Five Reasons Why Democrats Shouldn’t Downplay Their Debates

As has been widely discussed, this year the Democratic presidential debates are on the down-low.  Democratic National Committee (DNC) leaders have decided to downplay their presidential debates, by limiting the sheer number of them, and airing some of them on Friday and Saturday evenings, when viewership levels are always very low.  Finding a Democratic presidential debate in the 2016 campaign is like finding Waldo, and it’s very much by design.So_far__the_Republican_debates_are_way_more_popular_than_the_Democratic_debates_-_Vox

I understand party leaders’ thinking.  They are all too aware that presidential debates highlight divisive intra-party squabbles in front of millions of viewers, and they sincerely believe that this kind of public bickering is bad for party unity.  They are concerned that wounds opened in debates won’t heal quickly enough, and that the intra-party criticisms will be used by Republicans in the General Election to embarrass and damage the party’s nominee.

Moreover, party leaders worry that a large number of divisive debates could make the contentious primary season last longer than it would if the establishment-friendly front-runner wins early in the process, as a result of challengers being starved of public attention by a dearth of debate exposure.  A short primary season makes for a more stable and better funded nominee, the thinking goes.

I understand all that, and agree that a series of prominent debates does pose risks to a political party.  Goodness knows, Democratic leaders watching the flame-throwing in the Republican debates probably feel vindicated by their decision to keep their debates in the shadows.

But in the final analysis, the strategy is short-sighted.  Here are five reasons why:

1.  IT FREES REPUBLICANS TO LEVEL CHARGES REPEATEDLY AND UNREBUTTED.  When Republican debates are many and prominent, while Democratic debates are few and obscure, that means that Republican key messages, claims and rebuttals dominate.   That makes most news cycles heavily slanted in a pro-Republican way, particularly because reporters increasingly shirk from holding Republicans accountable for  demonstrably false assertions.   “Democrats have destroyed the economy.”  “Nation building in the middle east is easy.”  “Tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs.”  “Obamacare isn’t helping anyone.” “The stimulus and bailouts didn’t work.” “Minimum wage increases kill jobs.”  In politics, a lie unrebutted is a lie believed.  When Republicans effectively gets the news media stage to themselves  for many months, the risk is that swing voters will swing Republican.  Moreover, all  of this message pounding can demoralize the Democrats’ electoral base, which can mean that the Democratic faithful fail to vote in November.

2.  IT RUNS THE RISK OF KILLING OFF THE PARTY’S MOST COMPETITIVE CANDIDATE. Debates are auditions of sorts, and sometimes they reveal surprising truths about political competitiveness.  For instance, in part because the debates were numerous and heavily watched in 2008, Barack Obama was able to show voters that he, to the surprise of many party leaders, was the most capable candidate to lead the party to victory.  It would be very difficult for an Obama to defeat a front-runner in the current debate-poor environment.  Healthy parties need auditions that are not rigged.

3.  IT HURTS THE PARTY’S ABILITY TO DEVELOP A “DEEP BENCH.”  Political parties need to develop rising stars, or lesser known leaders who are talented and becoming increasingly known and admired by voters.    Having a a full pipeline of such rising stars ensures that the party will have energizing and viable candidates in future elections.   For instance, even if someone like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley isn’t viable in the 2016 primaries, debate experience and exposure can help a leader like him become a rising star.  Developing a pipeline of such rising stars is an understated but hugely important benefit of multiple prime time presidential debates.

4.  LOOKING ANTI-DEMOCRATIC COMPROMISES THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S BRAND.  All of these stories about party leaders intentionally limiting  debates tarnishes the Democratic Party brand.  In an electoral environment that is very hostile towards the DC partisan establishment, it makes the Democratic establishment look heavy handed, insecure, cynical, top-down, manipulative, power hungry and/or ashamed of its policies, ideas and leaders.  The resulting brand damage might make it a bit more difficult to attract establishment-wary swing voters in the General Election.

5.  IT LEAVES THE FRONT-RUNNER RHETORICALLY OUT-OF-SHAPE.  Just as athletes need stiff competition to reach their full potential, presidential candidates need competition to improve.  Prominent debates under the klieg lights provide that competitive arena.  Candidates need to get good at presenting their ideas and proposals in crisp, compelling ways.  They need to learn how to defend against their personal and political vulnerabilities.  They need to prepare themselves to inspire confidence on literally hundreds of policy and non-policy topics.  So in an environment with just a few, obscure debates, a front-runner can get fat and happy, rhetorically speaking.   That can mean that the party finds itself with a weak and vulnerable campaigner during the intense summer and fall General Election season.

So, DNC, let’s ease up on the Machiavellian reigns a bit.  Let them debate, even though it will get dirty and bloody.  Prominent presidential debates ultimately will do the party more good than harm.

What Not to Do in Response to Paris.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterBy the sound of the usual drum beaters you’d think 2003 was 1200 years ago not just 12. After the attacks in Paris the other night you’ll be relieved to know that once again the solution to this problem is “relatively easy”, certainly if you’re listening to someone, a wandering minstrel candidate for example, who doesn’t really have to do anything.

Eight guys with machine guns and suicide belts creating horror and havoc in big, pleasant city Westerners are both familiar with and care about, (i.e. not Baghdad or Beirut), is qualitatively different. Therefore, just like 2003, our pathway to peace is obvious. Invade someone. Syria in this case, maybe a part of Iraq too (again). Kill the dictator. Assad. And ISIS. Wherever they are. And take over the country. Then, although this tends to get all boring and nuancy, restore all the usual government functions like courts and sewage systems and Departments of Motor Vehicles and then, after a while toss the keys to some reasonable people and book a flight home.

For the life of these deep thinkers, they can’t understand why Barack Obama and his hand-wringers wasted seven years crippling us with socialized medicine and strangling off the innovation of Wall Street instead of killing Muslims, somewhere, anywhere. Hell, it’s gotten so bad a guy can’t take his date to the movies in America without the fear of being machine-gunned down by some maniac.

Oh wait. Sorry. I had my psychotic terrorists confused there for a second.

I have to remember. We’re only talking Muslims here. THEY are the ones (the only ones) who want to come here and kill us.

Lacking any kind of productive ideas from the conservative intelligentsia (sic), all of whom, like a chorus of wind up toys, are chanting for a re-run of “shock and awe” and “nation-building”, serious-minded adults who can remember all the way back to the dim twilight of 2003 have to apply a set of (very) hard-learned lessons.

For example:

A: Precisely like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, what ISIS wants more than anything is an apocalyptic war with the infidels. That’s us. Or really anyone who let’s women drive cars and practice total patriarchal control. And that would be a war,  preferably in a place where ISIS can most easily marshal a constant supply of fresh recruits. In 2003 the Bushies gave al-Qaeda everything they wanted plus a wet kiss, by not only coming to war in the Middle East, but by storming into the wrong country, oblivious to the centuries-old tribal insanities they were setting loose.

B: Whacking a dictator sounds like great fun, but replacing him with something better means accepting — at best — a couple decades of civil war, suicide bombings, insurgent whack-a-mole and ruinously expensive corruption on an epic scale, with no guarantee, ever, that “good guys” will eventually settle in and keep the water and electricity flowing, much less allow girls to go to school. And who gets handed the check for this?

C: The cry of “war!” plays well to arm chair commandos watching FoxNews. But fighting an “apocalyptic cult” like ISIS, which can cause more hysteria with eight guys invading via the AutoRoute in rental cars from Belgium than holding an entire city of two million people (Mosul, Iraq) argues less for a coalition of 100,000 crusaders charging across the sand into Damascus then another Orwellian step up in cyber-spying. And not just on 22 year-old jiihadis pissed-off by the loose morals of the West, but their oil rich/Saudi benefactors funneling money to them, very likely via sacrosanct Swiss banks. There’s no fist-pumping fun in nerds somewhere voiding a bank account.

