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Eric Ferguson

I’m starting to wonder if politics really does have rules, or merely guidelines where exceptions are rare, very rare … but not non-existent. One of the rules, or rarely to be departed from guidelines, is never argue from inside the other side’s frames. Avoid using their preferred words and phrases, because they chose those for how they evoke preferred framing in the listener.


Thus the caution about saying the phrase, “tax simplification”. Republicans like to use that. Frank Luntz advised using it to sell tax cuts when he wrote his messaging memo for Republican candidates in 2006, which Democratic persons managed to get a hold of, scan, and put into a PDF they called, “The Frank Luntz Rethug Playbook, Unauthorized Edition, How to Scare the American Public into Voting Republican *” Here’s one place to get a copy. Republican candidates commonly promise to simplify the tax code (Jason Lewis, the GOP endorsee in MN-02 for example), which of course means they’re going to make it easier for most of us to file our personal income taxes. Ha! Just kidding! They mean of course removing those pesky bits about rich people pay taxes too. Luntz was pretty blunt about how tax cuts at the top really don’t sell well, even though, at least in pre-Trump times before hating women and minorities became the organizing principle, cutting taxes at the top was more or less the Republican Party’s whole reason for existing.

That might not sell well, but tax simplification, everybody likes that! Whatever they think it means, and to be sure, the tax code is big and scary. Only a small part applies to any one of us, but which part? But if we could simplify the tax code, say make it ten percent smaller, then instead of a big intimidating tax code, we would have … a slightly smaller big intimidating tax code.


See if what jumped out to me jumps out to you too.

Mossack Fonseca is a leading global player in the incorporation of offshore companies across the globe. It was the subject of the largest-ever financial breach, and 11.5 million of its documents are the subject of a collaborative analysis by McClatchy and about 350 journalists under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. McClatchy was the only U.S. newspaper company involved.

You caught what I did if this bit was bolded in your mind as you read it, “McClatchy was the only U.S. newspaper company involved.
This is unfortunately not one of those instances where the title is a question because the writer is going to answer it. I don’t know why other major US media outlets didn’t join in. In an interview with On The Media, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists director, Gerard Ryle, said the NY Times chose not to join. He speculated that US media still have a go-it-alone approach, which Ryle criticized on the grounds that the modern media economy makes it difficult for individual outlets to have adequate resources. He didn’t name other specific US media outlets and it’s likely unfair to pick on just the NY Times, but what about the other major dailies? What about the broadcast networks, and the cable news channels. Well, Fox News has the excuse that they don’t do news, but what about CNN and MSNBC? What, too many airplane crashes and terrorism scares to cover? What about the big news magazines? OK, be fair, maybe they invited only newspapers, but the big dailies for sure muffed it.
I’m not saying major US media didn’t cover the story after the ICIJ broke it, but it seems odd they all but McClatchy passed on the chance to break one of the biggest stories of the year. In fact, with so many powerful people from so many countries hiding from their respective tax collectors, the Mossack Fonseca could be providing new scandals for a long time. That’s just how much material investigative journalists are still trying to sort through. Everything that has come out so far — that’s with the story just getting started.
It’s a shame these financial scandals are so hard to follow. Sex scandals are so much easier to understand, no wonder they get so much more coverage, but they are’t nearly so important. Go on, explain just what the big financial corporations did to crash the economy in 2008. Now explain why Tara Mack and Tim Kelly suddenly decided to spend more time with family. Which was easier?*

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scotusSure, there’s the obvious. Republicans hate Obama, oppose everything he does as SOP, and would oppose any nomination he might make for the US Supreme Court even under different circumstances. They would likely oppose any nomination made by a Democratic president, though given the disrespect they’ve shown this president, they probably feel the awful irony that the most blatant racist to sit on the court in recent decades will be replaced by someone chosen by the first black president.


But that’s not all.


