Category: I Hate Politics Page 1 of 7

Photo of a diagram of how grassroots organizing works drawn on large easel-size post-it notes at Howard Dean for President’s New Hampshire HQ in Manchester, January 24, 2004

On electability

Here’s another one of my topical reaction pieces—you could even call it a column—that originated as a comment or two on the Washington Post website. Edited 3/21/2020 because life.

Electability is specious and spurious. Many (maybe most?) candidates declared “electable” have gone on to lose – so what does it mean anyway? It’s a flawed second-level measure. It’s abstract, amorphous, and self-fulfilling. It’s entirely too cute.

Let’s keep it simple. Voters should feel free to judge the candidates on temperament, personality, platform, perceived effectiveness, and so on. (Maybe the media should encourage that.) True electability is only determined after the fact by the actual vote. The electability frame does not help us get the best candidate.

My suggestion to voters: Vote (and caucus) for who you most want to be President.

Electability will sort itself out.

Don’t overthink it. Vote for who you most like. The one with the most votes wins (your state’s nomination [probably]). It’s that easy.

The person who gets the most votes is the person who the most people want. That’s the only way to truly determine “electability.” It’s impossible to predict before the fact. Why else would so many “serious candidates” run?

Just vote for who you like best. Yes, there will be people who abdicate their responsibility to make a choice between bad and worse. That’s fine. As long as we end up with a candidate who is capable of turning out enough voters not only to vote against Trump but to vote for them in November, that’s all that matters.

I also wonder this. Why do people think that what would result from a Warren or a Sanders presidency would actually be what they plan? How has that worked for any President?

I’m irritated with the constructed narrative that the Democratic Party is driving people away because it’s too far left. It’s simply not true. In my lifetime, Democratic Presidents have ALWAYS governed from the middle. What is the middle, anyway? It’s moved farther and farther right as the Republicans have moved the Overton window over and over again. I’m thankful for our current crop of candidates and elected official who are proud social democrats or even (gasp) socialists. They’re moving us back in the right (er, left) direction. And, as polls have repeatedly shown, they are actually in the mainstream of public opinion.

People who subscribe to the electability argument apparently believe they can predict what is going to happen between now and November, or what the majority of the voters want, or who is going to actually turn out. They expect those of us who believe that there should be a social safety net and reasonably-priced health care (you know, like the rest of the civilized world) to settle for the “safe” moderate who will please no one and either lose or win and get nothing done. I reject that demand. How did being President work out for John Kerry? Or Hillary? The “safe” candidate is anything but.

We need someone who will inspire people, who people like. My belief is that most Americans don’t vote for President based on which candidate most closely matches their positions on all the issues of the day. They vote for who they like better.

Everything changes in the general election, of course. I don’t care if it’s Senator Warren or Bernie or Senator Klobuchar or Mike Bloomberg or Mayor Pete or Vice-President Biden. No matter what, I’m voting for (and getting completely behind) that person. Obviously I have a preference, but any of them would be better than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The fact is that the Republican Party is going the way of the authoritarian and, regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, the only responsible thing to do if you are a citizen who values democracy is to vote for that person.

I can live with incrementalism if it’s going to replace insanity.

Giving it away for free

Hi there. Happy 2020, a year that promises to be filled with a great deal of change. For the better, I fervently hope.

I am back, very nearly a year after losing my mom (see prior post for a very personal avalanche of thoughts and feelings about the person who influenced me more than anyone else in my life).

That isn’t necessarily what I came here to write about, though.

I have mentioned previously on this site that I have cultivated a slightly lazy habit of commenting on articles on newspaper and other websites. I get a brief hit of gratification from responding to news with my own unique and well-thought-out opinion. But, eventually, it scrolls into the ether, and probably no one else goes deep enough into the comment thread to ever read it again, five minutes after I’ve written it. (Except when I go back through the links in my commenter profile to see how many likes I got. Yep, I do that. Another penny dropped in the slot, another tiny dopamine gumball.)

