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 than 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.

“Pussy Hat Nation” is Bigly-er than Trump.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2The one certain thing we can take away from the enormous turn-out for Saturday’s Women’s Marches — all around the world, including Antarctica — is that for as big a story as the Trump administration is, the resistance to it is every bit as large. It is just as unprecedented.

In normal times there’d be a big show of protest like last weekend. Everyone would bus and fly into D.C. or hump it across town to gather with kindred souls and make a lot of noise for an afternoon. And then the crowd would go back to their regular gigs, getting the kids through school, putting on a new deck, planning for spring break. But “normal” is so 2015.

Millions of pretty neighborly, everyday people recognize that we’ve seriously parted ways with “normal.” What we can bank on now is that Donald Trump, the man with perhaps the lowest emotional IQ of anyone ever to set foot in the White House, much less preside over it, will be a constant, daily-to-hourly source of infuriation for everyone who turned out this past weekend … all around the world.  Make that “infuriation” and “embarrassment”.

Look for example at what one day of marches wrought.

The guy makes a courtesy call on the CIA and lies to their faces about ever dissing them or suggesting they were undermining him “like Nazi Germany” and then spirals off that into a hissy id-fit about the media lying about the size of the crowd for his inauguration. He follows that by sending his hapless spox, Sean Spicer, (soon to be a regular “Saturday Night Live” bit), to add a half dozen more instantly disprovable lies on top of everything he himself said. This then leads to the Strangelovian notion of “alternative facts”, from Trump’s grossly over-exposed White House “counselor” Kellyanne Conway, already an “SNL” meme.

(BTW: If you were wondering about the cheering at that CIA event. There’s this today from CBS News: “U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday.  An official said the visit ‘made relations with the intelligence community worse’ and described the visit as ‘uncomfortable’. Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.  An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate  Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.’)

Follow what will be a routine cycle of cause-and-effect.

Universally observable event occurs. (Trump inauguration draws 1/6th of Obama’s and 1/3rd of the Women’s March). Trump declares it all a lie cooked up by “most dishonest people in the world.” Which reminds and reaffirms in the minds of the significant majority of the public who voted against him that his dishonesty is dwarfed by his astonishing insecurity. Which sets off a fresh frenzy of social media mockery. Which infuriates him further. Which keeps his limited attention span focused on affronts to his ego. Which generates more counter-attacks riddled with absurd lies. Which … well you get it.

Point being, this is not going to stop, until something breaks, and the chances are better that Trump breaks down than 60, 80,100 million … around the planet, who have the benefit of reality on their side. Character is destiny, and Trump, who no one can imagine preparing himself for the intellectual rigors of the Oval Office much less the constant assault on personal inadequacies that comes with the territory, is a character suited only for tabloid-style combat. Paper-thin ego gratification is the essence of his game.

Personally, I continue to have a “House of Cards” view of what’s coming over the horizon. It is all too plausible that the Russians (via loans to Trump by Putin-friendly oligarchs if not incontinent hookers) have blackmail leverage on him, leverage that guys like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are only too happy to apply to keep Trump their bitch. But if he is as wholly delusional as we are certain he is, the fun starts when he decides they are his bitches.

Bigly wrong-o, O Orange One.

Without getting their hands too dirty, entrenched institutional power-play Republicans like Ryan and McConnell can release no end of pressure to drive Trump into a virtual death-spiral of insane threats and name-calling. Having neither affinity or respect for Trump, it’s a scenario you know they’ve already entertained, since their preferred stooge, Mike Pence, is ready and willing to serve without histrionic turmoil should Trump suffer a debilitating medical incident, resign in frustration or be politically neutered by Anonymous or WikiLeaks or some hacker spitting up his tax returns.

Meanwhile, every step of the way to that point is a vast middle-class insurgency not just opposed to Trump but viscerally disgusted by him, to a level they never despised George W. Bush. Every day Trump will say or do something to stoke that insurgency of nice, well-educated women in pink pussy hats like a coal feeder into a blast furnace. He’s incapable of doing anything else.

But the story of that insurgency is bigger than Trump.

