Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Old and the Useless

It's like the young and the restless, except for Congress. What we've seen this week is a preview of coming attractions from a GOP majority in Congress. Rather than addressing a very real issue facing this country (immigration, including a refugee crisis), they've done nothing but posturing, pontificating, and basically being a bunch of windbags.

We're a nation of immigrants. When the Europeans arrived, they treated the ACTUAL locals like shit, giving them lovely new diseases, killing them by the thousands, and ultimately "relocating" them to "reservations." Every group that arrived here has very quickly taken the position that, wherever the next wave of immigrants is coming from, "THOSE people are going to ruin the place so we have to keep them out!" The English and Germans fought to keep out the Irish and Italians. Today it's the Mexicans we have to keep out. "Build a wall!" At various points in our history we've treated Africans, Asians (in particular the Japanese, but the Chinese too, and today the Indians) and other groups pretty awful, so the angry old white people who who are throwing fits today about "those damn Mexican illegals," are actually just carrying on a long tradition of xenophobia and racism. Way to go.

But none of that is in the news. CNN and Fox can't be bothered to review actual history, as their viewers are too stupid and it's too boring so it doesn't sell commercials as well as talking about the controversy of the President's actions and the ongoing narrative of "us versus them." Right. When can we move on from this and recognize that Americans don't neatly fit into "A" versus "B" categories? We're a diverse people with a wide range of values and perspectives, and opinions, yet the media invariably oversimplifies everything into liberals versus conservatives, GOP versus Dems, regardless of how inaccurate that portrayal is. Those words don't even have meaning anymore - conservative didn't used to be a bad word. Some guy called me a libtard this week. Libtard.

Some news outlets have at least noted that Obama is far from the first president to take executive action on immigration. At least 4 other GOP presidents have also issued executive orders on the matter, but ask any ignorant Faux News fan and they'll be happy to tell you how all of those other examples are completely different and unrelated to what Obama the Emperor Tyrant is doing today. But one point where even the most ignorant of conservatives can't argue is this: John Boehner promised comprehensive immigration reform last July, and he's failed to deliver. He couldn't even get his own party to agree on a House bill. President Obama is absolutely grandstanding here, but he's also taking action in a situation where Congress has absolutely failed to preform its duty. For the President to NOT act in the face of the immigration crisis we're seeing today would be awful.

Here's what the GOP still doesn't get: old, white, xenophobic, ignorant, racists are dying. That doesn't describe all Republicans, by any means. It does describe a number of them though, and they still exist in numbers sufficient to help the GOP win state and national elections, SO LONG AS the GOP continues to say and do the right things to keep them happy. Boehner takes his cues from Ted Cruz on that, make no mistake. Here's how those people think: all Mexicans are terrible people here to take American jobs WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY signing up for all our welfare programs AND committing election fraud. Since that's completely inaccurate and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of, well, everything (economics, geography, criminology, who actually commits election fraud, the fact that Americans are too lazy to work the manual labor jobs that immigrants are taking - just ask Alabama farmers what happened when they kicked 'em all out a few years back), the GOP has to stay away from any logical way to deal with the border crisis.

So rather than take a compassionate, logical stance on immigration, one that could win them some votes with one of the fastest growing demographic groups, the GOP will propose building a wall and putting landmines at the border, and busing those immigrants already here back to Mexico (even though many of them in the current crisis come from Central America). Rather than passing a bipartisan bill to address immigration long term, they will instead focus all their efforts on suing the president and holding the budget hostage until he agrees to undo whatever he's just done. Then they'll go about their tired old mission of repealing Obamacare. There are 21 million Hispanic voters in this country. There are 10 million people who have health coverage thanks to Obamacare. So, by all means, let's sit back and enjoy the circus as the GOP throws out 31,000,000 votes in the next election to placate the Yosemite Sam contingent from Texas and Arizona.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Today I got to "go to work" in my old hometown of Chicago. I only lived here for a couple years, but it's a city that gets in your blood. I'm not sure if that's because of the freezing wind off the lakefront that seems to blow through your veins, or from the unique grease content within a Chicago hot dog (or perhaps a Portillo's Italian beef sandwich) that clogs up your veins. Either way, if you live here for any length of time, it becomes part of you.

