It’s Good To Be Zygi

In 2011, taxpayers gave billionaire Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf quite a gift, an even bigger gift than some realized at the time.

Taxpayers invested about half a billion public dollars to help Mr. Wilf construct his $1.1 billion business headquarters, U.S. Bank Stadium.  The State contributed $348 million, and another $150 million came from a Minneapolis hospitality tax. (While it’s often reported that Mr. Wilf paid the remainder, much of the remainder was paid by private interests — the NFL, personal seat license holders, and U.S. Bank.)

This was an extraordinary taxpayer subsidy for any business owner, much less a controversial one worth $5.3 billion who has been found liable by a New Jersey court for breaking civil state racketeering laws.

But Mr. Wilf’s gift from taxpayers went well beyond that $498 million.  State leaders also allowed the billionaire to keep 100% of the increased business value that he has realized since his publicly subsidized business headquarters was authorized.  It turns out, that’s quite an increase.  According to a Forbes magazine estimate, in 2011, the year before the approval of the stadium, Wilf’s business was worth $796 million.  The most recent Forbes estimate puts the value at a breathtaking $2.2 billion.

That’s a tidy little increase of about $1.4 billion, with a “b,” over just six years.

Not all of that $1.4 billion gain is due to the new $1.1 billion stadium and its income-generating capacity, but much of it is.  It’s now clear that if the billionaire owner had financed his business’s building the old fashioned way — without taxpayers footing half of his bill — he would easily have recouped the full amount of his business investment, and then some.  Clearly, Mr. Wilf did not need us.

In 2011, many predicted that Minnesota taxpayers would be making a very rich man substantially richer.  But it’s still breathtaking to watch the money flooding in.  Skol Zygi.

The Public Deserves All Available Information in the Justine Damond Shooting … Now.

While no more outrageous and appalling than the police killing of Philando Castile and the nearly 600 others (many unarmed minorities) gunned down by American law enforcement officers this year alone, my reaction shifted slightly from the moment I first heard that two young Minneapolis cops were involved in the death of a 40 year-old white woman in her pajamas.

Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in Castile’s death despite clear evidence he panicked, purely and simply, at a seat-belted black man with a woman and child in the car. So my reaction to Saturday’s night’s events was that yet again the city and the shaky reputation of the police will suffer as a result of a very poorly vetted and trained officer sent out on the streets with a license not just to enforce the law but to act as summary executioner should he feel “a threat to his life.”

The twist in this incident that places the responsibility on a Somali cop, a two-year veteran of the force, sets the sadly normal racial dynamic askew. As of today, Tuesday, the public — which is vast considering the international attention the story has received — is waiting for even the most basic explanation from city officials.

The delay in explaining what happened, if not why, is inexcusable. There are only two witnesses, Officer Mohammed Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity. Where is their version of the event? We’re told from early reports that Harrity was “stunned” by the gunfire and that Noor has issued his condolences to the family of the dead woman, Justine Damond.

We’re told Damond, who made the 911 call had run out to speak to the cops and was in some kind of conversation with Harrity, the driver, when Noor shot her. For me, the “conversation” part is critical. If she said anything to Harrity it should have been obvious she was not the suspected attacker, which suggests Noor shot her for some reason other than panicked fear, as in Yanez’ case.

If there is “some other reason” this thing is going to get very, very weird.

My assumption is that there was no actual conversation between Damond and Harrity, other than perhaps Damond running out from the darkness into the alley trying to get their attention … at which point Noor panicked and began shooting out the patrol car across his partner’s face.

The fact that Damond was killed by a shot to the abdomen suggests she was still several feet from Harrity’s side window when Noor opened fire. Up against the door in “conversation” with Harrity she would have been struck in the chest or face.

The point being, this element of the incident can and should be explained now, not days and weeks from now. Even if Harrity and Noor are telling conflicting stories, an event this high-profile involving — to understate the obvious — critical public employees, requires extraordinary expeditiousness and transparency.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario that dampens down the already burgeoning racist demonizing of the on-line alt-right. That disease will spread even if there isn’t a whiff of affirmative action, racial quotas or special “outreach” in Noor’s hiring. The alt-right crowd isn’t exactly in the facts game, as we know.

Getting expeditious with bureaucratic formalities may not spare the local Somali community a fresh round of venom from racists, but it will provide responsible citizens a foundation of fact upon which to assess the hows of a cop who shoots a pajama-clad woman in one of the safest, quietest neighborhoods of the city.

 

A Policy Agenda For Minnesota’s Next Progressive Governor

In 2018, progressive Governor Mark Dayton will be retiring, and Minnesota voters will be selecting a new chief executive.  To retain control of the Governor’s office in 2018, Minnesota Democrats need a compelling policy agenda. It goes without saying that they also need a compelling candidate, but this discussion is about policy.

What constitutes a compelling policy agenda? First, it’s bite-sized. It can be quickly consumed and remembered by casually engaged voters. It’s more like five proposals, not fifty proposals. That doesn’t mean leaders should only do five things as a governor, but it does mean that they should only stress and repeat five-ish policies as a candidate, so that the agenda can be remembered.

Second, a compelling policy agenda delivers relatively bold change. It’s not merely about protection of the status quo from the bad guys, or small incremental improvements (see HRC campaign). It’s aspirational, and not limited to ideas that currently have the necessary votes to pass. If a candidate has to scale it back after elected, so be it. But they should run with a bold vision.

Third, a compelling policy agenda needs to have popular support beyond the political base. After all, a campaign agenda is about winning votes.

Fourth, it’s is easy to understand. Few have the time or inclination to study the intricacies of a 15-point tax reform plan, so candidates should stick to things that most can easily grasp and embrace.

Finally, a compelling policy agenda must be directed at Minnesota’s most pressing problems. It shouldn’t merely be about kowtowing to the most powerful interest groups, as is so often the case. It must actually be about the problems that most need fixing.

What fits those criteria? In no particular order, here’s my recommendation for a progressive gubernatorial candidate’s agenda.

  • MinnesotaCare for All Option. Allow all Minnesotans to buy into the MinnesotaCare public health insurance program. This will put competitive pressure on private insurance companies to keep premiums down, and ensure Minnesotans will always have a coverage option, even if health plans pull out of the market.
  • Transportation Jobs Fund. Increase the gas tax by a nickel per gallon — one penny per gallon per year over five years — and put the proceeds into an untouchable fund that will put Minnesotans to work improving the state’s roads, bridges and transit system. This will lift up the portion of the workforce that is struggling the most, and ensure Minnesota has a competitive economy and quality-of-life into the future.
  • Achievement Gap Prevention Plan. Ensure every child under age five has access to a high quality early learning program, starting with the children who can’t afford those programs on their own. This will prevent low-income children from falling into Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps, gaps that opens before age two, lead to lifelong inequity and pose a grave threat to our economic competitiveness.
  • Fair Share Tax. Create a new, higher tax bracket for the wealthiest 10% of Minnesotans.  During a time when income inequality is the worst it has been since  just prior to the Great Depression (1928), the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying a lower share of their income in state and local taxes.   Adjusting the state income tax is the best way to remedy that disparity.
  • Super-sized Rainy Day Fund. Increase the size of the state’s rainy day fund by 25%. This will control taxpayers’ borrowing costs and help keep Minnesota stable in the face of 1) an economy that, after the longest period of economic expansion in history, may be due for a downturn and 2) a federal government that is threatening to shift many fiscal burdens to states. Bolstering the rainy day fund will also communicate to moderate voters that a progressive will be a level-headed manager of their tax dollars.

Yes, worthy issues are left off this agenda.  But we’ve seen time and again that when Democrats try to communicate about everything, they effectively communicate about nothing.  Long, complex “laundry list” policy agendas may please the interest groups who are constantly lobbying the candidates and their staffs, but they are simply too much for busy voters to absorb.  As legendary ad man David Ogilvy preached, “the essence of strategy is sacrifice.”  To be heard, many things must be left unsaid.

This kind of progressive gubernatorial policy agenda would be simple enough to be understood and remembered, but not simplistic.  It would be relatively bold and visionary, but not pie-in-the-sky.  It would be progressive, but swing voter-friendly.

This agenda would put Republican opponents in a political bind, because these progressive proposals are popular with moderate swing voters.  The partial exception is the Transportation Jobs Fund, where swing voters are conflicted.   Surveys tell us that gas taxes are somewhat unpopular, particularly in exurban and rural areas, but the transportation improvements that would be funded by the higher gas tax are very popular with voters of all political stripes, as are jobs programs.  On that front, one key is to guarantee that tax proceeds could only be spent on improvements, something many skeptical voters seem to doubt.

If such an agenda were sufficiently repeated and stressed by a disciplined candidate, fewer Minnesotans would be lamenting that they “have no idea what Democrats stand for.” Most importantly, this agenda also would go a long ways toward fixing some of Minnesota’s most pressing problems.

Why Have DFL Progressives Stopped Pushing For Progressive Tax Reform?

