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.”
“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.
This 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.
Perham, 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.
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?
Here’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.
PPP survey, August 2015.
In the wake of University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague’s resignation due to sexual harassment of University employees, the University’s PR team is getting glowing marks for the work they did on crisis communications management.
Public relations firefighters tend to get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when things go poorly. The truth is, with any crisis there are many uncontrollable factors in play that aid or cripple even the most talented PR pros.
First They Got Lucky
The University’s PR people did plenty of things well, but they also got extremely lucky. For instance, the harassed employees didn’t go directly to the media before the University had a chance to discover exactly what had happened, disclose, apologize and force a resignation. If the victims had told their stories a little bit at a time to the media and blindsided the University, there would have been a steady stream of stories in which the University would have looked clueless, hapless, defensive and unresponsive to the victims.
The University was also fortunate that they had clear evidence of wrong-doing available – very graphic text messages. This immediately gave the University the ability to swiftly secure a resignation before facing media scrutiny. Without that evidence, the University could have faced a prolonged “he said, she said” battle on the front pages, with no firm evidence available to help University leaders bring swift closure to the University, and justice to the victims (see Clarence Thomas).
Then They Did Good Work
Having said all that, the University public relations team did seem to do many things very skillfully.
Disclosure to Closure In One Day. Unless there are more disclosures coming, the PR team seems to have dumped all of the evidence in one day. Mr. Teague has confessed, disclosed, apologized and resigned in one fell swoop. They may be pretty close to having full disclosure and closure on the same day, which is a rarity in the world of crisis communications.
This should help the University limit the number of days this horrendous story has legs. The only thing worse than a reputation-damaging story is multiple days of reputation-damaging stories, and this PR team did what they could to ensure this didn’t become a long-running soap opera.
Friday News Dump. This PR team also got the story out on a Friday. This is an tried and true crisis communications move, and it makes sense. Disclosing it on Friday, puts much of the bad news into Friday night and Saturday, when news consumption is lowest and the public is distracted for a couple of days, especially during Minnesota’s scarce summer days.
No Victim-Blaming. Importantly, the University didn’t directly or indirectly blame the victims. In the coverage I saw, there was no partially defending Teague by mentioning that the abused employees did something to somehow encourage Teague. While this may seem like an obvious thing to avoid, many make this mistake.
No Hiding. Finally, they didn’t stay in the bunker. A lot of proud, stubborn, and arrogant leaders refuse to talk to the media when under siege. That didn’t happen in this case. Mr. Teague spoke. University President Eric Kaler spoke. There were no hands in cameras and no stories reporting that University officials “refused to comment,” which so often makes institutions and people appear to be defensive, secretive, bumbling and guilty.
The one part of the Friday news coverage that didn’t pass the smell test was Mr. Teague seemingly blaming all of his behavior on alcohol abuse. Teague may very well need help with alcoholism, but he also needs help learning how to respect women who clearly and repeatedly send signals that they aren’t interested. But I assume that the University public relations team can’t be blamed for that bit of weasel-speak, because I imagine Mr. Teague wrote his own statement, or at least heavily edited it.
While the University public relations team got very lucky on some big things, their handling of this crisis turned what could have been weeks of really horrible stories into fewer days of horrible stories. In crisis communications, that’s often as good as it gets.
Ok, I admit it. I was rooting for Donald Trump last night. Not because I think he has a clue about anything relevant to you and me. But simply, purely, because as long as he holds center stage he guarantees the belittling light of farce will remain fixed on the entire Republican field. Without him more people might be tempted to take the likes of Scott Walker seriously, to name only one prime example.
When the debate wrapped last night and the Dramamine began wearing off — no point risking stomach distress from the whiplashing motion sickness in the white caps of so much illogic and shameless bullshit — I clicked over to the liberal enclave, MSNBC, for their take on the circus.
First came Chris Matthews, wetting himself over the performance of … Marco Rubio (!?). Then came Chuck Todd with his focus on FoxNews’ opening salvo — asking for a show of hands on who would abide by the party’s eventual nominee and then Megyn Kelly’s long question/indictment of Trump’s catty shots against women over the years — both clearly designed to knock The Donald, no friend of Rupert Murdoch, back on his heels at the get-go.
Trump, a creature of show biz catfighting, gave as he got and I strongly suspect rose today at least as strong as he was before the curtain rose last night. Why? Because his “people” don’t give a damn about “political correctness”, as he argued. Nor do they care all that much about gay marriage or immigration or the Iran deal, or any of the other alleged hot button issues touted by the political class. Mainly, Trump’s people are just pissed off, pretty much at everyone, on the not exactly deeply-examined grounds that “those people” have been screwing them over and are responsible for the condition of their lives.
Of course there’s no logic to their embrace of a ravenous, self-serving billionaire who plainly doesn’t know a thing about foreign relations, national security or public policy. But logic has very little role this early in any election season and almost none at any time in the modern conservative freak show of vanity candidates.
I seriously doubt your average Trump supporter believes for a second he’ll win anything. ot thNe nomination, much less the presidency. All they want for the time being is an entertaining performer who makes the other guys (and gal) look like the scripted stiffs they are.
