Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bernie Sanders Is Not Running For President

George McGovern's queer idea that he could get himself elected President on the Democratic ticket by dancing a muted whipsong on the corpse of the Democratic Party is suddenly beginning to look very sane, and very possible.-Hunter Thompson, "Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail," June 1972
I love me some Gonzo, and I love me some McGovern... but that's not what I see here.
Despite his strong interest in our dead dear caucus state - I meant to say DEAR dear caucus state, but in honor of Chuck Grassley I have to leave the typo in - Bernie Sanders is NOT running for president.

What is he doing, then? Sanders is not focusing at all on an inside game or talking to any of Jennifer Jacobs' Top 50 Democrats (Congrats Paul, Sue, Dave, Zach and Ravi).  Instead, she writes:
Tuesday morning, Sanders did some private stops - he met Hugh Espey, the executive director of the Iowa CCI Action Fund, for breakfast at the Drake Diner; he met with other liberal activists in the afternoon; and he toured the veterans hospital in Des Moines. He did a noon town hall meeting at Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames, and was to deliver the keynote speech at a dinner for the liberal group Progress Iowa in Altoona Tuesday night.
That's a pretty... unpaved route to a Democratic presidential nomination, which tells me, that's not what he's up to here. Erin Murphy:
Sanders said he will run in 2016 only if he thinks he can establish the nationwide ground-level campaign structure necessary to win a presidential election.

Sanders said a grassroots political movement is needed in the country, whether or not he runs for president. He called for a “radical increase and improvement in public consciousness in this country, in political consciousness.”

Sanders has not said if he runs whether it will be as an independent or a Democrat.
As I've noted many times here, Sanders still won't say "I'm a Democrat," a seemingly necessary precondition to running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

And though I voted for Ralph Nader myself, have no regrets, and would do so again given the same Democratic nominee... the coin flip on its edge outcome of 2000 set the idea of a third party of the left back a generation. No, more than a generation - a lifetime at least, until every limo liberal who ever heard the words "butterfly ballot" and "hanging chad" is dead, buried, and on the Cook County Illinois voter rolls.

Read this sentence again:  

Sanders said a grassroots political movement is needed in the country, whether or not he runs for president.

It's not about the running for president part at all.

It's about the grassroots movement part.

Yes, Sanders did come to our Johnson County Democratic Party barbecue last fall, and for that I'm grateful. But, notably, he stepped on that with another event immediately afterward hosted by the Iowa Citizen Action Network.  That way, people who just wanted to see SANDERS without giving a few bucks to the impure DEMOCRATIC PARTY "machine" didn't need to show up at our event.

(Also noted: One of his leading local Sanders organizers who DID show up at that BBQ  refused to wear a "Johnson County Democrats" sticker that doubled as a meal ticket - reportedly because of some old grudges against the local party. Some of which were against a former chair who's now DEAD.  One of the Cs is for Counterproductive.)

That's why, in Sanders World, those non-electoral players like CCI and ICAN and Progress Iowa matter more than legislators and county chairs.  But he's smart enough to know that coming to Caucusland gives him the stage to do those things.

I appreciate Sanders' efforts, and might even caucus for him, if some of his local supporters would talk to me and answer some lingering questions, about Sanders and more... but I'd immediately commit to Elizabeth Warren if she announced.

Also: some of Sanders' allies could try to cut us "party hacks" some slack for being players on the same team, just coming at it from a different angle, rather than pouncing on every impurity.  Even the "party hacks" in Johnson County are pretty darn progressive.

I'm an electoralist and I make no apologies for it, and I'm much more of a pragmatist at 51 than I was at 31 (when I was silly enough to think I could win an election in a rural Republican district).  But in this post-Ferguson moment, in what is electorally already the post-Obama era, I feel some wheels shaking off the axles, and I know that the electoral wagon that is my party needs some big repairs.

But power takes more than consciousness raising.

