Is It Too Much to Ask for Real Competition for United and Every Other Airline?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2If United Airlines doesn’t pay out a fat chunk of change to the guy dragged off that plane in Chicago and roughed up by O’Hare airport cops we’ll know America has reached a point of apocalyptic decline. I mean, in the country I grew up in anyone could sue anyone for anything and often collect. And that was before everyone around  them had a movie camera in their pocket recording their senseless beat down.

I wish I were surprised to hear legal opinions that United’s victim — whether he’s actually a doctor who needed to get to Louisville ASAP or not, I still do not know* — has no legal recourse because of all the fine print buried in … the ticket he paid for. But I’m not. American corporate/lobbying legal muscle may be the most goddam powerful force on the planet today. And that includes a volley of Tomahawk missiles.

(* This just in via the New York Post … consider the source.)

If it weren’t for speed and the view (assuming you’re mashed against the window and haven’t been told to pull down your shade as “a courtesy” to the passengers watching “Transformers 10” on their in-flight entertainment) I’d never get on another plane. From the moment of drop off to bag collection (maybe) on the other end the experience is not just uncomfortable but [bleeping] annoying, what with being herded through security penstocks, stripping down for X-rays so TSA “agents” can inspect you for instruments of terror, like folded paper money (it happened to me), to having the guy with lethal halitosis fall asleep on your shoulder for most of a flight from Hawaii to Dallas (ditto), the commercial airline experience is an exercise in constant grinding irritation, made more irritating if like me you’re just generally irritable to begin with.

Give me a comfortable car, that I can get out of whenever I like, and I’ll get myself wherever (in the mainland) I want, according to my own door-stopper of a book of fine print regulations.  (Rule #41 for riding with The King: No auto-tuned diva music.)

Or, give me a train. And not that 14-hour St. Paul-to-Chicago express. An actual train, that runs (much) faster than a car and unlike planes, allows me to get up and walk around and even stroll to a … bar car … for a beverage, whenever I damn well please.

But of course we don’t have such trains because The Usual Fools (TUF), your “principled conservatives” like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker aren’t about to agree to anything that their campaign benefactors haven’t signed off on. And the oil-refining Koch brothers don’t get anything like the cut from selling Jet A fuel from electric trains. (Here’s TUF Texas politicians obstructing the idea down there.)

Japan, home to the famous 200-mph plus bullet trains, is already planning for full-on MagLev trains capable of 300-mph plus. (A recent test run hit 374 mph. Translation: The Twin Cities to Chicago in about 85 minutes, without stopping in Wisconsin.) Naturally, the Chinese, less fettered by American-style free enterprise, are actively selling their schemes for bona fide game-changing airline competition all over the planet.

There is a better than half-baked plan to build a Baltimore to D.C. link (woo-hoo!), with a big maybe for a D.C. – New York track in … 15 years. But like everything from health care, to incarceration rates, to infant mortality the good old US of A is lagging back with the Turkeys and Bulgaria of the planet on this topic, while The Usual Fools continue to remind us of how super-exceptional we are.

But as I say, we can mourn the death of justice American-style if United escapes this latest incident without a serious dent to its bottom line. The lobbied-in fine print may keep the company out of an actual court room, but if public opinion matters, the natives are already throwing a rope over the sturdiest branch they can find.

At minimum, the “doctor” dragged off and bloodied by O’Hare’s finest should get a lifetime first-class pass for himself and everyone he calls family, an in-person, televised apology from United’s tone-deaf CEO and, oh hell, $10 or $15 million for walking around money.

 

 

 

Good God! This Country Needs a Better Class of Fools.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Lord, what a farce! The collapse of “repeal and replace”, the GOP’s single biggest campaign/fund raising promise was even more chaotic and Looney Tune-ish than anyone could have ever imagined. After the “Freedom” Caucuses’ debt ceiling government shut down a couple years ago I didn’t think it possible for the inmates to have more control over the asylum.

But as usual, I was wrong. There is no depth of absurdity this crowd can’t sink to.

But yeah, I grossly underestimated the ability of 2017’s “Party of Lincoln” to be even more detached from reality, even more indifferent to the day-to-day miseries of their irredeemably ill-informed base and even less embarrassed to be caught out in public fully de-pantsed, ethically and intellectually. Good god! Whatever happened to a concern for personal dignity?

After six and a half years of shrieking and howling and vowing and promising, after 60+ time-sucking votes and an election that handed the red-faced, spittle-flecked repeal-istas control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they still screwed this up.

This country needs a better class of fools.

Trump, the master deal maker, put less effort into this than his weekend golf trips to Mar-a-Lago. A couple rallies in Hillybilly Elegy Holler, a few phone calls and … wow! … a trip all the up to Capitol Hill to make a few veiled threats to the Tri-Corner Hat Caucus. The boy’ll need a long rest after all that exertion. But we’ve already established that Trump is too easily distracted and lazy to do even minimal homework on policy details … even on a plan to flip 20% of the American economy on its head. So his lack of preparation and effort is not too surprising.

But, come on! Paul Ryan!? WTF?

Because he’s the latest Republican example of … what dumb people think a smart guy sounds like … I assumed that he at least, after seven goddam years, had come up with a plan that papered over the hostilities (and stupidity) within his own party. I mean, what kind of an imbecile slaps his face and reputation on something as colossally under-negotiated as the thing he whipped out 36 days ago? (BTW. Obamacare: 383 days of negotiating/legislating after literally decades of smart people fussing over minute details. TrumpRyanCare: 36 days and quite obviously little-to-no-effort wrestling the Rubik’s Cube of conflicting issues into stasis.)

This would be a joke if it weren’t so sick. After all, this crowd is now “running” everything. And now comes “tax reform.”

Trump’s Red Hat Brigade, hootin’ and hollerin’ at basketball arenas in coal country will continue to believe anything he tells them, as long as he says he’s sticking it to the terrorists and everybody who is getting gubmint services … other than them. But Ryan, a guy who has spent his entire adult life on gubmint payrolls (sweet pension, dude) and arrived in Congress thanks largely to cash from insurance companies, (Northwestern Mutual being Exhibit A) and the financial “services” industry, (and oh yeah, and this trucking dude) has some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

Everyone who can accurately spell “Make America Great Again” knows this Trump/RyanCare health care shtick had almost nothing to do with improving the quality of care Americans get and lowering prices, and everything to do with clawing back the $100 billion a year in taxes Obamacare was sucking out of our valiant job creators/major campaign donors.

Pundits are squalling about how “stupid” it was to “go after health care first”, instead of “tax reform” and “regulatory reform”. (Those last two are hoary code-language for more unfettered profit-taking with much less “redistribution” of wealth.)

But as Ryan very well knows, getting “tax reform”, by which we mean a new round of epic, deficit-blowing George W. Bush-style tax cuts for the plutocrats who keep Ryan in office, is a hell of a lot harder to do without being able to balance things out — marketing-wise — with the $1 trillion (over ten years) in Obamacare “savings.” The numbers just get too ugly too fast.

No doubt Ryan will try, because … well, because he has no other choice. “Tax reform” is, and always is, Issue #1, for “principled conservatives.” The Kochs and the Mercers and everyone else buffing their yachts for cruising season have paid good money to keep Ryan in office and he had damned well better deliver, no matter how ridiculous he sounds explaining the exploding deficit.

He of course has the benefit of  the rubes writing rubber checks for breakfast at Denny’s, because that crowd always thinks Republicans are talking about them when they hear “tax cuts”. But Ryan has to be calculating the fired-up Trump resistance, which is far more energized then it was back in George W.’s day and is smelling blood with this farcically garish “repeal and replace” defeat. Expect a lot of loud, ugly noise about deficits and who gets how much when the “reform” act starts to play.

Also, Trump’s Russia problems are going to get worse, not better, making him of almost no use to Ryan on “tax reform.” Likewise, the big money kids have to be assessing the reality that Trump is proving to be such a lazy and incompetent fool, so compromised by whatever the hell he was doing with the Russians and in so far over his head dealing with professional politicians and bureaucrats, that he can’t be factored as an asset to this coming tax scam.

If I were Ryan I’d be hitting the P90X workout several times a day. He’s going to need every endorphin he can squeeze up to survive the next farce.

Hell, if I were him I’d just hide in the gym.

 

 

Fixing The Massive Leak In America’s Transportation Funding System

Imagine you discovered your salary was going to be steadily declining in the coming years, making it impossible for you to fund future needs. Would you shrug off this news, and passively accept the associated damage, or shift to a more stable source of income?

When it comes to the funding needed to build and maintain the nation’s roads and bridges, policymakers are facing a similar threat, and most of them are shrugging it off.

The Problem

Currently, we finance much of our transportation infrastructure with a state and federal gasoline tax, where the more gasoline we use, the more we contribute to building and maintaining the transportation infrastructure.  For a long time, the gas tax has served us well.

Cursor_and_hqdefault_jpg__480×360_But the gas tax is becoming obsolete. Here’s why:  Between 2008 and 2014, the average fuel efficiency of new cars increased by 22%. In coming years, new fuel efficiency regulations and technological improvements will accelerate that progress. As as result, by 2040 the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that fuel sales will decrease by between 34% and 45%.  The less gasoline we use, the less we have for building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure.

