There's No More Point in Fighting Over Grandma vs. Grampa

Submitted by Charlie on Fri 25 Nov 2016 - 19:43
"Okay, you asked for it, Boggs!"

"And I say, England's greatest Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston!" - Barney Gumble
"Pitt the Elder" - Wade Boggs
"Lord Palmerston!" - Barney Gumble
"Pitt the Elder!" - Wade Boggs
"Okay, you asked for it, Boggs!" - Barney Gumble

The "Bernie vs. Hillary" flare up in the wake of Trump's election reached an absurd zenith this week over - no shit - a conjunction. Should Bernie have used "and" in a tweet, or was "but...also" sufficient? It is hard to imagine a fight more pointless than this, though pre-Inauguration backbiting still has two months to go, so we may yet find something.

The basic format of this argument goes like this:

Sanders Person: Bernie could've won!
Clinton Person: No, he couldn't have!
Everyone: [Angry Crosstalk]

There's plenty of circumstantial evidence for both sides, which I will not rehash here since if you're reading this you've probably heard all of it already, whichever side you support. (Incidentally, if the robots ever do come for us, the fact that we make incredibly sophisticated pieces of software and hardware carry this kind of self important drivel is likely to be high on the list of indictments.)

The problem with these arguments is that they're speculative and unprovable either way. We'll never know if Sanders would've beaten Trump the same way we'll never know the precise reasons Clinton fell critically short in a few unexpected states.

It's like a family argument about a long ago incident that can never be settled. Did Uncle Bert deliberately spill Aunt Helen's soup, or did he slip? That Hot Wheels car was on the floor, but whose kid left it there? Nobody's ever going to agree, and analyzing this stuff like it's the Zapruder film won't change the fact that the soup hit the deck. Meanwhile, we're all still in this together.

I understand that people are grieving over Trump's win, still in shock to a certain extent, still uncertain just how awful things are about to become. (Spoiler: very^10 awful.) Relitigating an old intra-Blue feud can be cathartic when the alternative is facing the Red nightmare to come. But there's no practical benefit to it. Consider:

  • Neither Clinton nor Sanders is going to be on the ballot in 2020: Sanders will be pushing 80, and Clinton isn't going to get a third crack at this even if she wanted one.
  • Nor will there be an obvious "heir" to either of them: Clinton was a unique political creature, a former First Lady and the head of the political machine she and her husband built. Sanders was also a unique political creature, an independent Senator from Vermont with limited formal ties to the Democratic Party. Nobody like either of them is in the pipeline.
  • Finally, there will undoubtedly be some kind of "left-center" divide - there always is - but it's not going to be anything like the one this year: Is the lesson you want to draw that the Democrats need a candidate who can better appeal to Polling Tested Issue X? Or one who knows how to energize Base Voter Group Y? All of those arguments will get tossed into a sack and scrambled around depending on the candidates, their relative fundraising abilities, personalities, and support groups.

To illustrate how meaningless all of this is, let's recall 2004, the last time the Democrats fell to recriminations over a failed White House campaign. John Kerry eventually won the nomination on "electability" grounds, but there were plenty of Howard Dean supporters who thought he got a raw deal from the DNC and the press. (Remember, this was when even using the word "insurgents" to describe the Iraqis fighting our troops was considered controversial and politicizing.) Would Dean have won? Or even just done better? It doesn't matter, and it certainly didn't hold any lessons for 2008, by which time the Iraq War and Bush the Younger himself had both become politically toxic.

Bernie supporters are always going to wonder, "what if?" just as Clinton supporters are always going to believe that she was the best option in what turned out to be a very tough year. Each side has staked out its positions, neither can ever be proven, and that's okay. Changing someone's mind on this isn't worth ten seconds of effort, much less days on end of Twitter fights and bitter recriminations.

We've all got to vent post-Trump. There's no point doing so at our own side.

Worst Case Scenario

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 22 Nov 2016 - 10:48

After lunch, can I whip you?, Nope., Aw, no fair.

"My life can't get any worse." - Homer Simpson
"Homer Simpson, report for Much Worse duties." - Mr. Smithers
"D'oh!" - Homer Simpson

It has been two weeks since Donald John Trump was elected President of these United States. In that time I have started and abandoned about a dozen blog posts attempting to say something meaningful about it. These serial failures are made even more frustrating since I am under no illusion that anyone but me cares what I say on the internet. In other words, I can't even organize my thoughts internally, nevermind coming up with some semi-insightful puffery for other people. For me to be unable to profoundly bullshit is like a sprinter forgetting how to run or a violin guy forgetting how to violin.