The quote is apocryphal, but supposedly a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: "You have the vote of every thinking person!"  To which he replied "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority."  We know how that turned out.

So. many. punchlines.

This fall I had the chance to meet and see both Sanders and the other progressive dream candidate, Elizabeth Warren, up close.

Sanders is pure issue, pure message, which activists love but is overwhelming to regular folks. There's no Bernie there.  And, it seems, he's proud of that:

“We have reached the stage where people who actually talk about the issues like me seem to be kind of weird,” Sanders said. “Imagine somebody involved in politics talking about issues.”

A fair critique. But Warren carried much the same progressive message as Sanders, only wrapped it in the family and biography and story that Americans seem to need in order to digest issues.

Other nations have a symbolic president or a monarch who can carry the flag and the national narrative, while a purely political prime minister does the heavy lifting of issues and governing. The American presidency is a rare office in this world, both head of government and head of state. We Americans simply can't handle issues without story, issues ALONE aren't a story, and when the two are pitted against each other, story wins.

That's more than even the most radical electoral and campaign finance reform plans can change.  Especially with the presidency, we Americans have a deep, maybe irrational need to connect with our officials.  Rebutting that with nothing more than "it needs to change" is a disqualifying denial of reality.  It just means your messenger isn't a good story teller.

In Iowa, Bernie Sanders calls for a revolution, says the headline... but in the end, all we'll get is some platform resolutions and some CCI folks getting elected to central committees, who will drift away once Hillary Clinton is the nominee and it's time to make GOTV calls.  Because, and this is one of the first pragmatic lessons I learned in politics, it's next to impossible to do deep, serious, educational ISSUE work in an election year.

Another reason Sanders won't run, and probably not Warren either: too much to lose.  As I noted last summer: "A sitting senator or governor who challenged Hillary and lost would be in the permanent White House dog house, and their whole state with them." At the time, I concluded the Not Hillary front runner was Russ Feingold. But now, it sounds like my fellow Cheesehead is being recruited for a rematch with Ron Johnson.

I got my Martin O'Malley Christmas card this week, but he has dropped more than a few notches by failing to get his lieutenant governor across the finish line in Maryland. So I've got a glum feeling that Jim Webb - Jim WEBB?!? - is gonna be it. He fits all the criteria I set out in July: Not currently in office, no real ties to the administration, and no ambitions to join the new one, some sort of national profile, an unorthodox persona, and male.

And if Jim Webb is all we get... heck, even I might have to get ready for Hillary.  (I still have a couple questions to ask, though.)

So it's the 2000 primary all over again with Webb as a much weaker Bill Bradley... and, it seems, with a Bush on the Republican side.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Time For Ernst To Quit Guard

Dear Senator Ernst:

Congratulations on your victory.  I did not vote for you, and do not expect to vote for you in 2020, but the people of Iowa chose you and that's what democracy is about.  I wish you well in your term and hope for a few occasions where you can put Iowa ahead of partisanship.

Democracy is also about serving all the people, not just your supporters, and it's with that in mind that I want to discuss your other service, in the National Guard.

You've said you'll decide in the spring whether or not to retire from the National Guard, which you are eligible to do. Your military service was central to the public persona that, more than actual positions on issues, helped you win.  You are to be thanked for that service, along with millions of other service people less prominent than you, though it should not make you immune from other criticism.

Serving in public office is also serving your country.You missed some votes in the legislature for Guard duty. You missed more votes campaigning than on duty, but the Guard duty blurred that distinction.

Ironically, despite missing those votes, one of your most effective messages was attacking your opponent for missing meetings, Veterans Affairs committee meetings.  The charge - Bruce Braley doesn't care about veterans - was easier to grasp than the reality - ALL meetings of ALL committees are poorly attended and overlap with other meetings and duties.  You know that just from your four years in Des Moines and it's true squared in DC, but that reality was impossible to explain in an ad.