The night before the debate I had a long happy hour with former right-wing talk show host Jason Lewis. (There’ll be a Q&A with him on MinnPost.com in the next couple weeks.) Over the course of three hours Lewis did say one interesting thing. (That’s a joke.) And that was that Trump’s immunity to criticism has everything to do with the fact that his demeanor powerfully conveys the attitude, “I don’t need this.” He may want it, like another gilded trophy (or wife). But “need it”? No. Certainly not in the sweaty, grasping, cringe-inducing way of a Rick Santorum, Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee? No way. Not even in the cynically calculating way of a life-long lapper at the taxpayer teat like Scott Walker. Lacking desperation, he exudes a scent of confidence the others can only fake.
The “I hate them all, because they’ve done nothing for me” crowd likes and admires and wishes they were a guy who could say, “Take this job and shove it” … and then fly their private jet back to their “classy” Palm Beach mansion. That crowd’s nihilistic fantasy is that Trump or the next guy/woman like him, will torch the system and, if nothing else, bring all the elitist douche bags down to their forced-to-shop-at-WalMart level. (And yes, do note the irony in that “elitist DB” business.)
But don’t take any of this from me. My assessment of winners and losers last night, Trump aside, was that … Rand Paul and John Kasich stood out, in a positive way.
Paul of course suffers from the same pathology as his father, Ron. Namely, the “Five Minute Rule” as the great Charles Pierce describes it. Both Pauls start in on some topic, usually military adventurism, and you’re thinking, “That makes sense. This guy isn’t quite the whack job I thought he was.” But then, almost exactly at the five-minute mark, just when you’re this close to buying into the hype that these guys are on to something they turn and take a headfirst dive into a 20-foot tub of Libertarian bat guano.
Like this one: ” ‘I think you don’t have a right to happiness — you have the right to the pursuit of happiness’, Paul, an ophthalmologist, said in a 2009 Kentucky town hall meeting. ‘[I]f you think you have the right to health care, you are saying basically that I am your slave. I provide health care. … My staff and technicians provide it. … If you have a right to health care, then you have a right to their labor’.”
Kasich, despite the wooze-inducing claim that he was responsible for the Clinton economy of the 1990s, at least came across as a guy with touch of authentic empathy for the 47% crowd.
Ben Carson looked and sounded like a stand-in for a real candidate, like those seat-fillers they have at the Academy Awards show who zoom in when the stars have to take a potty break. Mike Huckabee, “a loser”, as Trump would say, with “no chance” seemed angrier than usual, and no more coherent. Ted Cruz was pretty much overlooked and typically tedious when he did speak, basically echoing the party line that his plan for America is to: A: Repeal everything Barack Obama has touched, and B: Head back over to the Middle East and really kick some towelhead ass this time. Because, you know, it worked out so well when Dick and W* did it.
Jeb Bush, the scion, brother-of and presumptive candidate once Trump flames out or goes independent rogue, came off like a sheet of taupe wallpaper. Like a bond salesman terrified he’ll say the one wrong thing that’ll scotch the deal, which in this case is his entitlement to the job. Beyond that, I’m sure there are millions of Floridians who had no idea Jebbie had transformed their pestilential wonderland of causeway McMansions and meth-head rednecks hiding under double-wides into a goddam Utopia of freedom and gummint service.
Chris Christie? Please. Rubio? Slick, telegenic as hell and as vacuous as a Fox & Friends host. And my boy Scott Walker? A guy who makes me worry because of the profound, visceral, rabid skunk-in-the-backyard repulsion I have for him? Even in this crowd he stands out if the contest is for the most smug and practiced liar. Hell, I’m still cleaning up the mess that shot out my nose when he declared he had balanced Wisconsin’s budget. You know, the one with the $2 billion deficit?
But as raw entertainment? As a combination of non-sequiturs, magical thinking, fear-mongering, denial and misdirection? Great stuff! Two thumbs, way up! Show biz gold, baby!
And really classy.
Wait. Who behaved very badly? The reporter asking about the hateful, childish name-calling, or the name-caller? The blame-flipping maneuver sounds like it came right out of Alice in Wonderland:
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Like Lewis Carol’s fantasy world, in the world of Trump supporters, everything is upside down. The reporter who inquired about the demeaning name-calling “behaved badly” rather than the name-caller.
Mr. Trump’s response to the question was typically silly. After first cracking up his audience by saying that he only said those ugly things about comedian Rosie O’Donnell – a line you could imagine the school bully using to get a cheap laugh at the expense of the heavy girl in the class – Trump added:
“The big problem this country has is being politically correct. (interrupted by loud cheers) I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for political correctness.”
“Oh, you’re just being politically correct.” It’s the lament of many who has been held accountable for their words. Rather than defending the specific idea put forward, the offensive speaker dismissively flips the blame around, saying that the fault lies with the questioner rather than the instigator.
What does “politically correct” even mean? It’s very much in the eye of the beholder. The Merriam Webster dictionary says one who is “politically correct” is:
“Agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.”
In other words, we really shouldn’t call fellow humans “disgusting animals” or say we would like to see how pretty our colleagues would look on their knees, because it’s hurtful, demeaning and insulting to them.
How do you know it’s hurtful, demeaning, and insulting? Because you wouldn’t like it if directed at you, or someone you love. The Golden Rule that is cited throughout Christianity and every major religion — Do to others what you would want them to do to you – is there to guide us as we look for how to be “careful not to use language or behave in a way that could offend.”
