Thursday, February 20, 2020

Where They Stand ...

It is early 2020, and we are embarking on an exciting new phase of our journey, a phase in which the "consent of the governed" has been deemed to have outlived its usefulness, one in which the country is run by he who is a self-appointed king in all but name. And Democrats are, true to form, doing everything in their power to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Granted, they aren't doing this alone. They are receiving a lot of help -- from Russian bots, from the Republican Party (which is investing in the same sort of disinformation campaigns the Russians employed in 2016), from trump himself. But most of the heavy lifting involved in losing what has to be the most winnable election in decades is being done by Democrats -- the candidates themselves as well as their campaigns and their supporters.

Of course, all this disinformation is useless if people are informed, right? I mean, one of the bedrock principles on which this nation was founded was that of an informed electorate. Unfortunately, thanks to social media, voter apathy, and deliberate propaganda campaigns, we are dealing with a woefully misinformed electorate (for example, trump supporters who are perfectly fine with the Affordable Care Act, but they don't want none o' that Kenyan commie Obamacare bullshit).

This election is shaping up to be the ugliest, meanest, most vile, most vicious election ever. Bet your bottom dollar that trump will be going after the nominee in all his fetid, adolescent glory, hurling insults that would not be out of place in a sixth grade cafeteria, and manufacturing crackpot conspiracy theories about how Mayor Pete is actually Caligula and he's trying to abduct Jared Kushner as a sex slave, or something.

Unfortunately, because of the impeachment debacle, trump now feels invincible. It is not outside of the realm of possibility that, should he lose the election, he will simply declare martial law, declare the election to be invalid, and install himself as the Provisional Military Governor "just until we get things straightened out" (or the Earth crashes into the Sun, whichever comes first). The only way we can do this is to not just win the election,but annihilate him in the election. We need to make the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972 look like a squeaker. He has to lose so big, so obviously, that there is absolutely no political cover for any of his cronies in Congress to support him.

Speaking of political cover, another thing we need to do is to create avenues for Republican lawmakers to quietly oppose trump without suffering too much political blowback. My gut feeling is that there are at least twenty or more Senators and close to a hundred Representatives who would like nothing more than for trump to go away, but who are in districts/states that tilt heavily toward trump. If we can make it safe for them to come out and play with us, we can get the kind of numbers we need and thoroughly undercut his support.

Finally, we need a platform. I realize this is usually revealed at the convention, but in past election cycles details would start to leak several months before the convention (which, in a staggering coincidence that surprises almost nobody, is right about now). What we are seeing this time around, however, is kind of a free-for-all -- sort of a progressive cage match where the winner is apparently selected based on who was the loudest. And it has to be more than "we're gonna get rid of trump."

By all means, that is important. Crucial for our survival as a nation, actually. But one political maxim that has rung true throughout our history is this:

People don't like to vote against things.

They want to vote for something, something positive, something that can be viewed as progressive (in the literal dictionary sense of "making progress toward a goal").

This election is not just about unseating a wannabe dictator. Thanks to trump's constant assault on common decency and our senses, we have all become inured to his bloviation, desensitized to his outrages. Things that would be scandalous in the extreme four years ago are just "meh" now. What we need -- from all of the candidates, and you can tell 'em I said so -- is a unified message, and it has to be more than "hey, I ain't trump."

It is also about restoring America's place in the world, and restoring some semblance of dignity to our political discourse. With this in mind, candidates need to hit on the following points:
I will not lie to you. There may be times when I have to withhold information for purposes of national security or political necessity, but I will not mislead you. This includes propagating baseless conspiracy theories.
Opponents are people, too. In our current political climate it is not enough to disagree with someone; that person has to be absolutely destroyed. I will always respect my opponents, their views, and their right to hold these views. To quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
My White House will be run professionally. People will be selected for appointed positions based on their abilities and experience, not their loyalty.
My administration will operate under a principle of complete transparency. I have nothing to hide.

Below is a table of the candidates and their positions on various issues. A few notes ...
  • If a square in the below table is blank, it means that the candidate has not been asked this question. If a question were to be refused by a candidate, this would be so noted.
  • I have attempted to group these in a way that makes some kind of sense. Questions are organized into higher-level areas of interest.
  • I used this Wikipedia page as my jumping-off point. Data were collected from this page as well as various news articles, position papers published by the candidates, public statements, etc.
  • This article is by no means intended to promote or denigrate any specific candidate (my preferences are specified elsewhere). It is merely a repository of information that I hope you find useful.
So, with that being said, here is some accurate information about the current crop of Democratic candidates.