But having made that attack, fair or not, you now have an extra obligation to show up.

Your continued personal military service at this point is largely symbolic, more about maintaining that public persona than about actually defending the country.  You have a new role in public service, a different role in defending the country.

You'll be on the Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee (along with Agriculture and Small Business). The best thing you can do for the country is to be at those meetings, and to be on the floor casting votes to represent us three million Iowans.  Yes, even though those votes will mostly be the opposite of what I want.

Remember - that's the standard you set for your opponent.  And even if you hadn't made those attacks, that's the role you sought and earned.

Symbolically staying "close to the troops" by staying in the National Guard is not going to work.  Uniform or no, you are never ever again going to be seen as Lt. Col. Ernst.  You're SENATOR Ernst.

And Senator, it's time to retire from the National Guard.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Adopt A Senator

The first vote of my life was for William Proxmire, running for his last term in 1982. And even though I wasn't here yet, one of the highlights of an awful 1984 election night was when some guy in Iowa named Harkin picked up a seat against the Reagan landslide.

I got in one last Wisconsin vote for Herb Kohl before I moved to Iowa in 1990, just in time for Harkin's second term race and his presidential campaign.

So with Harkin's farewell speech today, I realized:

I've never not had a Democratic U.S. Senator before.

I did spend one summer in DC, in 1989. While I was there, some friends of a friend who lived in the District told me that, since they didn't have a voting member of Congress, they'd decided to adopt one from someplace else. And though I hadn't heard of him at the time, within a year he became my for real Congressman. Out of all 435, these folks had picked Dave Nagle.

I remembered that as I considered my consternation without representation (well, I still have Dave Loebsack which is good.) So that gave me an idea. Why don't Iowa Democrats adopt a Senator?  It'll be at least a couple years till we can get our own, and unless something significant changes, probably longer.

This is too big a decision to make myself. I need the help of the readers.

I limited the criteria a bit: I'm only considering the Democratic Senators from Iowa's border states.

Who should Iowa Democrats adopt as their surrogate Senator?
Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Dick Durbin (IL)
Al Franken (MN)
Amy Klobuchar (MN)
Claire McCaskill (MO)


Sorry, Republican readers. This is a closed primary so Democratic options only.  Besides, you got the two real Senators.

An interesting array of choices: Durbin the power broker. Baldwin, the progressive barrier breaker. McCaskill, a tough but sometimes polarizing survivor?

And two Minnesotans who may split the vote: how will that affect me, Al Franken?

Contest will run until I say it doesn't anymore. Vote often and early for James Michael Curley, and don't let the poll's color scheme influence your vote.

If a meeting falls in the forest and no one covers it, does it make a sound?

Hey, did anyone in local media notice that the Iowa City Council and Johnson County Supervisors had their first joint meeting in years yesterday?

The big story, other than the fact that the long-deferred meeting between the two bodies who don't always get along well has actually finally happened, was that Iowa City wants to push ahead on their local option sales tax do-over. (More on that in a future post.)

But only the Daily Iowan was on hand to report the meeting. Good for them; they must have extra time on their hands now that their monthly sit-down with Sally Mason has been cancelled.

(Gutsy move, that prominent two-page layout for that piece.)

When I first started working for Johnson County, in 1993, I was a part-time minute taker. There was ALWAYS a reporter at EVERY Board meeting, and usually more than one. The DI, Press-Citizen and Gazette all had reporters assigned to the county government beat. Granted, a lot has changed in journalism since then, and there's only about four full time professional print journalists in this town anymore...

...but then maybe it's time we change how we deal with newspapers on the government end?

In the little-noticed dark and dense last pages of the paper, mixed in with the dwindling classified ads, you will find Legal Publications. Even though full sets of minutes are promptly available on line from even the smallest cities, and even though Johnson County has full meeting video free and on line for most meetings, the assumption of Iowa law is that these delayed, small-type printed minutes are critical enough to be mandatory.