Every time I try to wrap my thinking around the vast damage of last week's result, I find myself chasing some specific thread to unfathomably dark conclusions. For example, Trump is going to put Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III in charge of the Justice Department. Not only is the man dimmer than a basement lightbulb, he's also an unreconstructed (<- see what I did there?) bigot, a holdover model from the '53 line of Polite Southern Assholes. He hates black people voting the way drunken Little League dads hate umpires: he's convinced he's being cheated, he just can't say why in public.

The implications of this are so far reaching as to disappear beyond the shit horizon. Not only are we going to have a Justice Department that doesn't bother to enforce what's left of the Voting Rights Act; we're going to have one that actively turns the bottomless pit of federal resources against it. This will prevent countless Americans from voting in elections from President to Sewer Commissioner. On top of that, defeats and legal intimidation will discourage and disempower whole crops of future Democratic politicians and office holders. Oh, and Sessions is going to be in charge of the racist Drug War, the even more racist War on Terror, and the slap-on-the-wrist kabuki that is the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hooray.

Things are no rosier elsewhere: a Labor Department that works for the bosses, a State Department filled with cronies who wouldn't know how to negotiate a grade school lunch room trade, a Department of Health and Human Services that views medical care as a luxury and birth control as a sin. Bush the Younger's Administration demonstrated how a years long slow-down strike built on sustained incompetence could cripple the federal government ("Heckuva job, Brownie!"), and we are now in for far worse.

I could go on, but the inescapable conclusion is that any attempt to catalog or predict the horrors to come is doomed to overwhelmingly incompleteness. (And that's without even mentioning the retch inducing rulings a Trump packed Supreme Court will make.) The only thing we know for sure is that it's going to be bad, as in "pine for the days of Bush the Younger" bad.

Nor am I heartened by anti-Trump protests, conscientious Broadway cast members, or people on Twitter chanting "This. Is. Not. Normal." every time Trump and his henchmen announce another terrible appointee or nakedly feather their own nest. It's nice to see, but that pompous dipshit and his cronies are going to be in power for four years at a minimum, and the politics of total opposition simply cannot be sustained for that length of time, not in the face of bills to pay, kids to pick up from school, and fun new shows on Netflix. Day to day life will always take precedent over politics, and the toilet in the upstairs bathroom is still running after you flush.

(Besides, the overpaid hacks who command the biggest media outlets and audiences haven't exactly covered themselves in glory recently. They're far more likely to adopt a profitable go-along-get-along attitude towards the new Administration than the antagonistic one the country so desperately needs. Trump's evil deeds will go unseen by all but the most dedicated newshounds.)

The only meaningful consolation at this point is that, legislatively, the 2020 election is more important than the 2016 election. (Like I said, I'm not even thinking about the Supreme Court.) The 2010 REDMAP gerrymander will be at its weakest, the 2020 redistricting will be on tap, and the Democrats will have their best shot at unified federal government since 2008. But that's four years from now, four years of increased carbon emissions, looser regulation of Wall Street, and god knows what else.

We are so screwed.

It's Gonna Get So Much Worse

Submitted by Charlie on Wed 09 Nov 2016 - 04:58

"There's three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!" - Max Power
"Isn't that the wrong way?" - Bart Simpson
"Yeah, but faster!" - Max Power

First things first: I was wrong. Between the polls, the "fundamentals" (decent economy, popular incumbent), and the fact that Trump was running a disastrous looking campaign both up front (scandal after scandal) and in back (no discernible ground game), Trump 2016 looked set for a catastrophic election night. Twas not to be.

It is no consolation that I have a lot of company. Nate Silver of 538 was taking a lot of heat the last few days for daring to suggest that Trump was only *very likely* to lose, and not *certain* to lose. He was wrong too, just less wrong than many of his competitors.

But enough of that. There will be finger pointing a plenty and it will take weeks or longer before there's a coherent tale to tell about just how Donald J. Trump pulled off this most improbable of electoral victories. That won't stop the same pundits who got this so comprehensively wrong from opining, of course. But even the most sober and analytic takes right now are guesswork, and there's plenty of blame to go around.

What we do know is that Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States. He is going to appoint at least one Supreme Court Justice and possibly more. He is going to have Republican majorities in both houses of Congress that will send him all kinds of right wing dream legislation from upper class tax cuts to repealing Obamacare to defunding PBS and Planned Parenthood. Maybe they'll finally do away with the Department of Education just for fun. Assuming the Republicans eliminate the filibuster (which everyone expects them to do, not that "everyone" has a great track record of predictions of late), it's going to be open season.