What is the point of giving it away for free like that without building it into something else? Sure, for a moment other people feel like they’re part of a community, or maybe they feel like they have another enemy to despise. But if I were to only expand those thoughts a little bit into reasonably cogent blog entries and tweets, there’d be a lot more content on this site and maybe a few more readers.

Do I care about having readers? In a broad sense, sure. My original audience was 80% my mom and 20% the people I left behind when I abruptly decided to leave Madison in 1999. My new #1 fan (2011 to present) got a bit of a glimpse into who I was by reading the archives of this site and luckily wanted more.

Anyway, here’s what you’ve all been missing.

On liars, debates, elections, and brainless columnists

In response to David Brooks’s pathetic column “Moderate Mitt Returns!” I wrote:

Dear Editor:

David Brooks’s column [“Moderate Mitt Returns,” October 4, 2012] taking Mitt Romney’s debate comments at face value is either dangerously naïve or disgustingly disingenuous. When Romney didn’t think anyone but his rich friends were listening, he showed his true colors. He does not plan to work for the interests of the American people as a whole; therefore, he is unworthy of being elected President. Anyone who lies as obviously, audaciously, and frequently as he does should never be entrusted with that much power and access.

Sincerely,

Jason L. Gohlke

For the Times’s sake, I’m really hoping I just didn’t get the joke and the whole thing was one big winking joke soaked with sarcasm, like a nice moist piece of tiramisu. I don’t think that’s the case here, unfortunately.

As I’ve said here a zillion times, I hate politics. Right now, though, it seemed like a good idea to dash off a note, if only to get it on the record. Mitt Romney is too dangerous, and President Obama is just good enough, that I am horrified at the prospect of Mitt Romney actually winning.

That said, I had absolutely no fear that Romney could actually win this thing — after all, John Kerry lost because he got tagged as a flip-flopper, and Romney is 100 times worse, and a bunch of other reasons — until reading David Brooks’s steaming pile of electrons.

Established news organizations are so desperate for eyeballs that they (a) will do anything to keep the horserace close, since that keeps them relevant and (b) sensationalize as much as possible to get as much attention as possible. There’s also the big problem of liars being given the benefit of the doubt. In the gradual shift of news departments’ focus from investigation to entertainment, truthiness is as good as truth. And I don’t think the majority of the public — and worse, the journalists — can really tell the difference (or care to do so). The irony is that the entertainers (Colbert, Stewart, The Onion) are the ones telling the truth now, through satire and parody.

I don’t really think Romney has much of a chance. I think, or hope, Obama was using a bit of a rope-a-dope strategy (though it’s not exactly clear which candidate was doing so).

To be clear, my fondest political hope (which seems incredibly unrealistic) is for the Republican party to dissolve in internecine conflict after losing this election, for the majority of the “mainstream” Republicans to flood the Democratic party (moving it really not that much farther right than it already is), and then for the progressives to bolt the Democrats and create a viable third party with a kind of progressive/libertarian flavor that captures everyone’s imagination and ultimately gives real power to people fighting the corporations. That might not happen in my lifetime, but it’s a happier prospect than some massive catastrophe that requires us all to learn survival skills and start over*… or a continuation of the slow decline of the middle class that results in something very close to feudalism.

You can see why I kept my letter to the Times short.

________________
* (in my initial draft, I wrote “take over,” which couldn’t possibly be a Freudian slip or anything)

I occupy Oakland every day

Upon reflection, I find it wonderful that a movement of people is growing around the concept that the rich don’t pay their fair share (they don’t) and that corporations have too much power (they do). The Occupy Wall Street movement in some ways is exactly what I think is necessary.

From my perspective, though, here’s the sad thing about today’s “general strike” in Oakland: I have over 150 hours of vacation time, over 100 hours of sick time, and a floating holiday available to me. And I agree with the reasons Occupy Oakland is doing it. However, I don’t feel comfortable taking a day off in what is invariably the busiest month of my job.

This is my dilemma with the Occupy movement right now: The vast majority of the 99%, like me, are living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t feel comfortable taking the day off — much less spending weeks protesting in Frank Ogawa Plaza. And there are many people in far worse situations than I who are going to be displaced today here in Oakland.