Every year, we hear the State Legislature endlessly debate “water cooler” issues, such as Sunday liquor sales and legislator pay. Meanwhile, we hear almost nothing about more fundamental issues of governance, such as whether we have a taxation system that treats Minnesotans fairly.

When you look at Minnesotans’ effective state and local tax rate — the proportion of income paid in combined state and local taxes – it’s clear that we don’t have a progressive system. That is, we don’t a tax system where the rate of taxation increases, or “progresses,” as income increases.  This chart based on Minnesota Department of Revenue data paints a pretty clear picture:

Note: Department of Revenue study authors point out that “effective tax rates in the 1st decile are overstated by an unknown but possibly significant amount.” If you want to know why, there’s an explanation on page seventeen of the study.

However, even disregarding that first bar for the purposes of this discussion, we can certainly say that Minnesota has a state and local tax system that is not very progressive. That is, it is not taxing Minnesotans according to relative ability to pay.

As you can see in this chart, local taxes in Minnesota are particularly regressive.   Compared to other income groups, the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying the smallest share of their income in local taxes.  So if state lawmakers want tax fairness for Minnesotans, and they can’t rely on local officials to reform local taxes, then they need state taxes to be more progressive to offset those regressive local taxes.

Before my conservative friends trot out their tired old “socialism” rhetoric, they should read the words of Adam Smith, the father of free market economic theory who conservatives worship, on the subject of progressive taxation:

“The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess … It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

Republicans should also keep in mind that the nation’s first progressive income tax was enacted when the revered father of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln signed the Revenue Act of 1862.  A few decades later, Teddy Roosevelt carried on this Republican tradition when he strongly advocated for progressive taxation:

I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in . . . a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, . . . increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The fact is, until relatively recently Republicans were comfortable with much higher top income tax rates than they are today. While the top rate under Democratic Presidents Obama and Clinton was 40%, the top rates were 91% under Republican President Eisenhower, 70% under Republican President Nixon and 70% under Republican President Ford.

So, to my right wing friends, you’re embarrassing yourselves when you call progressive taxation “Marxism.”  For more than a century, progressive taxation was mainstream Republican thought.  Don’t let the uber-wealthy interests who seized control of the Republican Party in more recent years blind you to that fact.

To my friends in the center, spare me the “be reasonable” lectures you deliver every time progressive taxation is proposed.  Unless moderates also view Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford as wild-eyed extremists, you need to stop characterizing progressive taxation proposals as being somehow “radical.”

Finally, to my progressive friends, show some courage and leadership.  Don’t get so obsessed with shiny objects, like the Sunday liquor sales issue.  Don’t shy away from fighting to make our state and local taxation system more fair.  It’s time for DFLers who are “progressives” in name to become more progressive when it comes to substance.

Justice for Castile v. the Authoritarian Juror

The charge, “So we have reached a point where it’s been proven a cop can do anything he wants when stopping or confronting a black person?” is entirely valid and worth broad discussion in the wake of the “not guilty” verdict in the Philando Castile case.

But leaving police hiring criteria and training aside for minute, what is it about juries, supposedly a random sampling of every day Americans that leads them to reject a seemingly cut and dry situation like this one, where a nervous young cop panics and kills a man who by the weight of 99% of available evidence was being fully compliant?

The questions I think ought to be rolled more heavily into the mix of topics related to the Jeronimo Yanez verdict and (the rare) other cases where cops are brought to trial, are these:

1: A shrewd defense attorney like Earl Gray, (he of the “it shouldn’t even have been charged” quote), has to have developed a well-tuned sense for jurors with an authoritarian mindset. “Authoritarian” is often confused as solely the attitude of the dominating personality, the one demanding or manipulating others to his will. But in jury selection the “authoritarian” aspect refers to those on the receiving end, people who have been acculturated to give uncritical respect to any authority figure, be they parents, teachers, government leaders or cops. When you’re raised to defer to the judgment of such people — people you regard as superiors, and with bona fides well beyond you’re own — it becomes an enormous leap of intellectual courage as a juror to see any such person being in critical error, much less guilty of felony behavior.

2: Added to that is the relative ease — or so it seems to me — with which defense attorneys are able to gum up what objective critical faculties remain in average jurors with a kind of absolutist concept of “reasonable doubt”. In this case “reasonable doubt” was laid heavily upon jurors trying to decide whether Yanez actually did see a gun — i.e. Castile going for the weapon he told Yanez he had on him. The end result of their thinking being that since there was “reasonable doubt” about whether Castile was not going for his gun, authoritarian-minded jurors gave the authority-figure the benefit of the doubt and voted for acquittal … because, you know, they were in “reasonable doubt” about what actually happened.

i don’t know what the solutions to these issues are.

Perhaps, in the latter, more articulate jury instructions from the presiding judge on what “reasonable doubt” means and doesn’t mean

But on the former, the prevalence of the powerful authoritarian impulse built into a society (I would argue human nature) trained by family, institutions and culture to accept the judgment of anyone in a position of authority, I suspect we have a monumental problem for every prosecutor who follows Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s path and takes the case of a panicky cop before a jury of peers.

 

Opioid Abuse Crusader To Crack Down On Safer Opioid Alternative

The Affordable Care Act repeal, which will lead to 23 million Americans losing their health insurance protections, isn’t the only way the Trump Administration is endangering Americans. It’s proposal to ban patients from getting relief from cannabis-based medicines is just as ill-informed and cruel.

Trump’s states rights-loving Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked Congress to restore the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-authorized medical cannabis businesses. Since 2014, Congress has prohibited the federal Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute these state authorized businesses.

In a letter to Congress, Sessions made his case:

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

I can’t think of a delicate way to say this. This is moronic.  Trump and Sessions say they are making battling rising opioid addiction a high priority, but this move would prevent pain patients from transitioning from highly addictive and dangerous opioid pain relievers to much less addictive and dangerous cannabis-based pain medicines.

Before you bust out your best adolescent weed jokes or Reefer Madness paranoia, give some serious consideration to recent peer-reviewed medical research on this topic, as summarized by Scientific American:

A 2016 survey from University of Michigan researchers, published in the The Journal of Pain, found that chronic pain suffers who used cannabis reported a 64 percent drop in opioid use as well as fewer negative side effects and a better quality of life than they experienced under opioids. In a 2014 study reported in JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors found that annual opioid overdose deaths were about 25 percent lower on average in states that allowed medical cannabis compared with those that did not.

Marijuana can be habit-forming, at least psychologically, but the risks are not in the same league as opioids. A 20-year epidemiological review of studies concluded that more than nine out of 10 people who try marijuana do not become dependent on the drug. The review paper, published in 2014, said the “lifetime risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9 percent in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32 percent for nicotine, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol and 11 percent for stimulants.”

Also, unlike the case with opioids, it is virtually impossible to lethally overdose on marijuana—because a user would have to consume massive quantities in a prohibitively short time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says such a fatal result is very unlikely. Meanwhile, heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that from 2014 to 2015 heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6 percent—causing nearly 13,000 deaths in 2015.

This is no longer coming from some guy in a Grateful Dead t-shirt making vague anecdotal claims. This is now coming some of the foremost medical authorities in the nation.  For many people, cannabis-based medicines can ease their pain without the level of addictiveness and nasty side effects that unfortunately come with opioid pain relievers.

Beyond pain relief, cannabis-based medicines — often with the intoxicating component of cannabis oil (THC) removed when it isn’t medically necessary — also are helping Minnesota patients who have been diagnosed with a variety of diseases, such as cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, and terminal illnesses.

In Minnesota, most patients with those ailments who have been using cannabis-based oils, tinctures and capsules report to officials at the state Department of Health that they are experiencing substantial benefits from using cannabis-based medicine. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “no benefit” and 7 is “great deal of benefit,” nearly two-thirds (64%) of patients chose a 6 or 7.

Meanwhile, no patients report being hospitalized with complications from the cannabis-based medicine, something that cannot be said for opioids and many other FDA-approved medications. Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, looked at this data and concluded:

“Based on this evidence from the first year, Minnesota’s approach is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events.”

For years now, Americans have seen patients benefitting from medical cannabis, and an overwhelming number of them like what they see.  A February 2017 Quinnipiac University survey found that 93 percent support “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it,” including 85 percent of Republicans.  Only 23 percent of Americans, and 36 percent of Republicans, support “the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana?”

All of this leaves me wondering, what exactly are Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump smoking?

 

Note:  I’m a public relations consultant who has in the past done work for one of two medical cannabis businesses licensed by the State of Minnesota.  I no longer work with that company, and this post reflects my personal views.

Before the Jeronimo Yanez Verdict

Not being what you’d call a gambling man, (there was that slot machine in Beatty, Nevada years back) I’ve never put the chances of Jeronimo Yanez’ conviction in his killing of Philando Castile any higher than 15%. I hope I’m proven wrong, but history is on my side as we await the verdict. And this is an actual jury, not one of those sealed off police review boards where the chances of the finger of guilt would drop into the low single digits.

