Is South Dakota About To Lead An Anti-Gerrymandering Revolution?

I adore my home state of South Dakota, but I rarely find myself calling for my adopted state of Minnesota to copy South Dakota policies. On a whole range of issues from progressive state income taxes to a higher minimum wage to LGBT rights to dedicated conservation spending to teacher pay to Medicare coverage, I wish the Rushmore state’s policies would become more like Minnesota’s, not vice versa.

But if a majority of South Dakota voters embrace Amendment T at the polls this November, I may soon be feeling some serious SoDak envy.

gerrymander_-_Google_SearchOnce every ten years, all states redraw state and congressional legislative district lines, so that the new boundaries reflect population changes that have occurred in the prior decade. In both Minnesota and South Dakota, elected state legislators draw those district map lines, and the decision-making is dominated by leaders of the party or parties in power.

South Dakota’s pending Amendment T calls for a very different approach. If a majority of South Dakota voters support Amendment T this fall, redrawing of legislative district lines would be done by a multi-partisan commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.  None of the nine commission members could be elected officials.

South_Dakota_Amendment_TThe basic rationale behind Amendment T is this: Elected officials have a direct stake in how those district boundaries are drawn, so giving them the power to draw the maps can easily lead to either the perception or reality of self-serving shenanigans.

As we all know, redistricting shenanigans are common. Guided by increasingly high tech tools and lowbrow ethics, elected officials regularly produce contorted district maps that draw snickers and gasps from citizens.   Often, the judicial branch needs to intervene in an attempt to restore partisan or racial fairness to the maps that the politicians’ produce.

Gerrymandering and Polarization

There are all kinds of problems created by the elected officials’ self-serving gerrymandering.  Legislators in control of the process draw lines to ensure that the gerrymanderer’s party has a majority in as many districts as possible. This leads to many “safe districts,” where one party dominates.  In safe districts, the primary election is effectively the only election that matters. General elections become meaningless, because the winner of the primary elections routinely cruises to an easy victory.

In this way, disproportionately partisan primary voters, who some times make up as little as 5 percent of the overall electorate, effectively become kingmakers who decide who serves in legislative bodies. Meanwhile, minority party and independent voters effectively have almost no say in the choice of lawmakers, even though they usually combine to make up more than 50% of the electorate.

In other words, gerrymandering has given America government of, for and by 5 percent of the people.

Because these primary election kingmakers tend to be from the far ends of the ideological spectrum, gerrymandering has contributed to the polarization of our politics. It has created an environment in which elected officials live in fear that they will be punished in primary elections if they dare to compromise with the other party. As a result, bipartisan compromise has become increasingly extinct in many legislative bodies.

Gerrymandering and Distrust

Beyond political polarization, perhaps the worst thing about politician-driven redistricting is that it makes citizens cynical about their democracy.  Whether you believe problems are real or merely perceived, the fact that elected officials are at the center of redistricting controversies creates deep citizen-leader distrust.  When citizens become convinced that elections are being rigged by elected officials so that the politicians can preserve their personal power, citizens lose faith and pride in their representative democracy. When we lose that, we lose our American heart and soul.

So Minnesota, let’s commit to creating — either via a new state law or by referring a constitutional amendment to voters –our own multi-partisan redistricting commission that removes elected officials from the process. Let’s govern more like South Dakota!

Did I really just say that?

Hillary, the ACA and the Art of the Possible

Cursor_and_hillary_clinton_-_Google_SearchThough I’m a solid Hillary Clinton supporter, I don’t particularly relish defending her at water coolers, dinner tables and social media venues.  When defending Hillary Clinton to those who hoped for more, I often feel like I do when defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to those who hoped for more.

To be clear, neither Hillary nor the ACA were my first choice. Elizabeth Warren and single payer were my first choices.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are as bold as I’d prefer. They both promise modest incremental change, rather than the more revolutionary change that is needed.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are, shall we say, untouched by special interests. The ACA is the product of accommodations made to private health insurers, physicians and the pharmaceutical industry, while Clinton is the product of accommodations made to corporations, unions and military leaders.

Also, neither Hillary nor the ACA are easy to understand. Hillary is a wonk’s wonk whose eye-glazing 20-point policy plans don’t exactly sing to lightly engaged voters.   Likewise, the ACA has given birth to 20,000 pages of the densest regulations you’ll ever find. (By the way, a primary reason the ACA is so complex is that conservatives and moderates insisted that it accommodate dozens of for-profit insurance companies instead of  using the more linear single payer model that has been proven effective and efficient by other industrialized nations. In this way, the need for much of the ACA complexity was created by conservatives, not liberals.)

At the same time, neither Hillary nor the ACA are anywhere near as bad as the caricatures created by their demagogic critics. Hillary is not a serial liar and murderer any more than the ACA led to “Death Panels” and force-fed birth control.

The bottom line is that both Hillary and the ACA, for all their respective flaws, are far superior to the alternatives. The steady, smart, savvy, and decent Clinton is much better than the erratic, ignorant, inept and vile Trump. The current ACA era, with a 9.2% uninsured rate (4.3% in Minnesota, where the ACA is more faithfully implemented than it is in many states) and all preexisting conditions covered is much better than the pre-ACA status quo, with an uninsured rate of 15.7% (9% in Minnesota) and millions denied health coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Hillary and the ACA both bring progress, but they are hardly the final word.  The fact that I am supporting the ACA in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m going to stop advocating for ACA improvements, a Medicare-for-All option and ultimately a single payer system. The fact that I am supporting Hillary in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m not going to push for more progressive, bold, compelling and independent leaders in the future.

But politics is the art of the possible.  Hillary and the ACA are what is possible at this point in the history of our imperfect democracy.   As such, I can champion both comfortably, if not entirely enthusiastically.

Progressives and Moderates Intrigued By Gary Johnson Should Look Deeper

Cursor_and_gary_johnson_funny_-_Google_SearchWhen I started seeing ads and social media chatter about former Republican Governor Gary Johnson running for President, I went to to learn more.

I liked some of what I saw on foreign policy and law enforcement reform, but one line jumped out at me as particularly disturbing. It said Governor Johnson wants to:

“cut the federal budget by 43%.”

Just to be clear, a 43% cut in federal spending would constitute a major conservative revolution.  That would bring a much deeper reduction in government services than has been proposed in the past by ultra-conservative firebrands such as Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, or Michele Bachmann.

Still, I realize that a 43% cut has surface appeal.  After all, nobody feels a deep affinity for the abstract notion of “the federal government budget.” But budgets are collections of individual programs that deliver individual sets of services and benefits to Americans,  so we need to evaluate Johnson’s radical austerity plan on a program-by-program basis.

So, my fellow Americans, which federal services are you willing to cut by 43%, as Gary Johnson proposes.

Cut Infrastructure by 43%?  For instance, are the American people willing to cut infrastructure investments by 43%?  Do we want to slash investment in roads, bridges, transit, trains, airports, water and sewage systems, and the like?  A GBA Strategies survey finds that an overwhelming 71% of Americans want to spend $400 million more on infrastructure, not less.  Only 13% oppose such a massive federal government spending increase.

Cut Medicare by 43%?  Do the American people want to cut Medicare by 43%? After all, Medicare is a huge and growing part of the federal budget.  Americans not only don’t want to cut Medicare, more than three-fourths (77%) of Americans want to fund a new, massively expensive Medicare-for-All option.  Only 17% oppose such an expansion of government services and spending.

Cut Social Security by 43%?  Maybe Americans want to cut Social Security benefits by 43%?  While Social Security represents an enormous slice of the federal pie, the vast majority of Americans not only don’t want to cut Social Security benefits, a whopping 70% want to strengthen them.  Only 15% oppose expanding Social Security benefits.

Cut National Defense by 43%?  What about a 43% cut in national defense spending? Gallup finds that only 32% of Americans support national defense budget cuts.

Cut Other Programs by 43%?  Similarly, the GBA survey finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans want major government spending increases for green energy technology (70% support, 20% oppose), debt-free public higher education (71% support, 19% oppose), and subsidies for high quality child care  (53% support, 33% oppose) . There is no public appetite to cut any of those federal programs by 43%, as Governor Johnson proposes.