In terms of foreign policy, it's really anyone's guess. Trump himself seems basically uninterested, and the Republican Party isn't exactly short of foreign policy "experts" who will be happy to bend his ear about what to do in various parts of the world. The viziers will be running things, and which ones he takes a shine to will have huge consequences for the world. If we're lucky, he'll pick guys (and it will be guys, let's not kid ourselves) who won't rock the boat too badly. If we're not lucky, we'll be bombing Syria before spring and NATO will be a memory by next winter.

The most likely outcome is a repeat of the rolling degradation of America that was the Bush the Younger Administration. The Super Bowl will still be held. Blockbuster movies will continue to fill the multi-plexes. Cable news will yammer about nothing most days. Beneath the surface, however, the country will erode.

Like Bush the Younger, Trump has no reality based solutions to the problems that afflict our country. His plans amount to little more than the usual Republican litany of tax cuts for the rich and friendlier government oversight of big business. The Republican Congress isn't going to let him depart from that in any but the most superficial ways. It'll be the same old Republican fantasies about personal responsibility paying for medical care, fewer regulations bringing manufacturing jobs back, and lower taxes on rich people making the economy boom. None of it has worked before, and there's no reason to think any of it will work now.

The economy will become more concentrated in the hands of those who already have more than they can spend. The laws and democratic norms that keep this giant nation together will be flouted in ways that would've been scandalous and are now merely routine. The gap between the daily, lived experiences of white Americans and brown Americans will expand. The seas will rise faster than they otherwise would have. And those are just the real problems. The not real problems, things like having to press 1 for English when you call your cable company, will also continue.

And that's the real flaw in Donald Trump: he's full of shit and he cannot deliver on his promises. He promised to fix everything, yet will be unable to fix anything. He has bad solutions for real problems, and imaginary solutions to non problems. And as he spends the next four years presiding over a worsening reality, real people - people who voted for him - will continue to get squeezed and angry.

Where things go from there? Who knows? The one thing we can say for certain is that the real pain that propelled Trump this far will still be with us in 2018, and 2020, and the damage he does in the meantime will take a long time to repair.

Election 2016: Gwyneth's Head In A Box

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 08 Nov 2016 - 08:40

Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt Discuss Donaly Trump

"From the stench, it's obvious he's been dead for several hours. The deceased appears to be about seventy years old." - Coroner
"I've been declared dead by better coroners than you!" - Jay Sherman

There's a great scene in Se7en where Morgan Freeman (the old, jaded homicide detective) and Brad Pitt (the young, eager homicide detective) are looking at grisly crime scene photos together. Freeman tells Pitt:

"Let's take a fresh look at these. Even though the corpse is there, look through it. Edit out the initial shock. The trick is to find one item, one detail, and focus on it until it's an exhausted possibility."

Pitt sensibly responds by getting himself a beer, which everyone who's been covering or following this year's election easily deserves by now. But the advice to see through the horror in order to concentrate on something real and possibly meaningful rings true.

Donald Trump is going to lose. This has been apparent since at least summer if not earlier. For all the blaring headlines and overhyped poll fluctuations since then, Clinton has always held a lead, usually between 3-5 points. It is not as large a lead as those of us who fear a Trump presidency would like, but polling-wise it's been the least close election since 1996. Even the doomed McCain campaign pulled into a slight (if brief) lead in the immediate afterglow of the Republican convention. Trump couldn't even manage that.

Yet Trump has still provided a horrorshow, every bit as gory as uncensored homicide photos. He's mainstreamed white supremacy (a/k/a the alt-right, or "white nationalism"). He's called for his opponent to be jailed. He's threatened the press. He's tacitly admitted to serial sexual assault. And he lies at a speed so breakneck that even the age of social media and instant reaction can barely keep up with him. But to understand 2016, you have to edit out that shock and look through all that.

The scariest thing about a Trump Administration isn't Trump himself or whatever chintzy antics he'd bring to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (gold rimmed toilet in the Roosevelt Room anyone?, stripper poles on the South Lawn?). The scariest thing about Trump is the legislation he'd sign.

(Sure he'd also illegally turn the federal government against his enemies, but Bush the Younger was no slouch in that department. Let's not forget that his Administration tortured people for political purposes, fired independent prosecutors for not indicting enough Democrats, and even put a guy who denies the Big Bang in charge of NASA. Trump would undoubtedly be worse, but it'd be a difference of degree, not kind.)

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have a whole host of things they'd push under his pen, everything from revoking health insurance from millions of Americans to taking food from poor children. And then there's the tax cuts: yuge ones that would let every millionaire in America get a bigger yacht and every billionaire get a bigger jet while hospitals close, schools crumble, and poor people literally die.