“Just raise the gas tax,” you say?  Well, a paper recently written by transportation finance expert Ed Regan estimates:

“If governments want to still generate equivalent revenue to keep up with future travel levels, gas tax rates will need to be increased to as much as $1.16 per gallon to overcome the effect of future fuel efficiency.”

Given how politically difficult it has proven over the years to increase the gas tax by even a few pennies, an increase of that magnitude would seem to be politically impossible.

Even if passing such a huge increase were somehow politically feasible, we would be left with a grossly unfair system where some can avoid, quite legally, paying their fair share for funding roads and bridges.  (By the way, as someone who has driven a gas-electric hybrid for a decade, I’m one of those people unfairly benefiting from the gas tax status quo.)

If we don’t enact a steep gas tax, Regan has alarming numbers for policymakers and citizens to ponder:

By 2025, just 8 years from now, increasing fuel efficiency may cost state and federal coffers as much as $20.8 billion per year in fuel tax revenues.

Twenty-one billion dollars is a lot of road and bridge projects.  Clearly, stubbornly clinging to the gasoline tax status quo would dramatically impact our safety, global competitiveness and quality-of-life.

Yes, the Trump administration is proposing to roll back fuel efficiency standards. But many experts believe this will have only a limited effect on the trend toward greater fuel efficiency and use of non-gasoline powered vehicles. CNBC reports:

Trump’s bid to ease fuel efficiency rules will be tough and likely limited, experts say:

The White House’s attempts to alter the Obama administration’s plan to raise federal automobile fuel standards could be a slog and ultimately yield little change, experts say.

The Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency will revisit rules finalized under President Barack Obama that would keep automakers on pace to manufacture vehicles that get more miles per gallon. But experts say it will be difficult for President Donald Trump to meaningfully relax the rules under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE.

Whether driven by consumer demand, regulations or both, the march towards greater fuel efficiency seems inevitable.  The Trump fuel efficiency changes may slow the march, but they won’t stop or reverse it.

The Solution

The most logical solution to this increasingly urgent problem is to charge users based on distance traveled rather than gasoline used. Under such an approach, transportation funding would be much more adequate and stable than it is with the gas tax.

Cursor_and_410132__1600×1067_But in the stodgy world of transportation finance, old habits die hard. Charging based on distance requires a very different type of revenue collection system, and such a change is proving to be mind-bending for many policymakers.

Fortunately, at the state level various approaches are being piloted, evaluated and refined. For instance, one approach being tested with 5,000 volunteers in California gives users a range of choices for collecting a “Road User Charge.”  Volunteers can choose to track distance by using 1) a small electronic device, called a “dongle,” plugged into their vehicle, 2) a smart phone photo of their odometer sent to authorities on a monthly basis, or 3) other more low-tech tracking methods.

Moving to this type of distance-based system won’t come without headaches or expense. But everything is relative, and accepting the hassles associated with this transition is a small price to pay for avoiding a transportation infrastructure meltdown.  With as much as $21 billion in transportation funding about to disappear over just the next eight years, and much more about to disappear in the coming decades, policymakers can no longer afford to shrug off this problem.

Note:  I have done public relations work on this issue for an academic client, but the views expressed are my own.

Trump in Defeat Will Get More Erratic, Not Less.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Among (quite a few) guilty pleasures is “Morning Joe”, MSNBC’s daily pundit Woodstock. Yeah, Joe Scarborough is a putz and a blowhard, and since it’s his name on the show, guests who are actually expert in serious things have to pretend to tolerate his stem-winding rants. But when Scarborough is modulated or (praise lord!) off on vacation, checking in with what “The Circus” boys, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, “legendary” ex-newspaperman Mike Barnicle, etc. is a far better use of my super valuable morning time than the brain gelatinizing insipidness of “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America.”

Lately, ex-CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden has been getting a lot of airtime. Tuesday morning, coming off FBI Director Jim Comey’s stunning yet-unsurprising revelation that Trump’s campaign has been under investigation since … late July, “Morning Joe’s” assembled deep thinkers were grasping for new and better ways to describe the unprecedentedness (an actual word, I looked it up) of a sitting president, two months in office!, being investigated for colluding (or “coordinating” if you’re Comey) with the friggin’ Russians to rig the election that got him where he is.

But it was Hayden, the old spy hand, who after handing it to the Russians for “the biggest W” in the history of espionage chicanery, posed the question of how this whole Trump-Russia thing began? As an old spy, he said, you always ask if what you’re seeing is the result of “malice or incompetence.”

Here the easy answer of course is, “a little of both.” But we can narrow that a bit. It was a marriage. The Russians brought the malice. Trump supplied the incompetence.

Incompetence, something a majority of voters recognized last November, is now a vivid, permanent reality that even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, akin to a Vatican declamatio to pious conservatives, has come to accept as a fact of life.

Say the cossetted white sages employed by Rupert Murdoch:

“If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. … Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”

It’s that intro that bothers me, because obviously it’s on the minds of anyone seriously watching the astonishing farce being played out hour-to-hour in D.C.. If Trump loses his Obamacare repeal tomorrow it will be a gut punch defeat. He will of course blame Paul Ryan and everyone down to the West Wing cleaning crew for what has been an object lesson in his incompetence and laziness. Is there a single person anywhere who honestly believes he has read or thoroughly educated himself on what Ryan’s six years-long piece of legislation will do? Of course not. All Trump wants is a bill — a victory — he can sign and wave in front of his next Red Cap rally, never mind that his shrieking fans are exactly the people getting the forced colonoscopy.

But to the Journal’s opening line. With the FBI on him, the details of his long Russian canoodle becoming more apparent every day, “health care reform” (insert laugh track here) about to spiral into a fiery grave and his approval rating dropping to George W. Bush levels, it is (very) likely Trump will become more erratic, not less.

So what is a solution to getting the media, Congress and most importantly the Red Cap Brigade to ignore all that “fake” noise and see him as The Great Leader? Well, a war of some kind might do it. And since we’re talking about a guy who only wins, a winnable war. With lots of “shock and awe”, only biglier.

The North Korean scenario is foremost on a lot of peoples’ minds because Kim Jong-un is another guy trapped in a corner, desperate and reckless. It’s another marriage made in hell. But if you need an excuse for distracting fireworks — Re: the latest TSA Homeland Security alert — a bomb on an airplane will do just about as well.

I’ve mentioned this before, because knowing what the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon know about Trump, their response to his pushing the button for military action is by no means a certainty.  Does anyone believe the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the permanent bureaucracies of the CIA and NSA haven’t thoroughly assessed the psychological fitness of their Commander-in-Chief? Are you certain they would comply with an order from … Donald Trump, oft-bankrupt casino developer, reality TV show host and inveterate liar … ordering them to place American troops and possibly the American public in harm’s way?

I’m as cynical as it gets about “aye-aye sir” toadyism and group-think, but I have an extremely hard time imagining characters like Admiral Mike Rogers (NSA) following go-to-war orders on Donald Trump’s say-so.

Trump style incompetence (born out of psychological dysfunction and laziness) may be exactly the grenade the Red Hat Brigade and tribal Republicans who rationalized him as a better choice than “crooked Hillary”, wanted rolled into DC when they pulled the lever for him in November. But I seriously doubt that quality of cynicism applies to the people who have to commit people under their command to possible death.

More to the point. As crazy and ridiculous as Trump-involved political events have been these past two months, it has been notably quiet in terms of international crises. Experience tells you such lulls are always broken.

With a Budget Surplus, GOP’s Across-the-Board Cuts Is Not “Kitchen Table Budgeting

Cursor_and_kitchen_table_budgeting_-_Google_SearchRepublicans — ever eager to show they are in touch with the values of ordinary Minnesotans — are very fond of drawing analogies between household budgeting and government budgeting. Former Governor Tim Pawlenty was especially keen on talking about the virtues of “kitchen table budgeting.”

In front of the camera’s, Pawlenty would play the well-rehearsed role of Stern Daddy, saying things like, “when Minnesota families are sitting around the kitchen table making their budgets, they make the tough cuts to balance their budget, and the Legislature needs to what those Minnesota families do.”

Actual Kitchen Table Budgeting

There are a lot of things that are silly about the Republicans’ “kitchen table budgeting” analogy, foremost among them that many families don’t balance their family budgets.   The dirty little secret is that we ordinary families are not quite as financially virtuous as the pandering pols make us out to be.  This from Bloomberg news:

Household borrowing surged in March at the fastest pace since November 2001 as financing for automobiles picked up and Americans’ outstanding credit-card debt soared.

The $29.7 billion increase, or an annualized 10 percent, exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised $14.1 billion gain the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Friday. Revolving credit, which includes credit-card spending, posted the biggest annualized advance since July 2000.

Political rhetoric aside, the data show that families are borrowing at record rates rather than balancing their budgets.  So ordinary families may not be the right role models for our leaders.

Across-the-Board Cuts?

This year, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature are proposing to slash state government spending, by 10 percent across-the-board.  This is not the way ordinary families budget at the kitchen table: “Okay sweetie, here are all the bills. Just lop off 10% of what we pay next year for the mortgage, car, RV, boat, snowmobile, cabin, cable, cell phone, utilities, health insurance, groceries, medicines, vacation fund, the college fund, the retirement fund, rainy day fund…”

Instead, families set priorities and cut accordingly. They say things like, “Well, we gotta keep the household running smoothly, and have a household safety net in case of an emergency, so we can’t cut these things.  Sending the kids to college is really important to us, so we can’t skimp there. But I guess we can do without a vacation, a car for the teenager, and premium cable.”  In other words, they reflect on their values, set spending priorities accordingly and cut spending surgically, not across-the-board.