Before the jury returns I just want to return to a couple facets of this more or less routine run of traumatic incidents of police playing judge jury and executioner with black motorists and guys selling CDs on the street corner..

1: Jeronimo Yanez should never have been a cop. No one operating at the level of fear and panic he demonstrated should be wearing a badge, much less toting around a loaded gun with a license to kill. I’m told he’s a sweet guy. But that isn’t the point. He clearly didn’t have the emotional stability to be in the job he was in. Maybe at a desk for a non-profit. But not a cop. And for that I blame his employers as much as him.

Just because someone wants to be a cop is no reason to hire him. In fact, given the militaristic-to-racist attitudes of too many of these guys (and the woman in Oklahoma), wanting (badly) to be a cop should be a red flag for anyone sorting through applications. Moreover, are city police forces so desperate for bodies to fill uniforms that they can’t adequately vet someone like Yanez for aptitude and judgment? Put another way, if they took Yanez, who did they turn down? This guy?

After that we move on to training, where as we’ve learned, there is plenty of focus on gunplay and combat-style tactics — they call it “Bulletproof Warrior” for chrissakes — and not so much on how you go about dialing down the temperature of a situation.

Finally, on this facet, there’s the demand put on “emotionally vulnerable” young cops like Yanez to produce revenue for cash-strapped municipalities, largely by repeatedly ticketing low income minorities for nuisance violations. You don’t want to know how beyond-crazy ballistic I would have been after the second ticket from some twitchy cop, and Castile was stopped something like 44 times.

But as we all know the Jeronimo Yanez law enforcers of the world aren’t going to be hassling middle-aged and older white folks in clean new cars, even if they have a broken tail light.

2: And apparently I’m the only person on the planet who is obsessed with this, but why, considering all the pain and suffering to victims, families, police department reputations, city budgets and on and on hasn’t anyone (else) suggested issuing police a kind of dial-barreled service revolver, with a default setting firing rubber bullets or chemical darts? (When city cops get into the exceedingly rare raging, Hollywood-style gun battle, they could simply re-set the thing to fire its load of live ammo.)

Had Yanez freaked at the word “gun”, whipped out his and starting pumping rubber bullets into Castile’s chest, (being careful as he says not to scare the toddler in the back seat), Castile would have been pretty damn sore for a week or so, but he’d be alive, Yanez wouldn’t be on trial, the cops wouldn’t be fending of the now standard and very hard to dispute accusations of racism, the cities involved would be several thousands of dollars less in the red and Castile would be alive to pay another few hundred dollars a year in expired tab fines, or whatever the next cop could get him for. (I’m not sure what St. Anthony Park’s basic fine is for “Driving While Black”.)

This is good: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/police-shootings-traffic-stops-excessive-fines/

As far as I can tell my dual-barrel revolver idea has garnered exactly zero interest anywhere in the country, probably because no politician could stand up to Second Amendment fanatics shrieking about, “Disarming the cops!”.

One other facet worth giving some thought to are statistics dug up by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones on the disproportionate number of these cop v. minority killings that involve peace officers who are either young or very new to the job.

 

 

Minnesota GOP’s Tobacco Tax Cut Is A Killer, Literally

There is a lot to dislike about the Minnesota Republicans’ tax cuts that were recently signed into law. For instance, increasing the estate tax exemption from $2 million to $3 million is an unnecessarily lavish gift to about 1,000 Minnesotans who won the birth lottery by being born into a relatively wealthy family.  Overall, the Republicans’ tax cuts will compromise Minnesota’s future fiscal stability by reducing state revenue by more than $5 billion over the coming decade. This is a particularly reckless move at a time when President Trump and his Republican congressional supporters are proposing to shift billions of dollars in future costs to states.   The next time Minnesota has a budget shortfall, remember the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts.

But the stinkiest of the Republicans’ tax cut stink bombs was their tobacco tax cut, because in the coming years it will cause suffering and death.

Think that’s hyperbole?  A mountain of research shows that every time tobacco prices increase, tobacco consumption decreases. The corollary is also true – tobacco consumption increases when tobacco prices decrease.

This is particularly true when it comes to price-sensitive young Americans.

Here’s why that matters:  When tobacco consumption increases, tobacco-related suffering and death increases. Though we don’t hear about it as much as we used to, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in America. It causes a variety of deadly cancers, lung diseases, and heart diseases, among other serious health problems.  If you’ve ever seen anyone suffer from one of these illnesses, I promise you will never forget it.

If you don’t believe the legion of public health and economic researchers about tobacco taxes decreasing tobacco use, listen to the tobacco industry executives themselves. In a previously secret document that got disclosed during lawsuits, an executive from Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, said:

“Of all the concerns, there is one – taxation – that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions and public and passive smoking [restrictions] do depress volume, in our experience taxation depresses it much more severely.”

Likewise, an executive from RJ Reynolds, makers of Newport and Camel cigarettes, came to the same conclusion:

“If prices were 10% higher, 12-17 incidence [youth smoking] would be 11.9% lower.”

So if Republican legislators think their tobacco tax cut is doing a favor for Minnesota smokers, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes, financially speaking, the tobacco tax is regressive. That is, the higher costs of tobacco products that result from tobacco taxes disproportionately impact the pocketbooks of poorer Minnesotans.

But that’s not the end of the story, because the reduction in tobacco-related suffering and death that comes from higher tobacco taxes is progressive. That is, the life-saving health benefits associated with higher tobacco taxes disproportionately flow to poorer Minnesotans.  And by the way, the millions of dollars in savings from not having to pay as much to treat those tobacco-related diseases flow to Minnesota taxpayers and health insurance premium payers.

The bottom line is that cutting tobacco taxes, as Minnesota Republicans did this year, has two major impacts. It causes tobacco executives to profit more from increased sales, and it causes our family members, friends, and neighbors to suffer tobacco-related diseases.

Therefore, when it comes to tobacco taxes, Minnesotan leaders have to be cash cruel to be clinically kind. If the DFL Party wins control of the Minnesota Legislature in 2018, increasing tobacco taxes must be at the very top of their agenda.

Good Luck, Portland.

So it’s “Portlandia v. Trumpistan” this Sunday in Oregon. Organizers of the June 10th rally against Sharia Law, without question the most imminent threat to free-range espresso sipping Oregonians anyone can imagine, has been cancelled. But Sunday’s “Pro Trump free speech” rally is still on. Because … well because free speech is still a thing around here, at least in the uber-holistic paradise known as Portland.

As you may have heard, the Mayor and the cops aren’t too thrilled with this. But a court refused to revoke the permit on the grounds that the organizers got it fair and square. Nevertheless, the potential for some kind of telegenic mayhem is very high, since every affiliate satellite truck and crew for 500 miles is going to be scanning the scene for the slightest hint of confrontation between Trumpers and pissed off lefties eager to show the country that skinhead/tinfoil goobers are not representative of their misty green city.

Except of that they are, just as they’re representative of increasingly emboldened factions everywhere else in ‘Murica. Which is why I get more fascinated (and concerned) every day at the thought of what this “pro-Trump free speech” crowd will do when, as I believe, Trump himself inevitably disintegrates and is replaced.

At the moment, living in separate bubbles as we do, the impression in mine is that the 60 million who voted for The Donald last November have been cowed back to a fraction of that number — to only the most whacked-out goobers — and that forces of reason have gained the upper hand. But in the other bubble, the one that holds “the failing New York Times” and “the Clinton News Network” and pencil-necks like Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein and David Frum in utter contempt, and suckles at the addictive teat of Breitbart, NewsMax and Sean Hannity, the hardening perception is that the election of the guy (Donald) for whom they waited their entire lives is being invalidated and revoked in front of their eyes by exactly the domineering snobs who have oppressed their friends and them for generations.

So … I don’t see them sitting still for The Donald’s shall we say “deinvestiture” by the same corrupt urban elite pencil necks. They will certainly be encouraged by their, uh, “thought leaders”, to rally and rage more vigorously than ever before as they see Trump being castrated by the “administrative state” they sent him to DC to blow up. And by “vigorously” I mean physically, as though they’re the last militia between “freedom” and “tyranny”.

The guess is this is what has Portland’s Mayor and cops spooked about this “free speech” event this Sunday. If you are prone to worrying about a face-to-face clash between the farthest right and the farthest left in the country today, both eager to make a defining statement, well, here’s leafy, piney Portland for test run #1.

It’s worth remembering that when Richard Nixon waved goodbye and disappeared into that chopper 31% of the country still supported him. But that was back in the day when even the gnarliest redoubt Republican had some exposure to the likes of Walter Cronkite. Today, the “pro-Trump free speech” base, literate really only in the Second Amendment, has very little if any routine contact with mainstream news (i.e. reality), other than being told by the likes of Breitbart and Trump that it’s all “fake.”