I gotta lie down.
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Issue Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg Tulsi Gabbard Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Tom Steyer Elizabeth Warren


Tuition-free public college Community college for all Public college for lower and middle income families. Community college for all; four-year college for families making less than $125K. Community college for all. Community college for all; four-year college for families making less than $125K. Community college for all. Public college for all.
Student loan debt relief No No No Borrowers should be able to refinance student loans through the federal government and receive a lower interest rate. Federal student loan interest rates should be lower, and the federal government should not make a profit on student loans. Cancel $50K for those making $100K or less; "substantial debt cancellation" for families making between $100K and $250K; debt cancellation not treated as income.
Universal child care Free for all Free for low-income families. Free for low-income families. Free for all. Free for all. Free for low-income families.
Universal pre-k Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Increased funding for primary/secondary education Yes Yes Yes Yes

Environmental Issues

Green New Deal Pushes the decarbonization deadline out two decades from 2030 to 2050. No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Carbon tax Yes Yes Maybe Yes Yes Yes
Paris agreement Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ban fracking No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Ban offshore drilling Will pursue an international ban of offshore drilling in the Arctic. No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Declare climate change a national emergency Yes Yes Yes Yes

Gun Control

Universal background checks Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ban assault weapons Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gun buyback Voluntary Voluntary Voluntary Voluntary Voluntary Voluntary Voluntary
Require gun license No Yes Yes Assault weapons only. Yes Yes

Health Care

Single-payer No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Public option Yes Yes Yes Yes
Eliminate private health insurance No No No No No Yes No Yes
Import Rx drugs from Canada Maybe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Immigration and Border Security

trump border wall No No No No No No No No
trump travel ban No No No No No No
Support DACA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Allow more visa workers Yes Yes Yes Yes
Demilitarize US-Mexico border Yes Yes
Invest in ports of entry Yes Yes
Abolish ICE No No No No Yes No
Decriminalize illegal immigration No Yes Yes Yes


Reinstate net neutrality Unclear Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
CASE Act Yes No No No


Raise the estate tax exemption or eliminate the estate tax Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Postal banking to allow the "unbanked" to participate in the economy Yes Yes
Slavery reparations Supports a commission that determines what form reparations could take Supports H.R. 40, the Congressional Reparations Study Bill that is introduced in every Congress since 1989. Yes Supports H.R. 40, the Congressional Reparations Study Bill that is introduced in every Congress since 1989. Supports H.R. 40, the Congressional Reparations Study Bill that is introduced in every Congress since 1989. Yes Yes
Wealth tax No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Break up largest banks Yes Yes Yes

Labor and Welfare Issues

Minimum wage $15 $15 $15 $15 $15 $15 $15 $15
Universal Basic Income No Partial Yes No Maybe
Paid family leave Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Paid sick leave Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Limit right-to-work laws Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Job guarantee -- create full employment and price stability by having the state promise to hire unemployed workers as an employer of last resort (ELR). No Yes Partial

Foreign Policy

Rejoin Iran nuclear deal Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela Yes Yes No No
Israel-Palestine two-state solution Yes Yes Yes Yes
Aid to Israel No No Yes
Tariffs against China Unclear Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Meet with Kim Jong-un Partial (only with preconditions) Partial (only with preconditions) Yes Partial (only with preconditions) Yes Partial (only with preconditions)
Resume diplomatic relations with Assad Unclear No Yes Open No No


Withdraw troops from Afghanistan End of 1st term 1st year 1st year End of 1st term End of 1st term End of 1st term
Intervention in Syria Yes Yes No Yes No Unclear
Military intervention in Venezuela No No No No
Intervention in Yemen No No No No No No
Drone strikes Yes Limited Limited
Decrease military budget No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes

Electoral and Institutional Reform

Abolish Electoral College Unclear Yes Open (supports electoral college reform) Open Yes Yes
Abolish the filibuster Open Open Open Open Yes Yes
Adoption of ranked voting Yes Yes Open
Ban voter ID laws Yes Yes Yes
DC statehood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Puerto Rico statehood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Open Open
Restore voting rights to released felons Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Expand/reform Supreme Court Yes Impose term limits for Supreme Court justices, opposed to expanding the number of justices Yes
Make Election Day a federal holiday Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lower voting age to 16 Open

Campaign Finance

No corporate PAC donations No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Overturn Citizens United Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Publicly funded elections Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Democracy vouchers1 Yes
We The People amendment2 Yes Yes


Support the right to an abortion Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Contraceptive mandate (contraceptive costs covered by health insurance) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fund Planned Parenthood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Retain Hyde Amendment No No No No No No

