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Eric Ferguson

There are Democrats running for president, really

by Eric Ferguson on July 31, 2015 · 2 comments

Usually when only one party’s nomination process is getting covered, it’s because it has such a big advantage in the district in question that the other party has no realistic chance. Pick, for example, any one of roughly 90% of congressional districts. So it’s kind of strange that the Republicans are getting all the attention in the presidential race since the election is probably a toss-up and if it isn’t, it’s because the odds favor Democrats a bit. However, Democrats just can’t match the Republicans for entertainment value. Not even close. Much as the media wants to pretend Bernie Sanders is somehow equivalent to Donald Trump (he called Mexican immigrants rapists, but you called yourself a democratic socialist, and isn’t that just as crazy?), and as much as we’re learning the phrase “Clinton rules” regarding how any unproven allegation will be treated very seriously, the truth is no Democrat has the headline grabbing crazy to compete with Republican candidate … hard to pick out just one. And so many. Figuring out how many they have was faster by multiplication than addition, at least until Jim Gilmore became the 17th and made it a prime number.
 
Anyway, there really are Democrats running. Here’s a bit of Hillary and Bernie. This first video is an interview Bernie gave Vox (Vox not Fox, that’s not a typo). You might notice something that makes him a stronger candidate than the media generally give him credit for. He’s able to give a straight answer to a question in a few words, and then he can elaborate if given time (which he is here) to show he knows what he’s talking about. I’m guessing that comes from being a frequent guest on liberal talk radio, which may have a puny audience (liberals, did you even know we have our own talk radio?) but taking calls gave Bernie a lot of practice answering questions within commercial radio’s time limits from the sort of people who vote in Democratic primaries.
 

 
This video is a clip of Hillary speaking to the National Urban League. TPM found this the newsworthy bit as she went after Jeb Bush, but I listened to the whole speech and thought another part was more interesting. Alas, unlike someone at TPM, I couldn’t work out how to clip and embed the part I wanted. C-SPAN, why must you make embedding so difficult? So I give you this link to the whole program. The part I recommend starts at 49:20 and goes to 55:15. She eloquently talked about how we need to change our attitudes on race, and particularly how those of us who haven’t had to live with discrimination have to start listening to those who have, and stop assuming our experience is the same as everyone else’s. Her whole speech goes from 41:00 to 1:05:00. This is TPM’s clip:
 

 
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UPDATE
 
clowncarI’m skeptical of the notion that other Republican candidates are trying to match the crudity of Donald Trump, but I see where said notion comes from. After Trump’s rise in the polls, and with other candidates getting desperate at the thought of missing the cut for the debates, we’re seeing this stuff:
 
Rick Perry responded to the movie theater shooting in Lafayette by saying we need more guns in movie theaters. Right, because all those action-hero-wannabes will spin around, pick out the right target, and hit the target, maybe all in the dark. Meanwhile, police will identify the shooter among the wannabes by … mind reading?
 
Ted Cruz called the Senate majority leader, whose caucus Cruz is ostensibly a part of, a liar — while speaking on the Senate floor. Democrats may detest Cruz, but Republicans have to put up with the guy face to face. If any of his colleagues have endorsed him, I can’t find the evidence of it.
 
Mike Huckabee said the nuclear deal with Iran is like marching Israelis toward the door to the oven. Or, as a former ambassador to Israel put it, “There are serious issues to be debated here but for anybody to equate what the president’s doing to what Adolph Hitler did in World War II is just extraordinary. And in some ways it’s a form of incitement, and we’ve seen the results of that 20 years ago in Israel. There was the same kind of incitement against Yitzhak Rabin and that led to a tragic outcome.” I wish I could feign surprise, but whenever peace is made, the people who want war go nuts, sometimes including acting out violently. Here’s hoping Nazi comparisons are as bad as the craziness gets. If you don’t want to be labeled crazy, here’s what I do when making Nazi comparisons: stop talking. It’s better to appear dumbstruck for a moment, because the Nazis were so unique, that if you compare anything to them, pretty much guaranteed, you will look nuts; or at least grossly ignorant of history.
 