But the Urban Dictionary definition captures the meaning of political correctness that has been adopted by many modern conservatives.
“The ideology of weird left wing liberals who want society to be nothing but accepting of all perverts and freaks everywhere. The main basis is not to offend anyone with one little incorrect word.”
So, if the speaker believes the subject of the insult to be a “pervert and freak,” then calling that person a “disgusting animal” is justifiable, and the true fault lies with those who don’t understand that the person being insulted is a pervert or freak. Therefore, anyone who questions Mr. Trump’s demeaning of women can be cavalierly dismissed as being under the spell of the conservative supervillain Political Correctness.
Jesus taught his followers that “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” What do you suppose he would have said to a disciple who inquired about a loophole: “Um, that doesn’t apply to people I think are perverts, freaks, wrong, fat or unattractive, right?”
The “oh you’re just being politically correct” defense ultimately leads to a no holds barred society where the Golden Rule effectively becomes a dead letter. Is that really what the devout followers of Jesus Christ attending last night’s debate stand for?
Note: This post was re-published in MinnPost.
The antics of Republican members of the Minnesota State Legislature used to be a reliable source of gasps and guffaws. Over recent years, Republican legislators have been obsessed with regulating gay couple’s love lives and straight citizen’s sexual health. They continually attempted to have their narrow religious views dictate the governance of a pluralistic society. They compared poverty stricken families to wild animals who shouldn’t be fed, and backed up that ugly rhetoric with deep cuts in human services for those families. They shut down of state government in an attempt to make services in Minnesota more Mississippi-ish
These were not Republicans in the mold of Elmer Anderson, Al Quie, Arne Carlson, Duane Benson or David Jennings. These were Republicans in the mold of Bradlee Dean, Michael Brodkorb, Wayne LaPierre, Cliven Bundy, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh.
But in the 2015 legislative session, Republican legislators were an unusually controlled bunch. They did boring and constructive things, such as changing how nursing homes were reimbursed. They even proposed modest k-12 education funding increases, and ultimately accepted the much larger funding formula increases promoted by DFLers.
Yes, Republican legislators still did some things that don’t make any sense. For instance, they ran for election in 2014 on the need to fix a long list of deteriorating roads and bridges, then inexplicably opposed the revenue increases necessary to get the work done. They still want to weaken minimum wages, despite the most pronounced income disparity since the 1920s and the lack of any evidence that last year’s minimum wage hike is damaging the economy.
But to my knowledge, there were no legislators hiding in the shrubbery at gay rights rallies this year. There was no legislator-fueled politicizing of the morning prayer with hateful castigations of the President and gay people. There were no throwback campaigns to enact a state currency or Confederacy-style nullification laws.
At a time when Republicans at the national level could scarcely be more absurd, Minnesota’s Republican leaders seem to have at least temporarily kept the most extreme elements of their fragile coalition – religious fundamentalists, fiscal libertarians, paranoid gun enthusiasts, bedroom cops, and hyper-partisan jihadists – quietly mumbling to themselves instead of in the headlines.
For the sake of Minnesota’s collective future, let’s hope that’s a trend that continues. With a dangerous achievement gap,deteriorating infrastructure, and a lot of families finding upward mobility out of reach, we have a lot of work to do. But for the sake of humor-dependent bloggers, hear’s hoping the silence of the extremists is short-lived.
Do you know why the City of St. Paul choose Charlie Brown as it’s patron saint?
Yeah, me either.
There’s nothing like an American political campaign, especially one dominated by the rolling freak show of our “new conservative movement” to make you wonder if intelligent life exists anywhere in the universe, including here.
Thank God then for Stephen Hawking and the NASA teams responsible for the Pluto fly-by and the discovery of “Earth’s twin”, Kepler 452-b. They didn’t quite drown out the buffoonery and cynicism of Donald Trump-Scott Walker last week. But if you were so inclined it was quite pleasurable to ignore the clamor of their toxic grifting and let the mind wander, imagining truly advanced civilizations and what they might think of us.
Among the most interesting people I’ve ever and had the chance to talk with is Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science-fiction writer, best known for co-authoring the screenplay for “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which was drawn from his short story “The Sentinel”. in 1984 Clarke flew halfway around the planet from his home in Sri Lanka to do publicity for “2010: The Year We Make Contact”, an instantly-forgotten sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic. By no means a typical Hollywood type, Clarke arrived for interviews at some Beverly Hills hotel looking like an Iowa mortician. Black suit, white shirt, black tie, horn-rimmed glasses and the demeanor of the guy who makes certain the deceased is returned to the earth with due gravity.
One of Clarke’s many classic quotes is his response to being asked if we are alone in the universe? “Two possibilities exist,” he said, “either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He also said when asked what we might expect from contact with an extraterrestrial society, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
I had only 30 minutes or so with Clarke, and there didn’t seem to be much point in wasting it getting his reaction to the noisy, formulaic sequel to a truly audacious film that left no intelligent viewer with an option other than to contemplate our modest accomplishments — standing upright, conquering to survive and traveling beyond the pull of our own planet.