Criminal Justice

Legalize and regulate all illicit drugs No No Endorses simply decriminalizing possession of all drugs Yes No No No No
End capital punishment Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Legalize marijuana Supports decriminalization at federal level, rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, and allowing "states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization." Partial Yes Yes Supports legalization at the federal level, but believes states should decide at the state level. Yes Yes Yes
Expunging records of cannabis convictions Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
End cash bail Yes Wants to reduce or eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenders Yes Yes Partial Yes Yes Yes
End private prisons Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
End mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses Yes Yes Yes Partial Yes Partial
Job placement for released offenders Yes
Decriminalize sex work Yes No Open Open

LGBT Issues

Equality Act3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Same-sex marriage Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Transgender military service Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Candidate Solidarity

Pledge to support eventual nominee Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes

1Each registered voter receives a number of vouchers for a specific amount, which they were eligible to give to any eligible candidates standing for election. To be eligible, candidates must have:

  • Already raised between $1,500 and $6,000 from a minimum number of donors.
  • Agreed to campaign finance restrictions, including accepting no more than a predetermined amount of non-voucher funds from any individual contributor.
  • Agreed to cap campaign spending to a determined limit.

2The We The People Amendment is a joint resolution to amend the United States Constitution to abolish the doctrines of corporate personhood and of money equaling political speech.

3The Equality Act is a bill passed by the House that would amend the Civil Rights Act to "prohibit discrimination on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes."

Monday, January 13, 2020

And The Reality Is ...

It has to stop.

It is becoming absurd.

All of this uproar over the Democratic candidates ... which one beats trump in a head-to-head poll. Which one is the true Democrat, while all the others are mere pretenders. Threatening to withhold your vote if your guy (in a non-gender-specific sense) doesn't get the nomination. Demanding that your candidate hew precisely to your view of the world, and if they don't then they are garbage. I have not seen purity tests this intense at an evangelical wedding.

So here's the reality.

The president's approval ratings have been in the low 40% range since day one. They may have wavered back and forth slightly, but have never gone outside the margin of error.

Republicans at the state level across the country are gearing up their voter suppression techniques ... the most popular being the on-the-surface-legitimate-but-it's-just-a-smokescreen tactics recently employed in Georgia. What they did was to send postcards to voters asking them to verify their voter registration. This effort is insidious for three reasons:

  1. These postcards are not sent to every district in the state, only to those districts with majority Democratic registrations.
  2. The postcards are designed in such a way as to make them look like your average, run-on-the-mill junk mail ... with the result that, conservatively, 2/3 of them will be thrown out. Which means ...
  3. If no response is received by a certain date, then that voter's name is removed from the voter rolls. Interestingly, this date is on or after the last date for voter registration. This not only means that, a) should someone be booted off, they would not be able to re-register in time for the election, and 2) even if someone is vigilantly keeping an eye on their registration they will be shown as being eligible to vote ... until it's too late to do anything about it.

This is our new reality, people. The Republican Party has ceased to be a political party and has become a protection racket, all geared toward keeping trump in office and making it progressively more and more difficult for his opponents to have any say in ... well, anything.

So, by all means ... root for your chosen candidate. Vote for him or her in the primary election. Just be willing to accept that they might lose the primary, and the task at that point is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- to send donald trump back to the egg sac from which he was spawned.

The thing is, even after he leaves office in January, 2021 (hoping I don't jinx it), trump will not get any kinder treatment. G. W. Bush, who was widely regarded as the worst President in our history until the Orange Staph Infection came along, was able to rehabilitate his image on his personal charm. Bill Clinton went from being a complete horndog to being an old, retired horndog. Bush Sr. was viewed as a serious public servant who, even if you didn't agree with his policies, you could see they came from a genuine belief that it was the right thing for the country. Jimmy Carter is widely regarded as being a marginally effective President, but probably the greatest ex-President we have ever had based on his work with Habitat for Humanity.

Unfortunately for donald trump, he does not possess any of the qualities required to be viewed as an elder statesman. Personal charm, a la George W. Bush? Nope. Smartest guy in the room, a la Barack Obama? Not even close. Public speaking ability that can reach even his most ardent opponents, a la Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan? No way.

As a President, he has been a disaster. As a person, a case could be made that he is even worse: good people on both sides; grab 'em by the pussy, "beat the shit out of 'em and I'll pay your legal bills." There is absolutely nothing about the guy that endears him to anyone. As a person and an ex-President, he is arguably worse ... but at least it becomes much easier to ignore him.

I gotta lie down.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Why Do They Follow Him So Blindly?