This crowd is running on a much higher octane mix of delusion than the Republicans of 1974.

Mix gas like that and a wildfire of stoked rage and we’ve got a bigger problem than the cops in Oregon.

This is Not Mark Dayton’s Finest Hour

TCursor_and_Constitutional_fight_escalates_between_Dayton__Legislature_-_StarTribune_comhis is going to sound awfully school marmy, but I expected more from you, Mark Dayton.

I’m speaking, of course, of the spat over Dayton’s defunding of the legislative branch of government in retaliation for the Republicans planting a legislative stink bomb in their unwise tax cut bill.

Admittedly, poor Mark Dayton suffers from my high expectations. During his career of public service, he’s usually been a thoughtful and mature leader who has shown great respect for our constitutional democracy.  For that reason, I just expect a lot more from him than I do from Republican state legislators, who have, in recent years, had more of a track record of recklessness and immaturity.

So, I’m disappointed with Dayton’s gamesmanship in this case, because it is probably unconstitutional and certainly childish. Mind you, this criticism is coming from someone who hates the Republicans’ tax and budget cuts, and dislikes many of their policy changes, but is also all too aware that, heavy sigh, elections have consequences.  That means that the party that won control of both chambers of Legislature in 2016 unfortunately gets to win a lot.

Someone who respects our guiding principle of separation of powers should never use their executive power to defund a coequal branch of government. Regardless of what the courts decide about the strict constitutionality of Dayton’s fiscal trickery, the question of “should” still ought  to matter to defenders of democratic principles, not just the question of “can.”

When it comes to the playground “they started it” defense that Dayton and his DFL allies are using, I can’t disagree on factual grounds.  At the same time, I’m with old Mahatma Ghandi on this one: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

In these dangerously politically polarized times, “adults in the room” are in desperately short supply. I’m grateful that Governor Dayton has played that thankless adult role many times during his career. Unfortunately, this time, our frustrated Governor has joined Republican legislators on the puerile path, just when we needed him most.

Three Facets of The Walker’s “Scaffold” Flap

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The Walker Art Center’s troubles over a piece of art for it’s renovated Sculpture Garden is an interesting controversy for a number or reasons, not the least of which is that smart, well-educated, broad-minded people like those who run large high-profile arts organizations aren’t supposed to find themselves in situations like this. The working presumption is that they have a better grasp of history and cultural nuance than say, you or me.

The story is so rich in artistic hubris, cultural faux pas and psycho-social analyses it’s a shame Tom Wolfe doesn’t have an apartment at 510 Groveland to record and relish all the mayhem among the (art) mavens across the street.

But here are three points that I keep returning to.

1: Artists work off inspiration and emotion. They are struck by an idea or a feeling and produce what they produce — paintings, dance, films, sculpture and/or, well, a scaffold. In this case Sam Durant, creator of the scaffold was, we have good reason to believe, genuinely moved by the the world’s use of capital punishment and this country’s long, ugly history of genocide and extra-judicial killings. (One irony being how this controversy overlaps with the start of the trial for the cop who killed Philando Castile.)

So fine. Durant produces an artistic statement based on a combination of outrage, determination to provoke a new conversation about this homicidal history and his gift for … structures.

But then we move to the Walker’s Olga Viso, the Art Center’s executive director who saw Durant’s work in Europe and was … moved, which is to say compelled to some extent by emotion. That too is fine. People who curate art should retain the ability to be moved by art, and to see in art the potential to provoke discussion and debate.

But, perhaps obviously, Viso’s role requires a tier of judgment beyond that of either the artist or the consumer. Her job, (and I really know nothing more about Viso), is to make decisions based on a broad(er) grasp of culture, as in to ask, “Will the public perceive this as I perceive it? If not, how will they see it?”

Given that “Scaffold” was being purchased and shipped to Minnesota to be part of a permanent exhibit in a venue — the Sculpture Garden — previously notable for the whimsy of its most prominent pieces and as an environment that encourages calm and serenity in its audiences, not references to mass hangings, clearly the question of “What will the audience think?” should have been given even higher priority. It is what she’s paid to do.

That said, it’s hard to take seriously anyone accusing either Durant or Viso of racist intent. Durant’s career is notable for his sympathies to Native American sufferings, and Viso’s worst offense is short-sightedness, not some sort of class-calloused indifference to Native suffering.

2: Let’s talk artfulness. Like you, I’m guessing, I had no idea who Sam Durant was before all this exploded. All I know was what I saw in the dozens of photos of “Scaffold” erected in the Sculpture Garden. And to that my art-consumer reaction was somewhere south of, “meh.” Maybe I needed to see it in person. To touch the wood, or to climb on it like a 10 year-old on a jungle gym. But I couldn’t find an angle that inspired anything in me like it inspired in Ms. Viso when she wrote, ”

“Constructed of wood and steel, this work layers together the forms of seven historical gallows that were used in US state-sanctioned executions by hanging between 1859 and 2006. These representations, assembled one on top of the other, intersect into a single, complicated structure. This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique—“neither memorial nor monument”—that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US.”

And, “When I first encountered Scaffold in a sculpture park in Europe five years ago, I saw a potent artistic statement about the ethics of capital punishment. Most importantly, I recognized its capacity to address the buried histories of violence in this country, in particular raising needed awareness among white audiences. I knew this could be a difficult artwork on many levels. This is invariably connected to national issues still embedded in the psyche of this country and its violent, colonialist past.”

To that, all I can say is, “Wow. Maybe I needed a better liberal arts education, a couple seminars in Symbolism and Structural Reinterpretation, or maybe a micro-dose of good acid.” But then, I am also the fairly regular modern art consumer who when confronted with Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Black on Grey)” has been heard to say, “Give me a break.”

Bottom line here, “Scaffold” as constructed, even with a ponderous “artist’s statement” or video primer, evoked nothing unique in my understanding of capital punishment or genocide.

Finally, 3:  The desire to provoke a fresh conversation about whatever horror you choose, capital punishment or the largest mass execution in American history, is a valid and honorable intention. History is sanded down and polished so often it loses its vital instructive value.

So lets give Durant and Viso credit for recognizing the importance of revitalizing memories of great injustices. And let’s hope that this flap, with all the condemnatory ranting, doesn’t siphon off attention to white Minnesota’s role in the horrors set upon Native Americans over the past 200 years.

Because … if you’re really in the mood for outrage, how about we take a survey of what Minnesota school kids are taught about the men we widely and routinely regard as our wise and just pioneering elders?

Guys like our first governor, Henry Sibley, for example.

 

What Spawned Who … Among the Body Slammin’ GOP?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Greg “The Body-Slammer” Gianforte’s unequivocal victory in Montana last night there’s a lot of hand-wringing talk about how this is the latest example of “The Trump Effect”, “the fish rotting from the head down”, yadda yadda. And with the statistically demonstrable upsurge in anti-Muslim activity around the country, compounding what is already an intolerable level of racist attitudes by authority figures, it’s hard to make a case that The Donald’s success hasn’t unleashed something pretty sick and unevolved in our “shining city on the hill”.

But come on. Donald Trump, essentially an ideological illiterate, a guy whose trademark is exploiting weaknesses, financial, political and moral, to his personal advantage hardly invented the pig-headed brutishness displayed by Republican candidate Gianforte or his Big Sky supporters, (many of who possibly voted for him before he smacked that “aggressive liberal journalist” to the ground.)

I’ve been on a couple “Fake News” panels in recent weeks and my now standard line is that “fake news”, with all the demagogic recklessness and viciousness attached to it is part of an established, profitable and electorally successful  continuum from — to pick a recent start point — talk radio in the early 1990s, FoxNews in the mid-to-late ’90s, all the crackpot websites of the mid-aughts to Trump’s victory last fall. Point being, Trump exploited the grievance-saturated messaging of all that came before him to draw out a crowd that had been sitting on the sidelines for years and propel him to victory. Whether he personally believes any of what he bellowed at them hardly matters. (In sales, it’s often the bullshit — the not caring if something is true or false — that closes the deal.)

Trump is the product of every “conservative entertainment complex” huckster and every Republican politician who kow-towed to … a collection of radio jocks. They are the head of the rotting fish. Trump is just a guy who applied full caricature to the extant mob mentality and got himself appointed grand marshal of their parade.

This “Anyone Who Kicks Ass on A Pencil-Necked Liberal East Coast Faggot Reporter Is My Kinda Guy” moment in Montana comes simultaneous with Sean Hannity’s on-going, obnoxious exploitation of a young guy’s murder in D.C. — in his cynical, fevered mind a clear connection to Cruella de Vil rat-bastard Hillary Clinton and everyone trying to blockade The Donald’s visionary conservative plan to make ‘Murica great again. While even FoxNews has reversed course on the story, Hannity has persisted, despite repeated pleas from the kid’s family to stop the aggravation of their suffering.

