Mainstream My Ass

Cursor_and_Trump’s_foreign_policy_goes_mainstream_-_POLITICOAfter a few TV-friendly bombings this week, many in the mainstream media and pundit-o-sphere are falling all over themselves to declare President Trump mainstream. That’s right, it seems our Muslim-banning, emoluments-pimping, Russia-colluding, climate change-denying, serial-lying President is now pretty much equivalent to Obama, the Bushes, the Clintons, Reagan and Ford.

For instance, Politico’s headline is “Trump’s Foreign Policy Goes Mainstream,” and it reports:

“(T)he substance of Trump’s decisions in his first 79 days in office reveals a surprisingly conventional approach, with personal quirks layered on top, according to a half-dozen foreign policy experts.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal headline readsFive Big Players Steer Trump’s Foreign Policy Towards the Mainstream” and National Public Radio (NPR) offers “Trump’s Flip Flops on Economics Move Toward the Status Quo.”

Okay, so the President recently has said a few sane things, such as NATO shouldn’t be defunded after all and Russia really should stop enabling the gassing of innocent children. Super. But before we throw the President a ticker-tape parade, let’s remember it was utterly outrageous that a presidential candidate or President ever took the opposite positions in the first place.

ann_schrantz_horton_-_Facebook_SearchLet’s also remember that in the same week the media declared Trump mainstream, we learned that a federal judge found probable cause that Trump’s campaign may have colluded with the Russians to undermine American democracy, and that the President threatened to withhold lifesaving assistance from poor people if Democrats don’t back his extremely unpopular Trumpcare plan to take health coverage from 24 million Americans. We also read the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Rolling Stone, and Wall Street Journal reporting and opining about the President’s unprecedented level of lying.

Yeah sure, but did you hear that the President failed to publicly praise his most empowered white nationalist? Moderate!

How does this happen? Former top aide for President George W. Bush David Frum explains:

“As President, Donald Trump benefits from two inbuilt biases of mainstream pundits:

“Bias 1 favors fair-mindedness: the wish to offer tips of the hat along with shakes of the finger. This bias exerts itself extra strongly with a bad actor like Trump. The worse he does, the more eagerly the pundit seeks something to praise. We’ve all experienced this. ‘There has to be something good to say about Trump. Even Hitler liked dogs!’

“Bias 2 is the bias in favor of surprise and novelty. Pundits don’t want – bookers won’t book – endless repeats of ‘He’s a liar & a crook.’ How much more interesting to say: “He’s a liar and a crook, but …” How boring to insist that the first part must always overwhelm the latter.

“And so TV punditry flits from one seemingly clever (but actually deeply false) pivot to another, chasing insight & missing truth.”

Say it with me people:  This presidency is lightyears away from normal.   An American President who bans people from entering a country that was founded on the principal of religious liberty because of the deity they worship…who empowers white nationalists that the neo-Nazis and Klansmen cheer…who praises murderous, democracy-hacking dictators as “strong” role models…who appoints his business-operating family members with no relevant experience to the most sensitive positions in the world…who covers up his tax returns so he can profit from policy positions and accept foreign bribes without Americans knowing it…and who lies at a rate that we have never seen in national history is not normal, moderate, or mainstream.

We have to judge presidents based on their overall body of work. And when a very high percentage of a President’s body of work is utterly outrageous and dangerous to the republic and world, we can’t give anything close to equal billing to the low percentage of his actions are not outrageous.  This week’s shamelessly fawning news coverage aside, Donald J. Trump remains the mother-of-all-abnormal Presidents.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Ventural_curve2_pptx

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

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.

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.

The Daytonomics-Walkernomics Border Battle, MNsure and Our Addiction To Instant Analysis

Because journalists believe their audiences won’t tolerate nuance and ambiguity, they recruit  political analysts who are certain, clear and decisive over those who are unsure, equivocal and astraddle.  As a result, a kind of Punditry Darwinism plays out, where only the cocksure survive to deliver a steady stream of provocative instant analysis informed by little to no evidence.

MNsure’s Premature Death Proclamation

Take MNsure, Minnesota’s fledgling online tool for comparing and buying health insurance. When MNsure enrollment started slowly in its first month, Minnesota’s conservative talk radio pundits immediately declared it a train wreck, and this instant analysis has dominated the coverage to date.

MNsure may ultimately be a train wreck.  After all, covering uninsured Americans has always been a very difficult task.  But the immediate post-launch period is not a sensible time to make that judgment.

Romneycare_enrollment_chart-2Historical data shows that consumers don’t tend to purchase health insurance the way they purchase Xbox 360s, lined up outside the store on launch day.  Quite the opposite, most consumers purchase insurance at the very last moment possible.  Purchasing an expensive service that you hope to never use is just not very satisfying, so most of us procrastinate.

I’m not pulling this assertion out of my pundit posterior.   In Massachusetts, just 123 early adapters stepped forward during their first month, and it didn’t get much better the second month.  Instead, the big rush came just prior to the open enrollment deadline, when people face the prospect of a missed deadline and financial penalty.