A friend of mine posed a question to the hive mind: is it possible to change someone's mind about donald trump? That is, can you persuade a trump supporter to become NOT a trump supporter?

The short answer? No.

The long answer? No, because of tribalism.

Regardless of your feelings about trump, it must be admitted that he knows his audience and is a master at manipulating that audience. His support has gone from endorsing a politician to something resembling a cult. He is able to tell these people anything and have them believe him. Not just believe him, but adhere to him with the same ferocity and devotion usually afforded to religious extremists.

In other words, if you wanna piss him off bigly, tell him that his tactics are virtually identical to those used by ISIS: relentless demonization and dehumanization of those you perceived to be enemies of the cause, demanding that his version of ... well, anything ... be accepted as absolute truth regardless of whether or not it actually reflects reality, and create a climate of unending panic.

So let's take a look at these three factors and see how he has employed them.

Demonization and dehumanization
One need only look at his Twitter feed to see this in action. Anyone who is not trump-approved is never addressed by their true moniker, they are given demeaning nicknames. Sleepy Joe (Biden). Crazy Nancy (Pelosi). Crooked Hillary (Clinton). Lyin' Chuck (Schumer). As tempting as it is to dismiss these as nothing more than infantile insults, they are really shaping a narrative in the minds of his followers: that these people are all "less than" in some form or fashion and therefore can be dismissed as being unserious in some way.

What is surprising about this is just how malleable and fluid all this is. Recall during the 2016 election, trump launched attacks against Ted Cruz (who was at that point a front-runner for the Presidential nomination): he was given an diminutive appellation ("Lyin' Ted"); he disseminated a (completely baseless) conspiracy theory that Cruz's father had actually been involved with the Kennedy assassination; he attacked Heidi Cruz for, essentially, being less attractive than Melania (purely subjective ... I'm sure Ted thinks his wife is gorgeous). Fast forward to the present, and Cruz is one of trump's most ardent defenders in the Senate -- despite calling him a classless bully on the campaign trail -- and trump views him as a loyal consigliere.

Strange bedfellows, and all that.

The approach used by trump, and the approach that is embraced uncritically by his followers, is that anyone who opposes him is less than human and is therefore fair game for any sort of attack. Where this becomes a problem is that his followers can take this to extremes (the Charlottesville attacks being the most public example), and he will give either implicit or explicit endorsement of these actions.

Malleable truth
During the vice-presidential debate in 2016 between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine (and yes, I actually had to look that up; shows how memorable he was), Pence was asked by the moderator how he would respond to trump's characterizations of Mexicans as "rapists, bringing crime, bringing drugs." Pence's response?

"He never said that."

Even though there was a video record of trump saying precisely those words, his followers accepted Pence's statement as undeniable truth ... and (often successfully) shouted down and bullied anyone who would dare contradict this.

This sort of denial of reality in favor of the leader's preferred opinion of it is but one indicator of the fierce tribalism present among trump's supporters. It has become a part of the identity of his adherents: they are trump supporters. Not in action or words, but in being. It is not enough to for one to say that they support trump, or to attend a rally here and there, or even to vote for him. In order to be part of the tribe, one must accept his version of the truth, his vision of reality, without question ... even merely postulating an alternative is enough to be branded an outcast, one of the "deep state."

Constant panic
A common refrain heard from the trump universe is that someone "not trump" is going to take away/destroy/invalidate something dear to his supporters. The actual "what" of this changes on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, based on the whims of trump himself, but the pattern holds regardless. Democrats are going to take away your guns. Liberals are trying to take away Christmas. Illegal immigrants are stealing your jobs. None of these are objectively true, but in trump's world truth doesn't matter as much as effectiveness... in this case, agitating his supporters enough to get behind his latest cause du jour.

In the past couple of months it has been impeachment. During the hearings in front of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican members did not ask any substantive questions. Instead, they attempted to follow the trump playbook: deny the wrongdoing happened, insist that whatever happened has been deliberately misinterpreted by Democrats as a way to "undo the election," attack the credibility of the witnesses; gum up the works with legitimate-sounding but completely baseless complaints about process. However, because these people are not donald trump and do not have his talent for reckless demagoguery, they ended up sounding ridiculous: Jim Jordan yelling the same completely baseless points over and over again; Matt Gaetz quite literally screaming at witnesses; Devin Nunes' bizarre and unhinged conspiracy theories.

All of these tactics are designed to accomplish one thing: keep supporters in a state of perpetual fear. The reason for this is simple: if they weren't constantly shrieking at shadows, some of the downright insanity of some of these things might start filtering through.

