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Member since: Tue Nov 16, 2004, 03:14 PM
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A reply to "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" (NYT 10/26/19)

Dear Ms Senior:

I read with interest your Oped "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" ** (10/26/19). In framing what you see as the problem, you immediately suggest a metaphor. “Democrats”, you say, “are acting as though there still are rules, when in fact they’re living in a political multiverse, with at least one parallel reality containing no rules at all.” If you fail to make much progress with your essay, I suggest it’s because you’re standing on the wrong metaphor. The problem is that the rule breakers aren’t in another universe, but the same one as the rule observers. Surely what you’re describing is more like a boxing match in which one man is using brass knuckles, and his opponent has both hands tied behind his back, and the referee is passed out drunk on a stool in the corner?

As a Democrat, I don’t much care about what’s going on in the next universe, because I’m working so hard to get my hands untied and dump a pail of water on the referee. The rules, which you pass over so lightly, govern what is fair in debate and rhetoric, and what is decent in behavior, and what is good governance. I also wonder why the referee takes so little responsibility for what’s going on in his ring. The Republicans aren’t following the rules of fair argument, or decent behavior, and this tendency of theirs has a long history, from Richard Nixon’s whisper campaign that his opponent was a pinko commie, to the Willy Horton ad, right up to Mr. Trump’s invitation for a “second amendment type” to dispose of his opponent. And we should not pretend that the Republican leadership’s hands are clean of Trump’s daily bullying. The rhetoric coming from the Republican Party is by now confined exclusively to name calling: anyone not in their camp is a “libtard,” and any act or initiative by a Democrat is sending the country straight to hell.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are doing what they always do: argue for policies that will solve some problem or ameliorate some suffering. The are fighting fairly rhetorically, and making sincere efforts to use our political system as it was intended to be used—to govern the people wisely and democratically. They are not authorizing political or character assassinations, or the elimination of all other opinions than theirs, or calling for civil war if the opposing party wins a majority. They’re boring as heck, and therein lies the real problem, which is not alternate realities.

The real problem is that the Republicans have declared that politics is mud wrestling, and the referee is passed out in the corner. If democracies have referees, a free press is them. The referee ought to wake up, confiscate the brass knuckles, untie the other fighter, and insist on a fair fight. What we find our referee doing instead is insisting that “both sides do it,” whatever it is. You, Ms Senior, are adept at this insistence when you say: “Of course Democratic politicians—all politicians— distort, gerrymander evidence, even lie and apply their greasy thumbs to the scales. (What was Bill Clinton doing on that plane with Loretta Lynch in 2016?)”. Leaving aside the question of precisely what distortions and lies Democratic candidates have told, and avoiding any consideration of what “gerrymandering evidence” might mean, I can tell you what Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton were talking about: they were chatting and comparing pictures of grandchildren. Here’s the scenario: Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong or illegal with her email, and knew that, and Bill Clinton knew that, and so he had no need to try to influence Loretta Lynch. Even if he had felt a need to put "a greasy thumb on the scale," he’s a smart man, and a lawyer, and he wouldn’t have contributed to Hillary’s imaginary ethics lapse by committing one of his own. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been ethical, hard working, and idealistic to the extent that they believe our political system can be made to work. I sometimes think that their idealism is what has drawn the consistently bad press they have survived since they arrived in Washington. And I know the media could not survive without drawing inaccurate comparisons between the Clinton and Trump impeachments.

You can’t have it both ways, Ms Senior: either the Democrats follow the rules, and stand in sharp contrast to the Republicans, or they don’t. If the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans, what in heaven’s name is your essay about?

Instead of recommending one more time that the Democrats save politics by concentrating on a “declaration of values,” how about the media impound the brass knuckles, penalize the Republicans a few points, and stop declaring the contest a draw before it’s over? Both parties don’t do it, and it will clarify your thinking wonderfully to recognize that.

** Sorry I can't supply a link to the Oped; I've exceeded my limit of free reading for the month. Anyone who can post a link, thanks.

Enough with the melodrama! I want some news!

