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Eric Ferguson

clown carJohn Kasich said something odd during a recent appearance on Face the Nation, and I’m not just referring to “And when I left Washington, we had a $5 trillion surplus.” I’m referring to this:

But what I have found, as you know, I’m now — my campaign has gone on for slightly more than just two months, John, and you know I’m in the top tier in New Hampshire, I’m beginning to rise in Iowa. So if it — if what I’m saying is not true, then I should be — I should be getting out of the race, which I am not because I think we’re making really good progress and connecting.

What question must he have been responding to? Why he’s staying in the race when he’s doing so poorly? No, he was asked about a “climate” where experienced governors are getting nowhere in the GOP primary polls. He responded by justifying staying in the race. It seems that was the question he was expecting. Why would you be preparing that answer if you’re not having to convince the voters in the donor primary that you’re still a viable candidate?
Actually, I expect Rand Paul to be the next to drop out following news that a supporting superPAC has decided his campaign is a lost cause, but maybe Kasich won’t be far behind — especially given that his claims abut the polls are pretty much just happy talk. He’s sure stuck down in the milieu in the national polling, though he referred specifically to “beginning to rise Iowa” and being “in the top tier in New Hampshire”. That’s a pretty generous definition of “top tier”, and apparently he thinks “rise” doesn’t include any upward motion from a low point.
Friday’s Pew Poll even has Kasich below the soon-to-depart Paul, down in positively Walkerian levels of barely registering.
The thing that annoys me is hearing liberals saying Kasich seems like the reasonable one. Is there some requirement to pick out a less-clownish clown from the passengers of the clown car? Yes, it’s true he’s given conservatives some reason to dislike him, like when he kept saying in the second debate that foreign policy problems need to include working with allies, and he’s one of the few Republican governors who accepted the Medicaid expansion to cover the people who fell in the hole between Medicaid eligibility and eligibility for private plan subsidies. He even cited the bible in defense of a liberal belief. Wrong party for that.
However, something to bring to the attention if anyone saying he’s not so bad, when Kasich was in the US House, he wrote the law restricting food stamp eligibility for childless adults to just three months in any three year period. This was too harsh even for some of his fellow Republicans, so states were allowed to seek waivers if unemployment was high enough. As governor, Kasich accepted the waiver — for some poor Ohioans. He sought waivers of overwhelmingly white rural counties, but excluded counties with large minority populations.

In 2014, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) had the option to waive time limits on food stamps for the entire state. Due to a struggling economy and high unemployment, Ohio had qualified for and accepted this statewide waiver from the US Department of Agriculture every year since 2007, including during most of Kasich’s first term as governor. But this time, Kasich rejected the waiver for the next two years in most of the state’s 88 counties. His administration did accept them for 16 counties in 2014 and for 17 counties in 2015. Most of these were rural counties with small and predominantly white populations. Urban counties and cities, most of which had high minority populations, did not get waivers.

When you have to temper compassion with fiscal austerity, you recognize you can’t help everybody, so … just help the white rural areas. “So if it — if what I’m saying is not true, then I should be — I should be getting out of the race … ” I have a feeling the donors might soon agree.


The most polarized metro area in the most polarized state

by Eric Ferguson on September 25, 2015 · 2 comments

New Republic image of voting patterns in Milwaukee metro areaI really thought I was done with Scott Walker and the bitter divides in Wisconsin when I finished my schadenfreude-filled This Guy Wants To Be President post about the withering of Walker’s presidential campaign, but a commenter on the cross-post on Daily Kos pointed me to a New Republic article from 2014 which correctly predicted not only that Walker would fail, but why. The New Republic article linked to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article for in depth background on sharp partisan divide in the Milwaukee metro area from which Walker came. They’re too good to not share, especially if you’re into political maps and demography and a deep dive into the political ecosystem that produces and elects such a dreadful person. Since you’re visiting this site, I’m going to guess you are into such topics, at least a bit.

