Bipartisan Uselessness: How Democrats and Republicans Unite to Keep PERS Broken

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2019 by thebluebros

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Oregon’s public employee retirement system (more commonly referred to as “PERS”) is broken. Super broken. Each year, public entities such as cities, counties, and school districts have to pay a larger and larger portion of their budgets to pay for it. In the case of Oregon schools, more than 10 cents of every education dollar goes to fund PERS. And number-crunchers tell us that number is going to climb each year for the next 16 years; the exorbitant PERS rates will remain high from 2035 to 2045; and then PERS rates will slowly decrease (to what level no one yet seems to know).

The challenge in discussing PERS, or what to do about it, is the lack of available information to inform a reasoned discussion. Instead, the loudest and most robust voices out there discussing PERS tend to fall into one of two camps.

On one side we have the Republicans who love to demonize all public employees as lazy fat cats living on the public dole, but these same Republicans rarely, if ever, offer up solutions—just complaints. For a gross example of this, check out this op-ed recently published in the Oregonian. This is the kind of stuff you see everywhere: general complaints about out-of-control public employees with zero ideas of how to make anything better. It makes you wonder if people like this op-ed’s author are really very interested in fixing PERS since doing so would do away with their favorite punching bag?

On the other side you have Democrats who refuse to acknowledge there is even a problem, and treat critics of PERS as heartless monsters who fail to appreciate the noble work of our teachers and other vital public servants. These Democrats act as though any critic of PERS would love nothing more than to see elderly former government workers eating cat food inside a lean-to.

If a citizen wants to become informed about the PERS problem, and figure out ways of perhaps solving it, doing so is incredibly difficult because any search for information on PERS will clog one’s browser with garbage from these two camps. Let me try to cut through the noise here, and discuss just how bad the PERS problem is.

Understand that PERS presents a widespread and systemic problem. Critics of PERS point out that former University of Oregon football coach Mike Belotti receives $47,500 per month in public retirement benefits (he does) and that the former head of OHSU, Joseph Robertson, receives $77,000 per month (true). Defenders of PERS will point out that Mr. Belotti and Mr. Robertson are outliers within the system (also true).

The problem, however, is not just football coaches and OHSU presidents. There are currently 2,312 PERS recipients earning more than $100,000 a year in retirement. These 2,300 people are costing our state almost $300 million a year. To bring that to a local level, the money going to these 2,300 people (or. 005% of Oregon’s population) are costing my local school district $2.2 million per year (or 2% of our annual budget). To put it another way, this is about how much money it takes for our district to hire teachers to fill a K-5 primary school. Can anyone defend a public employee retiring at 55, living another 25 years with a $100,000-a-year pension, and thereby collecting $2.5 million in retirement benefits? Or a system where more than 20% of all PERS benefits are going to less than 2% of PERS retirees?

We also have 28,388 current PERS recipients (or 21.4% of all PERS recipients) making more in retirement than they made in their final year of salary. Many are making much more. As an example, there is a public school teacher in the Eugene area who retired from teaching in 2004. When she retired, she was earning about $53,000 a year as a teacher. In retirement, she is earning more than $138,000 a year (plus whatever she earns from the business she opened once she retired from teaching). Can anyone defend this? This is admittedly an extreme example, but there are thousands of public employees who retired making $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but collect $80,000 to $90,000 a year in retirement. Can we not acknowledge the lunacy and unsustainability of such a model? Particularly when the legislature’s initial goal was to provide lifetime government employees with pensions constituting 50 to 60 percent of a workers’ final year salary.

Many people are upset about the PERS debacle, and they should be because it was entirely avoidable. It was the PERS Board back in the 70s and 80s that set high guaranteed rates of return. This is somewhat forgivable due to the high interest rates and inflation of the time. What is not forgivable though is how prior PERS Boards acted in years when investment returns exceeded the promised rate of return. Prior PERS Boards ignored the advice of its financial advisors to place the surplus investment gain into a rainy day fund to help cover shortfalls in those inevitable years when market returns were less than the guaranteed rate of return. The PERS Board instead chose to distribute the surplus gains to existing PERS beneficiaries. This decision guaranteed future shortfalls. While an important historical footnote, and one worth learning from, I do want to concede that it’s more important to look forward for solutions rather than backwards for blame.