But the carefully strategized, generation-long interplay of low information news, shameless delusion and naked grievance — and oh hell, through in a fat dose of barroom clodishness — has worked so well for Hannity (and FoxNews under Roger Ailes) that it’s impossible to resist. Junkies to the next meth hit, my friends.

By the way, hat tip to pal Jim Leinfelder for alerting me to this classic Matt Taibbi screed at Rolling Stone on the passing of Ailes and culture, of Gianforte-style Republicanism.

Rx for Your Psychic Health: Enjoy Trump as an Epic Farce

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For everyone exhausted by Trump’s Follies and terrified the world as we know it is about to collapse in a steaming pile of Keystone Cops criminality, I urge you to chill just a bit. Try this: Tamp down the stress by absorbing this absurd drama less as a nightmare and more as trashy reality TV on an epic scale.

Sure, sure there is no end of reasons to spike your blood pressure over things like the “unimaginable cruelty” of Trump’s budget. But that thing, like virtually all of his promises/threats/delusions isn’t going anywhere. (You gotta love the minor $2 trillion math error involved in its grand design.)

In fact, one of the truest things I’ve heard recently was some talking head urging calm by reminding viewers that, “As long as doing nothing is the default option” all this incompetence and venality is survivable. What he meant is that with 98% of Trump (i.e. Steve Bannon’s) ideas doomed to fail, we can get through Trump with the rudder and sails still attached to the ship of state. Obamacare will remain (perpetually imperiled, but “un-repealed”), the tax code will go “unreformed” (meaning another GOP giveaway to the rich will wait for a later day) and Big Bird will not be plucked and roasted (by government, although maybe eventually by the commercial marketplace.)

So with the normal consequences of incompetence in mind, it may be beneficial to our psychic health to dial back the grim expressions of stress and view this story as a kind of slapstick Ring Cycle. Instead of The End of Days, think of the Trump presidency and its inevitable collapse as a sprawling, time-consuming tale of dozens of strange, silly, improbable characters and lots of noise. True, like “Big Brother” or “Jersey Shore”, “The Trump Show” its a crass epic lacking anything in the way of moral grandeur and honorable tests of mortality. Just the opposite in fact. The whole thing is playing like the Farrelly brothers reimagined Wagner. It’s “Dumb and Dumber” inflated to international proportions.

This is why I don’t share the sense of dread and panic of some of my fellow liberals.

Unlike say Richard Nixon, much less truly psychopathic thugs like Benito Mussolini, Stalin and what’s his name back in Germany, Trump is both ideology-free and resoundingly lazy. Beyond ego-gratification he doesn’t really know what he wants and is not about to put in the effort to find out. Moreover, since he has no friends in D.C., and no deeply connected Dick Cheney-like consigliere to work the system and connive with a deep closet of corporate cronies, Trump’s more isolated with every passing pratfall. And they’re coming at the rate of about one an hour.

Hell, the only guy he could imagine defending him against this Robert Mueller investigation is his long-time apologist Marc Kasowitz, a guy — wait for it — who also includes among his best clients, Russia’s biggest bank. (See above for “slapstick”.)  The word “literally” is getting a work out these days, but … literally … every move Team Trump makes to defend itself from accusations of collusion adds a new layer of farce.

Add to this the stage whispering that the White House “person of interest” mentioned in that Washington Post story last week is over-ambitious, over-burdened son-in-law Jared Kushner, he of recently reported Baltimore litigious slumlord infamy.

(Since young Jared has been in the Middle East this past week we can assume he’s got the handle on that little problem and will be having Hezbollah and the Israelis over for a Shavuot barbecue.)

If true, and it fits so perfectly it’s in the range of “very highly likely”, Jared-as-person-of-interest suggests a laser point on Trump family financial machinations vis a vis Russian “investors.” (For my money Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been as good as anyone at connecting the bizarre characters on the money trail between Trump and Russian oligarchs/mobsters.)

The story even has standard issue domestic farce, like the First Lady uh, rebuffing, the touch of the guy proud of being able to grab any woman anywhere anytime he wanted. (I keep thinking our old friend Tom Arnold may have the best explanation for that particular chill.)

One of the next acts in this grand burlesque will be crushing legal bills dropping on the Kellyanne and Spiceys of the world. Will the narcissistic emperor pick up those tabs? Would you count on it if you were them? Moreover, who would be stupid enough to step in and replace them once they are reduced to “losers”, the absolute worst thing you can say about someone? (See above for “isolated”.)

Shortly after that the spillway will open wide when Michael Flynn, the show’s paranoid general, (think Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper), realizes he’s not going to get immunity and spills everything he knows in the hope of the court’s mercy.

Point being friends, there is a choice here. You can laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. It’s easier on the nerves.

Is Minnesota GOP Sabotaging The Individual Health Insurance Market By Rejecting MinnesotaCare-for-All Option?

Minnesota Republican legislators spent their 2016 election campaigns expressing grave concerns about whether private health insurance companies in the individual market* have sufficient competitive pressure to keep prices down, and whether Minnesotans who live outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan region will have at least one solid coverage option available to them in coming years.

Those are legitimate concerns shared by both parties. But after Republicans won control of the Minnesota House and Senate, they have been unwilling to do one very important thing that that could achieve those two goals. They have been unwilling to give those Minnesotans the option of buying into MinnesotaCare health coverage.

Cursor_and_minnesotacare_for_all_-_Google_Search

Governor Dayton’s proposed “MinnesotaCare-for-All option” would allow any individual market consumer to buy into the state government-run health plan that has served over 120,000 Minnesotans since 2006. An unsubsidized version of MinnesotaCare would be an available option for all Minnesotans.

In other words, MinnesotaCare for all would be a Minnesota-specific “public option” that would always be there for Minnesotans. MinnesotaCare wouldn’t be able to abandon individual market consumers the way corporate insurance companies can and do. Moreover, MinnesotaCare’s presence in the marketplace will pressure private insurers to offer more competitive prices, because MinnesotaCare’s prices don’t have to account for corporate salaries and profits.   Representing the buying power of about a million public plan consumers, the large MinnesotaCare plan should also have leverage to negotiate consumer-friendly reimbursement rates with health care providers, which helps keep premium costs more affordable.

In fact, Governor Dayton’s office estimates that Minnesota families who purchase MinnesotaCare coverage would pay on average about $838 per person less in 2018 than they pay for private coverage in 2017.  To secure those long-term annual savings for Minnesota families, a one-time taxpayer investment of $12 million – a relatively tiny drop in the State’s $39 billion annual budget — would be required to establish the option. In subsequent years, no additional taxpayer funds would be needed to keep the lower costs flowing to Minnesotans. The MinnesotaCare-for-All option would be self-sustainable.

If you believe that government-run operations are always less efficient and customer-friendly than corporations, here’s your chance to prove it. If that’s true, comparison shopping Minnesotans will “vote with their feet” by rejecting it en masse. But if it’s not true, Minnesotans in the individual market will finally have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that at least one coverage option will always be there for them and their loved ones.

Given that 71% of Americans support having a similar Medicare-for-All option, a MinnesotaCare-for-All option is likely popular with Minnesotans.  Still, Republican state legislators killed the proposal this year.

Minnesota Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t reject the MinnesotaCare-for-All option and then turn around blame others if competition is insufficient in some parts of Minnesota, or if corporate insurers’ prices prove to be unaffordable to many Minnesotans. No one can know for sure if this idea will work, but if Republicans are unwilling to give things like this a try to help vulnerable consumers, then Minnesota voters should hold them accountable for their obstructionism.

*(Note: The “individual market” is made up of the 10 percent of Minnesotans who a) can’t get insurance through their employer and b) whose incomes are not low enough to quality for either of Minnesota’s two publicly subsidized health insurance plans — Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s version of Medicare) for very low-income citizens or MinnesotaCare a subsidized option for the working poor. Last year, about 250,000 consumers bought coverage in Minnesota’s individual market.)

Have We Finally Found a [Bleep]-Up That Matters?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3There was a telling audience reaction to a moment in “Saturday Night Live’s” opening skit last week. “Weekend Anchor” Michael Che was playing Lester Holt interviewing Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump about the firing of James Comey. At one point Baldwin/Trump blurts out that yeah he fired him because he was rooting around in this Russia stuff. To this Che/Holt looks around, as though talking to his crew, “Is that it?” “Did I get him?”, meaning that — come on, folks — Trump clearly admitted obstruction of justice.

But then he quickly realizes, no. “No? So nothing matters? Is that right? Nothing matters?”

To which the “SNL” audience (99% of them sneering-at-real-‘Murican urban elites) responded with a laugh of cathartic recognition, as though a deeply shared suspicion had been pushed out into the light of day. “Nothing matters.” That’s what you and I have been  thinking. I.e. Is there nothing Trump says or does — and this was before dropping that “highly classified”/code word intelligence on the Russians in the Oval Office — that is appalling enough, stupid enough or legally indefensible enough to make a dent in his core support?