But even if you know and accept all this, and aren’t fear-mongering for votes in a Republican primary, the horror in Paris … this horror in Paris … is going to require a more aggressive response to ISIS and religious radicalization.

A proper sequencing of tactics demands first weakening both ISIS on the ground and its world-wide supply and training network by attacking their revenue/quartermaster stream. I have no doubt Team Obama is well aware of this. But getting richer-than-Croesus Sunni sheiks to comply with American foreign policy goals is the stuff of fantasy. Their tribes are going to outlive any tribe in D.C. Leverage on that crowd will require a very deep and broad financial/intelligence coalition, meaning the Chinese as well, if not the Russians, too. Good luck with that.

Then, American liberals, weighing the alternative of yet another recklessly prosecuted ground war favored by the usual chickenhawks — take a bow Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio — may have to accept a heightened level of racial profiling, if only as a consequence of better intelligence-sharing with Western Europe. Personally, I’m certain this is already going on, with the FBI and others under the strictest orders to be as circumspect and low-profile as possible. But it’ll have to get tighter.

Finally, someone should start encouraging Americans to grow a little perspective and toughen up, before something happens here, again.

Our heavily-armed homegrown terrorists are regularly slaughtering more of us in schools, restaurants and movie theaters than any ISIS fanatic could ever dream of, and we accept it as a price we must pay for our freedom. (That of course would be the freedom to imagine that like some B-movie hero we’ll be the guy with the conceal-carry permit who riddles the fanatic with bullets, saves the day and gets the girl).

If we can avoid hysteria over the semi-weekly rampages we endure here with such unsettling equanimity in the Homeland, we need to remind ourselves to react with the same dispassion when eight guys in rental cars roll over the Canadian border and do a Paris number on The West Village or Yankee Stadium.

Thank God for Rand Paul in Milwaukee

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMy favorite moment in last night’s Republican debate/barnstorming reality TV show, was Rand Paul butting in after one of Donald Trump’s rants about how the Chinese are always winning … because Barack Obama has turned America into such a pathetic no-class loser. It was a question about the Trans Pacific Partnership that got him whipped up. Wiley damn Chinese vs. Loser Americans who can’t negotiate a good deal. A Trump staple.

But then Paul, who was once the average adult’s idea of a delusional whack-job, piped up and suggested the Fox Business News panel, which included Gerard Baker, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, (you know, every shrewd businessman’s first source for the complete story on money and the bastards beating them to it), that it might be useful to pint out that the Chinese aren’t even a part of this deal.


But as much as I was hoping for an Emily Latella moment from Trump, it was not forthcoming. What we got was, be thankful for small favors, a little filler commentary from Paul on the fact that the Chinese actually aren’t all that wild about this TPP thing either, since it’s greasing the skids for more trading between us and other folks around the Pacific. (This would argue in favor of the TPP if you were a serious China hater.)

Now, not being an international trade expert, all I knew about the TPP was what I read in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. And frankly, as Trump was ranting the best I could come up with was a niggling ring tone that something wasn’t right with his argument. But come on! After three and a half of these trips to Toon Town, I have something like an air raid siren going off in my head every three or four seconds over “things that don’t sound right”. Giant damned air horns howling that what I just heard is utter bullshit of a nuclear order. After that, “niggling” kind of gets lost in the reverb.

Here’s a small sampling of fact-checking on last night’s BS.

So yes, I was grateful when Sen. Paul reminded his opponents, the Fox Business panel, and everyone scoring at home about this teeny, tiny little Chinese detail.

Being in the news biz what immediately went through my head was why none of the Fox money mavens had butted in and corrected Trump? He had been ranting for a while. I mean, if I was vaguely aware of this critical detail just from reading Mr. Baker’s paper you’d think he’d be a little faster on the draw having, you know, published it.

Baker did follow up with a classic Wall Street Journal explainer about how even though the Chinese aren’t involved there are fears they’ll still exploit the deal to their advantage. But that’s only if the Senate passes it, which everyone in Milwaukee agreed would be, you know, yet another episode of liberal-induced Armageddon. Right after … Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, “amnesty” of illegal immigrants, ISIS, the gutting of our military, Hillary Clinton’s pant suits and every regulation ever authored by anyone under Barack Obama. In other words, a kind of serial Armageddon, you understand. (When you’re talking to the Republican base you can’t invoke too many Armageddon scenarios.)

Fox Business is being credited for a more composed debate than CNBC two weeks ago in Denver. And, frankly, some of the questions were pretty good. Like Maria Bartiromo, (aka “The Money Honey”) putting this one to Carly Fiorina.

 …in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?


Naturally, Fiorina, who previously urged everyone to watch a sickening abortion video … that doesn’t exist, completely ignored the question and hammered home instead her pet Road to Armageddon messages, most of which can be avoided by a three page tax form and a green room chat with Vladimir Putin.

(BTW, didn’t you love it when Trump said, “I’m the biggest militarist on this stage”?)

Point being, somewhere along with asking these fearsome socialist slayers if they’re a “comic book version of a presidential candidate” (glib, but not all that far off the point) and hitting them with actual facts on job creation, (implicitly proving that the U.S economy invariably performs better under the active governance of Democrats), there’s a place for aggressive follow-ups.

Bartiromo et al injected quite a few, “Too be clear, sir/madams” last night trying to pull an actual answer out of the bombardment of stump speech messaging. But they never got so rude as to, you know, demand an answer and/or correct a flagrant blast of bullshit.

Which is why Rand Paul, who has clearly decided, “What the hell, I’m letting it fly” was so valuable last night. Like his old man, Paul is 85% crackers and 15% rational. That lesser percentage covered a lot of the timidity of the Fox Business moderators. Like that shot at slippery little Marco Rubio — such an adorable weasel, you just want to pinch his cheeks — about adding another $2 trillion in tax credits and military spending (for hard-working ISIS-fearing American families, you isolationist bastard!) … without even trying to pay for it.

Since Paul’s chances of winning a million bucks on FanDuel are better than out-Armageddoning the likes of Ted Cruz, Rubio or Fiorina, I propose dropping him out as a candidate and in as a moderator for the next debate, which, damn it anyway, is a whole month from now.

What am I’m going to have to do until then? Switch back to “Naked Dating” for my reality fix?

A Holiday Letter to My Christian Friends

Dear Christian Friends:

Cursor_and_happy_holiday_war_on_christmas_-_Google_SearchI confess, I say “happy holidays.” Not always, but pretty often.  But I promise, we are not at war.

For the record, these ARE NOT the reasons I say “happy holidays:”

  • No, I’m not a Jesus hater, or a Christian hater. Just because I don’t give Jesus’s birthday exclusive billing in every  single November and December greeting doesn’t mean that I am ignoring or disrespecting him or his followers.
  • No, I haven’t lost track of the “true meaning of Christmas.” I am fully aware that Christians celebrate Christmas to honor Jesus’s coming, and my use of the term “holiday” is not evidence to the contrary.
  • No, I’m not too afraid to stand up to “the PC crowd.” Trust me, I’m saying “happy holidays” of my own free will. I promise, there are no nefarious PC puppet strings controlling me.

These ARE the relatively benign reasons why I say “happy holidays:”

  • happy_holiday_bing_crosby_-_Google_SearchI’ve used the phrase my whole life. Remember the song “Happy Holiday?” That song was written in 1942 by Irving Berlin, not in the past decade by “the PC crowd.”  Point being: The phrase “happy holidays” has been bouncing around in my head for half a century.  It’s traditional.
  • The season is not only about Christians. I recognize that my holiday is not everyone’s holiday. Out of respect, I want to express best wishes to both my Christian and non-Christian friends, and “happy holidays” is an effective term for doing so.
  • It’s handy shorthand.  Finally, and most practically, there are a glut of holidays happening in the six-week “holiday season,” namely Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukah, and New Years. So “holidays” is an accurate, inclusive and handy umbrella term.  That’s particularly appealing to a lazy guy always looking for linguistic short-cut.