Today, I want to consider some of the ways the news business influences us, and themselves, which we may not be aware of. Because forewarned is forearmed. The received wisdom on both sides of the political divide is that news is sometimes biased. We think Fox is, and they think the New York Times is. I think the situation is more complicated than that. No matter which source we pay attention to, we are getting the characters in a drama first, their conflicts and tensions next, and a projection of what might happen to them, or at least their party, next. This week has seen both the NYT and NPR absorbed in, nay, obsessed by, the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ward drama.

First, saturation coverage given to one story is time and attention taken from other stories. As another DUer has pointed out, Congress passed another tax cut bill this week, which went unmentioned on NPR, unless a sentence or so was slipped into a news recap. And the news is usually dominated by a few stories, and those few stories will be played to the hilt for their human drama translated into political speculation.

Second, the political interpretation of all things that happen in Washington is one of the underlying principles of news coverage. This principle subdivides into two subthemes: 1) politics is always being played, every day and in every way, and 2) both sides do it (whatever it is), or neither side is guiltless, or this is nothing new. After enough time having these themes repeated, amplified, and hammered home, we can all be forgiven for nodding our heads and assuming that these tenets of news coverage are true. As alert readers know, none of them is true, much less all of them. The casting of all events as aspects of politics means that other perspectives, like the historical and the scientific, are neglected.

Third, the quality of the drama is lousy. We are getting melodrama instead of substantial, realistic, adult scripts. We are being told, not what to think, but what to feel. And this is dangerous. Having our perceptions of an unfolding story nudged in the direction of finding superhuman heroes and despicable villains is bad for our understanding of what’s going on. We concentrate on the personalities and forget the larger picture. We think that when we’ve spotted the villain and anointed the hero, our job is done. We have loved the hero or heroine, and hated the evildoer, and this is sufficient for our lives as responsible members of a democracy. It is not sufficient. But melodrama is enticing, exciting, and occasionally addictive. To the degree we allow ourselves to be satisfied with locating the heroes and villains, we are users of a powerful drug.

And we should kick the habit—our sanity and political effectiveness depend on it. This means directing some letters, protests, and demonstrations at those who bring us the “news.” We need to tell them what we want, and how important it is. The news I want about Congress is this: Where’s the money going? Where’s the money coming from? Who gets what? Are there any other ideas out there for how to spend money that are not being discussed? Since one of the main reasons for the existence of Congress is to gather and then spend money, how have they beed doing their jobs?

What we get now is an endless saga about how two groups of people are jockeying for power. In America, theoretically, the people have all the power. We have not seized it recently, but, Constitutionally speaking, it’s ours, not the politicians’. Congress and all major office holders are our employees, our servants. If we actually started to think as though they were working for us, a great deal of good could be accomplished.

Pink and brown--a new way of looking at people.

All my life I have been absorbing news about fellow Americans, including those called "Black". This was to distinguish them from being confused with "White" people. Finally, one day, it occurred to me that White people aren't white, and Black people are usually not black. And so I had the only original thought about race relations in this country that I've ever had. It is this:

It ought to be illegal to call a person white unless they actually are, and also to call a person black unless they actually are. Black and White are political terms, with the good connotations always going to the "Whites" and the bad connotations always going to the "Blacks." We should move instead to an aesthetic view of people, and describe them as the color they actually are. When we do that, we have, distributed about this globe, a number of pink people, and a whole lot of brown people. "White" people are actually pink, and 'Black" people are actually a wide and beautiful variety of shades of brown. You have Native Americans, who are a reddish brown, and Japanese, who are a yellowish pink, or plain pink. The advantages of disciplining ourselves to think in aesthetic terms are several. People used to look for what they called a "Great White Hope" -- somebody who could beat the great brown heavyweight boxers who kept beating all the pink boxers. We could only look for a Great Pink Hope. Sounds silly, doesn't it?

This is the same sort of mental discipline that feminists hoped would change male thinking about women. If men would just try to stop thinking of women as "broads", "c****", cows (still popular in the UK), and other derisive terms, and just think of them as women, these men might eventually examine their assumptions and prejudices about women. If we pink people start to think of others as various shades of brown, and describe them so, it would be a reminder to ourselves and others, that we all bleed red, and that everything essentially human is contained in skin shades that vary between ... pink and brown. If you thought you had actually found a black person, you would have to show that they didn't register on a light meter to actually call them that. There are also some albino people around, but I think they're a pale pink.

