Predictions for the Age of The Donald

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Now that my blood pressure has settled back into the “Only Occasionally Fatal” zone I’m prepared to make several predictions about the coming Age of Donald.

To begin with matters of least concern to you and me and build up to the really scary stuff … .

The Inauguration Have you stopped to imagine what a cheesy freak show this is going to be? A highlight from last week was a Trump-o-naut breaking the news to the world and Elton John that Sir Elton would be performing at the Donald’s coronation ceremonies. It took Mr. John about three nano-seconds to fire back something to the effect of, “Like [bleep] I am!” Point being, who will lend their name, reputation and career for the “honor” of celebrating the election of a cartoonish sleazeball like Trump? Complain all you want about smug, intolerant Hollywood/show biz liberals, taking a gig crooning and high-kicking for Trump will be, during the inauguration and throughout the Trump regency, the equivalent of the French collaborators in occupied Paris. Go ahead if you must, but expect to be shunned and stigmatized wherever you go thereafter. Look instead for a patriotic medley from Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd MC’d by Pat Sajak and Scott Baio. Totally super classy. If he wants to feel the adoration of the (minority of the) people who elected him he’d be better-advised to stage his swearing in at an airplane hangar in Hays, Kansas.

Protests  I don’t know about that Million Woman March the day after, but the Day Of will be … unprecedented. Serious, traditional news organizations observed the usual niceties during George W*’s installation in 2001, cutting away from and not endlessly replaying tape loops of protestors hurling garbage at Bush’s limo as it rolled up to the Capitol. But having dragged standards for common decency and campaigning down the toilet and clogged the sewer, Trump will not be extended similar courtesies. Why? Because he doesn’t deserve it. Security will be drum tight, but with opposition to Trump already red-lining the meters there will be no end of displays of disgust, some funnier and more shaming than others.

Forget New York … and Los Angeles … and San Francisco … and London … .  Ever since he got that no interest loan from daddy and bootstrapped his way into New York society Trump has sought the approval and adulation of culture leaders — celebrities, philanthropists, big thinkers and doers, anyone with the kind of cred that gets them on the A-list for the annual Met Gala. He never has. He’s always been too transparently cheap, too much of an obvious grifter with too little contribution to culture to be accepted by “that crowd.” And now it’ll get worse. It will a matter of pride and integrity for “finer society” everywhere to shun everything Trump, a position made easier to do by Trump’s overt appeal to racism and what will certainly be weekly outrages against accepted decency. Think no further than Anna Wintour, fashion empress and editor of Vogue. How much do you think she and the culture she presides over will have to do with either Trump or Melania? I say little to nothing. The Trump “brand” where once cheesy is now toxic, as huckerstering little Ivanka will soon find out.

Bigger than LBJ and Nixon.  The existence of the draft largely explained the millions who poured out on to the streets during the hottest pitch of the Vietnam War, vilifying Lyndon Johnson and Tricky Dick. In reaction, America’s warrior class smartened up and switched to an all-volunteer Army, which led to W* and Cheney sending National Guard recruits through multiple deployments to Iraq. But Johnson and even Nixon arrived in office with at least a semblance of experience thinking about and seriously judging world issues. Trump arrives with nothing of the sort, other than slapping his name on hotels someone else is building. Has the guy even read a history of WWII or Vietnam? Moreover again, based entirely on how he has conducted his adult life and how he campaigned he arrives in office one “Day One” as every bit the shameless ogre and far more the self-serving fraud Lyndon and Dick ever were.

Gutless liberals.  It is accepted wisdom among the crowd that inhales Breitbart and fake Facebook news like meth fumes that liberals have no fight in them. I generally like to avoid making monolithic references to any sub-group, but the people revolted by Trump were a majority of voters in the recent election and remain well-armed with facts, organization and the platforms to stage constant resistance to every calamitous, authoritarian move he tries to make, which as I say, will continue with appalling regularity. Congress may (or may not) have Trump’s back, depending on how well he toes the GOP party line. But off Capitol Hill a lot of very smart, very well-funded people will see blunting Trump as a patriotic duty. The sort of thing that gilds their legacy. If the Left Behind/Didn’t Keep Up rubes or the Clod Culture crowd who see this stuff as lunkheaded team sport think their boy is safe from paralyzing criticism and skullduggery, they should prepare themselves for (another) slap of reality. You want a culture war? You’re going to get it.

The Gutless Press. Having taken the tradition-breaking step of calling Trump a liar throughout the last phases of the campaign, media standard-setters like The New York Times and The Washington Post have been given no good reason to step back and call him anything different as President-elect. Trump’s honeymoon with the serious end of media/journalism will never happen. Judging from New Yorker editor David Remnick’s reporting on the TV celebs who scuttled over to Trump Tower to be dressed down for dishonesty and lying … by Donald [bleepin’] Trump! … fingers are already twitching at the trigger for anything. The commercialized crowd, the Gayle Kings, Matt Lauers, Joe Scarboroughs and most of the lower tiers of the country’s newspapers will begin with a facade of dutiful respect. But that facade is about as thick and durable as the gold spray paint on a Trump penthouse. When … not if … he finds himself mired in an epic scandal he better have Sean Hannity under lifetime contract. Moreover, it’s not hard to foresee a co-mingling of interests and resources between the aforementioned well-heeled liberals and press franchises eager to make history by forcing Trump’s finances and conflicts of interest into the light of day. Can you say “bounty” for whatever hacker, whistleblower or disgruntled former employee hands over Trump’s taxes? As for all the other inevitable scandals, it’s a target rich environment kids. Kind of like Jed Clampett out huntin’. The stuff is so close to the surface all you have to do is take a shot at a squirrel and something will bubble up.

Finally, The Terrorists.  Death and horror are only two facets of every global-thinking terrorist’s strategy. As Osama bin Laden said, the primary goal is to get western powers, the U.S. in particular, to overreact and inflame the situation beyond all control, which is precisely the bait W* and Dick Cheney took by blundering into Iraq. But with Trump’s name on buildings all over the world, imagine, if you dare, his response to simultaneous attacks on Trump hotels in separate Arab countries? Even one attack would negate the power and profitability of his brand. Two would be … what? And who will stop him from doing what in response, to prove to the Left Behinds/Didn’t Keep Ups and the Clod Culture sportsmen that he is a whole lot tougher cat than your average over-thinking liberal?

Enjoy your day.

 

 

 

 

 

How Democrats Lost to the Worst GOP Presidential Candidate of Our Times

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a couple million votes, a larger margin than Presidents Nixon and Kennedy had. She only lost the electoral college by roughly 100,000 votes (0.08 percent of the electorate) in three states. In a race that close, there is a long list of things that might have shifted the outcome of the presidential race.

I am sure that the Clinton campaign’s get out the vote (GOTV), data mining, advertising, debate zingers, primary election peace-making, voter suppression battling and many other things could have been better.  Who knows, those improvements might have swung that relatively small number of votes. But if I had to name the top three things that swung the election, I wouldn’t name any of those more tactical issues.  Instead, these are my nominees:

WORST POSSIBLE NOMINEE PROFILE FOR OUR ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TIMES.  I admire Hillary Clinton on many levels, and think she has been treated very unfairly in this campaign and throughout her career.  But early on in the nomination cycle, it was extremely clear that general election voters were in a white hot anti-Washington establishment mood, and were looking for someone very different than a Hillary Clinton-type candidate.

Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Washington establishment candidate. Her resume, network, husband and demeanor absolutely screamed “Washington Insider.”   Democrats could have run a less establishmenty candidate that was more sane than Trump –Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, others — but they chose to run a candidate who had the worst possible profile for the times.

This created two huge problems 1) It caused Hillary to lose change-oriented voters who supported change-oriented Obama in the past and 2) It caused much of the Obama coalition to sit out the race, or effectively throw their vote away by supporting a third party candidate.

President-elect Trump won a somewhat smaller vote total than Republicans have been winning in their past two presidential losses.  Despite all of the post-election hype about the Trump political magic show, he didn’t perform that well, historically speaking.   The difference wasn’t that Trump created a tsunami of support, it was that the cautious establishment-oriented Democratic candidate was unable to generate sufficient excitement among the Obama coalitions of 2008 and 2012, particularly millennials and people of color.  This chart tells the story.

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COMPLETE LACK OF ECONOMIC MESSAGE. In May, I made this argument:

The Clinton campaign needs to stick to a small number of lines of attack, even as the Trump vaudeville act continually tosses out new bait to lead the Clinton campaign down dozens of different messaging paths.  Trump is clearly incapable of message discipline, but Clinton can’t allow his lack of discipline to destroy hers.

Swing voters are disgusted by establishment figures like Hillary and Congress, because they see them as part of a corrupt Washington culture that has rigged the economy for the wealthy few to the exclusion of the non-wealthy many.  That is the central concern of many Trumpeters and Bern Feelers, and so that issue is the most important messaging ground for Clinton.

Therefore, Secretary Clinton should align a disciplined campaign messaging machine – ads, speech soundbites, policy announcements, surrogate messaging, etc. — around framing Mr. Trump as: Trump the self-serving economy rigger.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2012.  There is message equity there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Second, it goes to the core of what is bugging swing voters the most in 2016.

Needless to say, this never happened. The Clinton campaign reacted to pretty much everything that Trump did, and never stressed anything close to a bold agenda for addressing income inequality.  She also failed to offer much of a critique of a Trump economic agenda that would badly aggravate income inequality for Trump’s base of voters.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the economic populist message and agenda that an unlikely candidate like Bernie Sanders used to light up the political world earlier in the election cycle was almost entirely ignored by Team Clinton.  As a result, 59% of Americans are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve under President-elect Trump.  Given the truth about the devastation that will be caused by Trump policies, shame on Clinton for allowing that level of public delusion to develop.

CANDIDATE WITH WAY TOO MUCH BAGGAGE. The “controversies” swirling around Secretary Clinton were less a product of corruption than they were a product of three decades of relentless witch-hunting by conservatives in the Congress and at Fox TV, and gutless false equivalency reporting from the mainstream media. The FBI Director’s shameless manipulation of the email investigation and the New York Times’ ridiculous inflation of the email issue was especially damaging to Clinton.

