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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '04 -- Later in November

I've been re-reading some Hunter S. Thompson, always good for the soul, and came across this. It was originally written for the 1972 election, but after changing the names to reflect the times, it is still 1000% true:

"The tragedy of all this is that John Kerry is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like George W. Bush.

Kerry made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Bush does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for."

Indeed. Nothing else explains why a picture of a person windsurfing affected this election more than a picture of a hooded man with his genitals wired.

Pawlenty's health care plan

Governor Pawlenty is a consummate politician, no question about it. He is no slouch. So it's not really surprising that he just unveiled a new health care plan to try and control costs. Equally unsurprising is that it is essentially toothless. Saddening is that part of the plan would be nothing more than a giveaway to the wealthy.

This plan, in a nutshell, would band together the state and other large employers to exert market pressure on health care providers to lower costs and streamline things. As usual, savings will supposedly come from eliminating "fraud and waste," something we've supposed to have been doing for more than a decade now. This group would not have any real powers, though. While handing out smart cards to patients that contain their health insurance eligibility is a fine idea, that's not going to cut costs substantially. This plan is cautious and uninspired.

The worst part of the plan, however, is the push for medical savings accounts. MSAs are popular with Bush too, and it's not hard to see why: money put in these accounts is tax free, meaning more tax cuts and less revenue for government. Proponents say that this will allow more people to buy into health insurance, but the numbers don't bear this out. If you're a single adult laboring at a job that pays you too much to qualify for MN Care but has no benefits, you don't have any money to put into these savings accounts in the first place. To think that people who don't have insurance because they can't afford it are going to be able to afford (1) catastrophic health care coverage, even at low rates, and (2) contributions to medical savings accounts to pay for routine doctor visits is crazy. If these people wanted catastrophic coverage now they would get it! Of course, for people who are making lots of money and are simply looking for a place to stash cash tax-free, then this is a great idea. No wonder Republicans support this.

It's time to stop beating around the bush. Banding together health care consumers is not a bad idea, but why not take it to its logical conclusion? Why not band together every resident of the state, say, and have a representative of those people negotiate health care coverage? It just so happens that we have a representative body already in place: the legislature. Right now, we have a system that rations health care, prevents people from choosing their doctors, allows bureaucrats to make medical decisions, and costs a bunch in administration. Universal health care, according to its detractors, would ration health care, prevent people from choosing their doctors, and allow bureaucrats to make medical decisions. In other words, it's the same system we have now, only cheaper. If anybody can explain to me why that wouldn't be an improvement, I'd like to hear it. And that's just the worst-case scenario. Lots of countries have proven that this can be done. When will the U.S. jump on board?

...and we're back!

Just got back from a Thanksgiving trip. Aside from the bad traveling weather on Wednesday (the method of transportation this year was driving), all was well. I visited a large American city (must protect the guilty), and it really made me think.

This city was in a red state, thus it was automatically 100% more moral than Minnesota. That was hard to see, though. For one thing, if the nightly news could be believed, crime was rampant. Shootings every day, and were talking about a city smaller than Minneapolis/Saint Paul. But never fear, the news made up for it with important stories like what is proper e-mail etiquette.

I'm not a fan of any TV news programs, but the worst of the worst around here is definitely channel 5. No other station exemplifies the maxim "if it bleeds it leads," and KSTP's fall has been so complete it is almost pitiable. But apparently, in God's City, every news show was like this. Murder, then hooray for the troops, then shopping, then sports. This kind of warped presentation of reality really does not help our democracy. If this is what people are seeing, it's no wonder they vote for Bush.

It makes me glad to live here, blue state and everything. At least I realize that crime is not epidemic, that 97% of people just want to live their lives and be happy, and that bad things are the exception, not the rule. I'll stay here and give up God's country.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The votes are finally counted

...and Republican Judy Soderstrom won by 76 votes. This recount was the last of the state house races to be decided.