Non-Crisis Family Budgeting

Cursor_and_Price_of_Government_as_of_End_of_2014_Legislative_SessionMore to the point, families typically don’t cut the family budget — across the board or otherwise — when the family finances are stable or improving. I promise you, this is not heard at very many kitchen tables: “Okay sweetie, we’re financially comfortable and stable right now, but let’s cut the household budget deeply anyway!”

The State of Minnesota is not in a crisis.  Our finances are currently sound, with a $1.65 billion budget surplus for the next two years. In contrast to the Pawlenty-era, when budget shortfalls were the norm, Governor Dayton required the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and the state has been on solid fiscal footing ever since. Moreover, the “price-of-government” — Minnesota state and local government revenues as percentage of personal income — is currently relatively low.

So, why cut state spending at all? Did we suddenly come to the realization that Minnesotans need 10 percent less education?  Compared to the past, do we really think Minnesotans need 10 percent less roads, transit, human services, public health protection, environmental protection, economic development, and public safety? If not, then why in the world would we slash all of those vital services by 10 percent, at a time when we have a large budget surplus and the price of government is lower than historic averages.

After all, it’s certainly not what Minnesotans would do at the kitchen table.

Trumpcare’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

America currently has a health reform model that has given it the highest rate of health insurance coverage in history, covering more than 20 million of its most difficult to insure citizens.  It has helped those 20 million Americans avoid having their lives ruined by crushing medical bills, or shifting those costs onto other Americans.

Gallup_uninsured_chartAnd despite years of heavily-financed and relentless attacks on the model, most Americans now have a favorable impression of it.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) system isn’t perfect.  Yes liberals, a Medicare for All system would be much more effective and efficient than the current ACA system. Yes conservatives, this ACA needs adjustments, though, to borrow from Mark Twain, the reports of its death spiraliness have been greatly exaggerated.

Fact Check:  Obamacare Is Not In A Death Spiral

“You could, I think, relatively simply address the issues that the exchanges have,” said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a health consulting firm, noting that other major programs including Medicare have been tweaked repeatedly since their creation.

Now President Trump and the Republicans want to blow up the ACA model — the one that covered the most Americans in history — in favor of a model that will cause an estimated 6 million to10 million Americans to lose their coverage. Their alternative particularly hurts the low-income, rural and elderly.  To add insult to injury, it shoehorns in a grotesquely large tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, at a time when we have the worst inequality in incomes since the 1920s.  The alternative is vehemently opposed by doctors, nurses, hospitals, seniors, conservatives, and liberals. And Republicans promise to pass it within three weeks, without cost estimates if necessary, after complaining about the ACA being “rammed through” over 13 months.

This is the political and policymaking genius that is Trumpcare.

Will Rogers said, “this country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Never has that been more true than now.

There Are People Who Know What The Russians Have Been Up To With Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3I’m not so sure “no one knows” what’s going on with Trump and the Russians.

You hear something like that four or five times an hour as pundit-reporters compete to be the most flabbergasted by the latest tweet and revelation from TrumpWorld. But, if there is any credibility to Steve Bannon’s “deep state” paranoia, it strikes me as very-to-highly likely that within the gargantuan US intelligence apparatus there are people, and my guess is they would be senior career professionals, who have a real good idea of the games Trump has been playing with Russians, or to be more precise, games Russians have been playing with Trump.

Over just the past two weeks three separate pieces of reporting have etched a portrait of the Trump reality in clearer detail. None of them can be described as “sound bites.” You’ll need an hour to digest them all. Two have appeared in consecutive issues of the New Yorker and one is a series of posts by Josh Marshall for his site, Talking Points Memo.

“Trump, Putin and the New Cold War” by New Yorker editor David Remnick and two colleagues is a fascinating overview of the populist forces that first Putin and now Trump have very cynically exploited (and in Putin’s case sustained) to grab power. “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” by the same magazine’s Adam Davidson uses a bizarre development deal in Baku, Azberbaijan to lay out a money-laundering operation involving comically corrupt Azerbaijani officials, Trump and … Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Marshall’s series, zeroing in on Trump’s long-standing, very close association with a strange fringe mob/wannabe spy character named Felix Sater and Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. Begin, if you’re interested, with, “The Innocent Explanation, Part 1.”

To compress a very broad narrative to its essence, you have this: In the late ’90s and early ’00s Trump was effectively bankrupt and no American bank would do business with him. What he found were Russian oligarchs, newly and fabulously wealthy from mob-style “privatization” in the post-Soviet economy. That crowd needed ways to launder money, and a lot of it. They bought into Trump projects, often at absurdly inflated prices, enriching Trump as their cash got legitimized. As the pattern repeated itself, Trump and family become ever more beholden to their “business partners.”

Now, it is interesting from a media critic perspective to note how little anyone else in the press is playing with this Felix Sater keyhole to Trump’s empire. Sater, as Marshall reveals, not only served prison time for stabbing a guy, Joe Pesci-style, with the broken stem of a wine glass, but has established connections to New York mob families.

It is a long-standing fascination of mind at how the once enormously influential crime families of “Godfather” legend have all but entirely disappeared from media attention, as though they were never anything but a fiction. (Remember, until 1957 J. Edgar Hoover insisted organized crime did not exist in the United States.) The general explanation being that they all went “legitimate” at some point 25-30 years ago and there’s nothing more to see here.

I don’t think so. More likely is that the families figured ways to better launder their criminal earnings and are probably as wealthy today as they’ve ever been.

Whatever, this Felix Sater story is the extraordinarily rare instance when American organized crime reemerges in mainstream reporting. (The New York Times has reported on Sater, but to date has not pressed the connections Marshall has.) On the other hand Russian mobsters are a common subject of conversation. (It’s another form American exceptionalism, you see. We are the only culture in world history exempt from the scourge of organized criminality, and the corruption and violence that comes from it.)

Marshall acknowledges the normal viability of Occam’s Razor — (Definition: “Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.“)

Says Marshall, “The simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the right one. But in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, we should prefer it because it usually will be. To state the key point for clarity and emphasis, it is not the simplest explanation. It it is the simplest explanation which accounts for all the known facts. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.”

I could go on, but the reading list above lays all this out in compelling fashion.

My point, regarding the likelihood of senior people in the permanent government, (the part of the government Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct”), knowing what all this Russia business is about also has a bit of Occam’s Razor to it.

Specifically, fabulously wealthy Russian oligarchs, essentially organized international criminals, many (but not all) aligned with Vladimir Putin (who is reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in the world thanks to his looting of the Russian economy), would be precisely the people enriching and enabling all sorts of nefarious activity all over the world, including here in the United States. They would therefore be primary targets for US (and allied) intelligence operations, intercepting their communications and monitoring their contacts and money flows.

If they weren’t/aren’t being regularly surveilled it would be an astonishing dereliction of duty on the part of our $80-$100 billion annual intelligence apparatus.

So … here’s the assumption. Senior intelligence people, knowing with very high confidence what Trump has been involved with for years, begin a series of strategic leaks to the media to prod judicial action. After all, enabling by ignoring quasi-to-overtly criminal association with foreign adversaries is diametrically opposed to what they signed up for.

And this is very serious stuff for whoever is leaking. They themselves are risking criminal prosecution. Which is why I find it hard to believe it’s just a few Bartleby the scrivener types buried in the bureaucracy. People like that have essentially no political cover. But further up the chain, where senior officials have personal relations with influential political leaders — from the likes of Diane Feinstein and John McCain and Lindsay Graham, etc. — such a risk becomes more tenable.

In summary, while the pundit press saying “we don’t know” is credible.

But that is not at all the same thing as saying, “No one knows.”

 

 

 

 

On Marijuana Prohibition, Minnesota Legislators Are Not High On Substance

Cursor_and_Support_increases_for_marijuana_legalization___Pew_Research_CenterI recently wrote to Minnesota legislators to ask them to end marijuana prohibition, as many states have recently done. The responses I’ve received have been disappointing, not because they disagreed with me, but because they were utterly vacuous.

In matters of political debate, I’m a big boy. For more than thirty years, I have worked in and around bare knuckle politics. I grew up a liberal in a deep red state (South Dakota), so I am very accustomed to losing arguments. Still I value a good substantive discussion, because that’s how attitudes change over time.

But what I got back from Minnesota legislators was birdbrained political handicapping, not substance. I sent them a note with this evidence-heavy blog post, and expected at least a somewhat substantive rebuttal to my arguments.

Instead, I got responses like this from Minnesota legislators (excerpted):

“…it is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future that the Minnesota Legislature will take such a step.

Numerous concerns have been expressed about the negative impact legalization would have on public safety, and the incidence of addiction.

Nonetheless, please know should any proposals related to marijuana come before me, I will give them the thoughtful consideration they merit.”

Blah, blah, blah. I don’t use marijuana, but reading these responses made me dumber than any drug ever could.  Every response I received had a similar cavalier shrug of the shoulder, political handicapping, “some people say…” passive aggressiveness, and refusal to state a personal position or respectfully rebut mine.