Trump Resistance Roadmap

For progressives aiming to win the hearts and minds of the 46% of American voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016, there is a  better and worse way to approach conversations and campaigns.
Trump roadmap chart Slide1

For messages about the Trump policy agenda, the villain needs to be Trump flip-flops, not Trump voters.  The focus needs to be on Trump not keeping his 2016 promises, not on Trump voters being stupid for being conned in 2016.

Trump voters need a face-saving way out of this, so avoiding polarizing “I told you so’s” is critically important.

Much of what I currently see on social media and progressive media is using the “Trump voters are dumb” approach to messaging.  We need to stop.  Believe me, I understand why people are going there.  It’s very cathartic to say “I told you so,” but you can feel it entrenching Trump voters more deeply and permanently into Team Trump.

The messaging nuance recommended in this chart won’t win every Trump voter, but it gives progressives a more hopeful shot at winning a modest subset of them, such as voters who were more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump.  If only a small slice of the 46% of 2016 Trump voters are angry at Trump congressional allies in 2018, the mid-term elections could deal a serious blow to the Trump agenda.  Winning in 2018 is worth taking a pass on cathartic “I told you so’s” over the next two years.

The Roiling Freak Show of Trump v. Media

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Considering our woeful record in assessing the likely outcome of the November election, no one in American media should make predictions. But … I strongly suspect the tenor of President-elect Trump’s first press conference Wednesday will be amplified and aggravated … constantly … throughout his term in office. It’s the way he does business, and to date the way the press has done business.

Digesting the spectacle Thursday New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg wrote, “There were two big lessons in the Wednesday morning melee.

  1. Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator who used his first news briefing since July to expertly delegitimize the news media and make it the story rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition.
  2. The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.”

These are not novel insights. But it remains interesting how regularly we’re hearing this kind of thing from the country’s acknowledged journalistic leaders. Trump the manipulator, delegitimizing the press and the press failing to adjust to a new reality. Or, as one observer put it, the press continuing to “apply balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon” to the extent that it “distorts reality.”

Missing from Rutenberg’s column and so many like it was a specific prescription of what to do. While he goes on to trill with the traditional news chorus indicting BuzzFeed for publishing the “extended version” of the U.S. intelligence briefing on Mr. Trump and his Russian activities, what he does in sum, is argue for yet more of the “balanced treatment” approach.

Whether you believe BuzzFeed, once a silly listicle-spewing engine, now given grudging credibility among traditional reporters, was right or wrong in publishing the unverified report in its full salaciousness no doubt depends on what you think of Trump. (Rutenberg lauds BuzzFeed’s work on the genesis of some of the past year’s “fake news” epidemic.) But it’s hard to see how the press adjusts itself and re-gathers its bearings over the near term future if it chooses to deny the right of an informed citizenry to know what the chattering classes of D.C. and New York have known and been talking about for months.

For the record, BuzzFeed presented the 35-page document with the clear disclaimer that information within was unverified. But the more important fact is that it published the thing. (Here’s a fiery takedown of the decision from Quillete.com.) Such a thing simply isn’t done! Or at least hasn’t been until now, in this starkly unbalanced, distorting moment. Comparisons of BuzzFeed to the now-defunct Gawker are being tossed around in the context of unjournalistic recklessness and shameless “clickbaiting.”

Such horror!

While the bonafides of the so-called dossier got something of a boost yesterday from a BBC story suggesting there at least four sources describing blackmail-quality material in Russian hands for possible use against Trump, for journalists of the traditional mindset, the line in the sand is “unverified”. Beyond that nothing matters.

The counter argument, which deserves more serious consideration than it is getting, is that having plainly asserted the material’s unverified nature, the credibility placed in it by U.S. intelligence agencies who briefed both the President, the President-elect and Senate leaders means the general public has a right to know what “the elites” are talking about.

As I say, the DC/media figures had been aware of this for eight months. (Here’s a timeline from businessinsider.com). If, as you can see in that timeline, influential people were making making strategic calculations based on its existence, who is the press protecting from what and why?

Former acting CIA Director Mike Morrell had a set of interesting comments on the matter to Christiane Amanpour.

