Estate Tax Exemption Spotlights Minnesota Republicans’ Twisted Priorities

In the first year that Minnesota Republicans took full control of the Minnesota Legislature, they elevated Minnesota’s millionaire heirs and heiresses to the very top of their fiscal priority list.  Representative Greg Davids (R-Preston) says the wealthiest Minnesotans should be able to “keep more of what their mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers have earned,” so Republicans significantly increased the’ estate tax exemption for millionaires.

To be clear, we’re talking about filthy rich grandfathers and grandmothers,  After all, only the very wealthiest Minnesota estates pay any estate tax.   According to the Minnesota Public Radio:

“Up until now, your estate would have to be worth more than $1.8 million before the Minnesota estate tax kicked in, but that changed during this year’s legislative session.

The tax bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and reluctantly signed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton increases the taxable estate value from $1.8 million to $3 million over the next three years. The top tax rate remains at 16 percent.

Minnesota is among 14 states that impose their own estate tax. Farms and family-owned businesses worth up to $5 million are already exempt.”

So, we’re not talking about the four-, five- or even six-figure inheritance you might get from Aunt Gertie.

All of this is being proposed by Republicans at at time when wealth inequality has reached grotesque proportions, as illustrated by this stunning video:

This is how intergenerational privilege perpetuates: Millionaire heirs and heiresses – having done nothing more than winning the birth lottery by being born into a wealthy family — are exempted from taxation, including for wealth that has already avoided taxation because it is unrealized capital gains.

And on it goes, generation after generation. This is how we get the Donald Trumps and Donald Trump, Jr.’s of the world, entitled scions born inches from home plate crowing about their home run.

To state the obvious, because it apparently is no longer obvious to everyone, this is not in keeping with the American value of “all men are created equal,” which used to be all the rage in America. America was founded in defiance of the British system of aristocracy, which gave power to a small, wealthy privileged “ruling class.”  Abolishing aristocratic forms of inheritance was a primary way the founding fathers went about furthering American equality.

While today’s Republican Tea Partiers don Revolutionary War-era tri-corner hats while asserting that the estate tax is “Marxist,” the truth is that the estate tax has been strongly supported by a number of founding fathers.

Remember Thomas Jefferson, the guy who penned “all men are created equal,”  America’s “immortal declaration?” He promoted the egalitarian values of America’s founding fathers by arguing against the passing of property from one generation to the next:

“The earth and the fulness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural.“

Jefferson was hardly alone in this opinion. Similar sentiments were expressed by Adam Smith, the hero of conservative free market advocates, as well as Republican Party icon Theodore Roosevelt.

“The absence of effective state, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.  The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is passed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

You might guess that someone like Bill Gates, Sr. would be all-in when it comes to increasing the estate tax exemption. But he eloquently explains why the wealthy people need to pay back the community that supported them:

“No one accumulates a fortune without the help of our society’s investments. How much wealth would exist without America’s unique property rights protections, public infrastructure, and academic institutions? We should celebrate the estate tax as an ‘economic opportunity recycling’ program, where previous generations made investments for us and now it’s our turn to pass on the gift. Strengthening the estate tax is important to our democracy.

Consider all of the other alternative ways Minnesota Republicans could have used the $357 million that they are giving to Minnesota’s wealthiest heirs and heiresses over the next two bienniums. They could have used it to improve our transportation or broadband infrastructure,  help vulnerable children access early learning programs to close our dangerous achievement gaps, or expand clean energy capacity.  Those kinds of investments would have paid dividends for all Minnesotans far into the future.

Instead, Republicans made their top priority lavishing more enormous tax breaks on the small number of ultra-wealthy Minnesotans who least need help.

Governor Dayton has already signed the Republicans’ estate tax exemption, so at this point he has little if any negotiation leverage. But if Democrats take control of state government in 2018, this should be one of the first policies they reverse in 2019.  In the meantime, at every campaign stop they should spotlight this outrageous Republican giveaway to the wealthy elite.

Opioid Abuse Crusader To Crack Down On Safer Opioid Alternative

The Affordable Care Act repeal, which will lead to 23 million Americans losing their health insurance protections, isn’t the only way the Trump Administration is endangering Americans. It’s proposal to ban patients from getting relief from cannabis-based medicines is just as ill-informed and cruel.

Trump’s states rights-loving Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked Congress to restore the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-authorized medical cannabis businesses. Since 2014, Congress has prohibited the federal Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute these state authorized businesses.