But as unfair and maddening as most of the Hillary criticism was, Democrats knew full well that it was coming.  They knew Clinton had three decades worth of earned and unearned skeletons in her family closet, but arrogantly chose her anyway.

If Democrats hope to win more Presidential elections, the days of always nominating the candidate with the longest political resume must end. In the current environment of non-stop congressional and media investigations, long political resumes now will always come with a long list of real and imagined “scandals.”   Those alleged controversies will, quite unfairly, make veteran insiders increasingly unelectable, because confused, under-informed voters will always tend to conclude “if there is corruption smoke, there must be fire,” as so many did with Clinton.

If Democrats had run a candidate who didn’t have known “scandals” looming, and who had a background, demeanor, agenda and message that gave voters confidence that they were willing and able to do something about an economy rigged in favor of the 1%, Democrats wouldn’t have needed to look for a stray 100,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They could have won in an electoral college landslide over the worst Republican presidential candidate of our times.

My “Deplorable” Buddies

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote pushing on towards two million I had to get away to northern Wisconsin over the weekend, the land of the Deplorables.

Post-election sniping at who to blame for Trump has left a field of corpses from Portland (ME) to Portland (OR). Let’s see if I can list them all:

Women: 54% of voting white women went with the thrice-married, gleeful pussy-grabber who has bragged in public about strolling, “Benny Hill”-style, into the dressing rooms of naked women and adolescent girls. I get that gals like the bad boys … they’re rarely dull … but really ladies, can we talk?

Bernie zealots: In several key swing states that Clinton lost, votes for Gary Johnson and/or Jill Stein more than covered the margin to flip the electoral college. In Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Stein’s percentage alone blended with less than 20% of Johnson’s would have done the trick. So enjoy your righteousness, folks. History (Nader) has repeated itself.

Latinos: Clinton pulled in 6% less of the Latino vote than Obama did in 2012, never mind The Donald threatening to send all or most of them back to Mexico, even if they were born here. But that’s no reason why the rest of us can’t enjoy our next chimichanga and Modelo.

Hillary the Terrible Candidate:  No, she can’t speechify like Bubba and Barack, and she is so … so … compulsively wonky. All those statistics! All those programs! All that snoozy detail … that was completely ignored by TV’s liberal media during the campaign. Yeah, maybe the newspapers were a little better, but every one of them endorsed her, so how credible are they?

Facebook: Since reading newspapers, or anything longer than 150 words without a picture cat picture is no fun, all those “breaking news” posts from whacked-out Uncle Gene down in his Sun City trailer court made a bigger impression on busy voters than the New York Times. Mark Zuckerberg says that’s ridiculous. But even this morning Uncle Gene is saying Zuckerberg and Hillary are members of the same “Eyes Wide Shut” sex and satan-worshipping cabal, so who are you going to believe?

Liberal “bubble-dwellers” with no pity for the “left behinds”.  Now we’re getting to the meat of it.

By every demographic measurement, other than vast wealth, I’m your classic liberal elitist. I’m here to confess. I read novels that don’t have serial killers … and The New York Times (on-line). Ditto: The Atlantic (subscription), Esquire (love me that Charlie Pierce!), Kevin Drum, Wired, Talking Points Memo, Slate, Vox, yadda yadda. I live in an inner-ring suburb in a large metropolitan area. We own two (foreign) cars. (I like the new Mustang. But I don’t see that thing lasting the six-seven years I keep these things.) I watch a lot of “weird” foreign movies. Did you see “Embrace of the Serpent”? Or that Russian thing, “Leviathan”? Fabulous! I also think Rachel Maddow is … a lot … smarter than anyone on FoxNews. So, yeah… guilty as charged.

But … what I plead innocent to is avoiding any exposure to or contact with the pissed-off white males who came out in very big numbers for The Donald. A lot of non-college educated whites actually fired up their Dodge Rams, went out and voted this year, 67% for the (alleged) billionaire pussy-grabber who wasn’t named Hillary and they think is a lot like them.

Next confession: I like to hang with these people, most of them guys. It’s not like I’m there for every meat raffle. But I’m kind of a regular at the Wisconsin bar a mile from our cabin. I sure as hell know the regulars. Moreover, one of my personal pleasures is road-tripping. Jump in the vehicle and hit the backroads of the good old USA. (If you’re reading this on my whacked-out Facebook page you can dial up photo shows of “Bad Bars of the Mojave”, “Bad Bars of the Great Basin” and soon, “Bad Bars of Montana”.)

 

 

 

Part of it’s anthropological, but part of it is like comfort food. I grew up with people like you meet in road house bars. Their language and humor is entirely familiar. Plopping down on a stool in some joint 200 miles out on U.S. 50 in Nevada and chatting up a bunch of guys in from a morning of elk hunting is a lot like back home in Montevideo, (aka The Garden Paradise of Western Minnesota.)

Contrary to what some might think, my first impulse isn’t to hit these guys with, “Why are you people such a bunch of stupid, racist [bleeps]?”

The better approach, in my experience, is always old-fashion curiosity. Everyone comes with a story. What’s theirs? As a wise man (i.e. me) likes to say, “I never learned anything listening to myself talk.” So, you ask a couple semi-flattering questions then shut up and listen. “You got 10-ply tires on your truck?” “Is the road over the pass open?”

Generally speaking, they size you up pretty fast. “Not from here.” “But not an a-hole … as far as we can tell, so far.” Soon thereafter, as they talk, you get the feel of The Other Bubble.

 

 

 

My years-long, anecdotal but first-person survey says a couple things for sure. These aren’t the drooling, opioid-addicted KKK-loving crackers too many liberals imagine. They may drink too much, but for the most part they are holding down jobs. But the work they do is rarely anything all that skilled. They drive things. Trucks. Construction equipment. Delivery vans. Not a lot of math and computer stuff. And they have a tribal discomfort with everyone different, not just blacks and Muslims, people who they almost never have anything to do with one-on-one. Blacks come in three varieties: Sidekicks on TV shows, athletes and criminals on the evening news. Muslims? Forget it.

The tone of the conversations shift with any topic that suggests comparison or competition. They are guys after all. Which means “Who’s dominant here” is a meter constantly scanning in the background. But hell, if “the dominance game” is your thing, get ten journalists or corporate middle-managers together and watch the overt weinie-measuring that goes on.

Human nature: We’re this much above a pack of gorillas.

The idea being sold this past week is that Hillary lost because liberals failed to understand AND fully, totally commiserate with guys like my road house bar compadres, the so-called “left behind”, the victims of globalization and technology. As though if only liberals would react sympathetically to self-pity everything would be great again.

What’s ironic is what’s missing from this theory. Namely, the old-style Republican tough love of “personal responsibility”. That was a big deal in Montevideo.

Yeah, “my guys” have been left behind … mainly because “they didn’t keep up”. For whatever the reasons, because this is where they were born, because dad drove a fork lift, because they can’t stand city traffic, because they never got a tutor for algebra, because they’d rather spend their free time hunting and snow-mobiling with their pals than getting more job training, because the only news they regularly see is the local affiliate’s headlines, weather and sports, with a few minutes of Bill O’Reilly for a nightcap, they are falling further behind the elite of the pack. And they know it.

When their tribal thing starts in on the bill of resentments, as it very often does — every politician is a crook and liar and the Clintons and that crowd are the worst of the bunch — I constantly wonder how much happier these guys would be if they turned off the damned TV and radio and just enjoyed their life on their terms? Most made a choice not to become white collar drones. They like ranching, farming, construction, living away from the city and feeling like … men. But who told them they were going to get rich doing that? And who’s telling them now they’re being cheated out of something they’re entitled to, even though they never wanted it badly enough to radically change the way they live their lives?

These guys aren’t drooling racists. But they are creatures of their own self-restricting bubble, and the predicament they find themselves in, which has an upside if they’d stop comparing themselves to “elites”, is mainly because of choices they themselves did or didn’t make. But they are not comfortable with people different from themselves, so in effect their racial fears work out the same. Most also have thing about male dominance. Not a lot of gal bosses on the job site. Home is one of the few places where they still give the orders. But by all indications the ladies around them put up with it, because the guy pool is a little thin. And they don’t work real hard at figuring out what’s real and what isn’t.

Point being, I never doubted there were enough of these people to swing an election. The question always was whether they were motivated enough to drive over and vote? Turns out they were.

Last year a remarkably far-sighted gentleman, a seer really, forseeing a possible Trump victory wrote this:

” … to prissy, wine-sipping elites like me his standard comeback of, “Who cares what you say? You’re a loser” seems beneath the dignity of a President of the United States. But I’m not the crowd that could put Trump up on the south steps of the Capitol Jan. 20, 2017.

“Trump’s game, and so far he’s succeeding at it, is to rally millions of your and my fellow ‘Muricans who haven’t voted in probably 25 years, and even then Ross Perot didn’t have anything like Trump’s pop personality appeal. The psycho/sociological specs on this large herd of regularly untapped voters are pretty well known. They’re not ideological. They’re not particularly religious. They’re certainly not evangelical unicorn people. But they are pissed off. Chronically, and pretty much about everything, certainly everything that reminds them that for one reason or another they’ll never be “great again”, never mind that they never were.

“These people, fueled by a vast methane-like sea of resentments, are indisputably ill-informed. But so what? Their vote counts as much as yours and mine. … the great revolutionary dynamic becomes this: Does that same crowd — chronically angry and ill-informed — feel a mojo they’ve never before felt in their lifetimes, a pleasurable tingling sensation that says, ‘My time has finally come’?

A time to pull the damn rug out from all the self-serving, prevaricating, ‘smartest kids in the class’ who have deprived them of their, well, self-respect to put a fancy phrase on it, and install someone totally different? Someone who sees, or at least describes a world exactly as they see it, full of thieves and killers, and with whom they feel entirely comfortable, in part because he’s already so familiar to them by virtue of having been on TV most of their adult lives?