Think back a few decades. Republicans held the presidency, and made all the supreme court nominations, for 20 of 24 years from Richard Nixon’s inauguration until Bill Clinton’s. The other four years were Jimmy Carter’s term, when he got zero picks. Zero. Presidents aren’t guaranteed any picks. Consequently, when Clinton started his first term, the court was 8-1 Republican. It may have been only 6-3 conservatives to moderates/liberals, but the point is this: the conservative lean of the supreme court is not recent. Going back to roughly the early 1980’s, for over 30 years, the court has been conservative. It didn’t start with George Bush Jr.; it couldn’t have, considering that the most infamous of the court’s 5-4 conservative decisions, Bush v. Gore, was a necessary precondition of Bush being placed in the presidency.
In other words, for all or most of the adult lives of those now living, and for the entire lives of anyone under age 35, the supreme court has been conservative, and been an eroding force for civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, and restraints on corporate power. Liberals haven’t always lost, but winning has always been against the odds, hoping a conservative or two could see the light on one particular case. Conservatives have been aware of this, putting far more attention on judicial appointments than liberals in general. There is no liberal equivalent of the Federalist Society frmo which John Roberts came.
So the death of Antonin Scalia means not merely that the favorite justice of the right has died, not merely that he’ll be replaced by a Democrat, and not merely that he’ll be replaced by THAT Democrat; it means the first liberal supreme court most of us have ever seen.
If the importance of that still doesn’t sink in, imagine no Bush v. Gore, and all that has flowed from that horrific decision; or at least, had Bush gone to the court as he did, he wouldn’t have been able to count on a partisan decision. Who knows, maybe a liberal court would have made a radical decision like telling Florida to actually count the ballots. Imagine no Citizens United or any decisions blowing apart our campaign finance laws. Imagine no Medicaid gap being written in the ACA. Imagine no Heller decision making law out of fringe doctrines of the gun obsessives. This is the court that is on the verge of flipping thanks to President Obama getting to select Scalia’s replacement.

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Presidential primary is not a done deal

by Eric Ferguson on March 19, 2016 · 4 comments

When state DFL chair Ken Martin endorsed a “hybrid” primary, that made me happy because I’ve been wanting that ever since I helped with sign-in at my precinct’s caucus in 2008. I had no training or experience in running an election, and we made up procedures as we went because there was nothing else we could do. It was one of those deep blue urban precincts with the massive turnout, but the problems we ran into were pretty much the same as everywhere. Clearly, running a primary on a precinct caucus infrastructure was a lousy idea, and surely we would never try that again. We did try it again, as did several other states.
We had the same problems as 2008, and so did the other states that tried running a binding presidential ballot at a caucus: massive lines, harried volunteers with little if any training or experience, improvised procedures, and angry voters who had no idea what a “precinct caucus” does and left frustrated at the most screwed up polling places they’d ever seen. Except these aren’t polling places. People think there are staff running elections, but it’s all-volunteer, from the conveners and the people they recruit to help right through to the local party chairs.
The problem is essentially that the binding ballot brings out masses of people, with my seante district getting several times normal caucus turnout, so we’re taking the people who would vote over the whole day of a primary and trying to shove them through more or less all at once. Whereas election judges have time to set up before opening, we had lines of people even before the facilities were unlocked. Many conveners had literally no time to set up, and then they had to run a caucus simultaneously with running a polling place. This is literally the worst way to hold an election; thus my support — even before trying to make the unworkable work in my role as a local chair — for moving the presidential ballot to a separate primary. Let the primary determine the allocation of the state’s national delegates, while the caucuses do everything else. I wrote about what “everything else” means in my pre-caucus post urging attendees to stay and participate, but it’s no accident that the things I said caucuses work well for did not include binding ballots. What did concern me was that the many people coming to their first precinct caucus would leave alienated by a bad experience, and that volunteers would feel burned out and not come back. Those are the same people who knock on doors, make phone calls, and come early to run events. Given how much of a chair’s job is asking people to volunteer for something, losing part of the volunteer pool is scary.
Frankly, the presidential ballot is a mess even if everything goes perfectly, and it never does with caucuses, a point I really want to hammer home with anyone who still thinks we did things the right way. There are always conveners who are late because of a personal emergency, facilities that don’t unlock their doors on time and/or forget to tell the staff, volunteers that forget to show up, “help” from people who have no idea what’s going on but think sure they do, organizations that put out misinformation which causes problems for local parties, and I can tell you that in my district, all those things happened. That’s expected, and we cope with normal turnout and no primary to run. With several times normal turnout and a primary to run, good luck.

That makes it good news that a member of the majority party in each house of the legislature has offered a bill to have a presidential primary, and that the state chair has endorsed moving the presidential ballot to a primary. The MNGOP chair hasn’t said no, and the Gov. Mark Dayton is supportive. So why do I say the primary is not a done deal yet?