In other words,  only a thin slice of the most deeply ultra-conservative voters support Johnson’s fiscal austerity ideas.  Therefore, more moderate voters who are concerned about the nation’s poor, middle class, national security and global competitiveness need to learn about the implications of Johnson’s fiscal proposals before they jump on the Johnson bandwagon.

It’s Trump Nation as Much as His “Joke” That Isn’t Funny.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Here’s the thing, the audience for Donald Trump’s latest gaffe is more the problem than the joke itself, and neither are the least bit funny.

In the (very) best light, joking about “Second Amendment people” taking out their wrath on the opposition candidate for President, is the stuff of sad sack bar stool warriors four drinks into their cups. But a crack like that, to a hall full of … Donald Trump supporters … is about as close to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater as you can get, to use the old saw about where the line of free speech lies.

The post-mortem on this astonishingly bizarre 18-month episode in American life will require several chapters just rise and to analyze the psychology of Trump’s core supporters. It’s already been well established that these people aren’t particularly ideological. Nor are they particularly religious. Hell, they aren’t even all that Republican, other than when they’ve voted over the past 40 years they’ve pulled the lever for Republicans the majority of the time.

But what they do believe in, and what has them by the throat pretty much every waking moment of their lives are two things before all others.

  1. A sense of existential despair for a quality of life their parents had and they haven’t been able to achieve.

And 2. A mulish, mutated determination to do something about it this time, by god.

Several studies in recent months have noted the startling increase in the mortality rate for under-educated, middle-aged-to-older white men. These gentlemen being essentially the only remaining demographic group among whom Trump’s poll numbers have held steady, and at unprecedented margins over a Democratic candidate. Put another way, they idolize the guy. These men are the precise sweet spot of Trump Nation. They are the crowd that packs his rallies for a sense of community and empowerment they usually only get from talk radio or their cronies at the bar … at mid-afternoon on a workday.

Alcoholism, drug addiction-related diseases, diabetes, suicide, you name it, it has spiked up among these people over the last generation, along with a general belief, shown in other surveys, that they feel — uniquely — that they have been unfairly victimized by immigration, affirmative action, globalization and conniving liberals. By contrast, mortality rates for blacks and Hispanics have declined, with both of those groups expressing generally more positive attitudes toward their standing in the world of today compared to that of their parents, 25-50 years ago.

“Deaths of despair,” is the indelible phrasing by Princeton economist Anne Case, wading through these facts overhanging the lives of white men who believe they’ve been cheated and grievously wronged by modern life.

Point being, creatures experiencing profound despair, never mind their ability to make caustic jokes at Moe’s Bar, are in effect psychological cornered, and therefore as unpredictable and potentially dangerous, to themselves and others, as any trapped animal experiencing a “do or die” level of threat.

It is also beyond obvious that this same, large, despairing group has a pathological relationship to guns, their precious Second Amendment rights being one of the very few means left to them to exert dominance in their lives. For all intents and purposes it is their primary religion.

So the problem with Trump saying what he said to his people is this: However life overwhelmed them, whether simple bad genetics or via an over-abundance of polluted role-modeling from lunkhead fathers to Hollywood “action flicks” to cheesy cop shows to their steady diet of junk information and pre-digested self-pity spooned out by the likes of talk show gurus like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, these guys are sad, despairing soldiers of a by-gone era and a lost war.

The problem for us is they are also the type to take inordinate pride in their manly readiness to make a heroic, decisive stand against a symbol of everything that has reduced them to so little.

They’re the crowd that finds Trump’s “jokes” inspirational. And that’s why they’re not funny.

Add Friendships to the Wreckage in Trump’s Wake

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3We might want to add personal friendships to the havoc Donald Trump is wreaking on the Republican party and the USA’s international reputation. Elections have a way of dropping a cleaver between next door neighbors. For example, you can’t believe the Blows across the street have put up a McCain-Palin or Romney yard sign. Have they lost their minds? But eventually Election Day comes and goes and things settle back to waving as you pass on the street and making jokes at block parties.

This time though … . There’s something so unequivocal about Donald Trump’s ethics and mental fitness that listening to someone, an acquaintance or neighbor, say they’re for the guy is like having a rusty spike driven into your mental data-bank. You’re not likely to forgive it. You’re certainly never going to forget.

In terms of deal-breakers, support for Trump is such a reckless display of poor judgment and contorted logic that it’s just not possible to shrug it off and ignore it. Trumpism leaves a permanent stain. Put simply, as a test of intelligence, by which I mean the ability to make rational judgments on matters of importance, support for Trump self-identifies you as someone indifferent (at best) to common sense and decency as well as a person comfortable with blatantly racist sentiments. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time stirring up a batch of gin and tonics for people like that.

As an old, not particularly enlightened friend once said to his (third) wife at a school fund-raiser filled with Filipino parents, “NOK, D.” (“Not our kind, dear.”)

Now I’m as guilty as anyone with the temporary cleaver thing. I can rant and fume with the best of them. But even in the case of George W. Bush, prior to Trump the least qualified, most intellectually lazy guy to run for President in my lifetime, I could process Joe and Sally Blow thinking he was a better bet for economic improvement and national security than Al Gore or John Kerry. The Blows were spectacularly wrong on both counts. But I could get to what formed their decision, albeit the fact that they always do the tribal thing and vote Republican probably accounted for 80% of their decision.

But cynical bigotry never entered into my assessment of their choice, or their fundamental values. White privilege, maybe. But a racist impulse? No.

I also get the rote tribal denunciations of Hillary Clinton as a “liar”, never mind fact-checkers like PolitiFact regularly rating her among the most honest of today’s national politicians. “Lying Hillary” is standard-issue competitive political “messaging”, especially important to today’s Republicans who quite literally have no coherent, detailed policy on any important public issue. (If you can think of one, e-mail me.) Whipping up Hillary hatred is pretty much their entire game this season.

Likewise, I get the psychological profile of the crowd packing into Trump rallies. Hell, I even pity them. If for no other reason than self-pity seems to be their primary emotional default. With that crowd the odds of the “knowing better” about a lot of things, not just politicians, are slim from the start.

But harder — make that “nearly impossible” — to understand and tolerate are traditional tribal Republicans supporting Trump so long after evidence of his bigotry-enabling rhetoric has become indisputable, and as I say, become a stain on the reputation of the party/tribe. These people, like the Blows across the street, are normally pretty confident of their savvy and quality judgment. My assumption is that while they’re much too Minnesotan to make a show of it, they count themselves among life’s winners. People who paid attention, worked hard and have put some separation between themselves and the spittle-flecked herd.

Until now.

Somewhere in their better-than-average educated, normally placid brains a snake has uncoiled and revealed their kinship with a crowd that is unabashed in their enthusiasm for dog whistle racial rhetoric and a career of managerial incompetence verging on fraud.

Way, way back the nuns at St.Joe’s in Montevideo taught me to forgive. There are worse crimes committed every day than showing yourself to be an agitated fool. But making a show of supporting Donald frickin’ Trump is like telling the world you’re so far around the bend you don’t give a damn who out there will never forget.

Bottom line: More gin and tonic for me.