Trump wouldn't do that on his own or because he's uniquely evil or dangerous. (Given all he's said, it's doubtful he could even name more than two or three federal agencies.) No, Trump would do that because those have been the stated goals of the Republican Party for a generation and longer.

Since the 2000 campaign, the Republican Party has shorn itself of all distractions to concentrate on only one (1) goal and only one (1) means of achieving it. The goal is lowering taxes for the rich. The means is stoking white people's fear. That's it.

Trump is the purest distillation of both yet seen (a fascistic white guy who doesn't pay any taxes), but he didn't come from nowhere. And tomorrow, after he's been soundly defeated, the Republican Party will still exist, will still have the same goal, and will still have the same method of realizing it.

That's the one thing. That's the exhausted detail underlying all the lies, grotesque statements, and self aggrandizement. 

After 2012, the Republican Party famously conducted an "autopsy" on itself. The conclusion was that stoking white fear was a losing electoral strategy (at least on the Presidential level, it still works great lower down). It won bigly in 1980, but it only won narrowly in 2004, and it was an increasingly loser proposition.

Perhaps they will write another autopsy, and perhaps they'll focus on keeping unqualified non-politicians away from their nomination. But the Republican Party can't change.

Whether it's voices in their head, God telling them what to do, or just wealthy donors who will excommunicate anyone who dares suggest anything but tax cuts, they're stuck with who they are. They are the party of rich people. They are the party of white people. And American is going the other way.

Donald Trump changes none of that. If you doubt it, see whether his absence dims their eagerness to demonize Muslim and Mexican Americans. See if his defeat cools Republican fervor for voter suppression. See if his humiliation shames them into allowing a vote on a Democratic Supreme Court nominee.

Tax cuts. White fear. They've driven our politics to this new low, and they won't be gone on Wednesday morning, or in 2018, or even 2020. To quote Se7en Morgan Freeman one more time: "It's just going to go on and on and on."

Why the Presidential Debates Are Always a Shitshow

Submitted by Charlie on Fri 21 Oct 2016 - 08:20
Obnoxious hooting and hollering

"The League of Uninformed Voters presents the Springfield Mayoral Debates, I'm your moderator Larry King. Now, a word to our audience. Even though we're being broadcast on FOX, there's no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering." - Larry King

There has been much lamenting and rending of garments over the low substance and feculent quality of this year's Presidential debates. Much of this commentary has focused on the nonsensical babble of one Donald John Trump, Republican Nominee(TM). And that's understandable. From substantive offenses like denying the legitimacy of an election that hasn't happened yet and promising to lock up his opponent if he wins down to trivialities like his constant interruptions and sniffles, Trump *always* provides something to talk about.

But the sad reality is that the 2016 debates weren't outliers, they were typical. The 2012 debates were just as vapid. The 2008 debates were just as irrelevant to what people actually care about. Go back twenty years or more and you'll see the same amount of style over substance, the same fact free and outright false claims flying out to tens of millions of voters. To understand why, please allow me three quick paragraphs of background.

1) After the 1960 debate that is widely credited with having cost Nixon the election, there were no debates until 1976. After Watergate left no doubt that Nixon was just as sleazy as he had looked on TV in 1960, the League of Women Voters came along and tried to rinse his stains away with honesty and transparency. They sponsored three televised Presidential debates and a Vice-Presidential undercard, each one hosted by a different moderator and featuring a different panel of print and television reporters. That first year, moderators and panelists represented the following news organizations: NBC News, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker(!), NPR, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Sun Times, Newsweek, and the Associated Press.

2) While not perfect, this system worked quite well. Substantive questions were asked on a wide variety of topics, and the panelists and moderators were mostly working reporters, not mega-bucks TV celebrities. The debates quickly developed into a civic ritual. Tens of millions of people watched them, and they became the one chance ordinary voters got to see their potential leaders live and unscripted.

3) However, the Republican and Democratic parties quickly realized that the non-partisan do gooders at the LWV had created a media spectacle that was beyond their control. And so, in 1988, they decided to tamper with this fine system and create the Commission on Presidential Debates, a front group that allowed both parties to shape the debates to their liking. The LWV pulled out, calling the new debates, "a fraud on the American voter" that would be, "campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions".

For a couple of elections, the kneecapped debates hobbled along in something like their old format even as TV gimmicks (no panelists! audience questions only!) gradually eroded the discussions. By 1996, the parties had neutered this once grand idea by completely removing the working reporters and letting all the debates be moderated by a single, elderly TV celebrity, Jim Lehrer of PBS. (He was so inoffensive that they let him do all three Presidential debates in 2000 as well.) No more reporters, no more tough questions, no more diversity of opinions or topics, just TV fluff dressed up as serious debate.