I doubt the news about our “twin”, Kepler 452-b, 1400-light years away, would have surprised Clarke much. Terrified or not, he found it it difficult to believe, based on the astonishing immensity of the universe that we were all that unique in terms of complex organisms or all that advanced, given the relative youth, 4.5 billion years, of Earth and the Milky Way. Organisms in other parts of the 14 billion year old universe could have hundreds of millions of years head start on us.
I do think Clarke, who died in 2008, would have been delighted to hear of Hawking’s collaboration with a Russian billionaire to re-start a long-term radar search for signals from another civilization, likely a “mega-civilization”, a culture likely generations, millennia or more advanced than ours. He was generally appalled at the priorities of so-called social leaders. (The fact that a single football stadium in one obscure Midwestern city cost more than we invested in the Pluto mission would have been to Clarke a prime example of barely post-amoebic thinking.)
One part of my conversation with Clarke centered on why any truly advanced culture would have an interest in us? And if they did how they would go about looking us over? This of course was the gist of “The Sentinel”, in which millions of years in our past a probing civilization, perhaps assessing Earth’s position in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone in relation to our sun, drops down a kind of cosmic tele-prompter, sparking the decisive leap one species makes toward sentient thought … and then a fire alarm (on the moon) to alert the civilization that one of the species it has incubated is one the move.
I was pleased that Clarke agreed with me that it made no sense at all that a “mega-civilization” (he didn’t use that term), would visit this planet in any kind of mortal form. No little grey men like in bad Hollywood or Japanese sci-fi. No bizarre, multi-tentacled deep space octopi like out of a comic book. Robotic probes alone, and most-likely the size of molecules rather than city-wide flying saucers could tell culturedeep space s capable of spanning everything they needed to know about life on this rock. That is if at hundreds of thousands or millions of years of development beyond us they had any interest.
Clarke’s argument, in various books, in the script for “2001” and in conversation in Los Angeles is that immortality is probably a primary initiative for any self-aware species, and that following the logic we saw in HAL the computer and see today in any number of the artificial intelligence advances made since his death, the process of separating consciousness out of and away from the frail, mortal carbon container we evolved in would be Job One.
In the “acid trip” sequence of “2001” there’s a shot of seven shimmering crystalline objects, generally regarded as Kubrick and Clarke’s depiction of “mega civilization” life forms. When I asked him if that was in fact the point of that shot, he smiled and said, “I don’t want to say. It’s more fun to imagine.”
So what then? Having transferred consciousness from flesh and blood (or whatever chemical stew might work on other “goldilocks” planets) to a form immune to the ravages of wind, fire, war, radiation and time, what interest would such a form of being have in us? Why would we be of any particular interest at all? We’re probably flattering ourselves that we’re exceptional. Most likely we would be no more interesting than plankton in a tidal pool. Ours would be an existence to be acknowledged, at best. But nothing more.
More likely, Clarke thought (and wrote in several novels, although maybe most provocatively in “Childhood’s End”), such a culture would practice a form of dispassionate benevolence, offering cues to lower life forms (us) for sustaining evolution, but taking no active role. (They’re a bit more involved in “Childhood’s End”.)
One commentator writing about Hawking’s endeavor reminded readers to do the math on Moore’s Law, which says computing power, in terms of transistors on a CPU, doubles every two years. You can find people who say we’ve reached a limit and that that isn’t going to happen. But since the number of transistors in a CPU has increased from 37.5 million in 2000 to 904 million in 2009, we’re kind of in range. Point being, by 2050, at this rate, our own technology will seem like magic to us today.
And that’s 35 years. For the sake of this discussion, add six zeroes. 35,000,000 years. Then try and imagine what “life” looks like. Most likely we wouldn’t recognize if it was standing next to us.
Now back to the plankton we know as Trump, Walker and the others vying to lead our civilization.
With the Trump Bump in full swing, we Minnesotans have an obligation to explain to our fellow Americans how these political crushes work. Been there. Done that.
A lot of liberals I know are privately not all that sure if they are “Ready for Hillary,” as the Clinton boosters put it.
How can a good progressive not want to elect the first woman to the White House? If we’re not “ready,” that must mean we are sexist, right?
Hillary Clinton is running for President, not just precedent. Progressives have to make sure she truly is the best person to promote the progressive agenda over the next eight years.
This progressive has questions, and I’m not apologizing for them. Here are a few:
Is Hillary progressives’ best messenger? John Kerry. Al Gore. Michael Dukakis. They are all fine people, brilliant policy minds, and relatively unpersuasive on the stump. Consequently, progressives lost with them. The 2008 vintage Hillary Clinton fell into the same category for me – relatively robotic, condescending and insincere in tone.
After President Obama, progressives are spoiled on this front. During the last two presidential elections and debates over the stimulus, health care reform and other issues, Democrats have re-learned what we learned during Bill Clinton’s time in the White House — what a huge advantage it is to have a talented Persuader-In-Chief.
Having this concern doesn’t mean I’m a misogynist. It means I want progressives to win arguments. After watching Hillary Clinton on stage for a long time, I’m not at all convinced she possess that talent.
Is Hillary a hair-triggered neocon? In the wake of President Obama finally cleaning up George W. Bush’s messes in Iraq and Afghanistan, liberals are understandably wary of more catastrophic preemptive wars promoted by neocons. Therefore, it should give progressives pause that neocon Robert Kagan reportedly advises Ms. Clinton on foreign policy and military issues, and considers her a kindred spirit. Here is what Kagan told the New York Times.