Hillary Will Be a Better President Than Bill.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For the record, and for the gamblers among you, I’m sticking by my belief that Hillary Clinton will win the election in November by a minimum of 40 electoral votes more than Barack Obama in 2012. I think I first heard that number in an interview with Howard Wolfson, Mike Bloomberg’s deputy Mayor of New York. It sounded right six weeks ago and it still does today, Donald Trump’s post-convention “bump” withstanding.
Full disclosure here means saying I’ve never had a problem, certainly not a righteous, disqualifying problem with Hillary Clinton. I don’t have to hold my nose to vote for her. In fact, I have a kind of fondness for competent, wonky managers. When I was 25 I thought the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to, you know, “inspire”, to send a tingle of hero-worship up and down my spine. Years later I’ve grown to realize that it’s a lot easier to fake that than it is to actually get [stuff] done.
Hubby Bill was pretty good last night making the case for Hillary as “the best darn change maker” he’s ever known. Our boy gives a great folksy speech, no fancy $10 words. And he knows how to hold a room with pause, inflection and gesture. A natural, as the cognoscenti have always said. The Mrs?  Not so much. But I just don’t give a damn about that. That’s not what I’m buying.
In fact, as I’ve said before, I truly believe Hillary could be a better president than Bubba, who was, if you recall, was pretty good, at least when he wasn’t setting his feet on fire playing rock star with starry-eyed interns. She’s the disciplined one of the two, and she’ll arrive at the job with 25 years more experience in the mechanics of national administration, foreign policy and — perhaps as important — the tactics of neutralizing the infantile nihilism of today’s “movement conservatives” than he did.
That last point is not inconsequential. In fact it was central to my problem with Bernie Sanders. The way the game is going down these days, nothing moves until you hit the Republicans with a kind of stun gun and shake and bake your way around their obstruction. Obstruction being the only thing they’ve got. Impeachment withstanding, Bubba routinely outfoxed Newt Gingrich’s conservatives and Obama for the most part has managed to blunt the worst of their excesses, although with things like the government shut down and the failure of gun control post-Sandy Hook and a dozen other items, the consequences of nihilism are evident to everyone.
I never saw Bernie, god bless him, being up to that game.
But here again, Hillary, who is a better schmoozer than the cerebral Obama, and has much longer standing relationships with the few Republicans worthy of the term “adult”, may be better suited to the combination of one-on-one deal-cutting and hardball political tactics than Obama.
Not being a player on the DC social circuit, I am in no position to say for certain what the reality of the “real Hillary” is. But from what I read, and there’s plenty to read about her, the cartoonish picture of a shrieking, duplicitous harridan just doesn’t compute. Perpetually wary? Yeah, I see that. But story after story portrays her as more genuinely gracious than Bill, who, you know, being Bill kind of likes every moment to be about him.
Bubba’s long recitation last night of all the projects she’s launched and reports she’s written and negotiations she’s concluded should be taken with a full shaker of salt. He’s a master at gilding the lily. But the fact remains she has in fact devoted enormous amounts of time to all sorts of wonky, bona fide, not-so sexy but vital issues and, more to the point here, arrives at the White House with a far better-than-average understanding of how to get that stuff done than any incoming president in my lifetime. (Lyndon Johnson knew how to get stuff done. But Hillary’s got him beat hands down in terms of ground level social issues, certainly for women and children, and foreign policy. Plus, she isn’t a crude old bastard.)
Campaign-wise, I don’t know what she can do to damp down the perception of “crooked Hillary”. The GOP base is entrenched in their total war opposition to any Democrat, and the sense of her as “untrustworthy” has been marketed very effectively for a very long time by Bill and her career-long adversaries. The sad fact of a public life lived on the grand stage as long as the Clintons is that perception is as powerful as the bona fides of your resume.
But she isn’t naive to that either. Someone who has taken as many shots as she has and kept on truckin’ fully understands the game. She may not like it. Who does? But she inspires confidence that in a genuinely unique way, she understands how to blunt it and be productive.

The Wrong Bernexit

So you, like me, voted for Senator Bernie Sanders for President. Now maybe you’re considering switching allegiances to the Libertarian presidential candidate, Governor Gary Johnson?

I respect your decision to shop around and do thoughtful research.  Here’s something to inform your decision.

Gary Johnson Bernie Sanders positions table2

(Source for Sanders positions here.  Source for Johnson positions here.  Source for estimate of Sanders spending increase total here.)

Yes, Governor Johnson would do some very smart and important things, such as scale back the war on drugs and be careful about entering military quagmires. But most of the centerpiece policies championed by Senator Sanders are vehemently opposed by Governor Johnson.

Confessions of a Facebook Killjoy

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller, 1947

“I try not to post political stuff…”
Me and most of my Facebook friends

Cursor_and_speak_no_evil_-_Google_SearchIn the era of Donald Trump and social media, these two statements haunt me.

On the one hand, I know that silence heals.  During these bitterly polarized times, it seems more important than ever to have a safe place like Facebook where politically divided friends and relatives momentarily set aside political rantings.  Sometimes we need to just take time to small talk, coo over snapshots and chortle over animal videos. So maybe, I think to myself, since I speak out in the blogosphere and on Twitter, I can give it a rest on Facebook.

But, as Niemöller reminds, sometimes silence doesn’t heal.  A grossly ignorant, bigoted, emotional pygmy with bullyboy tendencies could be about to become the leader of the free world during very dangerous and fragile times.  That is not an exaggeration. That may not end well.  So maybe, I think to myself, shame on me if I don’t heed Niemöller’s warning.

I was thinking about this the other day after reading a New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer of Trump’s bestselling book “The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz spent a year interviewing and shadowing Trump, so he got to know Trump better than most. He came away from that up-close exposure with this to say about the man who soon could be President:

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”

So, the stakes of this election could be just a little bit high.  If so, what am I going to tell my grandkids if things turn out badly?

“He came to nuke the Muslims and I did not speak out Because I didn’t want to put a damper on the baby elephant video.”

As a friend and I were discussing the other day, I’m not really sure how to be a responsible citizen during a time of crisis. I’m a rookie at this, as I suppose Niemöller was during Hitler’s rise.  We have lived our whole lives during a time when there has not been what I would consider a mega-crisis, such as an epic moral battle over slavery, suffrage or segregation, a Great Depression or a World War.

In the wake of the biggest crisis of my lifetime — the 9-11 terror attacks — I wasn’t a particularly responsible citizen. I didn’t speak out against the anti-American Patriot Act. I didn’t speak out in a timely way about the wholly unnecessary Iraq War. I didn’t speak out against anti-Muslim hate crimes.  In the process, my silence contributed in a small way to making the the world less stable, just and safe.  I also haven’t been a very responsible citizen in the face of a mountain of evidence proving an unconscionable level of societal racial bias.

So, forgive me Facebook friends, but I just don’t feel like I can afford to completely sit silent over the next four months of this historically scary election.  I need to speak out, at least a little.  It may not make any difference, but I have to try.

And if everything turns out okay on November 8th, I promise on November 9th I will stick to baby elephant videos for a while.

Our Plague of Panicked, Terrified, Emotionally Unfit Cops

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Every time we have another of these police killings, like in Baton Rouge earlier this week and St. Paul yesterday, I find I’m asking the same questions of the cops involved. 1: How did this guy get hired? And 2: What sort screening goes on that someone this terrified and panicky is sent out on the streets with a loaded gun and an implicit license to kill?

All the deeply imbedded racial attitudes of white cops to minorities, mainly blacks, absolutely apply. The data, as President Obama reminded the country again in his remarks from Poland, are real and bona fide. The chances of a cop pulling me over for a broken tail light are ridiculously miniscule. The odds of me — a guy with serious authority issues, or so says my wife — being told to put my hands up before I even dig out my driver license are even far more implausible, and the likelihood of some freaked out cop pumping a half dozen bullets into me because I was reaching for my wallet are essentially zero. It’d never happen.

With blacks, as everyone knows, even pasty, cossetted white suburbanites, it is an entirely different story. And the only tangible explanation, something you can do something with in the short term — before purging 400 years of racial superstition and animus from the social system — is accepting that these cops are fundamentally terrified of the black men they are stopping. They are not properly vetted for their basic law enforcement judgment and they are not screened well enough for police forces to discern the instinctual level of fear … they bring to the confrontations they so often initiate.

The facts of the Philando Castile shooting in Falcon Heights may yet tell a completely different story from his girlfriend’s post-shooting Facebook video. If that is the case, I’ll revisit this rant and make apologies. But by all appearances we have yet another example of a guy, a cop, fundamentally unequipped, psychologically and emotionally, for the job he’s in. No one as plainly terrified and panicked as that guy should have a job carrying a loaded gun with, as I say, the implicit understanding that he will never be prosecuted for overreacting and killing someone.

I think I’ve written before that I fail to understand why any cop, especially suburban types, are brandishing guns with lethal ammunition. The number of times any cop in the country gets into a raging life or death Hollywood-style gun battle with some psycho is surpassingly small. In most cases of that sort the cops have a pretty good idea in advance who they’re closing in on. They could dig the heavy stuff out of the trunk and call in backup.