It'd be a tough law to change.  The small-town papers, which people actually still read, would have kittens if this lucrative subsidy - call it what it is - was cut off. But they still earn it, to some extent. In larger towns, my parents' generation of 80somethings is the last that will get a large share of its news from printed newspapers.

But in smaller communities, the papers are still sold, and read, by big percentages of a much smaller population.  (And those legal publication dollars still matters more to survival for those small town papers.)  For my money, one of the best political journalists in the state is Douglas Burns of the Carroll Daily Times Herald.

Of course, at the first threat of changes to the archaic publication laws, papers will scream about the value of their local government coverage, even though it's taxpayer paid minute takers actually providing said "coverage."

And more to the point here, Johnson County's other two legal publication newspapers, the Solon Economist/North Liberty Leader and the Lone Tree Reporter do a far better job of actually covering local government than the local edition of the Des Moines Register Iowa City Press-Citizen.

You may not have noticed it, but the Press-Citizen died last month, a victim of Gannett's latest downsizing re-structuring.  Oh, there's still a thing called the Iowa City Press-Citizen, but it's a zombie paper, a locally branded version of USA Today.  Yet they're still getting ballpark of a thousand bucks a month to print minutes, written and fully prepared by the county, of meetings they don't bother to cover.

Yes, it'd be a tough law to change.  But local governments can FOLLOW it differently.

Next month city councils and the Supervisors designate their official newspapers for publications during 2015. Before they decide who gets that money, maybe they should think about which papers are and aren't showing up to cover local government, or even watching the video at home and posting in their pajamas?

Is it time to pull the plug on this artificial life support for the Press-Citizen and send a bigger share of money to the Solon Economist/North Liberty Leader and the Lone Tree Reporter? Or even to the DI?

And if the County is expected to pay ballpark of $12,000 a year to subsidize a "local" edition of a corporate paper, is it too much to ask that they do their job and actually cover local news?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Animals' Pope

The First Amendment has religion in it too.

I'm not a churchgoer, mostly because I can't sit still for an hour long service, but I'm still a believer.  I was raised Lutheran and am still comfortable theologically and politically with the mainline Protestant churches.

But I continue to be impressed with Pope Francis, and something he said recently was especially moving.
In his weekly audience in St Peter’s Francis quoted the apostle Paul who comforted a child who was crying after his dog died.

“One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ’, Francis quoted Paul as saying. The Pope added: “Paradise is open to all God’s creatures.”

His position is markedly different from that of Pope Benedict XVI said that the other animals ‘are not called to the eternal life’.
One of the things which makes us most human is our love for other animals.  We love our pets as family members, and sometimes we find cruelty to animals more disturbing than cruelty to humans.

I'm a skeptic on stereotypical supernatural things, like ghosts and angels. I like to think that what lies beyond is more than we can see or even imagine.

But sometimes I wonder.

Our animal friends help us feel and see God's unconditional, non-judgemental love. What if they are the real angels, and that's why they are only able to stay with us so briefly compared to our long lifespans?

These are my friends Butter and Spot. They comforted me in some of my darkest days. They've been gone six and five years now, and though I still have my other friends Dylan and Xavier, I miss Butter and Spot all the time.

I like the idea of a heaven with Butter and Spot in it.

Francis of Assisi was patron saint to the animals, and Jorge Bergoglio chose that particular name which no other Pope in 2000 years had ever used.  Maybe now we know a little more about why.

If nothing else, he has given some comfort to two billion Christians, and maybe to people of other or no faiths. And that's part of what belief is about.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

It's the First Amendment For A Reason

Freedom of speech was my first issue. It's been the central guiding principle of my public life, from high school newspaper editor to college DJ fighting PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT LYRICS to grad school TA to public radio journalist to running for office to this little corner of the internet.