If the crossing of the line, where news publications print unverified opposition research on powerful public figures is discomfiting to you, well, it should be. This is new ethical territory. Territory most polite people would prefer not to go into. But territory everyone in the press is reacting to whether they like it or not. Moreover, it is territory the press is being forced into, given the distortion of reality resulting from the head-on collision of “balanced” journalism and the “unbalanced phenomenon”, which in this case is an incoming President of the United States. Mr. Trump is after all someone who has steadfastly refused to disclose anything remotely like the normal financial information that could offer reassurance he is immune to foreign blackmail.

We may all wish we still lived in an era of two more-or-less respectful warring parties, where the press could play the comfortable, familiar role of bemused arbiter. But those days are gone, or certainly aren’t the ones we’re living today.

Another storyline in the roiling freak show that is the press in the Age of Trump is the offer by Penthouse magazine of a $1 million reward/bounty for anyone who delivers video of the dossier’s shall we say, “golden moment”. What does “the press” do if such a video ever appears? Beyond that, and something I think far more plausible, what happens if some wealthy liberal tycoon, a George Soros or Tom Steyer lets word get out that there’s a $5 million (or $10 or $20 million) bounty on Trump’s taxes? Drop them in a stall in an airport bathroom, no questions asked. What are ethics of running with that?

Our incoming President is a kind of ultimate disrupter. The press can accept that and adapt in order to assert the kind of oversight the public appears to want, or it can continue to wring hands over its relevance.

Why I Don’t Say “Not My President?”

cursor_and_not_my_president_-_google_searchDonald Trump is my President.

Those are five words that are painful for me to say or write. But I don’t buy into the “not my President” rallying cry of so many of my well-intentioned friends. I’m a citizen of a nation that uses a representative democracy form of government. Our collective democracy chose, via the electoral college system established in our Constitution, Donald J. Trump to lead us for the next four years. God help us, it’s true and immutable.

So I don’t say “not my President.” I say “not my values.” I say “not my morals.” I say “not my policies.” Citizens are allowed to have different values, morals and policy preferences than their President.   But we can’t wish away our President.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  It doesn’t work.

I also claim Donald Trump as my President because I shouldn’t be let off the hook. Using those words continually reminds me that I’m partly culpable for the American embarrassment that is “President Donald J. Trump.”

No American citizen should be able to wash their hands of this national embarassment with a cavalier “not my President.” We are all part of the nation that elected this clown, and those of us who want that to change need to do more to win the hearts and minds of that nation, including the nearly 46.9% of Americans who didn’t vote. Donate. Speak out. Volunteer. Reform the system. Choose more compelling candidates. Support better journalism.  Own it.

It’s as important to say as it is painful: Donald J. Trump is my President. Shame on me.

The Tweet The Gophers’ Coach Should Have Sent

When University of Minnesota football players boycotted practice because they didn’t approve of how fellow players were being treated by the University during a sexual assault investigation, head football coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter to praise them lavishly:

“Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world.”

cursor_and_sexual_assault_university_of_minnesota_-_google_searchThere were a lot of problems with that tweet. Coach Claeys presumably didn’t have all the facts, yet, by making the “better world,” comment, he seemed to be siding with the accused over the accuser.  He was publicly crossing his bosses, University Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, who did have the facts.  Importantly, he expressed no concern about the seriousness of an extremely disturbing allegation.

Both in terms of football and morals, Claeys was following his players instead of leading them. A strong moral and football leader have tweeted something more like this to the community and these emotional young men:

“Until we learn the facts about these disturbing allegations, we’re going to be students & players, not administrators. Back to practice men.”

Don’t take sides on the investigation.  Don’t side with the accused over the accuser, or vice versa.  Don’t undermine your bosses facing a difficult decision.  Don’t allow your players to dictate when they will and won’t choose to practice or play.

If Coach Claeys would have chosen something like those 140 characters to lead instead of follow, he would have had some young men angry at him.  That happens to leaders.  But he would have taught his young players and the rest of the student body an important lesson about how to act and lead during a time of uncertainty.  He would still have the respect of his university and community. He would still have a chance to rebuild the reputation of the program that was so badly damaged by his entitled players.

But Coach Claeys chose a very different 140 characters on Twitter, and the characters he chose prove that he is not the right person for that very difficult job.  For that, he has no one to blame but himself.

No “La La” in TrumpLand.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With three weeks to go before the post-election lull ends and we enter … what comes next, I continue to be fascinated by our President-elect’s struggle to get anyone remotely “A-list” to perform for his inaugural.

