Saturday, August 29, 2015

Instant (over?)Reaction To Register Poll

Well THIS is interesting:

So we seem to have a RACE here.

Register.Selzer tend to trickle out info from these polls for a few days. Here's the details so far; would LOVE to see the gender crosstabs. Would also love to see another poll soon to see if 37-30 is a trend or an outlier.

So far this seems to be an identity politics election, because "move the party left" and "it should always ever only be about the ISSUES" is an identity, just as much as Woman President is. And in that dichotomy, it's hard to see a path for a Joe Biden (who I still think will not run) or a Martin O'Malley.

Hillary Clinton has a floor of support. There are X% of Iowans - at least 30% based on January 3, 2008, probably a bit more now  - who will stay with her no matter what.  Bernie Sanders has a ceiling of support. There are only Y% of Iowans - a number not yet tested in real world conditions - who will back an explicit left candidacy.

As a Deaniac in 2004, I remember the floor dropping out just before the caucuses. At the last minutes people got scared and flocked back to "safer" choices, and campaigns cooperated at realignment in an Anyone But Dean move.

The question is: Which is higher: Hillary's floor X (or XX as the case may be) or Sander's ceiling Y? Are they 7% more of Iowa Democrats even available to move his way? Are there enough places to expand the voter universe - a strategy only Barack Obama has ever won with?

The other question is: How does Team Hillary respond? Do they continue to work the plan as it stands?  Do they adapt by moving left on some big issue - Keystone and TPP come to mind? Or do the surrogates go on the attack?

The field of opportunity for Clinton is not the 30% already in the Sanders camp. It's the remaining 33% that's nominally with Biden or with the way short of viable other three candidates or which is uncommitted.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Iowa City Election Shapes Up Early

For the second consecutive cycle, Iowa City avoids an October primary, and the contests for the November 3 city election are set early.

Iowa City had a primary every cycle from 1993 to 2011. Some of those were hotly contested, but most were among the lowest key and weakest turnout elections the county ever sees.  For whatever reason, Iowa Iowa City City Council Council, more than any one office, has drawn fringe or self-starter candidates. Far too often we've held a city wide election with five candidates, four advancing, and one candidate clearly far far weaker than the other four.

Of course, changing the primary process is nowhere near the top of my list for changes to the Iowa City electoral system, but what do I know, I got zero votes for the charter review commission. We'll see what happens in 2024.

In the meantime, let's look at the election we actually have.

Matt Hayek's long-announced retirement is now official as he does not file in the at large race.  Yet there are still two incumbents running for the two seats, as Jim Throgmorton switches over from the District C seat he won unopposed in 2011. The retired professor also served a short term in the early 90s.

Mid-American's Michelle Payne, a narrow winner in 2011 over Raj Patel (his unreturned absentee ballots would have made the difference), is seeking a second term. Also back on the ballot is attorney Rockne Cole, who finished fourth but a respectable fourth in the 2013 at large race.  The newcomer is Tim Conroy, a young realtor and son of Writer's Workshop legend Frank Conroy.

Both candidates in District C are first timers: retired landscape architect and member of the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission John Thomas faces off with Scott McDonough, owner of McDonough Structures Inc.

It's doctor vs. nurse in District A. Rick Dobyns, godfather of 21 Bar, lost a 2005 race, lost the 2007 21 Bar race, won the 21 Bar do-over in 2010, and then beat Captain Steve in the 2011 Council race. He faces off against Pauline Taylor, longtime Democratic Party activist and one of the original organizers of SEIU at University Hospitals.

In the other early filing city, the Battle of University Heights seems to have finally ended. The surrounded enclave has seen four consecutive elections - the regular 2009, 2011, and 2013 cycles and a January 2011 special - with governor-level turnout and narrow margins. One race was decided by one vote and another by two.

The battle lines were over re-development of the St. Andrew's Church property - when your city has one developable lot and no direction to grow, it's a big deal. Despite the huge turnout and clearly identifiable factions, the elections produced split decisions until 2013, when the build it bigger group swept the build it smaller group for all five seats.