So I'm not surprised at myself that on Friday, when Serhat Tanyolacar stumbled into a Borat-worthy ham-handed cross-cultural misunderstanding by planting a KKK-themed statue on the Pentacrest, my first instinct was the First Amendment.

(Borat-worthy: does anyone else wonder if this whole thing is a put-on, being secretly filmed to test our reaction?)

Part of why that was my first instinct was of course my relatively privileged background. And part of it was because I came to it with "warning," from a distance, on line, clicking a link that said CONTROVERSIAL ART!!!1!OMGWTF.

From that perspective, cultural and technological, it seemed clear. The images were close up so the textual part of the piece, central to Tanyolacar's style, was clear, and because of course I brought my own old bald straight white guy experience to the table.

After several hours of heated online discussion, and with too little understanding until the critique came from someone I know personally (thanks for helping me get it, Kingsley), I think started to understand.  Which is dangerous to say, because one of the critiques, of both Tanyolacar and White Liberals, is "you're making it all about you."

Given the timing (break of dawn), place (site of a rally the previous night), the nature of the piece (text being integral but only legible from close up), and initial anonymity, I can understand the on the spot reaction, quoting here "we though the KKK was coming to string us up." Or, translating here, that this was a legit, real cross burning.  (Not EXACTLY a cross burning, because that wasn't the precise image used, but a rhetorical equivalent).

I'm sorry it took me a few hours to get to that point. People have a right to feel what they feel, and I don't want to delegitimize that.

That said, the free speech aspects of this, not just what was said but what it meant and who if anyone should be allowed to say it, are being too easily dismissed as  "privilege" talking.

I'm a free speech absolutist, and maybe that is privilege, and I get, as this incident shows, that free speech absolutism can hurt.

It's just that I think the alternative is worse.

What's funny here is that more people on the right than on the left seem to be on my side, at least locally. There's an unpleasant thread on the left, from anti-porn feminism through Tipper Gore's apologists ("Oh, that was no big deal") through "campus speech codes" to put free speech below other rights.

(You just KNEW I was going to work Tipper in, didn't you.) 
But I just checked the Constitution and I don't see anywhere that guarantees me a right to not be offended.

I see freedom of speech. I see it FIRST in the Bill of Rights.

And I think it's first for a reason.

I usually qualify that with the words of that great western philosopher Ice T: Freedom Of Speech, Just Watch What You Say.  The First Amendment does in fact give you the right to say stupid shit, something I'm thankful for every time I hit POST.   But making your intent clear, Mr. Tanyolacar, is your own job.  So is dealing with the consequences.

As illustrated here.

A few years back I was accused of "hate speech" in my own chosen art medium, this space, by someone with a political agenda in opposition to my own, who used what I considered hate speech toward me. (I got called a Nazi. Hard to misinterpret that one.) My response? It shut me up and I'm still leery about discussing that issue, even though it's a crucial one.

I'm not saying this to play the victim. I've got plenty of other stuff to write about. But if we silence discussion, we don't make any progress. Misguided or under-informed allies will retreat and withdraw. I think it will be a VERY long time before Tanyolacar tries to address racial injustice in his work again.
"There is no room for divisive, insensitive, and intolerant displays on this campus.The display was not approved by nor sanctioned by the university. The UI respects freedom of speech, but the university is also responsible for ensuring that public discourse is respectful and sensitive."
This initial response from the risk-averse, donor-oriented, Mason Administration made no one happy. Black students wanted a stronger condemnation, free speech advocates resented the chilling, Orwellian tone.

But it's far from the worst response. No, that came today in the Daily Iowan from David Ryfe, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication: “If it was up to me, and me alone, I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

Again, this is from the head of the journalism school. The JOURNALISM school.

One thing Ryfe does get right: no other country in the world has anything like our First Amendment. In other countries, someone decides. Who decides? I guess that's up to me, and me alone, huh. I just hope it's not that guy who called me a Nazi because I criticized the Israeli government.