In a letter to Congress, Sessions made his case:

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

I can’t think of a delicate way to say this. This is moronic.  Trump and Sessions say they are making battling rising opioid addiction a high priority, but this move would prevent pain patients from transitioning from highly addictive and dangerous opioid pain relievers to much less addictive and dangerous cannabis-based pain medicines.

Before you bust out your best adolescent weed jokes or Reefer Madness paranoia, give some serious consideration to recent peer-reviewed medical research on this topic, as summarized by Scientific American:

A 2016 survey from University of Michigan researchers, published in the The Journal of Pain, found that chronic pain suffers who used cannabis reported a 64 percent drop in opioid use as well as fewer negative side effects and a better quality of life than they experienced under opioids. In a 2014 study reported in JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors found that annual opioid overdose deaths were about 25 percent lower on average in states that allowed medical cannabis compared with those that did not.

Marijuana can be habit-forming, at least psychologically, but the risks are not in the same league as opioids. A 20-year epidemiological review of studies concluded that more than nine out of 10 people who try marijuana do not become dependent on the drug. The review paper, published in 2014, said the “lifetime risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9 percent in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32 percent for nicotine, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol and 11 percent for stimulants.”

Also, unlike the case with opioids, it is virtually impossible to lethally overdose on marijuana—because a user would have to consume massive quantities in a prohibitively short time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says such a fatal result is very unlikely. Meanwhile, heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that from 2014 to 2015 heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6 percent—causing nearly 13,000 deaths in 2015.

This is no longer coming from some guy in a Grateful Dead t-shirt making vague anecdotal claims. This is now coming some of the foremost medical authorities in the nation.  For many people, cannabis-based medicines can ease their pain without the level of addictiveness and nasty side effects that unfortunately come with opioid pain relievers.

Beyond pain relief, cannabis-based medicines — often with the intoxicating component of cannabis oil (THC) removed when it isn’t medically necessary — also are helping Minnesota patients who have been diagnosed with a variety of diseases, such as cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, and terminal illnesses.

In Minnesota, most patients with those ailments who have been using cannabis-based oils, tinctures and capsules report to officials at the state Department of Health that they are experiencing substantial benefits from using cannabis-based medicine. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “no benefit” and 7 is “great deal of benefit,” nearly two-thirds (64%) of patients chose a 6 or 7.

Meanwhile, no patients report being hospitalized with complications from the cannabis-based medicine, something that cannot be said for opioids and many other FDA-approved medications. Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, looked at this data and concluded:

“Based on this evidence from the first year, Minnesota’s approach is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events.”

For years now, Americans have seen patients benefitting from medical cannabis, and an overwhelming number of them like what they see.  A February 2017 Quinnipiac University survey found that 93 percent support “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it,” including 85 percent of Republicans.  Only 23 percent of Americans, and 36 percent of Republicans, support “the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana?”

All of this leaves me wondering, what exactly are Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump smoking?

 

Note:  I’m a public relations consultant who has in the past done work for one of two medical cannabis businesses licensed by the State of Minnesota.  I no longer work with that company, and this post reflects my personal views.

Minnesota GOP’s Tobacco Tax Cut Is A Killer, Literally

There is a lot to dislike about the Minnesota Republicans’ tax cuts that were recently signed into law. For instance, increasing the estate tax exemption from $2 million to $3 million is an unnecessarily lavish gift to about 1,000 Minnesotans who won the birth lottery by being born into a relatively wealthy family.  Overall, the Republicans’ tax cuts will compromise Minnesota’s future fiscal stability by reducing state revenue by more than $5 billion over the coming decade. This is a particularly reckless move at a time when President Trump and his Republican congressional supporters are proposing to shift billions of dollars in future costs to states.   The next time Minnesota has a budget shortfall, remember the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts.

But the stinkiest of the Republicans’ tax cut stink bombs was their tobacco tax cut, because in the coming years it will cause suffering and death.

Think that’s hyperbole?  A mountain of research shows that every time tobacco prices increase, tobacco consumption decreases. The corollary is also true – tobacco consumption increases when tobacco prices decrease.

This is particularly true when it comes to price-sensitive young Americans.

Here’s why that matters:  When tobacco consumption increases, tobacco-related suffering and death increases. Though we don’t hear about it as much as we used to, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in America. It causes a variety of deadly cancers, lung diseases, and heart diseases, among other serious health problems.  If you’ve ever seen anyone suffer from one of these illnesses, I promise you will never forget it.