The hope is this latest fiasco — bragging to the Russians about the “great intel I get” (as though they’d be surprised the President of the United States gets juicy information) — will do the trick.

Maybe. But I doubt it. After the pussy grabbing stuff last fall, we all thought he was doomed. I mean, what politician could possibly survive that?

Over at The Daily Beast this morning, Michael Tomasky speculates on the polling numbers necessary to push your Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells out of the Trump support ICU. Basically, and I agree with this, he says that when (not if) Trump’s support drops into the 20% range, (George W. Bush territory), he will have shed pretty much all the tribal Republicans. This would be the crowd that really should have known better, but rationalized Trump as a better choice than Hillary Clinton on the grounds of her “corruption”. (In reality it was more likely the fact she was female, her last name was Clinton and they would sooner have their fingernails pulled out than vote for a Democrat.)

The stereotypical Trump voter — ill-educated or ill-informed or “left behind” or roiling with grievances or all of the above — constitutes maybe 20-25% of last November’s GOP voting bloc. Pissing them off is perilous to most Republican candidates. But, as I’ve said several times before, the name of the Ryan-McConnell game is not about making the lives of those sad stereotypes better, it is about providing service to the people who fund their careers. And if enough of those people fall away to drive Trump’s numbers down into the very low 30s or (oh my bleeping god!) the W-like 20s, they will have no choice other than to take the gamble and consent to the independent prosecutor (linked to the FBI investigation with full subpoena power).

At that point, and I’m repeating myself I know, Ryan and McConnell will have accepted that because of Trump’s astonishing laziness and incompetence they have no chance of getting “tax reform” through Congress, or even fully repeal Obamacare. (And always remember that Obamacare repeal is mainly about returning the $600-$700 billion in taxes the wealthy are paying to keep it going. Obamacare repeal is a tax relief play, with health care only as collateral damage.)

There have been several excellent analyses written recently about Trump’s endurance in the face of unequivocal incompetence. One of them was former Milwaukee conservative radio host Charlie Sykes’ piece in … The New York Times, very ironically titled, “If Liberals Hate Him Trump Must be Doing Something Right.”

Sykes, never an Alex Jones/Mark Levin nitwit, has gone over to the dark side as far as many Trumpists are concerned. Sykes is out of the William F. Buckley school of conservative thinking, which among other things involves reading books written by people other than Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and assembling, you know, facts to make an argument.

Complaining that conservative media, which has incited and sustained the Trump base, has lost all connection to traditional conservative values, (we can still argue the quality of those values), Sykes writes …

What may have begun as a policy or a tactic in opposition has long since become a reflex. But there is an obvious price to be paid for essentially becoming a party devoted to trolling. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a party dedicated to liberal tears can remain a movement based on ideas or centered on principles.

Conservatives will care less about governing and more about scoring “wins” — and inflicting losses on the left — no matter how hollow the victories or flawed the policies. Ultimately, though, this will end badly because it is a moral and intellectual dead-end, and very likely a political one as well.”

And, “As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.”

A lefty moonbat like myself couldn’t have said it any better.

 

 

 

Strib Poll Uncovers Dark Clouds For Republicans

Cursor_and_minnesota_republicans_-_Google_Search 2As the 2017 Minnesota legislative session heads into the home stretch and President Trump is creating a constitutional crisis, the news for Minnesota Republicans in the recent Star Tribune survey is not  great.

To recap, most Minnesotans are…

Digging Dayton. An overwhelming 62% of Minnesotans approve of the job being done by Minnesota Republicans’ primary antagonist, DFL Governor Mark Dayton. Less than half as many Minnesotans (29%) disapprove of the job Dayton is doing.

  • Implication:  He’s grumpy, boring, wonky, and unabashedly liberal, but Governor Eyeore remains quite popular with a strong majority Minnesotans.  Despite Republicans’ best efforts to frame Dayton as being metro-centric and out-of-touch with Greater Minnesota, a majority in every region of the state approve of the job he is doing.  As high stakes budget and policy negotiations between Dayton and legislators begin, Dayton is in a relatively strong position to push his progressive agenda.

In the Dumps About Trump. Only 40% approve of the Republicans’ national leader, President Donald Trump. This marks an all time historical low-point among Presidents, at a time that is supposed to be a President’s “honeymoon period.” For context, eight years ago, during dire economic times, the newly elected President Obama had a 62% approval rating.

  • Implication: To state the obvious, “all time low” is not good.  Republicans who remain steadfastly loyal to their party’s unpopular President could be more vulnerable in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. While the conventional wisdom would be for Republican incumbents to distance themselves from the toxic Trump, it’s difficult for them to do so, because Trump remains popular with the narrow band of Trump diehards.  Republican incumbents need those voters on their side in order to survive 2018 primary and general elections. With Trump this unpopular, Republican incumbents are in a political bind.

Swooning for DFL Senators. In comparison to Trump’s 40% approval rating, 58% of Minnesotans approve of DFL Senator Al Franken, and 72% approve of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

  • Implication: Franken and Klobachar remain popular as they relentlessly criticize Trump and his policies, which should embolden other DFLers to do the same. Also, Klobuchar looks difficult for Republicans to defeat in 2018, and both Franken and Klobuchar should be helpful surrogates for down ballot DFL candidates in 2018.

Cursor_and_Minnesota_mexico_wall_-_Google_SearchNot Feeling The Mandate. Trump mandate?  What mandate?  Most Minnesotans don’t like Trump’s policies any better than they like him personally. About two-thirds (65%) oppose Trump’s signature campaign issue – building a Mexico wall. Only 29% support that idea.  The survey also found that Minnesotans oppose Trump’s proposals to accelerate deportations, and his Muslim travel ban.

The only ray of hope in the survey for President Trump was that 70% of Minnesotans support his drive-by Syrian missile strike, proving once again that Americans still love military actions, as long as victory can be declared within a matter of days.

  • Implication. It turns out those “real Americans” at the Trump rallies who cheered wildly about the Mexico wall and Muslim ban are not very representative of most Minnesotans. Therefore, stressing those issues would seem to hurt Republicans more than help them, at least with moderate swing voters. However, the one thing that perhaps could make Trump more popular is a quick, easy military victory.  Don’t think for a moment that a drive-by war has not crossed Trump’s compulsively self-promotional mind.  In other words, it’s probably not a good time to plan a vacation to Grenada.

Nyet On Russiagate Coverup. Republicans steadfastly maintain that no one cares about the Russian controversy. But even prior to the disturbing Comey firing, a majority of Minnesotans (55%) indicated that they would like to see an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, while 39% say there should be no such investigation.

  • Implication: If Republicans continue to cover up and downplay the Russia controversy, it will not pass the smell test with a majority of Minnesotans.

All Aboard On Trains. By a strong twenty-point margin (54% support to 34% oppose), Minnesotans support building two extensions of light rail transit (LRT), from Minneapolis to the southwester suburbs and Minneapolis to the northern suburbs.

  • Implication: Republicans should think twice about making LRT their poster child for wasteful spending.   Despite Republican operatives and talk radio jocks aggressively bashing LRT over many years, most Minnesotans, including plenty of voters in swing suburban districts, support LRT expansion.

Cursor_and_minnesota_tea_party_-_Google_SearchOkay With O’Care. Then there is Obamacare. Republicans seem supremely confident that Obamacare is wildly unpopular.  But a narrow plurality of Minnesotans actually is okay with it. Forty-nine percent of Minnesotans say Obamacare has been “mostly good,” while 44% say it has been “mostly bad.” This issue polled better for Republicans than most other issues, but this finding isn’t very encouraging for Republicans who are dead set on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Trumpcare plan that offers many fewer patient benefits.

  • Implication: As Republicans prepare to replace Obamacare with something that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says will erases all of the Obamacare coverage gains, these numbers spotlight the political risk that Republicans are taking.  Republicans are beginning to learn that the only thing many Americans hate more than Obamacare is lack of Obamacare.

Loving Local Control. By a whopping 34-point margin (60% oppose, 26% support), Minnesotans oppose the GOP-backed proposal to prevent Minnesota towns and cities from passing work-rule ordinances, such as minimum wage increases.   In every region of Minnesota, a majority oppose limiting local control.

  • Implication:  This is another loser issue for Republicans.  How in the world did the party that constantly preaches about the need for “local control” end up on this side of the issue?

Wrong Tax Cuts. Inexplicably, the Star Tribune apparently didn’t poll on what seems like the overarching question of this legislative session: What should legislators do with the state budget surplus? That is, should they spend it, cut taxes or save it for a rain day (i.e ask about “all,” “most,” “some,” or “none” for each category). Instead, the Star Tribune only asked how to cut taxes, as if tax cutting were the only thing being debated.

Even within that narrow fiscal category, the news wasn’t great for Republicans. Republicans propose tax cuts targeted to narrow constituencies — smokers, farmers, retirees, people with student loan debt, business owners and others. But most Minnesotans (45%) would rather just cut income taxes for all, perhaps because it’s simple and broad-based. Less than 20% of Minnesotans support the Republican-recommended constituency-by-constituency approach, while the rest support Jesse Ventura-style rebates (30%).