The choice then is Trump, as the official Doomsayer Party nominee, still taunting, confident and funny or Hillary Clinton, yet another one of ‘them’ … .”

Oh wait, that prophet was me.

So, you’re welcome.

I’ll have another Keystone Light, and with luck I’ll make Tonopah by sunset.

 

 

 

Five Reasons Minnesota Voters Should Legalize Marijuana in 2018

This week, citizens in Massachusetts, California and Nevada voted to join Colorado and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Minnesota should be next.

Minnesota doesn’t allow citizen-initiated ballot measures, but the 2017 Legislature could put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the ballot, so Minnesota voters could decide in November 2018 whether to legalize marijuana. Here’s why they should:

cursor_and_cannabis_facts_for_canadians__essential_information_for_an_informed_debate_about_cannabis_policyLEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE SENSIBLE. Currently, Minnesota law assumes that marijuana is far more damaging than alcohol.  A mountain of research says otherwise.

Marijuana does create societal problems, such as risk of addiction and impaired driving. But research finds that the risks associated with marijuana pale compared to the risks our society very willingly accepts with legal alcohol products.

For instance, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that 37,000 people per year die of alcohol abuse, none die from marijuana use. None.  Research also shows that marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol, and that the alcohol-related health costs are eight times higher than marijuana-related health costs.

Given the facts, making alcohol legal and marijuana illegal makes absolutely no sense. Treating those two vices equally under the law will make Minnesota a more sensible and intellectually honest place.

cursor_and_how_does_cannabis_compared_to_other_drugs_-_google_search

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE JUST. Marijuana prohibition has made Minnesota unjust. The New York Times describes the grotesque amount of damage that has been done by making marijuana use a crime and launching a multi-billion law enforcement war against it:

From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.

The public-safety payoff for all this effort is meager at best: According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report that tracked 30,000 New Yorkers with no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession, 90 percent had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent committed a violent offense.

What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U.

Stop! This war on marijuana is destroying more lives than marijuana itself ever could. Legalization will  at long last end the madness.

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL SAVE TAX DOLLARS.  Constantly chasing and punishing marijuana users and sellers has been extremely expensive for taxpayers. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), enforcing marijuana costs more than $3.6 billion per year.  That’s billion with a “b.”  Beyond saving tax dollars, legalized marijuana should be taxed, just as we do with alcohol, and generate revenue to address pressing community needs.

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA
WILL HELP ALLEVIATE SUFFERING
.  Minnesota has a medical cannabis law that authorizes the use of precisely dosed cannabis-based pills and oils.  These medicines are customized for each medical condition to limit or eliminate side-effects, such as the “high” sensation.  For instance, children with seizure disorders are able to use precise doses of a purified formulation of cannabis oil that has no intoxication side effects whatsoever.  Minnesota has a medically responsible law, and a Minnesota Department of Health study finds that about 90% of Minnesota patients are benefiting from these medicines.

But producing these medicines is expensive, and insurance companies don’t cover them. So, too many ailing Minnesota patients simply can’t access the medicines to get relief from their suffering. Accordingly, some of the state revenue derived from legalizing marijuana for recreational use should be dedicated to reducing the cost of the medicines, so suffering Minnesotans could get the help they desperately need.

cursor_and_prohibition_ends_-_google_searchLEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE FREE. Finally, just as ending alcohol prohibition made America a more free nation, ending marijuana prohibition will make Minnesota a more free state. If marijuana was legalized, I probably wouldn’t use it. But if some in the “land of the free” want to use something that is demonstrably safer than legalized alcohol, a free society should allow them to do so.

So, enough with the sophomoric Cheech and Chong jokes.  From a purely good government standpoint, legalized marijuana will make Minnesota a more sensible, just, fiscally sound, humane and free state.  It’s time.

NOTE: In the past I have done PR work with a Minnesota company that produces cannabis-based medicines. The policy questions related to medicinal and recreational cannabis use are very different, but I did want to be transparent about my past work.

And Now the Knife Fight to Take Out Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The harsh fact that Donald Trump will take over the White House presents liberals with an interesting ethical dilemma. Remembering how most of us reacted to Mitch McConnell committing Republicans to one goal in 2008, limiting Barack Obama to a single term, and how we recoiled at Rush Limbaugh crowing to his radio listeners, “I hope he fails”, how do we respond to this … unmitigated disaster?

One facet we should agree to wipe off the table here at the get go is the notion that Trump is illegitimate. Republicans overused that line on Bill Clinton and Trump himself built his campaign on the insinuation that Obama wasn’t even a legitimate citizen. We don’t need to go that far. He won. There were ten million more white males over the age of 45 available to Trump than experts thought after the 2012 election, and 91% of white Republicans stuck with their tribe. He exploited to his advantage every impulse inflamed by Republicans for the last 25 years. He’s their new leader.

For purposes of the coming non-stop battle, the basic reality of who Trump is will serve our needs well enough.

(I am as gobsmacked by what went down last night as everyone else, from Nate Silver to the Clinton campaign. My only defense is this blog post from last year, titled, Why Trump Can Win It All, And I Mean “All”).

But today, post-election, after the crudest, ugliest, most boorish and low-brow campaign of my lifetime, the traditional high-minded, generous impulse to accept defeat with humility and graciousness is wildly inappropriate. Trump is who he is. There’s no point kidding ourselves. At best he’s a self-serving buffoon. At worst he’s a threat to … well, you name it.

While the people who voted for him preferred him, maybe in spite of his misogyny, racism, tax avoidance, man crush on Putin, indifference to facts yadda yadda, you and I were/are disgusted by it. And for very legitimate reasons. But that’s the reality of Trump. He may be hiding a lot of information about how he has done business. But he isn’t hiding the quality of his thought-processes or character. All of which is another way of saying we’re not talking a normal, polite transfer of power to someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain. Traditional courtesies are misplaced.

This is a looming nightmare of dysfunction and, I strongly suspect, non-stop scandal so fraught with social and economic danger there’s simply no way any responsible citizen can doing anything less than object to it constantly and obstruct it at every moment and every turn. That may be hypocritical given the rages we’ve been in over the the Republican/Tea Party gridlocking of government function since 2009, but if turn about is fair play that crowd hardly has any grounds for complaint do they?

One great irony that it is easy to forsee that for all of Trump’s talk about jailing the criminal Hillary Clinton, the leaking, the trading of secrets and the investigative machinery that is about to go to work overtime exposing every detail of his finances, every accusation of sexual misconduct, every conflict of interest with adversarial foreign governments and on and on will be like gargantuan strip mining operation.

The average liberal may be a passive and polite soul, but out on the margins are very well financed individuals and organizations appalled and soon to be fanatically obsessed with not just neutralizing Trump’s authority, (the Republican Congress will obviously block all official investigations), but destroying him as quickly and definitively as possible. Nothing about that is pretty. It’s hardly the sort of behavior we were taught in high school civics classes or admonished to avoid by beard-stroking moralists. But it’s well within the rules of the game as the Republicans have been playing it.

It slid off Obama because there was no criminal or sexually predatory there there. But I doubt there’s an investigative reporter, whistleblower or hacker anywhere on the planet who doubts Trump is every bit the fraud we’ve seen on the campaign trail. Legendary Woodward and Bernstein-like reputations stand to be made based on who comes up with the smoking gun that takes him down.

Trump may have read the mood of “the deplorables” well enough to get elected, but my guess is he has no idea or any defense against the kind of knife fight the elite kids are about to bring down on him.

From “Clinton Cash” to The Comey Letter

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Whatever happens Tuesday — and I’m confident Donald Trump will lose (the election, but not his perch as guru of modern Republicans) — The Comey Letter has entered permanent historical legend. The FBI Director’s decision to drop a hand grenade into presidential politics will be studied and argued over for decades. Did it swing the final vote? Did it drive down turn out? Was it a vital element in swaying down ballot votes to Republicans?

Don’t expect any definitive answers on any of those, ever.

What will be easier to assess is the internal culture of the FBI. Since Comey’s letter was leaked eight days ago we have learned, through actual reporting, not cheap punditry, that the FBI, particularly retired agents associated with the New York field office, have been in rebellion mode for quite some time and that Comey had “concerns” (i.e. we was afraid) they would further undermine his authority by leaking their “evidence” of serious corruption on the part of the Clintons to Republicans. Hence, his decision to alert Congress that the FBI had something more on the great Clinton email scandal … without actually yet having anything or even knowing if there was ever going to be anything.

But here’s my favorite part. That FBI culture. As the story has accumulated detail over the past week (with more certain to come) we see the FBI having essentially the same internal dynamics as the average police force, most of the military and the bedrock of Trump’s support. Namely, it’s an overwhelmingly male universe with a militaristic attitude toward perceived enemies, which is to say, “If they’re not on our side, they’re against us and need to be neutralized.”

From the Politico story linked above: “According to numbers from August, 67 percent of FBI agents are white men. Fewer than 20 percent are women. The number of African-American agents hovers around 4.5 percent, with Asian-Americans about the same and Latinos at about 6.5 percent. If Trump were running for president with an electorate that looked like that, he’d win in a landslide. ‘The bureau does tend to be more conservative than people you see in the general populace. It’s a natural outgrowth of the demographics. … That’s just math,’, said retired agent Emmanuel Johnson, one of several African-American agents who sued the FBI for racial discrimination in the 1990s. ‘What’s troubling is you look at the same population groups they were having trouble [recruiting] 20, 30, 40 years ago and they’re having the same trouble today’.”

Despite being better educated and better trained than your average say Chicago or St. Anthony, Minnesota cop, the picture of the FBI revealed as a result of Comey’s letter is that of yet another group of public employees roiling with the same antipathies and hostilities of a lot of middle-age and older mostly white American males. A subset of the population eager to embrace as fact anything that confirms their righteous, embattled protectors-of-God’s-one-truth view that the only explanation for the expansion of liberal ideas, from Black Lives Matter, to ethnic tolerance to genuine equality for women is … corruption … on the part of the most prominent and successful liberals on the landscape, the Clintons*.