The meaningful conversation I’d like to see our leaders engage in is what can be done about this.  Short of our state declaring bankruptcy, I don’t know that a meaningful solution exists (particularly for Tier 1 retirees). I have found a bipartisan organization called PERS Solutions for Public Services, but why aren’t our elected leaders following their lead, proposing solutions, and taking affirmative steps to make them happen? And how different would the political landscape be if HB 3427, the Student Success Act, included meaningful measures to control PERS costs? Could we have avoided the upcoming battle in November where Republicans intend to repeal the Student Success Act via a voter referendum? Or perhaps Oregon Democrats could have obtained a quorum to vote on the Student Success Act without having to give up on common sense gun legislation (SB 978 requiring guns be safely stored) and legislation requiring parents to vaccinate their children (HB 3063).

I’d sure like to hear our elected leaders in Salem have a meaningful conversation on PERS reform rather than what he have now: one side vilifying all public employees and the other side blindly defending a broken system. Again our elected leaders show us that the scarcest quality in politics is creativity. Let’s do better Oregon.

– Dylan



Cows Don’t Vote: The Unwarranted Political Clout of Oregon’s Rural Sheriffs

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2018 by thebluebros

For the past 31 years, Oregon has operated under a sanctuary state law that directs Oregon law enforcement officials to use the state’s resources to enforce state and local laws only. Specifically, state and local law enforcement in Oregon may not use state resources to enforce federal immigration law against individuals whose sole violation of the law is being in the United States illegally. ORS 181.850. On the other hand, the federal government is free to use whatever resources it desires to enforce its immigration laws. Oregon’s sanctuary law is now under fire.

Oregonians now face Ballot Measure 105 that would, if passed, repeal Oregon’s law prohibiting the use of state resources to enforce federal immigration law. This is a terrible idea for a host of reasons, including the fact that it is supported by numerous groups identified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Rather than litigating the damage Measure 105 would inflict upon our state, this article is directed to the media’s coverage of a joint letter written by a group of Oregon sheriffs in support of Measure 105. These sheriffs, 16 in all, strongly voiced their support of Measure 105, and announced this support at a well-attended press conference. The media took notice. A lot of notice.

A consumer of Oregon news could reasonably view the coverage of these 16 sheriffs as something akin to a mass movement. The Oregonian’s front page article on these sheriffs aptly noted this represents “more than a third of Oregon’s sheriffs.” OPB and Willamette Week  correctly wrote, this number represents “nearly half of the sheriffs in Oregon.” (Emphasis added). While these statements are true, they are misleading. Here is why.

The total population of the 16 counties represented by these 16 sheriffs is 656,515 people (but more than 1 million cows). In a state containing 4,142,776 people, these sheriffs—who were not elected for their expertise on public policy—represent just 15.8% of Oregon’s total population. Multnomah County by itself contains 20% more people than these 16 counties combined. None of the many articles covering these 16 sheriffs mentioned this detail. This fact also did not lead Oregon’s media sources to move this story off its front pages or give it less than prominent coverage on their websites. In contrast, Sheriff Mike Reese of Multnomah County (who, again, represents 20% more people than these 16 sheriffs combined) opposes Measure 105, but good luck finding a single news article that mentions Sheriff Reese’s opposition.

An important caveat to this story is that of Oregon’s approximately 130,000 undocumented immigrants, it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of these immigrants are not likely to reside in places like Seaside, Oregon or Mitchell, Oregon. This means that if these 16 rural sheriffs are able to persuade a majority of voters to direct our state law enforcement resources to enforce federal law, it will not be the rural areas who bear the lion’s share of the cost.

This issue and the media’s coverage of these sheriffs is another example of the rural bias our media consistently exhibits. Cows don’t vote. People do. And our media should reflect that.

In discussing this issue and others here in Oregon, it is common to hear rural Oregonians complain that “Portland and Eugene decide our elections.” While such a sentiment is understandable, those making this complaint would do well to remember that more than 55% of our state’s population lives in these two metropolitan areas. If one subscribes to the long-held American principle of “one person, one vote,” this cannot be a complaint or sentiment the media promulgates by way of thoughtless reporting or reckless pandering. Democracy matters.

– Dylan

Petty Little Liars: The Most Important Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

Posted in Uncategorized on September 11, 2018 by thebluebros

The most important challenge we face in this country is our relationship with the truth. To be more specific, we have too many Americans who are unwilling to believe facts but eager to embrace lies. The cause of this problem is not immediately evident, but the detriment to the country is clear: An uninformed citizenry is not able to make responsible decisions regarding their communities, their government, or which politicians to support. For example, if Americans as a group erroneously believe that we have the best healthcare system in the world, we won’t be motivated to support politicians or policies that advocate for much-needed healthcare reform.