  • Implication: Tax-cutting remains the Republicans’ bread-and-butter issue, and it should be a pretty easy sell. Still, Minnesota Republicans can’t even seem to do that right.   They somehow managed to find the most unpopular way to cut taxes, which might somewhat limit the electoral benefits they stand to gain from the tax cuts.

Political tides ebb and flow, so today’s viewpoints could be very different at election time18 months from now. But as it currently stands in the dawn of the Trump era, Minnesota Republicans are not exactly winning so much they’re tired of winning.

Tricky Moment for “Principled Conservatives”, If There Are Any.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A familiar complaint, from exasperated liberals, over the first three and a half months of the Trump regime has been something on the order of, “When are the Republicans going to show some spine/grow a pair and stop this fool?”

The easy, glib answer is, “Probably never.”

The slightly less glib response is, “As soon as he puts their reelection in peril.”

And the third, somewhat more nuanced rejoinder is, “When they detect his base has abandoned him and it’s obvious they’re not going to get the ‘tax reform’ by which they are judged with him around.”

Watching (way too much) cable news last night and this morning, I had to snort at every pundit’s appeal to “principled conservatives” and “Republicans or honor” to stand up — now, in the immediate waking of Trump firing FBI Director Jim Comey — and demand an independent prosecutor to follow the Russia-Trump connections wherever they lead. Judging by Mitch McConnell’s statement this morning, that “immediate” thing ain’t gonna happen.

McConnell is the single best barometer of adult Republican/cynical electoral calculation. As long as old wattle-necked Mitch supports Trump, you know he doesn’t see an election-day upside to abandoning him to an independent anything. McConnell knows as well as other prominent Republicans that their hold on House and Senate majorities depends very heavily on the Trump base, and that base isn’t close to admitting they’ve been played for chumps (yet again) and are starting to bail on the guy they sent to D.C. to roll a hand grenade into every bureaucracy in town, including the FBI.

But … Mitch is going to have to start selling “Still Support Trump” a lot more aggressively than he has. Saturday Night Massacre comparisons aside, fury over the Comey firing is only going to build over the next few days and weeks. (It’ll build even faster if Comey makes his scheduled appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. And faster still if various vows to haul in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein bear fruit. Rosenstein being the guy Trump says did the real dirty work in the Comey firing.)

Comey’s firing, added to the reignited rage over last week’s “TrumpCare” vote in the House, will suck a tremendous amount of attention and energy out of the push to do what Republicans always want to do most, namely accommodate their donor class with tax relief, I mean “reform”.

Point being, “tax reform” has just been pushed even further off toward the horizon. So fa off that old Mitch and other GOP “wise men” (entirely ironic description there) have to start wondering anew at how much better off they’d be with Mike Pence in the Oval Office … well before the clock flips over to 2018.

My personal fascination at the moment is with Rosenstein, a guy torn from obscurity to the harshest imaginable spotlight in barely a month. White House spox Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t even attempt to play coy this morning asserting flatly that it was Rosenstein who was responsible for every facet of the Comey firing, from recommending it to Trump to concocting a rationale to signing his name to the historical document.

It was breathtaking.

So … you gotta wonder how Rosenstein, allegedly a straight shooting ex-prosecutor, likes being picked up and heaved under the bus before he’s even figured out where the supply closet is in his own new office? If it were me, I’d be pissed as hell, to use the parlance of our times.

As I understand it, Rosenstein has the authority — today — to call for an independent prosecutor. Why he consented to ginning up the rationale for firing Comey is beyond me. The only explanation is that he is yet another DC careerist terrified he’d be fired if he refused, which makes me exceedingly skeptical that’ll he’ll man up now and go the special prosecutor route.

If he is another bureaucratic worm, his flaccid resolve might be stiffened a bit by GOP heavyweights like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr going well beyond “concerned” and “troubled” statements and demanding an independent investigation.

My guess though is that the Republican “wise men” need to see some thorough polling of the braying, foot-stompin’ Trump rally crowd before they go out on TV and get all righteous about, you know, defending the Constitution.

 

Jim Comey’s Pre-Existing Conditions

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Sure it’s berserk, (for them, typically berserk), but I’m hoping U.S. House Reoublicans pass their Obamacare-gutting bill today. Why? Because holding the national conversation hostage over whacking adequate, reasonably-priced health insurance for 20-30 million Americans will re-inflame The Resistance and keep the inmates away from tax “reform” and everything else on Steve Bannon’s to-do” list, at least for a while.

The numbers on the so-called bill up for vote today are gob-smacking as usual. They make no sense. But this is what we’ve come to expect from a collection of critters, (today’s “principled conservatives”), far better suited to opposition than, you know, actually running things.

Here are a couple of the top howlers in this bill as it is. The $8 billion (over five years) tossed in yesterday to win support from four “moderate” Congressthings to cover constituents with pre-existing conditions? Well, to paraphrase baseball play-by-play legend Bob Uecker, that comes up “Juuuuust a little short.” Like by roughly, oh, $190 billion. In other words, it’s meaningless.

The other, in terms of who gets screwed most, is this: The top ten states with the most people 40 or younger with pre-existing conditions are all … damn you, you beat me to it … deep red, hootin’ and hollerin’ Trump states. Preggers in West Virginny? That’ll be an extra $17,000 in annual insurance premiums. Really, WTF?

But if this “moral monstrosity” as Nancy Pelosi put it yesterday, does pass, it’ll go over to the Senate for weeks if not months, eating up massive chunks of pundit air supply not to mention the attention of our ADD-afflicted Orange Leader. And by the time the Senate lays eyes on this thing, due diligence conservatives along with you and me, will actually know silly science-y stuff like for example, what’s actually in the bill, how it works and … how much it’ll cost. And at that point wiley old Mitch McConnell, who is all about political survival, (and I do mean all), will have to decide how big an appetite he has for political suicide.

My guess? None at all.

That said, there’s a connection within this all-too familiar madness to FBI Director Jim Comey. Allow me to make it as succinctly as I can.

Comey seemed unusually animated yesterday talking about his options regarding his unprecedented Oct. 28 disclosure about Hillary Clinton’s-mails. There were only two, he said: “Really bad” and “catastrophic.”

So, he broke with the FBI’s rules and went with “really bad” because of the predicament “we” (meaning the FBI) would have been in had Clinton won (which everyone assumed she would) and word leaked out post-Clinton victory that she had … had … well, frankly I don’t know what, unless somewhere in her e-mails was a note to Vladimir Putin proving she was involved in something truly treacherous and treasonous, like colluding with agents of a homicidal international gangster to trash her opponent.

Want to read the best “Why Comey Turned the Election to Trump” piece I’ve read? Here you go.

But what is far, far more likely, and isn’t discussed nearly as much is who Comey feared most and why. I can’t claim originality on this. But when The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky argued that Comey had every valid reason to fear what Congressional Republicans would do to him personally and the FBI it landed with the weight and scent of high plausibility.

The established Republican game plan, going back to the Clintons and Whitewater, is to launch an endless series of investigation and hearings, amplified by their media mouthpieces, until something … anything … gets churned up that damages the intended target, normally a Clinton or a Democrat.  (Notable irony: They never found anything with which to attack Obama.) For example: Failed Arkansas land deal begets Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. And more recently “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi” begets Hillary’s e-mail server.

Democrats either haven’t learned how to play this game or find it too repugnant to seriously consider. And Comey knew that. He already had an insurrection within his New York FBI office. His agents were convinced, probably from listening to Rush Limbaugh on stakeouts in Chappaqua, that the Clintons were dirtier than Carlo Gambino and Comey wasn’t being tough enough. He also had good reason to suspect those agents — retired or otherwise —  were leaking inside information to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. (Now Comey says he’s investigating that angle too, along with the Russians, etc., etc.) With all those fuses burning Comey made the fateful promise he had no legally valid reason to make, namely that he would keep “Congress” i.e. Republican committee heads, updated on anything new regarding their Enemy Number One, Hillary the Terrible.

In effect it’s not all that different from the kid cowering from a pack of bullies pleading, “Please don’t yell at me. I hate it when you yell at me!.”

To do less, which is to say play by normal FBI/Justice Department rules, Comey would have faced the extreme probability of guerrilla war within his New York office (at least) and a full-fledged Congressional Republican/conservative media attack on both him and the Bureau at large for being a Clinton stooge. Conversely, he had nothing of the sort to fear from Democrats by not mentioning last Oct. 28, “Oh, by the way, we have a criminal investigation going into the Trump crowd for jacking around with the Russians to pervert the election.”

Point being:  The contemporary Republican strategy of reckless, relentless total war, on individuals no matter their status in the DC pecking order and on the most basic logic of legislative cause and effect has a chokehold, (maybe a stranglehold), on all points of critical government function.

But, if you’re paying attention, you already knew that.