But making traffic stops and waving a loaded gun in some guy’s face? Give me a break. A gun armed with chemical darts, or even rubber bullets, which hurt like hell, would cover — guessing here — 99% of the “extreme force” incidents city cops deal with. More to the point, after, what is it? 560 of these cop killings this past year? The end result of another of these police freak out/panic/overreaction incidents is a citizen bruised and zonked out but revivable to make his case in court … instead of, you know, dead.

Our legions of (mainly) white cowboy gun nuts would no doubt recoil in horror at the thought of cops stripped of the ability to kill and ask questions later. But they’re nuts and that’s nuts, if only considered on the level of the enormous mistrust of police that is building not just among blacks but sane citizens of every variety. No cop can be as effective as he/she needs to be if a fat chunk of the population spots them on the street and regards them as some kind of emotionally unstable, racist powder keg.

The solution? Well, for one thing, and I’m serious about this. I suggest police academy psychologists, the people screening applications, take a particularly hard look at the sort of people who have a deep, obsessional interest in being a cop. That might be a clue to the type of person you don’t want it in uniform, packing a gun.

Maybe that is a red flag in basic police candidate screening. I don’t know. But if it is, I think they’re missing a few.

Everyone may have an example, but there’s someone we know in our social orbit who in no way shape or form should be in law enforcement and packing a gun on city streets. But he is. It took him a while to land a gig. But eventually he got hired on. Given the same set of circumstances — a black guy in his suburban neighborhood — he could easily be the Falcon Heights cop. At best, proper vetting would have stuck him in a desk job. But, well, beggars can’t be choosers. And small cities with small police budgets take what they can get.

It would probably help if the average cop were paid more than, say, a WalMart assistant manager, but that’s a whole other fight.  You know, precious taxpayer dollars being wasted on more gubmint employees with cushy pensions.

Last time I checked gun technology was pretty advanced. Lots of “cool” shit on the market for “sportsmen” and “enthusiasts”. Anything your Second Amendment-hugging heart desires. Building a police revolver that fired chemical darts isn’t science fiction.

And it might go a small way to re-shaping a sickening reality.

Hillary Survives Another Nothingburger “Scandal”

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3It’s a tough day to be Republican. But then most of them are this year, aren’t they? This thing with the FBI letting “crooked Hillary” off on that colossal e-mail scam … well, until someone starts shouting for a special prosecutor to investigate the FBI, that notorious den of lefties, men and women of conscience (and with nothing better to do with their time and our money) are going to have find another dead horse to flog.

Not that “e-mailgate” didn’t succeed almost as well as other ginned-up Clinton scandals. I mean it began with Benghazi and after throwing years and taxpayer millions at that mirage it begat e-mail servers. It was just like how Whitewater begat Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky and impeachment, which as you remember was such a winning strategy for Republicans Bill Clinton left office more popular than St. Ronald the Daft.

The fact is that like Whitewater and Travelgate and Benghazi before it, the Republican attack machine never had a coherent theory of the crime with e-mailgate. Which is why it bored people and never caught on like, well, like hanky panky in the Oval Office. (Now if among Hillary’s e-mails had been some hot mash notes to Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger we might have had some fun.)

I mean, she used her own servers … to do what, exactly? Send military secrets to Al Qaeda? Sell off Texas to the North Koreans? What? Please tell me. Because I was never grasping the Constitution-tearing gravity of the situation.

“Well,” came the usual response, “we’ll never know. Because she won’t disclose everything. That’s the way the Clintons are. Clearly corrupt. Every time we accuse them of something they refuse to turn over all the evidence we need to make our case! Bastards! It’s like they don’t trust us! We have to Make America Great Again!”

This perpetual cycle of molehill non-scandals that … we the people have paid to prosecute … only to watch “the case” evaporate under the harsh light of actual evidence is of course central to the widespread perception that Hillary and Bill “can’t be trusted”. Never mind that if you ask “why can’t they be trusted?” the most frequent response is something along the lines of, “Well, because I hear they’re always in trouble over something.”

Somehow, maybe by adding a little video to this argument, from Kevin Drum Team Hillary has to turn the guns back on the firing squad.

For the record: Whitewater was a nothingburger. Travelgate was a nothingburger. Troopergate was a nothingburger. Filegate was a nothingburger. The Vince Foster murder conspiracy theories were a nothingburger. Monica Lewinsky was Bill’s problem, not Hillary’s. Benghazi was a tragedy, but entirely nonscandalous. The Goldman Sachs speeches were probably a bad idea, but otherwise a nothingburger. Emailgate revealed some poor judgment, but we’ve now seen all the emails and it’s pretty obviously a nothingburger. Humagate is a nothingburger. Foundationgate is a nothingburger.

Bottom line: Don’t let Donald Trump or the press or anyone else convince you that Hillary Clinton is “dogged by scandal” or “works under a constant cloud of controversy” or whatever the nonsense of the day is. That constant cloud is the very deliberate invention of lowlifes in Arkansas; well-heeled conservative cranks; the Republican Party; and far too often a gullible and compliant press. Like anybody who’s been in politics for 40 years, Hillary has some things she should have handled better, but that’s about it. The plain fact is that there’s no serious scandal on her record. There’s no evidence that she’s ever sold out to Wall Street. There’s no corruption, intrigue, or deceit. And if anything, she’s too honest on a policy level. She could stand to promise people a bit of free stuff now and then.”

I make no apologies. I have no great problem with Hillary. She’s pulling the gears on a huge, sophisticated, well-heeled and well-oiled political machine. Live with it. That’s the game in 2016 USA. It’s how you get elected. You want to change it? Me too. But it ain’t happening this year.

Moreover though, I tell anyone who cares to listen that I believe she’ll be a better president than Bill, who if you remember anything other than the stained blue dress, did a pretty good job of keeping the economy on the rails and US troops out of unwinnable foreign wars.

She arrives in the Oval Office with more experience on every imaginable level than anyone since maybe LBJ (problematic comparison), plus the full support of officers and staff from two successful Democratic presidencies and a whole lot less of Bill’s, shall we say, “impulse control” issues. She has also demonstrated masterful control over the Republican wing nut fringe, an enormous time, energy and money suck in D.C. these days, that must be persistently neutralized.

So there are plenty of rational reasons to trust her to competently manage matters here and abroad.

Not that the usual suspects will be screaming “scandal” and “special prosecutor” before she takes the oath of office.

America Has Gotten Much Better Since 1776, Not Worse

The other day when listening to sports talk radio I was treated to Original Mattress Factory CEO and pitch man Ron Trzcinski wishing me a Happy Independence Day.  In his most recent commercial radio ad, Trzcinksi gets off his box spring and on to his soapbox:

“This is Ron Trzcinski.  Our founders intended this country to be one of limited power, created expressly to protect our rights. As time has progressed, however, it has become less limited in scope and our rights less secure.

This assertion, the same used by Tea Party activists these days, is softer than one of Mr. Trzcinski’s premium mattresses.  Lets get real, Ron.  If you are an American woman, racial minority, religious minority, or gay person, your rights are much more secure now than they were in colonial times.   Quaint little colonial customs like slavery, hanging for sodomy and Native American genocide are, thank goodness, things of the past.  For the most part, state and federal laws no longer treat American women like legal incompetents, akin to children and criminals.  States like Massachusetts no longer ban  non-Christians from holding office, or require Catholic officeholders to formally renounce papal authority.

Does Mr. Trzcinski really want to take us back to those “good old days?”  The truth is, the rights of Americans are much more secure than they were in colonial times.

As for Trzcinksi’s point about limited government, it is true that the United States has more government than it did in the colonial times, just as every industrialized nation on the planet does.  The American government that American citizens have freely chosen, via their representative democracy, has given us dramatically better education, health care, water, homes, national security, food, working conditions, environment, medical research, consumer protection, police and fire protection and a myriad of other things most colonial citizens lacked.  That’s why polls continually show that Americans want more government services, not less.

