Tag: Politics

Reform the Police

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Why do we have police?

Seriously. I'm asking. Because right now it looks like they're part of the problem.

This weekend's protests against the kind of casual police violence and brutal behavior that we've all become somehow accustomed to were hijacked. By anarchists, by agitator plants, by right-wing chaos agents, by people who just look for any excuse to break stuff and loot. But also by the police.

Thank god for pocket cameras and the internet. Those technological marvels allowed us to see and hear so many examples of police departments doubling down on the offenses that prompted people to protest them in the first place. Police firing gas and projectiles at bystanders, some while standing on their own front porch. Police shoving, kicking, and bludgeoning protesters. Police using their vehicles and horses to assault people. Police pepper-spraying people, targeting reporters with tear gas, and generally behaving like government-sanctioned thugs.

The reports from some towns where police joined the protests are heartening, I don't want to overlook those. But even here, in my city of Seattle that has what is supposed to be one of the more enlightened police forces among large American cities, the cops were out last night to "restore order" and in so doing escalated things to violence and pepper-sprayed and manhandled crowds indiscriminately, with more unprovoked violence today.

So I ask again, why do we have police? What's their purpose? What should be their purpose?

Obviously, we need some sort of public safety agency. We are, in theory anyway, a culture based upon law and a social contract that requires those laws to be enforced somehow. Those laws are sometimes flawed—horribly so in too many cases—but makeup and details of the laws in general are a different matter than how the police operate. If the police are simply there to enforce the laws, then why are they permitted to break said laws?

I'm a straight white guy that has never had any sort of serious run-in with the police. When I got pulled over by traffic cop for the ridiculous offense of driving below the speed limit on an empty freeway late at night, I didn't fear for my safety. I have never even been in the vicinity when a cop has drawn a weapon. My personal experiences are not difficult in this manner. Nevertheless, I no longer trust the police even to the degree I did before this week, which was not as much as you might think, because I have to be suspicious of their tendency to use violence as a first resort in any given circumstance.

The history of how police forces came to be is not pretty. Police forces were formed to shield the wealthy from the rabble, to be a power arm of slaveholders, to be protectors of property. Theoretically, the rationale for police has evolved over time to "protect and serve" the public interest generally, to be agents of the law in broader terms as a way to keep people safe as well as to prevent theft and vandalism and the like. Yet, what we saw last night, what has happened many times before during civil unrest—this is, after all, the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre—was police forces in cities across the nation violently and indiscriminately clearing streets and otherwise wreaking their own havoc to protect property. Few if any police appeared to be doing anything to protect people, to promote public safety, to even apprehend criminals.

"But the police needed to restore order!" you might say. Well, (a) that regular order includes the sort of thing that prompted the protests in the first place, so there's that; (b) was that really the way to clam things down, by escalating to the point of chaos?

I get it, things can get a little crazy when the looters and vandals get involved. Those agitators used the protest crowds as cover for their criminality. But that wasn't the sequence of events in some cases, in some cases the police were the cause of craziness, provoking the start of something where those looters and vandals could have the cover they needed. Once that sort of chaos is happening, I don't know what alternative I'd suggest for handling it. But let's not actually create the chaos first, OK?

Police culture is steeped in violence. Police are trained to assume any interaction with a civilian can become deadly. Nuance is not a concern. Perhaps more importantly, police are likewise trained to revere and protect each other regardless of circumstance. Just look at the scene in Minneapolis that sparked this mess: One officer did the actual murdering of George Floyd, several others aided and abetted, and one looked on without taking any action. One might assume that the onlooker wasn't on board with murdering Mr. Floyd, but did he act to stop or in any way oppose his fellow policeman's behavior? Why not? If he witnessed a civilian doing anything remotely like that he would likely have been all over it, but this was a fellow cop, so he did nothing. (Yes, that's a supposition, I'm giving the guy the benefit of the doubt when he may have, in fact, been just as cruel and indifferent to snuffing out a black person's life.)

The purpose of the police force needs to be clarified. The tactics of the police force need to be focused away from the "force" part. The people that join the police need to be vetted to a far greater degree. And the police need to be policed, and a reformed police culture should welcome such oversight instead of resent it. Cops are not above the law. Individual cops who are out there making things worse for everyone should not be cops, and decent cops should be all in favor of weeding the bad cops out and keeping violent white-supremacist types and power-drunk asshats from becoming cops in the first place.

My reaction when seeing a police officer in even the most routine of circumstances is not reassurance or safety, it's apprehension and suspicion. I'm less apprehensive if the officer is black, but not a lot. Because I know police are violent. I know they will assume even the most trivial interaction can be a reason to use force. I know they are armed with lethal weaponry, and even if they opt for a taser instead of a pistol—not harmless, incidentally—they can be assumed to "subdue first, ask questions later."

The police need to change. Society needs to change them.

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Worse Before Better: Are We There Yet?

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I don't even know where to start. This is probably gonna be a rambly, stream-of-consciousness post. Probably with swearing.

I mean, this has been one hell of a week. Monumental eruptions of anger. Astonishing levels of idiocy in government. Institutional racism in full view. One hell of a week.