Appointed incumbent Carla Aldrich is running, along with elected incumbents Mike Haverkamp, Silvia Quezada and Jim Lane (who was appointed in 2010, defeated in January 2011, and elected again in November 2011). Virginia Miller is not running, and Stephany Gahn seems to have been recruited to replace her.

The only other candidate will be on the ballot as Dorothy Dotti Maher, because state law does not allow quotation marks or parentheses on the ballot. She appears to be a self-starter. Mayor Louise From is unopposed.

In retrospect, it seems the build it smaller group gave up after 2013, because the summer 2014 appointment of Aldrich did not prompt a special election petition, the way the late 2010 appointment of Lane did.

The Heights also appears to be tired of the battle. They're the last city in the county that elects the whole council every two years, but a ballot issue would stagger the terms and make them four years.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Accidental Fascist

It's always dangerous to compare stuff to Hitler. There's even a well-known internet term, Godwin's Law, that warns against comparing stuff to Hitler. It's meant to underscore the point that comparing relatively minor items to Nazi Germany both exaggerates the contemporary harm and trivializes the historic horror. There's also a school of thought that, though there have sadly been many genocides before and since, the Holocaust was somehow historically unique and it's offensive to compare anything, even other genocides, to it.

So I know I'm walking a fine line here.

But let's look at America today, specifically at the current, unlikely Republican frontrunner.

Donald Trump is a man on a white horse who claims he and only he, through his unique personal qualities, can save us from this mess. He is simultaneously buffoonish yet charismatic, hostile to the political system, has a ridiculous haircut, and relies on simplistic, nationalistic slogans. He's obsessed with who is and isn't a citizen, and yet promises to maintain popular pensions and benefits for the "deserving" citizens. And most of all he scapegoats an unpopular ethnic group and promises to solve the "problem" by making them... go away.

You know who else? Way, way before he had power, when he was just a nut screaming in a tavern:
4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.
5. Those who are not citizens must live in Germany as foreigners and must be subject to the law of aliens.
7. We demand that the State shall above all undertake to ensure that every citizen shall have the possibility of living decently and earning a livelihood. If it should not be possible to feed the whole population, then aliens (non-citizens) must be expelled from the Reich.
8. Any further immigration of non-Germans must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who have entered Germany since August 2, 1914, shall be compelled to leave the Reich immediately.
-from the 25 Points of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, as announced by Adolf Hitler February 24, 1920

Yes, the first step down that long and horrible road was defining rights in terms of citizenship and defining citizenship to exclude specific groups.

I'm not calling anyone a Nazi here. But it sure looks like a duck and talks like a duck and steps like a goose.

There's a more apt, and less deliberately inflammatory, comparison, but I had to get your attention first with the deliberately inflammatory Hitler thing.

The more apt comparison would be to the current European nationalist parties that, fueled by hostility to "different" immigrants (replace our Hispanics with Muslims) have grown over the past few years, outfits like England's UKIP and France's National Front and Greece's Golden Dawn:
When Trump leaped to the head of the Republican field, he delivered the appearance of legitimacy to a moral vision once confined to the fevered fringe, elevating fantasies from the message boards and campgrounds to the center stage of American life. In doing so, he pulled America into a current that is coursing through other Western democracies—Britain, France, Spain, Greece, Scandinavia—where xenophobic, nationalist parties have emerged since the 2008 economic crisis to besiege middle-ground politicians. In country after country, voters beset by inequality and scarcity have reached past the sober promises of the center-left and the center-right to the spectre of a transcendent solution, no matter how cruel.
I've fretted about this for years, thinking that this sort of ultra-nationalist party was lurking in our future, just below the surface, and that there was a niche in a Republican primary for whichever candidate took the harshest anti-immigrant position. But I bet wrong in 2007 when I thought Tom Tancredo was going to break out of the pack.

Maybe he was just eight years too early and a few billion short?

Folks like Steve King always stop just short of saying mass deportation, saying "enforce the law" but not elaborating. The target audience was supposed to put two and two together, and not quite say it. From Trump's Alabama rally:
Trump’s appeal to Leo Renaldo, is, “That he’s going to send them packing,” explained the 65-year-old, who drove four hours from Mississippi for the event, before his wife interjected, telling him, “Don’t say that.”
And I thought Steve King was smart in not saying that...