Everyone we meet would have to be judged on ... the content of their character (Thank you for the phrase, Dr. King.) "Black" and "White" are already judgments in our culture. We've got to change that. This is one small way to start.

Another way, of course, would be to read some of the great African American writers who have illuminated the condition of humans in this country. Feel free to ask for recommendations.

Dear Sen. Franken: resign from the Democratuc Party, not the Senate.

Dear Sen Franken:

I have been considerably bothered by the recent flurry of gossip about you, and the request of your fellow Congressional Democrats that you resign. Here's a solution I think will satisfy everybody: Resign from the Democratic Party, register as an Independent, caucus with the Democrats, and continue to vote your conscience. The Congressional Democrats are apparently embarrassed by your presence among them. Remove yourself from their presence and continue to do your job. Sen. Sanders has been able to function well as an Independent, and you're funnier than he is (although he has a beautiful smile when confronted by a small bird perched on his podium, comedy is not his forte). The Democrats would no longer be embarrassed by you but could presumably count on your vote if needed.

While all this is going on, the Ethics Committee could complete an investigation into the allegations against you and reach a conclusion of some sort. I am among the people who think that if all the allegations are proved true, that would still not be grounds for your resignation. If the allegations fall apart upon closer scrutiny, as many of us expect them to do, then everybody's happy--the voters of Minnesota, who wanted you as their Senator, the other Democrats in the country who are happy with your performance as as a Senator, and even the Congressional Democrats, who could hardly argue with the results of a fair and impartial investigation of all your accusers who can be induced to give their names. We are by default believing everyone who makes accusations of sexual harassment, which is certainly better than automatically disbelieving them. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere between those extremes. If you are cleared by an Ethics Investigation, perhaps Congressional Democrats would change their minds about your usefulness.

This is a time, I believe, for all good men and women not to panic. Retain your seat in the Senate, cooperate with the investigation of the allegations against you, and continue to be your usual competent self. Even Santa Ana winds eventually die down.

A possible future, or, is this progressive enough for you?

I have been following political discussions during the 2016 campaign, and realized that there was a bloc of people who thought of themselves as "progressive," even more liberal than your garden variety Democrats. So I thought it might me useful to outline a truly progressive vision for the future.

My plan involves completely scrapping the notion that any human being can own land, which is the founding principle of capitalism. The most people could do in this progressive plan would be to rent land for a period of time for a specific purpose, like farming it, or building vehicles on it, or living on it. People cannot "own" land: if anything, the earth owns us, just like giraffes. The earth has been reminding us of this truth recently, as pollution generated in the U.S., or China, or India travels freely anywhere the winds blow. A "country" as we call it, has always been a hunk of land whose borders could be defended by a government or other ruler. The earth doesn't care who we imagine the ruler to be, it circulates storms and pollution everywhere. We won't actually have countries any more, but territories flavored by historical traditions, a Canadian territory, a U.S. one, and certainly a British one. Since everybody in the world would have enough to eat and a job, and since borders would have disappeared, the need to defend them would also disappear. On the whole, I think this plan gets reid of war, too.

In this vision, there would remain an economic system which would allow for exactly the same useful activities that capitalism allows: provision of food, medical care, trade, and the exchange of ideas and innovations. But this economy wouldn't be based on money as we know it, but on hours worked by real people. There would be two kinds of hours worked: community hours, and personal hours. The community hours would be owed to the community to sustain vital functions: grow food, cook and distribute it, care for the elderly, and providing transportation to people who need to get to and from their jobs. Community hours would take approximately half your work day, and the other half would be devoted to working for personal hours, the accumulation of which would enable the other side of the economy to function. With your personal hours, you could buy a nice guitar, or materials to make a beautiful hand-knit sweater, or lipsticks and volleyballs and toys for children. The community fours would guarantee that every adult would have useful work that obviously supported the community; personal hours would allow for the pursuit of personal dreams, like writing songs, playing in rock bands, designing your own clothing or a computer app to make the common life of your community function better. Rather than pieces of paper whose value everyone agrees on, the economy would be based on the value of the hours you've worked. It would be possible to become relatively "rich" in personal hours, but the tendency would be to save up to buy a particular good or service, which would plow your hours back into the economy.

