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.

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 Benghazi Question: Democrats At Their Best and Worst

When Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a challenging question about the tragedy at the Benghazi embassy at last night’s debate, Democrats were at their worst, and best.

Cursor_and_Watch_the_Democratic_debate_audience_react_to_Jorge_Ramos_bringing_up_Benghazi_-_Vox

Democrats were at their worst when they booed the question and questioner for several seconds.  They should be mature enough to know that a healthy democracy needs courageous reporters like Ramos asking candidates tough questions.  It’s their job to ask those questions, and it does us all a great service.

But Democrats were also at their best when Secretary Clinton didn’t attack the reporter, fuel dangerous anti-journalism attitudes or avoid the question.  While she clearly is tired of answering Benghazi questions, she gave a reasonably solid one-minute answer.  I would have liked her to shush the boos non-verbally, but she did pretty well overall.  It’s her job to answer those questions, and it does us all a great service.

The More Relevant Poll Finding Pundits Are Ignoring

trump_angry_-_Google_SearchDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now pretty assured of winning their party’s nomination for president, both because they are far ahead and because it seems unlikely either will implode with their respective bases. They have both had fundamental vulnerabilities exposed, yet they both continue to have a sufficient amount of support to win their nominations.

As the campaigns shift to the general election, Team Clinton shouldn’t take Donald Trump lightly, says the boy who watched slack jawed as a sophomoric but entertaining professional wrestler with no real policy agenda became Governor of Minnesota.   The Trump-Ventura parallels are imperfect. For instance, the Minnesota electorate in 1998 was divided by three strong general election contenders, making the general election threshold unusually low for the middle finger voting block to attain.  Still, that experience has given me a healthy amount of respect for the electoral appeal of entertaining protest candidates.

But to put this in casino terms, in honor of the candidate who somehow finds ways to regularly bankrupt rigged casinos, I’d much rather have Hillary Clinton’s hand than Donald Trump’s hand. Here’s why:

As pundits continually remind us, Trump is indeed the runaway Republican front-runner. But this doesn’t mean he is broadly popular.  All this really means is that his antics have charmed about 40% of the one-third of Americans who participate in Republican primaries. That equates to about 14% of the general election electorate.  So, yes, he’s the front-runner for the nomination, and that’s a shocking thing.  But we have to keep in mind that eight months from now, he needs to win over a lot more people to win a general election.

The problem for Trump is, general election voters are a very different audience than the people currently voting for him. Most notably, they include large numbers of Independent voters. To win a two-candidate — don’t you even think about it, Michael Bloomberg — general election Trump has to win Independent voters.

What do Independent voters think of Trump’s nomination campaign performance.  As of December 2015 poll showed 47% of Independent voters would be embarrassed to have Mr. Trump as President.  Only 20% of Independents would be proud to say “President Trump.”  Even pilloried Hillary, one of the more systematically smeared political figures in modern political history, has a much lower 32% of Independents who say they’d be embarrassed to vote for her.
National__US__Poll_-_December_22__2015_-_Half_Of_U_S__Voters_Embarrasse___Quinnipiac_University_Connecticut

This is a big problem for Trump, because the “would be embarrassed” question is a reasonable approximation of “would never vote for.”  Therefore, the finding shows that Trump’s pandering to his authoritarian-loving base has badly damaged his chances in a general election, perhaps irreparably so.

Now, if anyone is uniquely positioned to dig himself out of this hole, it may be Mr. Trump. First, he’s instinctively talented at reading audiences and adjusting to them on the fly. He’s like a veteran door-to-door salesman in that way.  Second, he’s no ideologue.  He’s perfectly comfortable changing positions to win over whichever audience happens to be in front of him at the moment, and skilled at deflecting “flip-flopper” criticisms. Therefore, as soon as the Republican nomination is in the bag, we can expect Trump to quickly be moderating his positions and tone, and that should help him partially rehabilitate himself with some Indies.

Still, it will be very difficult to erase the memories of Trump’s boorish behavior over the past several months.  Social media and massive ad buys will keep Trump’s Greatest Hits fresh in general election voters’ minds.  Moreover, over the next eight months Trump will still have his hard core Trumpeters coming to his rallies, which will continually tempt him to pander to them, both to win their adoration in that moment and to ensure that they don’t stay home in November.   So, Trump will moderate compared to his current self, but he probably will remain plenty embarrassing.