Until Donald Trump said it and immediately skyrocketed in the polls.

They say the arc of the universe is toward progress, but that's only if you project your graph into a trend line. Zoom in on the individual data points, and it looks more like two steps forward, one back, one forward, two back, three sideways and one forward.

And Trumpism is a big step back. 

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross. - attributed to Sinclair Lewis
This is only a little bit about Donald Trump the man. This is about an ugly undercurrent of American history, a thread that runs through the Anti-Masonic Party and the Know Nothings and the secessionists and the segregationists.  We're not immune to the disease simply because we're a nation of immigrants - having successfully genocided two continents full of natives who were not immune to our diseases.

I saw Trump a couple months ago in Coralville, just before he announced he was running.  Some of the rhetoric was there, including Mexico paying for the border wall.  But it was still taking shape, and mass deportation wasn't in the mix yet.

My guess is Trump stumbled into the anti-immigrant niche and, being nothing if not a brilliant self-promoter, he saw a market to exploit.
While most elite-funded and elite-supported Republicans want to increase immigration and decrease Social Security, a significant number of voters (across both parties) want precisely the opposite — to increase Social Security and decrease immigration. So when Trump speaks out both against immigration and against fellow Republicans who want to cut Social Security, he's speaking out for a lot people.
And the more Trump rides the wave, the more the ugliness is openly expressed. In promoting himself - which is still what I think he's all about - Trump has taken skinhead ideas, combed over them, and dressed them up in a custom tailored suit.

Donald Trump, of all people, has accidentally discovered American neo-fascism.

I don't even know if he believes half the crap he says or not. Doesn't matter. He's cynically speaking to the worst in us, rather than the best in us, and a lot of his new found supporters are buying it. That's what matters.

What is this, then, if not fascism
Anyone who is in the state of Iowa that who is not here legally and who cannot demonstrate their legal status to the satisfaction of the local and state authorities here in the State of Iowa, become property of the State of Iowa. So if you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you're still here, and we find that you're still here after we we've given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.
You know who ELSE had forced labor camps.

Trumpism has a special American flavor of course, seasoned heavily with anti-feminism and anti-"political correctness" and with America's unique attitude toward economic class that has working stiffs actually identifying with trump.

But it's emerging faster here than it did in other countries. UKIP had been slogging along for a decade and a half before their "breakout" to 13% of the national vote in May's election. But Trump has leaped to roughly that level of overall national support (take his close to 30% in GOP polls and chop it in half) in mere weeks.

Some of that of course is our celebrity-obsessed culture, and some of that is his deep pockets. And some of that is our systemic dysfunction... and that worries me, because systemic dysfunction is what allows fringe groups to gain a foothold.

The only good news here is that these ultra-nationalist movements tend to peak at about 20, 25% of the full electorate. (Trump may be polling close to 30, but that's just for the GOP nomination, so factor in Democrats and chop it in half to get 15.) Even Hitler only peaked at 37% in a free election, and if Weimar Germany had been even slightly more functional he could have been stopped.

So I'm confident that America will ultimately reject this sort of anti-immigrant ultra-nationalism. Trumpism will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

But these kinds of movements can hurt a lot of people on the road to their demise. Figuratively and literally:
So two yahoos from Southie in my hometown of Boston severely beat up a Hispanic homeless guy earlier this week. While being arrested, one of the brothers reportedly told police that "Donald Trump was right, all of these illegals need to be deported."
You know who else...
Trumpism has already shifted the rhetoric of the other 17,391 Republican presidential candidates. No longer is anyone talking about a comprehensive reform plan. Now the rhetoric is about taking citizenship away from people who already have it.

I'm not arguing that every immigration reform policy short of permanent residency and path to citizenship, which I prefer, is "fascist." There are reasonable points of disagreement within both parties.

But certain items should be beyond the pale, and the mass deportation of 11 million people would be nothing short of a human rights crime.

For the record. No. I do not think Donald Trump is Hitler, and I do not think all his supporters are der Sturmabteilung. Some people sincerely, if simplistically, think a businessman should run the country, despite the vast differences between business and government.  Others haven't thought through all the implications of mass deportation, or are just drawn by the larger than life personality.  And we can't forget that at least 3/4 of Republicans, to their credit, continue to oppose Trump, and while he's the leading first choice (easy in a 17 way race) he's also the leading LAST choice.