The caucus isn’t just about voting

by Eric Ferguson on March 1, 2016 · 1 comment

Minnesota’s precinct caucuses are tonight, and yes, this is last moment for posting something like this, but as a local chair I’ve been a bit busy actually putting the caucuses together. And I’m still mostly concerned with calls and emails from caucus attendees, so this will be a short post by my usual standard.


However, I do want to appeal to those of you planning to just vote for president and leave. Stay if you can, because you’re missing what the caucus is really about. It’s about face-to-face. Just like why we knock on doors during campaign season instead of just buying ads. Nothing beats the face-to-face contact for building a strong local party. That’s what “grassroots” means. That’s what makes a “ground game” work. You’re going to meet with people who must live geographically close since they’re in your precinct, maybe people you sort of know but didn’t know they too are DFLers. Especially if you sometimes feel you’re the only person who thinks like you do. A caucus is about more than just a party label, but about “DFLers” having names and faces. The people from across the street or a couple blocks over, that’s your local party.
Yes, the process is partly about picking candidates, but it can’t be just about electing other people to go off and do something. It’s about “delegate” being not some abstract thing, or some strangers dressed funny in overpriced souvenirs at a national convention on TV. It’s about a real person looking you in the eye and asking you to elect them as a delegate. At the local level, quite often, it will be about people asking you to be a delegate. You may or may not care who your precinct officers are, but if you want to, you will know who that person is because you voted them in. And why not you? Precinct chair is actually a great place to get started without being expected to already know how things work.

Use the secretary of state’s caucus finder to find your precinct and location. Be aware that redistricting happened AFTER the 2012 caucuses, so the odds are your precinct changed. Also make no assumption your location is the same place you voted last election, and it might be different from the last time you attended a caucus. As someone who organized my senate district caucuses, I can attest that sometimes past locations aren’t available, and polling places might not be available or suitable. If your caucus location has a long line of people wanting to sign in and vote, remember that this is all run on volunteer labor. They worked on this probably after getting off work that day, so please be patient. Or better yet, offer to help! There’s rarely such a thing as too many volunteers. Too few though …

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clown car

Republican candidates attempting to get on to the debate stage

Let’s start with the schadenfreude just for a laugh. Or to show we know one word of German, whichever. The best part of the New Hampshire primary was watching Marco Rubio finish fifth after giving the most exuberant victory speech maybe ever, despite finishing third. He sounded like he was celebrating actually winning the presidency, not finishing third in one state. The first state, but just one state. From the dribbles of rumor from the Senate to the public, apparently he is spared the disdain of his Republican colleagues only by the noxious presence of Ted Cruz. Avoid Rubio and you might have to talk to Cruz, so…
Yet there’s another contender in the race for the “You’re celebrating THAT?” award. John Kasich, delighted at finishing a distant second to an insult comic, saying, “Maybe, just maybe, we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics because tonight, the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigns.” The “light” got 15% and the — well, I infer Kasich’s opponents are the “darkness” — got 85%. This is apparently a use of the word “overcame” I was previously unfamiliar with.
A phrase I hope goes away when the election is over is “the establishment”. What is the establishment? Does it give out membership cards? It seems the halls of power in DC are crawling with people bragging of how they defy the establishment and the establishment hates them. I would have guessed that when you’re a congressman or a governor or a billionaire or some such, you are the frikkin’ establishment. I’d like to dump “the establishment” into the trash bin of meaningless old buzzwords, but I’ll settle for an unwritten rule that no one says “the establishment” without saying who the hell they’re talking about.


clown car

Candidate limousine pulls in for tonight’s GOP debate

I’ll be live-blogging the GOP debate tonight. It will be broadcast and webcast on Fox News, and I’ll be watching with you, or listening more likely since I’ll be looking at the form where I write this. I’m not sure if just listening or also watching makes a difference. There was a story from the debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy during the 1960 campaign that people who watched on TV thought Kennedy won, but the radio audience thought Nixon won. It sounds like one of those stories that gets passed along as conventional wisdom, but now I’m wondering if the was Nixon campaign spin after he lost, trying to make it sound like if you thought Kennedy won, you’re a shallow person moved by a handsome face with better makeup, and what’s that say about you? Anyway, maybe I’ll have a different take from listening instead of watching.
If you’re new to this live blogging stuff, it’s a bit like live tweeting except you don’t have to keep hunting through Twitter and I can comment in over 140 characters. Just reload this page once in a while to get the latest pithy comment from me. But do your own fact-checking because I’ll mention when I catch a factual error, or think something is just being made up, but I won’t have time to research and link.
The debate starts at 8 central time. Click the “read more” link to, try not to be surprised, read more.