These same numbers also show how critically important it will be for Hillary Clinton to partner with Bernie Sanders to get Sanders’ 18-34 year old supporters to the polls in November.  After all, an astounding 73% of these younger voters would be embarrassed to have Trump as their President. This should be a solid voting block for Secretary Clinton in the general election, but they could easily stay home in large numbers if they can’t get more excited about her than they are now.

So as the nomination fights wind down, it’s time to stop obsessing about the nomination horse race numbers and delegate counts, and start focusing on the more general election-relevant data points in the survey research. When you dig a little bit deeper into the data, there still is a very high wall around the White House for the wall-obsessed Trump to scale.

Ten Questions You Won’t Hear Asked By Intimidated Political Reporters

With all of the horse race and insult-related content in the GOP presidential debates, there is a huge opportunity cost: A lot of substantive questions simply are going unasked.

Megyn_Kelly_bimboMaybe that’s because reporters are worried bullying candidates will give them the Megyn Kelly Treatment/Rebecca Quick Treatment. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t take the time to learn policy issues. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t respect voters’ intelligence enough to think that they will care about, or understand, policy issues

Whatever the reason, the most consequential questions simply aren’t being posed, and the result on the Republican side is the most vapid set of presidential debates of my lifetime. Here just a few of the questions that I would love to hear asked at the upcoming Republican debate:

  • PAYING FOR TAX CUTS FOR WEALTHY? Which Americans’ services are you going to cut or eliminate to pay for your proposed tax cuts, which go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans?
  • PAYING FOR PENTAGON SPENDING SPREE? You claim President Obama has destroyed the military, despite the fact military spending is at historically high levels, and is 23% higher than under President Reagan.  But if you do want to further beef up the military, which specific Pentagon spending programs will you increase, how much will that cost and what service cuts and/or tax increases will you offer to pay for that large increase in spending?
  • BUSHONOMICS AGAIN? President George W. Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy didn’t lead to economic growth and deficit reduction, yet your tax proposal is remarkably similar to the Bushonomics that didn’t turn out so well for Americans. Why do you think that approach will lead to a booming economy if it didn’t turn out that way under the last Republican president?
  • CAP-AND-TRADE. One solution for reducing greenhouse emissions is the cap-and-trade approach. The last three Republican Presidents, including conservative icon Ronald Reagan, embraced this market-based approach. But suddenly Republicans now oppose the cap-and-trade approach to protecting the environment. Has cap-and-trade changed since President Reagan, or has the oil industry’s control of Republican leaders gotten that much stronger?
  • ELIMINATE OIL COMPANY SUBSIDIES? Given that you oppose subsidizing alternative energy sources, and government spending in general, would you support eliminating the $4.8 Billion in subsidies the petroleum industry is given every year? If not, why give an unfair competitive advantage to dirty, non-renewable, and foreign sources of energy over cleaner, renewable, American-based sources?
  • MAKING BANKS SMALL ENOUGH TO FAIL? The largest banks in America are now actually even larger than they were in 2008, when leaders judged them to be too big to fail.  Will you break up the nation’s largest financial institutions so that they are no longer “too big to fail?” If not, aren’t you leaving American taxpayers wide open to another crippling bailout?
  • DETAILS ON DEPORTATION. Explain specifically how you would deport 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, an amount roughly equivalent to the population of the State of Ohio? For example, how would you pry 11 million people away from their lives and families, and get them onto trains or buses? Would you use the military, National Guard or police? How would you pay the estimated $400-600 Billion cost of deporting 11.2 million people?
  • VETERANS VOTING RECORD. You all talk a lot about needing to honor and help military veterans. But if you all love veterans so much, why do groups like the Disabled American Veterans of America (DAV) rate your voting records so low. For instance, the DAV says Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz supported veterans 0% of the time in their most recent rating of them, while Senator Sanders supported veterans 100% of the time and Senator Clinton supported them 80% of the time.   Don’t legislative actions speak louder than your words?
  • DEFICIT SPENDING FOR WARS? Your comments on foreign policy indicate that you are inclined to send American troops to another armed conflict in the Middle East. If you do, will you increase taxes to pay for those operations, or will you fund the conflict with deficit spending, as the last Republican President did? If you’d run up the deficit with trillions of dollars of war spending, how can you claim to be a fiscal conservative?
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA) ALTERNATIVE? What’s your specific plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act? No, really, it’s been six years since the ACA passed, so this time you are not going to get away with dodging the question. If you still can’t name an alternative you support, isn’t it fair to assume that the claimed “repeal-and-replace” rhetoric is actually just “repeal,” which would lead to 1) about 15 million Americans losing their coverage and 2) another 65 million losing their ACA protection from discrimination due to a pre-existing condition?