I don't think Trump is Mussolini or Generalissimo Francisco Franco either. But I do think Trump is America's Nigel Farage or Marine LePen, and that's bad enough.

While the National Front is still strong in France, the nation had a moment of truth in 2002. They have a two-stage presidential election system, and the main party of the left was eliminated in the first round, setting up a runoff between incumbent Jacques Chirac (by American standards an old school moderate Republican) and Jean-Marie LePen of the National Front.

The entire political spectrum, from the Communists to the near right, rallied behind Chirac with the goal of defeating the National Front as soundly as possible.

The structure of our system is different, of course. The moment of truth will arrive in the Republican primary process. But I think - I HOPE - we rise to that moment and remember what America is supposed to be about.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Catching Up On The Weekend

Most of my writing time this week has been spent contemplating a long, big picture piece that is going to have to be written very carefully, and by that I mean choose every word with tweezers carefully.

But a few other things have been happening through the week. Bernie Sanders wins points for a Godfather reference, saying of The Billionaire Class (drink) "Stand up and give these guys an offer they can't refuse." Despite that, Johnny Fontane will never get that movie.

So Jim Mowrer is in for the 3rd CD, and immediately picks up a whole slew of party establisment endorsements, sending a Train Leaving the Station message to Desmund Adams and Supporters.

Big Question Number 1: Can Mowrer match his fundraising prowess from 2014? Sure, he's built a good list, and he's a good candidate. But how much of that nationwide $ is going to come in without the magic line "I'm running against Steve King?"

Big Question Number 2: The Number 2 spot in the Iowa Democratic Party leadership opens up...

The Number 1 spot in the Democratic National Committee leadership is held by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was roundly heckled this morning at the State Fair for the relatively few debates the DNC is sponsoring this cycle.

I'm long on record as loathing heckling as a rhetorical strategy. (This explains EXACTLY why Hillary Clinton skipped the state fair soapbox.) And I also think debates are over-rated, watched mostly by the press and by the already committed. Critics point to the high ratings of the first Republican debate, but many of the viewers were tuned in only to see who Donald Trump was going to fire. I'm only half kidding, and the answer is Rick Perry.

That said, I'm not a Wasserman Schultz fan. She played way too big a role in the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign to be seen as a neutral and fair national chair at this stage of the nomination process. She also in 2008 was way too hostile to caucus states, to Iowa as First In The Nation, and way too defensive of her own state's violation of the nomination calendar rules agreed to by both parties.

(I'm STILL hoping to hear Hillary Clinton say something direct and positive about caucuses as a process, about Iowa's first in the nation role, and about us keeping that role. Then again, I'm also still hoping to hear Bernie Sanders say "I am a Democrat" or at least SOMETHING positive about the Democratic Party as an institution.)
I'm also deeply troubled by Wasserman Schultz's Israel First approach to foreign policy, which is increasingly out of step with many Democrats. Which is one of the problems with having a sitting elected official as chair: she's clearly choosing her district over the party.

I also understand, through experience on both sides (as a 2000 Bill Bradley person and as a 2012 Obama person dealing with Uncommitteds) that backers of outsider campaigns feel like the system is rigged to screw them. Which is exactly why I'm staying neutral.

And Debbie, dealing with hecklers by just plowing ahead with the planned remarks is not really the way to go. Look at Scott Walker: faced with cheesehead protesters (the BEST kind) he doubled down: “I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there.” Pro tip to John Kasich: Sorry, nice try with the Close The Teacher's Lounge proposal, but Walker already has the Teacher Hater Vote locked down.
Iowa City is named the 3rd Best City To Live In; obviously that Number Two Party School ranking has seriously damaged our reputation. Good thing we have 21 Bar to keep us safe.

And Straight Outta The D.O.C. (Department Of Corrections, which is actually what rapper name The D.O.C. stands for): According to Dr. Dre, the correct spelling is Deeez Nuuuts. Fo shizzle.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Way Delayed Wing Ding Write Down, I mean Write Up

I went straight from Wing Ding to a mini-vacation (last break before local election season), and what seemed like the center of the universe Friday night now feels peripheral compared to the insanity at the State Fair Grounds today.