Offense fuels some of the most powerful free speech, from Lenny Bruce and George Carlin through South Park and, yes Borat.  And Ryfe's statement, more than anything else in this whole controversy, pushed me off the fence where I've uncomfortably sat since about Saturday afternoon and made me commit: despite the very real pain that I can never completely understand, despite the failed intent and the cultural insensitivity, the free speech angle really is the central question.

The unofficial response from the community gets credit for its honesty, but is still way too dismissive of the free speech aspects.

Here's some examples. There's the bureaucratic cop-out: "He was not censored because of the content of his work. He was directed to remove the piece because he didn't follow required procedure to display it in that space." So if someone had violated procedure and placed a statue of kittens and puppies on the Pentacrest? It wouldn't have escalated to a campus security crisis and probably would have sat there ignored all day. Of COURSE it was about the content.

One of the better responses: sidewalk chalking the Pentacrest in similar "unauthorized" fashion Saturday. Meeting free speech with free speech. That's how it's SUPPOSED to work. And way hamhanded for the UI to wash it off. Should have let it stay till the next snowfall melted.

The calls to fire Tanyolacar: "The university should not support someone with such a selfish, ignorant stance on education." If anyone needs to get fired over this whole controversy, it's not Tanyolacar, it's Ryfe from the the journalism school. The JOURNALISM school.  I'm not sure what's worse: the statement itself, or the fact that the student journalists at the DI buried their lede in the LAST paragraph.  Either way, he's not doing his job. Only possible explanation: he's being misquoted. In that case, still not doing his job.

I just can't say it enough: the JOURNALISM school?!?

The Some People Can Say It But Others Can't: "a Ku Klux Klan robe made by a non-black person should be silenced."  This argument, though deeply flawed, at least, raises a good question. How would this conversation have been different if the piece and placement were identical, but the artist were African American rather than a visiting international scholar?

I know I'm privileged, but I do have a problem with the idea that images or words of oppression may ONLY be used by members of the oppressed class. I don't recommend it, not without treading very carefully and being very ready to accept consequences, this incident being a textbook case.

But it CAN be done.

The combination of December 8 on the calendar and this controversy made me think of one of my first heroes, John Lennon, and this song. It's not "Imagine" or "Revolution," but that's a pretty high bar even for Lennon. It's a little strident. OK, a LOT strident. But it's still a bold and thought provoking statement, and one he cared about a lot.  The title contains what is now the eighth word you can never say on television. And ANY other word would have made that song infinitely less powerful. But he can't say it because he's a rich white male? (In fairness: Yoko said it first.)

I'm choosing not to say the title. But the fact that I'm CHOOSING makes all the difference. If you ban stuff, the way western Europe does, you just give the hateful symbols of the past more power. Meanwhile, the real bigots will just keep their thoughts behind closed doors, making it harder to expose and defeat them.

I also think banning "hate speech" empowers oppressors by letting them play victim. You see this all the time in anti-gay rhetoric: "you're trying to take away my freedom of religion" but really my right to discriminate.

Silencing an enemy is not defeating an enemy. Better to let these thoughts and symbols rot and wither in the open.That's not easy. While things rot, they stink. People will hurt. (Free speech tangent, attention Bobby Kaufmann: apparently money is free speech, but flag burning isn't?) Being a free speech absolutist is a lot like opposing the death penalty: defending the principle does not equal defending the action.

That said: I will admit that such abstractions are in and of themselves a privilege.

The JOURNALISM school.

This has been a powerful discussion since Friday. And even though less people would have felt immediate pain, It would have been a much less powerful discussion had Tanyolacar's piece been placed in a traditional museum setting or even if it had been accompanied with "proper interpretation." The shock, even though that doesn't seem to have been part of the intent, became part of the art, and without the shock and the very real pain, the discussion would have been very different.