It’s not as if I’m sitting on the sidelines. The reason I’m going to work today is that I want to help ensure the California Environmental Scorecard is produced on time, containing as few errors as humanly possible. The Scorecard helps keep California legislators accountable to the public for their votes on environmental bills.

I’m not a fan of politics, especially as it’s practiced in this country right now. One day is not going to jeopardize my job, nor is it likely to significantly delay the Scorecard. But considering everything I have to do for basically the right reasons this month, I can’t afford to take a day off to occupy my own city.

iPads, cash, and the U.S. government

I have absolutely no need for an iPad. Where it would fit between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro is a very small space indeed. However, being an Apple fanboy in general, I just read this article about the iPad’s total domination of the tablet market. One paragraph really stood out.

With its cash reserves — I’m sure you’d seen the reports than indicate Apple has more cash than our own government and now we learn Apple is more valuable than the 32 biggest euro banks combined — Apple could outlast all of them without breaking a ledger page sweat.

Oh. No, I hadn’t seen those reports. Indeed, CNN says:

According to the latest statement from the U.S. Treasury, the government had an operating cash balance Wednesday of $73.8 billion. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s less than what Steve Jobs has lying around.

Tech juggernaut Apple had a whopping $76.2 billion in cash and marketable securities at the end of June, according to its last earnings report. Unlike the U.S. government, which is scrambling to avoid defaulting on its debt, Apple takes in more money than it spends.

“We don’t let the cash burn a hole in the pocket or make stupid acquisitions,” CEO Jobs said last fall. “We’d like to continue to keep our powder dry because we think there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future.”

Offering Uncle Sam a short-term loan is probably not one of them.

Probably not, indeed. But the imaginative CNN writer offered another possibility in the lede: “Maybe the cash-strapped U.S. government should start selling iPads.”

Sorry, that’s all wrong. That would be silly! The reverse is a much better idea: Maybe Apple should take over all the operations of the U.S. government. Apple couldn’t do much worse, could they? I have more faith in Steve Jobs than I do in Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court combined, and my wild guess is that a majority of Americans do, too.

Should I start a petition drive? (No. No, I shouldn’t.)

You’ve gone and done it this time, Wisconsin Republicans.

Wisconsin Solidarity
Wow, Wisconsin Republicans, very slick. Your crap plan to kill collective bargaining (and a whole lot of other things about Wisconsin government) basically had the votes. But instead of waiting out the Dems who fled the state, you had to go and create a committee that met in violation of state open meeting laws.

Wisconsin state politics has long featured some degree of blatant corruption and/or powermongering (Tommy Thompson, Chuck Chvala, Gary George, etc.), but Governor Scott Walker isn’t anywhere near as savvy as any of those guys were.

Convening the hastily formed committee was clearly an illegal act. What fools they are to choose not to play by the rules and completely give up the moral high ground, especially when everybody knows they had the votes to eventually win anyway. It was an overreach from the start.

From http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dls/OMPR/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf (a guide to open meeting compliance from the WI attorney general in 2010) —

page 10:

The two most basic requirements of the open meetings law are that a governmental body:
(1) give advance public notice of each of its meetings, and
(2) conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.

and page 13:

The provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3) requires that every public notice of a meeting be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical.” If “good cause” exists, the notice should be given as soon as possible and must be given at least two hours in advance of the meeting. Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3).

No Wisconsin court decisions or Attorney General opinions discuss what constitutes “good cause” to provide less than twenty-four-hour notice of a meeting. This provision, like all other provisions of the open meetings law, must be construed in favor of providing the public with the fullest and most complete information about governmental affairs as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

Seriously, think about this for a second. What good cause could there possibly have been to create a committee and have it meet almost immediately? There is none. The Dems have been out of town for days, so the fact was that they just wanted to ram it through — that definitely doesn’t pass the “good cause” smell test (and if you argue that there was a good cause, think carefully about what your biases might be).

Maybe Michael Moore’s speech the other day spooked them.