Oh and by the way, “happy holidays” and “merry Christmas” are hardly exclusive. After all, in the days closer to December 25th, I still say “Merry Christmas” to my Christian friends.

war_on_christmas_-_Bill_O_ReillyBill O’Reilly, and the other “War on Christmas” mongers on Fox News and conservative talk radio are working overtime to convince us that we are at “war.”  That’s nonsense.  My “happy holidays” greeting is not an act of “war” against anyone, any religion or any culture.  It’s merely a polite, flexible and traditional statement of well wishes in a pluralistic society. So how about we all lighten up about this “war on Christmas” nonsense, and enjoy the season together.

Where’s Our Achievement Gap Urgency?

The Minnesota Legislature is crisis driven. It has a brief amount of time to address a long list of requests, so every year it tends to prioritize relatively small number of issues that legislators view as being most urgent. Those prioritization decisions are the most impactful decisions they make in any given year.

So, what should the Legislature’s top priority be for the brief 2016 session? Job-creation? Crime? Homelessness? Social issues? Health improvement? Economic competitiveness? Reducing the cost of government to ease tax burdens?

Each legislator has different priorities, but the one issue that will profoundly impact all of those issues for decades to come is Minnesota’s education achievement gap. If we can narrow the achievement gap in our increasingly diverse schools, it will go a long way to making progress on all of the issues just mentioned.

EdWeek summarizes Minnesota’s situation when it comes to the achievement gap:

Overall, Minnesota is a high-performing state academically, but it has some of the highest achievement gaps in the country between white minority students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. Those gaps have caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who in a January 2011 speech to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce criticized the state for its “lack of urgency” and its stalled progress in raising the achievement of disadvantaged students.

Well guess what, Arne? Five years later, I still don’t feel that sense of urgency.

Sense of Urgency, Anyone?

For example, we know that retaining effective teachers, and removing ineffective ones, is one of the most important things that can be done to improve student performance. Yet Minnesota is one of a very small number of states that continues a policy of retaining k-12 public school teachers based on seniority, instead of measured effectiveness. This “last in first out” policy makes it makes it difficult to retain high performing young teachers, who disproportionately work in schools serving low-income students.  Though a huge majority of Minnesotans agree this policy should be changed, the teacher’s union’s insistence on protecting the seniority-driven status quo prevails at the Legislature year-after-year.  That doesn’t sound like a state with a sense of urgency about the achievement gap.

Equity_and_equality_graphicWe also know that research shows that education achievement gaps can be measured in children as young as 9 months old. So, clearly the most vulnerable children need help very early in life, not just at age 4.  To catch up, low-income children need extra help as early in life as possible.  Yet, some state education leaders recommend heavily subsidizing pre-k services for parents of 4 year olds who can already afford services before we help the thousands of low-income kids under five who currently can’t afford high quality home visiting and early learning programs.  If narrowing the achievement gap was truly driving education policymaking, we would be helping those most at-risk kids first and fully.

More k-12 funding is also needed to fund gap-narrowing strategies, such as intensive remedial tutoring.  But leaders aren’t acting with sufficient urgency on this front either.   As of FY 2013, Minnesota ranked an underwhelming 21st among states in inflation-adjusted spending, at $11,089 per student. Oh to be investing at the level of even sixth ranked Wyoming, which is at $15,700 per student.  If Minnesota could just be a little more like Wyoming, we could use the additional $4,600 per student to better support our most gap-vulnerable students.

More Rhetoric Than Reform

I’m not saying that Minnesota is ignoring the achievement gap.  It is mentioned ad nauseam at the State Capitol, by people of all political stripes.  Discussing the problem is a necessary first step, but it has to lead to reform of the status quo.

Leaders who are truly feeling a sense of urgency about the education achievement gap don’t continue to fire effective young teachers in low-income schools, ignore the plight of its youngest and most vulnerable children, and remain complacent with middle-of-the-pack investments.  Both the political right and left can do better.

If we don’t start getting more serious about addressing the k-12 achievement gap, Minnesota won’t have the highly educated workforce it needs to compete in the global economy. As Minnesota’s workforce become less competitive, jobs will be less plentiful and will pay less.  When that happens, our state and local revenues will decrease, and our state and local government costs will increase. The resulting fiscal squeeze won’t just hurt those “other people” from different races, ethnicities and neighborhoods; it will hurt all Minnesotans, and our collective future.

That’s why the k-12 achievement gap can’t be considered “just another issue” on a long laundry list of issues. An issue of this magnitude needs to be treated like the Legislature’s top priority. Legislative initiatives to narrow the achievement gap should attract the most intensive focus, the best thinking, the most thoughtful and courageous leadership, the most bipartisan cooperation, and necessary resources.  If we don’t get more serious about the achievement gap soon, the state known for an education-driven “Minnesota Miracle” in the 1970s could become known for an education-driven Minnesota Meltdown in the not too distant future.

Note:  This post was also selected for MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Disclosure: In addition to being a blogger expressing personal opinons, the author is a communications consultant. Among many other clients, he works with a nonprofit that advocates for income-targeted investments in pre-k early education.  As with all blog posts, this reflects solely the author’s personal opinion.

The GOP in Colorado, Out-Played by the Royals.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI’m committed to this thing. I swear it. But when the 2015 Republicans debate it’s a tough choice. Baseball or group psychosis? This crowd puts on a show more like “Jersey Shore” without the spray-on tans and tattoos (although who really knows?) than a stale civics class. You know something genuinely weird and over-the-top will happen. It’s practically guaranteed.

So yeah, a guy feels kind of conflicted. On the one hand the World Series (with my second favorite team, the Kansas City Royals). On the other hand, Mike Huckabee and the rest of the scenery-chewing crew? I mention Huckabee, the minister, because he fears that after Barack Obama the country we’ll be leaving to our children will be nothing more than “charred ashes”? So you see the dilemma. Grit and hustle or apocalyptic fantasy? Which will be more entertaining?

The Royals are simply too much fun to watch to spend anything more than commercial breaks with the Republicans, allegedly debating economic policies last night in Boulder. Maybe I just got lucky, though. Because between every inning when I flipped back to CNBC — the business network blistered by Ted Cruz for being another miserable example of running dog liberal loathing of freedom, motherhood and unfettered capitalism — something gloriously nutty was going on.

One time Ben Carson was defending his tax plan, which, being a super-Christian, is really more like a tithe, you see. 10% from everyone. You’re down to your last dollar? The Lord wants a dime. When moderator Becky Quick, who is kind of cute besides being pretty up on her facts, pointed out the multi-trillion dollar debt this alone would ring up, Carson, the scientist who believes in neither evolution or climate change and isn’t an economist either, calmly said that wasn’t true. And besides, he said, his real plan, a flat-tax scheme with no “deductions or loopholes”, would be closer to 15% … which as Quick correctly asserted would still be multi-trillion.

Now, I love a good flat-tax fight. And I think just about everyone other than John Kasich, who decided shouting was the go-to strategy for a Mile High debate, hyped some variation on “cleaning up the tax code”, which of course is TrickleDownSpeak for, “Give Me and My Sugar Daddies More Room to Roam”. (My favorite response to the flat-tax/”no deductions” spiel: How many restaurants — run by “hard-working Americans” — would go out of business the next day if everyone and their dog wasn’t deducting “business lunches” from their returns?)

During another break in the action, with Johnny Cueto mowing down the Mets, I caught Trump being asked about some shot he took at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Naturally, Trump flat-out denied he ever said anything of the sort AND accused the moderator (and by extension all of the press) of making it up. The problem with that being that the quote came off his own website.