It isn’t just schadenfreude-rich pleasure of the embarrassment to Trump of not being able to coerce stars like Celine Dion (via his casino buddy Steve Wynn) or bribe (with offers of seven-figure pay-outs for what is traditionally a volunteer gig and ambassadorships for talent agents who can land someone who isn’t Ted Nugent). It really isn’t, I swear.

Because what’s more interesting than cheap embarrassment is what this nearly universal rejection of Trump by America/the world’s pop culture heroes and role models means for youth coming of age in the era that begins on January 20.

Based on what we’re seeing from very mainstream pop heroes like Elton John, Lady Gaga and even (for chrissakes!) Garth Brooks we are entering an era during which the single most prominent authority figure on the planet will be consistently treated as an object of shame, contempt and derision by the people — singers, comedians, film and TV actors — who have far more influence over the imaginations of young people than any talk radio or cable TV host, newspaper columnist or droning pundit.

This wholesale abhorrence/rejection/contempt is (yet more) uncharted territory. Every president is routinely lampooned. It comes with the turf. But Trump, as a result of the cartoonishly sleazy way he’s conducted himself throughout his adult life, how he campaigned by inflaming ignorance and racism and how he’s surrounding himself with a freak show of know-nothings and profiteering billionaires, is already burying the needle in terms of contempt from our pop culture icons of fairness and decency.

Trumpists will sneer at the hypocrisy of “sleazy Hollywood” reviling Trump, their swamp-draining change agent and darling of evangelical puritans. But who really cares? What they’re ignoring (this time) is the far larger imprint of pop culture on qualities of imagination, generosity, courage, acceptance and common grace. Qualities at the core of the vast majority of “Hollywood’s” greatest successes, from “Star Wars” to “La La Land” to Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen.

By the starkest of contrasts, there is no “La La” to Donald Trump.

Based on everything we know from his decades in the pop culture spotlight, he is a man uniquely lacking in grace. There is no dignity to him. Nor even a hint of literate sophistication. What’s more, his well-earned reputation for double-dealing, crass manipulation and shameless dishonesty fully defines him as the classic villain of pop culture story-telling, the character to always be resisted and defeated.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t further aggravate this level of contempt.

And that’s if he just confines himself to dismantling popular liberal programs. Imagine if you will what goes down, in terms of response from popular culture, (when) he or his cabinet of trolls attempts to exert military force on someone (they say) poses a threat to us?

With gross dishonesty being the most distinctive facet of his reputation, Trump simply has no standing, no credibility at all in terms of committing the military to war. Oh, American generals will follow orders. It’s what they do. And the troops will do as they’re told. It’s their job. But on the streets of the USA? The reaction will be immediate and intense.

Overall, the world’s artistic community has a remarkable opportunity/obligation with Trump. It’s easy to foresee an explosive reaction from serious artists to a Trump era filled with deception, profiteering and comic book-style mendacity. But “serious artists”, painters, dancers, novelists, “art” filmmakers and cable comedians like John Oliver and Samantha Bee preach to the choir of Trump’s adversaries. (How many Trumpists do you think have ever been to a performance art show, or read Ian McEwan)?

The far more substantial undermining of Trump’s legitimacy will come, I believe, come from artists with vast crossover appeal. People like, for example, Beyonce, principled country western stars (oxymoron alert on that one) and mass appeal filmmakers of the Spielberg school deft enough to weave anti-Trump themes into large-scale box office attractions.

By the time this is over your average 12 year-old is going to have a radically different attitude toward America’s ultimate authority figure.

 

Wanted: Consumer Reports-style Ratings for Journalism

With the pioneers of fake news – Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts – working hard to brand legitimate news organizations as “fake news,” the world is getting more confusing to citizens who are sincerely trying to engage in critical thinking.

cursor_and_wielding_claims_of_fake_news__conservatives_take_aim_at_mainstream_media_-_the_new_york_times

They need help. America desperately needs an independent nonprofit organization to develop something like a Consumer Reports-style rating system for journalism.