The gist is that just about the whole the country follows a pattern of blue cities, purple suburbs, and red rural areas, with some exceptions. Wisconsin is one of those exceptions. The cities are blue, but rural areas are often competitive, and the suburbs are deep red. Most of Milwaukee is non-white, while non-whites are scarce in the suburbs. Democrats win almost nothing once they step outside the Milwaukee city limits. Many years of close high stakes elections have made the divide bitter as well as sharp. Walker exploited and exacerbated the situation, but he also came from it. The New Republic suggested Walker isn’t just in a conservative bubble, but in a geographical bubble that makes him a creature of the suburbs and disconnected from the rest of the state, and this supportive environment prevented the exposure of his flaws. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel graphically shows the sharp divide and explains how it got that way and stays that way, defying the bluing-suburb trend of the rest of America. Big cities are generally the economic engines of their state, but Wisconsin has been regularly run by people seeking to strangle their big city rather than let it drive growth. It strikes me as much like Michigan and Detroit, but on a smaller scale and not so far along.
From the New Republic, The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker
A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star


clowncarScott Walker might be gone from the presidential campaign, but don’t be fooled. He’s still highly relevant. He’s relevant because he … um, you know … he still has that … who am I kidding. Fine, I just despise the mean-spirited little git and his departure leaves me with some urgent cackling to do. Was he really worse than any of the other Republicans? Maybe it was personal. I disclosed in a prior post I wrote about him, This guy wants to be president: I hardly recognize Wisconsin, that Wisconsin is a former home state and yes, I left before Walker ever entered public life, but I’m still painfully aware of the before and after picture. It would be ridiculous to blame Walker alone for what happened to the place, with the chronic corruption, politically biased courts, withering attacks on the rights of workers, women, and non-white voters, and the economic deterioration. It’s not all on Walker of course, but as I pointed out, Walker was at least an early adopter of an ALEC model bill type of agenda. So absolutely I enjoyed this bit of irony:
Scott Walker screenshot with banner ad photo walkerscreenshot_zpsivnpxkl8.jpg
Click to enlarge this screenshot of an article about Walker’s withdrawal and notice the banner ad. I assume the ad was context sensitive and not random, but still, delightfully ironic. And yeah, I clicked the ad in hopes his campaign is paying by the click-through.


No, black income didn’t plunge 14% in the last year

by Eric Ferguson on September 21, 2015 · 3 comments

Politicians I almost always support, and a bunch of people on my side of the political spectrum are making hay out of the Star Tribune’s report on recent census data saying black household income plunged 14% from 2013 to 2014, and the poverty rate rose form 33% to 38%. This doesn’t seem odd for one year? You know how we rag on conservatives for repeating claims that aren’t facts, but are too politically convenient to not use? Why can’t they just exercise some skepticism? In this case, hate to say it, now we’re doing it, repeating what’s convenient without giving it a close look. Black poverty and the racial income gap is our issue, and a big jump like is so handy for making our case. Too bad it makes no sense. To cut to the chase, the only explanation for the big increase that does make sense is statistical noise from a small sample size.
Just to be clear, I’m not accusing the Star Tribune reporters of lying. I think they tried to get this right. I’m likewise not accusing the Census Bureau of lying. I don’t doubt they’re just reporting what they found. The paragraph that should have clued us in that something was funky, even before thinking things through, was this:

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, with questions on a variety of topics such as income, race, employment, educational attainment, commuting to work and housing. The survey goes out each year to about 3.5 million households nationwide (about 100,000 in Minnesota), with a response rate of about 97 percent. Data estimates generated from these surveys have a degree of uncertainty associated with them, called sampling error. In general, the larger the sample, the smaller the level of sampling error.

So how big was the sample? The Star Tribune didn’t say. How big is big enough? I don’t claim to know. What I did notice was that in seeking an explanation for the plunge in income, there wasn’t another one that held up to even cursory scrutiny. And other statistics don’t fit. Let’s think this through.


Liveblogging, or is it “live blogging”, means that I’ll be listening to the debate and commenting as it goes along. I did this for the first debate, and I assume this time too, the candidates’ time to give answers was short and the pace was fast, at least for someone trying to simultaneously listen, think, write, and update. But I’ll do my best. If it seems I missed something important, that’s probably why. Though my judgment might differ from yours on what was worth a comment. If we disagree, just remember — I’m right. Ugh, Trump’s influence has reached me!