Frankly, I’m amazed that this is happening in my home state. You know things are bad when even Wisconsinites finally decide enough is enough. To be honest, my (wacky and perhaps unrealistic) dream is that the next big progressive movement arises (again) in Wisconsin.

One guy’s initial thoughts: What conditions precipitate the shooting of Congresspeople?

I started to post this as my status on Facebook, but it was getting long.

I hardly need to say that I’m sad and angry that people are shooting at Congressional representatives and judges and children. I’m certain that our country’s culture of violence and cavalier attitude towards human life has something to do with it. The media, which have conflated news and entertainment, and politicians (and by extension political parties), who are increasingly disconnected from reality, bear much responsibility for where we are today.

I’m not sure how we as a country and as a society are ever going to grow up. I’m not quite naïve enough to believe that violence can ever fully be eradicated, because it’s been with us for all of history. I am still idealistic enough, however, to think that working to stop it is worthwhile. I think that starts with thinking of the people around us not as enemies or competitors, but as our brothers and sisters, people who are in the same struggle to survive and thrive as we are.

It continues by recognizing that the people who set us against one another, who have created this climate, do it because they have something to gain at our expense. (From kumbaya to overly abstract, I know, I know.)

In these times, I can’t help but think of George Washington’s warning against political parties (emphasis mine, of course):

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

(Relevant portions are excerpted and explained in this only slightly dated column from Harper’s Magazine, and the full text is here).

I have to say that I favor the actions and tenets of one party over another. And I’m not saying they’re equally responsible for what happened yesterday — using obvious violent metaphors in political rhetoric is inexcusable. Both parties have to be part of the solution, though.

And I know there are good people in the media, and in politics (like this guy); I really don’t know what happens to them on the way to the top. Maybe most of the ones that make it to the top are the ones who are willing to do anything to get there.

Regardless, this is a point at which I would like to see our country’s “leaders” take some responsibility, admit their errors, and call for people to be calm. Unfortunately, I expect to be waiting for a while.

The main thing I’d like them to say, and the impression I want this essay to leave, is timeless: Let’s treat those around us the way we want to be treated. Not as enemies.

Bernie Sanders’ 8 hour, 35 minute speech

Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT):

We cannot give tax breaks to the rich when we already have the most unequal distribution of income of any major country on Earth. The top 1 percent earns 23 percent of all income in America, more than the bottom 50 percent. They don’t need more tax breaks to be paid for by our kids and grandchildren.

Read the whole 124-page transcript here.

My thoughts on economic issues

[This is a draft I saved on 12/12/10 that I was going to add evidence to, but I’m fine standing behind it as is. Others have done the work that supports my glib conclusions. This is the Internet, after all.]

Okay, so here are the things that are indisputable:

The gap between the rich and the poor is greater than ever. The difference in real pay between the McDonald’s clerk and the CEO is larger than it’s ever been.

My generation is the first in this country to be worse off than the one before.

So I laugh when people say taxing the rich isn’t necessary, or is punishing them, or is hurting the economy. How is taxing people with incomes of $250,000 hurting the economy? THEY ALREADY HAVE MONEY. They will continue to spend money and make money on the money they already have. They can absorb a much bigger tax hit, but apparently they’re rich enough to matter. Meanwhile, a huge number of working people living paycheck to paycheck (if lucky enough to get one) continue to suffer.

[Edit five years later: that particular cutoff strikes me as a bit simplistic, since the cost of living for even upper middle class people has gone up; I guess the solution would be, you know, move out of San Francisco or Manhattan.]

The rich are not being “punished” by having to pay higher rates of income taxes. They’re participating in the social contract our forefathers agreed to. They have been “punished” at much higher rates in the past but they’ve sold so many of us Americans on how tough it is to be rich.

The “government” is us — the people — or at least it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately the ones with money have bought and paid for it, so it’s US who don’t enjoy the same privileges our parents did. I know it’s not that simple. But it almost is.

I guess civilization ain’t quite as civilized as it used to be. I wish there were more guys like Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone (RIP).

Thoughts on a three-page ballot (photo illustration)

Commons Comic: original image from Flickr commons

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