“If she pursues a policy, which we think she will pursue,” he added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that…”
Because of disturbing reports like this, and because Hillary voted to authorize the disastrous Iraq War, progressives have every right to question her very carefully before blindly endorsing her.
Will Hillary Take On Wall Street? As a U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary has built very close ties on Wall Street. She is no Elizabeth Warren in either tone or substance. Politico recently reported what corporate types who know Hillary well have concluded about her:
Two dozen interviews about the 2016 race with unaligned GOP donors, financial executives and their Washington lobbyists turned up a consistent — and unusual — consolation candidate if Bush demurs, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t recover politically and no other establishment favorite gets nominated: Hillary Clinton.
The darkest secret in the big money world of the Republican coastal elite is that the most palatable alternative to a nominee such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be Clinton, a familiar face on Wall Street following her tenure as a New York senator with relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation.
At a time when the country has the most income inequality it has had since 1928, I’m just not too thrilled with the idea of electing the corporate lobbyists’ favorite Democrat.
An unpersuasive communicator? A darling of the hair triggered neocons? The Wall Street lobbyists’ favorite Democrat? No, progressives should not automatically pronounce themselves “ready” for that kind of leader. These are not small issues for progressives. The rumpled septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders is hardly an electric personality, but he is getting an increasing amount of interest from progressives, because of these types of concerns about the front-runner.
To earn the right to win the Democratic presidential election, Hillary Clinton needs to prove to progressives that she has improved as a communicator since the 2008 race, explain in detail what kinds of military actions she would and wouldn’t support, and lay out a detailed plan for reigning in corporate abuses and reducing income inequality.
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t do those things in the coming months, I will make no apologies for supporting an alternative. (Oh, and I’m also extremely ready for Senator Elizabeth Warren, if she changes her mind in coming months.) At the same time, if Hillary does those things, I then would be ready for her to be my party’s nominee for President, and precedent.
Note: This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.
Both political parties are busily approaching new candidates to seek seats in the Minnesota Legislature for the 2016-2018 legislative session. This is a noble cause. For those of us who care about good public policy, this is an opportunity to recruit Minnesota’s best and brightest to elevate the level of discourse, analysis and decision-making that will guide our great state forward. I’m thankful to all who do this work.
So if you know anyone who has the right stuff, encourage them to run!
Become a member of our dynamic Minnesota House of Representatives team! We are seeking candidates with deep professional experience, strong educational background, extensive community ties, impeccable personal ethics and morals, outstanding interpersonal skills, uncommon diplomatic acumen, stellar leadership qualities, deep policy expertise in several different areas, and a highly photogenic family. Come associate your good name with an organization that has the approval of a historically low 17 percent of your friends and neighbors. Candidates must be willing to work round the clock, seven days per week, surrounded by often manipulative, self-serving colleagues and associates, many masquerading as friends. Even the most talented employees should be expected to remain largely silent and powerless for several years, due to seniority rules that ensure that major decisions are shaped by senior committee chairs and caucus leaders from gerrymandered-safe legislative seats. Employees will be constantly criticized by news reporters, snarky bloggers and anonymous Tweeters, often based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Employees shouldn’t be surprised if they are audited, scrutinized and prosecuted for partisan purposes. Even the most highly accomplished employees will be automatically fired every two years. However, employees willing to work round the clock may earn rehiring, following thousands of job interviews conducted by hostile and lightly informed interrogators who are often basing their rehiring decision on just one of the thousands of official decisions the employee has made over the course of their career. To finance the rehirement attempt, employees will be expected to continually raise large sums of money from friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers and interest groups making shady demands. The non-negotiable salary for this position is less than the average salary of a sewage worker, $31,141 per year.
I ask you, what thoughtful Minnesota citizesn wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity?
Note: This post was republished on MinnPost.
Billionaire politiciian Donald Trump has discovered that being bluntly bigoted — as opposed to being racist the old fashioned way, through dog whistle politics like the rest of the Republican Presidential field — attracts bored political reporters and activists. In an indirect way, Trump’s new found infamy/popularity may be helpful to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Prior to the Trump surge, Jeb Bush was being compared to his brother former-President George W. Bush, and he wasn’t managing that comparison well. He was hiring W.’s discredited neocon military and foreign policy advisers, and stating that he still supports the disastrous invasion of Iraq, even knowing what we know now about Iraq’s relative lack of threat to our national security. In other words, prior to the Trump surge, the myth of Jeb being “the smart Bush” and “the different kind of Bush” was being exposed. Jeb Bush desperately needed a change of subject.
He got it. In the dog days of summer, we are no longer hearing about Jeb, the Bush family’s newest Bumbler-in-Chief. Now that Mr. Trump is emerging as a viable challenger, we are now talking about “Jeb the moderate.“ For Jeb, this is progress.
Substantively, of course, Jeb is no moderate. Consider:
- He has called himself the most pro-life Governor in modern times.
- He signed the “stand your ground” pro-vigilante gun law.
- He reduced the size of an already underfunded southern state government.
- He cut taxes on the wealthy.
- He ended affirmative action by executive order.