When it comes to assigning blame for our anti-truth epidemic, media sources are quick to throw both political parties under the bus. For example, the right-leaning Forbes magazine published an article in 2015 called, “Who is More Anti-Science? Republicans? Or Democrats?” The headline suggests that perhaps the problem is an equitable one and that both parties are so anti-science that it’s difficult to determine which group hates science more. The non-partisan organization YouGov wrote an article last year that shed just as little light on the problem. Its 2016 headline read, “Belief in Conspiracy Theories Largely Depends on Political Identity.” Again, this headline suggests that the problem of believing crazy things is inherent to both parties and that the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is which crazy conspiracy theories they believe. But is this an accurate assessment? Are Democrats and Republicans equally at fault for believing lies and spreading misinformation?

Based on these questions, I decided to create two lists. The first list compiles mistruths frequently shared by conservatives, and the second list is a collection of mistruths championed by liberals.

Here is the conservative list. The number next to the statement signifies what percentage of conservatives believe the mistruth.

1) Cutting taxes on the rich creates jobs and improves wealth for everyone. (80%)

2) Donald Trump is an honest man. (76%)

3) Human-caused climate change is a hoax. (69%)

4) America has the best healthcare system in the world. (68%)

5) American police officers do not engage in racially-motivated behavior. (65%)

6) Building a wall will stop most illegal immigration. (60%)

7) Abstinence-only education reduces teen pregnancy rates. (60%)     

8) Obama is a Muslim. (59%)

9) Gun-control laws do not decrease gun violence. (59%)

10) Weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. (52%)

11) Obama was born in Kenya. (51%)

12) Russia did not try to influence the 2016 election for Trump. (50%)

13) Evolution isn’t real. (49%)

14) Millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary in 2016 (48%)

15) Leaked Hillary e-mails revealed a child-sex ring run by Democrats through a series of pizza restaurants. (46%)

To be clear, these 15 statements are not a matter of opinion. These are 15 verifiably-false statements. It’s important to note that these beliefs are not just endorsed by a fringe wing of the Republican Party but by a majority of conservatives (with the exception of the last three items, which represent nearly half of conservatives). Again, these statements cannot be disguised as opinion. Similarly, saying that the moon is made of cheese is not an opinion. It’s incorrect. We need to be diligent to not accept false statements such as these under the pretense of “people can have different opinions.”

If our two major political parties are the same in their spread of misinformation, then we ought to be able to compile a similar list demonstrating the false beliefs collectively shared by liberals/Democrats.

When I searched for liberal conspiracy theories and/or mistruths, I learned that finding liberal mistruths is much more difficult than finding conservative mistruths. Here are some alleged mistruths that conservatives think liberals believe and what percentage of Democrats actually believe them:

1) GMOs aren’t safe to eat. (63%)

2) Vaccines cause autism. (18%)

3) 9/11 was an inside job. (17%)

4) Fluoride is not safe for consumption. (No polling data available.)

Pretty short list. Let’s take a look at these in turn.

The belief that eating GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is bad for you is the only myth that I could find that was actually held by a majority of Democrats. (No other liberal myth came close to the 50% mark.) It should be pointed out, however, that although 63% of Democrats consider GMOs unsafe to eat, the same poll showed that 50% of Republicans also believe GMOs are unsafe. I’m not giving Democrats a pass on this issue. When it comes to the science of GMOs, 63% of Democrats are out of step. But it’s difficult to describe this as a liberal conspiracy theory when half of Republicans endorse the same belief. The GMO conspiracy theory is not a liberal belief but rather an American misconception.

Now to vaccines. We see that 18% of Clinton voters in 2016 erroneously believed that vaccines cause autism. However, 31% of Trump voters believed that vaccines cause autism. So not only is the vaccination conspiracy theory disavowed by more than 80% of liberals, it’s actually endorsed by more conservatives.

On the issue of 9/11 being an inside job, we see that fewer than 1 in 6 liberals (17%) endorse this belief. Looking at the other side of the aisle, 15% of conservatives also expressed belief that 9/11 was an inside job carried out by the U.S. government. Similar to the vaccine conspiracy theory, we can’t in good conscience call this a liberal belief when fewer than 1 in 5 liberals believe it and when conservatives believe it in similar numbers.