At this point in RepublicanLife I’ve waay overworked the image of fact-checkers “melting down”. Gotta come up with something new. But even in snippets between innings, last night’s talk with all those numbers and Carly Fiorina, whose voice produces a strange, twisting contraction in my groin area, still selling the triumph of her Compaq-Hewlett-Packard merger/tenure, smoke had to have been billowing from Google’s search engines. You know thousands scoring at home were furiously looking for how any of the plans hyped put more cash in the pockets of “hard-working” Americans than “Wall Street bankers”.

And, before I cut back to the Royals’ big fifth inning rally, I had to wonder: Was I the only one baffled by the likes of Fiorina (of the $23 million golden parachute fame after laying off 30,000 “hard-working Americans”), Jeb Bush, Cruz and all these other boot-strappers railing against the ruling class? Would someone like to do a search on how many of these populists are either living off either their own family’s tax avoidance scams/investment earnings or those of some Daddy Warbucks puppet master? I mean, (I ask again), “Who buys this act?”

With the Royals in full command I caught one other fascinating moment. It was one where Mike “charred ashes” Huckabee I thought was actually making sense. Somehow he got on to the big drivers of health costs in America, citing diseases, specifically cancer and diabetes (i.e. obesity) and how, by God, we have to do something! So OK, no Republican is ever going to propose anything so French and outrageous as using taxpayer money to fund research to eradicate diseases that kill taxpayers. That would be rank Socialism. But still, as far as he went, Huckabee was actually making a valid point. Maybe the first in his tortured career.

But it was the reaction from the audience that fascinated me. The crowd had cheered wildly when Marco Rubio, (and Lord how I hope he’s the slick and sweaty suit they eventually push forward), took his obligatory shot at the liberal media. “Yeah baby! You tell ’em, Marco! Those bastards always calling us crazy and saying we’re detached from reality! Bias! Don’t tread on me! Watch the contrails! Where’s my gun?” It was like that was what they came for. Screw all this decimal point stuff.

And cancer and diabetes.

To Huckabee’s little speech … nothing. Crickets. “WTF does THAT have to do with the liberal media and Hillary Clinton leaving the USA! USA! USA! in charred ashes? Get back on the bus, man! You’re sounding crazy!”

Which is to say, not crazy enough.

In stark contrast to the Republicans, the Royals are winning because they almost never strike out.

Reality Check Needed In GOP Debate Venues

GOP_debate_audience_-_Google_SearchIf I were a political party chair, I would make one simple adjustment to make my party more competitive. I would only allow general election swing voters to attend candidate debates.

In general elections, history tells us that the Republican nominee is going to win most Republican voters and lose most Democratic voters. Therefore, their fate is usually going to be determined by their relative ability to attract the roughly one-third of the electorate who are undecided and/or don’t have predictable partisan voting patterns.

If only these type of “swing voters” were sitting in the audience of the debates, candidates would get the kind of reality check that they just don’t get when speaking at partisan debates, rallies, fundraisers, and interest group endorsement interviews.

For instance, when billionaire Donald Trump demeans women, Hispanics, immigrants, and other large voting blocks, he wouldn’t hear the roar of approval he hears from his loyal supporters. He would hear the groans of a broader group of Americans, 59% of whom now have an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Trump, by far the worst of all Republican candidates.

When Dr. Ben Carson says the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the worst thing since slavery, he wouldn’t be rewarded with the hoots and hollers he gets at gatherings of extreme conservatives. Instead, he would hear disapproval from Independent voters, a plurality of whom want the ACA either maintained or expanded (only 30% want it repealed).

When Senator Marco Rubio brags about his legislation opposing Affordable Care Act funding of birth control, he won’t hear the “amens” he gets at gatherings of his anti-abortion supporters.   He’ll hear boos from the 69% of Americans, and 77% of women, who support that ACA birth control benefit.

When Jeb Bush describes his predictable plan to further cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, he won’t get the cheers he gets from the GOP establishment. He’ll hear boos from the 66% of Independent voters who want to increase income taxes on people earning over $250,000 per year.

When Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rick Santorum, Governor Bobby Jindal and Dr. Carson all tout their support for a constitutional amendment banning same sex couples from getting married, an audience of swing voters would not react nearly as positively as conservative audiences do.   After all, a solid majority (61%) of Independents now favor same sex marriages.

To save their party, Republican candidates desperately need a reality check to prevent them from taking extreme positions that sell well with extreme right wing activists, but harm them in general elections, when they need to win a majority of middle-of-the-road voters. Removing the conservative hallelujah chorus from presidential debate audiences would be one good way to begin to inject such a reality check.

Saunders Center

Imagine a world in which our communities still used tax dollars to honor heroes, instead of honchos, where we valued the highest character over the highest bidder.

In that world, our most expensive publicly financed buildings would be named after respected leaders like Hubert H. Humphrey, Bud Grant, Herb Brooks and soldiers, instead of mega-corporations like U.S. Bank, TCF Bank, Xcel, CHS and Target Corporation. In that world, our public assets wouldn’t be sullied by excessive amounts of gaudy corporate graffiti.


In that world, the Minnesota Timberwolves might soon be playing in a newly renovated Flip Saunders Center, giving the City-owned home court so much more of a sense of history, character, community, heart and soul than it has as Target’s Center.


Benghazi Committee vs. Hillary: Talk About a Fool’s Errand.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterWhat do I know about political strategy? Somewhere along about the second hour of the latest interrogation of Hillary Clinton over Benghazi … Benghazi!BENGHAZI!!!, I turned to my dog, who looked about as interested in what was going on as the average voter. “I don’t get it, Lou. I would have opened with the blockbuster new revelation, the killer detail, the smoking pipe bomb that would have her sweating, ‘like Dan Quayle on ‘Jeopardy’, as we used to say. But they’re two hours into this and they’re talking … e-mails. This Gowdy guy couldn’t possibly be so stupid that he’d let the lights go up on this circus without bringing something new to the show, could he?”

Well, Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, may not be stupid, but he pretty clearly found himself in the position that having pandered for a year to his Tea Party base he couldn’t figure out any way to pull the plug on the lifeless corpse he was required to roll out on national TV, showing off a kind of Tea Party “Weekend with Bernie”, without any intentional laughs. He had no other choice than to put on whatever show he could, so he can go back to South Carolina, look the tri-corner hat crowd in the eye and say he brought the fight to the devil incarnate.

You knew it was a resounding disaster, certainly for the ambitious Mr. Gowdy, when his close-ups showed him slathered in Nixonian flop sweat by the time he gaveled the thing to adjournment 10 hours and 59 minutes after it opened. At least his faux hawk held up.

If you’re a Republican outside the Freedom Caucus psycho ward you had be shaking your head and reaching for the Jim Beam before lunch. All you could possibly see, knowing that Gowdy had nothing, much less anything new, is that Ms. Clinton would not only prevail against GOP’s clown car of interrogators, but that their easily foretold failure was only going to strengthen her for the 13-month run to the White House.

The conventional (Freedom Caucus) wisdom (sic) was that given enough time, the tea cup Torquemadas on Gowdy’s committee would either force Clinton into at least one juicy, viral 5-second gaffe or reduce her to a babbling Socialist, troop-hating ninny. Because, you know, she’s Hillary Clinton, someone who has never before in her long career ever had a tough/stupid question put to her or been forced to sit in front of cameras and smile patiently at a panel of filibustering buffoons. Of course they’d break her! She’s never seen the likes of Gowdy or Jim Jordan (leader of the Freedom Caucus) before! By the glory of God and our guns we’ll show her what freedom’s all about!

Talk about a fool’s errand. You got nothing. She knows it. She’s been at this game for 25 years. You’re still trying to find the Capitol rest rooms. What could possibly go wrong?