Walking to work in the Loop, you can't help but notice a sense of productivity and commerce that seems almost tangible among the locals. Chicago has always been known as the city that works, the city with broad shoulders, and I think that's a sentiment that spans the economic classes here. Take a stroll down California street in San Francisco's financial district, and you'll see plenty of bankers and barons of industry going about their day, don't get me wrong. San Francisco just has a completely different feel to it though. Sure, it's California, but the "hippie" element is less noticeable among the skyscrapers. It's just more relaxed. When Chicago wakes up every morning, it's got shit to do. I love Lexington and the high quality of life we enjoy there, but there is something to be said for the industriousness of Chicago.

I'm working at the HQ offices of a large consulting firm here; a firm with which my current employer does a lot of business. It's also a firm where I applied to work several times and was politely ignored. So coming to work this morning, in this building, I had a pretty big smirk on my face. Today, you see, they invited me. I'm the presenter. I'm the expert giving advice to their experts. No one in the room knows about this dynamic, but it's caused me to reflect back on all that has passed between now and then. The last time I had a job in this town was 13 years ago. They were a different company, I was a different employee, but Chicago hasn't changed a bit. I love that.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Is Mitch Really Helping Kentucky?

Now that McConnell will be serving 36 years in the Senate, and the coming 6 as majority leader, I think it's reasonable to expect that he delivers the goods for Kentucky. I mean, a Senators #1 job is to serve his state, right? Can we at least agree on that?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's any chance Mitch will actually do that. He will serve himself first, the GOP 2nd (gotta stack the deck for your party in the next election, right?), and the Commonwealth will be a distant 3rd if it's on his list at all. I was wrong once though, and it could feasibly happen again. How will we know?

I propose defining a list of metrics to measure McConnell's next 6 years. Since his party controls Congress for at least the next two years, we can expect great things right? My GOP loyalist friends are already making excuses of course for why Boehner and McConnell will fail to accomplish anything; that Reid will be obstructionist and Obama will veto everything. To this I say, tough shit? Turnabout is fair play? They want it both ways - they claim that the Democratic losses in the midterms mean that the American people strongly support the Republican agenda and are revolting against these socialist Democrats. If that's true, then getting a 2/3 majority to override a Presidential veto is no problem, right? After 30 years in the Senate, even I will give McConnell credit for being a master of parliamentary tactics - you want to tell me he can't out maneuver dopey old Harry Reid?

So what can a Senator do for his home state? Send pork of course, and I'm sure there will be plenty of that. It's easy to track though - he's sent $1.5 Billion home since 2008. Good think Republicans are the fiscally conservative party. Here are the metrics I propose:

  1. Kentucky unemployment relative to other states and trend over time - I think we can all agree that Kentucky needs economic growth, and these first 3 are a pretty standard measures of that.
  2. Kentucky poverty rate relative to other states and trend over time - same as above
  3. Kentucky per capita income relative to other states and trend over time - same as above
  4. Kentucky health relative to other states - McConnell promised to rip out Obamacare root and branch, stating (incorrectly) that Kynect is just a website. If he's going to mess around with our health care, then isn't the health of our citizens a fair metric by which to judge him? 
  5. Number of coal miners in Kentucky - Like #3, this is one Mitch brought on himself as it was a key campaign point of his that he would fight Obama's war on coal and save coal jobs. 
McConnell took office in 1985 when there were 29,000 coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. That number had dropped to 12,000 BEFORE Obama was elected, but yeah, Mitch is totally a champion for coal. It's those obstructionist Democrats who have kept him from taking action on coal for his first 30 years in office. Now that he and Boehner are in charge, look out! We're due for a coal revival any day now! Maybe he'll bring back whale oil too - those fishermen have been out of work since President Polk launched his infamous "war on whale oil" back in 1846!

I'll post a first draft in the coming days.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

How did the GOP just spank the Dems?

Some people would have you believe that there is a simple answer to this: Obama sucks. While I disagree (I'm still rating him "average"), I'm also smart enough to know that sucks is a subjective term. Some people believe he sucks, and will continue to do so. The people who think he sucks weren't going to vote for Democrats anyway, and Obama wasn't on the ballot. This was a big victory for the GOP any way you slice it; even bigger than the RNC expected. Hell, it was even bigger than Nate Silver, my favorite data scientist, expected. So, objectively, what happened? My summary is as follows:

1) The party of the sitting president loses mid terms, that's just a fact. The average loss is 25 House seats and 3 Senate seats (since FDR). Those numbers jump to 30 and 6, respectively, when the sitting president is a lame duck. As of the time I'm writing this, the Dems lost 7 Senate seats, and 12 House seats, so, technically, their losses were favorable (LESS than average).