This system doesn't so much tinker with capitalism, as replace it with something much more earth-friendly, and people friendly. I think we are all equipped with imaginations, and that we have gotten too used to imagining small changes to monolithic systems. Why not imagine something really new, really different, and seriously progressive?

Why is it so difficult for us to think the election was stolen?

We have: the Russian theory, the weak candidate theory, the sexism theory, the candidate's unbalanced message theory, the candidate's lack of pizzazz theory. We have theories out the kazoo to explain an election result that surprised *everybody*. Why is it so difficult to think, even for a moment, that somebody just stole the election? This time, it was not just the exit polls, but most of the opinion polls before the election. Nate Silver miscalled the election??? What if Nate, and the other poll readers, and the exit pollers all called the voters' intentions and actions RIGHT? Mr. Trump's victory hangs on razor thin margins in three (or more) states. Is electoral college arithmetic difficult? It can be mastered if you can add and subtract. Is it difficult to hack an optical scanner? It's easy. What is riding on the outcome of this election? An awful lot of tax payer money. Do we think our political opponents are such principled people and so scrupulous of our voting rights (stop laughing! ) that they*would never do such a thing*??? Republicans spend half their time between elections trying to minimize Democratic votes in the next election. By vote suppression measures of all kinds. Do we imagine that when voting day finally arrives, they cease all nefarious action and do their best to count every vote, including Democratic votes? What are we, crazy? In April of this year, Congressional Republicans refused to consider Pres. Obama's candidate for the Supreme Court vacancy until after the election. Mere recalcitrance? Or did they know the fix was in?

Dr. Stein's efforts to get recounts, or audits, or any confirmation at all of the accuracy of the announced vote totals were met by vigorous resistance from Republican lawyers, and those failed efforts made one thing clear. We CAN'T get a meaningful recount because of a maze of state laws, the Bush v. Gore decision, the antiquity of some voting machines, and the colossal expense of hand recounting ballots. Only a few blessed states could have responded adequately to a request for a recount because only a few are using paper ballots hand counted. ONLY those few states could have said: "Sure, it'll take us about a week." We are left to conclude, if we are honest, that our presidential elections are unverifiable. We have just spent 18 months of our lives spending hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigning, and often hanging on the results of every opinion poll that came out, and we CAN'T be sure of who was elected? Or, in other words, are we crazy?

Forget the Russians, who certainly seem to have played a role in yet more anti-Clinton propaganda. Why look at the Kremlin's hackers when we have perfectly competent hackers at home?

Please, I beg of you, stop whipping yourselves for one moment, and think aloud: "But what if they just stole it? Again?"

Dr. Krugman, the Russians are convenient, but not the only explanation.

Dear Dr. Krugman:

In your column in today's Times (12/16/16), you explain why you think the Russians hacked the 2016 election. You ask rhetorically: "Does anyone really doubt that …[the steady drumbeat of Russian contrived leaks, and the … last-minute intervention of the F.B.I.] moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent?"

Yes, Dr. Krugman, I really doubt that for two reasons. First, are not-quite-decided voters concentrated in swing states? Are there more easily swayed voters in electorally important states than red and blue states? What the announced election outcome looks like is a precise shift of just enough votes in swing states to move the election from one candidate to the other. Assuming, as I do, that for a good programmer it's easy to interfere with our vote counting equipment, it is the simpler explanation to suspect that vote tampering happened that that 80,000 wooly-headed voters changed their minds at the last minute in swing states, thus evading all the pre-election polls and the exit polls. No doubt Wiwileaked fluff is of great interest to the pundit class and the press, but I doubt it made that much impression on voters who: a) want to see Hillary Clinton arrested or b) find Donald Trump deplorable. If these email innuendos convinced voters to switch candidates, why was the effect so small, and so strategically located?