Oh, and here is one over-arching question I’d like them to add. “For every tax cut or spending increase you didn’t know the cost of today, will you pledge to the American people that you will disclose the estimated fiscal impact within the next month? If not, why won’t you shoot it straight to the voters.”

There are dozens of other questions that need to be asked by reporters, but this would be a very helpful start. Yes, such questioning will cause reporters to get booed, heckled and bullied by the candidates and their cheering sections. But frankly that happens even when they ask softball questions, so what exactly do they have to lose?

DFL Shouldn’t Politicize Makeout-gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About That “Soaking” Of Minnesota’s Rich

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

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

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

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

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

Is the “Soak” Rhetoric True?

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

MN_Soak_the_Rich_chart

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

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

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

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

Don’t Forget About Local Taxes

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

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

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

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.

The Trump Bump, As Viewed Through a Minnesotans’ Lens

With the Trump Bump in full swing, we Minnesotans have an obligation to explain to our fellow Americans how these political crushes work.  Been there.  Done that.

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MN Loses A Treasure: Reporter Jim Ragsdale

Jim_RagsdaleVeteran Twin Cities political reporter Jim Ragsdale was smart, decent, savvy, warm, and oh-so witty. Pancreatic fucking cancer got him today at 64 years old, and I’m going to miss him like mad.

Great musicians get their most heartfelt ovations when they come out to present one of their masterpieces as an encore.  So, the best way I can think of to honor my pal Rags is to feature one of his many masterpieces as an encore:

Minnesota — broke, a little bloated, and now looking for a new love

By Jim Ragsdale

Updated: 05/20/2010 05:58:46 PM CDT

He goes on long trips without explanation. He comes home and criticizes my appearance, even as he pays greater attention to his own image. Where there once was fondness and love, now all I get is, ‘Your taxes are too high! You’re spending too much! You have to cut back!’

I hate to say it after seven wonderful years, but I, Minnesota, can avoid the truth no longer. My governor, Tim Pawlenty, is seeing someone else.

Am I the last to figure this out? My neighbors, particularly, Iowa, said he has been seen there often, giving their presidential voters the affection I once received. Bigshot pundits who are on the make for a new star delight when he trashes me. But I thought that was, you know, just business, and not really serious.

I admit I have problems. My taxes and spending are on the heavy side — although I’m not as bulky as he likes to say. But hey, I’m Minnesota. I think I carry the weight well. And he knew all this going in back in ’03, when all was kisses and hugs. Why is he dumping me now for slimmer, sexier states?

Sorry — my bitterness occasionally gets the best of me. Deep breaths — in, out. Now, let me give you the whole sad story.

Gov. Tim was born and raised in Minnesota. He has lived and studied and worked here his whole life and he seemed to really care about me. We both knew there were things he didn’t like. He’s “red” and I always go “blue” in presidential years. He’s a fiscal conservative and I have a long tradition of high taxes and generous services.

But he was so cute back when he became governor in 2003. He had a charming way of saying he would try to nudge me in his direction, understanding that I was Minnesota, after all, and would never be, say, Texas or Mississippi. And he did just that. He pushed and prodded and battled and got me shaped up pretty good.

He said he loved my forests and lakes and trees and blue skies, and he was very protective and passionate. Green — good heavens the man was green!

That’s why I loved him back then, despite our differences, and why voters put him back in office for a second term, beginning in 2007. We were pretty happy for a while longer, at least as far as I knew. I never failed to deliver the goods on walleye opener — how ’bout that 22-incher at Kabetogama on Saturday? — and I know he appreciated that.

Then, almost overnight, everything changed.