So I'm inclined to stick with my initial, live tweeted take on events, but a few items are worth re-emphasis.

It was Hillary's night and Hillary's crowd, more so than the Hall of Fame last month in Cedar Rapids. That event drew an Eastern Iowa-Polk County crowd, and was close enough to the People's Republic of Johnson County that Bernie Sanders had a contingent that was competitive with Clinton's.

In contrast, the Wing Ding crowd was much more rural and much more Clinton-leaning. And not only did she rise to the occasion, she epic-trolled the naysayers.
She hit all the applause lines ending of course with
And in a new line (which will miss the newscasts because of an unfortunately timed coughing jag) she reminded the crowd that
The overall effect was one of confidence and looking ahead to the general election.

The luck of the draw seems to have put the candidates in polling order with Bernie Sanders second. Sanders in front of a non-Sanders crowd is always a little bit fish out of water, and he seemed to be drawing applause from maybe a third of the crowd. Hillary supporters may have agreed with much of his speech, but kept quiet about it. Yet they stayed in place, perhaps taking their lead from Clinton herself who, in a move so unusual that it had to have been on purpose to send a Taking This Seriously message, stayed in place for all three rival's speeches.

But the audience was willing to give Sanders credit where it was due:

 Sanders best new line seems to explain both his own rise and Donald Trump:
The audience departures began as Sanders finished, but it was only a trickle during Martin O'Malley. O'Malley's support seemed smaller than at Hall of Fame, and heavily staff, but the few were loud and were right in front of me. Also, though I missed it because I came in from a different direction, but reportedly O'Malley's sign war game is solid. (Interesting: Team Bernie seems not to participate in this meaningless but harmless ritual.)
O'Malley also wins the Work The Room primary, as he was on site long after the others were gone, shaking every hand within reach as he does.

Lincoln Chafee drew last spot, which was really unfortunate because the trickle out the doors became a flood. Even Loud Bernie Sanders Guy behind me was complaining about it. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton sat patiently and listened to Chafee, even though she was drawing more attention in the audience than Chafee was on the stage.

Which is too bad.

Chafee seemed unprepared at Hall of Fame last month and used less than half his allotted time, but Friday he was far better prepared and much more substantive. He should come off well in a debate, or in another cattle call setting where he lands mid-program.

But back to the frontrunners; Chafee mentioned the president too but before he spoke we saw this tweet:

I won't be surprised if the Bernie Is Not A Democrat card gets played more often in the near future.

Down the ballot, the night's big news was Kim Weaver's announcement that she's challenging Steve King in the 4th District. Weaver did not shy away from liberal issues at all in her speech, stressing her union membership and single mom status. It's a very different approach than 2014 nominee Jim Mowrer, who was no Blue Dog but focused on his military experience.

Gary Kroeger and Monica Vernon were on hand from the1st CD, but apparently Pat Murphy was not in the house. And Desmund Adams gave a brief energetic talk about his 3rd CD run.

Rob Hogg, "exploring" a US Senate race, drew an enthusiastic response. In the race for second in that primary, Tom Fiegen got through his three minutes without saying FEET, so I lost a bet, but he did offer more energy than Bob Krause.
But for me, the winner of the night was the venue. Ashamed to admit it, but as a lifelong rock and roll fan and a 25 year Iowan, it was my first visit to the Surf Ballroom, and I was not disappointed. Didn't have time to see all the memorabilia and the backstage areas were on lockdown so I didn't get the tour, but at some point I definitely need to see a show there.Not that last night's show didn't rock in its own way.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bernie's Big Strategy

Off to Wing Ding tonight but first, three interesting takes on Bernie Sanders and his strategy of big, Big, BIG rallies.