In my misspent youth, I spent a few years drafting such responses for a U.S. Senator.  So I’m a bit of a connoisseur of this dark art.  My liberal former boss always insisted on providing his mostly conservative constituents with his evidence-based arguments.  He felt he owed them that, that it was a sign of respect.  I got nothing of the kind from Minnesota legislators.

Obviously, the chances of overturning marijuana prohibition under a GOP-controlled Legislature, U.S. Department of Justice, Congress and White House are nonexistent.  But I took the time to contact legislators because I wanted to educate them, compare notes and move the conversation forward.  I know that popular opinion on this issue is changing rapidly, and that election swings change political calculations overnight, as we saw with marriage equality. So I sincerely wanted to gain a better understanding of how Minnesota legislators were processing the issue.

If Minnesota legislators really believe that marijuana is more addictive than alcohol, show me your data.  If they really believe that marijuana laws aren’t being used to disproportionately punish people of color, show me your data.  If they really believe that marijuana kills more people than alcohol, or causes more health problems, show me your data.

And if you concede the accuracy of all of the data that I’ve supplied, explain the logic of continuing prohibition of marijuana, while expanding the availability of much more destructive alcohol products.

That type of disagreement I can respect. That kind of disagreement moves the democratic dialogue forward. But using “it’s not going to pass” and “some interest groups say…” deflections as a substitute for substantive debate is for pundits, not policymakers.

Yeah, Kids. It’s “Binary”. Sessions Lied Under Oath

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2This one is really simple. The top law enforcement official of the United States lied under oath. As all the cool kids are saying these days, “It’s binary.” Yes … or … no. Simple as it gets. No nuance required. And here, as regards Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions the III of the great state of Alabama, the answer is unambiguously, “yes.”

So less than one day after the D.C. punditocracy was wetting itself over Donald Trump “pivoting” to Presidential, we’re whiplashed back into the real reality of, you know, what is really going on. And there’s no plausible equivocating that can be done here.

Sessions, one of the first-in-for-the-Donald members of Congress, and a constant presence throughout the sordid campaign, not only lied in his reply to a question from our own Al Franken, he “volunteered” the lie … abut something that he didn’t have to lie about. (Although the more his standing with the Senate Armed Services Committee is tossed up as an explanation for chatting up the Russian ambassador the more people are stopping to say, “Wait a minute. Chatting up foreign ambassadors is a function of the Foreign Relations Committee, not the one Sessions was on.”

The significance of last night’s news — from both The Washington Post (on Sessions and the Rooskies) and The New York Times (on several foreign governments offering confirmation of Trump associates meetings with Russians in Europe during the campaign) — is that Congressional Republicans are … this close … to the tipping point. The point at which the accumulation of suspicion and evidence is large they have no practical choice other than to agree to an “independent special prosecutor” to investigate — a la Ken Starr — anything and everything related to Trump and the Russians.

Who that special prosecutor would be, who appoints him/her and what level of subpoena power (i.e. into Trump’s taxes) they have remains to be … politicized to hell.

But for now, things are proceeding quite nicely, thank you.

Trump worshippers and toadies will kick up a lot of dust parsing the possible innocence of Sessions’ coziness with the Russian ambassador. But the, uh, unimpeachable fact is that he flat out lied … under oath … to Congress. Just as Bad Old Bill Clinton lied about “not having sex with that woman.” Only this time, we’re not talking about heavy-petting, sort-of-sex in the Oval Office. We’re talking about colluding with the United States’ primary foreign adversary to screw with a Presidential election. Republicans are going to have go deep doo-doo double secret probation tribal to make sex a bigger deal than this, and I have no doubt they will. But as they like to say down in ‘Bama, “That dog don’t hunt.”

Six weeks into the Trump era we’ve already reached the point of needing an extra-Congressional investigation of possibly treasonous activity. (“Treason” being another word that has lost most of its meaning as a result of the constant braying of tri-corner hat-wearing imbeciles.)

Not that I’m surprised, you understand. In fact what surprises me most about the way Sessions, Gen. Flynn before him and the whole Trump team has responded to “the Russian thing” is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of these deep thinkers that it is the business of the NSA, the CIA, the DIA and on and on as well the MI5 in Britain and every other allied intelligence agency to monitor meetings and calls and communications with people close to Vladimir Putin. In fact … wait for it … it’s precisely what we pay billions of dollars a year for them to do.

So, I don’t know if, “Dem boys ain’t too bright” is another ol’ ‘Bama sayin’. But it sure fits this crowd.

Who Knew [Insert Issue] Was So Complicated?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Personally, I too was gobsmacked to learn that our World’s Greatest Health Care System is, “so complicated.” What’s next? Quantum physics can’t be explained on a 4×6 note card?

The revelation that washed over His Orangeness the other day, that he or Steve Bannon, can’t order “it” done, without explaining what “it” is, fits an already familiar pattern. Bold promises of bold action meets, damn it all anyway, the real world. The real world where people a lot smarter than either of them, with much more experience in specific disciplines, not too mention entire careers they want to protect, react to “boldness” with expressions of incredulity and, yeah, skilled resistance.

Then, aside from that already familiar pattern there’s the matter of … not wearing ourselves out while reality and resistance beats this new White House crowd like the proverbial herd of rented mules.

My growing concern, based on conversations with friends and family over the past couple months, is that our expressions of stunned dismay, outrage and vilification don’t take more of toll on us than Team Trump. We are the people who want to defeat and survive The Know Nothing Pitchfork Revolution.

What I’m hearing too much of are exercises in what you might call “competitive anxiety”. One person, rightfully horrified at the latest “who knew it’d be so complicated” tweet from Trump, or Goebbels-like assertion from Stephen Miller, (“the President’s authority will not be challenged”) goes off on a rant about the stupidity and horror of this stuff. In response the next person twists the dial from “7” to “8”, the next from “8” to “9” and pretty soon, you guessed it, the amps are blasting at full “11”.

On one level it’s cathartic and bonding. We’re all pissed and full of righteous, well-informed indignation. We didn’t pay attention in school, do our homework, pass tests, acquire adult skills and behave in a (mostly) conscientious manner all these years just to watch a collection of cynical hucksters take over the country by playing the chumps for chumps (with the enormous assistance of tribal Republicans — i.e. 53% of white women — for whom there is an even deeper level of hell.)

“Putting up with it” is not in our vocabulary, and why should it?

My point here is the need to individually monitor our acidic juices. There is a point beyond which all this indignation compounds the misery. Most of us, the majority of voters disgusted by what Trump represents, are encouraged by the level of resistance throwing flames on his recklessness and stupidity. This is something new and intensely gratifying. An insurgency of the informed! All hail!

But how about practice a form of therapeutic compartmentalization, if we can? If Trump-rage spills out over every other facet of our lives, kind of like the terrorists, he wins. More to the point, individual energies are limited. There’s only so much raging and grand displays of principled contempt any person can heave up before they’re too sapped to fight what is not going to be a quick war.

Even if a videotape of Trump and Putin and a dozen Russian hookers colluding to rig the election was televised tomorrow, it’d be well over a year or more before this debacle of American Berlusconi-ism reached a conclusion. (Do you think the hardened Trumpists clogging Florida airplane hangars care that much if the election was rigged? He has a base line of support that Nixon never had.)

There is a facet of our cultural psychology that rewards overt self-dramatization. (I blame the Kardashians). They who best and most frequently display emotional injury and stress receive a disproportionate share of available attention. Their particularly self-focused displays of concern have the effect of convincing others that they are the only ones taking this crisis seriously. There’s a unique status that comes with being the most stressed-out person in the room.

So to friends, family and allies: There’s plenty of fight to be had. It’s not going to be over anytime soon. If survival is part of the end game, let’s run regular checks on our personal levels of humor and sanity in response to the abundant stupidity and fraud.

 

The Big Difference Between Town Halls of 2009 and Today

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3One teeny, tiny thing missing from news coverage and punditry about Republicans and the their difficulties with the First Amendment at town halls is the matter of … actual, real facts.

Every news report about GOP representatives meeting constituents — in a public place, not check-writers at swank lawn parties — makes a point of comparing this eruption to what occurred over Obamacare in 2009. And yeah, it looks about the same. Pretty angry people, packed into an auditorium shrieking at some schlub who always looks like he/she’d rather be somewhere else. Like at a swank lawn party with polite people telling him/her how much they love them.

To date though I haven’t heard anyone dare say that while one group actually knows what they’re talking about the other was operating on ginned-up hysteria over set of unknowns and laughable misinformation. Specifically with regards to Obamacare, the program exists. That is what people in my country call a “fact.” People today know what it does and what it doesn’t. When they scream at some Congressman, most of who have been ranting and voting to repeal the law outright for seven years, they are operating on a foundation of factual reality.

Not so in 2009 when the other raging horde was bellowing about “death panels” and “socialism” and, my personal favorite, “the gubmint getting in between me and my doctor”, without ever acknowledging that some gargantuan, wealthier-than-God-himself insurance company was already in between them and their doctor sucking up so much space and air no piddly “gubmint” was ever going seriously compete for their health care dollar, (if they weren’t already on Medicaid). It was (yet another) fascinating explosion of viral, know-nothing conservatism. Not, you understand, that folks who know nothing and fear everything a smarty pants black liberal thinks is a good idea don’t have the right to rant and holler, too.