On the other hand, this is, you know, just another week in these United States.

Especially these United States as it has existed these last three and a half years, especially as that subset of history has existed in the last three and a half months. But still, in the macro sense, you know, just another week. A policeman murdered a black citizen for dubious or no reasons? Ain't that America.

The environment that's allowed the string of killings of black folks by police recently has been stoked by our current so-called president and his minions and the larger Republican party, yes. It must be pointed out that President VonClownstick exacerbated the permissiveness around police brutality, especially when those being brutalized are black, repeatedly and without remorse. He is culpable. But he didn't start it. This is hundreds of years old.

And we as human beings in human society have gotten better, yes, but we've yet to get over this shit. And it's beyond frustrating. It has been a progression, sure; things were better in 1900 than 1850, better yet in 1950, better yet in 1970, better yet in 2010. Not so much improvement between 2016 and 2020, what with racist fuck klanhat setting the tone from the White House, but overall, long-view, better. But it's still too damn slow, and that's a long time for injustices to fester.

George Floyd was murdered by a cop for a variety of very bad reasons that mostly revolve around power and insecurity. Brionna Taylor was killed by cops who didn't think it necessary to do the basics of policework before busting in to the wrong home in search of someone who'd already been apprehended and just shooting whoever was there if whoever was there had dark skin. Michael Dean was murdered by a cop apparently just for driving while black and the cop felt like it. Eric Reason was murdered by an off-duty cop over a parking space. I could go on. And on and on and on and on and on and on some more, take a breath and keep going on and on for a good long while.

So, yeah, people are mad. Protests are good and proper. The violence I'm not on board with, but I get it. (Some of it, anyway—from some of the footage I've seen I have to wonder if there isn't a faction represented that just likes to break things for whatever excuse is handy, but burning down that Minneapolis cop's precinct, with that police department's history? I get it, yeah.) Shit's gotta change and oftentimes change needs a push.

I grew up on Star Trek (obviously) and have always subscribed to the ideals put forth there, believed us to be a people that could achieve a future free of the stupidity and machismo we're confronted with all the time today. When I was a kid, one of my favorite episodes was "A Taste of Armageddon," in which two worlds have been fighting a war for centuries and have sanitized the process so completely that the populaces just accept it as the way things are and perpetuate the clean, deadly carnage decade after decade after decade. Captain Kirk and the crew are declared casualties in their war and, in order to escape, they destroy the apparatus that allows the war's cleanliness; this forces the world leaders to realize that war is a thing to be avoided and that making peace is a real option. Kirk has a mini-monologue at the end of that script that I've always loved—arguing with a planetary leader who insists people have a killer instinct that rules them, he says: "All right, it's instinctive. We're human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But the instinct can be fought. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we won't kill today." (Just one of many bits of Gene L. Coon dialogue that reached me as an impressionable youngling, delivered with just the right level of Shatnerian melodrama. And no, I didn't have to look it up.)

Police departments can learn from this. I'm not saying police can know on any given day whether or not they'll be in a life-or-death situation that might call for deadly force, but I am saying that in all other circumstances, they can choose not to wield it. Pull over someone for speeding? You can choose not to draw your gun as you first approach the car, you can choose not to fire your gun at an unarmed person. Trying to apprehend a suspect in the middle of the night in an apartment you've just busted down the door of? You can choose not to start shooting unprovoked. Stop someone for allegedly forging a $20 check? You can choose not to crush his windpipe in order to feel like a big bad powerful asshole.

Law enforcement, along with American society at large, took a nasty turn after 9/11. The US went all in on machismo in the GWB years to our profound detriment, and while we came back from it a little bit after W slunked off to Texas to learn watercolors, we're in much worse shape now with public policy based on grievance and selfishness and the way of I-get-mine-and-fuck-you as a governing principle.

Even Star Trek knew that in order to get to its relatively idyllic future things would have to get worse first. Bad enough to kick our collective asses out of a complacency that lets us keep on settling for tiny two-steps-forward-one-step-back progressions. I hope the single four-year term of President VonClownstick is as bad as we need to get, 'cause this is plenty scary enough.

Wake the fuck up, America.

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Donald Trump Wants You Dead

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Maybe not you specifically, but a lot of people.

President VonClownstick is so concerned with getting his resorts reopened, with getting stock prices up, with getting money for himself and his corporate brethren, that he will kill a whole lot of Americans to make it happen.

Except it won't work that way. Our deranged POTUS cannot comprehend that trying to "reopen America" in the midst of this crisis will not help the economy. He can't see past the "closed" signs on his hotels.

Today's insane remarks by the man masquerading as President were very revealing. Whether he actually believes that more people would commit suicide under isolation protocols than would die from COVID-19 and from other things that the pandemic prevented treatment for or he's just saying that to gaslight people into thinking it's the end of the world, either way it shows us that he values wealth above health. That money is more important than being alive, and that losing money equals why bother living?

Lawrence O'Donnell had two segments tonight that are worth sharing. The whole show was illuminating, but these bookend pieces stood out. Check 'em out.