Tara Mack needs help with healthcare policy

by Eric Ferguson on January 9, 2016 · 3 comments

State Rep. Tara MackI’m starting to believe state Rep. Tara Mack’s claim that she and state Rep. Tim Kelly were really just exchanging healthcare papers, because somebody sure needs to fill her in on the basics, judging by how much she got wrong in her Star Tribune guest column, “Counterpoint: MNsure is hurting folks, not helping them”. She mentions how often she hears from Minnesotans with “heartbreaking stories” from “the so-called Affordable Care Act.” Maybe she’s unaware that it’s not so-called. That’s actually the name. It’s not a nickname. “Obamacare” is a nickname, as is, technically, the many names I imagine Republicans give it in private. Or maybe she’s flunking Clever Phrasing 101.
Anyway, the implication is that the ACA is destructive for many and working for nobody, even though the percentage of the US population without health insurance has plunged. It’s not exactly secret or hard to check. They do have staff in the MNGOP House caucus, don’t they? Via Paul Krugman:

Since Mack is getting complaints without apparently understanding the full context, let me explain: having access to the healthcare system is better than not having access to the healthcare system. The percentage uninsured plunged when the ACA kicked in fully, and no, it’s not a coincidence. In fact, it would be even lower had state governments under the control of Mack’s party not taken advantage of the US Supreme Court’s rewriting of part of the law to create the “Medicaid gap”. That happens when states choose not to accept the Medicaid extension, which the court made voluntary for no reason grounded in law (though sure, I’m grateful they didn’t chuck the whole law for ideological reasons as four conservatives wanted to do). The Medicaid extension covers people who are too poor to buy insurance with subsidies on state exchanges, but have too much income for existing Medicaid. Fortunately, Minnesota’s Republicans were unable to leave this portion of the state’s poor without healthcare access, but they gave it their best effort.
After showing she doesn’t understand the ACA in general, Mack followed that with a simple and extremely checkable false claim.


Donald Trump as albatrossI must disappoint any Trump supporters reading this, because the Democratic conundrum isn’t what you’re thinking. No, Democrats weren’t thinking the presidential election was in the bag thanks to that clown car of candidates the GOP produced and then, oh no, Donald Trump came along to smack away Democratic hopes. Well, if that’s what you’d prefer to think, don’t let me stop you.
For Democrats, the conundrum is that Democrats look at Trump and see that he’s crude, authoritarian, dishonest, and probably some other adjectives we’d generally agree upon, and it would be an epic disaster if he somehow actually became president. There’s a case to be made that someone so dangerous should be stopped as early as possible, so if Democrats can do something to convince Republicans to deny him their nomination, they should, even at the cost of Republicans picking a better candidate.
On the other hand, there’s the case that Trump is the GOP albatross, that the GOPers getting desperate to find some way to get rid of him are right. The blowhard is blowing through their chance of winning the presidency when it’s an open seat. I don’t know if Republicans see it, but some Democrats see Trump as a proverbial club for bashing Republican hopes all the way down the ballot. There’s the delicious dream of asking every Republican candidate, not just Trump’s presidential opponents but Republican running for everything, to respond to the latest offensive thing their top of the ticket just said.
Assuming we could do something to beat Trump in the primaries or to help him win the nomination (not a safe assumption, but assume for the purposes of thinking things through), it’s risky either way.


Debbie Wasserman Schultz needs to go

by Eric Ferguson on December 24, 2015 · 3 comments

U.S. Representative and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman SchultzThe title of this post cuts to the chase, but I might surprise some readers by saying this isn’t about the Democratic presidential debates. I have an issue with how DNC (Democratic National Committee) Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the decision, about which more later, but I’m not all that bothered about the number or timing of the debates. I don’t know the right number or best times, and I’m skeptical about the utility of presidential debates anyway. So that’s not my issue. Actually, “issues” plural.
Since I’m taking a position aligned with many supporters of Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley (and I suspect the position of the candidates themselves though they haven’t said this), I just want to reiterate that I’m not picking a candidate. I’m the chair of the DFL of my senate district, which means that I’m running the precinct caucuses and the convention where we pick delegates to the state convention, and I don’t want any doubts about my impartiality. I also want to be clear that though my chair position is why I won’t pick a candidate, I don’t in any way speak for the party in this post. This is purely my own opinion, and no one else should be held responsible for anything I say here.
So why does the national chair need to go?