That bigshot John McCain put him on the V.P. shortlist in 2008, getting him around the nation to red-hot audiences. And right after that, Jan. 20, 2009, happened. A new president — a blue president — took office. Gov. Tim began talking more about national politics and about running for president himself.

He began wandering. First to Iowa. Then New Hampshire. The South. Even the West. States that were trimmer and more red-hot than me.

I saw it but I didn’t see it — know what I mean?

Those floozy states were filling his head with ideas about how great he is, how good-looking and smart and presidential. I couldn’t compete with that. I was broke and a little bloated — just trying to keep home and hearth together — and when he came back, I could tell he no longer had that gleam in his eye.

I’d display my woods and waters and he’d be on the cell-phone with someone in South Carolina. We’d run into our usual budget problems and all he do is scold me to reduce eligibility here, cut benefits there, slim down all over. “Stop snacking on Local Government Aid!” he’d say. “They’re just empty calories!

I am so tired of hearing that.I thought of hiring a private investigator. But then I saw the evidence in black and white, from Eastern pundits. They said the only way he can get love from them is to withdraw it from me. It’s right here in the Wall Street Journal — every time he calls me fat and ugly, he wins points with them.

And trust me, the verbal abuse makes it worse, because when I’m stressed, I tend to binge on the K-12 funding formula.

Well, I may be dowdy and past my prime. I will always suffer through seasonal cold and hot flashes. But I’m not ignorant. The last thing I need, in the middle of a severe bout of economic recession, is my governor trashing me.

So I hereby free him to transfer his affections to those red-state red-hots, those governor-grabbing gigolos, those low-tax lovergirls who have turned his head.

As for me, I’ll survive. I’m getting my budget balanced and I’m having some work done on the out-biennium. But like I said, I’m Minnesota. I’ll always have big bones.

There are a lot of fish in the political sea, of the blue and red and even purplish variety, who will be darn proud to be seen with me. I wish him well in his quest for national stardom. And I hereby issue this request for proposals: I’m looking for a new Gov to be my true love.

No one will ever do “politics on wry” quite like Jim Ragsdale.  Rest in peace JImbo.

Loveland

Conservative Pressler Would Ban Abortions, While 68% of South Dakotans Support Keeping Them Legal

In an increasingly interesting and competitive U.S. Senate campaign in South Dakota, former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, now running as an Independent, is consistently portrayed by the news reporters as a “moderate.”

It’s ludicrous to characterize Pressler as a “moderate.” After all, his most recent votes in the U.S. Senate were 100% against women, teachers, students, gays and workers, he has voted for cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and he stilll speaks out about wanting to cut those programs even more in the future.

Pressler_Would_Overturn_Roe_Vs_Wade_-_YouTubePressler has also said in no uncertain terms during this current campaign that he would make abortion illegal.
Not regulated, mind you.  Not scaled back.  Illegal.  He would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that has kept abortion a legal option since 1972.

After Pressler banned abortions, he would allow states to make abortion legal again if they choose, but we all know that many states would keep abortion illegal, and make millions of women into criminals and victims of botched back alley abortions.

Even in a red state like South Dakota, banning abortion is not a mainstream position.  In the most recent polling I could find on this issue, a Sioux Falls Argus Leader survey, only 25% of South Dakotans say that abortion should be illegal.

Instead, an overwhelming 68% of South Dakotans want to keep abortion legal, either “legal and the decision to have an abortion should be made by the woman without government interference (34%),” or “legal but restricted to very specific circumstances, such as rape, incest or to save the life of the mother (34%).”

This idea that the news media mindlessly calls anyone who camouflages themselves with an “Independent” label a “moderate” shows just how shallow political reporting has gotten.  Politicians who make abortion illegal, cut Social Security and Medicare and vote 100% against women, teachers gays, students and workers are hardly “moderate.” They are, by any reasonable definition, on the far right.

– Loveland

News Flash: GOP Activist Reveals That Veteran GOP Consultant Is Supporting A GOPer for Governor

Tom_HornerMinnPost reporter Cyndy Brucato is breaking the blockbuster news that 2010 Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner is, gasp, crossing party boundaries to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson!  The reporter breathlessly reports:

Another leader in the Minnesota Independence Party is gravitating toward support of a Republican statewide candidate.   Tom Horner, the Independence Party candidate for governor in 2010, is meeting this week with GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson to discuss joining his campaign.