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American Idiots

I went out today. I was responsible about it, I didn't interact with people. I went for a lengthy walk around the neighborhood and then made a stop at Fred Meyer for a few groceries. Then I had a brief exchange with a neighbor before returning to the safety of the indoors.

I overheard some stuff at Fred Meyer (where all the employees were wearing cheap plastic gloves and maybe 10% of the customers were wearing surgical masks) that revealed the frustrations people are having with this crisis time—and they're all about the inconvenience of it. My neighbor had similar attitudes. I very much hope these people are outliers, but I think they're not. I think too many people are being stubborn and/or ignorant—willfully or otherwise—to reality.

The general gist of these comments was:

  • This is being blown way out of proportion
  • It's all fine, we're overreacting, it's not like it's a zombie apocalypse
  • My health is good, I always get better if I'm sick, so I don't much care if I get the virus
  • My friend has been isolating for two weeks, so it's OK to go see her now
  • I'm so pissed X was canceled for no good reason

The governor announced a stay-home edict today. He resisted it for a while, but people were just being too stupid.

I get that it's frustrating. Especially for the more extroverted of y'all. Staying home all the time is hard, especially if your home is small. But apparently we need to go over some things.

  • Do not listen to the President. He's a moron. He cares about big business, the stock market, and making money for himself, and everything he says and does is to further that interest. He doesn't give a shit about you. More importantly, he has no idea what he's talking about and is misinforming people about "15-day periods" and drug therapies and basically everything else to do with this.
  • We aren't overreacting; if anything, we are underreacting. It may not be a zombie apocalypse, but you know zombies are a metaphor for, um, pandemics, right? This is a Coronavirus that nobody has an immunity to. It is not like the flu, which many people have a level of immunity to. In order to change its danger level, one of two things needs to happen: People get immunity or people stop spreading it. For people to get immunity, they either need a vaccine (doesn't yet exist, won't for at least 18 months at best) or they need to be exposed to it, get sick, and recover. As we've seen in stark terms, a lot of people who get sick aren't going to recover, so that seems like a bad strategy.
  • That leaves stop spreading it, and since our government screwed the pooch on this when there was opportunity to prepare, we have essentially no testing capacity to determine who has it and who doesn't among the general populace. This bug can infect you and essentially lay dormant for two weeks before symptoms manifest. It's generally another week-plus before you'd be sick enough to need medical attention if you're among those that would need it. So there's a large span of time when you would unknowingly be shedding virus as a carrier, and transmission doesn't have to be direct—you can leave the virus on objects, where depending on the type of surface, it can live for many days. So yeah, you can give it to someone by shaking hands, but you can also give it to someone by, say, pumping gas in an otherwise empty gas station and the next day another person uses that same pump then absentmindedly scratches his nose. You can give it to someone by paying for something; you shed it on your money then the money changes hands. You leave it on the buttons of an ATM, the next person to use the ATM picks it up.
  • You might be healthy and recover find if you get the virus, but you can pass it to someone else who isn't and doesn't.
  • Isolating for two weeks means the person isolating is letting enough time pass in order for his/her own potential symptoms to manifest. If you isolate for two weeks/15 days/whatever similar period, it's to protect other people from you, it does absolutely nothing to prevent you from catching the virus from others once you're done isolating. So to that woman at Fred Meyer today that thought it would be safe for her friend to get visits now: you had it backwards. She probably won't infect you because she'd been isolating; you can still infect her because you weren't.
  • I'm upset that stuff got canceled too. I was supposed to do my season ticket draft tonight, but now we don't know if there's even going to be a baseball season, and yeah, that sucks. But it would suck more to have 35,000 potential disease carriers get together at the ballpark. Or even 100 carriers with 34,900 "normals," 'cause then 300-900 or so people would leave infected and infect more people and infect more people... exponential math might sound complicated, but it's really not.

Unless you've truly been a hermit for two to three weeks with zero interaction with the outside world, you don't know if you've got the bug. Probably not, just based on laws of numbers, but you don't know. I could have picked it up off my shopping cart at Freddy's today, or from the checkout machine (staffed checkout lines were few and long and I didn't want to be in a line of people, some of whom had surgical masks on), or from a passerby in the salsa aisle. I washed my hands when I got home, but still.

Take this seriously. Heed the new rules. Listen to your local officials.

Not the President, though. He and his people will gladly kill you in order to pump up their stock portfolios.

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Biden vs. Bernie Debate

I'm currently watching the Democratic candidate debate CNN held earlier tonight between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. After starting out fairly civilly in discussing the Coronavirus and things related to that crisis, things devolved into a stupid series of arguments.

I'm about halfway through the thing, so maybe it'll get even worse.

Both candidates have their faults, but I have to say, Sanders is presenting himself very poorly here. As a long-serving Senator and Congressman, Bernie Sanders knows how things work, he knows how the sausage is made, and he is twisting things about Joe Biden's history in a less-than-honest fashion by shouting in outrage about things like bankruptcy legislation, gay rights legislation, and health care bills. Bernie is smart enough to know better, so I have to conclude he is consciously preying on many Americans' simplistic and flawed understanding of legislation and realities of Republican obstructionism in an attempt to sell a distorted view of Joe Biden to Democratic voters.