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Now can we finally talk about the guns?

by Eric Ferguson on July 25, 2015 · 6 comments

revolver muzzleAfter yet another mass shooting, is it finally OK to talk about the guns? We talk about the motive. We talk about mental illness. We can talk about crime or poverty or racism or religious fundamentalism, but not the guns. This is even though, whatever the shooter’s motive, he (pretty much always a “he”, which likely does tell us something) couldn’t have shot his victims without being able to get the gun. Whatever the shooter’s mental illness, and I accept the fact of committing a mass shooting as evidence in itself of serious mental illness, he couldn’t have shot anyone without getting the gun. The United States is unique in the western world in its massive amount of gun crime. In fact, there are few countries of any sort with gun death rates like ours who aren’t literally in some level of civil war. Our crime rates are roughly the same as other western countries, meaning US crime is much more lethal — and we’re the only country with so many guns. Other countries have racism, but only we have so many guns. Other countries have mental illness, but only we have so many guns. Other countries have poverty, discrimination, religious extremism, every social ill ever suggested as the explanation for crime, but only we have lots of guns and roughly 30,000 gun deaths annually, about one third of those being homicides and two-thirds suicides. Yet, somehow, we can’t talk about how the problem is the sheer quantity of guns. Yes, some people have guns who shouldn’t have them, but that’s actually the point. Loads of people who shouldn’t have guns have them, and our political leaders are more interested in the right of a violent person to get a gun than the right of the victim to not be shot.
 
Which shooting am I referring to by “yet another mass shooting”? Here’s the arguably saddest part. I could write that just about any day. I started on this post some time ago, and when I didn’t get it done in time to be timely to a specific event, I realized it didn’t matter. It’s OK if I don’t get it done this week, because there will be another shooting next week. Literally. It was safe to assume a post about a recent shooting could be posted any time and there would be a recent shooting to refer to. I think actually started at least collecting some of the links I’m using around the time of the Charleston massacre. I didn’t get it done, but there was Chattanooga. Lafayette just happened a couple days ago. And these are just the ones where the most people were shot. I could have picked this one or this one where only one or two victims died after a shooting of multiple people by someone who clearly should not have been allowed to have a gun.
 
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Hang Trump around Republican necks

by Eric Ferguson on July 20, 2015 · 2 comments

Donald Trump as albatrossLive by data, die by data, at least in terms of some opinions. Trump was one of several Republican presidential candidates who had negative favorability ratings among likely Republican primary voters in PPP polls in May and June. There is no reason for Republicans to pick a candidate they don’t like when there are a bunch they do like, so these candidates, including Trump, could be safely ignored. Of course, there’s always the caveat of “pending new information”; new information would include this new poll showing Trump’s favorability has drastically improved.
 
That ABC News/Washington Post poll is from July 15. A Yougov poll on July 9 showed the rise in Trump’s favorability into positive territory, though his unfavorables remain high. In other words, Trump is a divisive figure among Republicans. The same nutty Mexicans-are-rapists sort of statements that caused many Republicans to rally to him are causing other Republicans to just cringe. We can tell in their difficulty coming up with responses to Trump, the “he phrased it badly but has an important point” sort of statements, that they don’t know what to do with him. For as much as I discouraged Democrats from paying attention to Trump because he’s a distraction from the candidates we might actually face a year from now, he’s an even bigger distraction to Republicans.
 
So hang him around Republicans’ necks. Make him their albatross.
 
How? We haven’t really had to try at the presidential level. The press is all over anything he says and goes to other candidates for comment — so far. The shine will wear off the bauble at some point, and we want to delay that day as long as possible. Besides, it isn’t just about the presidential race, or at least it doesn’t have to be. I see no reason not to make any Republicans either denounce Trump and put themselves at odds with their base, or try to wriggle out of it which is sure to be embarrassing. Maybe the damage will have worn off by election day 2016, but maybe not, and we are only three and a half months away from the 2015 election (keep reminding other Democrats that odd-numbered years matter — if you thought the midterm drop-off was bad…). So let’s be more than passive spectators.
 
As much as we’re warned away from internet activism on the grounds that activism can be easy or effective, but rarely both, I think I see one of those rare instances. Go to mainstream media web sites and click on the Trump stories, especially those about him saying something stupid (yes I know, that’s almost all of them). Everybody counts which stories get clicked on. If that feels too much like gaming the system, then read the story. I’ll at least skim it just so I feel honest, though I own up that I can’t stand listening to him, so the odds of listening to interviews is pretty much nil. Clicking the links on conservative sites too should help, since they want clicks and will get the message that Trump means clicks.
 
Then make the spinners unhappy. Ask Republican politicians and media personalities to respond to some Trump statement they haven’t responded to, or responded to badly. Be ready to record the answer. This shouldn’t be difficult when most people now carry phones with video cameras built in, and almost all digital cameras can record video now, though I suppose check before assuming. Google owns Youtube, and since most of us have a Google account, we have a Youtube account. Post your video of the discomfited GOP candidate. You can post video on Facebook, but Youtube is just more findable and sharable. Capture moments like Rick Santorum’s bad answer, and Republicans will have every reason to wonder if Trump is a Democratic plant.
 