Wow, if that happens, that does sound like huge news!

Unless you pay close attention to politics.

If you do pay close attention to politics, you know that Tom Horner is a long-time Republican staffer, supporter, consultant and pundit.  Before Horner spent one year as a right-leaning Independence Party candidate for Governor, he was the head staffer for Republican U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, has advocated for Republican candidates like Norm Coleman his entire adult life, has long counseled Republicans, and served for many years as the Republican voice on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news outlets.

In short, for decades Horner has been one of the most visible Republicans in Minnesota. Reporter Brucato is aware of this because she was a lead staffer for Republican Governor Arne Carlson and Norm Coleman.  But she mentions none of Horner’s GOP bona fides in the article.

In other words, the real headline here is actually a wee bit less newsworthy.  It’s more like:

GOP Activist Reveals That Veteran GOP Consultant Is Supporting A GOPer for Governor

Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

I like and respect Tom Horner a great deal.  Though we disagree on many policy issues, Tom is intelligent, has integrity, and Mr. Johnson is lucky to have his policy and PR counsel.    But let’s get real.  This hardly qualifies as the blockbuster news the reporter makes it out to be.

I support MinnPost relying on a ex-staffers of politicians for opinion pieces. That’s an appropriate role for an ex-staffer.  But they shouldn’t rely on ex-staffers from either party for news reporting like this, because their advocacy background naturally calls their objectivity into question.

While  the lede was blown way out of proportion, I did find a few things intriguing about the article that left me hungry for deeper reporting.  On taxes, Horner says:

 “I wasn’t opposed to raising more revenue, but the way the governor went about it is not in the best long-term interest of Minnesota. Just adding fourth tier only reinforces a tax system that isn’t suited to a global market. Maybe we need more revenue but tilt the policy much more to tax consumption and more to reward investment.”

And on health care, Horner says:

“MnSure is where Republicans could play an effective role. It’s good that we’re expanding access and covering children and have a more robust marketplace.  Now how do we control the underlying drivers of health care?”

The fact that Tea Party-backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson may be bringing in a pro-tax, pro-Obamacare consultant for policy advice raises additional questions that were not posed by the reporter:

  • Does Horner think tax increases were only needed in the past, or does he think that more may be needed in the future?  If so, which taxes would he favor increasing?
  • Which parts of health reform would Horner favor retaining?  Medicaid expansion?  Tax credits?  The insurance exchange system?  Pre-existing condition reform paired with the insurance mandates?  Other?  How would Horner propose Mr. Johnson could better control health care costs?
  • Does candidate Johnson share Horner’s opinions on taxes and health reform?
  • What do key Tea Party-friendly supporters of Johnson think of bringing in Horner to advocate for these positions?

The answers to those questions would have been informative, and would have qualified as actual news.

– Loveland

Conservative Pressler Attempts Facelift For SD Senate Race

Pressler_Reagan_BushOne of the more brazen political facelifts in recent memory is being attempted in South Dakota, where a ballot crowded with conservatives is causing conservative Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD, 1979-1997) to attempt to convince voters that he is now a moderate.

The former Republican U.S. Senator’s most recent television ad features this claim:

“I believe in taking the best ideas from both parties…”

That spin sells well with moderates.  But Pressler’s claim will come as a huge surprise to non-conservative policy advocates, given that Pressler’s most recent voting record ratings show him rejecting almost all non-conservative ideas:

  • National Education Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Council of Senior Citizens:  Pressler voted against their positions 90% of the time.
  • NARAL Pro Choice America:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Human Rights Campaign:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • United Food and Commercial Workers:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Public Health Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • United States Students Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • Children’s Defense Fund:  Pressler voted against their positions 89% of the time.
  • Human Rights Campaign:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
  • American Association of University Women:  Pressler voted 100% against their positions.

Source:  Project Vote Smart

Voting records speak louder than ad claims, and this not the voting record of a moderate.  This is not the voting record of someone who “takes the best ideas from both parties,” unless you believe conservatives have 99% of the best ideas, which of course makes you an ultra-conservative.

So why is long-time conservative Pressler trying to masquerade as a moderate in 2014?