Does Mr. Trzcinski really want America to take us back to those days of bare bones government?

Rather than comparing the governments of two vastly different historic eras –colonial America versus contemporary America — it is much more sensible to compare the United States with other contemporary industrialized societies.  Making that comparison, it becomes clear that America still has very limited government.  When you look at government revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), Americans pay 27% (includes state, local and federal taxes combined), according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.  (It should be noted that a sizable portion of that 27% is used to fund the largest military and counter-terrorism initiative in the world, a heavy burden that other nations don’t bear. )  Americans’ tax bill is much less than the 29% paid by Mexicans, the 31% paid by Irish and Australians, the 32% paid by Canadians, the 34% paid by Poles, the 35% paid by Brazilians, the 39% paid by British,  the 41% paid by Germans, the 44% paid by Norwegians, the 44% paid by Fins, the 45% paid by the French, or the 46% paid by the Swedes.

It simply is not true that since colonial times Americans have been losing all of their rights and being overrun by a vast government.  America accomplished truly great things on July 4, 1776 that are well worth celebrating.  But we need to celebrate the truth of 1776, not the delusional Tea Party spin.  Most importantly, we need to celebrate how much more true America has gotten to its Declaration of Independence values over the past 237 years.

– Loveland

Note:  This is a Wry Wrerun, originally posted on July 2, 2013.  Happy Independence Day!

Wry Wreruns

tv_reruns_-_Google_SearchEditor’s Note:  Because I’m busy and lazy, this blog gets stale.  So occasionally, I’m going to re-publish posts from the past that are seasonal and still timely.  Granted, it’s not a new episode, but it’s also not dead air.  Perhaps I can become like TBS, and enjoy high ratings without ever having to produce original material! Anyway, I promise not to do it too often, but I hope you re-enjoy at least some of the blasts from the past.

Every Vikings Ticket Carries a $72 Taxpayer Subsidy?

Cursor_and_vikings_suites_-_Google_SearchAre Minnesota Vikings season ticket holders effectively government-dependent welfare queens?  After all, a state legislator’s analysis finds that every Vikings ticket benefits from a taxpayer subsidy of over $72.

If that analysis is correct, it would mean that over the next decade a season ticket-holding family of four will be benefiting from about $29,000 in subsidies from Minnesota taxpayers.  Over the three-decade life of the stadium, the 24 corporate benefactors sipping chablis in the Valhalla Suite will be benefiting from a government subsidy of about $521,000.

And we’re worried about poverty-stricken families on Food Stamps? 

Those figures are based on an analysis done by Minnesota State Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville).  Senator Marty calculates that the entire taxpayer burden for subsidizing our new People’s/U.S. Bank Stadium is over $1.4 billion.  I’m not a public finance expert, but Senator Marty is a bright guy with access to public finance experts, and he seems to have done a lot of homework to develop this estimate.  He shows his homework in the spreadsheet provided below.

For purposes of the estimate, Senator Marty assumes that the Vikings will sell about 19.5 million tickets over the next 30 years.  While other non-Vikings events will also be held in the facility, Marty’s analysis only looks at Vikings tickets.

From there, it’s a simple calculation: $1.4 billion in subsidy÷19.5 million tickets=$72 subsidy per ticket.

Cursor_and_Subsidy_per_ticket_-_calculated_May_15_2012_pdf__page_2_of_2_Critics may quibble with the specifics of the Marty analysis.  But specifics aside, the undeniable fact remains that Minnesota taxpayers are on the hook for an enormous subsidy that looks to be much larger than the $498 million figure typically quoted during legislative debates.


Is Zygi Claus As Generous As Local News Coverage Makes Him Out To Be?


Billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is Minnesota’s Santa Claus. That’s essentially the message local news and sports coverage has hammered into Minnesotans’ heads over the last couple of years.

There has been a steady string of positive headlines promoting the Wilf’s stadium-related generosity: Twin Cities Business magazine: “Wilfs Commit $19.5 million More to New Vikings Stadium.”  Minnesota Public Radio:  “Vikings add 19.7 million to stadium contribution.”  WCCO-TV:  “Vikings, Wilfs To Commit to Additional $14M To New Stadium.”  The Saint Paul Pioneer Press:  “Vikings’ Zygi Wilf to increase stadium contribution.”  The Star Tribune:  “Vikings pony up $49 million for stadium accessories.”

Legendary Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman regularly preaches about how fortunate we Minnesotans are to have the Wilfs lavishing us with additional stadium-related toys out of the goodness of their hearts.  For instance, under the homer headline “Vikings Stadium Will Be Spectacular,” a typical Hartman column tells Minnesotans to “take your hat off to the Wilf family,” and then essentially turns his column over to Vikings executive Lester Bagley’s pro-Wilf spin:

“The Wilf family has put in an additional $95 million since the bill passed the Legislature, because a lot of teams and communities get to this point and they start to cut things [and] we don’t want to cut things. We want to add things and make sure this is the best stadium in the league.

The Legislature had us agree to $477 million in team/private dollars and since the bill passed, on top of that $477 million, the Wilfs have agreed to contribute an additional $95 million and counting.”

In addition to his newspaper columns, Mr. Hartman even more frequently carries the same kind of Wilf cheerleading to the powerful radio airwaves of WCCO-AM.  KFAN-FM and 1500-ESPN also do their fair share to promote Zygi’s stadium contributions to their listeners.

The cumulative effect of all of this has been to paint a portrait of jolly old Zygi Claus and Lester the Elf continually delivering millions of dollars of new stadium toys to Minnesota’s football loving girls and boys.

I don’t blame reporters for those headlines.  The budget increases happened, and reporters need to cover developments like that. Moreover, I’m glad that the Wilfs are paying the extra costs.  It’s better than the alternative.

But as Mr. Wilf prepares to cut the ribbon for his new business asset later this summer, and have even more adoration heaped upon him by Mr. Hartman and others, it’s important to look at the broader context.

Others Paying “Owner’s Share”

Remember that the owner has had lots of help paying the so-called “owner’s share” of the stadium. The Vikings are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from a number of outside sources, such as a NFL loan program, seat licenses paid by fans, and enormous naming rights payments coming from U.S. Bank customers.  As Minnesota Public Radio reported:

“If the team gets the NFL loan, sells naming rights and charges for personal seat licenses according to these estimates, it would have about $115 million of the original $427 million pledge yet to pay. Compared to the upfront price tag on the stadium of $975 million, the amount left is about 12 cents on the dollar.”

Note that this April 2012 MPR analysis was done prior to the Wilf’s increasing their stadium contributions by an additional $95 million or so.   It also was done without solid numbers related to these three types of funding sources.

But details aside, the larger point remains:  What the owner is actually paying is only a small fraction of what is described in news coverage as “the owner’s share.”

Star Tribune sports columnist and 1500ESPN radio analyst Patrick Reusse also wrote an excellent 1500ESPN blog post asserting that about $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by someone other than the Wilfs.  Reusse’s analysis was titled “Quite a Bonanza For Our Stadium Martyr.”  However, the radio station appears to have removed the post.

“Worst Deal From Sports Team”

Mr. Wilf is the generous one?  Really?  Minnesota taxpayers are bearing a heavy burden for the stadium, because the Wilfs insisted on it, during a decade worth of legislative warfare.  In naming the Twin Cities one of “5 cities getting the worst deals from sports teams,” MarketWatch asks:

“How do you get taxpayers to chip in $500 million on a more than $1 billion stadium when only one city, Indianapolis ($620 million), has ever paid that much?”

MarketWatch also notes that Minneapolitans “will end up paying $678 million over its 30-year payment plan once interest, operations and construction costs are factored in.”

I’m not informed enough about every stadium deal in the nation to say whether MarketWatch is correct that Minnesotans got one of the worst deals ever.  But it is important to understand that Minnesota taxpayers are being extraordinarily generous to the Vikings owners, not the other way around.

Wilfs Are Takers, Not Givers

By any reasonable analysis, the Wilfs are the big takers in this scenario.  They are not, as much of the news and sports coverage has implied or asserted, the big givers.  After all, this luxurious new taxpayer subsidized stadium won’t make taxpayers’ wealthier, but it is already making the Wilf’s much wealthier.