Andrew Romano notes the past roots of Big Rally as strategy, with a few self-deprecating digs at the hipsters:
I attended my first political rally when I was a freshman in college — a concert for Ralph Nader at Madison Square Garden. (A cute girl with an extra ticket invited me at the last minute.) 
This same factor also got me to very nearly dump Tom Harkin for Bob Kerrey in the fall of 1991. Effort failed. (Both Kerry's campaign and my effort with said girl.) Back to Romano: 
I remember a man who was vowing to fast until Nader, then a Green Party candidate, was allowed to debate George W. Bush and Al Gore. I remember stoned undergrads in “Bush and Gore Make Me Wanna Ralph” T-shirts.
No. Al Gore is not going to run. Neither is Biden.
I remember dyed green hair. I remember multiple piercings. And I remember a lot of older people — baby boomers who might have once been accused of smelling like patchouli but who now looked just like the conservative churchgoers you’d meet at Republican events.
He could have taken the history further back: the Big Rally was a big part of Henry Wallace's campaign, too. One difference:

Wallace and Nader both used modest ticket prices to raise small dollar donation. In the Internet era, that may be obsolete. But Romano notes the other Internet era impact of the Big Rally:
Instagram didn’t exist when Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007. The iPhone had yet to be released. Twitter still hadn’t taken off. Facebook was a way to connect with your real-life friends — not a global hub for news, marketing and politics.

Since then, social media has permeated every aspect of our lives. It’s become our constant mobile companion. It basically is the media at this point — the main way we absorb information about what’s happening in the world. And that, in turn, has amplified the long-tail effect on presidential politics. When every candidate is in your pocket all the time, it’s easier to find the one who seems to speak for you; when your feed is full of friends echoing your political passions, it’s easier to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself — a “political revolution,” as Sanders put in Los Angeles.
Also helps explain why there are 17 Republican candidates.
That’s a big part of the reason why more than 27,000 people showed up to see Sanders speak in Los Angeles: because everyone seemed to be going. 
 The old Yogi Berra-ism: "Nobody goes there, it's too crowded."

The fun part of the caucuses is not caucus NIGHT. It's the year before when the candidates are everywhere. The question is, and it's been raised regarding Donald Trump as well: will the thousands who show up at an exciting campaign rally sit through a dull evening in a school gym? Evan McMorris-Santoro:
The huge crowds in Portland fuel the huge online army which in turn bolsters the traditional campaign D’Alessandro is running in Iowa. Maybe. But in the end, he said, the size of the crowd doesn’t matter.

“I know why you guys think it’s cool when 2,500 people show up in Council Bluffs, Iowa,” he said. “That’s a story in itself. But all we care about is how many can we get to commit to caucus.”

Enviable online presence, jaw-droppingly huge crowds, millions of dollars raised without a billionaire donor. These are already Sanders success stories. But they’re not victory.

“The only thing we’re going to be judged on is how many people can you get to caucus,” D’Alessandro said.
One of the spins I'm hearing from other campaigns: what would Bernie Sanders, as a hypothetical nominee, do to help elect other Democrats - oops, I mean DEMOCRATS since Sanders still does not call himself one and has been very critical of the party in the not very distant past. Does Sanders as nominee, and a Sanders campaign crew, help a Mary Jo Wilhelm or a Brian Schoenjahn, or a rural moderate challenger? How "coordinated" is the campaign in that scenario? Not an issue that matters to rookie caucus goers, but of critical importance to the undecided core activists who are seriously focused on a decision this far out.

The weirdest thing about the whole Big Rally things is the way Sanders, the most serious real left candidate since Henry Wallace, seems to be singled out for extra tough attacks by #BlackLivesMatter hecklers. My record against heckling as campaign strategy is long-standing, and I'm especially reminded of it during Soap Box week at the state fair. (Notable that Clinton and Trump are the two to eschew the box.)

Bill Scher:
For Sanders, all issues come back to economic inequality. For Black Lives Matter, that approach fails to fully confront the centuries-old scourge of institutional racism. For Lessig, only by prioritizing election reform can anything else be solved.