Necessity.  There are two other conservatives – Republican Mike Rounds and Tea Party-backed former Republican state legislator Gordon Howie — joining the historically conservative Pressler on the ballot. Pressler is running a pretty distant third place behind increasingly strong Democrat Rick Weiland and Rounds, and he apparently doesn’t like the mathematics associated with splitting the conservative vote three ways.  So instead of running again as a conservative, Pressler is giving himself a moderate facelift, and hoping South Dakota moderates will somehow forget his conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate.

It’s understandable how South Dakota voters might forget the voting record of someone who has been out of office for almost two decades.  It’s a little more difficult to understand how the South Dakota news media, many of whom covered Pressler and know all about his conservative voting record, could neglect to expose a facelift that would put Michael Jackson to shame.

– Loveland

Reporters Let McFadden Have It Both Ways On Health Reform

You can’t simultaneously support deism and atheism, or capitalism and communism.  Embracing one makes it logically impossible to simultaneously embrace the other.  They are mutually exclusive.  If a candidate came out and claimed to be for both of those ideological constructs at the same time, in an attempt to win support from supporters of each idea, they would be the laughing stock of American politics.

If you doubt that, imagine if you saw these headlines in today’s news:

Dayton Tells Congregation “I Support Atheistic Christianity”

McFadden Tells Business Group He Embraces “Capitalistic Communism”

The candidates would be laughed out of the race for taking such absurd positions.

I submit that the same should be true of simultaneously advocating to 1) outlaw denial of health coverage due to a pre-existing health condition and 2) make health insurance coverage optional.  It’s defensible to embrace either of those two positions.  But it’s not defensible to embrace those two approaches simultaneously.

Here’s why:  If you outlaw the insurance companies’ enormously unpopular ability to deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, but simultaneously make purchasing health insurance optional, millions of people would stay out of the insurance market until the moment they got sick or hurt.  After all, why would anyone choose to pay high premiums for years to protect themselves against the expenses associated with treating an illness or injury when they know that the insurance company will be forced to pay the treatment expenses after they suffer from the ailment? And if millions of people refused to pay premiums until the moment they need insurance benefits, the insurance industry would very quickly need to dramatically jack up premiums, or go bankrupt.

There is broad consensus about this.  The Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance, the Manhattan Institute, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Pacific Research Institute, the Manhattan Institute, The Concord Coalition, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Families USA and many others have all said that a coverage mandate and preexisting condition reform have to be paired in order for the finances of health reform to work.

Mike_McFadden_scissors_obamacareYet when GOP politicians endorse those two mutually exclusive positions, almost no political reporters note the absurdity of it.  When reporters allow politicians to get away with simultaneously endorsing the part of Obamacare that outlaws pre-existing condition denials and opposing the part of Obamacare that mandates insurance coverage, they effectively allow those politicians to say something every bit as absurd as “I’m for capitalism, but I also support communism.”

For example Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate, and millionaire investment banker, Mike McFadden (R-Sunfish Lake) says:

Before we can make the kind of changes Americans deserve, we need to repeal the “Unaffordable Care Act” (which would repeal the coverage mandates)

…when we repeal and replace Obamacare, we need to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions actually have access to affordable insurance plans that cover their illnesses.

Any actuary will tell you that if McFadden and other GOP pols simultaneously enacted those two policies it would lead to a complete and utter meltdown of the nation’s health care finance system.  But almost no political reporters will.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Minnesota Senate Candidate McFadden Releases New Humorous Ad

Mike_McFadden_groin_hilaritySaint Paul, Minn. — Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden (R-Sunfish Lake) followed an earlier campaign television ad that ended with a child-inflicted injury to his groin with a new  television ad that uses thinly veiled flatulence-based humor to further make his case for election to the U.S. Senate.

“We’re just trying to have some good clean fun, while making a very serious point about Al Franken’s big government, job-killing stuff,” said McFadden.

The ad opens with a fog rolling over a grainy black-and-white photo of a frowning Senator Al Franken. Ominous music drones throughout the spot, and two 10-year old boys on a playground chime in in a sign-songy tone.

Male adult announcer: “Something is very, very rotten in Washington.”

Male child actor #1: “Al Franken says the Iraq War and Great Recesssion  are not his fault. But he who smelt it, dealt it.” (giggle)

Announcer: “Death panels.  IRSgate. Benghazi. Al Franken wants to keep it silent. But we all know, they’re silent but DEADLY.”