Forbes magazine estimates that the Vikings franchise, which reportedly was purchased by the Wilfs for about $600 million in 2005, was worth $796 million in 2011, the year before the stadium subsidy was approved.  By 2015, after the taxpayer subsidy was approved by the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton, Forbes estimates the value of the Wilf’s business had spiked to $1.59 billion.

That’s a remarkably quick appreciation going to Zygi Claus’s bottom line in the post-stadium approval era.  Add what the owners will be pocketing due to large increases in stadium-related revenue in the coming years, and it’s pretty clear that the Wilfs are making out like bandits.

Precise analysis is pretty much impossible on this subject, because executives are not nearly as forthcoming about details related to the loan, seat licenses and naming rights as they are about contributions. However, this is roughly what it looks like to me:  Zygi Claus is investing something in the neighborhood of $200 million to see his business valuation increase by at least $800 million, and probably quite a bit more over time.

None of this is illegal, or all that unusual.  But it also is not Santa Claus.

How Would “House of Cards” Handle The Donald Problem?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Not that any Hollywood screenwriter since Terry Southern could imagine a spectacle as bizarre and farcical as this. But I’m watching this week’s Trump meltdown, which is an extra melt you didn’t think possible after last week’s meltdown, and the sight of the ever loyal Republican herd trampling itself to avoid even mentioning (on camera) their party’s “presumptive nominee’s” name and thinking, “What would ‘House of Cards’ do with a toxic liability like The Donald?”

Amid chatter that Trump’s poll numbers are intolerable and predictions of a god almighty November gut punch to the conservative agenda, (you know, more guns, not so many gays and social service cuts for Hispanics), there are whispers of rules changes at the Ultimate Warcraft Nutzapalooza in Cleveland next month. One idea would free all of the delegates 17 candidates brawled over all winter and spring and allow them to vote for whoever they damned well please. The problem with that is besides setting off a civil war with Trump’s (not exactly rational and stable) people, a.k.a. every other Republican’s base, the Grand Old Party has no one to offer as a replacement. Well ok, maybe Ted Cruz, who would certainly leap at the opportunity and very likely send the party to an even worse defeat than Trump.

So … what to do?

Clearly something fully above board and traditional and proper is out of the question. No GOP wiseman is going to step up and say, “This guy is a [bleeping] disaster. I’m not going to support him.” Not even John McCain, who needs Trump’s pitchfork crowd to win reelection in Arizona. One reason is that there aren’t any “Republican wisemen”. Or there are they’re as rare as coelecanths and never expose themselves to sunlight. These are modern Republicans after all, i.e. salesmen and huckstersl.

But if life were to imitate Hollywood, the plotting would go something like this:  An envelope would be handed to one of Trump’s bouncers. Either Corey Lewandowski or Paul Manafort. Maybe by someone who bumps against them in a crowded elevator, slipping the envelope into their pocket and vanishing away when the doors open.

After first inspecting it for anthrax spores, the envelope would be opened. The message inside would be specific and blunt. It would lay out in unequivocal detail not just Trump’s  personal tax information, but incident after incident of his long history of financial fraud, leaving no doubt of that all such information will be disclosed, exposing him to not just reputational ruin, (I know, far too late for that) but full, bankruptcy-inducing criminal and civil prosecution as well. In short, catastrophic blackmail. His only option? Concede to demands freeing his delegates. Accept the inevitable defeat that follows on the convention floor and the nomination of someone else, Cruz or some other skin crawling replacement, and walk away.

But come on. That’s way too bureaucratic and not all that much fun. Worse, Trump’s still around. God knows who the guy’ll take down with him out of pure spite?

So, then there’s the option of him claiming to have experienced a severe health incident. Perhaps a heart attack from all those McDonalds lunches. The blackmailers would agree to support this fiction, under certain conditions. A tweet would go out that the presumptive nominee collapsed in the royal boudoir, leaving it to fervid imaginations that he clenched up while having world class sex with the super sexy Melania. He would be private jetted off to Mar a Lago, given “the greatest” cardiac care the world has ever known and remain essentially under house arrest recuperating until the day after the election.

Of course, were this a “House of Cards” script and Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) orchestrating the plot, Trump would simply be a dead man.

The Donald would be slipped a toxic hamburger patty, go into cardiac arrest, maybe midway through one of his feverish apocalyptic fantasies about blood-sucking Muslims, and croak right there on “Fox and Friends”, before the nation’s startled but mostly relieved eyes. Because, as Frank (a Democrat, you know), would explain in one of his distinctive, fourth-wall breaking asides, the only way to truly escape the hell of someone like Trump, is to inflict upon him a total, indisputably final, (un)timely demise.

Only with the deathly bolus of The Donald irrevocably removed from the party body, could the Republican  leadership apparatus — the Koch brothers, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, and heavyweight donors like John Menard Jr. — be free to replace him with their anointed champion, which, given the way those guys operate could be anyone from Ted Cruz to the Sham Wow guy.

Now, if you, playing script doctor, want to replace the super sexy Melania with Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) locked in a deeply connived love nest with The Donald, I could buy that. I just can’t picture Claire touching a greasy hamburger patty.



Who Shaped the Orlando Killer More? His Father or ISIS?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2I’ll leave it to others to make some kind of grand distinction between “terrorism” and “hate”. As though one comes at us only from “others” while the latter is homegrown. But following the first flow of information about Omar Mateen and his homicidal spree in Orlando, the description that fits best is that of the son — the spawn — of an intensely conservative, intolerant, controlling father. Father Mateen is strange old man who comes off as a strict paternalist, a man with righteous delusions of importance, maybe grandeur, far, far beyond his achievements in the world. All of which — guessing here — shaped his son the mass murderer into something universally familiar here in the USA, and in rural Yemen, in upscale Saudi Arabia, and everywhere else. Namely, a young man in his physical prime (mis)educated in the belief of his superiority and entitlement.

Always eager to play to a familiar, preexisting narrative, our commercial media and most of our politicians have leapt to emphasize Mateen’s declaration of support for ISIS. As though that one statement, (made, we learn this morning, in a phone conversation with cops while hold up in the nightclub’s restroom) is sufficient evidence of a purposeful, dedicated allegiance to grand religious/cultural war. I’m sorry, but I doubt it.

The psychologically misshapened, of which Mateen seems a prime example given his parentage, his abuse of his ex-wife and fear of/anger toward gays, have always been a common feature on the human landscape. The facts of his broader ethnic heritage seem far less significant than the specific forces that raised him.

If you choose to blame the strains of religiously-rooted cultural conservatism that pretty obviously contorted Mateen, you have to apply the same lens to the likes of dozens of other mass murderers, men with Christian surnames, who have brought their perversion of vengeful justice to bear on black churches, Planned Parenthood clinics and federal office buildings over the years.

We may never know, but Mateen’s declaration of support for ISIS, seems much more like an afterthought, a desperate final grasp for grandiosity. A reach for an even more provocative, inflammatory ring as he realized death awaited him on the other side of a thin rest room wall.

The saner view and response to this tragedy will be to resist the knee jerk shrieks that, “ISIS is coming to slaughter us all” and therefore we as a nation must gear up for counter-jihad in Middle East and accept that unstable young men like Omar Mateen, molded by demonstrably deluded parents (usually controlling fathers) are a universal problem, (always have been), and that at its core a declaration of support for a rampaging army of similar young men isn’t appreciably different than Tim McVeigh’s allegiance to the white militia movement of Dylan Roof’s to the South’s confederate heritage.

The warped and insane routinely seek legitimacy with a higher cause.

Hillary Needs A Singular Trump Critique, Not Dozens

One of the problems with running against a historically bizarre opponent like Donald Trump is that there are so many different juicy ways to run against him.  Most activists and pundits think of that as an opportunity, but it also poses a very real problem – focus.

Because Trump is such an outrageous cartoon character of a candidate, Secretary Clinton could be tempted to use her campaign platform and resources to frame up Mr. Trump in a myriad of different ways.  But that would be the biggest mistake she could make.