Yesterday, David Leonhardt of The New York Times published a list of the number of times different topics were asked across this year's four exercises in public futility. For simplicity, I've combined them into categories:

Sensational Stuff the Media Loves: 25 - (Trump’s taxes: 3, Trump’s molestations: 3, Clinton’s emails: 2, National debt: 2, Uniting the country: 2, Birtherism: 1, Cyberterrorism: 1, Clinton Foundation: 1, Trump Foundation: 1, Opponent's strengths: 1, V.P. nominees’ skills: 1, Candidates’ faith: 1, Candidates' low favorability: 1, Clinton’s paid speeches: 1, Basket of deplorables: 1, Trump’s tweets: 1, Clinton's 'look': 1, Candidates' behavior: 1,)

Actual Issues Voters Care About: 20 - (Immigration: 3, Job creation: 3, Supreme Court: 2, Social Security: 2, Taxes on wealthy: 2, Obamacare: 2, Expectations of police: 1, Race relations: 1, Abortion: 1, Guns: 1, Energy jobs: 1, Islamophobia: 1)

Scary Stuff Abroad: 16 - (Syrian civil war: 6, Terrorism: 4, Russia: 3, Iraq: 2,)

Important Stuff That Doesn't Fit a Category: 4 - (Nuclear weapons: 2, Election's legitimacy: 2)

Climate Change: 0

People care about different and less stupid things than the media.First of all, let's have a good laugh that there's even a category called "Trump's molestations". Second, let's remember that for the most part these questions have nothing to do with Trump as a candidate. This is what the moderators, who were hand picked by the Democratic and Republican parties, considered good and proper topics for discussion.

Now take a gander at the Pew Research survey at right about what topics Americans say are "very important" to them in this year's election. Even being generous with the categories above, we see that the moderators (and the "undecided" voter questions they selected) spent most of their time asking about things a majority of Americans do not consider worthwhile while ignoring matters about which the electorate cares a great deal.

Substantive issues like Supreme Court picks and Social Security got the same amount of attention as media trivialities like "Uniting the country". Or take Syria, a legitimate issue, but surely one that is not as important to the American electorate as Immigration, Race Relations, Abortion, and Gun Control combined. According to Pew, 40% of the country thinks LGBT treatment is very important, it didn't come up once. The "environment" is very important to 52% of Americans. It also got zero mentions.

Presidential debates have been a regular feature of our elections since before most Americans were born. We expect them, and we like them. They routinely draw ratings figures that can only be compared to the Super Bowl. And yet this sacred civic ritual has been surrendered to multi-millionaire television celebrities who ask about trivia. 

Trump is a disgrace, but he didn't bring the debates low. They were already as dumb as any reality show he's ever hosted.

If we want to make the debates meaningful again, we need to go back to having a panel of reporters from many different news outlets. We need to banish the Republican and Democratic parties from any say in the moderators or the questions. And we need to put things back in the hands of the League of Women Voters.

Donald Trump Was Right

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 13 Oct 2016 - 08:23

Harrassers and Rapists, Congress, and the Women who will hopefully deliver it to Democrats.

"Now I'm gonna grab me something sweet." - Dennis Franz as Homer Simpson
"No, Mr. Simpson, that's sexual harassment! If you keep it up, I'll yell so loud the whole country'll hear!" - Movie Ashley Grant
"With a man in the White House? Not likely!" - Dennis Franz as Homer Simpson


Since last Friday when The Washington Post reported the video of Donald Trump bragging about serial sexual assault to media sycophant Billy Bush, the political press has given itself the green light to actually believe women about stories of Trump's gross behavior towards them. There's been a reporter for People, countless beauty queens, a Florida local, a receptionist, and even a women who just had the misfortune to sit next to him on a plane. As of this morning, the flow shows no signs of stopping. (Slate is keeping a an ongoing tally. I hope they don't run out of space.) It is a category-5 media shitstorm and when the dust settles the gender gap in Trump's poll numbers is going to be visible from orbit.

Perhaps the best part of all this is that Trump is imploding at the most opportune of moments. Early voting has just started, and sober people are now saying the House might be in play, which would mean something other than legislative gridlock for the next two years. But as heartening as all that is, there's a horrific reality to face that goes beyond Trump's actions. When he said, "And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.", he wasn't wrong.

Donald Trump was fifty-nine years old when that audio was recorded, he's seventy now, and there are accusations ranging from harassment to violent assault going back decades. Bill Cosby is nearly eighty years old, and once the rape accusations against him finally gained media traction two years ago, women came forward in droves. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was sixty-two in 2011 when he assaulted a maid in a New York hotel, after which a small army of other women popped up with similar allegations.