The head-slapper in reporting on the FBI New York field office was the basis of their outrage over the (liberal Obama) Justice Department’s refusal to launch a DefCon Four attack the Clinton Foundation. Multiple sources says it was a book, “Clinton Cash” written by Republican think-tanker/consultant Peter Schweizer. The book comes with a gloss the usual anti-Clinton screeds lack. Schweizer is associated with the Stanford-based Hoover Institute. But he is also associated/funded by the Koch brothers and Steve Bannon, CEO of the truly unhinged Breitbart website and Trump’s current campaign supervisor. The Bannon-produced campanion movie was widely mocked as a howler of overwrought distortion.

Said TIME magazine: “The film carefully curates reality in way to boost anti-Clinton voices. For instance, discussion of Bill Clinton’s role in post-2010 Haiti earthquake completely ignores that George W. Bush also helped raise cash in the wake of the disaster, nor does it acknowledge that one character, the founder of Canadian TD Bank’s sister corporation, TD Ameritrade, also funded Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s super PAC. The film doesn’t mention other reasons why Hillary Clinton may have made particular decisions, leaving the viewer with a narrow understanding. And it blurs the line between Bill and Hillary Clinton’s actions, treating them as essentially the same person.

“Visually and sonorously, the film more closely resembles a Bond film, with pictures of the Clintons and their associates stained with blood-like red ink. At other times, the film suggests that checkbooks are filled with blood money. And the music that plays over grainy images of the Clintons—and mushroom clouds—matches. It won’t win an Oscar for subtlety, but it makes a point.”

This sort of thing is standard politics, something the Clintons are well accustomed to. What’s different is when the FBI starts treating flagrantly partisan hysteria-mongering as though it were actual evidence. (As usual, the “full story” can’t be told until the Clintons are “properly investigated”, never mind the 25 years the same crowd has been investigating — with persistent futility — everything from Arkansas land deals to cattle-futures trading.)

Schweizer’s book got more than average play in the mainstream press, likely due to the enormous lift it was given by right-wing radio, which treated it and hyped it to its audience (of primarily middle-aged-to-elderly white males) as a cross between the Codex Seraphinianus and the Bible.

Again, that’s democracy and free speech. Hysterical insinuation comes with the territory. What’s bad news — really bad news for the credibility of the FBI and the trust the public puts in it — is when people hired and trained to deal with hard evidence, demonstrable, provable facts, shuck all that, revolt against the system they’ve sworn to uphold and force a nervous, insecure boss into breaking standards observed even by a cross-dressing whack job like J. Edgar Hoover.

*Only in 2016’s Breitbart/TReaParty hysteria would the Clintons be considered “liberals”.

 

When The Lie Referees Lie

False equivalence is a form of logical fallacy in which two arguments are made to appear as if they are equally valid, when in fact they aren’t. Here is a prime example of how false equivalence in newspapers inadvertently misleads.

The Star Tribune editorial page carried a guest commentary on October 31, 2016.  It was written by authors associated with the terrific nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning organization Politifact.  So far, so good.

But the Star Tribune headlined the piece: “Politifact:  The 10 whoppers of both leading presidential candidates.”  This piece then lists ten false statements for Hillary Clinton and ten for Donald Trump.  Ten and ten, presumably to appear “balanced.”

While Politifact’s 20 lies are all fair and well-documented cases, the overall impression given by the headline and commentary is that both candidates lie in equal measure.  As someone who has conducted lots of focus groups in my career, I can almost guarantee you that a focus group of undecided voters — the coin of the realm eight days before the election — would overwhelmingly report “both candidates lie at about the same rate” as their central take-away.

The problem is, that’s not true.  Politifact itself has found that the “both candidates lie in equal measure” assertion is a lie. A more complete look at Politifact’s full body of work finds that the two candidates are far from equivalent in their level of veracity.helpful_infographic_for_disputing_those_who_claim_that_donald__the_line_of__make_america_great_again___the_phrase__that_was_mine__trump_is_better_than_the_same_as_clinton_-_imgur

This chart is not updated through the present, so an updated chart is needed.   But the point is, either the Politifact authors or Star Tribune editors should have included a summary of the complete Politifact findings, to put the “ten whoppers” in proper context.  Doing so would give Star Tribune readers what they deserve, a more clear and complete picture of the truth.

False equivalence is itself a type of lie that is muddying our democratic discourse. So what are citizens to do we do when the Lie Referees also, inadvertently, lie? The Star Tribune and Politifact are two organizations that I value and support, but this is not their finest hour.

Hey, Mr. FBI Director. You Damn Well Better Have Something Big.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For the sake of FBI Director Comey’s reputation and career, as well as that of the agency he leads, he better have two things nailed down ASAP.

1: A press conference explaining why, contrary to advice from his superiors he involved the FBI in an election, and 2: He damned well have something indisputably, unequivocally criminal that can be laid on Hillary Clinton. Lacking either, the guy is in for some serious blowback, a taste of which he is already getting.

Here’s the nut of it as far as I’m concerned. We may live in a time when “non-partisan bureaucrat” has no meaning. It may be that everyone in D.C. is playing a game on behalf of one team or the other. But the FBI of all people has to at least pretend it has no dog in the hunt. And the way it pretends it has no dog is by following long-established Bureau policies … policies and standards Comey decided to free-lance away with his letter to congressional committee heads last Friday.

Now, if Comey intends to assert his and the FBI’s non-partisan, neutral standing in election matters he has to explain how he, as a supposedly intelligent, above-the-fray veteran bureaucrat, thoroughly familiar with the folkways and partisan battles of DC could have blundered into one of the hoariest and most partisan memes of the last 25 years. Namely, “The Clintons are hiding something big.” (And let’s not overlook the fact that he pressed the siren of scandal without so much as a warrant — yet — to read this latest e-mail trove, which could be copies of stuff the FBI has already scanned.)

After watching nothingburger after nothingburger consume the Capitol and the country for the last quarter century, while producing, at worst, a case built on lying about sex as the most serious charge any committee or special prosecutor could come up with, only a fool would hang his reputation and that of the FBI out there on the basis of … nothing, yet again. (Oh, and here’s another.) But that appears to be what Comey has done.

If Comey has something this time, OK. I’m all ears. Let’s hear it, and let’s hear it now, dude.

And no, you can’t possibly claim you’re unable to comment because it’s an on-going investigation. YOU brought it up.

And no, other than desperate Trumpists, no serious person, no prosecutor and no judicious jurist is interested in a revisit of the “extremely careless” e-mail protocol. That boat has sailed. Thousands of e-mails and god knows how much taxpayer money later and the worst of E-mailgate Version #1 were passing references to the drone program? The drone program any idiot could read about in USA Today? That’s the national security breach the Rooskies may have exploited for their evil machinations? Good effing christ.

I don’t like, but I have no choice but to accept chuckleheaded Tea Party whack jobs sitting on actual congressional committees. But do we now have tolerate incompetence in the FBI?

Comey has dropped a bombshell of suspicion 11 days before a presidential election. A stink bomb of suspicion exactly like fevered partisans have been throwing at the Clintons since Whitewater, (with age-old nemesis Judicial Watch in on this one again). None of them, not Whitewater, not TravelGate, not TrooperGate and not Benghazi (where all this began) have turned up anything substantive, much less anything of a remotely criminal nature.

What they have generated, precisely as anti-Clinton crackpots and enemies have long strategized, is a constant, regular restoking of the smoky-but-never-burning fire of suspicion, or appearance of serious scandal … the “sense” that something is out there somewhere, somehow … if only the dastardly Clintons would let us keep investigating it, whatever “it” is.

Unless Comey wants his reputation — and that of the FBI — rolled into the same swamp as that of Judicial Watch, Breitbart and that whole frenzied, manifestly undisciplined crowd, he better have something bona fide. Something serious. Something big. Something indictable. And he better have it teed up for TV cameras in the next 48 hours. Otherwise he has demonstrated either stunning naivete, incompetence or the kind of reckless, disqualifying partisanship that should cost him his job.

 

 

Confessions of a Clueless Voter

cursor_and_minnesota_ballot_water_conservation_district_-_google_searchFor all I know, I may have just voted for a creationist to select my kids’ science curricula, or a reckless corporate polluter to set environmental protections in my water conservation district.  But it’s not my fault.

When it comes to the less publicized “down ballot” races, voters need much more information than is currently readily available.  I voted absentee several weeks before election day.  On my presidential vote, I like to think I was supremely informed. But when it came to votes involving the judiciary, school board, and water conservation district, I was embarrassingly uninformed.

Fortunately, voting absentee gives you time to do some research. So, I figured an earnest, computer-savvy fellow like me could be pretty well informed after a dozen or so clicks.

I was shocked about how little information I could find about those backwater candidates. When it came to the more obscure candidates and ballot questions, there hadn’t been any news coverage. This was partially because reporters were waiting to do stories closer to the election — which is increasingly becoming a problem now that large numbers of citizens are voting early —  and partially because newsrooms have shrunk so much in recent eyars that many of these obscure races simply go uncovered.   Surprisingly, the rest of the interwebs was not much better.  I found a little information about the unpublicized candidates, but not nearly enough.

So, I slumped in civic shame, as I guessed on a few and skipped a few.  From conversations with friends, I know I’m not the only clueless voter in the land.  In fact, I know a lot of new and casual voters who guessed and skipped much more than I did.

We can run a better democracy than this, people. With all due respect to Mr. Trump, I’m less concerned that our elections are rigged than I am that our elections are un- or under- informed.

There is a simple fix to this that wouldn’t cost very much. I’ve been told there is this thing called “the Internet,” where people can instantly access information, even on devices most people carry in their pockets into polling places, and everyone can access in public libraries.  So, why can’t do-gooders create a nonpartisan website where candidates — even humble down ballot candidates — can supply information about their background and positions on top issues?

Maybe we call the website something like MNvoting.com, and fund it with philanthropic and/or government funding. Maybe it has a multi-partisan Board of Directors governing it. Maybe the organization creates the basic web space for content, but allows candidates to generate all of the relevant content. Maybe the website includes comment fields for folks to dispute candidates’ claims.  Maybe we promote this wondrous new centralized website to voters via a marketing campaign. These kinds of details obviously can be worked out by the smart people.