Trump the bigot.  Trump the philanderer. Trump the misogynist. Trump the bully.  Trump the trigger happy. Trump the uncouth.  Trump the simpleton.  Trump the liar.  Trump the inciter.  Trump the right winger.  Trump the failure.  Trump the blunderer.  Trump the neo-facist.  Trump the war criminal.  Trump the con artist.  Trump the demagogue.  Trump the hypocrite.  Trump the rejected.  Trump the authoritarian.  Trump the unstable.  Trump the novice.  Trump the flip-flopper.  Trump the all-of-the-above.

It’s dizzying.  One of the worst possible strategies is the last one — to throw everything at Trump in roughly equal measure, which is de facto what is happening at the moment.  And that is what happens when you don’t have a disciplined communications strategy.

Singular Key Message Needed

The essence of communications strategy is sacrifice.  You have to walk past some tempting messages in order to have a focused strategy.  If you say everything you possibly could say about an opponent, you effectively are saying nothing.  All of those very valid Trump critiques piled one upon the other becomes a cacophony to voters.  Subsequently, eyes roll and ears shut.

The_Key_to_the_Key_cg-50_jpg__320×247_So communications strategists typically identify a small number of messages or themes that they strive to repeat and stress above all the others. They’re often called “key messages,” or “frames.”

The key message is the one idea that you need to stick in your target audience’s mind in order to achieve your goal, which in this case is persuading swing voters to reject Trump and get more comfortable with Clinton.

Therefore, 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 destrory hers.

Trump The Economy Rigger

So which crystallizing key message should Clinton stress?

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.

As Clintonista James Carville might say, “it’s the economy rigging, stupid.”  That is, Trump the privileged billionaire selfishly seeking to win control the Washington levers of power in order further rig the economy to benefit himself and his privileged class at the expense of everyone else.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s precisely the strategy that Team Obama used to defeat billionaire Mitt Romney in 2012.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2016.  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.

With this kind of framing, the Clinton-Warren or Clinton-Sherrod Brown team would focus like a laser on Trump’s tax giveaways to the rich. It would highlight his proposals to weaken Wall Street protections. It would stress Trump’s opposition to Clinton proposals to  increase the minimum wage hikes and taxes on the wealthy. It would hammer relentlessly on Trump’s refusal to reveal his taxes, and stress that he doesn’t want ordinary Americans to know that the billionaire pays a much smaller percentage of his taxes than they do. It would focus on his history of lobbying to create and perpetuate the wealth-protection measures to rig the economy in his favor, while harming the rest of us.

Executing that kind of messaging strategy would require the Clinton campaign to largely take a pass on the other juicy lines of attack against Trump, all of which will be magnified during daily news coverage, but are unhelpful diversions of public mind space compared to this framing.  It would require her to be saying things like this:

“You know, I care much less about today’s latest sideshow than the fact that Mr. Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the rich and oppose a minimum wage hike will further rig the economy for the ultra-wealthy. His outrageous giveaway to  his fellow billionaires is much more offensive to me than his latest round of crudeness.”

Focusing on “Trump the self-serving economy rigger” would make Clinton look a bit more like a change-agent, and less like a defender of the despised Washington status quo.  It also would help erode the silly notion of among some swing voters that Trump is somehow the champion of the common man.

This won’t come naturally for Secretary Clinton.  Her establishment instincts will continually tempt her to focus her critique of Trump through a Washington lens.  She’ll instinctively want to crow about the fact that she knows more about policy details, and that the smarty pants Washingtonian centrists, and even some conservatives, are embracing her and rejecting Trump. She’ll want to scold Trump about saying things that, well, refined Washingtonians simply do not say.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  When Clinton does that, many swing voters hear her as “Washington insider looking down her nose at Washington outsider,” and in the current political climate the instincts of many will be to side with the outsider. Hillary needs to fight her instincts and frame Trump as the ultimate nest-feathering insider masquerading as an outsider.  She doesn’t need to feel her inner Bubba and triangulate the center right, or jump on each of Trump’s outrage du jour.  As much as she may want to resist it, Hillary needs to feel the Bern.



Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

Note:  Collage portrait by Conor Collins.

How Hard Will Governor Dayton Fight For His #1 Priority?

Dayton_early_education_-_Google_SearchGovernor Dayton has been very clear that early education investment is his Administration’s top priority. But you’d never know it by looking at the budget proposals coming out of the Minnesota Legislature so far this year.

This Governor sounds very serious about making early education his legacy. Early in his term, the Dayton Administration brought two proven early education programs statewide — Early Learning Scholarships and the Parent Aware program. Last year, he continually demanded larger investments in early education, and  expressed bitter disappointment when the investment wasn’t as large as he had wanted.

Since then, he has repeatedly made it very clear that more early education investment is needed. Last summer, just a few weeks after the special session ended, the Governor told reporters:

“We’re going to keep making that the priority of my administration, and anything else is going to have to take second place and not precede it.”

He then went on to make a pledge that caught the attention of a lot of reporters and legislators who would like to spend their summer away from the Capitol this year.

“I will not sign a tax bill that does not have an equitable amount in it overall for early childhood and for continuing the progress that we’re made here.”

This winter, the Governor hasn’t let up. On February 28th, the Pioneer Press reported:

In a news conference last week, Dayton said that when it comes to closing student achievement gaps, addressing early learning “is the most important thing we can do.”

There’s compelling evidence to back up the Governor’s prioritization of early education. Research by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that helping low-income children access high quality early education programs can yield up to $16 in societal returns for every $1 spent. The returns mostly comes in the form of a lifetime of taxpayer expenses foregone, such as future taxpayer bills for remedial education, social services, income supports, health care, law enforcement and prisons.

The part that many miss about this oft-cited research is that the investment must meet two important criteria in order for the returns to materialize. First, the investment has to be directed at low-income children. Second, it has to be in providing access to high quality programs, the types of places that actually get kids ready for school. Investing in children whose family can already afford good programs, or in lower quality programs, doesn’t yield the big returns.

In other words, how lawmakers invest matters, not just what amount they invest.

How Much Is An “Equitable Amount?”

Still, with 89% of low-income pre-schoolers unable to obtain Early Learning Scholarships due to insufficient funding, and Minnesota having some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the size of the investment definitely matters. And with just a few days left in the session, the DFL Governor doesn’t seem to be getting much DFL legislative support for his top priority.

The DFL-controlled Senate is proposing to invest only 3.9% of the $900 million surplus on their Governor’s number one priority.  That is less than half what the Governor recommends. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Minnesota House is proposing to spend just 0.5% of the surplus on early education, less than one-twentieth of what the Governor proposes.

In his budget recommendations, the Governor proposed spending 10.9% of the budget surplus ($98.4 million) on early care and education. Even that amount is not a particularly large sum for something the Governor has identified as “the priority of my administration,” but it is by far the most robust investment that has been proposed this year.

Somewhere in the vast gap between the House’s proposed 0.2% of the surplus and the Administration’s proposed 10.9% of the surplus is what the man in possession of the veto will consider an “equitable amount” for early education programs. If the Governor fights for his number one priority the way he did last year, reporters and legislators may not want to make their summer vacation plans quite yet.

– Loveland

Disclosure: I’m a communications consultant who contracts with a nonprofit organization that agrees with some but not all of Governor Dayton’s early education proposals, and some but not all of the bipartisan Legislature’s early education proposals. This post reflects my personal views, not necessarily that organization’s views.

And the “Republican establishment” is who, again?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Frankly, I don’t know how anything, much less anyone, can survive the next five and a half months. After spending most of last summer, fall and winter assuming/hoping Donald Trump would slither back under his gilded rock, we now have accept that he not only isn’t going away, but he’s going to be louder, cruder and more reckless than ever … because he’s convinced that’s what “his” Republican party wants.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has to figure how to sell competent management (zzzzz) through news cycle after news cycle dominated by the next ludicrous-to-offensive thing Trump says and the herd media loves to cover pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. Personally, I’m confident Team Clinton, arguably the best-oiled political machine of the last generation, already knows how it’s going to play the game ahead. But that doesn’t mean the vulgar absurdity of Trump will abate in any way.