For each of those women, there are probably a dozen or more who haven't said anything publicly. And for every Trump, Cosby, and Strauss-Khan there are hundreds and thousands of other men - "stars" in their own little worlds - who've also been getting away with it for decades on campuses and in offices. And for all of those guys, there are untold numbers of fameless men who have more money or power than whatever woman happens to be in front of them, everywhere. 

Despite all that . . . Donald Trump wouldn't be getting in trouble right now if he wasn't running for President. As good as it is to see his campaign and all the ugly shit it stands for going down in a Hindenburg sized fireball, amidst the glee we need to remember that this isn't about him. The attention that's caught up with him is never going to fall on most men who behave like him. For this to have meaning beyond next month's election, laws have to be changed. Social expectations must be raised. Above all else: women need to be believed far more readily than they have been up to now.

If the Democrats take the House next month, it will have been on the shoulders of all those unwilling women. And if they don't push for laws that meaningfully protect the bodies and minds of girls and women, everywhere from grade schools to board rooms, they will have committed an act of enabling and betrayal far worse than all the Billy Bushes of the world put together.

That's the deal, Democrats. If you win unified control of Congress because of grabbed asses and groped breasts, you've got to act to stop the Trumps, Cosbys, and Strauss-Khans of the world. Because if you let even this most eruptive of media volcanoes pass without action, you're just one big, collective laughing asshole on a bus. And then, despite his defeat, Donald Trump will still be right. Men like him will still be able to "do anything".


 

Your 1-Minute Presidential Debate Watching Guide

Submitted by Charlie on Mon 26 Sep 2016 - 14:09
TopNotchDebateCoverage

I've been mostly off the internet for the last few days, but having dipped my toe in just now, I gather that the politics geeks are in a near sexual frenzy over tonight's - ahem - debate. Herewith is your extremely short guide on how to watch the big show intelligently:

DO - Watch all 90 minutes of it. It'll be fun. It's a genuine national moment. And it's a good excuse to drink on a weekday.

DON'T - Watch any of the pre or post debate "analysis" on any of the following: ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, FOX, or CNN. Pay no attention to what anyone who lives or works in D.C. or NYC says on Twitter.

That's it. The debate itself will be watched by huge numbers of Americans, including millions who are either undecided or who are thinking about voting for a third party. Historically, basically all of those people will end up voting for one of the two major candidates. This kind of event will help some of them make up their mind. But those few persuadable voters 1) overwhelmingly do not watch political talking heads and "analysts", and 2) don't care about what those people say or think anyway. As the national media focuses on one or two moments its collective stupidity deems important, those people will be thinking about something else.

If you really feel the need to have someone else tell you what other Americans are thinking, try clicking over to something like the Toledo Blade or the Tampa Bay Times. Their reaction - closer to the few movable voters in states that will matter - count for far more than all the yammering from wannabe celebrities on cable and national news shows.

To recap:

1 - Watch the debate
2 - Do not watch any "analysis"
2a - If you must find some analysis, try a few local sources in swing states instead of the overpaid, blow-dried entertainers on the national broadcasts

Enjoy.

Some Thoughts on Trump Lawn Signs and Dialing For Hillary

Submitted by Charlie on Tue 13 Sep 2016 - 11:45

"Now, here's the problem as I see it. While Governor Bailey is beloved by all, 98% of the voters rate you as 'Despicable or worse'." - Burns for Governor Campaign Manager

I spent the last weekend biking around mostly rural Michigan and stopped into the Jackson Democratic office to make some calls for Hillary and MI-07 candidate Gretchen Driskell on Saturday afternoon. None of the below is exactly earth shattering or conclusive, but a couple of things did strike me:

- Lawn signs are a notoriously poor gauge of candidate support. A lot of the time people who get them are the ones who want to think they're "doing something" without dialing a phone or knocking on a door. Except in local races where only one side might even be able to afford them in real quantity, usually a lack or abundance of them doesn't mean anything.

That said, I have logged a couple hundred miles on my bike the last few days, mostly through very rural and/or very Republican parts of Michigan. Now, Trump isn't going to win our state anyway, but what struck me wasn't just the lack of Trump signs, it was the lack of Trump signs even in front of houses and businesses that are *filled* with signs. I didn't snap a picture of it, but there was a large, commercial farm outside of Jackson that must've had signs for every Republican candidate from House and state rep down to dogcatcher, and there wasn't a single Trump sign. I can't say for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that Romney and McCain signs weren't similarly absent four or eight years ago.

I have seen a grand total of six Trump signs so far, only one of which was accompanied by signs for any other Republicans. I don't know if ticket splitting is going to make a big comeback this year (let's hope it doesn't), but on the literal ground, a lot of Republicans are clearly keeping their distance from their nominee.