Joe Biden isn't perfect, and he does have some dubious votes in his history. Same is true for Bernie Sanders. But Biden, for all his faults, is presenting himself as a more honest, more mature thinker here. This foodfight is counter-productive, Bernie, you ain't gonna win. Quit inciting your supporters to treat this like people who voted for Ralph Nader treated things in 2000.

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The Anti-Trump and Stephen Colbert

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I missed this when it aired, but here on Super Tuesday Eve it seems like a good time to see and share this fun clip of Stephen Colbert trying to hoard his ribs away from needy children.

Also, I love how EW immediately identifies Bezos by the Lex Luthor comparison.

Since it is Super Tuesday Eve, here is your last-minute reminder to exercise your right to vote. Do it now (or later if your state votes later) or do it in person tomorrow (or later if your state votes later), but voting is a privilege that, if President VonClownstick and the modern Banana Republican party have their way, will not exist as we know it after this year. My endorsement is at right, but do your own research and make your own choice; just remember this is a primary and not the general and whomever has delegates at the convention will have power to shape the ticket and the agenda, because it's looking likely that no one will have a majority before the big July event in Milwaukee.

We in Washington state got our ballots in the mail over a week ago and I turned mine in already even though our turn isn't officially until a week from tomorrow. Tomorrow's results will be the first time we get real results from a substantial portion of the electorate, so what's come before isn't as telling as what the media pretends it is. Vote, and vote with conviction.

 

Please to enjoy.

 

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Debate Fail

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CBS: Bad at baseball, bad at debates

Well, that was embarrassing.

The latest (and last before Super Tuesday) debate in the Democratic primary campaign ended a little while ago and the most charitable thing I can say about it is that it was a mess. Candidates talking over each other, petty sniping, perhaps the worst moderator performance yet. That last is really saying something—the questions in these debates have been pretty lame, but these people, who in their day jobs aren't all that bad, were astonishingly ineffective and ass-backwards with their priorities. At least Chuck Todd wasn't involved.

Some good moments in terms of candidate answers/comments, which I'll note below, but they were ignored by moderators who allowed and even engineered pivots to nonsense and shouting. Unlike the last couple of debates, I watched this one solo and followed my Twitter feed in more-or-less real time; some solid commentary:

CBS screwed the pooch so badly. From dumb questions that completely ignored the most pressing issues of the day to complete lack of control over the crosstalk to steamrolling through and past the most pertinent things said by the candidates, CBS handled this in such an unprofessional manner that they should be suspended for four years from hosting national debates. And, the cherry on top, they ran at least two Bloomberg ads during the breaks. What. The. Frak.

It called to mind my feelings when CBS had the broadcast rights for Major League Baseball in the ’90s. They instituted a playoff schedule that didn't allow fans to watch games out of their immediate market and saddled us with some of the worst sportscasters of the day (looking at you, Musberger). We missed NBC and Scully and Costas so much. (Still do, since when CBS lost the rights they went to Fox. Not worse, but not much better.)

But unlike sports, a Presidential election is hugely consequential and deserves, you know, actual journalism and substantive conversation rather than reality-show bear-poking and inane repetitive dumbed-down-agenda-setting. Truly pathetic, punctuated by a last-question round more suitable for a campaign for prom king/queen and then a gratuitous commercial break to run, among others, yet another fucking Bloomberg ad.

When there was good substance, it came from Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and a little from Tom Steyer. Pete Buttigieg had a couple of good answers as well, but hurt himself with some too.

Pete scored with some acknowledgment of his white privilege and recognition that neither he nor anyone else still running has the experience of being black/brown in America, as well as getting a good shot in against Bernie Sanders' support for keeping the filibuster rule—"How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won’t even support a rule change?"—but also warned that a Sanders nomination would beget "a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the ’50s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolution politics of the ’60s," denigrating a 1960s period in politics that resulted in, among other things, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, "The Great Society," the women's lib movement, et.al, things that are very much tied to Democratic staple values. Not only will this not appeal to Sanders' supporters—a ’60s-style uprising is the point to a lot of them—it may well alienate rank-and-file Dems to diminish what came from that time of tumult.

Warren once more shivved Bloomberg for his past treatment of women and history of funding Republicans, which was welcome. She also made a strong case for public education and its importance, addressed foreign policy issues like military intervention and Middle-East conflicts with thoughtful substance and diplomatic aplomb, and most importantly made her case for being the true progressive choice by (a) pointing out that her "progressive" proposals are popular among Democrats and largely mainstream, and (b) showing her knowledge of the system and how to navigate it, something Sanders simply has not shown an ability to do. Part of that is her insistence that the Senate must do away with the filibuster, a goal Sanders opposes, as necessary to overcome Republican intransigence. I'm ambivalent about removing that tool from the box, but it has been abused so broadly and routinely by Mitch McConnel and company that I agree in principle. (I'd prefer an adjustment to the rule that returns it to the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" style filibuster that requires a Senator hold the floor indefinitely; still plenty of opportunity for abuse there, though, so I might be convinced even that has to go.)