Sure, it took almost three weeks to finish, but the world didn't end in that time. There were no riots out in district 8B, no rent-a-crowds throwing bourgeois riots in Kanabec County. Actually counting every vote wasn't that hard to do, and everybody is satisfied with the result. Why can't this happen for all the elections in this country? Why do we have to know by Wednesday morning the results of all races?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

An interview with George McGovern

I recently attended a presentation with George McGovern on hunger. Today, the Star Tribune has an interview with him. It's worth a read.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Minnesota Congressional Republicans and the DeLay rule

Josh Marshall has been all over the vote taken by House Republicans to do away with an old rule that says that people who are indicted have to give up their leadership posts. See, Tom DeLay may be indicted for any number of reasons, and if that happened, it would be a tragedy if he had to step down from his post as Majority Leader. "Partisan politics" is what Republicans are squawking, saying that DeLay's indictment is politically motivated. They probably came around to that point of view the moment Ken Starr left Washington.

But anyway, Minnesota has four Republicans in the House of Representatives, and how they voted is the big question. Unsurprisingly, mindless shills Kenney and Kline seem to have supported the move. Jim Ramstad, who appears to have some decency, unlike many Republicans first elected in the past few years, voted against the rule. Gil Gutknecht thinks it was a mistake, but it wasn't so big a mistake that he actually attended the meeting to vote against the rule change.

The Republican Party: giving criminals a second chance by employing them in House Leadership positions.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Special session now?

Governor Pawlenty apparently woke up this morning and had a great idea: let's call a special session just a few weeks before the legislative session starts. This special session would helpfully pass a bonding bill to get construction started on certain projects.

Could it be that Pawlenty is trying to be a master of compromise? Or does he want to try and get something passed before all those new Democrats take office in January, reducing the Republican advantage in the House to a razor-thin margin of two. I think we have a winner?

I must admit, I was fooled for about five seconds. Good one.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Smoking bans redux

The Star Tribune has an article with quotes from a lot of legislators about the possibility of getting a statewide smoking ban passed this year. It looks like Minnesota is more likely than not to have a ban enacted, and I think that's a good thing. I see this as a workplace safety issue: if workers at a business were exposed to lead or asbestos in the air, that business would be shut down in short order. It should be no different for carcinogenic cigarette smoke.

The business effect a ban will have will be negligible. It's high time we had a ban in this state.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Governor Elmer Anderson

I really don't have a whole lot to say about the passing of former governor Elmer Anderson, since most of what can be said has already been so, and I wasn't around when he was governor. Suffice it to say that I mourn the passing of moderate Republicans as much as him. Even though I am a Democrat, I believe that we need a responsible, viable Republican party. The modern-day Republican party, however, is little more than a bunch of far-right yahoos whose arguments against Democrats seem to be either "You hate America!" or "You want homo marriage!" The debate between smaller government versus larger government, smaller balanced budgets versus investment, and the like have disappeared, since Republicans don't believe in what they are supposed to believe in anymore. They are for accumulating power, and that's about it. Hardly a good thing in a democracy.

Coleman loses

Senator Norm Coleman lost out to Liddy Dole for the top NRSC post. That's really Too Bad, isn't it?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Attack ads

Lori Sturdevant is kvetching today about attack ads in local House races, specifically in district 45A, the seat formerly held by Lynne Osterman. She decries the fact that in races all over the state, outside groups and party organizations are filling mailboxes with negative ads. She echoes an argument made by many observers that such negative advertising is keeping people from running for office.

My first reaction to this is boo hoo. Although everybody supposedly hates negative advertising, it is a necessary and vital part of politics. To me, there are two kinds of negative advertising: ads that point out the bad things that a person does or belives in, and ad hominem attacks. There is no place for ad hominem attacks in politics, but the other kind are perfectly valid. The fact is, Lynne Osterman is a Republican, and she voted for the Republican leadership that refused to compromise during the past legislative session. If she wanted to distance herself from their actions, she should leave the Republican party or refuse to vote for that leadership. Otherwise, she can't complain when she is tarred with the same brush.