The dialogue is beyond the artist now. He started something here, even if he doesn't quite understand what it was he started and seems too focused on his own feelings.

The question is: was this discussion worth it? For ME it was because I learned. But I also viewed it with privilege. For someone else, encountering it out of the blue or doing the heavy lifting of explaining their reactions and emotions to others, which they didn't necessarily want to do, the price may have felt too high.

I respect that. And all I can offer is the idealistic to a fault notion of meeting speech with speech, taking that Pentacrest space with that chalk. The powerful can use both freedom AND restriction of freedom. The powerless can only use the freedom itself.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Random Thoughts While Waiting For Kickoff

Anyone else had the thought that the Pentacrest artist could be a Sacha Baron Cohen type, feigning cluelessness and provoking controversy just to test our reaction? Very unlikely, but Borat and Bruno fooled a LOT of people, and this all seems so clumsy as to be unreal...

I'm not ready yet to offer Definitive Thoughts on the incident, and don't know when if ever I will be. All I could do at this point is compile still-live Facebook threads. Everything anyone says offends somebody and I have enough other issues to offend people about.

But I will offer this Washington Post headline: Why Eric Garner is the turning point Ferguson never was. tl;dr: Video.

Here's an unusual thing about Iowa: We're one of the few states where the most Republican places are more Republican than the most Democratic places are Democratic. Some of that is our relatively small minority population; we're one of teh few states where Obama won, twice, with white voters. And it's not just "gerrymandering," that word so many use and so few grasp. Greg Sargent notes:
(Ohio and Pennsylvania) are particularly lopsided because Democratic districts are “heavily urbanized,” with huge numbers of Dem voters concentrated in them around Columbus, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

But even if Democrats were to get something approaching neutral maps in these big states, Wasserman estimates, it could result in just a couple more seats in each state — adding up to a total of maybe 10 additional House seats for Democrats. That would obviously help, but it would still be short of the 30-seat edge Republicans currently hold. Democrats would still have to post pretty big victories in the next few cycles to get close to the majority. In short, beyond the problem of redistricting is the even more serious problem (for Democrats) of population distribution.

“If Democrats were to get neutral maps drawn by God in all 50 states, they would still fall well short of winning back the House,” Wasserman concludes. “What Democrats really need is a massive resettlement program.”
 Speaking of settlements, the Israeli parliament formally dissolved today...

Israel is a textbook case in proportional representation as government gridlock, with multiple small parties with esoteric demands and major contentiousness over minor differences holding power beyond their numbers when it comes to the rise and fall of governments. The 120 seats are divided among 13 parties, and Netanyahu's party only holds 19. It literally is the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea.

Irony: The other textbook case of extreme proportional representation to the detriment of democracy? Weimar Germany, where 14 parties split the seats in the final free election and a majority of the members opposed democracy itself. But I suppose I'm not allowed to say that.

Of course America goes to the other extreme with Two And Only Two parties. It's not just our winner take all electoral system. The know-nothing nationalist UK Independence Party (UKIP) just won its first two seats in Parliement in "by-elections" (I love that term for special elections) with ex-Conservative MPs who resigned to run. (The ONLY ethical way to do a party change). With their wins, the British Parliament now includes TWELVE parties, and a couple independents, despite a winner take all single member district system. Half these parties are only regional. But both American major parties are being accused of that anyway.

No, it's more the American political culture, as Ezra Klein notes at great length while dismissing the idea of an imminent third party uprising:
In Washington, the yearning for a third party is often by elites — and for elites. It’s for the third party of Unity08, or No Labels, or Mike Bloomberg, or Simpson-Bowles. It’s a third party of technocrats: fiscally moderate, socially permissive. A third party of sober moderates. A third party of things people in Washington already care about.