(Sanders) regularly fingers the Citizens United ruling for corrupting democracy and pledges to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn it. That wasn’t enough for Lessig, who complained Sanders dilutes his message by having the gall to campaign on other issues.
The one and only time I'm mentioning Lawrence Lessig in this blog. 
While a traditional candidate succeeds by knowing when to cater to a party’s political base and when to keep it at arm’s length, a movement candidate doesn’t have that luxury. All that complicates the progressive objective of influencing the party Establishment.
In effect, Bernie isn’t running for President of the United States of America. He’s running to be President of Progressive America. And when you are running to be an ideological standard-bearer, your ideological fellow travellers all demand you adhere to their own standard. That involves not just checking every box on the liberal to-do list, but giving maximum rhetorical emphasis to everyone’s top priority. Which is impossible. It’s a game that can’t be won.
I'm old enough to remember the argument that Jesse Jackson was running to be "the president of Black America" and not president of America. It was condescending then and is now, but also contains a grain of truth. And for the moment, Sanders seems to the front runner in that race, if only because Elizabeth Warren opted out of the presidential race.

I'll take it further. By taking gender out of the mix, Warren would have been far more competitive against Hillary Clinton than Sanders is now. Near-left Democrats wavering between Woman President and Move The Party Left would have had an easier choice. I think Elizabeth Warren literally decided not to be president.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ballot Selfies Threaten Democracy! (Not Really A Joke)

Most of you readers may have noticed a sign in your voting booth, I think ours were pink, saying something to the effect of "Iowa law prohibits the use of cameras cell phones, or other devices in the voting booth."

Those signs may be a thing of the past thanks to a misguided New Hampshire federal court ruling that's way more important than you think it is.
A federal court on Tuesday struck down a New Hampshire law banning so-called “ballot selfies” because it violated free speech rights.

The ruling comes after the ACLU of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of three voters, including a member of the state’s House of Representatives, challenging the law.

The law, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2014, made it illegal for a person display a picture of a marked ballot, including on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The ruling on Tuesday “struck down a state effort to explicitly ban this form of innocent political speech,” Bissonnette said. “Even if their concerns were compelling, the law was fundamentally over broad and swept within its scope innocent political speech.” 
 Wait a minute, Deeth. Aren't you the guy who's all about the free speech?

Yep. But the problem here, which New Hampshire argued unsuccessfully, is coercion.

The secret ballot was a big part of the downfall of old school machine politics. If the ballot was secret, you couldn't tell if those votes you bought stayed bought.

Boss Tweed would love this ruling, and the 21st century technology that brought the issue to court. You see, if you're allowed to photograph your ballot, you can be pressured to photo your ballot, so that Louie Kneecaps either pays you or doesn't break your kneecaps.

OK, Louie Kneecaps might be an old school and somewhat ethnic-specific stereotype, though those Cosa Nostra guys really did have the best nicknames. But threats can be a lot less sinister yet just as dangerous. In a society where economic and workplace protections are getting slimmer and slimmer, and where the first training video you see at your minimum wage job is the anti-union one, a lot of employers could be very interested in seeing your ballot if it was legal for you to take a picture.

Not that a boss would ever politically pressure his staff. Sure glad my ballot was secret THAT time.

So no, this isn't a free speech issue. It's a matter of protecting people from pressure. It's unfortunate New Hampshire couldn't make that case. Hopefully higher courts will decide more wisely, though given Citizens United I'm not confident. You think they're trying to buy elections now? Just wait till they can demand a receipt.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Former Council Member Kanner Dies

Just learned (h/t Garry Klein) of the death Friday of Steven Kanner, former Iowa City council member.

Steven's story was a ur-story of People's Republic of Johnson County - he discovered Iowa City on a peace march and decided to stay, At the time of his election he listed his address as "2315 E. Washington St., Basement Apartment." (He's occasionally mid-identified as the last student elected, due to deliberate mis-information spread by the city clerk, but I checked the records at the time and he was not enrolled.)

1999 was a strange election year. Incumbent Dee Vanderhoef, who eventually lost in 2007, was seen as a shoo-in. But the field for the open second seat to replace the stepping down Karen Kubby, was weak by conventional wisdom.

The story goes, progressives were working on recruiting for Kubby's seat and Kanner volunteered to run the errand to city hall to pick up a copy of the candidate packet. The city clerks office told him there was a policy of charging money for packets - except to candidates. So Steven said he was a candidate... and somehow he went from place holder to actually filing.

The rivals for the officially nonpartisan seat seat were an ape-like libertarian and the erstwhile head of the defunct Reform Party who committed one of the best debate malaprops of all time: asked about cemetery maintenance, he said that "those people are going to be there the rest of their lives."