Biden went to his tired routine of claiming he's the only one running who'd ever accomplished anything, which is, frankly, annoying, but he also looked strong and more together than he has in prior debates. When discussing gun violence (nice to see that brought up, by the way), he called out the NRA, which was great, while also sticking it to Sanders for his previous support of gun-lobby positions (positions which, to his credit, Sanders now admits were wrong). He also showed some foreign policy chops when hammering the Trump Administration for its myriad failures.

Steyer is essentially irrelevant at this point, but he's polling high enough in South Carolina that he took a little bit of heat and occasionally made a nice point on something like climate change that was then steamrolled by crosstalk or moderator dismissiveness.

Sanders took a lot of pounding and probably came out much as he went in, support-wise. The criticisms of his recent comments about Cuba and his fast-and-loose approach to details on his big visions really didn't land in terms of peeling support away from him. It may end up factoring into whether he gains support from anyone else's bloc when others eventually drop out, though. Bloomberg at least twice invoked 9/11 as if he were trying to be Rudy Giuliani, plus he tried to be funny and charming and failed miserably. Klobuchar didn't move her needle either way.

Best lines that may or may not end up making the rounds:

  • Emphasizing the need for Democrats to gain seats in the Senate, Buttigieg said, "The time has come to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters."
  • Warren: "I've been in the Senate. What I've seen: gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority and then doesn't pass because of the filibuster. Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry."
  • Buttigieg: "We're not going to win these critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime."
  • "You're the moderators, guys." —Sanders to the alleged journalists, while everyone was yelling over each other
  • Warren: "Progressive ideas are popular ideas, even if there are a lot of people on this stage who don't want to say so."
  • "A majority of the American people I think right now just want to be able to turn on the TV, see their president, and actually feel their blood pressure go down a little bit, instead of up through the roof." —Buttigieg
  • "I'm looking forward to making sure there's a black woman on the Supreme Court." —Biden
  • "We need to bring working people back in to the Democratic party." —Sanders, who himself has still not joined the Democratic party
  • "It's not up to us to determine what the terms of a two-state solution are. We want to be a good ally to everyone in the [Middle-East] region. The best way to do that is to encourage the parties to get to the negotiating table themselves." —Warren
  • Also Warren: "We have got to use our military only when we see a military problem that can be solved militarily."
  • "Tommy come lately." —Biden
  • "I know a lot of black people." —Bloomberg

More Twitter goodness:

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Bernie Freak Out!!!!!

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Similar goals, different strengths

Three, count 'em, three states have held nominating procedures for the Democratic race for President. Two of those were caucuses, and the one that was a primary was effectively an open primary—very, very few people have yet had their say and New Hampshire allowed crossover voting. So of course this is the perfect time for everyone to FREAK THE FRAK OUT because Bernie Sanders is in the lead with 45 delegates. 1,991 are needed for nomination.

It's the nature of the system that early contests have ridiculous influence over the whole process. It's basically insane that this is the stage that could really truly determine who's viable and who isn't, but for now, anyway, it's the reality we live in. And the conventional wisdom among the punditry, for what that's worth, seems to be that there are too many candidates still standing to avoid a Bernie Sanders nomination through non-majority plurality.

I don't know if I buy the details of that conventional wisdom, but the broad strokes are troubling to me. Under normal circumstances it might just be a curiosity or a mild irritant, but circumstances are so far from normal I find I am very close to joining the freakout.

Don't get me wrong, I like Bernie Sanders when it comes to policy, in large part. Not entirely, but in large part. But I fear him as a general election candidate. That might be unfair, that might not stand up to thorough examination, but it's still there. I do not want him to be our nominee for a number of reasons, chief of which is that I am afraid the Republican propaganda machine will succeed in opposing him in a way it would not in opposing the other candidates. The Trumpers will paint him as a very different kind of socialist than he actually is and in too may people, it will stick. His failures to support sanctions on Russia are curious and those will be weaponized (incongruously, but still). His lack of specificity on how to finance his grand visions will be used to tar him as a fantasist (again without acknowledging the rank hypocrisy of it). His sort of unpleasant grumpy personality could work against him too. His health is in question and he's being a bit too secretive about it.

On the other hand, Sanders is energizing a voting bloc that we need—younger voters, a group that historically has been apathetic. Pro-Bernie advocates have argued that those new voters will (a) not support anyone else, and (b) will outnumber any groups that defect. Maybe.