Until Hillary oversees the indictment of Goldman, Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon she won’t be my dream candidate. But as long as mastery of The Game and serenely swatting down mosquito logic — keep biting until it bleeds — are criteria for high office, she’ll do just fine.

Lord, what a pathetic farce that was.

Why Not Regulate Guns Just As We Already Regulate A Similarly Dangerous Hunk of Steel?

Imagine you turned on the news today to learn that Group A of politicians is accusing Group B of politicians of plotting to confiscate all automotive vehicles. As evidence, Group A is noting that Group B supports requiring users of vehicles to be licensed, registered, and of sound mind and body, and opposes the use of armored tanks or monster trucks on community roadways.

In that news story, imagine that political Group A is insisting that no vehicle regulations be used.  After all, they claim, any regulation would be equivalent to, or would surely lead to, confiscation of all vehicles.

We would think Group A was delusional, even though we all adore cars and are vehemently opposed to them being confiscated. But that, my friends, is the world in which we are living, when it comes to gun control.

Gun control = confiscation meme
Almost every debate about responsible anti-gun control regulation is dodged by gun advocates. Instead of debating proposed gun regulations on the merits, gun advocates instead claim that the mere mention of a gun regulations constitutes ipso facto evidence that guns are about to be confiscated. That ridiculous assertion has been trotted out there for decades, despite the fact that gun confiscation has never even been proposed by a mainstream politician, much less come close to being enacted.

Obama_gun_control_confiscation_memeIf you really think President Obama, who has been President for seven years now and only has one year left in his term, is a gun confiscator, wouldn’t you think he would have confiscated by now? Don’t you think he would have done it in the first two years of his presidency, when his party controlled the House, Senate and White House?

Obviously, no one is going to confiscate guns, because there is no political support in America for confiscating guns. It hasn’t happened, and it’s just not going to happen.

We need to put those confiscation delusions to rest before America can have a reasonable debate about how to responsibly regulate guns.

A Familiar Regulatory Framework

How should America regulate guns?  My approach is simple: Let’s regulate guns how we regulate motor vehicles. Both motor vehicles and guns are hunks of steel that pose little public danger when used responsibly, but are extraordinarily dangerous when used irresponsibly. For that reason, society keeps motor vehicles legal, but we regulate them to reduce the risk of harm.

Therefore, we should regulate guns just as we regulate motor vehicles:

  • Users should be licensed.
  • Users should have to pass a basic safety related test in order to get a license.
  • Users who are not physically or mentally equipped to safely operate the equipment should not be licensed to do so.
  • There should be rules for safe use of the equipment.
  • Users who don’t use the equipment responsibly should lose their license.
  • Each piece of equipment should be registered.
  • Equipment registration data and user licensure data should be readily available to law enforcement officials to help them enforce laws.
  • The equipment should be able to be used in many parts of the community, but not in all parts of the community.
  • The equipment should be required to have locking devices to help the user secure it from theft and use by minors and other unlicensed citizens.
  • The equipment should be required to have reasonable safety features.
  • The equipment makers should be held liable for failure to produce safe equipment, just as every other manufacturer is.
  • Equipment that is unnecessarily dangerous to the community shouldn’t legal.

That’s what American society does with motor vehicles, with relatively few complaints or abuses, and that’s what we should do with guns.

Would applying the motor vehicle regulatory model to guns stop every accidental shooting, murder, mass murder and suicide? Of course not. Just as regulated motor vehicles still are dangerous, regulated guns would still be plenty dangerous. But just as motor vehicle regulations limit the harm caused by cars and trucks in society, gun regulations would limit the harm caused by guns in society.  It would make a difference.  It would make things less bad.

So let’s have an honest debate about that familiar and successful regulatory model.  And for once, let’s have the debate without getting side-tracked by ridiculous delusions of confiscation.

The Sadly Not-So-Unusual Case of Lambert vs. AT&T

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterWant to hear a good AT&T customer service story? I’m not promising this compares with some of those classic Comcast bits, but it does have the value of being personal as well as depressingly familiar to everyone who has lost hours of their life complaining about extraordinarily bad service and Big Corporate charge-gaming.

Long story pretty short:  A few days before a dozen or so of us flew down to Panama for our son’s August wedding I was directed to an AT&T store that I was told specialized in setting up international calling plans. Twelve miles and 20 minutes later the clerk is walking me through the options. $60 month gets you 50 cents/minute calling. $30 gets you $1/minute.

I tell him all we really need is texting ability. Just to keep track of everyone and not waste a lot of time sweating on tropical street corners for people who are lost and/or delayed. No problema he tells me. Texts are free. “Free”, you say? Well then we’ve got a deal. With no further qualifications, warnings or cautions, I sign up and leave fully expecting to text or call (for a buck a minute) to my heart’s content as we mill around Panama City.

Damn, I think, I am one seriously high-tech bastard.

Morning #1 in Panama. Nothing works. Calls to my wife’s phone on the desk next to me. Nothing. My sister-in-law downstairs. Nothing. Brother-in-law at a hotel. Nothing. To AT&T tech support back in the States … something. But they have no idea what the problem is. They promise to take it up to their super double secret tech squad and call me back. Which they do … to say they still can’t figure it out, but I should maybe try adding the 1+ international code … or just a 0 … or nothing at all … every time I try to make call.

This goes on for over two hours until they promise to call back again … and of course never call.

Although I’m unable to contact anyone in our travelling party I am able to contact the rental condo-owner in Texas and a cab driver in Panama City. Texting is about the same. Nothing to anyone we’re with, but a couple cellphone shots make it to a sister in Ohio. Did I mention even my AT&T voice mail is in accessible?

Point being, it’s a fiasco. Since I was quite proud of avoiding precisely this kind of mess by signing up for AT&T’s international plan prior to leaving Minnesota, I’m enduring a lot of jokes at my expense. Along the lines of, ‘Yeah, you’re the go-to for tech, Brian. You da man.”

Eventually we all download WhatsApp which promises to connect everyone via data service … which of course starts the meter spinning on AT&T’s international data-use rates.

Service so erratic as to be useless. We lose hours unable to connect with people who are waiting to hear from us, and on and on.

Cut to a week after we return. I call AT&T customer service to walk them through the farce, demanding explanations for why this was so appallingly bad. On the Richter/Comcast scale of my customer service rants I reined this one into about a “five”. No Joe Pesci-like swearing and threats of violence. But enough pitch-of-peeve so they know I’ll cancel service if they don’t offer some kind of compensation.

Eventually the AT&T agent, out of the blue, offers a $100 credit. This catches me mid-rant, spittle still forming in the corners of my mouth. “$100?”. Uh, okay. How are you going to do that?

“We’ll credit it on your next bill,” says the voice of the person whose name, e-mail, phone, blood-type and next of kin I fail to get before I hang up, a bought-off, calmed-down customer he personally will never speak to again.

Thirty two days later I get a text notifying me that my latest bill from AT&T is both ready to view … and has been paid, thanks to auto-pay. The total? $314 and change.

I feel blood in my nostrils and I’m on the phone with AT&T customer service within five minutes. Several versions of “WTF?” and, “Where’s that $100 credit?” later and I’m informed … you guessed it … there is no record of the promised $100. But what they do have is a very long list of calls proving that I had all the service I needed in Panama.

“You can download the bill from our website,” they say, which may be true except that of course the website isn’t accepting/recognizing either my number or AT&T’s four-digit pass code.

Back in the car. Twelve miles and 35 minutes later (rush hour traffic) the clerk at the “international specialist” shop prints out four pages of calls, texts and data. I tell him that just eyeballing the thing we’re looking at easily four or five times the number of calls and texts that we ever used. “You’ll have to call customer service about that,” he says.