An ad that just calls a person "unpatriotic" or similar nonsense like that is worthless, but a records is fair game.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

George McGovern

Tonight I heard former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern speak at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church. He spoke about his work fighting hunger around the world, as well as today's political climate. He gave an interesting talk, speaking about some of the same things that many Democrats have been talking about lately: shifting the discussion over morals, trying to end this religious schism that we have in this country today.

In a roundabout way, if it weren't for George McGovern, I may never have become interested in politics. It was only after I read Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, about the race for president in 1972, that I really became interested in the sport of politics. Of course, McGovern was the unlucky recipient of the electoral thrashing handed out by Nixon that year. After hearing him speak tonight, I still don't know why. Eminently reasonable and rational, he doesn't sound like the kind of person so radical as to lose 49 states. Republicans demonizing Democrats, though, is nothing new.

Smoking bans

The Pawlenty shuffle continues: after zigging towards the right by endorsing an idea to squeeze money out of Indian tribes, the governor has now zagged towards the middle by endorsing a smoking ban.

I generally favor smoking bans, because I see it as a workplace health issue. A workplace where mercury was being blown into the air would not last very long before being shut down by OSHA, and smoke, also a carcinogen, should be no different. I believe in property rights, but there are many things that can't be owned, things like the air, water, radio spectrum, and so forth. These things by virtue of physics truly belong to the community, and should be regulated as such.

Now that Pawlenty has moved towards the center with this stance, that means his next dance step should be back towards David Strom and his ilk. I wonder what it will be.

War not appropriate for TV

It's nice to see that several TV stations, including stations owned by that wonderful company Sinclair, are refusing to show "Saving Private Ryan" tonight. Apparently, showing that people die and swear in war may be inappropriate and may draw the ire of the FCC. It is far better to not show people the results and consequences of war, because it might upset their stomachs.

I am feeling more and more like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now: we can attach wires to Iraqis' genitals and elevate the brain behind this torture scheme to Attorney General, but we can't show on TV people getting shot at in a war saying "fuck." It's good that we have our priorities in order.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Values and elections

Lots of people have been talking about "values" and how they impacted the elections last week, with some commentators saying that voters who thought that "moral values" were most important gave the election to Bush. Now, there is evidence that this is just not true, or not true to the extent that some people are making it to be, but it is the current narrative, so we can run with it a bit.

Of course, "moral values" to Bush voters meant mainly one thing this year: say no to homos. Sure, there was abortion in there too, and probably even some of that old-fashioned racism that some Republicans still rely on. But it was mainly gay marriage and how "those" people are somehow threatening marriage. That is the sum total of the "values" that people are concerned about.

Now, I'm not claiming to be as much of an expert on values as people like Jerry Falwell or James Dobson. After all, I was raised Catholic, which to many evangelical Christians (Brother Jed, anyone?) means I'm not much better than scum. Also, I only went to religious schools for 13 years. But even so, these "values" sure sound strange to me. I guess I heard too much of the Gospels and not enough of Leviticus, because I hardly remember talking at all about abortion or gays. I don't know if Jesus would have been pro-choice, but he probably would have had compassion for anybody who was faced with that choice, given his compassion for other troubled people. Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuals, but again, he really did have a soft spot in his heart for those persecuted by society. And the parable of the Good Samaritan pretty much says what he thinks about racism and bigotry.

I would venture that he would be pretty outspoken against torture, but for some reason people cared much more about this than this. We even have as a candidate for Attorney General the person who legally condoned Abu Ghraib. How anybody can call themselves Christian and remain unconcerned about such things I honestly do not understand, because it shows an ignorance of Christ so abysmal that I don't know where to start.