I just don't want to risk it. Elizabeth Warren is my candidate of choice, as I've said before; I think she's a far, far better candidate not just in terms of policy but in terms of inclusiveness and attitude and ability to actually make progress, and she should be as attractive to those young voters as Sanders is (if they were to pay attention, which is far from certain). I know a couple of people that fear her as the nominee because of sexism (not theirs, but their perception of the electorate), but I think she's on pretty solid footing there. She's tough in a way that doesn't offend (at least, doesn't offend people that don't oppress other people) and she has more chops when it comes to fighting corruption—which, aside from preventing tyranny, should be either the number one or number two issue in this election, along with climate change—than anyone else by a long shot. Joe Biden is a troubling candidate because of how he presents himself and a kind of out-of-touchness he seems to embody, but I'd be fine with him, I think he could cut it. Klobuchar isn't a viable option, but I'd be OK with her too, if not super jazzed. Mayor Pete is evidently a super-smart guy, but I want him to get some more experience before jumping all the way from mayor of a modest city to president; still, I'm OK with him too. None of them seem nearly as risky as Sanders in the general, and all of them would probably have more success after becoming president.

Even if he were to win, I don't see Bernie getting very much accomplished. He has fine goals, but getting them done will take a lot of work and he's short on allies in Congress. He still won't join the Democratic party. He would have to become a Democrat by requirement if he were to win as the party's nominee, but he's stubbornly refused so far, which isn't exactly a problem but also seems a bit...off-putting? To congressional leadership, I mean (mostly). Again, Warren seems like a much better choice for making actual progress. Much better. Many of these younger Bernie devotees could end up jaded and disillusioned if he wins and doesn't get Medicare for All and free college passed into law in four years.

But in the grand scheme of things, I'd be happy to have to address that problem—right now the crisis is getting this tyrant out of the White House and restoring democracy and the rule of law to this country.

Bloomberg can go to hell, he's probably the worst guy we could put up. But Sanders makes me nervous and I don't want to nominate him either.

Go Warren.

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Vegas Debate Thoughts

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The Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas ended a little while ago. I watched it along with my friend Mark and while he had a mostly negative reaction to it, I found it . . . not a positive development, necessarily, but at least rather interesting.

One thing that was a slight improvement over last time was the nature of the questions, but they still kind of sucked. Asking Sen. Klobuchar "Why didn't you know the name of the Mexican president?" was a lame question and well deserved the rebuke that Elizabeth Warren gave the moderator for it.

In no particular order, some thoughts:

  • Sen. Warren didn't take my advice, but she did have a very strong performance. She opened by rightly bludgeoning Mike Bloomberg, who was vastly outclassed. Warren also jabbed at other candidates, some surprising (she name-checked Klobuchar a few times in criticisms) some not (Mayor Pete and his big-money donors), but more importantly showed her fire in championing Democratic principles.
  • Mayor Pete was the only one on stage that kept his cool the whole time. The fire worked for Warren, the calm worked for Pete. Even under attack he was cool and collected and parried reasonably well. That said, his centrist health-care talking points remain specious and his characterization of Sanders' policies as "burn the house down" did not help him.
  • Speaking of Mayor Pete, his heavy-mustache stubble made him look like a high school kid desperate to grow facial hair to look grown up.
  • Bernie was Bernie. As Mark and I talked about, say what you will about Bernie Sanders, there's never any ambiguity with him. He came under some fire for the actions of some of his purported supporters, reprehensible behavior, and I have some sympathy for Bernie there; a candidate simply cannot manage all that people do online, and even disowning those supporters isn't going to matter there. Plus, some of that abuse is probably being done in the name of his campaign but by people whose only goal is disruption. Pete went after him for a failure of leadership that allowed this awful behavior, and OK, he's got a point, but how much of it is really controllable?
  • The post-debate outcry over the truly inane question from Chuck Todd (WTF is Chuck Todd doing there anyway? He's a lousy interviewer) about whether or not the field should simply anoint the candidate with the most pledged delegates after the primaries are over even if they don't have a majority is maddening. You can't just have a simple blanket answer to that, the only reasonable answer is "it depends," which is essentially what all except Sanders said in response. That talking heads decry "it depends" as a shocking answer is absurd.
  • I'm really curious to see what kind of fallout, if any, there is for Sen. Klobuchar after this one. It seems to me that she didn't help herself at all tonight and did not react well to criticism. She even said to Buttigieg, "are you saying I'm dumb?" which was not at all what he was doing. The hostile defensiveness may not play well. I admit I don't know how much of that might amount to sexist double-standards. Dudes can be nasty and get away with it. But I think this was something else. I'll be surprised if she doesn't lose support.
  • There was not NEARLY enough talk about Trump. Especially in light of the continuing presidential crime spree and his spate of pardons this week, all of the candidates needed to direct their venom more in his direction and there just wasn't much there. This is on the moderators as much if not more than on the candidates themselves.
  • There was some back and forth on the "socialism" label that Sanders has made part of his identity. Most of what was said was stupid—especially from Bloomberg, who basically said anything other than unfettered capitalism was "communism"—and some opportunities for clarity were missed. Pete at one point invoked Denmark as the place in the world one is most likely to achieve "the American dream," but here was critical of the concept of socialism. That was a contradiction that begged to be highlighted and no one mentioned it.
  • Still way too much time spent on health-care policy. Yes, it's important, yes, some are better on this than others, but there are bigger fish to fry here and the moderate position always warns against "taking away" insurance plans that "people love." Well, if anyone really loves their insurance plan they probably don't love the premium. No one will shed a tear if they lose a private insurance plan that they don't like/pay a fortune for and in its place get simple universal coverage that covers them fully at lesser overall cost. Unless you have Bloomberg money, in which case it might cost you a little more, but you have Bloomberg money, so it won't bother you. The moderate argument is specious. If you want to restrict your argument against single-payer to Federal budget constraints, OK, that's valid, but don't bullshit us about being able to keep our shitty for-profit insurance.
  • Pete pointed out that neither Sanders nor Bloomberg are actually Democrats. Nice. That's a concern for me with Bernie; if he's President, will he be leading the party? He's running in the Democratic primary, but he's still an independent and will not become a Democrat. Bloomberg left the Republicans and good for him, but as Mark pointed out, he didn't change—his party left him, he still has the positions he had when he called himself a Republican.
  • At one point when discussing health insurance, Warren began telling an anecdote about being in Reno and for just a second I wondered if she was going to channel Johnny Cash and say she saw a man in Reno and watched him die. (She didn't.)