So click some links, charge your camera battery, and have the popcorn ready.
 
#ThisGuyWantsToBePresident

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A proposal to have landlords hand out voter registration forms threatens to end American liberty. Don’t take my word for it! Really, don’t, because that’s crazy. Take the word of former Minneapolis mayoral candidate and lonely Minneapolis Republican Cam Winton. He’s the one who said it in a recent commentary in the Star Tribune. He was responding to a proposal by Minneapolis council member Jacob Frey to have landlords hand new tenants a voter registration form along with the other paperwork in hopes of encouraging more to register to vote when they change addresses.
 
Don’t think Winton was entirely delusional to run for mayor of Minneapolis as a Republican, or at least no more so than about 30 other people who saw the open mayoral seat and the $20 filing fee and ran with the “what-the-heck” party. He actually sounded like he had a much stronger connection to reality than typical Republicans. DFLers thought he sounded reasonable if we had to have a Republican (which we didn’t since there were DFLers we actually liked). And then he writes this op-ed.
 
Winton actually started with an economic argument, that we should want to lower the cost of building affordable housing (true) but having landlords hand out voter registration forms will raise costs and discourage building more housing. Well, sure, because there’s the cost of putting a box of forms on a shelf somewhere, the cost of picking up a form, the cost of putting the form into the other documents a new renter gets, and already we’ve raised the landlord’s costs by … well, by whatever the time is worth. 11½¢ maybe?
 
Maybe Winton realized the cost argument was rather silly, so he tried some philosophy.
 

Dating back to the Declaration of Independence, the core principle of our system of government is that we the people grant elected officials just enough power to secure our rights — no more. So when elected officials propose and enact laws premised on the notion that we are incapable of buying our own ear plugs and obtaining our own voter registration forms, it’s a warning sign that the balance between individual rights and government force is out of whack.

Right, because your right to vote is threatened by … having a voter registration form handed to you when you sign your lease or move in. The ear plugs thing is from a complaint Winton had with Frey in an earlier paragraph. Frey got an ordinance passed requiring nightclubs to offer hearing protection to customers. This is bad because … hearing damage is a right? “premised on the notion that we are incapable of buying our own ear plugs”, or maybe premised on the notion customers don’t know how loud the noise will be or the risk to their hearing? Who knew hearing protection and voter registration forms in your rental papers were just overreaching big government?

 
The straight brackets are my comments:
 

If our elected officials really think we’re so helpless, what’s next? Might they require supermarket cashiers to chastise us for buying sugary drinks [his own party keeps trying to micromanage how SNAP recipients spend their money and actually do turn cashiers into enforcers, but who needs self-awareness?], require Metro Transit drivers to remind us to update our wills [how dangerous does he think mass transit is?] and require police officers to use their loudspeakers to encourage us to save for retirement? [this sarcasm from the party that keeps trying to gut Social Security] As long as landlords are already handing out pieces of paper, why not require them to hand out fliers for city-sponsored activities, such as City Council members’ own town-hall meetings?

That last point is a fair one, because nothing threatens individual rights like telling people when public meetings are taking place.
 
Apparently unaware that “slippery slope” is the name of a logical fallacy, Winton said, “The slippery slope brings to mind a phrase attributed to various leaders over the years: ‘A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.'” Well, no wonder we don’t know who to attribute that quote to. Who would be dumb enough to want their name on such triteness disguised as cleverness?

 
Snark aside, here’s a thought. If having landlords hand out voter registration forms is so awful, how about avoiding the need for it by instituting automatic voter registration? Change the registration when the voter’s address changes, getting it from the post office form or the DMV. Don’t like Democrats pushing to register more people? Democrats can think of other things to do too. Oregon recently passed a law to register voters automatically, and North Dakota somehow manages to have elections without registration. They can make it work but we can’t?
 
Voluntary disclosure: I know Jacob Frey and donated to his campaign. I don’t live in his ward, nor does his ward overlap the senate district where I’m DFL chair. I’ve spent a bunch of time doing voter registration.
 
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An old Independence Day tradition

by Eric Ferguson on July 4, 2015 · 0 comments

Happy Independence Day. When the Revolutionary War was still in living memory, a common part of community Independence Day celebrations was reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. NPR revived that tradition back in 1995, having hosts take turns reading a portion. It feels different verbalized that just read. Here it is:
 
Transcript here.
 
And an article about the text, explaining how it was written with the assumption it would be read aloud.

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millspartying2Stewart Mills, defeated last year in the eighth district by DFL incumbent Rick Nolan, tells The Duluth News Tribune (with a hat tip to Daily Kos Elections) that he thinks he has a better chance next year.
 