 

 

Five Reasons Democrats Should Push A Medicare-for-All Option

As the next iteration of Trumpcare/Ryancare is finalized by warring conservatives, it’s fair to demand that Democrats share their post-Obama vision for health care.

Yes, Democrats need to be fighting efforts to repeal and replace the increasingly popular Obamacare/Affordable Care Act (ACA) system with Trumpcare/Ryancare. Though the ACA is the spurned love child of the Heritage Foundation, Orin Hatch, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it’s much more humane than Trumpcare/Ryancare, which would cause at least 24 million Americans to lose their Obamacare health coverage, and many more if states choose to further weaken protections.

Cursor_and_medicare-for-all_jpg__360×216_But for the long haul, Democrats need to set their sights higher than Obamacare. They must become full-throated champions for allowing Americans the option of buying into the Medicare system.  Here are five reasons why:

Reason #1. Medicare is popular “government run health care.” For decades, Republicans have robotically vilified “government run health care” and “socialized medicine,” presuming that Americans agree with them that government will screw up anything it undertakes.  And Democratic politicians have cowered in fear.

However, Medicare is a notable exception to that rule. While the private sector-centric Trumpcare/Ryancare has 17% approval and Obamacare has 55% approval, Medicare has the approval of 60% of all Americans, and 75% Americans who have actual experience using Medicare.  It’s not an easy thing for a health plan to become popular, so Medicare’s relative popularity is political gold.  Democrats need to tap into it.

Reason #2. Medicare is better equipped to control medical and overhead costs than private plans. Medicare has a single administrative system, while dozens of health insurance corporations have dozens of separate and duplicative administrative bureaucracies.  That decentralized approach to administration is expensive.

Also, for-profit health insurance corporations have to build profits and higher salaries into their premium costs. For instance, the insurance corporation United Health Care, to cite just one of dozens of examples, pays it’s top executive $33,400,000.   That’s 135 times more than the not-for-profit Medicare system pays its top executive, about $247,000.

Medicare also is large enough that it has a great deal of negotiating leverage.  It could have even more if Congress empowered Medicare to more effectively negotiate pharmaceutical prices.

Because of all of that, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds:

Medicare has been the leader in reforming the health care payment system to improve efficiency and has outperformed private health insurance in holding down the growth of health costs…  Since 1987, Medicare spending per enrollee has grown by 5.7 percent a year, on average, compared with 7.0 percent for private health insurance.

So, if Democrats want to better control health care costs to help the economy and struggling Americans, the Medicare model offers the best hope for doing that, not the corporate-centric model that we currently are using.

Reason #3. A Medicare-for-All option is very politically viable. Most Democratic politicians understand that a Medicare-for-All option makes good sense policy wise, but shrug it off as politically infeasible. They’re dead wrong.

By a more than a 5-to-1 margin, Americans support having a Medicare-for-All option. An overwhelming 71% support it, while only 13% oppose it. If you won’t try to sell a proven progressive idea that is supported by a 5-to-1 margin, you have no business being in progressive politics.

While “government-run health care” has been a weak brand for brand for Democrats, they have a clear path for rebranding their agenda.  Medicare brand equity is right there waiting for Democrats to take advantage it, if they’ll only open their eyes to the opportunity.

Reason #4. A Medicare-for-All option will expose private health corporations as uncompetitive. Right now, one of the Democrats’ biggest political problems is that too many Americans have been brainwashed by conservatives into believing that the private sector is always more efficient and effective than the public sector. In other areas that don’t involve “public goods,” that is true, but not with health insurance.

The best way to bust that “private is always best” myth is to allow Medicare to sit alongside corporate health plans in the individual marketplace. If American consumers choose Medicare over private plans, because Medicare proves itself to be the cheapest and best option, then the conservatives’ “private is always best” myth finally will be busted.

Reason #5. A Medicare-for-All option can serve as a bridge to the best health care model – a public single payer system. The research is clear that countries who have single payer health care financing have better and cheaper health care than the United States has with it’s substantially private sector based health care system. For example, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Commonwealth Fund finds:

Even though the U.S. is the only country without a publicly financed universal health system (among 13 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), it still spends more public dollars on health care than all but two of the other countries. …despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.

Obscure research reports like this aren’t proving persuasive to American voters. But when younger Americans are able to see for themselves through their shopping that Medicare is cheaper and better than private health insurance options, Medicare will build a bigger market share.  After Medicare earns a larger market share, Americans may ultimately be much more open to shifting from a Medicare-for-all option to a Medicare-for-all single payer system that the United States ultimately needs in order to compete in the global marketplace and become a healthier nation.

It’s not enough for Democrats to only expose the reckless Trumpcare/Ryancare model and defend Obamacare status quo.  They must also promote a Medicare-for-All vision for moving America forward. With the current President and Congress, a Medicare-for-All option obviously can’t pass.  But aggressively promoting over the coming years will improve the chances that this Congress and President will soon be replaced and that a Medicare-for-All option can be enacted in future years.

100 Days. How Much Stupidity Can We Survive?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3So let me get this straight. The “yuge”, “beautiful” wall keeping out all those Mexican drugs, bad hombres and strawberry pickers is not only not going to be paid for by the Mexicans, but probably isn’t going to be built at all. Likewise, China the worst currency manipulator in the world, the bastards destroying our economy … will not be branded a currency manipulator, partly because the Chinese guy spent 10 minutes explaining how complicated this North Korea thing is.

And ObamaCare repeal, that thing Republcans voted for 50, 60, 200 times, meaning actually tearing the whole damn thing up and returning us to the golden days of yore when health insurance was dirt cheap and “accessible” to everyone … eh, not so much, and sure as hell not in time for the big 100 Days check-off this Saturday.

Ditto tax “reform” (i.e. the usual Republican ritual performance of oral sex on its donor class without so much as a handshake for you and me). And … and … well the list of what His Orangeness promised, in the loudest and angriest terms to his hootin’ and hollerin’ rally-goers last fall is very, very long and all but entirely incomplete, except for Neil Gorsuch.

In other words it is exactly the farce of buffoonish incompetence most of us expected when we voted Nov. 8. The only thing that is “fer sure” is that the timer on the hand grenade both the “deplorables” and the tribal conservative clod-bro culture wanted rolled into D.C. is seconds away from detonation.

At last Saturday’s “March Against Stupidity” “March for Science”, I kept thinking, “How much stupidity can an enormous, intricately complicated society withstand before something blows … fatally?”

A lot of people are watching Trump poke at North Korea, like an impaired six year-old jabbing a stick at a rabid dog trapped against a fence. None of the outcomes to this drama are good, and some are border-line apocalyptic. More to the point, confidence that either of the main guys involved are rational and competent is, well, kinda like non-existent. (I still wonder what serious humans like “Mad Dog” Mattis would actually do if Trump decides he wants to lob some missiles into Pyongyang? There are — rarely used — military codes of ethics that prohibit an officer from following an order he deems illegal or wholly unjustified.)

Most likely, like everything else on his list of batshit campaign bluster, Trump will do nothing, other than play another round of golf at Mar-a-Lago and enjoy another five or six slices of “the most beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen.” But the issue is what the North Korean nutjob does in response to what he thinks Trump might do.

While enjoying the sunshine, the crowds and a lot of very funny signs at the Science march I was reminded of another detail related to a book I read last month, “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.” Harvard astrophysicist Lisa Randall and her team have a theory about the “periodicity” of asteroid impacts on planet earth. Something big and nasty rolls in roughly every 35-40 million years. Their idea is that this coincides with our Solar System’s two million-year passage through the center plane of the Milky Way, a plane dense, she thinks, with dark matter and its mysterious gravitational effects.

She theorizes that these effects kick up a storm among the rocks and comets otherwise tumbling innocently through the Oort Belt far out beyond Pluto, sending a barrage of the stuff inward toward the Sun and colliding with earth.

And what’s this got to do with Donald Trump and the ascendance of crass stupidity to power in all facets of the government of the planet’s most technically advanced society?

Well, there this. In his fourth grade coloring book of a budget “presented” last month, the one red-lining Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, Big Bird, and on and on, there was the part cancelling NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The main part of that mission was an elaborate project to grab material off a passing asteroid and get it back to orbiting astronauts for examination. But a facet of it was money to pay smart people here on earth, (FoxNews/talk radio/clod-bro culture’s much derided “experts”), to think seriously and propose ideas about how me might deal with an apocalyptic meteor heading our way.

The cost of the entire Mission was pegged at $1.25 billion. The part where the gubmint pays smart people down here on terra firma to work out the details of how to protect civilization from toasted dinosaur-like destruction was probably a lot … a lot … less.

But if you’re too incompetent, lazy or sociopathic to care about stuff like that, well, screw it. We gotta pare this insane spending down to compensate for whacking the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have saved Trump roughly $25 million off the only tax return we’ve ever seen.

Stupidity is darkly funny up to the point it makes survival an open question.