Some post-debate favorites from my Twitter feed...

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Debate Strategy

EWbutton

In advance of tomorrow night's Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas, I have concerns. My preferred candidate, Elizabeth Warren, is getting the shaft from the media—even to the point of being omitted from head-to-head questions in a major NBC News poll today—and needs to gain some traction. Writing anyone off after just 1.5% of delegates have been allotted is absurd, and as noted before, the system that requires fundraising to be contingent on results in two tiny whitebread states is in dire need of reform. That said, Warren still has the third-most delegates and is behind a very polarizing candidate and an untested moderate that is very much a dark horse in the race. Not that you'd know it from the media stories of late.

So the senator needs to make a splash tomorrow, get the attention of the cameras and the journos as well as, of course, the voters. Here's my open letter of advice.

 

Dear Senator Warren,

As you know, we need to beat Trump in November. Soundly. Overwhelmingly. We need as much voter turnout as we can muster. I believe you're the best candidate in the field to accomplish that for us, and I think that should be a principal line of attack in the next couple of debates.

Don't get me wrong, I love the policy positions and I think those should be in the conversation, but some focus on the ones that relate directly with the Trump crime spree would be welcome. Bickering about health care policy isn't going to do the trick, even though yours is the best-articulated plan for that.

No, let's focus instead on your proposal for the Office of Public Integrity, a new agency to monitor and review executive branch actions for illegality. Let's focus on the law and the upholding of the law, let's give some time to the view that the heretofore accepted practice of not going after previous presidents (e.g. Ford pardoning Nixon and Obama not supporting action confronting war crimes committed by the George W. Bush administration) cannot apply in the case of Trump or anyone in the future who might try to turn our democratic republic into a tyrannical autocracy. One might go so far as to argue that pardoning Nixon set a bad precedent that helped lead us to the crisis we are in today. Let's focus on your anti-corruption proposals and bona fides, particularly in light of Trump's latest spate of pardons and commutations for financial criminals. The anti-conflict-of-interest provisions of your proposals seem pertinent in light of all this, though they have weight regardless given the plethora of Trump emoluments violations.

The top issue for all of us in this election is beating Trump. I mean, there's no more United States as we know it if we don't. But there's a divide within the anti-Trump electorate, with a disturbing number of voters who say they support Bernie Sanders but will not support anyone else; a contingent that insists on sweeping change butting heads against a contingent that fears overreaching; a media environment that is beginning to push a false Bernie-vs.-Bloomberg narrative.

You are uniquely positioned to appeal to the most voters. All respect to Mr. Sanders, among the candidates you are easily the most antithetical to Trump and Trumpism. Your policy positions are at least as appealing to those that support Mr. Sanders as his are, and you don't have the baggage of (a) the "Bernie Bro" army that offends and alienates all over social media; (b) the easy target of "socialist" that Banana Republicans will exploit against Mr. Sanders (though to be fair, they will make up scandal about any of you); or (c) the lingering bitterness from the 2016 primary cycle. None of the other candidates are likely to have as easy a time incorporating the Sanders support into a general election movement. Further, your experience and temperament are more appealing to many if not most than the youth, inexperience, and centrism of Mayor Buttegieg; the awkward speechifying, seemingly obsolete view of Republicans, and odd defensiveness of Vice-President Biden; the moderation from Senator Klobuchar; and the disturbing history of racism and moneyed bias from recent Republican Mr. Bloomberg.

Frankly, if logic were the sole basis of support, you'd be running away with this. But even with personality and emotional relativity seeming to be more important, your agenda is well-suited to such appeals and your ability to connect with people one-on-one should be a strength.

One more thing: When I worked on John Kerry's campaign in 2004, the thing that drove me up the wall more than anything else he did was speak on the campaign trail and in debate forums with the sort of language that works in the well of the Senate but can turn off people in other contexts. For example, he'd do the Senator thing of beginning sentences with "Look," and then make his point, but tonally that always sounded condescending, as if there was an unspoken "you moron" after "Look." You've done this same type of thing, and I urge you to be aware and maybe modify that kind of verbiage.