Anyway, refresh the page and scroll to the bottom for the latest. I’ll be live blogging just the prime-time debate because the candidates in the first debate aren’t worth the time. Some candidates are worth following, and some aren’t, including some in the prime time debate. Click here for how I reached those conclusions. The only changes are Rick Perry has actually dropped out, and I’m close to adding Bobby Jindal to the not-worth-our-time list. The debate starts at 7PM central.

And the clown car ignition is turned. Here they are, the mainstream media’s notion of a “deep bench”. One of them will get the nomination, just think of that. Sorry about the loading errors. I’ve reached out to our admins.


clowncarIf being crazy and obnoxious can work for other Republicans, can it work for Scott Walker? The candidate who keeps polling around 2%, like Walker in recent polls, is generally not a candidate long, but Walker is making a last ditch effort. That’s what he’s about by blaming Obama for endangering police and proposing to impose so many restriction on unions at the federal level as to effectively ban them. Unavoidably, we on the left engage in debunkings of his fact-contradicting nonsense (police killings are way down under Obama) and point out how damaging his policies have been and will be as he tries to go back to the anti-union well.
However, what damages Walker isn’t getting his facts wrong or being an obnoxious git to people he doesn’t like just because he has the power. It doesn’t matter if he’s run a corrupt administration or if his policies don’t work. Remember that he’s appealing to a base that thinks facts have a liberal bias, punching down is a virtue, corruption isn’t possible if your name isn’t “Hillary”, and the effectiveness of policies have no bearing on whether they’re right.
What’s hurting him is the media are figuring out that his campaign is withering. They report that he’s in trouble, and once the media narrative is that a campaign is withering away, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Supporters conclude a candidate don’t win and while we’re still months away from the first caucuses and primaries, the donor primary is going on now. Small donors might donate out of idealism, but big donors expect something for their money. Getting 2% in the polls suggests money will soon run out, and further donations probably just pay off the debt of a defunct campaign. Maybe some donors like Walker enough to help him with his debt, or maybe he doesn’t have any debt, or not yet — I’m not privy to his finances and we’ll never know about his dark money support. But I feel pretty sure that the big factor that caused Rick Perry’s money to dry up (at time of writing, he just dropped out) was the press reports that his money was drying up.
Of course, Walker isn’t down in the polls because he’s down in the polls. That’s probably because he changes his positions so often his nickname should be “Mitt”. I doubt conservatives care that he dodged the evolution question during his trip to Britain or said he wouldn’t pursue freerider protection, as “right to work” should be called, and then turned around and pushed it through (not that Wisconsin’s Republican legislature provided significant resistance). Yes, generally, if you don’t like a Walker position, wait a bit and he’ll change it, but specifically, he did that with immigration. The GOP’s nativist base can’t tell if he’s with them or not. They keep getting a different answer. And down goes the poll numbers.
So if you’re thinking candidates are missing the point when they talk so much about the proverbial horserace stuff, like how the favorable poll was so important and the bad poll was meaningless, bragging of incoming donations and denying that poor fundraising is any concern, that’s why. Policy, to a significant degree, takes second place to the ability to win, which requires money and doing OK in the last primary. In the present case, the last primary is the ongoing donor primary.

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State reps deny charge of lewd behavior in a public park

by Eric Ferguson on September 4, 2015 · 2 comments

State Rep. Tim KellyState Rep. Tara MackThe first couple paragraphs of the Pioneer Press’s story sum it up:

A Dakota County sheriff’s deputy allegedly caught two Minnesota lawmakers “making out” in a parked car last week, according to law enforcement reports and court records, but the lawmakers say that accusation is “completely false” and a “lie.”
State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, were issued citations for causing a nuisance on Aug. 25.

