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Eric Ferguson

clowncarI once lived in Wisconsin, and it seems like a whole different state. After living a while in Minnesota, it seemed that the states would be indistinguishable without a map (or a sports rivalry). No longer. It would be exaggerated to blame it all on Scott Walker. After all, there had to be muck there for him to crawl out of.
Though was Walker was definitely muck-covered early on. Back in 1998, when few people besides conservative legislators and corporate funders had heard of ALEC, Walker carried a “truth in sentencing” bill to lengthen prison sentences:

Walker’s longstanding association with the group dates back to his first days as a state legislator in the early 1990s. One of the very first high-profile bills Walker was associated with during his time as a state legislator was a 1998 tough-on-crime ‘truth in sentencing’ bill that caused Wisconsin’s prison population to balloon.

At the time, Walker claimed original authorship of the law. But it wasn’t really his bill; ALEC’s policy shop wrote it at the behest of two ALEC funders: the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, formerly called Wackenhut. Soon after Gov. Tommy Thompson signed it into law, Walker introduced a second piece of legislation to open the state’s soon-to-grow prison system up to the two private prison companies.
At the time, Walker never publicly mentioned ALEC’s role in this legislation. State corrections officials say he never mentioned it privately either.



clowncarWho is still worth paying attention to? Just Trump. Trump! Trump! Go Trump!
OK, got that out of my system. On to who we actually need to care about enough to follow, just in case Democrats have to face them in a general election, either for president or, secondarily, some other office. However, there are 17 making the cut to be included in some debate, and I can’t follow that many. I suspect I speak for many reading this when I say that having a life outside of politics, or at least outside of the presidential race, I can’t follow that many. Yes, the whole point of this exercise is concern that really good stuff to bring up when persuading voters next year will have gone down the memory hole when 2015 is past. But accumulating the pratfalls of 17 clowns or, as the media likes to call them, the deepest GOP bench in a long time (what does that say about the state of that party?) is quite the commitment of time I don’t have. So I have to narrow, and I have to admit my attempt to be purely objective about it failed. There just isn’t enough objective data, so I’m going to play pundit and pretend my gut feelings are data. Just like the pros! Though hopefully with more accuracy.
What I’m actually going to do is narrow down who we should follow and who we can ignore based on three criteria. What objectively can be said about their campaigns; my subjective opinion of their odds of being nominated; the chance of facing these candidates for some other office, regardless of their odds of becoming president. If I judge a candidate not worth following, I simply won’t spend any time on them again. I plan to fight the temptation to highlight the stupid things they say because they just aren’t worth the investment in time.
Feel free to disagree with my specific choices, but be aware that not all candidates have a future as the nominee or in other public office, so they’re not worth your time to comment on articles, post links on social media (#ThisGuyWantsToBePresident on Twitter), or write your own blogs about. And why can’t you write your own blogs? Am I that much smarter than you? Go to the upper right, click the “log in” link, start an account and start writing. That’s all it takes to start.
Seven of the seventeen candidates were relegated to the “kiddie table” debate by Fox News. I don’t really know how important that was, and I suspect all it really does is tell us where candidates were in the polls at the time, but it is objectively true they missed the cut. So for these first seven, take that as said.

Rick Perry
Objective: He’s low in the polls, and his campaign is so low on cash that he can’t pay staff. He has his billionaire backers helping on the dark money side so he’s not completely done.
Subjective: Has anyone come back from being unable to meet payroll? Perry is a strong campaigner in Texas, so his flailing on the national level surprises me, but there it is. He looks probable to be the first one to drop.
Other offices: After embarrassing himself so badly on the national stage, I can’t believe he’d get another shot in Texas. He could have run for Senate if he’d wanted, but he didn’t run. I think this is it.
Worth following: No.
Bobby Jindal
Objective: He’s stuck in the low single digits. His efforts to sound extreme aren’t helping him move up.
Subjective: I have strong doubts Republicans are ready for a non-white presidential nominee. Yes, they nominate non-white candidates for lower office, and I’m guessing they’re close to nominating a non-white candidate who is sufficiently conservative. Maybe Jindal will ease my doubts, but someone with such a terrible record as governor probably isn’t the candidate to do that.
Other offices: He’s the incumbent governor, but his term ends this year. He might run for Senate, which would be laughable if he weren’t in so safely Republican a state.
Worth following: Yes, but only for possible future runs for lower office.


minerunoffIt’s not hypothetical. The disaster at a gold mine that was abandoned nearly a century ago near Silverton, CO, is exactly what opponents of sulfide mining in Minnesota have been warning about. Water mixes with crushed rock and leaches out sulfides that make for a nice acid bath — formerly known as Cement Creek and the Animas River.

On a scorcher of an August afternoon, a crowd gathered on a bridge over the deep-green waters of the Animas River on the north end of Durango, Colorado. A passerby might have thought they were watching a sporting event, perhaps a kayak race or a flotilla of inebriated, scantily clad inner tubers. Yet the river that afternoon was eerily empty of rowers, paddlers or floaters — unheard of on a day like this — and the mood among the onlookers was sombre. One mingling in the crowd heard certain words repeated: sad, tragic, angry, toxic.
They were here not to cheer anyone on, but to mourn, gathered to watch a catastrophe unfold in slow motion. Soon, the waters below would become milky green, then a Gatorade yellow, before finally settling into a thick and cloudy orangish hue — some compared it to mustard, others Tang. Whatever you called it, it was clearly not right.


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clowncarSorry for the late notice. I didn’t know for sure I would be able to live blog the GOP debate until a wee bit ago. That’s how it goes when we’re all volunteers here. Probably more readers will see this tomorrow than tonight. I guess they’ll have missed out slightly, poor them.
I didn’t get a chance to watch the “kiddie table” debate early, so no comment on that. Though yes, I assume it was just as clownish as the one about to start with the leading candidates getting all the way up in to the low double digits in support.
Or maybe it’s the clown car and the clown minivan.
Anyway, I’ll be making comments, hopefully an amusing mix of pithy and snarky. Check back, or refresh your browser every so often.
Pre-debate blather. Why do presidential debates need to include a “spin room”? At least the name is honest, but why is it needed?
What does Carly Fiorina “unleashed a can” mean? The Fox hosts want to talk a bunch themselves. Just go.
Yes, I’ll believe millions of people are watching tonight. Many laughing Democrats, and maybe as many embarrassed Republicans.
Trump won’t commit to supporting the eventual winner. Please run 3rd party. Please please please!!! Actually, no, GOP please make him the nominee. Rand Paul decides to jump in and grab camera time. Audience boos. Start the clown music.
Carson thinks knowing stuff is of questionable value. He was once allowed to work on brains, really.
Rubio: if this election is a resume competition, Hillary wins. Hillary is most qualified, per Rubio. He owed $100,000 on student loans just four years ago, but he managed to spend that much on a boat?
“Florida called me Jeb because I earned it”? Not because that’s your nickname? One of only two states to earn triple A rating — most already had it.
Trump thinks we have too much political correctness, not enough of saying nasty things to women. He and Megan Kelly don’t like each other.
Audience cheer Cruz calling Mitch McConnell a liar. If you’re wondering why acting like a prick is a good way to appeal to the Republican base.
Christie was ready for the finance question. Left out that zero private sector growth include the Bush years.
Walker dodges question on whether he’s too conservative to appeal to women. Brags of taking way their access to health care.



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:

Comments below fold.


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.


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.


Hang Trump around Republican necks

by Eric Ferguson on July 20, 2015 · 3 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.


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.
Comment below fold.

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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.