The second reason I doubt that Russian influence changed the election outcome is that this is not the first time American elections have seen "enormous changes at the last minute." Florida in 2000 was crucial to George W. Bush's election and Ohio in 2004 for his re-election. Vote tampering is not a new phenomenon in American politics, since the days of Tammany Hall and Mayor Daley's Machine. The electronic theft of elections is possible, according to the statisticians, programmers, and election integrity activists who have looked into the matter since 2000. I have no idea who has been tampering with our elections, but it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be easier to do from an American keyboard than a Russian one. I do not have proof of exactly who has been tampering, but it does seem unlikely that the Democratic Party would vigorously raise money to run a presidential candidate for a year in order to hand the election to his or her opponent. Election tampering would give you much greater control over the outcome than simply trying to influence voters, especially since the late email revelations had the excitement and substance of unbuttered popcorn. As long as you despise the voting public, i.e., democracy, election theft is the way to go.

It seems time for the NYTimes to consider election theft as a real possibility, rather than a wild conspiracy theory. As a theory, it explains more than the Russian influence, which is so hard to pin down. It explains why all the polls, pre-election and exit, were wrong. Perhaps there is actual science behind polling in general, and statistically sound prediction in particular. Perhaps if we could bring ourselves to accept polls as real science, especially since we spend increasing amounts of time before elections discussing their findings, we would be forced to the conclusion that someone might have taken a shortcut to election victory. If major journalistic voices are going to take this seriously, now would be the time, before we inaugurate someone we cannot prove was elected.

Thank you for your call, Mr. President. I had already finished voting when you rang.

Dear Pres. Obama's robocall machine:

Thank you for pointing out that I should vote for Mr. Farther-Down-The-Ballot. I had already voted for him too, as he was on the straight Democratic line. I was a little late getting to my polling place at 7:25, as I can't drive in the dark any more, and the car had to be scraped before I could drive it anywhere. I did have to use my first backup parking place--when I found the lot at the polling place full, I drove right on to the senior housing lot next door. I had a second backup in mind, but it wasn't needed. (The Dunkin Donuts lot is also very close, but I wouldn't want to take up a space needed by all the donut-addicted semi drivers and police persons.)

I was interested to note that you didn't even mention Mrs. Clinton. The Party must have decided, finally, that you could count on that vote. The local party called three times before the primary election, and on the third call, I summarized the other two: I knew where to vote, had a backup parking place in mind, in lieu of attending the evening meeting, had submitted a letter to the editor, and in case of early snow, could walk to the polling place. Leaving today, a lady offered me an "I voted." sticker. Noting that it wouldn't stick to my jacket, I took one anyway because "it was an historic election". Sipping on her Dunkin Donuts latte, she agreed.

There was but a short line coming out the door as I entered, but a woman exiting the place said that if we knew what district we were in, we could jump the line and go straight to the table. I excused my way in, and was soon clutching my ballot. I have been waiting for 18 months to cast this ballot, and have been very annoyed by our (Democratic) governor, who doesn't think voters deserve nice things, like mail-in ballots or early voting, or anything FUN! Oh well, he could be worse. He could be Republican.

So thanks for your call, Mr. Obama, and thanks to Mrs. Obama too. I can't wait to see what your next feat will be.


A Democratic voter

Thanks for the heart, and HAIR!

All right, I feel strongly that this issue needs to be addressed, and both sides, or all sides (Hi, MOM supporters!) have been ignoring it. And that issue is Hair! I do feel sorry for Bernie fans, but if the question were: who's got the best hair in the field, the hands-down winner is Hillary. The justification for this apparently frivolous point is that I have given up hope that this board, or any board that allows political discussion, will ever again develop a sense of humor. About anything.

For humor to work, you need to be inhabiting the same society, need to share the same set of values, and we no longer have one society, but two or three, or a dozen. About the only value we still share is that kicking puppies is wrong. I share this value, but it's not enough to base a fully-functioning society on. I believe that some of the points being argued here have the same substance and weight as hair. And I think a hairnalysis is a little funny. So I shall conduct one. And lastly, if we're going to elect someone based on misconceptions and gut feelings and hopes and dreams, why not include a consideration of hair? It's at least out there for our inspection all the time.