The final issue is on fluoride in the water. This is a murkier issue simply because so little polling exists on it. Five years ago, Portland, Oregon, a Democratic enclave, voted against putting fluoride in their water. Therefore, we can surmise that Portland Democrats were wrong on this issue. But ¾ of the U.S. population drinks fluoride in their tap water, including over 80% of American cities. What happened in Portland was the exception, not the rule. Every other major city on the west coast is liberal and puts fluoride in their tap water (i.e. Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego). So it’s difficult to call this a liberal belief, particularly when you consider the fact that some of the states with the lowest levels of fluoridized water are ruby-red Republican (e.g. Alaska, Idaho, Montana). But again, without polling data, it’s difficult to speak knowledgably about the parties’ differing position on this issue.

From this analysis, it becomes clear that Republicans are more likely to believe mistruths than Democrats. And this is consistent with the scientific findings. A study out of UCLA in 2017 found that conservatives are more likely to believe false information, particularly when it comes to threats. A study from the University of Oxford earlier this year found that conservatives are more likely to believe and share fake news. We see this time and time again, as evidenced by the mistruths mentioned above.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against conservatives is the fact that the Russian trolls looking to influence the 2016 election specifically targeted them because the Russians found that conservatives were more than 30 times more likely to share misinformation than liberals. The Russian trolls quickly learned that if they wanted political lies spread quickly and to more people for the purpose of pushing Putin’s agenda, they were wise to abandon liberals and instead focus almost exclusively on conservative Americans.

When I googled “lies that Republican believe,” I found countless articles, blogs, and message board postings from thousands of people talking about the lies that Republicans believe (some already mentioned above, and some different ones as well). I found research studies and analyses that asked the question why conservatives are more prone to believe lies. There were countless stories documenting the lies told by Donald Trump and his administration. The Washington Post wrote about the time Trump bragged about his impressive ability to lie. As of last week, The Washington Post’s fact checker database has determined that President Trump has told 4,713 false or misleading statements, averaging about eight mistruths a day. On July 5 alone, he made 79 false and misleading claims! Despite this, about 1/3 of Republicans still consider Trump to be honest and trustworthy.

For the sake of fairness, I also googled “lies that Democrats believe.” The results were extremely telling. My search revealed only two(!) articles on the internet that addressed lies believed by Democrats. The first “hit” was an article written eight years ago by someone named Larry Elder for (a right-leaning political website). His examples of “lies that Democrats believe” included: (1) The rich don’t pay taxes; (2) Only the rich benefited from the Bush tax cuts; and (3) The Bush tax cuts caused the deficit. Several problems with Elder’s analysis.

Mr. Elder’s examples fail because they are straw man arguments. While Democrats believe GOP tax policies benefit the wealthy, no Democrat believes that rich people pay no taxes. And although the rich were the primary beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts, no Democrat purported that middle class Americans received nothing from the Bush tax cuts. And finally, despite knowing that the Bush tax cuts added to the deficit, no Democrat ever said the tax cuts were the sole reason for the deficit. Understandably, Mr. Elder offered no evidence to support his fallacious claims. He offered no references, citations, links, or polling data. And he didn’t have to. His audience is not one that requires evidence.

The second “hit” that came up during my search of “lies that Democrats believe” was an article about how Nancy Pelosi sent out a DCCC e-mail that said “Not asking for money” in the subject line. Then in the e-mail, there was a link for donating to the DCCC. Stop the presses.

After those two “hits,” every article that popped up on my google search resulted in article after article about lying Republicans. I had to go to Page 3 of my Google search before I found an article that didn’t lambaste the dishonesty of Republicans.

What can we conclude from this? Is the internet controlled by liberals? Is the “deep state” erasing anti-Democratic stories from the worldwide web? Is Hillary behind this? No. There is certainly anti-liberal sentiment all over the internet, but what we see is that Democrats are not attacked for believing lies, but for having different opinions, which is completely fair. Anti-Democratic sentiment is out there, but it’s focused on opinions held by Democrats, not on lies believed by Democrats. Democrats don’t get beat up in the press over the facts because Democrats do a pretty good job living in reality. That doesn’t mean Democrats are right about every issue. It simply means they put themselves in a position where rational decision-making is possible.

Republicans, unfortunately, have put themselves in a tough position because the foundation for so many of their opinions is built upon lies and misunderstandings. And it’s not entirely their fault. Anyone who lives on a steady diet of Fox News and conservative talk radio is going to have a mind filled with the type of misinformation cited above. I don’t care how well-intentioned a person may be, if he/she doesn’t have accurate information, he/she will not make sound decisions.