Male child actor #2: “Whoever rebuts it, cuts it.” (giggle)

Mike McFadden: (Giggling and holding his nose ) “I’m Mike McFadden, and I declare it, so Al can no longer blare it.”

(McFadden then sits on whoopee cushion. McFadden and kids giggle in unison.)

Mike McFadden:  “Oh no, not again, Al!”

The ad began running across Minnesota today. Like the groin ad, it was created by Washington-based Sophmoric Productions.

– Loveland

Note:  This post is satire and the featured ad doesn’t exist, for now.

Minnesota Reporters Should Heed BBC Call On Climate Change Reporting

Flat_Earth_SocietyThere is a small minority that makes heartfelt arguments that the Earth is flat. Do they deserve half of the news coverage related to global geography?  Two maps in every story?

Likewise, there is a small minority that argues humans with a certain skin pigmentation are superior to people with different pigmentation. Do they deserve half of the news coverage about race-related issues?

There also is a small minority that claims the moon landing was a hoax. Did they deserve half of the coverage of moon landings?

In all of these cases, giving minority viewpoints roughly half of the news coverage would have created a false impression that scientists are roughly evenly split about the shape of the planet, the inferiority of some skin colors and the feasibility of space travel. This kind of reporting would have been promoting things that nearly all scientists have proven to be false.

Which brings us to climate change.  This week, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Trust recommended that BBC reporters no longer give equal time to the small minority of scientists who contend that climate change is not happening and/or is not impacted by human activity. A BBC Trust report recommends:

 The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.

So, at a time when 97% of climate scientists have found that climate change is happening and is aggravated by human activities, half of the news coverage should not be dedicated to the viewpoint of the 3% of scientists who disagree.

Despite the increasingly lopsided scientific consensus on climate change, a 2013 report done by Media Matters found that half of print news outlets used a false balance approach to climate change reporting.  On Fox News, 69 percent of guests cast doubt on the science. On CBS news, in reporting about a rigorous United Nations scientific report, climate change deniers were given more than six times their representation in the scientific community.

The BBC Trust is politely telling its reporters to knock it off.  It is telling them to make sure their reporting reflects the reality of broad scientific consensus on climate change.

It’s time for Minnesota’s most thoughtful journalism leaders to follow suit.  Star Tribune? MinnPost?  Minnesota Public Radio?

– Loveland

News Flash: Candidate Announces a Running Mate…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

KuisleIn recent years, it feels like the quantity of political reporting in daily newspapers has dropped off.  Whether a function of smaller newsrooms, editors who believe the public wants less political coverage, editors who are gun shy about provocative political topics, or something else, there just seems to be less political coverage.

Political reporters do still cover the most predictable, scripted and formal of political events — candidacy filings and announcements, campaign finance filings, party endorsement events, and running mate announcements.   For the most part, the public snores through all of this formulaic coverage of predictable events.

Case in point:  Today’s Star Tribune carried a fairly in-depth article about Hennepin County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson picking Guy I’ve Never Heard Of as his Lieutenant Governor running mate.   In this article, we are earnestly briefed about the selection of someone who almost certainly won’t impact the outcome of the gubernatorial race, and almost certainly wouldn’t have substantive duties if he somehow beat the odds and actually got the job.

What is even better is that we can look forward to this kind of scintillating “candidate chooses running mate” coverage for each of the multitudes of candidates in the gubernatorial race.  Spoiler alert:  Each candidate will be picking someone brilliant who is “balancing their ticket” in some fashion.

Meanwhile, more important and interesting things go uncovered or undercovered.

  • When congressional candidate and big box store heir Stuart Mills III airs a TV ad portraying himself a self-made man who treats his workers well, there is no newspaper  probing of those two claims.
  • When Senator Al Franken films an ad implying he has been working overtime to help small businesses get high skilled workers, there is no probing of the veracity of that claim.
  • When shadowy independent expenditure groups’ attack ads are aired, there is too little work put into trying to learn about the financial backing for the ads, and whether the groups’ claims are based in fact.
  • When Candidate A criticizes Policy X while refusing to offer a detailed alternative, there is too little exposing that act of political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

These are shadowy areas where savvy, sleuthing political reporters could actually shed light.  But when political operatives figure out that lying and hiding won’t get exposed, guess what, lying and hiding proliferates.  When that happens, our democracy gets weaker.