So the gist is a park ranger, rangers being deputies of the Dakota County sheriff, approached their car for being double-parked. He said in his report they Mack and Kelly were “making out” and Mack’s pants were “unzipped and pulled down”. Both legislators say the deputy is lying, and that they met there to exchange documents about an Owatonna-based health plan.
My first reaction was actually to think about the news stories of recent years about police fabricating their reports or covering up misbehavior, so I can’t dismiss the possibility the legislators are right. Wait, I’m handed this story about to two elected officials — of the opposing party — and representing swing districts — and my reaction is something other than cackling with glee? Well, I don’t cackle generally, but it’s more a matter of trying to apply the same skepticism I would if these were two DFLers. My next thought after treating the Mack and Kelly’s claim as plausible is to wonder where the body cam or dash cam video is. What we have however is the deputy’s word, and there’s a balance to be struck between the need for police to be trusted when they report something, and the fact some abuse that trust. So I’m not believing the legislators; just admitting the chance they’re telling the truth pending more evidence.
Of course, to be skeptical the other way, why would they meet in a park to exchange documents? I get why politicians might have grown leery of email, when every passing thought becomes public record to be searched by people who mean you ill, but still, wouldn’t handing off documents be a matter of attaching them to an email? OK, maybe they’re only in hard copy, or maybe they aren’t real, or maybe that was an alibi constructed after the fact. The most skepticism-inducing claim however is that the deputy is lying.
Yes, police lie sometimes, but usually not about a misdemeanor. Cover-ups normally happen when a suspect has some inexplicable injuries. Or when the suspect’s suspicious activity is something like walking through his own neighborhood, or driving through a white neighborhood while persistently failing to be white. Did the deputy want to endanger the political careers of the two people in the car? He probably had no idea who they were. So why would he make up something about people who attracted his attention by being double-parked allegedly? “Allegedly” because Kelly apparently is disputing that too. However, both were factually wrong when they asserted the information on their charges was released illegally. The Pioneer Press’s tipster may have had whatever motive, but those are public documents.
The implication of the allegations is that Kelly and Mack are having an affair, and we don’t know that yet. I’m guessing it’s true, but I’m actually feeling no schadenfreude over the possible repercussions to their marriages. This has to be painful on a personal level. These are Republicans, but I can think of others where I’d greet such news with the thought “glad it happened to one the legislature’s biggest a__holes” and yes, I do think in underscores instead of letters. I’ll seek help when I’m ready. Seriously, I don’t take any pleasure in it. The fact they’re ideologically hidebound on almost all policy matters doesn’t mean I wish them ill.
That’s not to say I’m unaware of the political implications, because these are both committee chairs. Both districts are purple and should have been winnable anyway, but obviously just became more winnable. Usually incumbents make the strongest candidates, but sometimes incumbents are so weakened that their parties would be better off replacing them as nominees, and that just might be the case here. Mack was the rumor mill’s pick to replace US Rep. John Kline, who just announced today that he’s not running for reelection. That seat is deep purple, and without an incumbent, becomes a top DFL pickup opportunity, so to have a MNGOPer who was being groomed for the seat screw up just now is a big deal.
Before making the “family values” hypocrisy charge, I wanted to see that this was actually the case. Pretty much, I don’t. Yes, each had an abortion bill during this year’s session. But otherwise, Kelly actually opposed the gay marriage ban amendment. Mack made mention of her faith being important to her in the introductory video before her speech at last year’s CPAC. I heard her mention there and in the video on her web site that her husband is pastor, but her speech was the basic conservative ideological pabulum — Obamacare is bad, liberal professors are indoctrinating students, etc. So in being holier-than-thou legislators, neither of them is exactly Tim Miller or Mary Kiffmeyer.
Is it fair to have their political careers ruined by a tryst? I actually don’t want to see them bounced from office for an affair (I made a deliberate choice to avoid using photos that include their family members, even though most politicians use family in campaign materials — this is probably bad enough without me piling on). I want Mack and Kelly to be bounced because they’re terrible on policy on health care and transportation respectively, though if they’re lying about the deputy lying, that would be good reason to bounce them too. And if they’re right that the deputy lied, I expect them to come around on the issue of police accountability. If they don’t start giving serious consideration to other people’s claims that the police fabricated their charges, then I’ll call them hypocrites.
Comments below fold


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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