Among the innumerable ironies of the past month or so, as Trump achieved inevitability and “presumptiveness”, are the persistent eulogies for the Republican party. It’s as though the GOP “establishment”, which I’m not sure but I guess means the Bush Family, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Grover Norquist and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, was this cherished national treasure, a font of high-minded enlightenment guiding the masses with unimpeachable Socratic logic and rewarding the faithful with effective, far-sighted governance and benefits of indisputable value to the forever “hard-working” middle class.

What a colossal crock. After Romney augered in four years ago, I wasn’t the only one who said that if the “Grand” old party truly wanted to remain relevant in national elections it had to make a handful of serious changes. There was the “Hispanic problem”, which in truth is also a problem with pretty much every other minority group as well. There was also “the woman problem”, even though the Mittster did pretty well with white women. But most of all, IMHO, there was the need to be something more than a careerist messaging apparatus for anti-government “public servants” and actually, truly, genuinely do something for the middle class. Hell, the party itself said essentially the same thing, with the exception of, you know, that doing something part.

But because modern conservatives have been in the sales game and out of the doing something game for so long, bloviating about “freedoms” and “Constitutional rights” and “limited government” while incessantly licking the boots of the donor class that keeps them in office, they have no street cred with the crowd Trump tapped in to. Other than gun rights, Trump’s people have about as much of a focus on Constitutional freedoms as a diabetic bonobo. But damn! They know what they despise.

More to the point, the “messaging” they were getting injected with every day had nothing to do with the Bushes or even the Wall Street Journal. Their “establishment”, the real Republican establishment, was led by Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, a pack of self-serving entertainers pushing a much more digestible product. Namely, “Everything is [bleeped]. We are the ultimate authorities and the only people you can trust. And, you are the real victims of the DC con game.”

McCain’s top advisor in 2008, Steve Schmidt, recently went off on a rant about exactly this.

In small part he said, “[Mark Levin] is series-A round investor in the demise of the conservative movement in the Republican Party. He, very famously, a woman calls up his show and has the gall to just disagree with Mark Levin, who calls himself the great one. Talk about a narcissist. Talk about self-aggrandizers. Mark Levin asked, ‘Do you have a gun in the house? Go find it and blow your brains out’. This is the tone that has emanated from talk radio and this cancer has spread and that tone has infected the whole of the party. And so this moment that we’ve arrived at, where there’s been a severability now between issues and conservatism, and the test of who is the conservative in the race is who has the loudest voice of opposition.”

(As for bona fides, never forget that it was Schmidt in 2008 who signed off on Sarah Palin.)

A lot of liberals I listen to are smug in their belief that that kind cloddish rage has appeal only to the usual low-information, angry white (aging) male crowd. But the fact is Hillary Clinton’s high “unfavorable ratings” are directly connected to the same dynamic. The woman has been accused of one scandal after another since 1992. From Travelgate, to Whitewater, to Benghazi to this e-mail nonsense, all of it stoked and relentlessly marketed by the same entertainment “establishment”, (with the Bushes, McCains, Romneys and Wall Street Journals happily nodding along).

Point being, when I hear ardent progressives and marginally liberal people both talk about Clinton’s “untrustworthiness” I have to ask, “What do you mean, exactly?” And after valid stuff like her Iraq vote and coziness with Wall Street, the bulk of the examples are utter crap, like Whitewater and Benghazi. False reality, junk facts and manufactured outrage force fed by conservative entertainment “messaging” like milk to credulous veal calves. But so much of this “message” has been shoved down the public’s throats for so long, it has become a DNA marker in the body of the general public, conservatives, liberals and agnostics alike.

“There must be something to it. They always talk about it.”

So follow the dots: The cynical fecklessness of the Republican establishment class meant it kowtowed to its entertainment mouthpieces. Those mouthpieces cultivated an enormous audience of lazy-minded cynics. Those cynics, after 25 years, have now ridiculed and booed the “establishment” off the stage in favor of an actual TV performer-celebrity. That performer is, big surprise, another self-serving populist demagogue. A character who manifests, mainly, not any grand issues or policies, but rather the disposition the GOP’s target audience acquired from their regular habit of tuning in to be reassured they were right to feel sorry for themselves.

Well done, establishment conservatives.

Dear South Dakota: Lighten Up

5_reasons_to_still_get_excited_for_Paul_McCartney__besides_the_obvious__-_StarTribune_comSouth Dakota is feeling under-loved, again. A South Dakota state senator wrote a commentary in today’s Star Tribune complaining about the newspaper’s preview of Paul McCartney’s two Target Center concerts. The forlorn headline says it all: “Gee, did you have to slam South Dakota again?”

It seems the mulleted Beatle began his Midwest tour in Sioux Falls, which prompted the Strib’s music critic to do what music critics do for a living, get snarky. “For once, you may envy the folks who live in Sioux Falls,” wrote the Strib’s Chris Riemenschneider.  This prompted South Dakota State Senator Bernie Hunhoff to do what South Dakota politicians do for a living, get defensive.

Actually, Hunhoff’s piece was pretty light-hearted and fun, a welcome change from much of what we often hear in these tiresome “border battles.”  But along with the humor, there was hurt.  Oh yes, there was hurt.

We midwesterners as a group tend to be mighty sensitive when we feel someone has disrespected us. For instance, remember all of the rage a while back about Minnesota’s Red Lake County being named the Ugliest County in America? Judging from the heated reactions, one might have thought the Washington Post and the evil authors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Amenities Index had launched nuclear weaponry at poor little Minnesota.

But when it comes to sensitivity, South Dakota is in a league of its own.  As a South Dakota expat, and Wry Wing’s South Dakota Correspondent, I would make this observation: Among easily offended Midwesterners, South Dakotans are among the most easily aggrieved. Perhaps it’s because South Dakota is one of the most flown over portions of Flyover Country.  Perhaps it’s because former Governor South Dakota Bill Janklow long ago popularized the art of promoting himself by continually creating new platforms where he could defend South Dakota’s honor.  Whatever the reasons, many South Dakotans still spend their lives looking for ways that outsiders are not sufficiently appreciating South Dakota’s awesomeness.

To be certain, there is awesomeness to be had there. Like most states, parts of South Dakota have great natural beauty. Like most states, there are fun and interesting places to eat, drink and see. Like most states, there are friendly, diligent and kind people.  I loves me some South Dakota.

South_Dakota_low_taxes_-_Google_SearchIn fact, now that retirement is a decade or so away, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for my South Dakota-born wife and I to take our thousandaire fortune and retire closer to our South Dakota family and friends. After all, lots of old folks retire there to shield their income from taxes, since South Dakota has no income tax.

But actually, that is precisely why I won’t be retiring in South Dakota, and will be staying in Minnesota. As a committed liberal, I realize that the seamy side of scarce taxes is scarce community services.

I don’t want to live in a place with the lowest paid teachers in the nation, and one of the region’s lower rates of health coverage. I don’t want to live in a place populated with so many taxophobes that bitter community civil wars break out every time someone proposes addressing a community need or creating a community amenity. I love South Dakota, but I don’t love the short-sighted taxophobic culture that has come to limit the place.

But back to McCartneygate. First, let me apologize for Mr. Riemenschneider’s snark. I’m sorry he showed disrespect to South Dakota. Though truthfully it didn’t strike me as much of a diss, particularly considering he is a music critic, rest assured that most Minnesotans like and respect South Dakota.  They really do.

Second, I would urge my home state to lighten up a bit. Shrug things off.  Have thicker skins.  Be confident enough in what you have to offer the world that you don’t feel the need to be constantly in grievance mode. Realize that you have enough to offer that you don’t have to engage in a fiscal race-to-the-bottom with the Mississippi’s of the world.  You also don’t have to run desperate Tokyo Rose-like ad campaigns on Minnesota conservative talk radio stations recruiting taxophobic businesses and individuals to relocate there.

South Dakota doesn’t need more civic paranoia. It doesn’t need to recruit more selfish taxophobes. It’s a terrific state populated by wonderful people who love the place deeply. As Sir Paul told South Dakotans a few days ago, “with a love like that, you know you should be glad.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.