Today though, the people doing the yelling actually know quite a lot. They know how Obamacare works, at least for them. They also know for an absolute fact the people they’re yelling at did nothing to set it up or get it right and everything to sabotage it … without bothering even for minute to think hard enough to devise a replacement over the course of seven long years. They also know, off topic, that Donald Trump has not released his taxes, that he has a weird fondness for Vladimir Putin, that the Russians hacked into our election system and that our immigration system is still a mess, mainly because the same guys who they’re screaming at about Obamacare, have resisted every plan to improve immigration policy too, even the one George W. Bush tossed up.

There’s also the question of who whipped each group into its respective frenzy? True, 2009 liberals saw the Koch brothers behind every red-faced, “I don’t need no damned Obamacare, I got the emergency room” ranter. As though the Kochs themselves were robo-calling Red America warning them about some heinous gubmint plan to kill granny rather than treat her bunions.

The reality of that era was the match that lit the fuse to the crowds of 2009 came from their everyday, go-to source for entertainment and information — talk radio, FoxNews and fact-free websites, this being before we used phrases like “fake news.” As is their wont, the crowds of 2009 listened to and ingested hour after hour of fact-free, rabble-rousing bullshit and then went roaring off into the night to rant about “death panels” and “socialism” at the guy/gal standing on the stage, often in the precise words as their intellectual mentors on TV and radio.

There is no qualitative comparison to what the Jason Chaffetz (that oily little bleep), Mitch McConnell and Tom Emmer are hearing today. Town hall combatants today know that killing off Obamacare completely means no more coverage for pre-existing conditions. And, big issue here, that whacking the individual mandate means you, Mr./Ms. Republican representative of “the people” then have no way to pay for everything else. (Of course let’s remember that to 30% of America The Affordable Care Act is not so bad, but Obamacare, now that is the friggin’ devil’s work).

Point being, the difference between 2017 and 2009 is a yawning chasm between empirical reality and flat-out, fact-free partisan hysteria.

I repeat: There is little-to-no comparison of the level of factual literacy in the two eruptions.

Not that anyone in the press wants to say that too loudly.

 

 

President Nickelback

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A couple years ago, horrified at the thought Nickelback, (aka “The Worst Rock Band in the World”*) would touch down in the United Kingdom, a guy started a petition to keep them out. Now it’s Donald Trump. Similarities abound.

Those of you who have either never heard of Nickelback or been exposed to one of their “songs” are the lucky ones. Kind of like what happens when you Google “Rick Santorum”, the “Nickelback” search field is populated with unflattering references. A review in The Guardian says, “Canadian rockers Nickelback aren’t universally popular. Some 55,000 American football fans once signed a petition to attempt to stop them playing at half time. A dating website has voted their music the No 1 “musical turn-off”. In a particularly low moment, Nickelback haters set up a Facebook page to demonstrate that a pickled cucumber could get more fans. … Their lyrics flirt with misogyny, and women are routinely depicted as ‘naughty’ or strippers. You become thankful for small mercies, like when Kroeger tells a ‘dirty little lady with the pretty pink thong’ that she ‘looks much cuter with something in your mouth”, it turns out he’s referring to her thumb’.”

Other classic Nickelback anthems: “Something In Your Mouth,” “I’d Come for You,” and “S.E.X.”

And now the Brits, the people who taught us our manners if you believe “Masterpiece Theater” are debating whether to ban … the President of the United States from soiling Jolly Olde with his Nickelbackian presence. Specifically, the House of Commons had a very long and loud set-to over the weekend about rescinding an invitation conservative, pro-Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May extended seven days after His Orangeness was in office.

Said The Guardian, “The debate, which took place in Westminster Hall, was prompted by the petition signed by 1.8m people saying Trump should be denied a state visit and it was opened by the Labour MP Paul Flynn who, in a wide-ranging attack, described Trump’s intellect as ‘protozoan’.” And, “… Flynn said that only two US presidents had been accorded a state visit to Britain in more than half a century and it was ‘completely unprecedented’ that Trump had been issued his within seven days of his presidency. Flynn – who started the debate because he is on the petitions committee – said Trump would hardly be silenced by the invitation being rescinded, accusing him of a ‘ceaseless incontinence of free speech’. Asked by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, if Trump’s views on climate science should also be taken into account, Flynn responded that the president had shown ‘cavernous depths of scientific ignorance’ on the issue.”

Damn, but the Brits get off some good lines.

The expectation is that one way or another, with The Queen or without her, Trump will land in Britain sometime later this year, if only because pro-Brexit conservatives need to firm up their economic bona fides with someone, now that they’ve pissed off most of the rest of the European Union. (It has not escaped notice that The Queen has previously hosted the likes of Nicolae Ceausescu, a dictator of Stalinesque depravity),

But Trump will go to Britain because … also like Nickelback, which has sold over 50 million records and will be the opening night act at the Minnesota State Fair the summer … Trump is popular with “a small majority”, (key word: “majority”) of Brits, people, surveys show, convinced open border immigration is polluting the essence of Britain.

My point here is, I guess, limited and obvious. No matter how reviled by wordsmith music critics, an act like Nickelback is giving an enormous audience exactly what it wants, which is, as I always like to say, The First Rule Of Show Biz. The crassness of it, the swinish vulgarity of it, the shameless artlessness of it, the misogyny, the … well, you can fill in the rest … is not only not off-putting to the ears and minds of Nickelback’s fans … it is damn near exactly what they want, and have wanted now for 22 years.

People proud of their cultured tastes, people whose critical antennae are tuned to discern unimaginative pandering in guitar licks and drumming, and irony-free lechery in lyrics, could do worse than keep Nickelback’s enduring commercial success in mind as they calculate Trump’s “inevitable” implosion.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Nickelback has not been fed life-saving loans by Russian gangster/oligarchs or colluded with a murderous dictator to undermine the popularity of a better band, like say Pearl Jam. Nor are currently under investigation by the FBI. So the comparison falls apart on that score.

But … writing about Nickelback’s success for The New Yorker, Ian Crouch concluded by saying, “… to be hated is to be something. And to be hated by an army of anxious, élitist, Pitchfork-reading coastal snobs may be enough of a foundation on which to build an enduring fan base in the shrunken marketplace of the digital age. I think that [lead singer Chad] Kroeger is probably right that the haters have made Nickelback stronger, in that they have given what had been a bland, soft-metal, post-grunge band the outsider, bad-ass edge that it had always projected but never earned. As an old saying goes, ‘To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction’.”

Make of that what you will.

*An “alternative fact”.

 

What’s Even Scarier Than That Press Conference.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3As completely whacked as His Orangeness’s press conference was yesterday, there are at least two things to keep in mind that are even scarier.

1: His nihilistic true believers, the crowd that has been “left behind”/”hasn’t kept up” with the 21st century and desperately needs someone else to blame for their misery, loved the whole thing. Love! Love! Love! Check any comment thread you choose. Spraying the room with a fire hose of shameless lies, accusing every reporter other than the beyond-parody mannequin hosts of “Fox & Friends” of being “fake” and “dishonest” is like glorious music, a goddam Lee Greenwood – Kid Rock duet, to the ears of the 27% who will submit to whatever Trump says, no matter what.

But, 2: There is no doubt — none — that career D.C., i.e. career “Big Gubmint”, is leading the resistance to the appalling level of incompetence (and worse) they see first hand, up close and behind the scenes. A key line from Talking Points Memo boss Josh Marshall’s spiel (posted on Facebook yesterday) was this, in the context of career intelligence people and their assessment of Trump’s credibility.

Said Marshall: “Almost half the sixteen agencies which make up the ‘Intelligence Community’ are various military intelligence agencies – Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, DIA, et al. All of this is to say that the idea that the people in this world are liberals or inclined to be anti-Trump for partisan reasons is laughable. What is especially worrisome is that the people in this world seem to have more specific concerns about Trump’s ties to foreign governments than observers on the outside. That’s worrisome because they have access to information we do not.”

Anytime a “disrupter” takes over management of a bureaucracy, government or corporate, there will be people resisting change. In the corporate world they can be bounced out of the way fairly easily. Not so much in “gubmint”. But the key thing here is that, as Marshall correctly argues, these are anything but disgruntled liberal partisans feeding the “fake media” “true leaks” about what is and isn’t going on in the Trump White House. With the intelligence community, people who we can assume truly do know (a lot) more than we do about things like Trump’s campaign contacts with the Russians and, I’m betting, his financial obligations to Putin-friendly oligarchs, the driving motivation is to destabilize this clown act before it gets them and all of us into something truly godawful.

Put more bluntly, it is reasonable to assume that the culturally conservative U.S. intelligence has already made a judgment about Trump’s credibility, and it ain’t good. It is reasonable to assume they have well-founded reasons — via routine wiretaps and spooky surveillance of banking transactions — that Trump not only can not, but must not, be trusted with potentially critical information. To the point that they are already — a month into this farce — risking felony prosecution for leaking damning information to the failing New York Times and other media outlets … you know, people they actually do trust. (It would not surprise me at all if somewhere, thanks the country’s $50 to $80 billion intelligence budget someone has already snagged Trump’s taxes and knows damn well who has what on him.)