It turns out that pulling the plug on the Massachusetts exchange when it only had 123 customers would not have been a wise decision for Commonwealth citizens, because  Romneycare ultimately was worth the wait.  After a few years of growing pains, Massachusetts’ Obamacare-like reforms increased the ranks of the insured to 97%.  This puts states like Minnesota (91% insured) to shame, not to mention Chris Christie’s New Jersey (84% insured) or Ted Cruz’s Texas (76% insured).

Declaring a trainwreck just as a new train is lurching out of the depot is ludicrous.  As much as it pains the cognoscenti, at this stage they need to be saying the four little words that might  get them deleted out of reporters’ speed dials – “I don’t know yet.”

Daytonomics The Winner Already?

Then there is the Minnesota-Wiscoonsin border battle over state fiscal policy.  In a New York Times commentary piece that has been widely shared via social media, a University of Minnesota professor and pundit recently declared that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Keynesian approach to state fiscal policy has been more successful than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s austerity approach.  His conclusion:

“The lesson from the upper Midwest is that rigid anti-tax dogma fails to deliver a convincing optimistic vision that widens economic opportunity and security.”

To his credit, the University of Minnesota professor does include  caveats, such as “firm answers will require more time and more data.”  But in the rush to be a clear and certain pundit who can get past the New York Times gatekeepers, the professor ultimately declared Daytononomics triumphant.

Here’s the problem with that:  Daytonomics is very much in its infancy.  Most of Governor Dayton’s most progressive policies are only now being put into effect, so the state of Minnesota’s economy can’t yet be attributed to the Daytonomics.

It’s true that Dayton has been in office for three years now.  But, with the exception of Dayton’s expansion of Medicaid to 95,000 uninsured Minnesotans, the lion’s share of his progressive agenda — the improvements to education and other government services funded by tax increases on the wealthy — passed just a few months ago, after the 2011-2012 GOP-controlled Legislature was vanquished and could no longer block Dayton’s progressive policies.

Just as President Obama could not be fairly blamed for the 2008-2009 economic meltdown that played out before he could put his policies into place, Governor Dayton cannot be fairly celebrated for a better-than-average state economy when most of his progressive policies are only now being put into place.  As a liberal, I hope Daytonomics bests Walkernomics, and expect it will.  But it’s much too early to declare a winner.

As a public relations guy, I understand why the media wants  commentators who give their audience instant gratification through instant analysis.  But as a citizen, I worry about what all of this instant gratification does to us.

Psychologists find that children who can’t learn to delay gratification at an early age are much less likely to succeed in later life.  The research indicates that the ability to delay gratification is absolutely key for success in school, marriages, friendships, health and jobs.  The young kids who can’t learn to stop themselves from consuming marshmallows become the adults who can’t stop themselves from consuming the adult versions of marshmallows.

Given that research, what kind of democracy will we become if journalists, pundits and voters can’t learn to wait to make policy judgements until evidence is available to inform our debates?

– Loveland

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

The Bachmann Wannabes: Conservative in the Abstract, But Slippery with Specifics

All four candidates running to succeed U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District are running on their intent to reverse budget deficits allegedly piled up during the Obama era.  As Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) Brett Neely reports:

“So far, there’s little in the way of policy differences that separates the four candidates.  They’re all sticking with the national GOP’s message about what ails Washington.

GOP candidate Rhonda Sivarajah:  “The debt.”

GOP candidate Phil Krinkie:  “Out of control spending.”

GOP candidate Tom Emmer:  “Bureaucrats.”

GOP candidate John Pederson:  “The deficit.”

The same can be said of the Republicans challenging Senator Al Franken, Governor Mark Dayton, and every other DFL incumbent.  This should come as no surprise.  “The national GOP message” is based on public opinion research, and polls show that an overwhelming number of Americans are concerned about the deficit.  For instance, about 90 percent of Americans surveyed in a Bloomberg poll believed that the deficit is getting worse (62 percent) or not improving (28 percent), with only 6 percent saying that the deficit is decreasing.

In other words, the Republican message is selling with Americans.  This bodes well for them in the 2014 mid-term elections.

 The Myth of “Skyrocketing Deficits”

It’s worth noting that 90 percent of Americans are wrong about the state of the deficit.  In an article titled “The Best Kept Secret In American Politics-Federal Budget Deficits Are Actually Shrinking!,” Forbes magazine notes:

Over the first four years of the Obama presidency, the deficit shrunk by a total of $300 billion dollars.  The improvement in the deficit as measured against GDP is the direct result of the deficit falling to $845 billion for fiscal year 2013—a $300 billion improvement over the previous year. And the positive trend is projected to continue though the next fiscal year where the the annual budgetary deficit will fall again to $430 billion.

More recently, the deficit outlook has further stabilized. As CNN Money reported in May 2013:

By 2015, the deficit will fall to its lowest point of the next decade – 2.1% of GDP. And it will remain below 3% until 2019, at which point it will start to increase again. Deficits below 3% are considered sustainable because it means budget shortfalls are not growing faster than the economy.