If you don’t believe the legion of public health and economic researchers about tobacco taxes decreasing tobacco use, listen to the tobacco industry executives themselves. In a previously secret document that got disclosed during lawsuits, an executive from Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, said:

“Of all the concerns, there is one – taxation – that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions and public and passive smoking [restrictions] do depress volume, in our experience taxation depresses it much more severely.”

Likewise, an executive from RJ Reynolds, makers of Newport and Camel cigarettes, came to the same conclusion:

“If prices were 10% higher, 12-17 incidence [youth smoking] would be 11.9% lower.”

So if Republican legislators think their tobacco tax cut is doing a favor for Minnesota smokers, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Yes, financially speaking, the tobacco tax is regressive. That is, the higher costs of tobacco products that result from tobacco taxes disproportionately impact the pocketbooks of poorer Minnesotans.

But that’s not the end of the story, because the reduction in tobacco-related suffering and death that comes from higher tobacco taxes is progressive. That is, the life-saving health benefits associated with higher tobacco taxes disproportionately flow to poorer Minnesotans.  And by the way, the millions of dollars in savings from not having to pay as much to treat those tobacco-related diseases flow to Minnesota taxpayers and health insurance premium payers.

The bottom line is that cutting tobacco taxes, as Minnesota Republicans did this year, has two major impacts. It causes tobacco executives to profit more from increased sales, and it causes our family members, friends, and neighbors to suffer tobacco-related diseases.

Therefore, when it comes to tobacco taxes, Minnesotan leaders have to be cash cruel to be clinically kind. If the DFL Party wins control of the Minnesota Legislature in 2018, increasing tobacco taxes must be at the very top of their agenda.

Strib Poll Uncovers Dark Clouds For Republicans

Cursor_and_minnesota_republicans_-_Google_Search 2As the 2017 Minnesota legislative session heads into the home stretch and President Trump is creating a constitutional crisis, the news for Minnesota Republicans in the recent Star Tribune survey is not  great.

To recap, most Minnesotans are…

Digging Dayton. An overwhelming 62% of Minnesotans approve of the job being done by Minnesota Republicans’ primary antagonist, DFL Governor Mark Dayton. Less than half as many Minnesotans (29%) disapprove of the job Dayton is doing.

  • Implication:  He’s grumpy, boring, wonky, and unabashedly liberal, but Governor Eyeore remains quite popular with a strong majority Minnesotans.  Despite Republicans’ best efforts to frame Dayton as being metro-centric and out-of-touch with Greater Minnesota, a majority in every region of the state approve of the job he is doing.  As high stakes budget and policy negotiations between Dayton and legislators begin, Dayton is in a relatively strong position to push his progressive agenda.

In the Dumps About Trump. Only 40% approve of the Republicans’ national leader, President Donald Trump. This marks an all time historical low-point among Presidents, at a time that is supposed to be a President’s “honeymoon period.” For context, eight years ago, during dire economic times, the newly elected President Obama had a 62% approval rating.

  • Implication: To state the obvious, “all time low” is not good.  Republicans who remain steadfastly loyal to their party’s unpopular President could be more vulnerable in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. While the conventional wisdom would be for Republican incumbents to distance themselves from the toxic Trump, it’s difficult for them to do so, because Trump remains popular with the narrow band of Trump diehards.  Republican incumbents need those voters on their side in order to survive 2018 primary and general elections. With Trump this unpopular, Republican incumbents are in a political bind.

Swooning for DFL Senators. In comparison to Trump’s 40% approval rating, 58% of Minnesotans approve of DFL Senator Al Franken, and 72% approve of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

  • Implication: Franken and Klobachar remain popular as they relentlessly criticize Trump and his policies, which should embolden other DFLers to do the same. Also, Klobuchar looks difficult for Republicans to defeat in 2018, and both Franken and Klobuchar should be helpful surrogates for down ballot DFL candidates in 2018.

Cursor_and_Minnesota_mexico_wall_-_Google_SearchNot Feeling The Mandate. Trump mandate?  What mandate?  Most Minnesotans don’t like Trump’s policies any better than they like him personally. About two-thirds (65%) oppose Trump’s signature campaign issue – building a Mexico wall. Only 29% support that idea.  The survey also found that Minnesotans oppose Trump’s proposals to accelerate deportations, and his Muslim travel ban.

The only ray of hope in the survey for President Trump was that 70% of Minnesotans support his drive-by Syrian missile strike, proving once again that Americans still love military actions, as long as victory can be declared within a matter of days.