But we can do better. In just a couple of clicks, I can currently get a thorough evaluation of a restaurant, movie, or just about any type of product or service. The same needs to become true of ALL of the ballot questions Minnesotans are being asked to decide at the ballot box, not just the top-of-the-ticket questions.

Difficult Time of Year for Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD) Sufferers

cursor_and_custom_ribbon__decision_deficit_disorderWashington, DC — Just as the holiday season can be difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones, election time is a horrific time for those suffering from a little discussed condition known as Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD).

During the election season, DDD sufferers get overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion as they are asked to take 18 months worth of campaign-generated information to make a final decision about which candidate they will support.

“DDD can be extremely, oh gosh I just don’t what the right word would be,” said Jonah Wildarsky, who suffers from DDD and is the Executive Director of the Decision Deficit Disorder Foundation.

As a defense mechanism, those with DDD frequently accuse all candidates of being equally poor, rather than deciding who is the better one, as other voters do.

“Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton, it’s just not fair to ask us to decide, because they’re just so identically bad,” screamed Wildarsky. “The pressure during the last month of the campaign is immense. I’ve personally had to suffer through 127 news interviews this year, because there are just so few DDD survivors left for reporters to interview.”

The Foundation works to create awareness of DDD. For instance, Wildarsky says the Foundation hopes some day to distribute ribbons, if a color choice can be finalized.

“Golly, I don’t know, is yellow or pink or some other color best,” asked Wildarsky. “The colors all  seem equally bad to me.  Why in the world can’t we have better colors?”

The Donald’s Lost Twitter Rampage

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Apparently 12 million Twitter followers and the press were so flabbergasted by The Donald’s graveyard shift rantings Thursday night they missed all the good stuff that followed. Fortunately, I’ve captured everything since, including misspellings

8:35 am … Wheels up on classiest plane ever. Chik-Fillet brunch. First class company w/first class people. Mayor Rudy telling very funny Mexican joke. #CrookedHillary still eating krumpets? Let’s see those cankles! #NoCanklesOnMelania.

8:46 am …  Saw no ratings @MorningJoe  w/#RiggedMedia calling ME crazy!? Where did Mika spend the night? @Joe’sPlace? Lots of people say so. Must be true. So many low class #DyingNewYorkTimes  “experts” Not!

8:52 am …  #PuckeredForDemocratsCNN “amazed” by me calling out #CrookedHillary for getting duped by #SexTapeMissU. Know what’s amazing? #ClintonNewsNetwork still in biz. Loser TV for losers!

8:55 am … Bloomberg TV. Show some kohonays and watch #FatTrampMissUSexTape. Total trash!!! WORST MissU ever!!! Couldn’t do sit-ups when I sat on her. Will fix Bloomberg problem when in WH!!!

9:01 am … #BestInBizFox&Friends says it like it is. #BlubberButtMissU Clinton Democrat. People say in 1996 too. Probably true. #Brilliant Steve Doozey in better shape than #FlabbyArmsMissUWhiningDemocrat. #NoFlabOnMelania.

9:06 am … Got call from #ShouldBeOnSupremeCourtSeanHannity saying #RiggedMedia unfair as usual. Watched #AlwaysBloatedThirdWorldMissUSexTape. Says it proves #AlwaysRightDonaldJTrump was against Iraq war in ’96. #CorruptRiggedNYTimes will ignore. Unfair!!!!

9:11 … #CrookedHillary still not showing cankles! Why hiding? Hobbled on stage at empty rally. People saying she has gout and Alzheimers. Must be true. WHO is “unhinged”?????? Did #OneGuyYouCanAlwaysBelieveDonaldJTrump give LON WET KISS to ISIS? No. #RiggedMedia will not report.

9:14 am … #NoRatingsChannelsABCNBCCBSMSNBC still saying I lost debate! Total losers! #TrustBreitbart says #DonaldJTrumpInKnockOut cleaned #CrookedHillary’s flabby clock. #DrudgeBest poll said so BEFORE DEBATE WAS OVER!!!! #MelaniaClockNotFlabby.

9:22 am … #PatheticSenateRepublicans “embarrassed” by #ReallyNastySoDirtyYouGottaSeeItPorkyMissUSexTape. So many losers. Have you seen their wives? Reason why. #MelaniaStillRockingBikini.

9:33 am … Just got note from #BrilliantWillBeOnTrumpSupremeCourtRogerAiles. Says #CrookedHillary paying off #RiggedMedia. Roger very misunderstood. Very unfair what #LowRatingsDyingMedia saying about him. Smart viewers like blondes. Everyone knows. #EvenThoughMelaniaNotBlonde.

9:41 am … #OldFlabbyThinksShe’sFunnyDemocratSenatorMcGasket says I should have daily “weigh in”. Ask Dr. Oz! 236 pounds! Great stamina!!! Ask #NoBodyFatMelania. So many lies!!! SO UNFAIR!!!  America wants change. #VeryStrongDonaldJTrumpWillJailFlabbyDemocrats.

10:03 am … Landed for #HugeEnormousRally. People say crowd lined up since July. Must be true. I don’t know. Three miles long. Sounds right. Democrat fire marshall refused so many. Very unfair! #DemocratFireMarshallsWillBeFired.

10:17 am … Fabulous reception in #GreatestAmericanCityEastBogaloosa from #OnlyGreatAmericansWantDonaldJTrump!!!!  Great looking “Bikers for Trump” supporter w/Trump’sNoPussy face-tattoo said it best. “Save Us from Crooked Cankle Bitch!” So many good-looking people!

10:44 am … Called out #LousyCrummyRatingsRiggedMediaReporters at back of rally! Really unfair!!! So biased.!!! #PutinRealLeader knows what to do. Not like #VeryWeakKenyanWithPeopleStillSayingNotRealBirthCertificate. So many not so great looking girl reporters. #JealousOfMelania. Many with #ButtAsBigAsFatSluttyWorstMissUEver. Disgrace!!!!

11:13 am … Wheels back up. First class lunch on #World’sMostFabulousAirplane. Chickenfingers. Gravy. Coke. Best in world American food!!! #MelaniaSickInToiletButStillHotterThanRosieO’DonnellThatPig.

Hillary Won the Battle, But Donald Could Still Win the War

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3In the 20 minutes it took me to drive home from a debate-watching party last night the “elite media” decided that Donald Trump badly lost the first debate with Hillary Clinton and that as ridiculous as he looked and sounded (the sniffing!) it wasn’t going to matter all that much.

In 2016 when everyone with a smartphone is a pundit and a publisher, citizen-satirists spat out some hilarious bits overnight. Like, for example, Donald Trump’s constant sniffing set to Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”. We also got a re-visit of Rose O’Donnell’s Trump imitation, and her “Daily Show” “history of The Donald”. Not to mention, if sick jokes are your thing, scalding fact-check after scalding fact check. Not that, the cable heads reminded each other, either Trump or his people care all that much about facts..

Conventional wisdom this morning is that Trump was exposed to well over 80 million people, many of whom have never seen him one-on-one with a serious opponent who wasn’t pandering to the same low-information voter base. The jabbering mess that he was last night may move a few “educated white suburban voters” away from him. Either that  or away from the voting booth entirely.

Other speculation I’ve seen over the last eight hours suggests “independent-minded” millennials clinging to either Jill Stein or Gary Johnson may … may … decide that since Hillary didn’t come off like Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West they might, y’know like, go for her after all. Despite “all that crooked stuff about her”, almost none of which they can explain with any detail or coherence.

But as much as I thought Hillary did just fine — she can drop the “trumped up trickle down” line — I watched Trump and kept thinking, “This works for him. It makes no sense at all. But it sounds like the same gilded-Mussolini, tough strutting egomaniac that ‘his people’ adore.” What they saw last night was the same thing they’ve seen since the get-go. Namely, “The guy who is going to stick it to everyone and everything that has made my life the mess it is.”

My belief about that is based on what I have come to accept as a fact. Namely, that wonky policy stuff — nuclear triads, strategic alliances, pre-school baby care and all that liberal, nanny state think tank BS — matters far, far less to the average “Trumpist” than, “blowing shit up”, for lack of a better phrase. Trump’s is a grievance and resentment campaign. His people don’t want “change” so much as they want vengeance on everyone that FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart say have done them wrong. There’s nothing constructive, no “making America great again” about it.

As along as Trump keeps picking scabs and pressing hair-trigger emotional buttons like he did in the debate, with his visions of roaming gangs of gun-wielding immigrants turning Chicago into Aleppo, he won’t lose a single vote of the irrationally terrified, angry and under-informed. Or the “37.5% who will vote for a bag of cement with an ‘R’ painted on it”, to quote Trump-despising GOP operative Mike Murphy.

A year ago I said I could see a path to Trump actually winning (although I still don’t think he will). It was based on this simple math. If he rallies even 10% of the “low information” crowd who rarely if ever vote, and adds them to the “37.5%” who will vote for any Republican no matter if he is an “orange anus”, to quote Rosie O’Donnell, he becomes POTUS 45.

The gobsmacked “elites” (that’d be TV talking heads everywhere but on FoxNews, all Democrats but mainly Hollywood liberals, and anyone who went to college and reads books with multi-syllable words) continue to flounder about trying to explain why Trump hasn’t cratered. Theories abound. But one explanation that hasn’t been examined closely enough is Trump’s vernacular and speaking rhythm, its similarity to religion and advertising, and how effective that is with an audience almost entirely “informed” by TV and pop culture.

Allow me to quote from length, James Fallows in this month’s Atlantic cover story

***

“Donald Trump’s language is notably simple and spare, at every level from word choice to sentence and paragraph structure. Of a thousand examples I’ll use just a few.

In the second Republican debate, hosted by CNN and held at the Reagan library, in California, moderator Jake Tapper asked Trump to explain his ‘build a wall’ immigration plan. Tapper said that fellow candidate Chris Christie had called it impractical. How would Trump respond? He did so this way:

‘First of all, I want to build a wall, a wall that works. So important, and it’s a big part of it.