He said, in a statement that any time before last election would have been a “WTF” moment coming from a Republican, “Really, I didn’t lose that election so much as Rick Nolan rode Al Franken’s coattails.” Yes, he couldn’t win because of the popularity of Al Franken — the same Al Franken Republicans have insisted for years was a joke, not taken seriously, despised by everybody!! Maybe Mills at least realized “everybody” was defined as the denizens of the conservative bubble. Unfortunately, for bubblonians at least, those of us outside the bubble still get to vote.
 
To continue the theme, regarding winning if he tries again, Mills said, “I think it would be doable because neither (Mark) Dayton, Franken (nor) Klobuchar would be on top of the ticket if I run again. It would be between Rick Nolan and myself and the issues would largely be the same,” and later, “If I run again, there is a path to victory. It would be a race almost directly between Rick Nolan and myself — without the worry about influence from the top of the ticket.” OK, Republicans to my knowledge never said Klobuchar was despised by Minnesotans blah blah, but they sure insisted on the blah blah parts about Franken and Dayton, as if what they tell themselves on conservative talk radio is believed by everyone, until pre-election polls last year told them otherwise. So next year, it would just be Mills versus Nolan. No other elections next year higher up the ticket. Nope, can’t think of any other election going on next year. Oh right, that one.
 
Not to discourage Mills, as I like the entertainment of a loopy candidate like most news junkies, but if you lost in a red wave during a non-presidential year, are your odds really better next year? Yes — if you’re a Democrat.
 
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I’ve been amazed at the speed with which support for official state sanction for a white supremacist symbol has collapsed. I applaud it, but I also had a look in the mirror. The former confederate states aren’t the only ones with racist imagery. I’m looking at us, Minnesota. We need a new state seal. Click the seal to the right to enlarge.
 
The seal is explained, sort of, on the state secretary of state web site. It shows a white settler plowing a field, facing East, while an Indian rides into the sunset. One guess who the settler’s gun is meant to be used against. I have a feeling Indians pick up on the imagery a bit faster than whites. More to the point, our state seal commemorates Indians being pushed out for white settlement. Not exactly inclusive of all races.
 
It perhaps isn’t on a par with the flag of a nation formed explicitly to protect slavery (if anyone doesn’t get what “explicitly” means, read the seceding states’ declarations of secession). It’s not like Minnesota was formed for the purpose of oppressing Indians. Nonetheless, the removal of Indians was required for Minnesota’s formation, and this tragedy for Indians is commemorated in our seal. Remember that removal didn’t just entail buying land. It entailed Indians facing the prospect of an unwinnable war if they didn’t move, and of promises of ongoing payment not kept. In the case of the Dakota, removal included a war provoked by failure to make payments that made subsistence impossible, a concentration camp, and a mass hanging.
 
Changing the seal might not be as important as when our current governor marked the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War by telling the truth, including the contemporary governor’s call for the Dakota to be exterminated if they didn’t leave the state. But it also seems like not much to ask that we have a seal that doesn’t tell some Minnesotans that they’re no longer part of this place. We should have a seal that represents everybody. I’m not saying the images can’t somehow include a white settler and an Indian — just don’t make it about pushing out the Indian. A new seal certainly could keep St. Anthony Falls, “1858”, and “l’étoile du nord”, which is French for “Star of the North”*. Surely “Star of the North” has to suggest some better images than an Indian leaving, something that represents all of us. It suggested good logos for sports teams so why not the whole state?
 
And while we’re at it, bad news on the flag. It’s just the state seal on a blue field. So, we need a new one of those too.
 
Does having our own problems mean we can’t tell anyone else they can’t fly a confederate flag? No, it just means we have to be willing to tell the truth about ourselves, and in Minnesota’s case, part of that truth is the imagery on the state seal. Being honest about our own history of race relations means admitting that while the state never officially approved slavery or the symbols thereof, we did have slavery here. Dred Scott, living in what was supposed to be free territory, was like most black residents of what would become Minnesota in that he was a slave to an army officer who used him as a domestic worker. When we became a state, our first constitution prohibited voting rights to blacks. Not exactly a plantation, but not something we’re proud of either. But let’s tell the truth while we ask others to do the same, and let’s get rid of our own racist symbols while we ask others to get rid of theirs. Time for a new seal.
 

*French was the language of the first whites in Minnesota, and appropriately to the point of this post, they traded with the Indians rather than removing them. Some stayed when the Indians were removed and the fur trade ended, so most whites were French Canadians when Minnesota became a territory. So having the state’s long standing nickname remain in French seems appropriate.