This is hardly a Republican “moderate” in the tradition of other Republican Presidents, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who was pro-union and anti-corporate monopoly, Dwight Eisenhower, who spent heavily on government-funded infrastructure and warned us about the military-industrial complex, or Richard Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency and worked with Teddy Kennedy on a more generous version of Obamacare. Those are Republican moderates, not Jeb Bush.
By the way, I’m not alone in this conclusion. This is what other observers told the Washington Post about how Jeb governed:
When Bush left office, “he was widely, unanimously, unambiguously regarded as the most conservative governor in the United States,” according to Steve Schmidt, who was Sen. John McCain’s senior campaign adviser in the 2008 presidential race. Darryl Paulson, a professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida, said, “He governed as a conservative, and everyone in the Florida Republican Party considered him a conservative.” Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell stated it more bluntly: “a union-busting, school-voucher-promoting, tax-cutting, gun-loving, Terri Schiavo-interfering, hard-core conservative.”
Still, sitting alongside the boorish billionaire bigot Trump, Jeb is now being labeled a “moderate.” Everything is relative.
In a Republican primary, it’s difficult to tell how this moderate label will impact Bush Part 3. On the one hand, many hard core conservative primary voters think “moderate” is a synonym for “sell-out,” and it will undoubtedly hurt Jeb with many of them. At the same time, those ultra-conservative voters are essentially being split 19 ways, with 19 stanuchly conservative candidates on the presidential ballot. This may leave room for Jeb to win a plurality of primary voters by piecing together a coalition of 1) genuine moderates, 2) conservative voters attracted to a candidate skilled at masquerading as a moderate in order to be successful in a general election, and 3) lightly informed voters inclined to impulse buy the name brand.
However it plays out, “Jeb the Moderate” stands a better chance of winning a general election than “Jeb the Bumbling Defender of W.” or “Jeb The Conservative Extremist Governor.” For that reason, Jeb ought to be sending Trump a giant bouquet of roses, for making him look reasonable in comparison.
The next time you hear someone blither on about how “both sides” are equally to blame for how colossally [bleeped] up government is, or how the “extremists on each side” have driven them to distraction with their hysterical gibberish, remember this moment in time, and remind them. The “fringes” of each wing, right and left, are currently in full display and it couldn’t be easier to judge the nature of wing-nut “extremism”, if making a reasoned judgment were actually ever the point.
Out there on the left fringe/extreme is Bernie Sanders, a sitting U.S. Senator chronically PO’d at the way his party and the political system in general is forever grabbing its ankles for any big money influence that knocks on their door. To listen to the nuance-free argument of the “both sides do it” crowd, most of whom give off the odor of dime deep apologizing for the status quo, Sanders is a dangerous if not senile radical, barely more coherent than the rumpled drunk railing at a parking meter. Again, that gives them credit for ever once listening to what Sanders is saying, which I sincerely doubt they’ve ever done.
Nonetheless, Sanders is the current face of the “left wing extremist”, replacing people like Michael Moore and, oh I don’t know, Bill Maher or anyone who writes for The Daily Kos.
Meanwhile … 180 degrees to the right, among a dense herd of loudly-braying like-thinkers, we have … Donald Trump, currently nudging up in the polls of likely Republican voters with his “really classy” rants about drug-dealing, raping Mexicans, Obama’s birth certificate, his torrent of law suits and absolutely anything else that will earn him free TV time.
Candidates like Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are just as silly, and Scott Walker is far more sinister, but Trump is the guy of the moment telling the modern conservative base exactly what it wants to hear. He’s the guy with mojo in the polls, to the point that his comrades-in-candidacy are attacking him, and (I sincerely believe) putting pressure on Republican National Chairman Reince Preibus to call Trump and tell him to “tone it down” … and then go on national TV and tell political junkies that he … told Trump to tone it down. (Sort of like The Doomsday Machine in “Dr. Strangelove”, you defeat the purpose of such a call if you keep it a secret.)
As far as I know, no Democratic leader has as yet called Bernie Sanders. Mainly because Bernie, as “extremist lefties” are wont to do, has not made genuinely screw-loose, racially-offensive charges against anyone, much less an ethnic group composing 15% of the population. Nor has old, frazzled-looking Bernie made a habit of absurdist fantasies about birth certificates or hired dozens of chumps off the street to wear campaign t-shirts and shriek his name as he glided down a gilded escalator. (I could get into hairstyles, but in fairness to Bernie I’m guessing he spends a lot less time getting his bouffe looking camera-ready.)
Now, I’m not saying either gentleman has even a remote chance of winning their party’s nomination. Trump is playing this summer’s version of The Loudest Fool, because every available metric tells conservative candidates that they can not sound too unhinged, hysterical or racist if they want to fire the imaginations of the GOP’s almost exclusively white, exurban-to-rural base. But as the real Big Lebowski tells The Dude, in the end, “The bums will always lose.” And Trump most certainly will, leaving the field to Jeb or, don’t think about this before you go to sleep, Scott Walker.
The (very obvious) point here is simply that the left extreme’s avatar, Bernie Sanders, is by the starkest of contrasts, making entirely reasonable complaints about the way we govern ourselves, if anyone can say “govern” without laughing. What is “appealing” to the “extreme left” bears no resemblance to that which excites the “extreme right”. Your classic lefty may be smug, sanctimonious and a simmering pot of righteous contention. But he/she isn’t willfully ignorant.