The space for a third political party — if it exists — isn’t in Washington’s zone of elite agreement. It’s in the zones of popular agreement that elites have little patience for. America’s unaffiliated voters aren’t moderates. They are, by Washington’s standards, extremists — they’re just extreme in a way that blithely crosses left and right lines, then doubles back on itself again. They support single-payer health care and tax cuts. Or they’re against gay marriage but for a living wage. Or they're for open borders and cuts to social spending. Or they want a smaller military and sharp restrictions on abortions.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

$2 Gas? NOT a good thing

Nice as it may seem in the moment of filling your tank, in the big picture this is NOT a good thing.

Even the most anti-science, These Are The End Times Luddite has to acknowledge that fossil fuels are at some point finite.

Yet even the greenest liberals are reluctant to say out loud that reducing our fossil fuel reliance is going to take more significant life style changes than than some high profile feel-good recycling.

It takes energy to heat and cool things and to move things. And on a global scale, Americans pay an insanely low price for gasoline. Here's a map from a couple years back. Prices were on the high end then, but for rough comparison this map still gives you the idea.

In general we're paying about half what western Europe does. (You know what else Western Europe has? Good public transportation). America's artificially low energy prices subsidize energy wasters like 50 mile one way commutes to refrigerated cities in deserts.

Granted, I'm a maniac who chose my home because it was four blocks from my office. But we need a few more crazies like me.

In my anecdotal experiences, nothing makes people think harder about transportation alternatives than gas prices. The tipping point seems to be around four bucks a gallon. At that point, the minor inconveniences of public transit or car pooling start to seem like smaller problems than that $65 tankload.

Free market in action. And if the free market won't do it, look at the tax structure. In the long run, until Magic Cold Fusion happens, we need to pay more for gas and live closer to work.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Can we finally talk about...?

Looks like the Netanyahu government fell apart overnight (USA time):
Netanyahu was seeking to gain Lapid’s support for a number of contentious bills, chief among them a bill to declare Israel a “Jewish State.” While Israel’s Declaration of Independence already describes Israel as a Jewish State, the new bill is being touted by Netanyahu as necessary to establishing Israel’s national identity.

Critics say it is an unnecessary bill that will infuriate the country’s Palestinian citizens and fuel anti-democratic legislation.
Elections will overlap the start of the American primary-caucus season. Does this mean the US will finally be able to have an honest discussion about the Middle East?

I doubt it, so I won't say much more. Still afraid to. That said, Israel-Palestine is really my big concern about Hillary Clinton, a far bigger concern than her Hamburg Inn pie shake intake.

Not that Americans are strangers to our own forms of nationalism:
(The Republican) political dilemma here is pretty obvious. They can’t endorse a path to citizenship, or even just legal status for undocumented persons, because the conservative base wouldn't tolerate it. Ideas that attempt to find some middle ground, like Carson’s proposal, don’t fully address the problem. What the base really wants is to deport almost everyone living in the U.S. illegallysomething that's not possible, as a practical matter, and would be political suicide if somehow it did work. Even those Hispanics sympathetic to the Republican Party now would abandon it.
Yep, the King Wing is making all the noise these days...  and Jay Michaelson argues in open letter format that it's the evangelicals who've been getting the short end of the stick for 30-plus years:
What happened to the Christian concern to “love the least of these,” the most vulnerable, the most destitute? In my opinion, supply-side Republicans have convinced many Christians not merely that the welfare state is a bad idea, but that generosity itself is a vice, that public assistance equals dependence, and that giving the wealthy even more breaks is the way for benefits to “trickle down” to the rest of us.
Don't worry, he talks about fetuses and stuff too.

Local item that fits nowhere else: Save Hoover folks already gearing up to knock off three Iowa City school board members. Technically, that September 8, 2015 vote is our next scheduled election, though I'll be shocked if we don't have one or even two more before that.

Speaking of special elections: Should Dems even bother to try in the two upcoming legislative special elections? Joni Ernst's seat is the third or fourth most Republican, and the late Dwayne Alons had the number ONE Republican House seat.