Second of all, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country from outside, and I think Chris knows that, maybe as well as anybody.

They go. If I get elected, first day they’re gone. Gangs all over the place. Chicago, Baltimore, no matter where you look.

We have a country based on laws.’

Bad dudes. A wall that works. Gangs all over the place.

After the first GOP debate Jack Shafer, of Politico, ran the transcript of Trump’s remarks through the Flesch-Kinkaid analyzer of reading difficulty, which said they matched a fourth-grade reading level. One of Trump’s press conferences at about the same time was at a third-grade level.

 In political language, plainness is powerful. ‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you’. ‘I have a dream’. This is especially so for language designed to be heard, like speeches and debate exchanges, rather than read from a page. People absorb and retain information in smaller increments through the ear than through the eye. Thus the classic intonations of every major religion have the simple, repetitive cadence also found in the best political speeches. ‘In the beginning’. ‘And it was good’. ‘Let us pray’.
But Trump takes this much further, as he does with so many other things. Decades ago, when I worked on presidential speeches, some news analyst made fun of me for saying in an interview that we were aiming for a seventh-grade level in a certain televised address. But that is generally the level of effective mass communication—newscasts, advertising, speeches—and it is about where most of the other Republicans ended up when Shafer ran their transcripts through the analyzer. (Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker were at an eighth-grade level; Ted Cruz at ninth; and John Kasich at fifth.)

Another illustration: At a Fox Business debate in January in Charleston, South Carolina, Maria Bartiromo asked Trump about criticism from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, also a Republican, that his tone was too angry. The transcript shows:

‘I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly, and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster’. [The outlier word here is mantle.]

(APPLAUSE)

‘Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry’.

(APPLAUSE)

‘And I won’t be angry when we fix it, but until we fix it, I’m very, very angry. And I say that to Nikki. So when Nikki said that, I wasn’t offended. She said the truth’.

This is the classic language of both persuasion and sales—simple, direct, unmistakable, strong.”

***

Trump’s sustained viability has nothing to do with any specific remedies he has for the end-of-days apocalyptic disaster he imagines outside our windows. He is where he is because he, and he alone of everyone running this year, speaks in a way — full of terse, resonant, “See Dick run” emotional cues — that an astonishing/appalling chunk of the population finds reassuring and inspiring.

Weird as that sounds.

 

 

Wireless

cursor_and_scammers_hacking_victims__computers_by_calling_on_the_phone_-_aol_newsI’ve found a fabulous new productivity tool. I know you’ve heard this before, but I think this one could really change everything.

This thing does a terrific job organizing my scattered thoughts and projects. It helps me prioritize work, think “outside of the box” and provide much better service to my clients. It helps me connect better with key people. It dramatically increases my efficiency. It’s imminently affordable. And as all things must be these days, it’s completely wireless.

But it can’t be found among the dozens of productivity and communications applications installed on my smart phone and computers. And it can’t even be found at Best Buy, Brookstone or the Consumer Electronics Show.

But I can hook you up with one. I like to call it Long Walk 2.0. I’m no expert on productivity tools, but this is rougly how it works:

1. Exit from all other applications.
2. Put one foot in front of the other.
3. Repeat.
4. Think, uninterrupted, for 60 minutes or so.

cursor_and_exercise_walk_-_google_searchYes, I have taken to regularly unplugging from the alleged productivity of my relatively high tech mobile office to do something that looks suspiciously like slacking. Most days, I now set aside time for an hour-long walk or run with my Golden Doodle business partner.

The results have been astounding. On the relative solitude of the stroll I eventually unwind and begin to ask myself questions that don’t get resolved in the office: “If I didn’t have constraints, what would I recommend for them? Are those constraints real or imagined, permanent or surmountable? Are we truly differentiated, or are we spinning ourselves? Am I really giving that client the candid counsel they are paying for, or am I pulling punches because it is more comfortable? Is there a better way to do X? Is Y really necessary?”

And here is the weird part about my unplugged excursions: Sometimes I actually come up with pretty decent answers to the questions.

Of course, there is not a single reason why these issues couldn’t come up in the office. Actually, there’s a couple dozen reasons: “If I didn’t have constraints…(insert email interruption here) Are those constraints real…(Twitter interruption) Are we truly differentiated…(text interruption) Am I really giving candid…(pop-up meeting reminder interruption) Is there a better way…(cell phone interruption).

Like all of us, my personal and professional lives have become an endless symphony of chimes, chirps and vibrations. And for me, the concerto isn’t always soothing or conducive to my best work.

Don’t get me wrong, the electronic interruptions are wonderous in a lot of ways. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, they aren’t going away. But if your job or life sometimes requires you to think deeply for more than a few seconds at a time, the gadgets do have a downside. And the answer for me is not more or better gadgets. It’s a regularly scheduled dose of no gadgets.

– Loveland

It’s Time for the Press to Get Nefarious with Trump’s Taxes

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Last week the editor of The New York Times said he’s willing to risk jail to publish Donald Trump’s tax returns. Because he’s regarded as a serious guy in a serious job we should regard that as a serious promise. But it is also a call to hackers, IRS bureaucrats, former accountants and anyone else with access, legal or (more likely) nefarious, to do business with the grand Grey Lady on the single biggest untold story of this election.

the editor, Dean Baquet was at Harvard with Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, who was at first a bit tremulous about the idea of publishing a private citizen’s most comprehensive and revealing financial disclosure. I mean, people could get arrested! But as the conversation went on Baquet said, “[Trump’s] whole campaign is built on his success as a businessman and his wealth.” To which Woodward, perhaps steeping up his bravado said, “Some things you have to do. . . . This defines Donald Trump. . . . There’s a big hole here.”

Do you think? Trump’s appeal may be more rooted in his exploitation of age-old white grievance and resentments, but the “fact” he’s as rich as Croesus, or so he says, adds tremendously to the enthusiasm his various baskets have for him. Were he not living in a penthouse decorated in a style best described as “early Saddam Hussein” and not (currently) married to a former achitecture student-turned-bikini model and not fly around in his own 757, he’d be just another duck-tailed doofus gassing on at the 19th hole. But roll all that into one gaudy picture and you’ve got something that screams “Success!” to America’s perennially self-pitying white middle and lower classes.

Here, here, here and here are some good Trump tax-related stories based on what little can be discerned.

The ethical nut of this promise, this vow, from Baquet is that Trump has so blatantly and egregiously gamed the standard politician-journalism game that the only way to crack him is with what on the face of it is Edward Snowden-like criminality … and let the lawyers sort it out later, a la Daniel Ellsburg during the Vietnam war. And I believe he’s right.

Last Friday’s fiasco at Trump’s new hotel in D.C., where he played the national media for chumps by exploiting their live national coverage for an infomercial for the building goosed with a bunch of campaign-rally hosannahs from grizzled war vets before finally A: Conceding that Barack Obama was born in the USA, and then, B: Accusing Hillary Clinton of starting the whole racist birther BS, sent the press into a remarkable fury. Even CNN, directed by former “Today Show” exec Jeff Zucker, a guy who would stick viewers’ heads in a stopped-up cruise ship toilet knowing his target demo would watch it 24/7, expressed outrage over the incident.

Why, exactly, you ask? Certainly not because Friday was the first time Trump has “rick rolled” an audience. That’s SOP for the guy. The critical difference Friday was this: Trump made the assembled reporters and their colleagues and bosses back at the office look like fools. Or, chumps, as I say. Now, having juuuust a bit of experience with Le Grande Journalist Ego, reporters and editors are pretty thick-skinned about being called names — like “fool” and “chump” — but get really upset when someone shows a whole country how indisputably easy it is to make them look … well, foolish and chumpy.

So a guy the vast majority of the press regards as a fraud on one level or another plays them for a free commercial and makes them look ridiculous. What are they, can they do about it? The Times followed Friday’s fiasco with a “tough” analysis piece, saying, “He nurtured the conspiracy like a poisonous flower, watering and feeding it with an ardor that still baffles and embarrasses many around him. Mr. Trump called up like-minded sowers of the same corrosive rumor, asking them for advice on how to take a falsehood and make it mainstream in 2011, as he weighed his own run for the White House.”

But as most of the gamed-and-ridiculed press has come to understand, “tough” analyses, “strongly-worded” editorials and hour after hour of gob-smacked, incredulous talking heads are all gnat-bites on the hide of a creature long accustomed to nefarious behavior. None of it means anything, because none of it has any significant effect.

The only topic, the only single subject matter that carries any weight, that would pull down the (gold metallic micro-fibre) curtain and allow voters to see and assess Trump for what he really is are his tax returns. That is where The Story is, and pretty much everyone in the press, including FoxNews and Bretibart, knows it.

Which brings people like the editor of the New York Times and Bob Woodward — who’s colleague David Farenthold has fast-tracked himself to a Pulitzer for the most dogged and aggressive coverage of Trump’s finances — to say out loud 50 days before the election that the time is nigh for two wrongs to make a right. We are talking the Presidency of the United State here, not doping in pro sports or the machinations behind some gas pipeline.

If you’re going to break the rules you traditionally operate under — by soliciting, maybe even paying for Trump’s tax returns — you do it to properly, fully dissect a “non-traditional” (i.e. quite possibly criminal) candidate for the most influential office on the planet … and let the lawyers argue it out later.

And you do it now.

From O.J. to the Deplorable Appeal of Donald T.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A couple weeks ago I hit Maximum Trump Wall. Too much stupidity too much of the time. So I took a break and caught up on some good TV. Bad mistake.

Tuning down the wall of Trump noise I filled late summer evenings binge-watching stuff I had heard was “must see” TV. (The Emmys are this Sunday.) On the list was, “The Night Manager”, an adaptation of a John LeCarre novel. Then “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” a dramatization of the case with John Travolta, Nathan Lane, David Schwimmer and Cuba Gooding Jr., followed by HBO’s “The Night of” with John Turturro, but most importantly, written by the great Richard Price. Finally, the major investment, 479 minutes of ESPN’s documentary, “O.J. Simpson: Made in America”.