  • Implication. It turns out those “real Americans” at the Trump rallies who cheered wildly about the Mexico wall and Muslim ban are not very representative of most Minnesotans. Therefore, stressing those issues would seem to hurt Republicans more than help them, at least with moderate swing voters. However, the one thing that perhaps could make Trump more popular is a quick, easy military victory.  Don’t think for a moment that a drive-by war has not crossed Trump’s compulsively self-promotional mind.  In other words, it’s probably not a good time to plan a vacation to Grenada.

Nyet On Russiagate Coverup. Republicans steadfastly maintain that no one cares about the Russian controversy. But even prior to the disturbing Comey firing, a majority of Minnesotans (55%) indicated that they would like to see an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, while 39% say there should be no such investigation.

  • Implication: If Republicans continue to cover up and downplay the Russia controversy, it will not pass the smell test with a majority of Minnesotans.

All Aboard On Trains. By a strong twenty-point margin (54% support to 34% oppose), Minnesotans support building two extensions of light rail transit (LRT), from Minneapolis to the southwester suburbs and Minneapolis to the northern suburbs.

  • Implication: Republicans should think twice about making LRT their poster child for wasteful spending.   Despite Republican operatives and talk radio jocks aggressively bashing LRT over many years, most Minnesotans, including plenty of voters in swing suburban districts, support LRT expansion.

Cursor_and_minnesota_tea_party_-_Google_SearchOkay With O’Care. Then there is Obamacare. Republicans seem supremely confident that Obamacare is wildly unpopular.  But a narrow plurality of Minnesotans actually is okay with it. Forty-nine percent of Minnesotans say Obamacare has been “mostly good,” while 44% say it has been “mostly bad.” This issue polled better for Republicans than most other issues, but this finding isn’t very encouraging for Republicans who are dead set on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Trumpcare plan that offers many fewer patient benefits.

  • Implication: As Republicans prepare to replace Obamacare with something that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says will erases all of the Obamacare coverage gains, these numbers spotlight the political risk that Republicans are taking.  Republicans are beginning to learn that the only thing many Americans hate more than Obamacare is lack of Obamacare.

Loving Local Control. By a whopping 34-point margin (60% oppose, 26% support), Minnesotans oppose the GOP-backed proposal to prevent Minnesota towns and cities from passing work-rule ordinances, such as minimum wage increases.   In every region of Minnesota, a majority oppose limiting local control.

  • Implication:  This is another loser issue for Republicans.  How in the world did the party that constantly preaches about the need for “local control” end up on this side of the issue?

Wrong Tax Cuts. Inexplicably, the Star Tribune apparently didn’t poll on what seems like the overarching question of this legislative session: What should legislators do with the state budget surplus? That is, should they spend it, cut taxes or save it for a rain day (i.e ask about “all,” “most,” “some,” or “none” for each category). Instead, the Star Tribune only asked how to cut taxes, as if tax cutting were the only thing being debated.

Even within that narrow fiscal category, the news wasn’t great for Republicans. Republicans propose tax cuts targeted to narrow constituencies — smokers, farmers, retirees, people with student loan debt, business owners and others. But most Minnesotans (45%) would rather just cut income taxes for all, perhaps because it’s simple and broad-based. Less than 20% of Minnesotans support the Republican-recommended constituency-by-constituency approach, while the rest support Jesse Ventura-style rebates (30%).

  • Implication: Tax-cutting remains the Republicans’ bread-and-butter issue, and it should be a pretty easy sell. Still, Minnesota Republicans can’t even seem to do that right.   They somehow managed to find the most unpopular way to cut taxes, which might somewhat limit the electoral benefits they stand to gain from the tax cuts.

Political tides ebb and flow, so today’s viewpoints could be very different at election time18 months from now. But as it currently stands in the dawn of the Trump era, Minnesota Republicans are not exactly winning so much they’re tired of winning.

Five Reasons Democrats Should Push A Medicare-for-All Option

As the next iteration of Trumpcare/Ryancare is finalized by warring conservatives, it’s fair to demand that Democrats share their post-Obama vision for health care.

Yes, Democrats need to be fighting efforts to repeal and replace the increasingly popular Obamacare/Affordable Care Act (ACA) system with Trumpcare/Ryancare. Though the ACA is the spurned love child of the Heritage Foundation, Orin Hatch, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, it’s much more humane than Trumpcare/Ryancare, which would cause at least 24 million Americans to lose their Obamacare health coverage, and many more if states choose to further weaken protections.