So, Democratic hair:

Bernie Sanders: He's got pretty good hair for a man his age the top of whose brow is disappearing into a white mist. His hair is a fringe, but it's a vigorous fringe, and it's clearly very clean hair, because it collects so much static electricity. Dirty, oily hair would just hang there. Unfortunately for Bernie, it's John Kerry whose hair sets the standard for Democratic guys. I don't think anyone here will argue that the man has excellent hair, so strong it looks as though it could carry the world on top of it, or at least a full field pack. Now, Bernie has great teeth, too--strong and white without overdoing it and blinding you, but not quite good enough to cancel out his very high forehead. Yes, it's a good thing that Bernie has such vigorous ideas, because he can't make it on hair alone.

Martin O'Malley: It's not too late to save his hair. Right now, he's going with a textured aluminum helmet with some brown paint on top, but his forehead is still visible from the front, and he could go with a longer look, and see if it made him look more like a young James Taylor. Nowhere near too late for him, and O'Malley has very good ears, too. So I recommend that Mr. O'Malley consult with a more adventurous barber, and mention that he has always admired John Kerry, especially if he has.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton: Frankly, it's great hair. It doesn't matter what color it really is because women are allowed to dye. It has body, and an excellent cut. Mrs. C. clearly has a great little stylist, and gets in to see him or her on schedule. A demonstration of her respect for detail and ability to delegate. Among Democratic women, she's the clear leader. Gloria Steinem also has splendid hair, but she's not running. If Sen. Warren gets into another race, her hair has good body, but she might consider a style that's a little less utilitarian. Hillary's teeth are also fine, and her ears are probably okay, too, but she cunningly wears earrings a lot, so any deficiencies are concealed. A woman, indeed, any human, has a right to earlobe insecurity.

All, right, that's the Democratic side. Now that you all have the hang of hairnalysis, it will be blindingly obvious that Mr. Trump cannot be elected to anything. He and his hair long ago sank beneath the sea of giggles from the political cartoonist class. and it's Trump's own fault. It's okay to have a disappearing forehead, but it's fatal to lie about it, and pretend it's just behind this little sideways ripple of glistening blond. American voters are a fickle, indeed sometimes a frivolous, lot, but they will see through the Trump hair to the vain head it covers, before it's too late. I really don't think we need to worry about Trump. What about Carly Fiorina? you might ask. Indeed, her hair's all right now, but a google search for Carly's hair brings up five photos, EACH with a different style and color. She hasn't got a chance. At least The Donald is consistent.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion into alternative political analysis. And I would stick in an irony emoticon if there is one, and if I could get any emoticon to work on this mac. You may now resume your normal careful attention to the great issues of the day.

HRC is NOT a member of a dynasty (Jeb Bush is, of course)

Sec. Clinton, I just want to remind everybody, is not related by blood to Bill Clinton. If she had been too closely related, it would have been illegal for them to have married. She is not Bill's daughter or mother. She shares no DNA with Bill. So, until Chelsea announces her intention to run, there ain't no Clinton dynasties.

Sec. Clinton took her husband's name when she married, which is not required by law, even as she kept a reference to her maiden name (Hillary Rodham Clinton) as part of that name. Presumably even then, she wanted people to know she was a separate person, her own person professionally, and was not simply her husband's wife. Her career has demonstrated that although her loyalty to her husband has been admirable, she is quite prepared to make her own mark, speak for herself, and try to fulfill her own ambitions.

Gov. Bush, on the other hand, is the son of one president and the brother of another. He is certainly a dynast. And it would be good to remember here that his brother twice had a presidential election stolen for him. Al Gore was elected to the presidency in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004. But the man sworn in was George W. Bush. Not only is it a dynasty, it's a thoroughly undemocratic dynasty.

Therefore, if they try to tell you you're tired of dynasties, tell them you are, and vote for Hillary if she's the nominee.
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