we currently have just don’t give a shit about the people anymore. The smartest thing Sanders can do going forward is to help found a new political party for progressives. His followers are loyal, numerous, and on the right side of history. He could start a party that could actually challenge future mainstream candidates; he could help make third party mainstream.

I’ll vote for Hillary through gritted teeth this November. But I’ll be on the lookout for candidates and parties that actually support progressive and liberal ideals for future elections. Maybe Bernie would have still lost even without the plotting of the DNC. That’s certainly possible. But it’s also not what happened.

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