Because Trump’s taxes/financial obligations/Russia is the key issue, the intelligence community’s clear decision to provide leaks to drive public investigations is the Gold Standard, DefCon 4, Ultimo Primo Bureaucratic Resistance. But on less critical levels, we should be prepared for intense bureaucratic resistance to the manifest incompetence of Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Scott Pruitt at their respective agencies. God only knows how the State Department — which was shut out of meetings with Bibi Netanyahu, (but Jared Kushner was there), and had over 100 people led out of the building yesterday — will respond if/when Rex Tillerson is also iced out of fresh intelligence because of his complicity with the Russians.

Trumpist chowderheads can cheer this on all they like. They are fools. But their boy’s chances of surviving what’s coming down on him were remote at best on Jan. 20 and are diminishing by the hour. A different kind of “disrupter” might have a better chance of succeeding, whatever that ever meant. But Trump, as everyone else knows, is two things for sure.

He is not smart about the reality of the Presidency.

And, he’s lazy.

He believes he can fake it.

He can’t.

 

Boot the Mute

Cursor_and_Minnesota_gets_D-_grade_in_2015_State_Integrity_Investigation___Center_for_Public_IntegrityWhen Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives, they got their chance to show Minnesotans their preferred style of governing.

Think of all of the things Republicans could have done to strut their stuff for voters. They could have enacted reforms to improve Minnesota laws regarding public access to information. They might have reformed Minnesota laws related to legislative accountability, ethics enforcement or state pension fund management. After all, the Center for Public Integrity gives Minnesota — a state that often can’t stop congratulating itself about how ethical it’s government is — an “F” grade in all of those areas.  DFLers didn’t improve governnance in those areas, so Republicans could have showed them up.

But instead, Republicans leaders have, I kid you not, installed a “master mute” button in the House chambers to shush debate that discomforts them.  MinnPost’s Briana Bierschbach  explains the scene when Minnesota’s first learned of the button’s existence:

On May 22 (2016), with less than an hour to go before a deadline to finish work for the 2016 legislative session, the bonding bill landed on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, standing at the rostrum in front of the chamber, quickly readied the nearly $1 billion package of construction projects for a final vote, but Democrats in the minority weren’t happy. Several members picked up their microphones and shouted in protest, saying there wasn’t enough time to read the entire bill, much less make any changes to the proposal.

Then an odd thing happened: For those watching the chaos on the House chamber’s livestream video feed, the shouting abruptly stopped. Then it started back up, until suddenly voices were cut off again, some midsentence. Daudt, who is shown in the House video standing at the rostrum, pushes something off to his right on the desk several times.

It turns out Daudt was utilizing a new feature installed in the Minnesota House chambers ahead of the 2016 session: A “master mute” button.

News_about__mnleg_on_TwitterThe reality of the mute button is pretty horrifying. Regulating debate should continue to be done with the traditional, predictable, and ever-civil Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, not the impulsive flick of a politicians’ index finger.  Mason’s doesn’t need a mute.

But as bad as the reality of the mute button is, the political optics is worse. Keep in mind the national context for this Minnesota action. At the national level, we have a Republican Congressman bellowing “you lie” in the middle of a President’s State of the Union Address. We have a Republican U.S. Senate Leader  censoring and scolding a Senator for daring to quote a civil rights leader’s assessment of a nominee tasked with enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws. We have a Republican President who cuts off anyone who questions him with a loud and dismissive “quiet,” “no you’re the puppet,” “you’re a nasty woman,” “go back to UniVision,” “wrong, “get em outta here,” and “knock the crap outta them.”

With that as Minnesota Republicans’ ignominious national backdrop, you would think they would be working extra hard to show that they are as civil and transparent as Minnesotans demand. But if you wanted to showcase a party’s insecurity, hubris, and disrespect for free speech, you could not come up with a more outrageous prop than a “master mute” button. It feels like something out of an over-the-top Saturday Night Live or Monte Python skit, not something a state party would do to prove that it isn’t as rude and authoritarian as it’s historically unpopular national leader.  Minnesota Republicans are absolutely tone-deaf on this issue.

The Minnesota House’s mute button is obscene and an attack on our free speech values. So legislators, let’s immediately vote to remove it, apologize to Minnesotans, snip the wires, patch the shameful podium scar, and move forward with blissfully raucous democratic debates about improving ordinary Minnesotans’ lives.

Gen. Flynn and the Dam About to Burst

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3If you’ve been worrying about the big Oroville dam in California bursting open, this Gen. Flynn thing could bring a much bigger flood. After 24 days, three and half weeks, the regime of Our Orange Leader is already up to its spray tanned jowls in a scandal bigger than Watergate.

That’s hyperbole!, you say? Well, no one ever accused Richard Nixon of regularly communicating with the Russians while they were doing their nefarious best to screw with an American presidential election. And G. Gordon Liddy was not the President’s key and, according to reports, sole advisor on foreign affairs. Baby, oh baby.  Even I thought it’d be mid-summer before Trump got himself into something so outrageously, cartoonishly foul that the usual “Let’s move on, nothing to see here, folks” Republican “leaders” would be on TV demanding to know what exactly there is … to see here.

But that’s where we are … three and a half weeks into this fiasco. Clearly, some Republicans have already decided Trump is too ludicrous an embarrassment to protect with sealed-off, behind closed doors committee investigations. Moreover, if reports are true that U.S. intelligence agencies are withholding intelligence from Trump and his team of Russian-compromised know-nothings, the sooner the swap-out of Mike Pence for Trump happens, the better.

The schadenfreude-rich beauty of the Flynn debacle is how it whips the spotlight back around, away from the sideshow of fools and scoundrels joining Trump’s cabinet, and zeros it back in on what kind of business Trump has been doing with the Russians for the past 30 years. We have a pretty good idea, but to date none of the circumstantial (and better) assertions have grabbed the full attention, simultaneously, of our brave Congressional leaders and the national media herd.

The cynical assumption is that this Flynn business, which as we now know has been going on for months, not just between Flynn and various Russian officials, but other members of Trump’s campaign/administration, will be stifled and prevaricated over by Republican-led committees. They’ll muddle it and obscure it until the “failing” The New York Times and Jake Tapper lose interest or are distracted by the next farcical scandal or, god forbid, bona fide international crisis.

But I don’t see that happening, and I lived through Watergate. Why? Because this Flynn episode is hair’s breadth from the rich, juicy essence of Donald Trump — namely, the high likelihood he was bailed out of chronic bankruptcy by Russian money and has engaged in colossal tax fraud for decades. Being first to expose what so many, in and out government and media believe to be a monumental con game comes with guarantee of heroic historical standing of the eternal, name-in-schoolbooks variety.

My pal, Joe Loveland, correctly assessed the Republicans’ predicament over disposing Trump for Mike Pence. Basically, they’re prepared to do it, preferably before the 2018 mid-term elections, as long as they don’t have to take any responsibility for it. Most Republicans, batshit craven and otherwise, live in fear of Trump’s low-to-no information base. But if Trump brings the… house of cards … down on himself with a ceaseless bombardment of revelations about scheming with … the f****ing Russians for chrissakes (every old school Republican’s ultimate boogeyman) … they can stand back like mere horrified observers, while doing everything they can to polish up the medieval dunce Mike Pence as the only acceptable replacement.

The wild and terrifying card in this drama is of course the “Reichstag fire” scenario, where Team Trump plots to distract public/Congressional/media attention by either inventing, grossly exaggerating or ineptly bungling some serious international crisis. In normal times you, dear reader, would be excused for rolling your eyes at the wild-eyed lunacy of such a scenario. I mean, stuff like that doesn’t happen in The United States.

Unfortunately, like the dossier with stories of the Rooskies storing video of Donald and hookers, um, “micturating” on Obama’s hotel bed in Moscow, there’s a level of plausibility to almost every obscene, outrageous thing you can imagine about Trump that we’ve never dealt with before. Not even with Dick Nixon.

Man, am I tired of winning so much.

The Resistance Is Being Televised, And A Lot Of It Is Pretty Funny

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3So I’m down in Florida for my sister Lu’s birthday bash, strolling around the quaint/funky old neighborhood of Key West minding my own business, and I pass by a guy parked on his Vespa talking on the phone.

“Look,” he says to whoever, “we can’t do this every day. It was a half hour yesterday and”, looking at his watch, “it’s already 20 minutes this morning. We can’t spend all this time talking about that asshole. It’s draining.”

Now, he could have been talking his drunken brother-in-law’s latest faceplant. But I kinda doubt it. The conversation was way too familiar to stuff I’m hearing everywhere I go. Hell, my wife and I were recently at a wake … a wake, for chrissakes … and every conversation was about Trump, “that asshole”. To the point that it struck me the guy is such a menace to psychic health he’s a goddam buzzkill … at a wake.

Scrolling through social media and other blogs, every liberal I know is in a competition to outdo the last in the level of vilification, disgust and personal offense they’re taking to Trump (and all things Trump). I can hardly plead innocence. It’s like, “No, I’m more outraged and appalled than you are!”, and there’s going to be some kind of awards banquet for the most righteous, apoplectic takedown of our Our Mendacious, Incompetent Orange Comb Over-in-Chief. (See?)

So here’s a little sunlight and flower-sniffing to counter-balance all the stomach-churning rage. The resistance undermining Trump (and Steve Bannon, and Betsy DeVos and all the other cartoonish trolls who have moved into D.C.) is flourishing and, apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, is actually being televised.