Cursor_and_medicare-for-all_jpg__360×216_But for the long haul, Democrats need to set their sights higher than Obamacare. They must become full-throated champions for allowing Americans the option of buying into the Medicare system.  Here are five reasons why:

Reason #1. Medicare is popular “government run health care.” For decades, Republicans have robotically vilified “government run health care” and “socialized medicine,” presuming that Americans agree with them that government will screw up anything it undertakes.  And Democratic politicians have cowered in fear.

However, Medicare is a notable exception to that rule. While the private sector-centric Trumpcare/Ryancare has 17% approval and Obamacare has 55% approval, Medicare has the approval of 60% of all Americans, and 75% Americans who have actual experience using Medicare.  It’s not an easy thing for a health plan to become popular, so Medicare’s relative popularity is political gold.  Democrats need to tap into it.

Reason #2. Medicare is better equipped to control medical and overhead costs than private plans. Medicare has a single administrative system, while dozens of health insurance corporations have dozens of separate and duplicative administrative bureaucracies.  That decentralized approach to administration is expensive.

Also, for-profit health insurance corporations have to build profits and higher salaries into their premium costs. For instance, the insurance corporation United Health Care, to cite just one of dozens of examples, pays it’s top executive $33,400,000.   That’s 135 times more than the not-for-profit Medicare system pays its top executive, about $247,000.

Medicare also is large enough that it has a great deal of negotiating leverage.  It could have even more if Congress empowered Medicare to more effectively negotiate pharmaceutical prices.

Because of all of that, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds:

Medicare has been the leader in reforming the health care payment system to improve efficiency and has outperformed private health insurance in holding down the growth of health costs…  Since 1987, Medicare spending per enrollee has grown by 5.7 percent a year, on average, compared with 7.0 percent for private health insurance.

So, if Democrats want to better control health care costs to help the economy and struggling Americans, the Medicare model offers the best hope for doing that, not the corporate-centric model that we currently are using.

Reason #3. A Medicare-for-All option is very politically viable. Most Democratic politicians understand that a Medicare-for-All option makes good sense policy wise, but shrug it off as politically infeasible. They’re dead wrong.

By a more than a 5-to-1 margin, Americans support having a Medicare-for-All option. An overwhelming 71% support it, while only 13% oppose it. If you won’t try to sell a proven progressive idea that is supported by a 5-to-1 margin, you have no business being in progressive politics.

While “government-run health care” has been a weak brand for brand for Democrats, they have a clear path for rebranding their agenda.  Medicare brand equity is right there waiting for Democrats to take advantage it, if they’ll only open their eyes to the opportunity.

Reason #4. A Medicare-for-All option will expose private health corporations as uncompetitive. Right now, one of the Democrats’ biggest political problems is that too many Americans have been brainwashed by conservatives into believing that the private sector is always more efficient and effective than the public sector. In other areas that don’t involve “public goods,” that is true, but not with health insurance.

The best way to bust that “private is always best” myth is to allow Medicare to sit alongside corporate health plans in the individual marketplace. If American consumers choose Medicare over private plans, because Medicare proves itself to be the cheapest and best option, then the conservatives’ “private is always best” myth finally will be busted.

Reason #5. A Medicare-for-All option can serve as a bridge to the best health care model – a public single payer system. The research is clear that countries who have single payer health care financing have better and cheaper health care than the United States has with it’s substantially private sector based health care system. For example, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Commonwealth Fund finds:

Even though the U.S. is the only country without a publicly financed universal health system (among 13 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States), it still spends more public dollars on health care than all but two of the other countries. …despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.

Obscure research reports like this aren’t proving persuasive to American voters. But when younger Americans are able to see for themselves through their shopping that Medicare is cheaper and better than private health insurance options, Medicare will build a bigger market share.  After Medicare earns a larger market share, Americans may ultimately be much more open to shifting from a Medicare-for-all option to a Medicare-for-all single payer system that the United States ultimately needs in order to compete in the global marketplace and become a healthier nation.

It’s not enough for Democrats to only expose the reckless Trumpcare/Ryancare model and defend Obamacare status quo.  They must also promote a Medicare-for-All vision for moving America forward. With the current President and Congress, a Medicare-for-All option obviously can’t pass.  But aggressively promoting over the coming years will improve the chances that this Congress and President will soon be replaced and that a Medicare-for-All option can be enacted in future years.