A lot of people do agree that torture is a far more pressing "values" question that gay marriage, though, and it is up to Democrats to come up with a better message. Perhaps they can start by saying that they won't vote for anybody who supports torture. In a broader sense, Democrats do need to shift the values debate towards values that help create strong families, like health care, education, and living-wage jobs, and away from "values" that only serve to divide people and pit government against freedom.

Some Democrats are starting to get this, and they prove that when you talk about these values, you win elections. I don't buy the notion that Democrats need to be more "liberal" to get elected, they just have to have a message that is clearly defined and differentiated from Republicans. Not more liberal, just different, although the Republican party has moved so far right in recent years that just about any rational position on an issue is going to be more liberal than the Republicans.

For too long liberals have ceded religion, theology, and Jesus to Republicans, and this has been done in haste. Jesus was a carpenter; he probably would have carried a union card if he had the chance! Democrats believe in values that do bring families and communities together, values that do strengthen these institutions, and it's just a matter of getting the word out.

Monday, November 08, 2004


Steve Sviggum remains speaker, the Republicans are complaining about a legal donation by Matt Entenza...this is all very interesting, newsworthy stuff, but I haven't felt like commenting lately. I have been mulling over some thoughts about "values" and what that may or may not mean, so that's coming up. Right now, I'm just watching the Vikings lose.

Friday, November 05, 2004

House minority leader

In a shocking turn of events, Matt Entenza was re-elected as leader of the House Democrats tonight.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Minnesota political landscape

I can't really give any predictions on the post of Senate Minority Leader, since the decision has already been made, and in this case, the new boss is the same as the old boss. But as for House Speaker, that is more interesting.

Steve Sviggum oversaw a pretty compelling sweep against his Republican cohorts, and there is speculation that he might be ousted. There is also speculation that nobody else wants the job, so he is safe. Ron Abrams has been mentioned, as has Fran Bradley, but neither seems to be overtly interested in the job, nor is there any indication that they would have support from the Republican caucus. At this point, it seems that Sviggum will keep his position.

As for majority leader, that may be a different story. Erik Paulsen may not last too much longer. I have no idea who would replace him, however. I think the Republicans will be meeting on Saturday, so everything will be clear then.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A few thoughts

As you may expect, I have a lot of thoughts running through my head right now. Extreme disappointment with the presidential results nationwide but contentment with Kerry's vote here, sadness about Patty Wetterling losing, and some excitement about the Minnesota House.

First, the state house results. I predicted 14 seats, and that's how many new seats they won. Unfortunately, one DFL incumbent lost, Rep. Rebecca Otto from Stillwater, leaving a net gain of 13 seats, for a 68-66 split. One Republican seat is the subject of a recount, though, and if that changes, then there could be the dreaded 67-67 split. It's really too bad that Rep. Otto lost, as she is a very bright, moderate legislator. In any case, Steve Sviggum's future is in doubt, and with a two-vote majority, the Republicans are going to have to be on their toes.

Nationally, I think this Eric Alterman column pretty much sums it up: there are more of them than us at the moment. I've been thinking a lot about how divided our country is right now.

This isn't going to be an easy issue to resolve. I think there are two camps in America right now, with both camps existing in pretty much self-contained little bubbles. The Bush-supporting camp likes to see things in terms of moral absolutes: America is always great, this is the best country in the world, we have the best healthcare in the world, dead or alive, abortion is always evil, gays are always disgusting, we have to be afraid of terrorists, and so on. There isn't much nuance, or interest in other points of view. This is contrasted with a different view: that the world is gray, that we need balance, that nobody has a monopoly on truth, that there is a little good in the most evil and that there is a little evil in the most good. Basically, it is a viewpoint that realizes diversity and accepts it in a "live and let live" manner.

It would be easy for somebody in my position to call people on the other side "ignorant hicks" or worse, and lots of people do. Just like the other side calls people like me "sinners," "heathens," "godless," "America-haters," and the like. This kind of arguing doesn't accomplish anything, because we don't even share a common language.