Take the stance regarding impeachment. One narrative that has been pushed repeatedly -- by Representatives, by Senators, by Fox News, by trump himself -- is that it was Hillary Clinton with whom the Russians were actually colluding. The way this line of reasoning goes is this: Hillary brings Putin into the election to rig it in trump's favor, causing her to lose, thus giving her -- and, by extension, all Democrats -- the excuse she needs to impeach him.

Any reasonable person looking at this is going to instantly scoff, and with good reason. It is not often that someone spends millions of dollars, commits numerous violations of campaign finance laws, and violates the Constitution of the United States, expressly for the purpose of losing an election so that they would have an opportunity to destroy their opponent after he takes office. This line of (for lack of a better term) "reasoning" is so insane, so patently ludicrous, that it is impossible to conceive of anyone taking it seriously.

(Or, as an acquaintance of mine once said, "It's all bullshit. I could lose an election for absolutely free, and the Russians wouldn't have to get anywhere near it.")

It is a testament to the blind fervor with which his adherents attend to his every whim that there are over 30 million people in the United States who believe this is a valid theory ... and what's more, anyone who states differently is an enemy. Not a "difference of opinion," not an "opponent." An enemy. As in, "one who must be destroyed in a very literal sense." And it is because of this fervor that we have seen things like a trump supporter trying to send mail bombs to Democratic lawmakers, or the resurgence in white nationalist rhetoric, among other things.

To be fair, these incidents were outliers in and of themselves, but the fact that trump either did not condemn these actions at all, or mounted at most a tepid response, is very telling.

Unfortunately, for so many of trump's adherents their personal identity has become so intertwined with their support for him that renouncing him has become tantamount to renouncing the self.

Equally unfortunately, there is no easy solution for this. For those who truly believe in trumpism, even undeniable, concrete evidence of his wrongdoing (such as was obtained in the Intelligence Committee testimony) is not enough to sway them -- they will instead look for any possible pretense to deny the validity of it. Even someone like Gordon Sondland, who gave trump $1 million for his inauguration and is, by any other measure, a textbook supporter, is now part of the "witch hunt" because he dared contradict the account put forth by trump -- even though the account put forth by trump is almost complete fabrication.

So no, we cannot change someone's mind and make them no longer a trump supporter. There could be a videotape of trump beheading an immigrant child and urinating into the neck stump, with the entire Supreme Court as eyewitnesses, and trump himself could go on national television saying he did it, and he would not lose one whit of support.

It is more than a bit frightening that one of the only true statements trump said during the 2016 campaign (and, for that matter, since) is that "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn't lose any votes."

Sadly, this is as true, if not more so, than when he said it in 2016.

I gotta lie down.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Preparing ...

It's getting dangerous. Mike Huckabee is claiming that trump should get a 3rd term "due to the illegal attempts by Comey, Dems, and media , et al attempting to oust him as @POTUS so that's why I was named to head up the 2024 re-election." Republicans are referring to impeachment as "an attempted coup." Given this, what are the odds that trump will go quietly?

I'm willing to bet they are almost nil.

This in itself wouldn't be much to worry about. It wouldn't be the first time someone had to be "persuaded" to leave. The problem here is that he has institutional backing for this move.

The 22nd Amendment limits presidents to two terms. This amendment was introduced, and ratified, after FDR was elected for a fourth term, attempting to address the possibility that we could end up with a dictator in all but name. donald trump has demonstrated time and again that, in his opinion, rules don't apply to him ...and the Republican Party is doing everything they can to further this view. Consider that, in 1996, Susan MacDougall was sentenced to 18 months in prison for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions in a grand jury during the Clinton investigation. Yet dozens of trump associates -- from Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton on down -- have refused to honor a Congressional subpoena with apparent impunity.

It is becoming more and more plain each day that trump in particular and the Republican Party in general have become -- shall we say, "dismissive" -- of the will of the people they so piously cite -- when it suits them. They blocked a Supreme Court nominee for nearly a year on the grounds that "the American people need to be heard" despite that fact that American people had spoken very clearly in the 2012 election. Mitch McConnell, aka Mitchsky McConnellovich, has flatly stated that he will not allow any Democrat-sponsored legislation to a Senate vote. In the current impeachment imbroglio, Republican members of the House of Representatives are spending all of their time yelling about how unfair it is that we hold the president accountable for trying to get a hostile foreign power to meddle in our election and it wasn't Russia it was Ukraine and he didn't really do it and if he did it's okay because that's what presidents are supposed to do and what about Burisma and Hunter Biden and omigod HILLARY CLINTON?