Mainstream My Ass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact Check:  Obamacare Is Not In A Death Spiral

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

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

This is the political and policymaking genius that is Trumpcare.

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

Boot the Mute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

cursor_and_john_edgell

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.

When The Lie Referees Lie

False equivalence is a form of logical fallacy in which two arguments are made to appear as if they are equally valid, when in fact they aren’t. Here is a prime example of how false equivalence in newspapers inadvertently misleads.

The Star Tribune editorial page carried a guest commentary on October 31, 2016.  It was written by authors associated with the terrific nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning organization Politifact.  So far, so good.

But the Star Tribune headlined the piece: “Politifact:  The 10 whoppers of both leading presidential candidates.”  This piece then lists ten false statements for Hillary Clinton and ten for Donald Trump.  Ten and ten, presumably to appear “balanced.”

While Politifact’s 20 lies are all fair and well-documented cases, the overall impression given by the headline and commentary is that both candidates lie in equal measure.  As someone who has conducted lots of focus groups in my career, I can almost guarantee you that a focus group of undecided voters — the coin of the realm eight days before the election — would overwhelmingly report “both candidates lie at about the same rate” as their central take-away.

The problem is, that’s not true.  Politifact itself has found that the “both candidates lie in equal measure” assertion is a lie. A more complete look at Politifact’s full body of work finds that the two candidates are far from equivalent in their level of veracity.helpful_infographic_for_disputing_those_who_claim_that_donald__the_line_of__make_america_great_again___the_phrase__that_was_mine__trump_is_better_than_the_same_as_clinton_-_imgur

This chart is not updated through the present, so an updated chart is needed.   But the point is, either the Politifact authors or Star Tribune editors should have included a summary of the complete Politifact findings, to put the “ten whoppers” in proper context.  Doing so would give Star Tribune readers what they deserve, a more clear and complete picture of the truth.

False equivalence is itself a type of lie that is muddying our democratic discourse. So what are citizens to do we do when the Lie Referees also, inadvertently, lie? The Star Tribune and Politifact are two organizations that I value and support, but this is not their finest hour.

Confessions of a Clueless Voter

cursor_and_minnesota_ballot_water_conservation_district_-_google_searchFor all I know, I may have just voted for a creationist to select my kids’ science curricula, or a reckless corporate polluter to set environmental protections in my water conservation district.  But it’s not my fault.

When it comes to the less publicized “down ballot” races, voters need much more information than is currently readily available.  I voted absentee several weeks before election day.  On my presidential vote, I like to think I was supremely informed. But when it came to votes involving the judiciary, school board, and water conservation district, I was embarrassingly uninformed.

Fortunately, voting absentee gives you time to do some research. So, I figured an earnest, computer-savvy fellow like me could be pretty well informed after a dozen or so clicks.

I was shocked about how little information I could find about those backwater candidates. When it came to the more obscure candidates and ballot questions, there hadn’t been any news coverage. This was partially because reporters were waiting to do stories closer to the election — which is increasingly becoming a problem now that large numbers of citizens are voting early —  and partially because newsrooms have shrunk so much in recent eyars that many of these obscure races simply go uncovered.   Surprisingly, the rest of the interwebs was not much better.  I found a little information about the unpublicized candidates, but not nearly enough.

So, I slumped in civic shame, as I guessed on a few and skipped a few.  From conversations with friends, I know I’m not the only clueless voter in the land.  In fact, I know a lot of new and casual voters who guessed and skipped much more than I did.

We can run a better democracy than this, people. With all due respect to Mr. Trump, I’m less concerned that our elections are rigged than I am that our elections are un- or under- informed.

There is a simple fix to this that wouldn’t cost very much. I’ve been told there is this thing called “the Internet,” where people can instantly access information, even on devices most people carry in their pockets into polling places, and everyone can access in public libraries.  So, why can’t do-gooders create a nonpartisan website where candidates — even humble down ballot candidates — can supply information about their background and positions on top issues?

Maybe we call the website something like MNvoting.com, and fund it with philanthropic and/or government funding. Maybe it has a multi-partisan Board of Directors governing it. Maybe the organization creates the basic web space for content, but allows candidates to generate all of the relevant content. Maybe the website includes comment fields for folks to dispute candidates’ claims.  Maybe we promote this wondrous new centralized website to voters via a marketing campaign. These kinds of details obviously can be worked out by the smart people.