There’s nothing monolithic about modern media. It’s a million different sources for 320 million different interest groups. But as badly as “the media” failed us during the campaign, it is now reacting predictably — and pretty well — to the clown car chaos and buffoonery of the Trump administration. (Thanks in large part to its own craven ratings-chasing) “the media” now has a singular target of unprecedented size and authority to dissect, delegitimize and de-pants … hourly … day after day, with no conceivable end in sight. I’m convinced this is true because Trump, a demonstrably ill-formed, unstable and isolated personality, is not capable of transforming himself, like Madonna or Lady Gaga, to meet changes in public tastes. As this resistance grows, as it has with each adolescent Tweet, white nationalist/mega banker appointment and bungled military operation, Trump can only double down … and down and down again … as the rage swells up.

So here are a few things I’ve recently taken encouragement from.

1: The Harley-Davidson people, fully understanding the certainty that a Presidential visit to their Milwaukee headquarters would fire up an enormous and angry demonstration outside their factory, kind of ruining their anniversary party, thought better of Trump in Wisconsin. So the motorcycle execs went to the White House instead. This is a fascinating precedent. How does Trump go … anywhere … without inciting angry, mocking protests? Presidential factory visits are about as routine as it gets. But not with Trump, and not ever is my bet. He may be able to pull off a completely cordoned-off, quarantined “victory lap rally” in, I don’t know, West Virginia opioid, I mean, coal country, but where else? And even then the perimeters of that scene would be pretty unruly. Put another way, can you imagine Trump wandering around Minneapolis for a couple days, having a come one-come all appearance at Minnehaha Falls and knocking back a Juicy Lucy at Matt’s a la Obama? The mind reels at the protest possibilities, not to mention Matt’s owners pleading with him to stay away. Hell, good luck to any member of Congress risking a town hall in their own district with this fool in office.

2: Earnest, hyper-cautious second-tier newspapers like the Star Tribune, which have long relied on The New York Times for their national and international news coverage, are routinely re-printing Times stories full of appalling-to-hilarious details of Trump’s corruption and incompetence. The Times recently added $5 million to its budget to excavate more of Trump’s astonishing malfeasance. I’m still waiting to hear how NPR and MPR adjust to this new reality, but every outlet relying on the Times is running (some of) its stuff and feeding the fires of the resistance, with real facts, not the alternative ones. There’s no reason to think that will stop or slow down since, as the song goes, we’ve only just begun.

3: Pop culture, which I’ve mentioned before, is rapidly and with near unanimity coalescing around the concept of Trump as Toxic, Racist Buffoon. From Melissa McCarthy’s spit-take inducing takedown of the hapless Sean Spicer, to Alec Baldwin (and Bannon the Grim Reaper), to a refocused and re-energized Stephen Colbert, to an explosion of wall art around the world ridiculing Trump, to a ceaseless flow of GIFs and social media memes Trump is gold, or is it orange? manna dropping from the skies like a bombardment of frozen turkeys. (Note multiple metaphors.)  And if you argue that all those “smug, urban elites” are just flogging the choir, check out the sports stars, most of them black at the moment, declining the “honor” of shaking Trump’s hand. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors today, and I have a real hard time seeing LeBron James grippin’ and grinnin’ with a shameless liar and unrepentant race-baiter if the Cavaliers repeat this spring. Not good optics, man. Much like the boycott of his red neck inaugural gala, being publicly-and-loudly opposed to Trump is a badge of honor for an overwhelming percentage of America’s cultural heroes.

So yeah, Bannon and DeVos and Jeff Sessions and KellyAnne and the rest of the preposterous mob are in office, screwing things up and doing what they can to recreate some kind of white, patriarchal fiefdom here in the US of A. But, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, there is a broad, clever, swelling, well-informed and deeply invigorated resistance undermining, mocking and vilifying them for being the walking frauds and catastrophes they are.

And it’s all on TV. It’s the American way.

Republicans Extremely Unlikely To Impeach Trump

Cursor_and_trump_impeachment_-_Google_SearchThere’s a popular theory among the chattering classes that Trump will be impeached fairly soon.  It goes something like this: Republican members of Congress are getting very sick of Trump, because of his incompetence, conflicts-of-interest, Putin slavishness, and overall lunacy. Long-term, they worry that Trump will hurt their brand with the non-extreme swing voters they need to win elections.

So, the theory goes, congressional Republicans will eventually latch on to an impeachable offense, such as a blatant violation of a court order, which would spark a constitutional crisis. Congressional Republicans will then join with Democrats to impeach Trump, knowing all the while that doing so will empower one of their own, Vice President Mike Pence.

To congressional Republicans, Pence, a former member of Congress and Governor, is a comfortable old shoe.  He has extremely conservative positions on social issues that won’t sit well with American swing voters.  But he has at least been to charm school, and is competent, administratively speaking. So, the Ryans and McConnells of the world would be relieved to have Pence in the Oval Office instead of Trump.

Anyway, that’s the widely discussed theory.

Not Going To Happen

I find it very unlikely. Here’s why:

Yes, Trump is committing impeachable offenses.  Yes, most Republican congressional leaders worry about Trump, and much prefer Pence.  That part of the theory makes perfect sense.

But more than anything, congressional Republicans care about winning elections and holding onto their power. That is their lifeblood. To hold on to their seats and their majority, they need to a) survive Republican primary challenges in deep red gerrymandered congressional districts and b) have their hardcore Trump-loving base turn out to vote in general elections.

I believe it is highly likely that a significant slice of the Trump loyalists would stick with Trump, even after an impeachment, and maybe especially after an impeachment.  A significant proportion of the Trump voters will never stop being loyal to him.

After a historically bizarre and controversial campaign season, Trump is currently going through a disastrous transition and first couple of weeks in power.  He has criticism coming at him from all directions, including from prominent conservative leaders.   At the same time, Republicans no longer have the demonized Hillary Clinton to cast in their “lesser of two evils” narrative, which helped them win moderates in the Presidential election.

Despite all of that working against Trump, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey recently found that 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of the job Trump is doing, even though only a 47 percent minority of Americans approve, a historically low level for a President in his honeymoon period.  After all of that, 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of his performance.

Clearly, Trump voters are exceptionally loyal to him.  Still, as the Trump-generated outrages continue to pile up, and Trump fatigue sets in, some of that support will die off. Eventually, I could foresee as many as half of the Trump voters changing their mind about Trump.

But even if only half of Trump voters remain loyal to Trump after an impeachment proceeding, the remaining impeachment-inflamed Trump diehards – stoked by the unrepentant pro-Trump messaging machines like Breitbart, InfoWars, and many others — could wreak havoc on incumbent Republicans who supported impeachment. In general elections, a sizable number of post-impeachment Trump loyalists – enraged by the spurning of their hero — could stay home and cause otherwise safe congressional Republicans to lose in November 2018.

None of this is lost on congressional Republicans, who are hyper-sensitive to the Trump voters.  At the end of the day, most Republican Members of Congress seem to care much more about preserving their political power than they do about saving the republic from a crooked, unstable authoritarian. Because of that, and because Trump’s hard core loyalist voters will stick with him through just about anything, I just can’t see the current Republican majority ever agreeing to impeach Trump.

In other words, unless Trump steps down on his own, I think we’re almost certainly stuck with Trump for four years.

It’s Not looking Like Public Radio Will Be Part of the Solution

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3MinnPost has discontinued media coverage, so I’m no longer covering stories like this. But if I were, this one would be a fat target.

Here’s the link to a Daily Beast story. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/01/lewis-wallace-stood-up-for-journalism-it-cost-him-his-job.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon

Essentially an employee of the radio show Marketplace, which is a production of St. Paul-based American Public Media (APM), a sister network of Minnesota Public Radio, Wallace wrote on his private blog about coping professionally — as a journalist — with the new realities of our current Trump era. This did not sit well with American Public Media, and he (a transgender guy, no less) was eventually fired.

Says the Daily Beast story: “According to Wallace’s account, he was told that his blog post violated Marketplace’s code of ethics because he questioned the way that journalistic ideals like ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’ can be abused by people and organizations who don’t believe in facts or who hold ‘morally reprehensible’ positions like white supremacy. Wallace also wrote that journalists shouldn’t care if they are labelled ‘politically correct’ or ‘liberal’ for simply ‘reporting the facts’.”

APM seemed particularly upset with Wallace’s assertion that “neutrality” is itself an act of strategic political positioning, usually to avoid the appearance of (liberal) bias and avoid conflict with audiences and advertisers/underwriters. Journalistic “neutrality” is the semi-mythical realm where journalists do not make judgments on what they are reporting, which is to say specifically pointing out “errors of fact”, “falsehoods” and “lies”,

Said Wallace, ” … can people of color be expected to give credence to ‘both sides’ of a dispute with a white supremacist, a person who holds unscientific and morally reprehensible views on the very nature of being human? Should any of us do that? Final note here, the ‘center’ that is viewed as neutral can and does shift; studying the history of journalism is a great help in understanding how centrism is more a marketing tactic to reach broad audiences than actual neutrality. Many of the journalists who’ve told the truth in key historical moments have been outliers and members of an opposition, here and in other countries. And right now, as norms of government shift toward a ‘post-fact’ framework, I’d argue that any journalist invested in factual reporting can no longer remain neutral.”