The ratings would measure which news organizations are using journalism best practices. For example, which organizations are and aren’t requiring multiple sources? Who is and isn’t publishing unscientific online polls? Who is and isn’t labeling demonstrably false assertions as false? Who is and isn’t keeping editorials and reporting separate and well-labeled? Who is and isn’t using a rigorous fact-checking system? There are many best practices that could be considered for inclusion, and that would be a really important debate, but those are a few examples.

cursor_and_four_star_rated_-_google_searchThese ratings would need to be very simple, so readers, viewers and listeners people could get a quick, at-a-glance verdict, with more details readily available for the relatively few who want them. For example, a news organization that is found to be using all journalistic best practices might be labeled something like “Four Star Journalism, Most Trustworthy,” while an organization using almost no best practices might be labeled “One Star Journalism, Least Trustworthy.” An organization that is not using any journalistic standards might be labeled something like “Zero Stars, Not Trustworthy Journalism.”

I realize designing and operating a rating system like this would be much easier said than done. For example, who would choose the best practices and what would be chosen? What would the rating organization do when best practices use by an organization is inconsistent? What would it do when best practice claims don’t match actual performance? What would it do under pressure from powerful interests who are upset with the ratings? Who would fund such an endeavor, and would the funders’ reputations destroy the credibility of the ratings?

There are big challenges, but we find ways to rate all sorts of products and services, so I’m confident someone could develop a reasonable system for rating journalism. Moreover, even though the ratings inevitably would be imperfect, even imperfect ratings would be superior to what we have now—virtually no at-a-glance way to judge the relative quality of an information source.

Such a ratings organization would serve at least two important needs. First, it would inform citizens’ critical thinking.   At a time when many powerful interests are trying to make critical thinking difficult-to-impossible, our ailing democracy needs this.

Second, journalism ratings would serve as an incentive for news organizations to maintain and improve their journalism standards, an incentive that largely doesn’t exist today. If news aggregators like Apple News, Google News, News 360, Pulse, Fark, Feedly and Real Clear Politics started putting the star ratings next to news sources, that incentive could become quite powerful.  Maybe news organizations would start adopting best practices for ignoble reasons — fear of losing clicks, brand equity, staff and profits — but they would be adopting best practices nonetheless.

Consumer Reports-style ratings for news organizations would hardly be a panacea. Probably the biggest limitation they would face would be the confirmation bias that we all embrace when challenged. But ratings would make things a little better, and maybe even a lot better.  So why the hell not?

Read & Weep: The Best (But Mostly) Worst of the Media 2016

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Whatever the beat, a relevant year’s end list must offer, or at least attempt to offer balance between examples of glory and the inglorious. In the sprawling world of media, which could run the gamut from apps to locate the hottie of your dreams to, well, electing the next President of the United States, the tendency is to overweight examples in favor of moments that carry more existential weight.

That said, the list of media failures over the long, tragic-comic run of 2016 could (and will) fill a book(s). It was ugly. Real ugly. Tripping over your own feet and planting yourself face-first in the hog pen ugly. So to begin with the bad news first and condense the blotter of offenses to a representative few, here are …

THE WORST OF THE MEDIA 2016

Donald Trump receives (at least) $5 billion in free advertising from American cable networks. Entire campaign rallies were broadcast coast-to-coast at no charge to the candidate who ended up spending only $74 million on advertising, a third of what Hillary Clinton spent.  In a related and unprecedented move, the cable world was so insatiably hungry for anything he might say Trump was permitted to phone in to “the shows” as he referred to them rather than endure the inconvenience of presenting himself in person. Ratings and profits spiked for all who obliged.

Trump’s qualifications for office v. Clinton’s e-mails. Same difference. Exercising classical balance, the hours of airtime and volumes of print devoted to Trump’s continuous stream of fallacies, out-right lies and disgraceful personal behavior were countered with a nearly equal volume of reporting on every glint of news related to Clinton’s e-mails, where no significant breach of security was ever found. Or at least so said the FBI Director.

The FoxNews Republican candidates debate in Detroit spends more time discussing the size of Donald Trump’s hands than the water crisis in Flint, 70 miles away. The 21 Republican debates and forums were notable for a consistent focus on how the candidates would respond to terrorism. Responses were predictable. But at the gathering in Detroit only one question was asked about Flint’s water crisis (a rich example of government ineptitude and indifference on several levels). After one response from one candidate the moderators moved on.