The last one was where my strategy of Trump avoidance went completely to hell. “Made in America”, I’ve been telling (boring) people in the days since may be the single best thing I’ve seen on TV in years … “Breaking Bad”, “The Sopranos”, “Game of Thrones”, Frontline documentaries, you name it. Directed by Ezra Edelman, ( the son of children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman and Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman) the film is the thickest, richest slice of modern America culture I can recall ever. As with all great filmmaking/storytelling it is Edelman’s perceptive sequencing of the mostly familiar story of Simpson, the murders and the court case into the context of the culture surrounding it all.

Re-visiting the Simpson story night after night, it all came back. The indemnified status of celebrities in modern America, a culture cynical of authority while simultaneously delusional about fame. The noxious racist police culture of Los Angeles, not significantly different than every other large American city, and the indifference of white America to it. The intense resentment and sense of grievance of blacks toward law enforcement and the judicial system. The appalling cynicism of lawyers supplied with enough money to tell a wholly implausible story that exploits grievance to maximum effect, and a media culture first and foremost committed to trading in the elements of any story that sustains the story viewers and readers want to hear, thereby enhancing the value of the media itself.

Trump avoidance was an impossibility.

With what is it now, 56 days until the election we have pretty well swept aside every issue other than grievance, resentment, racial animosity, celebrity and media self-service to explain Trump’s appeal. There is nothing more to it. There’s no “small government conservatism”. No “libertarian notion” ersatz or otherwise. There’s no economic incentive particularly. It’s not even so much a distaste for Hillary Clinton specifically, as it is a resentment of and grievance against anything that smacks of a culture/a class of people easily blamed for what are in fact personal failures.

About as I was wrapping up “Made in America” I read Arlie Russell Hochschild’s feature in Mother Jones, “I Spent Five Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You.”

In a nutshell, Hochschild spends time shadowing a woman selling Aflac insurance to the desperately poor whites of rural Louisiana. The grand takeaway of the piece is this: After growing up in a culture that had long accepted sneering at shiftless blacks, people forever gaming the system for (fraudulent) welfare disability benefits, food stamps, public housing, whatever, these sad crackers have been slapped in the face with a new reality. Lacking necessary 21st century skills, family after family is unemployed, living by welfare threads and being hammered by opioid and other drug addictions. They have come to realize, even if they don’t want to say so out loud, that they are the new shiftless, hopeless-loser blacks. They are the people “respectable” society — skilled workers, white collar professionals, liberals and most of the media — has written off as lazy drags on society. Needless to say, they’re all in for Trump, who promises them they’ll be “great again.”

So yeah, these people are “the deplorables” Hillary Clinton was talking about in such an impolitic way the other day. And their grievances and misplaced resentments are among the long, long list of highly relevant questions Matt Lauer didn’t bother to ask Trump on that aircraft carrier last week.

I think I’ve said this before, but a saving irony of the Trump disaster (whether he wins or loses) is that it has fully dispensed and blown away the illusion that the United States is living in some kind of post-racial era. The virulent racism roiling just under the keel of Trump’s garbage barge is a startling reminder that very nearly half the country today, your work colleagues and neighbors, are comfortable with hostilities a lot of us thought subsided in the ’60s. Moreover, today’s “blacks”, in the form of under-educated, substantially unemployable, perpetually aggrieved whites have been convinced by their media of choice of something no real black of old ever thought, namely that they are entitled to more and better just because of the color of their skin.

 

 

 

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

cursor_and_democrats_right_to_vote_-_google_searchWhen it comes to the Minnesota DFL’s attempt to bar Donald Trump’s name from appearing on Minnesota ballots, the party is making a mistake by focusing on the could versus the should.

Yes, banning Trump from Minnesota ballots could be possible. It appears as if the ever-bungling Minnesota Republican Party perhaps didn’t follow the letter of the law in nominating their presidential elector alternates. I’m no great election law mind, so I’ll let the Star Tribune explain the DFL’s legal argument:

The petition said the state GOP erred at its state convention on May 20-21 in Duluth, where delegates “at large” and from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts nominated 10 presidential electors but failed to nominate 10 alternate electors.

The petition quoted the law (the italicized type is the party’s) as saying, “Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state.”

The petition continued: “This language is clear and unequivocal: Alternatives ‘shall’ be nominated — not unilaterally by party leaders — but by ‘delegate conventions.’

It sounds as if they might have case.  But letter of the law aside, should DFLers ban Trump?  The spirit of the law is that citizens should get to a chance to vote for the candidate who prevailed in the nominating process, in this case Trump.   That’s what Minnesotans of all parties feel in their gut.  The practical effect of the DFL’s move is to effectively disenfranchise Trump voters in Minnesota, more than one-third of the citizenry. For a party that justifiably preaches keeping democracy open to all voters, effectively disenfranchising at least one-third of the voters just doesn’t pass the smell test. It will offend many voters, including some who would otherwise be DFL-friendly, and it will seed even more cynicism in an already dangerously cynical citizenry.  That’s not good for our democracy.

Beyond the disenfranchisement of it all, DFL Party leaders perhaps should be wary of unintended consequences. An April 2016 Star Tribune-sponsored survey found Clinton with 48% of registered voters, Trump with 35%, and 17% undecided. While that’s a four month old poll, the chances are that Clinton still holds a lead in Minnesota. So, absent Trump being banned from the ballot by the DFL, Clinton probably would win Minnesota the old fashioned way, by earning the most votes.

So, there probably isn’t a lot to gain Electoral College-wise by gagging Trump voters. However, what happens if Trump refugees and undecided voters coalesce around Libertarian Gary Johnson?  What likely would have been a blue state could become, I don’t know, the Libertarian Party color.  That’s probably a long shot, but the possibility exists after the DFL kicks the Trump hornet nest by taking away their ability to vote for their hero.

DFL electoral tacticians likely see it differently. They may think that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, discouraged Trump voters will stay home, which will help the DFL win down-ballot races.  They’re banking on Trump voters to stay home and sulk, and they may be right.  But what happens if Trump voters instead get outraged enough by the perceived injustice of the situation to turn out in record numbers to vote against the party that they feel stole their votes?

DFL leaders probably feel quite self-satisfied about this clever little “gotcha” game.  I’m one strong DFLer who just doesn’t like it.  It feels like a betrayal of one of the party’s most admirable values – defense of every voter’s right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.  In my opinion this is not the Minnesota DFL’s finest hour.

National Unsung Heroes Day

presentation3There are lots of heroes in our society. Soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers and fire fighters are among them, and we regularly praise those groups with special holidays, public ceremonies, and “I support (fill in the blank)“ ribbons. But sometimes it seems that we heap so much adulation on those high profile professions that we ignore the contributions of more subtle heroes who serve in relative anonymity.

For instance, how about folks like social workers and addiction counselors? They work for modest pay and make a huge difference for folks living in society’s shadows. Those heroes save and improve plenty of lives too.

Then there are water and sewage workers. We hardly give them a second thought, but every day they do the dirty work of managing our human waste so devastating diseases don’t break out.  Waterborne diseases kill 1.5 million peopler every year, so that’s kind of a big deal.

Protesters belong on the long list of unsung heroes. They speak out about what they think is right, even when it’s personally uncomfortable and dangerous. They are courageous and patriotic, and without them the world would have much less peace, safety, conservation and social justice.

How about scientists and engineers who develop products, services, knowledge and methodologies that make the world more safe, or protect the environment?  They do life-saving, planet-saving work, but we’re never going to see ceremonies honoring them before the playing of the National Anthem.

presentation2-2There are the millions of people who have jobs that are not typically regarded as heroic – bureaucrats, janitors, receptionists, brokers, construction workers, computer techies, customer service reps, wait staff, accountants, salespeople and underwriters, to name just a few. Their vocational contributions go largely unrecognized, but their work makes our economy and society hang together and hum.

Many of these folks also donate huge amounts of their free time to better their communities.  They give blood, raise money, defray nonprofit staff costs, visit senior shut-ins, and coach, tutor and mentor kids.  Nobody makes millions of Americans volunteer to help others. Nobody pays them.  They just do it. That’s also heroism.

These unsung heroes don’t have interest groups, politicians, corporations, pro sports leagues, and public relations agencies using their resources to celebrate their contributions. They don’t wear uniforms that serve as reminders of their heroics. But their work is inspiring and important nonetheless.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge the praise we give to soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers, fire fighters and others. But I worry that the klieg lights we shine on those groups tends to blind us to the more subtle every day heroism that is happening all around us.

So if we feel like we need to add another holiday, maybe we should go with an umbrella day to remember these other folks. “National Unsung Heroes Day” has kind of a nice ring to it — a day to remember those we usually forget.  Those heroes deserve recognition too, and the rest of us deserve another three day weekend.

Five Reasons To HATE State Fair TV News Coverage

Cursor_and_grinch_looking_down_-_Google_SearchI loathe State Fair TV news coverage.  And just to preempt the question, yes, I’m not “from here.”

The State Fair begins today, but State Fair TV news coverage started in roughly February.  I’ve already been through a lot, so allow me my primal scream.

Reasons to hate on State Fair TV news coverage:

Reason #1: Because it crowds out all other news coverage. If in the next ten days the Republican Speaker of the House comes out for a 75% tax on all Tea Party members’ Medicare benefits, the Vikings trade a 73-year old groundskeeper for Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, and space aliens colonize a Mahtomedi strip mall, this much I promise you: You will not hear about it. No chance. Why? Because during the last 10 days of August there is sameness happening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. And there is an unwritten rule in Twin Cities TV newsrooms: All that is the same in Falcon Heights must crowd out all that is new in the rest of the state. (Though to be fair, the crop art turns over every year.)

“It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Reason #2: Because skinny people repeatedly fabricating overeating stories is never that funny. One of the many recurring gags we will suffer through during State Fair TV news coverage involves willowy anchors and svelte reporters exchanging witty repartee about how grotesquely bloated and obese they are from going all Joey Chestnut on Commoner Food all day long. Oh, the humanity! Their image consultants tell them that pretending to be like the binging masses will help their Nielsens. But make no mistake, they are mocking us, as they spit and rinse their Sweet Martha’s at station breaks, and nibble the sensible sack lunches packed by their personal nutritionists.