Kanner, for his part, was the most un-politician-like person I've ever seen actually run for office.  He was quiet and thoughtful with his core supporters, at our small meetings, Sunday mornings at the Hillel center where he brought us, yes, bagels and lox.

But Steven - always Steven, never Steve - was visibly shy with strangers at the glad-handing and doorknocking aspects of campaigning. Yet, once the conversation was engaged, he was direct and blunt, the bluntness of the socially awkward, in the face of disagreement. 

None of these three candidates was going to get the second vote from the good old boy and girl network that backed Vanderhoef, and there was no obvious one candidate to block.

Well, SOMEbody had to win.

The city flipped a coin - and it landed on the edge.

The election night margin was three votes, and an administrative recount narrowed it to two. And thus began a tumultuous stretch of Iowa City history still referred to by locals as "the Kanner-Pfab years."

Some, myself included, have argued that the Kanner-Pfab years set progressives back in Iowa City. Numerically, the left had picked up a seat, with District C winner Irvin Pfab defeating the abrasive Dean Thornberry, who played much the role Terry Dickens plays on the current council.

(Irv is one of the few I've seen who used naming his opponent - "I'm running against Dean Thornberry" - as a winning strategy. But who'd a thunk: Local conservatives mocked the left for years for supporting an off-leash dog park. But after he was out of office, Thornberry largely paid for it.)

The 5 to 2 votes were going to happen, the way they are now. But the old guard which had begrudgingly respected Karen Kubby had nothing but contempt for Pfab and Kanner. Pfab sometimes had trouble following discussion because of hearing loss; this was protrayed as senility. And Kanner's personality quirks and bohemian lifestyle and personal habits were used in the letters to the editor section of the paper and in the predecessors of social media to paint him into the crazy corner.

The issues of the day were the same ones we're grappling with 15 years later. Kanner was trying to get a car library off the ground years before ZipCar. There were bar wars and policing controversies. Irony of ironies: as a sitting council member, he found himself sued by progressive activists over ballot initiatives he supported. Kanner also got in hot water with city staff once over refusing to change a vote on a zoning matter after the city had lost a lawsuit. He voted with his conscience, against the developer, and against the advice of the city attorney.

Steven stayed the way he was, bless him, and never seemed concerned about re-election. Eventually, we figured out: He was in a serious relationship and Karly was leaving town for a graduate program. Steven's term and lease ended, they crashed with friends just long enough to caucus for Dennis Kucinich, and left town immediately.

Steven and Karly, and their daughter, eventually ended up back in his native Cleveland area. Friends are maintaining this memorial page.

Week In Review: I Blinked And I Missed It

The week is a blur and I don't have much analysis to add. I've been deep enough in the caucus arrangement bubble that I'm several ten thousand tweets behind on news. Who won the Iowa Straw Poll yesterday?

Yes, I saw the debate. No, I have nothing to add that hasn't been said before. The Donald's supporters are anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and anti-PC, and there's nothing the other Republicans can say to denounce Trump the man without denouncing those tendencies within their own-base.

He's also anti-politics, and that image is only enhanced by people with politico-journalism credentials attacking him. The only one with the anti-System credibility to take down trump might have been Jon Stewart, and as of this week it's too late for that. But laughter, not denunciation, is the weapon to use.
As for the junior varsity debate, most people are pegging Carly Fiorina the winner, but I give the nod to Lindsey Graham for rebranding it from the "Kiddy Table Debate."
Speaking of rebranding, this year will be Iowa's last Jefferson-Jackson dinner. I think Harkin-Hughes has a nice ring to it. As does Jacoby-Jochum to keep the initials. But my comments seems to be leaning toward Henry Wallace.

Locally, the UI gets ranked as Number Two Party School. Remember, Hawks, this is only the pre-season rank. We can still recapture the glory of that 2013 season!

In the rumor mill: A challenger for the thus-far unopposed godfather of 21 Bar, Rick Dobyns, in District A?

As for the school board, I haven't yet had time to wrap my head around that 13 candidate, 5 seat, two separate contest Survivor Island yet, except as far as it affects me at work. (My advice: order lots of ballots, because that turnout record the ICCSD set in 2013 is likely to break again...)