- There is a layer of Democrats that are *very* leery of Hillary. I was only making calls for two hours, but I got through to two people who were definitely planning to vote Democratic but were still talking themselves into Hillary. (I tried to help them along, of course.) There was another person who said he was only voting Hillary because Trump scared the crap out of him. And finally there was one person who was defiantly voting for Trump because he couldn't stand Clinton.

Those four people were a little less than half the total who actually answered, and the numbers I was dialing came from a Democratic call list. The rest were generally enthusiastic, including one young woman who was excited to be able to vote this year, so that's very encouraging. But the overall picture fits with a nominee who is unpopular but far less so than her odious opponent.

In closing, here is the yuugest Trump sign I saw:

The private entrance gate really makes it special.

Note the private entrance gate on the left. They fancy.

The Kids Are Alright (Older People, Not So Much)

Submitted by Charlie on Fri 24 Jun 2016 - 11:41

"I warned you guys. Seniors always vote in record numbers." - Lisa Simpson

The reactions to the surprisingly wide margin by which voters in the UK decided to leave the EU are rolling in. Other than shock (plus pointing and laughing at David Cameron's Upper Class Twit of the Century award), the most salient and undeniable fact is the enormous age gap:

Old People voted Leave, Young People voted Remain
Apparently, British Baby Boomers are just as self-destructive as the American kind.

That is a striking chart, and it's been given emotional heft by, of all things, a newspaper internet comment:

“A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said, ‘The British people are sick of experts,’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?” — Nicholas

That rather devastating paragraph - bleak and despairing of the future for poor people, young people, and democratic politics itself - has gone viral this morning, and there's no mystery as to why. Youthful disappointment and frustration are hardly limited to modern British politics.

They held a referendum on the EU's extortionist "bailout" plan in Greece last year, and after having earlier propelled the Syriza party to power in parliament, young voters went heavily against accepting the plan:

Younger people, however, are far more in favor of "no:" 71 percent of those between ages 18 to 24 support "no," along with 59 percent of those aged 25 to 34, according to polling firm Public Issue.

In Italy, the anti-establishment Five-Star movement is also highly dependent on young people. The same holds true in Spain, where old people tend to vote the past, and young people the future. Nor is this phenomenon limited to the Old World. Here's the age breakdown from the U.S. 2012 election:

Old people vote Republican, Young people vote Democratic (https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2012/)
Kinda looks like that Leave-Remain chart above, doesn't it?

That spread isn't quite as wide as the one in Britain yesterday, but it's not far off. And while generalizations are dangerous across countries with different political cultures, electoral mechanisms, and economic situations, there's enough of a pattern there that to simply dismiss it would be naive. 

Broadly speaking, older people (>40ish) across the representative democracies we call The West are voting in more right wing, conservative ways, while younger people (<40ish) are voting in more lefty, liberal ways. The Leave vote was against multi-national cooperation and multi-cultural societies and for nationalism and a return to some kind of idealized past. The referendum in Greece saw old people accept harsh pain as the price of returning to normalcy, while the young rejected the pain for the simple reason that normalcy had been of no benefit to them.

The list goes on, but the complaints are the same. Education grows ever more expensive, but a degree is no longer a guarantee of a dignified existence. Young people who never got a chance at a degree are even more shut out of anything that could be called a middle class (or even working class) life. The old social compact of follow-the-rules and work-hard in exchange for a decent life (i.e. peace of mind on matters of food, shelter, etc.) has broken down not just in Greece or Italy or Spain, but in Britain, France and the U.S. as well.

The causes of this breakdown are, of course, complex. But they're not that hard to list: the 30-year rampage of the financial industry, globalization shipping working class jobs far, far away, neo-liberal budget cuts and endless austerity, and the ever increasing gap between the Haves and the rest.

And, to be sure, all of those vile trends have affected older people as well. Pensions, for example, ain't what they used to be. The difference is in how each group reacts. Older voters go for retrenchment: make the previous system come back. Younger voters, who never experienced economically stable societies, go for change.

The problem is that retrenchment doesn't work. Austerity doesn't work. Banning immigrants doesn't work. Tax cuts for the rich don't work. Older voters everywhere are chasing a mirage, and they're doing so at the expense of their kids and grandkids.

What will work? Who knows? Show me a country that has a sustainable plan for reducing inequality, mitigating climate change, accepting refugees, fighting prejudice, and providing economic security to all its citizens and I will show you an episode of Star Trek.