Matt Lauer interviews Trump and Clinton at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum”.  Lauer, NBC’s highest paid on-air personality, and host of “The Today Show” which regularly featured updates on developments on “The Apprentice” Trump’s show, also on NBC, avoids challenging the candidate on a half dozen fact-challenged assertions, but grills Clinton again on her e-mails then admonishes her to be brief in response to an audience question on national security.

CNN hires Trump’s disgraced campaign manager as an on-air contributor. Corey Lewandowski, relieved of his duties after an incident where he yanked at a female Breitbart reporter’s arm, is brought on by CNN to offer — insights, apparently — that may better inform the viewing public about his former boss. Never mind that he has a non-disclosure agreement with Trump. Sample insight, on a Trump trade speech: “This is Mr. Trump’s best speech of the presidential cycle. This is right on message, his core message of putting Americans first. This is about bringing jobs back to America.”

The Associated Press tweets that, “More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.” The story goes viral. Missing from this Twitter alert is the not-insignificant detail that those who contributed were more than half of a very small number of private individuals, less than 20 in most accounts, listed in incomplete State Department records. But the story provides a negative counterweight to Trump’s missteps.

Roger Ailes, architect of FoxNews, is sued for sexual harrassment. Minnesota native Gretchen Carlson instigates a flood of disclosures about the cloddish behavior of Ailes and the network’s internal culture. Ailes “steps down”, is rewarded with a $40 million golden parachute and shifts over to advising Trump.

Nate Silver and pretty much every other science-driven prognosticator blow it. The guru of 538, regarded as an infallible seer after his performance in 2012 is still predicting, on Nov. 8, that Hillary Clinton as a 71% chance of victory. He is not alone. Of analysts/polls of note only the heretofore obscure USC/Los Angeles Times poll got the call right.

With the financial assistance of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel Hulk Hogan wins a defamation lawsuit against Gawker Media which forces the site to sell off and shut down. Gawker’s primary site wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and walked a fine edge between relevant snark and ad hominem attack. But the spectacle of Thiel, with his own personal grudge against Gawker big-footing the case and buying a conviction in a squalid matter involving a collection of hucksters in, um, disquieting.

“Fake news” floods Facebook and other social media. Unchecked by the world’s largest social media platform — with north of 1.8 billion users — a steady stream of completely made-up news stories are posted on sites with legitimate sounding names like ABCNews.com.co and Conservativefrontline.com. The vast majority are targeted at Trump supporters who share them in volumes several times larger than actual news stories. Facebook initially calls the idea it played any role in the election outcome as “crazy”, but then institutes new protocols to flag such content.

THE BEST IN MEDIA 2016

“O.J.: Made in America”. The word “epic” is constantly overused. But here it truly applies. No documentary I can remember ever collated so broad a landscape of cultural phobia, misplaced adulation and rage. Within the nearly eight hours viewers feel not just the weight of the so-called “Trial of the Century” but essential qualities of American class discontent. The connection to the events of November 8 is powerful and vivid.

David Fahrenthold Washington Post. While television reporters were embarrassing themselves for the most part attempting to cover the Trump phenomenon, Fahrenthold ignored the shiny object/story of the hour misdirection and concentrated on the candidate’s suspiciously murky financial history, his charitable dealings in particular. He’ll be first in line for Pulitzers next year.

Drew Magary’s GQ rant. The Minnesota native and Deadspin blogger got off one of the most cathartic and profane rants of the political season. The few Trump supporters who read it were no doubt certain the guy was off his meds. Others laughed until there were tears in their eyes and exhaled deeply. If the established press is going to [bleep] up as badly as it did, let’s have more of this in primetime. Honorable mention: Charlie Pierce at Esquire.

Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek. In much the same vein as Fahrenthold, with a touch of Magary for good measure, Eichenwald, author of the classic on Enron, “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, pounded on Trump’s various financial conflicts of interest. An intense and volatile character in the best of times, you do not want to get into a Twitter brawl with the guy.