Both of these systems can "work." I think it's a mistake to assume that being engaged in the world, seeking knowledge, and trying to understand other points of view are obviously "good" things, because to many people that's not obvious, or even necessary. They can go their entire lives without questioning the stark black-and-white morality and belief system they have, and it works just fine for them. Trying to convince them that they have to tolerate diversity simply because it is "better" is a losing proposition.

I saw that both of these systems can "work," but that's not entirely accurate. The system that Bush believes in, unfortunately, can't work in the long run. You can't run deficits indefinitely. You can't continue to misunderstand your enemies and create more of them forever. You can't cling to static beliefs in the face of a technologically advancing life. You can do it for a while, maybe even a long while, but in the end it fails because it is rigid.

Thus, the task for Democrats is to undertake a paradigm shift, which is just about the hardest thing that you can do. In order to get people to change their belief systems and leave their self-contained bubble, Democrats need to convince people that their way of life simply won't work anymore. Only by explaining that irrational budgeting, or bigotry, or ignoring the realities of foreign policy are harmful, will people change. That is the whole "reframing the debate" issue that many people talk about.

I think that this will happen, and I hope sooner rather than later. But that doesn't change the reality of today. I don't know what to do about that right this moment.

Finally, about the Kerry campaign. In all honesty, he did all he could do. This race wasn't lost because of Howard Dean, or John Edwards, or Ralph Nader, or Rathergate, or anything else. It was lost because there were more "moral values" voters than "tolerate and understand our diverse world" voters at the polls (the mere fact that I can't think of anything better than that unwieldy phrase shows how difficult it can be to change something as significant as a world view). I think Kerry was clearly the better candidate because he was the candidate of my world, as much as Bush is not. But there were not enough voters who thought like me, and Kerry can't be blamed for that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pawlenty giving in

Governor Pawlenty is on KARE-11 right now being interviewed, and when asked whether he is confident that Minnesota will go Republican for the first time since 1972, he all but threw in his hat. He didn't say "no," but you can't get much closer than what he said. He's seen the exit polls and the turnout numbers, and he knows Dubya's goose is cooked here.

...R.T. Rybak just said that 70% of voters in Minneapolis have already voted.

Exit polls

I've already mentioned some exit poll results, but this story at the Star Tribune is telling. Self-described moderate, independent voters are going for Kerry by a fairly substantial margin. These are the swing voters that all campaigns target, and if Kerry is leading with them, he is going to win this state.

Kerry momentum

There are Kerry supporters everywhere holding signs. On nearly every highway overpass, every couple of blocks along busy roads, they are swarming. On the other hand, I only saw one or two Bush supporters on my way home from work. As Atrios has said, it must be hard to be a Republican around here today.

In case you haven't heard (and if not, where have you been?), NEP exit polling shows Kerry up 58-40 in Minnesota. The final results won't be close to that, but it's clear that things are trending Kerry's way, not just here but everywhere.

Time to vote!

I just returned from my polling place, where I was voter number 19. I got there about fifteen minutes before seven, and at first I didn't see many people. Then I realized that I just found the unlocked door to the building, and there were lots of people waiting outside in the rain. By the time I left, the line hadn't gotten any shorter.

Although I didn't talk to anybody, it sounded like a lot of people who thought they were registered were not, especially those who registered via their driver's license applications. Folks, if you have these problems, contact the local media. We need to expose the incompetence of the secretary of state.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Signs, signs everywhere

It wasn't just freeway blogging today. There were signs on the freeway overpasses, signs on street corners, signs on motorcycle sidecars. All of them for Kerry. Not a single one for Bush. Whenever I see people wearing buttons, they are always Kerry buttons.

I can't find the link now, but lots of people are voting early in many states, and they are favoring Kerry. Early voting stations have been jammed in Minnesota. I haven't voted yet, but I plan on doing so at 7 tomorrow.

Edit: Here's the link to reports on early voting.