Back home, after 10 minutes of magnifying glass and annotation work it’s pretty obvious that I’ve been charged for dozens of calls to people in Panama with us that never went through. Texts too, most likely. And better yet, while the out-going calls to AT&T tech support, to complain about the lack of service we had paid to get were “free”, the calls back from AT&T’s super-duper techs, telling us they had no explanation or solution for why we weren’t getting any service … were billed to us at the rate of $1 minute.

But finally, and only at this point, after literally a dozen or more interactions with AT&T retail/customer service/tech support do I get the two clarion trumpet “full disclosure” moments that explain everything.

The agent matter-of-factly tells me, “Well, we don’t ever promise [international calling] will work”, and, oh, by the way, “Yes, you are charged for placing the call or text.”

Excuse me, what? Are you saying you’re charging people for calls that you don’t even connect? That we’re paying simply for dialing the number?

“Yes, and you were told that when you signed up for the plan.”

By this point the sarcasm in my voice was dripping, kind of like the hideous space monster in “Alien”.  “Uhhhh, no. No one ever at any point, until this moment, ever told me that the system might not actually work, much less that I’d be charged for the act of dialing the number. Moreover … mam … what fool would ever buy your international calling plan if those two key details were disclosed to them upfront, in their friendly neighborhood ‘AT&T international specialist’ shoppe?”

“Well,” she said, and I loved this, “they should have told you.”

(Because I’m into an OCD-psychotic episode with this crap, I’ve since walked in to three other AT&T stores in the Twin Cities and “inquired” about international calling plans, specifically asking if I’m charged only for calls that are connected. The response each time: “Oh yeah, of course. Only if you’re connected, of course”.)

When I tell her that as (damned) annoying as all this is, I’ll let it go for the $100 credit I was promised a month earlier, she puts me on one of those holds to talk to yet another “specialist”. Most likely she just hit “hold” and filed her nails for three minutes. But she comes back to inform me that after “carefully reviewing” my account the specialist will not agree to the $100 credit or any other credits of any kind. Basically, it’s my fault for not knowing how the game is played.

A friend visiting the house while I’m going through this says, “You have to get to a supervisor in their retention department. Customer service has no authority to do anything.”

The next … and final call … is back to customer service, or almost. After going through the whole ID, pass code and reexplanation thing … I’m disconnected. (And despite calling, you know, a telephone company, which has my phone number, do you think anyone calls back? Hell, what was the last time any customer service, other than Apple, called back after you were disconnected?)

Back again … ID, pass code, re-tell the story and demand (demand, I say!) to talk to a supervisor, pronto! I’m put on hold until “Daunte” gets on the line. Now, knowing that it reflects badly on low-level customer service reps when they have to call in a supervisor, and considering every other facet of this tale, I don’t think it’s cynical to imagine the first rep hitting “hold” and turning to his buddy “Daunte” in the cubicle next to him and asking him to “play supervisor with the nutjob on line 8”.

The finale:  “Daunte” carefully reviews the file notes and declares AT&T to be utterly blameless in this incident and under no circumstances will the company offer any sort of compensation.

“Do you, Daunte,” I ask, “want to keep me as an AT&T customer?” fully expecting him to say something like, “Oh god, man! Yes! If you leave, our stock price will disintegrate. Me and Abner here in the next cubicle will be out on the streets, living in cardboard boxes, or worse, taking customer service calls for Comcast! Shit no! Don’t go, man! I beg you! Have mercy!”

In reality “Daunte” says, “That’s your choice.”

My choice, two hours later, was to switch back to T-Mobile and run down to the bank and sign papers putting a stop/disputed payment on that last auto-pay to AT&T. When, not if, they make a principled stink about not being paid for services rendered, I’ll take them to small claims court where one of their “assistant regional junior VPs for international special-ism” can explain with great clarity and a straight face how, without prior disclosure, AT&T charges customers for services they fail to provide.

… where are my pills, dear?

BLM Protests Are Starting to Spotlight Disruption More Than Discrimination

I want what the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement wants.

Police body cameras? Yep.   Punishment and removal of police officers who are abusive and/or are engaged in racial profiling? It’s about time. Prosecution of police offers who break the law? Yes.   More diverse police forces? Definitely. Better training in deescalation techniques for police officers? Badly needed. Less draconian drug laws? Amen.  More white awareness of examples of disgraceful racially based abuses in the law enforcement system? Absolutely.

Black Lives Matters is on the right track, and I’m with them.

But when it comes to disruption of community events that have nothing to do with racial discrimination in the law enforcement system, BLM loses me and a lot of other sympathetic citizens.  Legal authorities can determine the extent to which such disruption is permissible, but my question is whether it is persuasive.

Protesting at the scene of an incident of police abuse is persuasive, because it shines a light squarely on an example of abuse.  Just as sit-ins at segregated diners forced white America to open their eyes to the injustice of Jim Crow laws, shining a light directly on undeniable examples of police abuse is having a profound effect on white opinions.

Americans__Satisfaction_With_Way_Blacks_Treated_TumblesFor instance, between 2013 and 2015, Gallup finds a 14-point increase in the number of white Americans who are not satisfied with the way blacks are being treated. Another poll finds that an overwhelming 89% now support the use of police body cameras.

Black Lives Matters is starting to win, and that’s very good for our country.

But disrupting community activities that have nothing to do with police abuse – fairs, commutes, and sporting events — effectively is spotlighting disruption more than discrimination.  Because the disruptions are unpopular, I worry that the tactic will result in fewer allies for police abuse reforms. If the ultimate goal of BLM is to change the law enforcement system so that it better protects black lives, rather than to simply get on the news, disrupting non-discriminatory community gatherings strikes me as self-defeating.

The Saint Paul BLM chapter apparently is planning to disrupt this weekend’s Twin Cities Marathon, an uplifitng community event that is not the least bit connected to the issue of racial bias in the law enforcement system.   This is of particular interest to me, because my son has been training for months to run his first marathon that day, and I’ve been looking forward to a 10-mile run.  The protest could change all of that.

To be clear, I am keeping this in perspective. Seeing my son have his dream of completing a marathon taken from him is obviously nothing compared to black parents seeing their children have their dignity, dreams and lives taken from them due to our discriminatory law enforcement system.  I get that.  But such disruptions of community events do feel unfair, unnecessary and unfocused to a lot of citizens, and I fear public resentment of the tactic will inadvertently set back a very important cause.

Pope Francis and Scott Walker: Contrasts in Leadership

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterWe have quite the contrast in leadership theories and styles going this week what with the Pope landing one day and Scott Walker quitting the race for President the day before.

i remember well the affection US Catholics had for John Paul II and demonstrated with Woodstock-like crowds for his visits here. I was at the gathering in Des Moines in 1978 and have never, before or since, seen 200,000 people in one place without a single beer can in sight. You can credit any Pope’s popularity to the unique quality of his office. A religious leader, of a billion people, regularly preaching peace and harmony. Unlike government leaders he doesn’t have to pander and strategize for reelection. Nor does he ever have to commit resources to battle, unless of course in the case of the Vatican you count covering up and fighting sex abuse scandals and regular, multi-billion dollar banking “irregularities” as a kind of warfare.

But the vibe around Francis does seem different. That one line, uttered on his plane to a question about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?” was an enormous breakthrough in papal credibility, certainly with thousands of mostly fallen away Catholics made jaded and cynical by the Church’s refusal to reform and reimagine itself for a century other than the 14th.

As one of those who gave up on association with the church 30 years ago, mainly over the ridiculous misdirection of resources — into endless property enhancement and nowhere near enough to issues related to poverty, as well as the Church’s medieval attitudes toward women, many of which continue to this day — I admire and appreciate what Francis is saying on climate change and income inequality, but remain skeptical on the question if he can actually turn the hidebound Catholic bureaucracy.

But at least his message is inspiring.

Which is not something I’ve heard many people say about any of the current Republican presidential candidates, much less the recently departed Mr. Walker.