2) The GOP candidates did an amazing job of saying "my Democratic opponent is basically a mini-Obama," a tactic that clearly worked well with independents. There is strong evidence that they really upped their game in terms of big data analytics-driven messaging.

3) Democrats did a terrible job of distancing themselves from the President.

4) Millenials absolutely don't care enough about politics to vote in mid-terms, which skewed the results towards the GOP. Basically, old, white conservatives showed up to vote.

5) New voter ID laws absolutely discouraged voting, particularly among the young and minorities. This is exactly what the 18 GOP legislatures intended when they passed these laws. If you still think this is about protecting the integrity of the vote rather than about stacking the deck in favor of the GOP, you're stupid. You really think it's a coincidence that ONLY GOP states have passed these laws? Problem is, it's already backfiring on the GOP - these same laws prevented a lot of old people and veterans from voting, who would've voted GOP. The turnout for Presidential races is different, and this will bite them in the ass (either in the courts or in terms of baby boomers unable to vote) eventually.

6) The "war on coal" rhetoric resonated spectacularly well. This is funny, because my GOP friends hate the Dems "war on women" rhetoric. Eisenhower promised equal work for equal pay back in 1956, so I'm sure the GOP will get right to that when McConnell & Boehner take over.

7) The Romney factor - the Dems also picked some really bad challengers. I genuinely believed that Alison Grimes would fight harder for the average Kentuckian than 30 years in DC Mitch McConnell (a list of his top donors all but confirms this), but I also watched her give a speech. She was awful.

Personally, I think that #3 was the wrong strategy, as it played into the hands of the GOP (see point #2). I think a "hell yes, I support the President" strategy would have been far more effective IF they picked the right talking points. He ended Bush's unfunded wars and gave the finger to the health insurance companies - I've been wanting to do that to mine for years. He's also got stances on social issues that true Libertarians have to support (marry whomever you want, YOUR religion has no place in OUR government or MY doctor's office...). He's got a moderate stance on immigration, where the GOP has to pander to its "shoot 'em at the border!" Tea party wing.

College educated, middle-class whites >30 who voted for Obama in 2012 were the biggest demographic that the Dems lost. I'm disappointed in Obama, but guess what, I voted for W twice and he disappointed me too. I still wouldn't go back and vote for the other tools who were on any of those 4 ballots.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saving Coal Jobs is a Fairy Tale

One of the sad truths about Kentucky, my adopted home state, is that there are a lot of good people here who are poorly educated. There are a lot of historic reasons for that, but two key parts of the history are that:
  1. Coal mine owners have been exploiting the poorest of the poor here for generations. This fact is not in dispute. Hell, they didn't even pay people in actual dollars until the 1950s. Prior to that you were paid in company "scrip" that was only good at the company store. There's a song about that.
  2. For the first 150 years of coal production (1820-1970), state, local, and federal governments sided with mine owners over miners roughly 100% of the time when it came to labor disputes, working conditions etc. (today it's down to about 85%). Take a 1932 Kentucky law that forbid the conversion of scrip into actual cash as an example; I wonder whose idea that was?
Scrip is just one obvious and particularly egregious example. Dangerous working conditions, shooting workers who tried to form unions, dumping toxic waste into water supplies... mine operators are a special kind of shitty, they have been for generations, and they're not changing any time soon. 

For Eastern and Western parts of the state, coal has been the biggest (and often the only) industry that dominated local economies for 200 years. In these far reaches of our state, their whole world has revolved around coal for literally as long as anyone can remember. You maybe graduated high school, but you definitely didn't go to college, because all you needed was a job at the mine and you could raise a family, just like your dad and grandfather did. Critically, you can't talk to the electorate in these regions about the global energy market or the economics of coal extraction because they are, in the truest sense of the word, ignorant. If your only motive is profit and you have zero sense of ethics, can you imagine a better scenario than an ignorant labor force who's entirely dependent on one industry? Me either. No wonder the mine owners ("Friends of Coal") desperately want to maintain the status quo.