 
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Democratic donkey doorknockerYou may have heard that the Green and Lacour study on using canvassing to change opinions was retracted. If not, that’s actually kind of good, because that makes debunking a bit easier as you don’t have the wrong idea in your head already. I almost had to write my own retraction because I was pondering writing a post based on Green and Lacour’s findings when I learned that the data was manipulated to get a headline-making result. I find those “everything you think is wrong” stories to be irresistible click bait, so when I heard one of the reports on the study, in a recent This American Life, The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind, and being someone who does a lot of canvassing (by volunteer standards) and has run some doorknocks myself, this just screamed near future blog post. I don’t know which is worse, admitting that I procrastinated about writing, or admitting that procrastinating really helped. So I didn’t write up how amazing these findings were and how we might use them, but I did discuss it in some private conversations, and I’m really hoping those individuals are reading this.
 
The study came from a good impulse. Proposition 8 in California in 2008 put a ban on marriage equality in the state constitution after it had already been legalized. The “no” campaign expected to win between its lead in the polls, the large turnout the Obama campaign was generating, and California’s general liberal leaning, so defeat was a surprise. After its unexpected loss, the “no” campaign cooperated in the experiment to see if it could send canvassers into areas where they lost and sway opinion face to face.
 
FiveThirtyEight summarized the study in it’s article on the retraction:
 

The article, published last December in Science Magazine by UCLA graduate student Michael J. LaCour and Columbia University political scientist Donald P. Green, appeared to show that an in-person conversation with an openly gay person made voters feel much more positively about same-sex marriage, an effect that persisted and even spread to the people those voters lived with, who weren’t part of the conversation. The result of that purported effect was an affirmation of the power of human contact to overcome disagreement.
 
By describing personal contact as a powerful political tool, the paper influenced many campaigns and activists to shift their approach to emphasize the power of the personal story. The study was featured by Bloomberg, on “This American Life” and in activists’ playbooks, including those used by backers of an Irish constitutional referendum up for a vote Friday that would legalize same-sex marriage.

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photo clowns.jpgI get it. Donald Trump declared for president and he’s endlessly entertaining. Anyone who says “I don’t have to brag” when that’s all he does is satirizing himself. No wonder Jon Stewart is so happy. Trump is a diverting entertainment, with emphasis on the “diverting” part, as in he’ll divert us from paying attention to the candidates who might actually win, and might have a political future when their presidential campaign is over. I suppose, if someone absolutely must pay attention, then try to pin down other candidates on what they think of the nuttiness that Trump will no doubt engage in since that’s his whole reason for running and the reason anyone pays attention. Make other candidates try to find the middle ground between denouncing what Trump says so as not to appear likewise crazy, while staying close enough to avoid annoying the conservative base that thinks Trump makes some sense. Try to appeal to both sanity and the base, go!
 
Otherwise though, Trump isn’t worth our time. He’s not going to win the nomination because of how unpopular he is among likely Republican primary voters, and he has no political future beyond this campaign. Maybe he’ll run for president perennially, but it’s not like he’s going to try to make a serious run for Congress, let alone try to work his way up from state legislature or city council. The “unpopular” part is confirmed in a new Public Policy Polling poll, which finds the same results as their last poll, at least among Republicans. Four of the candidates they asked about have negative favorable ratings, and they happen to be the same four candidates as the last PPP poll, which is why I crossed them off the list of candidates to be followed. Yes, Trump is one of those, for the reasons just stated, fun as he might be to kick around. George Pataki is also a “look at me please” candidate I’m not bothering to look at further since he’s unlikely to run for anything else. Chris Christie will be entertaining in the bully-gets-comeuppance way, but Republicans dislike him too much to nominate him, he’s term limited as governor, and he’s grown too unpopular in New Jersey to run anyway. Lindsey Graham will presumably run for his Senate seat again, but given the difficulties South Carolina Democrats have just getting a name on a ballot makes his seat safe, watching him run for president seems like a waste of time.
 
So yes, beating the GOP candidates in some future election is a point of this exercise, though to be sure it’s pretty much about this presidential race. The reason for doing #ThisGuyWantsToBePresident is that this stuff from 2015 will be useful once the nomination is settled, but it will also have gone down the memory hole. However, it can at least be made searchable. The reason for seeking to narrow is, can’t speak for anyone else, but I can’t do this full time, and I can’t track however many Rachel Maddow counted up merely as a hobby. So I’m trying to cut down the list, and trying to be objective in case my judgment is wrong.
 
So in brief, on the Republican side, with another thorough poll, nothing changed. To step away from the clown car (clown bus? There’s a reason I started using the clown graphic with more clowns) however, there is a little something interesting on the Democratic side.
 

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