Good luck in the debates. I'm hoping for a great run of press afterward. :-)

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Larry Wilmore, National Trasure

larryw
Larry Wilmore

I listen to a lot of podcasts (most political, some not), and tonight on my walk around the neighborhood in the Seattle mist I was listening to Ronan Farrow's boyfriend's weekly pod, "Lovett or Leave It," which featured guest panelist Larry Wilmore. Larry is one of those guys that I see occasionally on TV and think, "that guy is hilarious." Then I forget about him and move on. But Larry said a couple of things here that (a) led me to seek out his own podcast, "Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air," which I have not yet listened to but will add to my list of regular downloads; and (b) reminded me that Larry Wilmore is brilliant and should be not-forgotten when you move on from one of his hilarious appearances.

One of those things was just a throwaway reference to our current president, a moniker which I find perfect in every way and may start using in everyday conversation: "Tangerine Idi Amin." The other was a generous offer to Democratic presidential candidates regarding their, let's say racial insensitivities, capped off with the suggestion to "go skiing, do something really white, knock yourself out."

Here's a taste.

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Primary Directive

IANH

Warning: This post will likely be a bit of a disjointed ramble.

As a politics nerd, I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and watching news reports and surfing news sites online. I'm a consumer of the "horse-race" coverage every time presidential or even midterm election season comes 'round. I am, thus, part of the problem.

Because when it comes to Presidents, our election system is . . . let's say, not optimal. And that's not even taking into consideration the crises of the moment, the real possibility that a foreign and domestic terror campaign is well underway to disrupt and delegitimize our democratic process with the goal of turning the USA into a banana republic. No, even if we set aside that nightmare for a moment things are a bit wack.

I suppose things are bound to get screwy when you build a system that evolves and changes in some ways over long periods while simultaneously not evolving or changing with external contexts. But here we are, primary season, and once again Iowa and New Hampshire are wielding power far greater than is remotely reasonable.

I've been hearing several wonks on news shows and podcasts speculating on who should drop out of the race, who now has a shot, who connects with what demographic—all based on the results in two tiny, near-homogeneous states that combined account for about 1.5% of the available delegates. With 98.5% of delegates still to be allotted, people—even George Takei, in a since-deleted tweet! George, my man, you are wrong here!—are saying anyone who finishes worse than third in both Iowa and New Hampshire should drop out. People are calling on the so-called moderate candidates to consolidate themselves into one, with two of Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar dropping out to throw support to the third in order to prevent Sanders from winning with a small plurality. I hear others decrying the proportional-allotment system, advocating for a winner-take-all primary setup like the Republicans have. All sorts of complaints and theories and advice based on two tiny near-homogeneous states representing one-and-a-half percent.

It's about money, of course. Candidates need to keep raising money unless they're Bloomberg-like gazillionaires, and a poor showing in the first and/or second state can hurt that. Do well in one or both and you can get more donations. Or, more accurately, have it reported that you did well or poorly and you can get more/not get enough donations. Because the media drives this as much or more than the actual voting does. And we consumers of media reinforce that behavior, thus part of the problem.

What's the fix? (Presuming that we still have presidential elections after 2020, of course, and that they are once again more-or-less legit.) Is it a national primary, everyone votes the same day? Is it bunching a few more states up front with Iowa and New Hampshire, or maybe pushing things so nobody is close to those two? Is it just mixing up the order of who goes when so different states get the power IA and NH have now each time? Go back to using the party convention as the principal venue for choosing a nominee?

One change that would go a long way to improving everything in our electoral system would be mandating public financing, take the billionaire factor out of things and relieve the fundraising pressure on individual candidates.

Another thing I'd change would be the concept of open primaries. Those should go away. I know that would be unpopular in some circles, but they make no sense and are invitations to ratfuckery. And New Hampshire has an open primary, another reason its power is sorely misplaced. Trump and his cronies invited their supporters outright to vote for "a weak" Democrat in the New Hampshire primary in order to disrupt the Democrats' process. Even without prompting from your cult leader, one could make a calculation to cast a strategic primary vote for your preferred opponent in the general election. Regardless, these are party primary elections/caucuses. To determine your party's nominee. If you do not belong to that party, should you really have a say in who they nominate? I think not. We in Washington also have an open primary now; we don't even allow party registrations. I get wanting to have as much voter participation as possible, I appreciate that concept. And it absolutely applies to general elections. But if you have a club or organization, and need to nominate a leader for it, do you open that up to people not in your club or organization? No. So why are Republicans and independents allowed to vote for who the Democratic party nominates as their candidate? Democrats should vote in Democratic primaries and Republicans should vote in Republican primaries and Greens in Green primaries, if those ever become a thing, and so on. And if you're keen on being an independent, well, sorry, but you get no say until the general election. I know, it's largely symbolic; one can change one's party affiliation whenever, but it irritates me to see, for example, that 43% of people who voted in the New Hampshire Democratic primary were not Democrats:

NBC NH

 I do, however, support keeping proportional allotment of delegates. Leave the all-or-nothing, I-got-mine-you-get-nothing-sucks-to-be-you attitude to the Republicans.

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