How we fight this is another issue. But before we fight it, we first need to address the reality. The first step in this is to acknowledge that this is not a problem equally shared by Democrats and Republicans. This is a problem of the American Right. We must speak out against the Republican talking points such as, “Both sides do the same thing;” “All politicians are liars;” and “There’s no difference between the two parties.” This is simply another mistruth.

Often when these talking points are used, they come across as conciliatory in tone. After all, the Republican who is saying it is admitting that his/her political party is partially at fault for the political discourse in America. But don’t accept it. These empty talking points are not magnanimous. They are an attempt to muddy the issues and confuse the voters. Republicans know that they can’t absolve themselves of all political responsibility, particularly when they control all three branches of government and 2/3 of the governorships and state houses of congress. Instead, their strategy is to blame all parties for lying and hope that Democrats get blamed just as much as Republicans. Don’t accept it.

– Nathan

Report Card Time: How Many Conservative Predictions about the Obama Presidency Came True?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 8, 2017 by thebluebros

muslimWith the book on Obama’s presidency officially closed, it’s time to look back at the predictions made by leaders of the Republican Party (and conservative movement) about what was going to happen under an Obama Administration. Now that Trump is at the helm, the day of reckoning for all of the right-wing prognosticators is here. So let’s issue a report card.

Here’s the key: (T) – True; (F) – False; (P) Paranoid; (C) Crazy; (BSC) Bat Shit Crazy

Prediction #1 – Obama will open the borders for illegal immigrants. As far back as 2008, conservatives have been pulling this one out. The idea was that Obama would tear down our borders and make the U.S. a haven for illegal immigrants and terrorists. In reality, Obama signed a $600 million bill in 2010 that assigned hundreds of more federal agents to protect the border, increased training for border agents, and implemented the use of drones to detect illegal immigrants crossing the border. Under Obama, there were more American agents protecting the border than under any other president. Despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric that illegals were “pouring in,” it was determined in 2015 that more Mexicans were actually leaving the United States than entering it. And in 2016, the Center for Migration Studies reported that the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States was at its lowest level in 10 years. It goes without saying that the borders were never “opened.” Final Grade: F/P

Prediction #2 – Obama is planning on becoming a permanent dictator and will run for a third term in 2016. Originally reported by the fake news site, this theory became big news in 2016 and was quickly circulated by right-wing news organizations and talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones (infowars) and shared by scores of conservative Facebook users. Final Grade: C

Prediction #3: Obama will be revealed as the Anti-Christ, and the world will end before he leaves office. This might be my favorite prediction. (If you click on the link, it will take you to It’s a fascinating read.) Not much to say about this one.  Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #4 – It will be exposed that Obama is a secret Muslim, a Kenyan, and his birth certificate is a fake. There’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to all of the Muslim theories surrounding President Obama. The birther theories were just as widespread and proven to be equally baseless. No evidence was ever produced despite Donald Trump employing his team of investigators who were supposedly “finding amazing things.” Obama’s birth certificate was verified, and even Donald Trump finally acknowledged that Obama is an American citizen. Final Grade: C

Prediction #5 – Obama will put children into mandatory work camps where they will be required to serve the federal government. This prediction flew under the radar, but it was actually said out loud by a U.S. House Representative. In 2009, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said in a radio interview that Obama was going to round up young Americans and put them into “re-education camps” where they would be brainwashed to believe liberal propaganda and then required to serve the federal government. Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #6 – Obama is going to outlaw private ownership of gold. Glenn Beck, whose show was bankrolled by the retail gold seller Goldline International, went as far as to say that Obama was going to confiscate all of the privately-owned gold in the country. Funny to think about how this would have happened logistically. Final Grade: P

Prediction #7 – Obamacare will include “death panels.” This theory, propelled by Sarah Palin and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in 2009, widely circulated in the media and on facebook pages near and far. The idea was that under Obamacare, government-appointed bureaucrats would decide who gets to live and who gets to die, based on some Communistic cost-benefit analysis. The prediction had no merit and no basis in reality. Obamacare has of course been in full swing for several years, and nary a death panel has been found. Final Grade: C

Prediction #8 – Obama is going to confiscate all of the privately-owned guns in America (aka The Obama Gun Grab). Sen. Rand Paul and other gun enthusiasts alleged that Obama was going after America’s guns. The issue of gun control is an interesting one for the simple reason that even though 0 federal gun control laws were signed during Obama’s 8-year presidency, gun enthusiasts still consider Obama the gun-grabbing president. In fact, gun laws are actually looser now than they were when Obama took office because he signed a bill that allows people to take concealed weapons into national parks (i.e. federally-owned property). Obama actually increased gun rights for Americans. Final Grade: P