What is certain - beyond any doubt and clear to anyone who's willing to listen - is that the policies for which the olds keep voting are making things worse. Last night, the youth of Britain got outvoted. This November, I fervently hope the youth of America won't be. But Brexit isn't the end of things, nor will our election be. Until and unless the day-to-day problems of ordinary people get addressed, these harmful and sometimes disastrous age splits will continue.

Yes, The Nomination Was Rigged Against Bernie, But Not How Most People Think

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 09 Jun 2016 - 08:05

"That game was fixed! They were using a freaking ladder for God's sakes!" - Krusty the Klown

Whatever one thinks of the Associated Press's troll masterstroke of calling the nomination for Hillary Clinton the night before the final contests, it's been apparent for months that Clinton had staved off the insurgent challenge from Bernie Sanders. Strictly from a numbers point of view, the only time it looked like Sanders had a chance was after he massively outperformed his poll numbers in Michigan on March 8th. Had he repeated that feat a week later on March 15th, he had a shot. He couldn't and that was it.

Plenty of Sanders supporters cried foul both before and after that happened, and not without cause. The DNC was anything but majestically neutral, and since each state has its own homegrown arcana of a nominating process, there were always obscure rules and unfair quirks that could be shouted about on Twitter or on TV. (Hell, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns themselves were often baffled by some of this stuff.) But weird delegate allocation rules (in Iowa, Nevada, or anywhere else) didn't beat Sanders. 

Sanders went down because Clinton cleared the field, and she didn't do it with any election night shenanigans in 2016. She did it House of Cards style, spending 2012-2015 working Democratic Party backrooms to keep anyone even remotely threatening to her 2016 bid on the sideline. It's easy to forget now, but for all the talk of the "deep bench" on the Republican side last year (which got quickly exposed as a collection of grifters and empty suits), the Democrats actually did have a deep bench that could've pushed Clinton harder than Sanders did.

The governor list is thin these days, but Team Blue has an embarrassment of riches in the Senate. Ron Wyden, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin (my personal favorite), and several others are excellent Presidential prospects on paper, and while a few of them garnered some press attention, none actually tossed in their hats.

Clinton's only competition from within her party was from one ex-senator and one ex-governor. That's astonishing and unprecedented. In a presidential election year with no incumbent (or even a VP incumbent), not a single sitting Democratic senator or governor sought the nomination. Nothing even remotely like it has happened since the nominating reforms of the 1960s-70s.

Instead of a thicket of candidates like 2008 or 2004, her only competition came from Sanders, who's even older than she is and wasn't a Democrat until last year. Preemptively clearing the field was her killing stroke, and she struck it before Bernie had so much as announced his campaign. The smoke filled room of yore has transformed into months of meetings in airy conference rooms, but the result is the same. Obscure and unrepresentative party officials and donors made the pick and presented her to their voters as a fait accompli.

There remained plenty of rank-and-file voters, both independents and Democrats, who didn't want Clinton, of course. Whether it's because of her Iraq vote, because she's a woman, or her coziness with the odious likes of Goldman Sachs, Henry Kissinger, and even Bush the Younger, there was no shortage of reasons to vote against her. She just made sure that the only alternative was old, white, and crotchety instead of young, black, and cool.

As with most things Sanders-Clinton, how you choose to perceive that is up to you. Was it a Machiavellian power grab that abrogated any real choice on the part of voters? Yes. Or was it a measure of how genuinely popular and respected Clinton is within the Democratic Party? Also yes. Either way, Bernie was doomed.

The questions the Democratic Party has to ask itself now are about whether or not it wants to keep its omnishambles of a nominating process more or less intact. Does it still want to privilege overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire? Does it still want to let each state come up with oddball rules that make the national party look foolish? Does it want to protect its prerogatives as a semi-private "party" when media technology makes previously obscure party machinery easily scrutinized by the masses?

These are not simple questions, and there are a lot of stakeholders who will want to pull one way or the other on them. But if the Democratic Party is going to rely on the votes and donations of the oft praised "coalition of the ascendent" for the next couple of decades, it might be a good idea to reform the system.

If they're going to allow a lone party stalwart to make herself the only option before ordinary people are allowed to cast even a single ballot, that's fine, but don't drag things out for five months doing it. And if they want to have a serious and fair contest that lets voters in more than just a handful of states have a meaningful say, that's probably better. But don't try to pretend that's what the current system does. Anyone claiming so looks silly.

Party nominating processes are not under any legal obligation to be small-d democratic, but in a time when it's becoming harder for a lot of Democratic constituencies to vote, further discouraging them from doing so by making the nomination a coronation is a plainly bad idea. The Blues aren't always going to have someone as buffoonish and incompetent as Donald Trump to run against.