But we can do better. In just a couple of clicks, I can currently get a thorough evaluation of a restaurant, movie, or just about any type of product or service. The same needs to become true of ALL of the ballot questions Minnesotans are being asked to decide at the ballot box, not just the top-of-the-ticket questions.

Difficult Time of Year for Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD) Sufferers

cursor_and_custom_ribbon__decision_deficit_disorderWashington, DC — Just as the holiday season can be difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones, election time is a horrific time for those suffering from a little discussed condition known as Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD).

During the election season, DDD sufferers get overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion as they are asked to take 18 months worth of campaign-generated information to make a final decision about which candidate they will support.

“DDD can be extremely, oh gosh I just don’t what the right word would be,” said Jonah Wildarsky, who suffers from DDD and is the Executive Director of the Decision Deficit Disorder Foundation.

As a defense mechanism, those with DDD frequently accuse all candidates of being equally poor, rather than deciding who is the better one, as other voters do.

“Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton, it’s just not fair to ask us to decide, because they’re just so identically bad,” screamed Wildarsky. “The pressure during the last month of the campaign is immense. I’ve personally had to suffer through 127 news interviews this year, because there are just so few DDD survivors left for reporters to interview.”

The Foundation works to create awareness of DDD. For instance, Wildarsky says the Foundation hopes some day to distribute ribbons, if a color choice can be finalized.

“Golly, I don’t know, is yellow or pink or some other color best,” asked Wildarsky. “The colors all  seem equally bad to me.  Why in the world can’t we have better colors?”

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

cursor_and_democrats_right_to_vote_-_google_searchWhen it comes to the Minnesota DFL’s attempt to bar Donald Trump’s name from appearing on Minnesota ballots, the party is making a mistake by focusing on the could versus the should.

Yes, banning Trump from Minnesota ballots could be possible. It appears as if the ever-bungling Minnesota Republican Party perhaps didn’t follow the letter of the law in nominating their presidential elector alternates. I’m no great election law mind, so I’ll let the Star Tribune explain the DFL’s legal argument:

The petition said the state GOP erred at its state convention on May 20-21 in Duluth, where delegates “at large” and from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts nominated 10 presidential electors but failed to nominate 10 alternate electors.

The petition quoted the law (the italicized type is the party’s) as saying, “Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state.”

The petition continued: “This language is clear and unequivocal: Alternatives ‘shall’ be nominated — not unilaterally by party leaders — but by ‘delegate conventions.’

It sounds as if they might have case.  But letter of the law aside, should DFLers ban Trump?  The spirit of the law is that citizens should get to a chance to vote for the candidate who prevailed in the nominating process, in this case Trump.   That’s what Minnesotans of all parties feel in their gut.  The practical effect of the DFL’s move is to effectively disenfranchise Trump voters in Minnesota, more than one-third of the citizenry. For a party that justifiably preaches keeping democracy open to all voters, effectively disenfranchising at least one-third of the voters just doesn’t pass the smell test. It will offend many voters, including some who would otherwise be DFL-friendly, and it will seed even more cynicism in an already dangerously cynical citizenry.  That’s not good for our democracy.

Beyond the disenfranchisement of it all, DFL Party leaders perhaps should be wary of unintended consequences. An April 2016 Star Tribune-sponsored survey found Clinton with 48% of registered voters, Trump with 35%, and 17% undecided. While that’s a four month old poll, the chances are that Clinton still holds a lead in Minnesota. So, absent Trump being banned from the ballot by the DFL, Clinton probably would win Minnesota the old fashioned way, by earning the most votes.

So, there probably isn’t a lot to gain Electoral College-wise by gagging Trump voters. However, what happens if Trump refugees and undecided voters coalesce around Libertarian Gary Johnson?  What likely would have been a blue state could become, I don’t know, the Libertarian Party color.  That’s probably a long shot, but the possibility exists after the DFL kicks the Trump hornet nest by taking away their ability to vote for their hero.

DFL electoral tacticians likely see it differently. They may think that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, discouraged Trump voters will stay home, which will help the DFL win down-ballot races.  They’re banking on Trump voters to stay home and sulk, and they may be right.  But what happens if Trump voters instead get outraged enough by the perceived injustice of the situation to turn out in record numbers to vote against the party that they feel stole their votes?

DFL leaders probably feel quite self-satisfied about this clever little “gotcha” game.  I’m one strong DFLer who just doesn’t like it.  It feels like a betrayal of one of the party’s most admirable values – defense of every voter’s right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.  In my opinion this is not the Minnesota DFL’s finest hour.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

 

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

Note:  Collage portrait by Conor Collins.