While the Pope is using his popularity and influence to appeal to the better angels of our nature, respecting and tolerating differences and accepting sacrifice as a means to retain the health of the planet, Walker and his GOP competition are playing a truly obscene game of one-ups-manship trying to convince the angriest and least tolerant among us that they’ll be more merciless than the other guy (or woman) in pounding Muslims back into submission, blocking off any solution to climate change that involves pumping one less ton of coal or oil carbon into the air and returning the 30 million or so lower-end Americans to emergency room care and imminent bankruptcy rather build out from the Affordable Care Act..

And yet all of them waaaay over-play their Christian card with appalling regularity.

But Scott Walker … . The schadenfreude over this guy’s implosion is truly palpable. Campaign pros can argue over why his popularity fell off a cliff. How much was do to the Trump circus. How much was due to “anti-insider” sentiment, yadda yadda.

It should be enough to say, with great confidence, that once out in the harsh light of day, Scott Walker proved himself to be exactly what many of us thought him to be since he first popped up on the radar. Namely, an extraordinarily cynical, utterly self-serving career politician with little to no interest in “public” service as you or I know it, nor even any any interest in properly educating himself on basic government policy and every interest in exploiting every twist of the rules of the political “game” to his personal advantage.

And without ever being either brave or clever about it.

I remind everyone that Walker’s big moment, his war on (some) public employee unions in Wisconsin was something he dropped on those middle-class Americans completely out of the blue. Had he ever once mentioned it during his 2010 campaign (and real bravery would have been laying out there day after day as a primary objective) I’d cut him some slack. At least then the Cheeseheads would have known exactly what they were buying. But nada. Not a peep. And then he flat-out lied, repeatedly, saying at times that he had and the press simply hadn’t paid it any attention.

Walker was/is another lug out of the Tim Pawlenty mode, a genuinely sociopathic personality capable of calmly and emotionlessly rationalizing no end of discomfort, calamity and cruelty to others as an acceptable price for achieving the greatest goal … their own personal advancement.

I could go on about Walker’s tight, chummy connection to the executives of the M&I Bank (now BMO Harris) and their laundering of Tom Petters’ scummy deals, his sub-servience to the four … four … patrons who provided the bulk of the $20 million in his Super PAC war chest, his sell-out to pretty much the same type of robber barons in the recent Milwaukee basketball arena deal and the gutting of the University of Wisconsin system to paper over the staggering deficit accumulated under his “guidance”. But that’s the past. The guy has another three years to wreak even more havoc on Wisconsin, unless his keepers abandon him now that he has no greater viability.

And so, as Pope Francis prepared to address Congress tomorrow night and demonstrate what leadership sounds like when disconnected from naked, unambiguous personal ambition, Walker left his little press avail yesterday without taking any questions and after making the preposterous assertion that he was leading … by quitting.

I like to say there’s a special place in hell for people like Walker. But over the years I’ve learned that people like him, fundamentally mean-spirited, selfish and manipulative, are already living there.

DFL Shouldn’t Politicize Makeout-gate

news_conference_microphones_-_Google_SearchThe messenger is the message. If a professor delivers a message, it tends to sound objective, studied and evidence-based. If an elder statesman delivers a message, it tends to sound thoughtful, even-handed and rational. If a reporter of a credible news outlet delivers a message, it tends to sound legitimate, consequential, and relevant.

And if a political party leader delivers a message, it tends to sound one-sided, hyperbolic, manipulative and, obviously, political.

Maybe that is not always fair, but the messenger delivering the argument profoundly shapes how the audience processes the messages that are presented.

This is hardly a novel observation, yet it seems completely lost on Minnesota’s major party leaders. Often when political party leaders weigh in on an emerging issue, they inadvertently leave a slimy residue behind.  The message becomes “this is a political game being played, not a legitimate issue.”  At a time when survey research shows that a strong majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of both major political parties, pointing the spotlight to a partisan messenger can be the PR kiss of death.

Take the issue of whether or not two Minnesota state legislators should apologize to a suburban law enforcement officer.   The legislators initially called the officer a liar when the officer reported that the legislators were doing something in a suburban park that was a bit more intimate than the claimed “exchanging documents.”  The teen term of art “makeout” was used in the officer’s report, and, to the delight of the incurable gossips who inhabit the State Capitol campus, more racy details were included.

Subsequent news accounts reported that the officer documented the salacious details of the incident via email in near real time. Faced with this new reporting, the legislators in question reversed course.  As the Associated Press reported:

Two Republican lawmakers whom a park ranger cited for making out in a public park apologized Monday for accusing that ranger of lying and stepped down from a Minnesota House ethics panel in an apparent effort to head off a complaint from Democrats.

But that wasn’t good enough for DFL party officials.  Two days after the legislators had already apologized and resigned from the House Ethics Committee, the DFL called a news conference to ask the legislators to, I don’t know, issue a new and improved apology.

With reporters and law enforcement officials exposing the truth, and reporters continually seeking legislators’ reaction to each new revelation, why do DFL PR people feel the need pile on with self-righteous sermons? I’m sure partisan warriors surrounding DFL leaders were giving them high fives for continuing to criticize the Republicans, but their partisan finger wagging is starting to make the whole issue look like just another partisan pissing match, which many Minnesotans are conditioned to tune out.

In public relations, as in health care, the guiding credo should be primum non nocere, Latin for “first, do no harm.”  Party messengers especially need to realize the harm that their tainted voices can do.  Or as the country music classic put it, sometimes “you say it best when you say nothing at all.”

GOP Debate #2: Sobriety is Your Enemy

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI watched the whole thing. Do I get an award? A ribbon? Another half dozen stiff drinks?

Actually, anyone who played the buzzword bingo drinking game during last night’s three-hour Chicken Little FearFest/GOP presidential debate would have blown a .55 by the 30-minute mark.

“Terrorists”. Glug.

“Limited government conservative”. Glug.

“Ronald Reagan”. Glug.

“They want to kill us.” Glug.

“Repeal”. Glug.

“On the first day.” Glug

“Radical liberal … .” Glug.

“Strongest military the world has ever seen.” Glug.

“Ronald Reagan.” Oh what the hell, finish the bottle.

Consensus thinking, the specialty of TV punditry depending on who their target consensus group is, seems to see Carly Fiorina as the big winner, and, once again, Donald Trump as the clear loser, a word he reserves only for less “really, really rich” others. Personally, I doubt that Trump will suffer much in the opinion of the really, really white and pissed-off crowd that has loved him up so much this summer … unless the vibe gets out that he is in fact not a “winner” but somehow, a loser.

As the rankest of amateur socio-psychologists, I maintain the view that “Trump people” regard themselves as losers, victimized losers to be sure, but bona fide entitled, exceptional Americans dealt a foul, unfair hand by “multi-nationals”, Hollywood liberals, Muslim presidents and assorted other uppity (pick your sub-group). As a consequence they seek out associations with “winners”, which in their mind is anyone who is on TV a lot, has gobs of dough and can call everyone else playground names with impunity.

But that “winner” thing is kind of like a digital TV signal. In other words, it is really great until you walk one step further and it’s gone. If Trump’s “winner” vibe cracks, which I think is inevitable, his true believers will jump ship in a split second, turn and truly believe in the next guy/gal who, like muttering Steve at the end of the bar, can call someone a horse-faced skank and make the rest of the midday crowd snort and cackle.

The Fiorina thing is actually kind of interesting. Clearly, the tri-corner hat paranoids aren’t interested in “insiders”. (And God help me, when Jeb Bush tries making the case for himself as an “outsider” how do you not just douse your self with gin and light a match?)  Fiorina may be the ultimate personification of the sociopathic corporate Dragon Lady and like Mitt Romney, the face (sorry) of the “entrepreneurial class” that has bayoneted the dreams of Trump’s white nationalist crowd. But she is a woman, and she is without question built to prosecute and endure a long, gruesome campaign. Her prospects for a match-up with Hillary Clinton strike me as far better than anyone else on the stage last night, including Jeb! (no last name, please.)