The Republican Party is no longer an American party. They have become stooges of Russia and the wealthy elite, concerned only with lining their own pockets and the rest of the American people can go screw themselves. And if trump wins in 2020, they will have all the proof they need that they don't even have to pretend any longer.

If he wins in 2020, I predict there will be motions to repeal the 22nd Amendment. When these fail (and they inevitably will), things will become more serious. We've already seen some things: demonization of immigrants (which, not coincidentally, represent a major voting bloc for the Democrats) and minorities ("good people on both sides"). trump offering to pardon people ahead of time, giving them license to do whatever ("just beat the crap out of them. I'll cover your legal bills.") However, with a successful re-election under his belt and no need to butter people up for the next election, he will do everything in his power -- which, if the Republicans have their way, will be almost absolute -- to either remove impediments to a third term, or to simply declare himself king.

If this happens, then people like me are screwed, and we are going to have to get out of Dodge, and quick. Under the reign of emperor trump, dissension will be punishable by death. Loyalty will be rewarded with what amounts to table scraps ... just enough to keep the ants coming back for more. The national treasury will become his personal account. Tax revenues will be spent on making his life better.

Meanwhile, roads will crumble, bridges will rust away. Our education system, or what's left of it, will be re-purposed to indoctrinate, rather than educate. There will be a national religion, with all the major ones (at least, all the major ones for white people; the rest of them don't count) lining up to kiss the ring in the hopes of being given the rose. Jim Crow, always lurking in the dark corners, will re-emerge in the light in all its seedy, shit stained glory.

Legislation will be written and enacted by trump and/or his cronies, with Congress' sole role to be a rubber stamp. The Constitution will be discarded, possibly used as a bib by trump during a feast of hamberders and diet coke. The Supreme Court will become less the ultimate arbiter of law more of an inquisition into loyalty to the king.

Elections will start to resemble the "elections" in North Korea, where Kim Jong Il once claimed that, having won 100% of the vote in an election, this was proof of how loved he was. The fact that a) he was the only one on the ballot, and b) people were literally forced to vote for him at gunpoint ... well, those were just coincidences.

Power will become hereditary. donald trump Jr. will inherit the crown from his father. eric "bad Gary Busey impersonator" trump will inherit from Junior when the animals he is so fond of killing start fighting back. Jared will be ousted and Ivanka will be installed as empress, with an order to produce as many greedy, inbred babies as possible.

Oddly enough, Melania's role as the court concubine won't change that much.

I realize this article has been full of hyperbole, and very few -- if any -- of the things mentioned here are likely to happen. However, there remains a possibility, however slight, that they could happen if trump escapes conviction and is re-elected in 2020. This is why it is vitally important that you contact your representatives in the House and Senate and tell them that, if they vote to acquit, they are losing your vote in the next election. And if that doesn't work (and let's face it, with Moscow Mitch running things, that is highly likely), then fer pete's sake get out there and vote blue.

It doesn't matter if it's Biden, or Warren, or Sanders, or Castro, or any of the current crop of Democratic contenders. Any one of them would be at least ten times better than trump.

Hell, a rotted cantaloupe would be a better president than trump. Say what you will about the guy, over the decades he has shown himself to be a rousing success at lowering the bar.

I gotta lie down.

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Friday, December 06, 2019

The Problem of the Electoral College

Since the 2016 election, when the current president won the election despite a nearly three million vote deficit in the popular vote, there has been a lot of outcry on the left that we need to eliminate the Electoral College. To be sure, there is some cause for concern. After all President trump won the Electoral College with the largest popular vote deficit -- in absolute numbers as well as percentage of the electorate as a whole -- in history.

However, calls to eliminate the Electoral College are far too simplistic and open up the floodgates to unintended (or perhaps "intended" on purely partisan grounds) consequences. To begin with, if the Electoral College is simply eliminated and we rely purely on the popular vote, it's a safe bet that no Republican will hold the White House again for I don't know how many years due to the fact that, according to voter rolls, there are simply more Democrats than Republicans. And while some may view this as a salutary situation, it actually is doing nothing more than taking the pendulum that is at one extreme and pushing it to the other as well as doing nothing to address the increasing, nearly paralyzing, polarization that exists in this country.

There has also been a lot of agitation, mostly from the left, about disparity in Congressional representation. The common example used is that Wyoming has only one Representative and two Senators to represent 579,315 people (note: all population numbers used in this articles are 2017 estimates obtained from the United States Census Bureau) people, whereas California has 53 Representatives and two Senators to represent 39,536,653 million people, or roughly one Representative for 745,974 Californians. However, for a true illustration one need only to look at Rhode Island and Montana, the two states at the extreme ends of the representation spectrum.