Still, perception is reality in politics, so conservatives can be expected to milk this inaccurate “the deficit is skyrocketing” myth for all it is worth.

Courting “Progressative” Voters With Generalities

Will_reporters_press_deficit_chicken_hawks_for_specific_cuts_At the same time, don’t look for conservative candidates to provide a detailed list of spending cuts they would make to reduce the deficit and debt more rapidly.  Again, they read polls, so they know that Americans overwhelmingly oppose cutting the largest and fastest growing government programs.  For instance, a Washington Post poll finds that 77% oppose “reducing Medicare benefits,”  82% oppose “reducing Social Security benefits,”  and 51% oppose “reducing military spending.”  Other polls show that opposition to cutting Medicare and Social Security is even more vehement among Americans over 50 years old, who are disproportionately likely to vote, particularly in non-presidential election years such as 2014.

Pew_Research_Poll__May_2013Beyond those enormous spending programs, a Pew poll also finds that a plurality of Americans believes that the funding levels for all 19 major government spending categories they tested should be either increased or maintained.  Though conservatives have spent decades calling for cuts in “government spending,” Americans are steadfastly rejecting specific cuts in all parts of the federal budget.

Therefore, the dilemma for contemporary politicians is this:   Americans support the abstract notion of “cutting government spending,” which sometimes make us appear to be a conservative nation.  At the same time, Americans oppose cutting any of the component parts of “government spending,” which makes us look like a remarkably progressive nation.  Fiscally speaking, Americans are “progressatives,” conservative with our generalized rhetoric, but progressive with our program-by-program choices.

If the past is predictive of the future, most political reporters won’t press conservative candidates for a specific list of spending cuts to support their bluster.  Instead, reporters will allow conservative candidates to rail in a generalized way about “cutting spending,” and in a false way about “skyrocketing deficits.”  And as long as that rhetorical free ride is allowed to continue, the polls show that conservatives’ “cut government spending” mantra is a winning message.

 -Loveland

Note:  This post also was chosen for re-publication in Minnpost and as one of Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Political Cliches on Amobarital

I suppose it’s a cliché to point out that politicians speak in  clichés.   Their wall-to-wall use of bromides to mask deeper political truths has made political news conferences and speeches a rhetorical wasteland.  Everyone can finish the sentences of the politician speaking:

“We must grow the _______.”

“We must invest in the _____.”

“Our greatest natural resource is our ______.”

“Economy,” “future” and “people/children,” right?  No wonder the masses only perk up for scandals.  They spice up an  utterly predictable political discourse.

To cut through the cliches and learn what politicians really think, what if we snuck a little amobarbital — sometimes used as a “truth serum” to obtain information from those who are unable or unwilling to tell the truth — into the water bottles at the podium of State Capitol news conferences? The first sentence or two would be the predictable, carefully focus-grouped political clichés.  But then, bam, it’s amobarital time, baby!

“It’s time for the Legislature to do what ordinary Minnesota families do when they encounter difficult financial times.  Mom and dad gather around the kitchen table, they thoughtfully review their household finances, and they have tough conversations about how they could cut the family budget to make ends meet.

(Amobarital kicks in)

But then most of those dads and moms say “screw it” and run up their high interest credit cards instead.   After all, that’s why the Federal Reserve reports that consumer debt is at an all time high of $2.75 TRILLION.  So whatever the Legislature does, it should not, I repeat, NOT act like those ordinary Minnesota moms and dads grappling with their financial future at the good old kitchen table.”

For the record, State Capitol Police Force, I understand that drugging elected officials would be an ill-advised and felonious act that I am not seriously contemplating or encouraging.  But a boy can dream, can’t he?

– Loveland

Moderate Middle Copping Out About 2013 Session

With Republicans trained like parrots to repeat the word “overreach” and DFLers repeating the word “progress,” political reporters are reporting that the public is giving the session “mixed reviews.”

As far as the 2014 state legislative elections are concerned, that leaves things in the hands of swing voters.   What staunch partisans on both sides conclude about the 2013 session is not particularly important, because those activists were never likely to change their minds between now and November 2014.  They are not the biggest electoral variables. Continue reading

Conflicted About the Tobacco Tax? Listen to the Tobacco Lobby

The debate at the State Capitol over increasing the tax on tobacco has played out the same way year after year.   It goes like this:

Public Health Claims.  Public health advocates point to price elasticity research showing that taxing cigarettes, and thereby increasing the cost of cigarettes, is the most effective way to motivate smokers to quit and prevent teens and young adults from starting down the path to addiction.  Consequently, increasing the tax on tobacco is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco-related death and suffering, and the related costs. Continue reading

The Real Problem With Vikings Stadium Financing

Albert Einstein said “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  In the wake of reports that new e-gambling revenue is proving to be insufficient to fund the new Vikings stadium, Governor Mark Dayton and other stadium proponents recently have been heard mumbling similar sentiments.

With any mistake, and this one was a doozy, the important thing is to learn the correct lesson to carry into the future.  This is how that debate currently is playing out in Minnesota: Continue reading