The response from APM was entirely predictable. “American Public Media communications director Angie Andresen told The Daily Beast in a statement: ‘Like most employers, we don’t discuss personnel matters about current or former employees. We value our strong ethics and political activity guidelines. They are designed to allow us to fulfill our commitment to independent and objective reporting. Diversity is a hallmark and strength of Marketplace. We do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression’.”

It’s safe to say “diversity” is not the central issue here. Rather it is … a low-level employee, on his private blog, saying something — well worth a broad public discussion — that might possibly, in some way shape or form create an issue for APM.

As the Daily Beast story notes, this comes on the heels of another telling example of public radio’s squishiness. On the topic of full and fearless reporting of what is arguably the biggest story any journalist has covered in their lifetime, namely the installation of a White House administration that has no qualms about lying as matter of routine, not to mention simultaneously vilifying the press for its “fakery”, National Public Radio reasserted its determination to proceed as if nothing has been disrupted.

In a New York Times piece Jan. 25 on the ethical bona fides of Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior President for News was quoted (from an internal statement) saying of the use of the word “lie” to describe Trump’s behavior, “the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.”

Which is another way of saying, “There is a risk there.”

Yeah, the world is full of risk.

It may be true that calling out Trump will push some people away. But I doubt Oreskes or anyone else at APM has any metrics to prove it, much less research to show that the kind of aggressive reporting on Trump shown on a near daily basis now by The New York Times (which just reported a surge in on-line subscriptions) may be precisely what a literate, involved and duly outraged audience expects of it at this very minute.

Oeskes is no doubt worried. All public radio has to feel imperiled by Trump’s threats to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, something that could very well happen given the lack of counter-punch from Congressional liberals. The less aggressive NPR is with Trump the less likely they’ll feel the budget axe. Or so they may think.

The APM sacking of heretofore anonymous Mr. Wallace is part and parcel of the point I was making in my previous post, built around the commentary the Strib wouldn’t run on precisely this kind of hidebound timidity and misreading of consumer sentiment. Mainstream news organizations, fond of an “above the fray”, “this too shall pass” attitude toward outbursts of cultural extremism, are risking alienating a key audience/customer base by not adjusting and stepping up to this very large and unprecedented fight.

And they don’t want to talk about it.

Improving Minneota’s Health Insurance Market With A “MinnesotaCare for All” Option

For Minnesotans who can’t get health insurance from an employer, Minnesota Republican legislators have been demanding improvements.

where-mn-get-insurance-donut-graphic-254x300_jpg__254×300_Out on the campaign stump, Republicans say they want more health plan options than are currently available. They want health insurance companies to feel more competitive pressure to keep a lid on premiums. They want consumers to have a broad network of health care providers available to them. They want assurances that there will always be at least one solid coverage option available to every Minnesotan, even when health insurance companies decide to pull out of the marketplace, as they have in recent years. Those are all good goals.

To achieve them, Republican state legislators should work with Governor Dayton to give Minnesotans a MinnesotaCare for All option.

Background

Currently in Minnesota, those who can’t get health insurance from an employer can get coverage from one of three sources:

  • TOP TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford premium costs, they can purchase coverage from nonprofit health plans – UCare, HealthPartners, Medica, and Blue Cross. (As part of the federal Affordable Care Act, about 60% of those buying from these companies through the MNsure online shopping tool are offsetting premium costs with federal tax credits, which this year are averaging over $7600 per year.)
  • MIDDLE TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford some, but not all, of the premium cost, they can purchase MinnesotaCare at a subsidized rate that varies depending on household income.
  • LOWER TIER. For the poorest Minnesotans who can’t afford any of the premium cost, they can get Medical Assistance at no cost to them. Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

MinnesotaCare for All Option

Governor Dayton proposes to give those in the top tier an additional option.  He wants to give those consumers the option of buying into that middle tier — the public MinnesotaCare program.

Adding a MinnesotaCare for All option would achieve what Republicans say they want – more options for consumers, more marketplace competition to drive down prices, a guarantee that at least one plan option will always be available to Minnesotans, and consumer access to a broad network of Minnesota health care providers statewide.

A fact sheet from the Governor’s office elaborates on the consumer benefit:

Purchasing quality health coverage through MinnesotaCare is less expensive than buying coverage directly from a private insurer, because it leverages the buying power of more than 1 million Minnesotans enrolled in public plans.

Minnesotans who purchase MinnesotaCare would get high-quality health coverage for approximately $469 per month, on average. That is more than 12 percent ($69) less than the average statewide premium of $538 for private insurance in 2017.

Under the Governor’s proposal, families would spend on average $838 per person less in 2018 than in 2017 on their health insurance premiums.

After a one-time startup investment ($12 million), the cost of Governor Dayton’s plan would be funded entirely by the premiums of Minnesotans who choose to buy MinnesotaCare coverage. If the Legislature enacted this proposal by April 1, Minnesotans could purchase MinnesotaCare coverage as early as the 2018 open enrollment period.

Having this MinnesotaCare option would likely be very popular with Minnesotans.  After all, a national poll found that an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans support a similar Medicare for All option, while only 13 percent oppose the idea.

Let Consumers Choose

Why would Republicans not want this for Minnesota consumers? If the Governor’s claims about the MinnesotaCare option turn out to be accurate, many of the Republicans’ stated goals for the individual market would be achieved.

At the same time, if the Governor’s MinnesotaCare-related claims about lower prices and better health care network turn out to be inaccurate or inflated, Minnesotans will surely reject the MinnesotaCare option. If it is to their advantage, consumers will choose a nonprofit health insurance company, or a for-profit health maintenance organization (HMO), which the Governor recently agreed to authorize as part of a compromise with Republican legislators.

With the addition of the MinnesotaCare option, private, nonprofit and public options all would be available to Minnesotans who are shopping and comparing via MNsure. Then the politicians could get out of the way, and let the consumers choose the option that works best for them.

Rejected by the Strib. (Not That I’m Taking it Personally.)

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Here’s a commentary piece I wrote for the Strib which didn’t make their cut. Word is they’re a bit overwhelmed with Trump stuff. But I don’t call reading anything there from this perspective. Nor did any of the Strib managers I contacted acknowledge e-mails seeking a conversation about adjusting to Trump-style rhetoric and media manipulation.

Whether mainstream professional journalists want to admit it or talk about it publicly or not, the work they do is at another moment of revolution, if not crisis. How to conduct business in the Age of Donald Trump compounds pressures already placed on traditional journalism organizations by the explosion of free internet alternatives to Reporting as Your Parents Remember It and the squeeze from rapacious investors.

Whatever your feelings about Trump, his attitude toward so many long-standing protocols including those guiding White House-press relations makes him a disrupter of unprecedented magnitude. Judging by how he’s conducted himself through his business career, the presidential campaign and the transition to taking over as POTUS 45, Trump operates — and thus far has succeeded beyond all conventional expectations — by asserting a combative, constantly shifting alternate reality to the world the press has comfortably reported on for generations. That was a world where the press played objective arbiter between two thoroughly familiar political forces, Republicans and Democrats, each largely accepting the basic rules of conduct between them and the media that covered them.

There is no good reason to think that arrangement will ever exist with Trump. More to the point, there is peril, even a threat to established journalism’s basic business model, in wishfully thinking that traditional protocol will suddenly emerge with Trump in the Oval Office. Put bluntly, the question traditional journalism managers should be asking themselves is this: “What do the readers (or listeners or viewers) who trust us expect from us now, in this new environment?”

The news environment of 2017 is as intensely bifurcated as I can ever recall. Where one large mass of news consumers still puts faith in fact-based reporting by daily newspapers, network news and the like, another remarkably large mass, a group instilled with a deep distrust and contempt for mainstream journalism by 25 years of talk radio and hyper-partisan websites, eagerly consumes and trades in preposterous fakery. What’s real and true matters less to them than what tilts the battle in favor of their tribe.

The dilemma for established news organizations is in providing too little of what their most supportive customers want most. Specifically, that would be very aggressive truth-telling on a transparency-averse figure, Trump, who has also demonstrated a startling disinterest in what’s empirical and true.

Trump is pushing the traditional press into uncomfortable territory, requiring a rapid evolution in both style and operational ethics. Over the past year, leading news organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times famously broke with the long-standing taboo against use of the words “lie” and “liar”, in describing various Trump assertions. Having surveyed (or attempted to survey) a dozen or so news executives and media analysts, I can report that the few who cared/dared engage in a conversation on the topic of new strategies for covering Trump were palpably uncomfortable with the Times’ and Post’s break with tradition and offered no new rules for the road as Trump takes office.

There are plenty of journalism outlets, from BuzzFeed, to Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, to Mother Jones, to Talking Points Memo to Vox and so on prepared to cover Trump unfettered by polite traditions and protocols left over from the Eisenhower administration. The peril for the more established press is in failing to evolve and compete with those insurgents for the attention and trust of the audience that has supported Old School journalism up to this moment.

American journalism needs its version of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, a tactical guide for waging battle against a committed foe. At minimum it should include resisting the reflexive over-reaction, like a flock of starlings, to Trump’s tweet-of-the-hour and instead concentrate on burrowing obsessively into essential disclosures. Like the new President’s opaque financial associations and obligations, with the Russians the Chinese, or whoever.

The public has a profound right to know. And the people who continue to trust Mom and Dad’s Media expect big legacy journalism shops to adjust to our stark new reality and not just “report” the latest bizarre tweet, but deliver the critical information they want, protocols be damned.