Personally, I don’t know where exactly I disagree with Sanders. (The exception would be leaving gun control to the states. A set of federal regulations is the only way to apply even a modest level of sanity.) His criticisms of the system and the Clinton’s coziness with the most cancerous elements of the system are entirely well-founded and fair. The crowds he’s drawing and his rise in the polls are a reflection of the large (but not large enough) appetite among liberals for, at the very least, a vigorous discussion — with Hillary Clinton — over what exactly she would do to re-align the distribution of wealth in this country and how, exactly, she would clamp down on our pay-to-play political game.
Bland, conventional thinkers, whose first order of business is truckling to customers pretty much like themselves, are simply too lazy to make qualitative assessments of “fringe” characters like Sanders and Trump. They certainly aren’t going to explore Trump’s appeal, beyond “telling it like it is”.
Characterization is so much easier. Even better: Counter-balancing characterization.
Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, among many others, have made the case that our contemporary politics are “vehemently adversarial.” That’s not exactly breaking news, but their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” does a particularly good job of documenting the phenomenon. Even more than at most points in history, our leaders are clinging to their partisan corners, and rhetorically portraying Americans in cartoonish hero versus villain terms.
A lot of attention is given to the corrosive effects of partisans’ villainizing. But in its way, the partisans’ hero worship is just as harmful. Polarizing partisans have effectively created groups of Untouchables, constituency groups that are so celebrated by one or both of the major political parties that leaders fail to responsibly oversee and regulate them.
Both major parties have their Untouchables. With Democrats, government workers, teachers, and union workers are among the Untouchable groups often described like infallible heroes. Meanwhile, Republicans place business people, military brass, and religious leaders on unreasonably high pedestals. Both parties compete to see who can slather the most flattery and government benefits on bipartisan Untouchables, such as soldiers, health care providers, and seniors.
As a case study, consider how the left often treats teachers. Listening to Democrats talk about teachers, you would think that every last one of them is a cross between saintly Miss Beadle from the television series Little House on the Prairie series and life-changing John Keating from the film Dead Poet’s Society. Anyone who has spent time in the public school system understands that the reality is more complicated. Teacher quality ranges the full gamut from excellent to poor, as is the case with every profession on the planet.
So what’s the harm with a little too much constituency group rah-rah? Can’t the world benefit from more positivity? The problem is, this over-the-top hero worship leads to bad policy, where everyone in the worshiped group is treated as if they are all equally noble and skilled.
They aren’t. While teaching is a very noble profession, poor teachers obviously exist. Being a poor teacher doesn’t equate with being a bad person – I’m not a bad guy, but I would be a horrible teacher – but bad teachers are harmful to children. Ineffective teachers, even well-meaning ones, can do a lot of damage to students when they are allowed free reign to teach ineffectively. The education reform group Students First explains:
Unfortunately, the reality is that many current policies treat all teachers as if they are interchangeable. These policies often cause highly effective teachers to be paid less than their least effective colleagues. And they fail to protect the best teachers—the ones who are most positively impacting student achievement—from layoffs. As a result, most districts have low retention rates and retain their best and worst teachers at similar rates.
Despite this, many Democrats universally treat even poor performing teachers like Untouchables. For instance, this year Minnesota again failed to enact a law that would allow teacher performance to be one of the factors considered in teacher retention decisions. During this debate, anyone who dared to say that teachers should be judged on performance – as happens in almost all other professions — were called names by liberals. “Anti-teacher!” “School-basher!” “Right wing extremist!” (By the way, about two-thirds of Minnesotans currently fall into this category.)
Untouchable Business People
Republicans also have many Untouchables that they fail to regulate responsibly. Listening to the right talk about business people, or ”job creators” as their PR gurus coach them to say, you would think that all business people will automatically turn any type of tax break into great-paying jobs. You would think that every last one of them is some combination of the job-creating genius Henry Ford and the Main Street humanitarian George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life.
Obviously, the reality is that some businesspeople do use tax breaks to invest in ventures that create good jobs, while others will use their tax savings to amass personal wealth, expand their operations in other countries, make poor investment decisions, or invest in purchasing a plutocracy that will deliver still more tax loopholes to them.
Yet anyone who objects to giving more tax breaks to business people is labeled by Republicans as “anti-jobs,” “anti-business” or “socialist.”
The world is just not that black and white. No group of Americans is 100% virtuous, or 100% worthless, and public policies have to recognize that.
While it may be unpopular to say in the partisan cheering sections, the truth is that some health care providers are unethical, greedy and/or insufficiently skilled, and need to be regulated. Some government workers are incompetent, unqualfied, and/or lazy, and allowing them to continue offering sub-par job performance hurts taxpayers and vulnerable citizens they are supposed to be serving. Some seniors are wealthy enough that they don’t need to be lavished with government benefits at the expense of more vulnerable Americans. Some military leaders are too trigger happy or myopic, and therefore need to have their arguments carefully scrutinized or rejected.
When partisans blindly apotheosize political Untouchables, important oversight and regulation goes undone. Untouchable constituencies lead to unaccountable policies. A leader fighting for accountability among Untouchables shouldn’t be shouted down with simplistic name-calling. They are merely doing their job as responsible public managers, regulators and legislators.