“Making of a Murderer”. A end of the year 2015 event that folded over into 2016. The tale of two low-income socially-snubbed men, one a mentally challenged teenager, convicted of a motivation-free, largely evidence-free murder by Wisconsin authorities who appeared more intent on closing a case, or settling long running grudges than discerning the truth, was riveting from start to finish. By late 2016 the teenager in question had been granted his release, though he remained in custody.

“I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You. A Mother Jones feature by Arlie Russell Hochschild”. A deeply reported piece on a subset of people, living in rural Louisiana in this instance, constantly described as “Trump’s base.” Why that might not be entirely true, Hochschild’s ability to ingratiate herself with these people, mostly white and out on the desperate fringes, induced feelings of both pity and high alarm.

“Westworld”. Dogged by controversy while in production, for both its enormous cost to HBO and subject matter — A robot amusement park? Who cares? Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy, produced not just a huge hit for their investors but a surprisingly intelligent commentary on consciousness, self-awareness and the criteria for being alive.

“The Night Of”. Another HBO series, this one scripted by the gifted novelist Richard Price, a man with an acute ear for the vernacular and cadence of cops and the subterranean characters they hunt and whose manner they so often assimilate. A fine mystery with excellent performances by John Turturro, as the unlikely defense attorney, Jeannie Berlin as the prosecutor and Michael K. Williams (“Omar” from the Wire).

“The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story”

While not in the same league in terms of conscience-rattling relevance as “OJ: Made in America”. This FX mini-series, driven by a superb, multi-levelled performance by Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, struck most of the same notes and proved again that television is an arguably better venue for adult storytelling than feature films.

Charlie Sykes’ conscience. A certain body of thought sees in Trump’s victory the ultimate flowering of a generation of conservative talk radio. But over in Milwaukee, radio talker Charlie Sykes signed off the air after 25 lucrative, influential years lamenting the fact that too many his listeners no longer cared what was verifiably true, and accepting some of the blame for his audience’s preferred ignorance of fact.

Other than all that it was just your average year. 2017 has to be uphill, right? Right?

Will Minnesotans Elect Another Grumpy Gus Governor?

grumpy_governorsA steady stream of candidates for the 2018 gubernatorial race will soon be emerging. Often “past is prologue” in politics, so we might want to consider the type of leader Minnesotans have preferred in our recent past.

Over the last quarter century, Minnesota general election voters have chosen Mark Dayton, Tim Pawlenty, Jesse Ventura and Arne Carlson to govern their state. While there are many differences between those men, I would submit that the psychographic common denominators for those successful gubernatorial candidates are:

  • They were all a bit cantankerous
  • They all stressed fiscal management
  • All but Ventura were policy wonks

(They also were all white dudes, but that’s a different post.)

Surly Fiscal Manager seems to have been the job title that Minnesota general election voters have tended to have in mind.  They chose a Grumpy Gus in green eyeshades to manage state government. Their most recent pick — a former State Auditor who has never been known for being cuddly or a stemwinder on the stump — certainly fits that profile.

Meanwhile, the narrow group of DFL caucus fetishists tend to swoon for politicians who have a very different kind of profile. They get energized by partisan cheerleaders/jeerleaders who pledge fealty to unions and other lefty interest groups and  propose significant expansion of government services.  While DFL caucus goers gravitate toward a firery cheerleader – “the next Wellstone” — general election voters seek a comptroller, someone to hold the extremists at bay and ensure state expenditures and revenues are prudently managed.  That may have been why Mark Dayton decided in 2009 to bypass the DFL caucuses and go to the much broader base of primary voters.

There are no ironclad political rules that will never be broken, and this is just a trend, not an ironclad rule.  But this tendency of general election voters does seem like something that should be pondered by DFL kingmakers.

Predictions for the Age of The Donald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My “Deplorable” Buddies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh wait, that prophet was me.

So, you’re welcome.

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

Five Reasons Minnesota Voters Should Legalize Marijuana in 2018

state_marijuana_laws_in_2016_mapCitizens in Massachusetts, California, Maine and Nevada recently voted to join Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, the District of Columbia and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Minnesota should be next.

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


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

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

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

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

cursor_and_how_does_cannabis_compared_to_other_drugs_-_google_search

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CORRECTION:  The original post did not list Maine, District of Columbia, Alaska, and Oregon.  Those states should have been included and were added after the original posting.

And Now the Knife Fight to Take Out Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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