Rhode Island has two Representatives, representing a total population of 1,059,639 people, or 529,819 people for each Representative. Compare that to Montana, which has a population that is nearly identical (1,050,493, a difference of only 9,146 people) yet only has one Representative.

The reason this situation exists is because we are Constitutionally constrained to keep Congressional districts completely within a single state. This made perfect sense in the agrarian society of the late 1700s and early 1800s, when the vast majority of the population was spread out over millions of acres of farmland.

To give a sense of scale here, New York City has been the most populous city in the United States in every census. In 1790, the United States population as a whole was 3,929,214 and NYC was 33,131 -- 0.84% of the total population. Compare that to 2017 estimates of 325,150,000 for the country as a whole and 8,623,000 for NYC (2.65% of the total population), and we can see that cities have been gaining in influence. In addition, in 1790 the United States population was 5.1% urban, compared to 20000 (around 81%).

The problem is the constraints that have been placed on apportionment:

  • Each Representative must represent only people in his or her home state.
  • The total number of Members in the House of Representatives is capped at 435 due to the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. This was passed into law to address the fact that, if we had remained with the procedures described in the Constitution of one Member for every 30,000 people, we would have a House of Representatives with over 108,000 members.
  • Our current apportionment methodology is that of the total population of the United States divided as equally as possible among the 435 Representative seats, with a provision that each state is entitled to at least one seat.

Various other methods have been proposed, in ever-increasing mathematical complexity. And while these methods do address the problem -- somewhat -- they all far short of achieving true representational parity.

There is a single solution that will address both of these issues, and it does not involve elimination of the Electoral College. It will require a radical shift in how we apportion representation, and will also require that the functions of the two Houses of the Legislative Branch be redefined slightly.

Stick with me here.

The first thing that needs to be done is to define what it is we wish to accomplish. If our goal is to maintain partisan gridlock, then by all means we should continue on our current course. If, however, we aspire to make elections, free, fair, and more closely respondent to the population, then we need to take the following measures.

Eliminate "winner take all."
Under our current system, a presidential candidate wins all the Electoral College votes for a state, even if he or she only wins the popular vote by one vote. This servers to artificially inflate the influence of rural, sparsely populated areas of the country over urban areas ... or, to put it another way, it takes more votes to earn a single Electoral College vote in Montana than it does in Rhode Island, a disparity that can cause a candidate to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.

There are two states that do not follow this framework and instead use proportional voting: Nebraska and Maine. In these states, a presidential candidate gets two Electoral College votes based on the statewide total, and one Electoral College vote for each Congressional district in which he or she wins a popular plurality. Incorporating this approach in the country at large is a fairly simple matter in that it does not change how vote are cast, only how they are counted.

Eliminate the requirement that a Representative only represent people from a single state.
If we do this, each Representative would represent roughly 747,500 people (based on 2017 population estimates) while maintaining the 435 Representatives mandated by the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. For example, in the case a state like Wyoming, with less than this number, the Representative can "borrow" constituents from neighboring Montana to reach this number -- simultaneously bring Montana closer to parity as well.

Eliminate electors as separate entities.
In 2016, the following people were appointed to serve as presidential electors:

  • Bob Asher (convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and bribery in 1987; his co-conspirator, Bud Dwyer, committed suicide on live television a week before his sentencing by putting a pistol in his mouth and pulling the trigger during a press conference. He was 47 years old.)
  • Mary Barket
  • Robert Bozzuto
  • Theodore (Ted) Christian
  • Michael Downing
  • Margaret Ferraro
  • Robert Gleason (former chair of the Pennsylvania Republican party)
  • Christopher Gleason
  • Joyce Haas
  • Ash Khare
  • James McErlane
  • Elstina Pickett
  • Patricia Poprik
  • Andrew Reilly
  • Carol Sides
  • Glora "Lee" Snover
  • Richard Stewart
  • Lawrence Tabas
  • Christine Toretti (Republican National Committee member from Indiana, PA)
  • Carolyn Bunny Welsh (sheriff of Chester County)

Out of this list, the only person who is an elected official is Welsh, who was elected sheriff in 2000 and has held the office since.