I hope this isn’t an either/or issue.  Maybe there still is enough capacity in newsrooms and column inches in newspapers to cover both the formulaic stories and the more probing stories.  That would be ideal.  But if there no longer is enough journalistic capacity for both types of coverage, our democracy needs the latter much more than it needs the former.

– Loveland

Paul Begala: Wry Wing Politics Devotee

Okay, call me a rube, but my obscure little blog doesn’t get linked everyday in Tweets by national talking heads like Paul Begala.  So when it happens, I have to take a moment to feel self-important, before I slink back to my dark  corner of the world.

Begala_tweets_wry_wing_politics

 

Yes, Paul (I call him “Paul” now) links to among the least unique posts I’ve ever penned.  (And trust me, there is plenty of competition for that honor.)  Yes, it is surely his first and last visit to WWP.  Yes, this happened because of Rick Weiland’s great work, not mine.

But still, a sideways glance from Paul freakin’ Begala makes a backwater gadfly’s little heart go pitter-patter, and page views go through the roof.

I’m thinking I’m probably now on his holiday card list, right?

Franken Opponent McFadden Refuses To Confirm Own Existence

invisible_manSaint Paul, Minnesota — Minnesota U.S.  Senate candidate Mike McFadden held a news conference today to announce that he would be announcing nothing.

“Minnesota is great, and I’ll do lots of great stuff in the Senate to make it even greater,” said McFadden, to roaring applause from his supporters.  “Beyond that, I promise that I will not do wasteful ungreat things that keep Minnesota from becoming greater.”

Under questioning from reporters, the wealthy businessman running to replace U.S. Senator Al Franken refused to provide positions  on the national policy issues that are debated in the U.S. Senate.   For example, McFadden declined to state his position on the minimum wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act and a “personhood” anti-birth control measure.

MinnPost reporter Eric Black recently attempted to profile the stealth Senate candidate, but struggled to find anything to profile beyond the over $2 million the former businessman has raised from enthusiastic conservative donors.  Black characterized the McFadden record like this:

I’m not sure what the record is for seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate without disclosing issue positions, but McFadden, who declared his candidacy nine months ago, may be giving it a run.

There is no “issues” section on his campaign website. He skipped the first three opportunities to debate his Republican opponents for the nomination.  On Monday, he appeared at the fourth debate, but that one was closed to the press and public.

The McFadden campaign maintains that the candidate has taken many position stands, such as his desire to “name way more awesome things after Ronald Reagan” and “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When pressed for details about what he would replace the ACA with, McFadden said that announcement would need to wait until he begins his six-year term in office.

“We will help, not hurt Americans,” McFadden  explained.

The campaign did release a 12-page single spaced list of things McFadden would rename after Ronald Reagan.

When asked to name political role models McFadden listed Ronald Reagan, several Reagan impersonators and Chauncey Gardiner.

“By standing for no one, and Mike is appealing to everyone,” said Saul Loes, a conservative political consultant advising the McFadden campaign. “He just might be the most brilliant politician of our generation, if he exists, which we are neither confirming nor denying.”

Note:  This post is satire.

MN Congressional Candidates Take Note: 6 of 10 Americans Want To Keep Obamacare

The reporting on Obamacare public opinion research has been consistently shallow, as I’ve noted for years.  Despite the many simplistic “Public Opposes Obamacare” stories and punditifications, a deeper dive into the polls shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to either keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as is, or improve it.

The latest Kaiser Family Health Foundation Tracking Poll, which was fielded prior to this week’s positive publicity about ACA insurance exchanges targets being met, finds that this trend is continuing.  Even after a pre-deadline deluge of anti-Obamacare advertising, Americans still oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, by a huge 29% to 59% margin.  Independent voters, who will be so important in the upcoming mid-term elections, also overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s repeal calls, by a 32% to 52% margin.

Survey__59_pct_want_to_keep_acaSo, nervous DFL congressional candidates, improvements to the ACA — a better exhange website, a more robust exchange call center, more exchange “navigators,” stronger enrollment incentives for young adults,  and/or a public insurance option — would be welcomed by voters.  But let your Republican opponents blather on about “repeal and replace” all they want, because it simply is not selling.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.