Kentucky's coal industry is in decline due to a wacky thing called economics. It's been in decline for 35 years. We lost our spot as the nation's top coal producer 1 year after Mitch McConnell was elected. If you're ignorant and don't trust Obama because he's a black Muslim, the EPA is absolutely to blame for this, what with their pesky regulations about keeping mercury out of the water supply and sulfur dioxide out of the air. That shit ain't bad for you, if you don't understand anything about biology or chemistry and your kid doesn't have asthma yet.
There are cheaper alternatives to coal today for running power plants, and there are other states with coal resources that are MUCH cheaper to extract than Kentucky coal. It's that simple. The US still needs coal, and it has uses other than power plants, but IT AIN'T COMING BACK TO KENTUCKY!!! To suggest that it is, to try and win votes by lying to an ignorant, poor population that has been shit on for generations, is beyond shameful, it's criminal. Both Kentucky candidates for Senate are making this claim, and for Mitch McConnell it's pretty much the backbone of his platform. Mitch has had 30 years in the Senate to reverse this trend, and he hasn't done shit (see chart). Anyone who believes he's got the ability to reverse this trend if we just elect him for 6 more years is stupid. I don't fault poor, ignorant Kentuckians for listening to his pied piper song, they literally don't know any better and they are desperate for better economic times. I do fault my educated friends here and smart people in the rest of Kentucky who should know better. Saving coal jobs is a fairy tale. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Who's taking away guns? It ain't Obama or the Feds.

Contrary to popular belief, and by popular belief I mean the GOP Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) campaign that precedes every election talking about how whomever the Democratic candidate is has secret plans to repeal the 2nd amendment, Obama has get to take away anyone's guns. When he didn't do this during his first term, the NRA need an explanation. After all, they swore this was his plan. Interesting side note, during his first term, Obama actually expanded expanded the list of places you can carry a gun while simultaneously failing to renew the assault weapons ban. The NRA should recognize this as a home run, but of course they can't give a Democrat credit for anything because they've given dump trucks full of money to the RNC. In fact, Obama has repeatedly stated that "No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," Sounds pretty logical to me. He proposed no new laws after Sandy Hook. He proposed no new laws after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was gunned down at a speaking event. He proposed no new laws after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. While it's technically impossible for both these statements to be accurate, the Brady project and the NRA branded his first term a failure. That's right, both the gun control nuts and the gun advocacy nuts see him as an enemy of their cause. 

Meanwhile, several states have been adopting what I think are some practical, logical measures that could actually result in seizure of privately owned weapons under extreme circumstances. As state officials across the country grapple with how to prevent mass killings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, some are turning to a gun seizure law pioneered in Connecticut 15 years ago.

Connecticut's law was the first of its kind nationwide and was passed after the killings of four managers at the state lottery headquarters. It allows judges to order guns temporarily seized from people after police show they are a danger to themselves or others.

Indiana approved a similar law in 2005. And now California and New Jersey officials are debating gun seizure laws, both in the aftermath of the killings of six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in May. Considering the overlap between the "Obama's a Kenyan Muslim Socialist," the NRA, and the "the Feds need to back off and respect states' rights" crowds, I find this, amusing. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Those pesky poor people

This article grabbed my attention last week. Among other things, it provides a historical perspective on a major topic in American politics today - rich versus poor, makers versus takers, the notion that all poor people (or a full 47% of the country, according to Romney) are freeloaders. Here's another spin on it from my ideology-shifting Senator, Rand Paul. Rand, never far from a conspiracy theory, wants you to believe that the reason Obama is  pushing for a higher minimum wage is as a diversion, to draw attention away from the fact that the middle class is getting screwed these days. Right. A diversion, which implies that the Dems for some reason are trying to hide... what exactly? They just won two presidential elections by appealing to... the middle class who's getting screwed by... the 1% who fund the PACs that fund the GOP.

If you're mad about the number of people getting public assistance, you either have to support raising the minimum wage or admit that you're being completely illogical. 40% of the people on food stamps have jobs that simply don't pay enough to feed a family. The GOP has successfully convinced most of its more mindless followers that the sick and elderly "deserve" assistance yet the working poor do not. If you're sick or old, it's not your fault, but if you're among the working poor or the under-employed, that somehow IS your fault. Doesn't matter that we're in the slowest recovery ever. Doesn't matter that the productivity gains of the American worker since 1970, which are amazing, have gone almost exclusively to the 1%. For me, this is like the Kentucky residents who vote for Mitch McConnell because he's promising to save coal. SAVE COAL?! How, exactly? Why, exactly? If you vote for the GOP because you think they're out to help the middle class by... ah yes, easing taxes on the 1%, because that "trickle down" shit has worked so well for us in the past, you're no different from the ignorant coal fan.