By making the casting of an Electoral College vote part of the duties of members of Congress, and enforcing a legal requirement that they vote according to their district (for Representatives) or state (for Senators), we introduce a level of accountability that has not previously existed. For example, in Pennsylvania in 2016, the 17th Congressional District voted for donald trump, 53% to 43%, yet elected Democrat Matt Cartwright to the House of Representatives. Under this new scenario, if trump wins the PA-17 in 2020, Cartwright (who won re-election in 2018) would be legally required to cast an electoral vote for trump -- despite his personal feelings about the matter.

Obviously, this is a back-of-the-envelope idea, and I am sure that there is no shortage of flaws in the plan as it is stated here. However, it is someplace to start.

I gotta lie down.

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Overture, Light The Lights ...

There is gonna be a lot of ink spilled about the impeachment hearings. Fox News is going to parrot trump's line that it's a witch hunt, that it's illegitimate, and so on. MSNBC is probably going to argue that the evidence is incontrovertible and impeachment must happen.

I'm not going there. Instead, I want to talk about how the hearings are presented, and what individual members are trying to accomplish. Naturally, there are two broad camps here, Republican and Democrat, and members are staying in their lanes, but I want to address the style of these questioning sessions.

For the most part, when members are questioning witnesses in this hearing, they are not really trying to uncover the truth or elide information. Instead, they are trying to reinforce the points that have already been made. Unfortunately for trump, the Democrats have a distinct advantage here in that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is far more telegenic and clear-spoken than his Republican counterpart, Devin Nunes.

Consider today's opening statements. Schiff laid out what had happened to date, and what was expected from today's hearing. Nunes chose to read the transcript from trump's congratulatory call in May of this year to Ukrainian president Zelensky. Throughout the hearings, Republicans have been trying to shut down witnesses when they try to explain their answers, preferring to take a marginally accurate "yes" instead of a more accurate "yes, but only in these very specific ways."

The Democrats have a clear edge in terms of presentation here, and this has to do with the fact that ... well, the facts are on their side. The Republicans know their case is weak to nonexistent, and as a result we are seeing the following:

  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) interrupting Chairman Schiff to complain about being interrupted.
  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) trying to make the case that, since the military aid was eventually release, then there was nothing wrong.
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) loooking really confused pretty much all of the time and making the claim that publicly televised hearings are "secret depositions."

In short, these hearings are theater, and the Democrats are just better at it.

I gotta lie down.

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true.

In fact, I am taking a break from two very specific things:

  • trump.
  • Mitch McConnell, and the harm he is doing to the reputation of turtles the world over.

Seriously, my focus is merely shifting from arguing about Republican hypocrisy (kinda like being upset that water is wet, but whatever) and instead putting my attention on the Democratic primaries and the merits/drawbacks of each candidate, as well as more theoretical ideas in the realm of political science, economics, etc.

I am also trying to be more positive in general. On that note, since it has been quite a long time since I did one of my "Ten Good Things" lists, here goes.

1. I am grateful that my health is improving. After suffering a stroke in February 2017 I was put on blood thinners, cholesterol meds, blood pressure meds ... the whole bit. They left me so lethargic and drained that it was all I could do to get up in the morning. What made it worse is that I was also put on medication to deal with GIRD (gastrintestinal reflux disease) as well as antidepressants. This last "neurological event" (I covered this in some detail here) was sort of the last straw ... I decided I had to go off the meds to get back to a baseline blood chemistry. As it turns out, now that I am off all meds, I am feeling pretty good. I have much more energy (I remodeled a bathroom and built two flowerbeds in the past month or so, and I just started demolition on our mudroom for a full-scale makeover), I am not experiencing the digestive issues I was under the meds, and it is beginning to look like I may survive the year.

2. Turkey Hill All Natural Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. It's what's for dinner.

3. My lawn is rockin' this year.

4. The past year or so has been filled with people close to me losing one or both of their parents. Not surprising, given that we are all in our forties and fifties. That being said, I am extremely grateful that my adopted parents are not only still with me but just as active and engaged as they ever were ... more so, even (my birth mother passed away in October 2012, though, which really sucked).

5. Five and a half years later and I still really like my car.

6. I can now get Wawa delivered through Uber Eats.

7. Being able to work from home means I get to be here when my kids get home from school. Granted, they are now surly, unpleasant teenagers, but still.

8. Streaming "The Goldbergs" on Hulu.

9. My wife actually likes spending time with me. I know. Surprised me too.

10. Medical marijuana. Because of that, I am able to get a full night's sleep for the first time since 1983.

And on that note, I am going to get started enrolling for school. Don't know what my next degree is going to be yet, but it's gonna be a fun ride finding out.

I gotta lie down.

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Where They Stand ...

It is early 2020, and we are embarking on an exciting new phase of our journey, a phase in which the "consent of the governed"...