Bernie Needs To Give Democrats One Final Parting Gift

Sanders_from_behindPresidential candidate Bernie Sanders has already given much to the Democratic Party. But even though his chances of being nominated remain slim, he still has a bit more he could give to his adopted party.

Largely because of Clinton’s dominance when it comes to establishment-oriented super delegates, we’re being told by elite analysts like FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver that Hillary will likely be nominated, even after a likely Sanders win in Wisconsin today and a possible win in Clinton’s home state of New York. Sanders’ exit from the stage couldn’t come soon enough for frustrated supporters of Hillary Clinton, who see Sanders as an annoying speed bump on her trip down Inevitability Lane.

Bernie’s Gifts To Democrats

But the fact is, Sanders’ questioning of Clinton has helped her improve as a candidate. Though still too cautious and programmed, Clinton is a better candidate now than she was before Sanders joined her on stage.

Beyond changing candidate Clinton for the better, Sanders has also changed the Democratic party for the better. This longtime political independent has reminded Democratic partisans that it’s okay to dream of progressive policies that go beyond the cautious incrementalism ushered in during the 1990s by the Clintons and their center-right Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

With every major western nation operating universal health care systems that are more fair, effective and efficient than today’s complex Rube Goldberg-style Affordable Care Act (ACA) machinery, Sanders reminded Democrats that it’s reasonable to both appreciate the progress being made under the ACA, while continuing to fight for the superior single payer models.

Sanders also reminded Democrats that a college degree is as vital today as a high school degree was at the time the American public education system was created, so we need to keep fighting to update our public education system by offering tuition-free public higher education.

Sanders reminded Democrats that even Republican presidents such as Bush, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower all required wealthy Americans to pay more to support their country than we do today, so it’s reasonable to ask more of the wealthy again to help rebuild the American dream for the lower- and middle-class.

Sanders reminded Democrats that the party that created a wide array of popular socialist programs that built the great American middle class — New Deal job programs, Social Security, the GI Bill, the Rural Electric Administration, Medicare —  doesn’t need to cower in fear every time conservatives label their proposals as “socialism.”

Finally, Sanders shined a light on the corrupting influence that big money has had on America’s corporatized Congress.

Democrats owe the Independent Senator a debt of gratitude.  The fact that many to most of Sanders’ proposals could not have passed in the short-term with a Republican-controlled Congress does not mean that progressives shouldn’t advocate for those policies, to improve their viability over the long-term.  It’s self-defeating to allow do-nothing congressional conservatives to limit how Democrats use the bullypulpit.

Bernie’s Parting Gift

But where does Sanders go from here? If delegate geeks like Nate Silver are correct that it’s impossible for Sanders to come from behind to win the nomination, should he just pull out of the race, as indignant Clinton supporters have been demanding?

Before Sanders leaves the stage, I’d ask one more favor of him:   Expose Trumponomics for what it is.   To limit the number of Sanders refugees who are tempted to support Trump over Clinton in November, Sanders should spend the next few weeks exposing the fraud Mr. Trump is attempting to perpetrate on Americans.

For instance, Sanders should explain that billionaire Trump may claim that his partial self-financing makes him independent from the uber-wealthy interests, but Trump’s tax plan exposes the truth. According to a Tax Policy Center (TPC) analysis, Trump’s tax plan would give an average tax cut of $1.3 million per year to the richest one-tenth of one percent.  Sanders should make sure his audience understands that billionaire Trump plans to further enrich his fellow billionaires.

Sanders should also explain how the businessman’s proposals will destroy the American economy, rather than make America “win so much will be sick of winning.” For instance, look at what Mr. Trump’s plan to lavish the mega-rich with tax breaks would do to the national debt:

“The Tax Policy Center estimates the proposal would reduce federal revenue by $9.5 trillion over its first decade and an additional $15.0 trillion over the subsequent 10 years, before accounting for added interest costs or considering macroeconomic feedback effects.”

Some have suggested that Sanders and Trump compete for the same type of voters, those most frustrated with the status quo. Therefore, before Sanders leaves the stage, he should conduct a seminar for “open to Trump” voters about the fraud Mr. Trump is attempting to perpetrate on them. Doing so could constitute Bernie’s greatest gift of all to the Democratic Party.

Note:  This post was also chosen to be featured by MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.