As President Obama was preparing to give yet another eulogy for a mass murder by one of his constituents word was coming in of ISIS maniacs chopping the head off a man in France and slaughtering dozens of people on a beach in Tunisia. I’ll let you guess which of the two killing sprees will be universally described as “terrorism” and which has not.
Oh sure, since the Charleston church slaughter, there has been the usual attempts by the usual people to attach the “T” word, with all its emotional weight, to this latest incident of psychopathic gun play. But it hasn’t stuck, and it won’t the next time a white male American maniac — who may or may not have been given a high-caliber revolver and a few 40-bullet clips of ammo by his father for his 21st birthday (a rite of passage into American manhood) — exercises his Second Amendment rights in a grade school, a church, a movie theater or (wait for it) a football stadium.
Americans are now so inured to these mass shootings they have all but completely lost the ability to shock or upset us. Despite the vastly more likely possibility that we will be gunned down by some pathetic nitwit armed with a small arsenal he bought off the internet or out of some guy’s trunk in a WalMart parking lot, the freakout fear factor about “terrorism” simply doesn’t register. Who among us even thinks about it as we buy a ticket to “Jurassic World” or settle in for a show biz sermon at some mega church? The answer is: Practically no one.
Terrorism of the kind that makes us demand elected leaders “do something about this, now” applies only to dark-skinned foreigners. Scrawny white creeps spraying innocent folks with bullets are merely, “disturbed individuals” who skipped their meds. So instead of freaking out over how people like that can buy assault rifles and all the ammo they want, the conversation, abetted by a media terrified of upsetting conservative gun fetishists, turns instead to … the Confederate flag. A symbol rather than a lethal reality.
Contrast the impassive response to our bi-weekly mass murders to the number of people you know or hear about who devote time every day digesting and imagining the horrors of ISIS jihadis running amok in Times Square or the Mall of America.
Point being, one could be described as a rational fear. 300-plus million guns, no end of mentally disturbed time bombs lurking in every city and suburb and no real restraints on their ability to arm themselves any time the urge compels them vs. organized fanatics on the other side of the planet.
Of course, when, not if, some “ISIS inspired” nut job actually does kill someone here, the ensuing media meltdown — think of CNN and FoxNews with their hair on fire — will insure that everyone connected to a TV set is scared witless by the return of terrorism to our shores. At that point, more billions will be spent and more Constitutional freedoms gladly shucked away to prevent anything of the sort from happening again.
Meanwhile, while we wait for the first beheading in Disneyland or some other strategically chosen symbol of American infidel-ism (I’d skip Las Vegas, personally), we will calmly observe, with appropriate head-shaking and mutterings of practiced dismay, the regular and routine slaughter of our fellow innocents by characters who look pretty much like us.
Some of the stunted response to this self-inflicted terror comes out of sheer resignation. Gun control forces have accepted that given Republican and blue dog Democrat control of Congress and their fealty to the NRA, no good will ever come of pushing for tougher legislation. Post-Sandy Hook, red states generally loosened gun restrictions while blue states enacted only marginal new controls. Congress, as usual, was an embarrassment.
As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Government is the problem.”
Until someone or some influential entity figures out a way to castrate the NRA, to the point where the quivering fence-sitters dare to vote against gun nut interests and survive their next election, nothing will change.
All in all it’s a case of how we’d be better off if we really were “terrorized”.
Vikings PR people like to tell Minnesotans that the team’s owner, billionaire Zygi Wilf, is paying about 60 percent of the ever-growing $1.2 billion stadium cost. The truth, as Star Tribune/1500ESPN columnist Patrick Reusse pointed out back in May 2012, is that something like $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by people other than the Wilfs. For instance, season ticket holders will be making exorbitant seat license payments to the Wilfs, the National Football League will be paying a subsidized “loan” to the Wilfs, and U.S. Bank will be making naming rights payments to the Wilfs. All of this will offset the Wilf’s stadium costs by about $450 million.
Taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Wilf looks to be shelling out more in the neighborhood of $250 million of his own money, or 21% of the cost of the $1.2 billion total, not the 60 percent the Vikings claim. It’s difficult for an outsider to come up with precise numbers, but that seems like a pretty fair, pardon the pun, ballpark estimate.
Meanwhile, state and local taxpayers are paying about half a billion dollars for the Vikings’ stadium, or about 40 percent percent of the stadium cost. In other words, taxpayers are paying significantly more than the billionaire owner.
Despite being the majority investor, taxpayers have no say in the name of the stadium, and will be getting 0 percent of the estimated $10 million per year of corporate naming rights payments that U.S. Bank will be paying over the next two decades. The billionaire Wilfs will be getting 100 percent of the $220 million in naming rights payments.
It’s bad enough that U.S. Bank looks to be getting more corporate visibility than Chairman Mao demanded for himself at Tiananmen Square. To add insult to aesthetic injury, taxpayers aren’t getting a single penny for putting up with U.S. Bank’s excessive corporate graffiti.
And so ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Bank Stadium, formerly billed to skeptical taxpayers as the “people’s stadium.” State leaders should be doing some retrospective soul-searching about how they got so thoroughly fleeced by the Wilfs on this deal.