“And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!”

Reason #3: Because even hilarious jokes lose their charm when repeated the 653,776th time. “On a stick.” “Jokes” using those three hideous words will be repeated hundreds of times over the next 10 days on TV news. Though even Ed McMahon wouldn’t laugh the 653,776th time, you can count on our TV news friends to guffaw uproariously at every “on a stick” utterance, as if they just heard it for the first time. To make things worse, every PR person in town will put their client’s product or service on-a- stick – long term care insurance on-a-stick, get it?! — because it is the one guaranteed way to get coverage for your otherwise non-newsworthy client.

“They’d stand hand in hand and they’d start singing.”

Reason #4. Because Def Leppard hasn’t been remotely newsworthy for at least twenty years. …yet we can be certain that there will be a full length news story about them by every station. Why? Because for the last ten days or August, anything within earshot of the broadast booth is automatically deemed newsworthy. Plus, it’s so adorable when Frank tosses “Pour Some Sugar On Me” segues to Amelia.

“They’d sing! And they’d sing! AND they’d SING! SING! SING! SING!”

Reason #5. Because the 3.5 million Minnesotans who avoid the Fair every year are people too. One of the most fascinating parts of State Fair news coverage – and it’s quite a competition — is regular attendance updates. Spolier alert: The number will astound the reporters. Last year, it was 1.77 million. Though I’ve always suspected that’s probably the same 177,000 mini-donut addicts coming back each of the ten days, for the sake of argument, I’ll accept the number. Even using that number, that leaves something like 3.56 million of us — about two-thirds of all Minnesotans, I’ll have you know — who have chosen NOT to attend the State Fair. And maybe, just maybe, those of us who chose to stay away from the Great Minnesota SweatTogether would rather the news broadcast contain a little actual NEWS.

“Why for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop it from coming! …But HOW?”

There. I’m better now. Nothing like a good rant. On a stick.

Note:  This is a Wry Wrerun, originally posted by Joe Loveland on The Same Rowdy Crowd blog in August of 2011.

South Dakota: Imagine There’s No Parties

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon

Cursor_and_amendment_v_south_dakota_-_Google_SearchWhen I heard about the constitutional amendment on the South Dakota ballot to make all
state elections nonpartisan, I thought of these lyrics.

Imagine there’s no parties?

Believe it or not, that’s sort of what South Dakota is debating this fall.   At first blush, it struck me as every bit as unlikely and impractical as what John Lennon sang.  But if Amendment V gets a plurality of votes from South Dakotans of all party affiliations this fall, every state office would become nonpartisan.

That means that in every election except for presidential contests there would no longer be separate primaries for the respective political parties, party labels would not be used on ballots, and citizens would no longer have their voting restricted due to their party affiliation, or lack of a party affiliation. Instead of party primaries, a single primary contest would be held, and the top two finishers, regardless of their party affiliations, would face off in the general election.

Cursor_and_nonpartisan_nebraska_-_Google_Search

“Imagine there’s no parties. It isn’t hard to do.”

Partisanship Pros

Except that it is hard for me. Very hard. While municipal and judicial elections currently don’t use party labels, I like having party labels on ballots. They give me helpful shorthand clues when I come across an unfamiliar name towards the end of the ballot.  For instance, if I want to avoid inadvertently casting my vote for someone who wants to underfund public services or weaken environmental protections, seeing that “D” next to a candidate name on the ballot reduces the chance that I will mistakenly vote for someone who doesn’t share my  values.

To be sure, party labels don’t tell you everything, but they give a pretty solid clue about a candidate’s likely positions. I support disclosure in government and governing, and requiring party labels has disclosure benefits.

If party labels weren’t on the ballot, I’d have to do more homework to avoid making voting blunders on the more obscure portions of the ballot.  On the other hand, with online resources that are now available, homework has never been easier.  By the way, this problem could be lessened if all state and local governments allowed citizens to use smart phones or other types of computers while voting. That’s an antiquated rule that needs to be changed.  I need to be able to use my spare brain in the voting booth.

Imagine A Nonpartisan System

Maybe the inconvenience and lack of disclosure associated with a nonpartisan election system would be worth it.  I am painfully aware of what extreme partisanship is doing to our politics. It’s making us mindlessly tribal. It’s causing legislators to substitute logic and analysis for blind loyalty to party leaders and their most powerful interest groups. It’s muting the voices of independent and moderate citizens who don’t identify with either of the major parties. It’s making compromise almost impossible.

Drey Samuelson, one of the founders of the South Dakota public interest group championing Amendment V, TakeItBack.org, feels strongly that the benefits of nonpartisan elections and offices greatly outweigh whatever disclosure-related benefits there might be associated with the status quo.

Imagine no closed door caucus scheming.  Samuelson says one of the most compelling reasons to keep party labels off the ballot is that it removes partisan control from the Legislature, as it has in Nebraska. Party caucuses don’t exist in the Nebraska Legislature, so policy isn’t made behind closed party caucus doors.

Party caucuses aren’t banned by Amendment V.  But Samuelson said that if the nonpartisan amendment passes in South Dakota this fall, there would be strong public pressure for South Dakota legislators to organize themselves in a nonpartisan way — without party caucus meetings and with party power-sharing — as Nebraska has done.

Imagine sharing power and accountability.  In Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature, legislators from both parties can and do become legislative committee chairs. Because they share power, they also share credit for legislative successes, and accountability for scandals. There is less time and energy wasted on blame games.

Imagine an equal voice for all.  TakeItBack.org also stresses that a nonpartisan system will give South Dakota’s 115,000 registered Independents an equal voice in the elections and government they fund, which they lack today.  This is particularly important in primary elections, where many of the most important decisions are made.

Imagine a popular Legislature.  A nonpartisan Legislature would also very likely be a more popular Legislature.

“People, by and large, don’t like the division, the bickering, the polarization, and the inefficiency of partisan government,” says Samuelson. “They find that nonpartisan government simply functions better.”

In fact, the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature is nearly twice as popular as the partisan one to the north. A January 2016 PPP survey of South Dakotans found a 36% approval rating for the South Dakota Legislature, while a June 2015 Tarrance Group survey of Nebraskans found a 62% approval rating for the Nebraska Legislature.

A 62% approval rating should look pretty good to Minnesota legislators.  Minnesota DFL legislators have a 29% approval rating, and Republican legislators have an 18% approval rating (PPP, August 2015).

For my part, I’d be willing to give up partisan labels on the ballot if it would get us a less petty, Balkanized and recalcitrant Legislature.   If Nebraska is predictive of what Minnesota could become, the benefits of such a nonpartisan body would outweigh the costs.

Is South Dakota About To Lead An Anti-Gerrymandering Revolution?

I adore my home state of South Dakota, but I rarely find myself calling for my adopted state of Minnesota to copy South Dakota policies. On a whole range of issues from progressive state income taxes to a higher minimum wage to LGBT rights to dedicated conservation spending to teacher pay to Medicare coverage, I wish the Rushmore state’s policies would become more like Minnesota’s, not vice versa.

But if a majority of South Dakota voters embrace Amendment T at the polls this November, I may soon be feeling some serious SoDak envy.

gerrymander_-_Google_SearchOnce every ten years, all states redraw state and congressional legislative district lines, so that the new boundaries reflect population changes that have occurred in the prior decade. In both Minnesota and South Dakota, elected state legislators draw those district map lines, and the decision-making is dominated by leaders of the party or parties in power.

South Dakota’s pending Amendment T calls for a very different approach. If a majority of South Dakota voters support Amendment T this fall, redrawing of legislative district lines would be done by a multi-partisan commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.  None of the nine commission members could be elected officials.

South_Dakota_Amendment_TThe basic rationale behind Amendment T is this: Elected officials have a direct stake in how those district boundaries are drawn, so giving them the power to draw the maps can easily lead to either the perception or reality of self-serving shenanigans.

As we all know, redistricting shenanigans are common. Guided by increasingly high tech tools and lowbrow ethics, elected officials regularly produce contorted district maps that draw snickers and gasps from citizens.   Often, the judicial branch needs to intervene in an attempt to restore partisan or racial fairness to the maps that the politicians’ produce.

Gerrymandering and Polarization

There are all kinds of problems created by the elected officials’ self-serving gerrymandering.  Legislators in control of the process draw lines to ensure that the gerrymanderer’s party has a majority in as many districts as possible. This leads to many “safe districts,” where one party dominates.  In safe districts, the primary election is effectively the only election that matters. General elections become meaningless, because the winner of the primary elections routinely cruises to an easy victory.

In this way, disproportionately partisan primary voters, who some times make up as little as 5 percent of the overall electorate, effectively become kingmakers who decide who serves in legislative bodies. Meanwhile, minority party and independent voters effectively have almost no say in the choice of lawmakers, even though they usually combine to make up more than 50% of the electorate.

In other words, gerrymandering has given America government of, for and by 5 percent of the people.

Because these primary election kingmakers tend to be from the far ends of the ideological spectrum, gerrymandering has contributed to the polarization of our politics. It has created an environment in which elected officials live in fear that they will be punished in primary elections if they dare to compromise with the other party. As a result, bipartisan compromise has become increasingly extinct in many legislative bodies.

Gerrymandering and Distrust

Beyond political polarization, perhaps the worst thing about politician-driven redistricting is that it makes citizens cynical about their democracy.  Whether you believe problems are real or merely perceived, the fact that elected officials are at the center of redistricting controversies creates deep citizen-leader distrust.  When citizens become convinced that elections are being rigged by elected officials so that the politicians can preserve their personal power, citizens lose faith and pride in their representative democracy. When we lose that, we lose our American heart and soul.

So Minnesota, let’s commit to creating — either via a new state law or by referring a constitutional amendment to voters –our own multi-partisan redistricting commission that removes elected officials from the process. Let’s govern more like South Dakota!

Did I really just say that?