In fact, in a twist of irony, a rise in Fiorina’s fortunes, (including but not limited to the one she grabbed as part of her Hewlett-Packard golden parachute), might be an asset to Ms. Clinton. The theory being that with a Fiorina ascendancy Democrats would have to stop and seriously assess how many women-who-just-want-a-damned-woman voters they’ll lose if the Republicans, for chrissake, beat them to the punch with a gal on the top of a national ticket.

Other than that last night had a weird familiarity. Like dangerous, nonsensical characters in a recurring dream, I couldn’t get past the sense of having suffered through all this many times before. For instance, I suffered what I think was a brief seizure when Scott Walker again claimed to have balanced Wisconsin’s budget AND, having gutted the state’s college system to pad over that pesky $2.2 billion deficit, stared into the camera and touted his commitment to education as the key to “real job growth”, (glug).

Lord, I despise that guy beyond anything rational.







About That “Soaking” Of Minnesota’s Rich

For a long time, we’ve been hearing about how Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators “soaked the rich” back in 2013. That’s become the conventional wisdom at both the state and national levels, from both liberals and conservatives.

For example, at the national level, Patrick Caldwell from liberal Mother Jones magazine reported that Dayton ran on a “soak-the-rich platform of massively hiking income taxes on the wealthiest people in the state.”

Locally, conservative columnists Joe Soucheray and Katherine Kersten have long been beating the “soak the rich” rhetoricial drum, as has the conservative Pioneer Press editorial board:

“What’s the plan? Tax the rich, then tax the rich again, then tax the rich again?”

Finally, the Chair of the Minnesota House Tax Committee, Greg Davids, is among many conservative state legislators who have used “soak-the-rich” rhetoric to full effect.

Is the “Soak” Rhetoric True?

But did Governor Dayton’s 2013 tax increase on individuals earning over $150,000 and couples earning over $250,000 actually “soak” them in any meaningful way. This chart, derived from the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s 2015 Tax Incidence Study, calls that conventional wisdom into question:


This chart shows that the highest earning Minnesotans will only be paying a slightly higher proportion of their income in state and local taxes in 2017 than they did in 2012, under the rates in place before the 2013 tax increase. In 2012, the highest income Minnesotans were paying 10.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes. By 2017, the projection is that the highest income Minnesotans will see their state and local tax burden inch up to 10.7 percent.  This 0.2 percent increase hardly represents punitive “soaking.”

On a somewhat related issue, the chart also shows that the 10 percent of Minnesotans with the highest incomes look to be paying a much smaller share of their income in state and local taxes (10.7 percent) than the decile with the lowest incomes  (26.4 percent). However, on this point, the report contains an important caveat about the first decile data (page 17):

“…effective tax rates in the first decile are overstated by an unknown but possibly significant amount.”

But back to my original and primary point, which is not impacted by this caveat:  Despite all of the wailing and gnashing about the alleged mistreatment of the highest income Minnesotans, the impact of the Dayton-era tax increase on top earners’ overall state and local tax will be negligible.  Higher taxes on top earners didn’t cause the massive job losses that conservatives promised — Minnesota currently has the fifth lowest unemployment in the nation — and they didn’t soak anyone.

Don’t Forget About Local Taxes

How is it that Minnesota’s top earners are paying higher taxes, yet still are paying a lower share of state and local taxes than any other income grouping? Part of the reason is that the top 10 percent will only be paying only 2.2 percent of their income in local taxes in 2017, which is much less than the 3.1 percent share of local taxes that will be paid by the average Minnesotans, and less still than the share of local taxes paid by the lowest-income Minnesotans.

Impact_of_local_taxes_on_tax_burden_by_decileThis is a point that is frequently missed, or intentionally ignored, by people who focus solely on state tax burdens, without also taking local tax burdens into consideration.

So, did Mark Dayton really “soak-the-rich” when he increased taxes by $2.1 billion in 2013?   Inflated rhetoric aside, it turns out that the Dayton tax increase was more akin to a light misting than the predicted soaking.

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.

BREAKING: Perham Is A Beautiful, Friendly Little Lake Town

WCCO-TV_Going_To_The_LakePerham, Minnesota — Investigative reporters at WCCO-TV are rumored to be about to air a major exposé involving Perham, Minnesota, a town of roughly 3,000 residents in west central Minnesota’s Otter Tail County.

WCCO’s Goin’ To The Lake Investigative Unit apparently has learned that Perham is a “beautiful, friendly little lake town up north” that WCCO-TV would highly recommend to anyone.

Moreover, WCCO-TV has reportedly learned that Perhamites and their Chamber of Commerce representatives “couldn’t be nicer,” and that neighboring Little Pine Lake and Big Pine Lake are both “absolutely lovely.”

Finally, unnamed sources familiar with the situation indicated that several of the local food offerings were “quite tasty,” so much so that they could prove to be fattening if not enjoyed in moderation.

WCOO-TV officials refused to confirm or deny the reports, instead urging viewers to tune in Friday evening.

Questions We Should Be Asking About the Health Care Reform Plan Scott Walker Is Unveiling in Minnesota

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is reportedly coming to Brooklyn Center to explain his new health care reform plan to a state that now has a record high 95 percent of its citizens with health care coverage, thanks in part to its Democratic Governor embracing Obamacare.

Spoiler alert: Governor Walker, who is running for the GOP presidential nod these days, has already telegraphed the centerpieces of his plan.  In a National Review oped this week, Walker wrote:

“We must do all of this while ensuring affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”

At the same time, Governor Walker has long opposed the Obamacare insurance mandate.

“Our plan calls for reducing health care costs through market-driven solutions, not by forcing us to buy an expensive health care mandate.”

At first blush, embracing a ban on pre-existing conditions and excluding an insurance mandate seems like pure political gold. It maintains the most popular part of Obamacare, while replacing the least popular part of it. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?

connecting_the_dots_-_Google_SearchHere’s why: Walker’s logic path quickly collapses as soon as you start connecting the dots.

Q. If we simultaneously tell Americans, 1) “no matter what illness or injury you encounter, insurance companies must pay your bills” and 2) “you don’t have to buy an insurance policy,” what will Americans do?

A.  Americans will wait until they get sick or hurt before they buy insurance. And really, why wouldn’t we, particularly in our younger years? After all, in such a wacky Walkercare world, the moment someone buys coverage, their medical bills get paid, so why would anyone volunteer to pay for protection when they’re healthy?

What’s the problem with that, you ask?

Well, let’s go further down the logic path.

Q. If Americans waits until they get hurt or sick before they buy health insurance, what will happen to the pool of available premium dollars insurance companies use to pay for patients’ medical bills?

A. That pool of money will quickly dry up.

Big deal, you say. We all hate those insurance companies anyway, right?

But keep asking questions.

Q. If the insurance company’s pool of money for paying medical bills gets used up, what will happen then?

A. Insurance companies will go out of business. Then, we won’t be able to get private insurance coverage, health care providers’ bills will go unpaid, and the entire health care system will melt down.

So Governor Walker’s pitch to keep Obamacare’s pre-existing ban and repeal Obamacare’s insurance mandate is politically popular, but infeasible a policy level. It would pretty quickly implode the private health insurance system conservatives laud.

So, why is Governor Walker coming to Minnesota to promote a reform plan like that? It seems like there are two possibilities: 1) He isn’t bright enough to connect those dots or 2) He is bright enough to connect the dots, but doesn’t think Americans are, so he is using this plan as a cynical ploy to get elected.  It feels like the latter, and I’m not sure that makes me feel any better about our neighbor Scott.