Prediction #9 – An Ebola epidemic will spread in the U.S. because Obama allowed American Ebola patients to return home. Fox News ran with this story in 2014. Other conservative sites took the story ones step further and said an Ebola epidemic would be intentional because Obama could imprison the sick and dying, another bizarre prediction aimed at the fringe right-wingers. Local lunatic Alex Jones included on his website (infowars) that Ebola was a “trial run” for a deadlier disease that Obama was going to unleash on America. For those keeping score at home, only 3 Americans were brought to the U.S. for treatment of Ebola. They all lived; the Ebola disease was not spread to anyone else; and the only death from Ebola in the United States was a Liberian man visiting Texas. Final Grade: P/BSC

Prediction #10 – Obama will kill his critics in his second term. My research revealed a litany of major conservative pundits, radio show hosts, and right-wing news sites that were rife with predictions about Obama rounding up “patriots,” putting people into “re-education” camps, making people sick, brainwashing people, assassinating his critics, eliminating news and media outlets that didn’t support him, silencing dissidents, and yes, murdering them. Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #11 – Obama is going to bring 100,000 Muslims from the Middle East to the United States with the plan of making the U.S. a Muslim country. Another one of those bat-shit crazy predictions. Even if Obama did manage to bring in 100,000 Muslims to the U.S., they would make up less than 1/3 of 1% of the population. How these relocated Muslims would take control of 300 million well-armed Americans dispersed over 50 states and thousands of miles is not clear. Those Americans losing sleep over this possibility can now sleep soundly. Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #12 – If Obama is elected, there is guaranteed to be another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In 2004, Dick Cheney predicted that if we elected John Kerry, the country was guaranteed to be hit by another major terrorist attack, similar to 9/11. And starting in 2008, the same charges were leveled against Obama. The (a conservative “news” site) reported as late as June 2016 that a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil was “almost guaranteed” before Obama leaves office because of his reckless foreign policies. This echoed what conservatives had been saying for the last 8 years. Of course no terrorist attack on U.S. soil (committed by a non-American) occurred in Obama’s eight years in Office. Final Grade: P

Prediction #13 – Obama’s stimulus package will worsen the recession and raise unemployment. Obama signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and we saw a massive recovery in less than a year and job growth on the rise. All of the doom and gloom was unfounded. Unemployment of course went down; and when Obama left office, unemployment was at its lowest rate in nine years. Final Grade: F

Prediction #14 – Obama will raise taxes on all Americans and to unprecedented levels. Obama did raise taxes, but only on the top 3% of income earners. For those Americans making less than $400,000 a year, their taxes did not go up. Pointing to the 3% who did see a raise in their taxes does not count as a prediction coming true because Obama campaigned on the promise of raising taxes on top income-earners. This was no surprise. Despite the raise, taxes did not rise to an unprecedented level. The taxes paid by the top 3% of income earners is still less than what they paid under President Reagan. Final Grade: F/P

Prediction #15 – Obama should and will be impeached over what happened in Benghazi. Congressional inquiries led by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee determined that the Obama administration was guilty of no wrongdoing regarding Benghazi. They concluded that neither Obama nor his administration lied about the facts surrounding Benghazi. Despite these facts, the politicization of this issue continued for the next several years. Obama of course was not impeached, and charges were never recommended by the Intelligence Committee. Final Grade: F/C

Prediction #16 – Obama wants to start a race war. This prediction is actually a collection of predictions made by a multitude of far-right wing pundits who made claims that Obama was creating a Black army, gearing up to exterminate White people. These predictions varied from person to person, but the basic gist was that Obama was a racist (despite being half White and having a Caucasian mother who raised him) whose ultimate goal was to declare martial law and create a war against all White people. Ted Nugent was one of the leading chargers on this front. Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #17 – Republicans warned that Obamacare would kill jobs and cripple the economy. Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans claimed that Obamacare would result in the loss of 2 million jobs or more. Despite these baseless claims, Obamacare coincided with the biggest increase in jobs in 20 years. It’s impossible to directly connect Obamacare with the jobs increase, but one thing is clear. The implementation of Obamacare did not result in any type of crippling to the economy or coincide with a nationwide loss of jobs. Final Grade: F

Prediction #18 – Because of Obama’s regulations on the oil industry, his energy policies, and his unwillingness to approve the XL Pipeline, gas could reach $10 a gallon. Gas prices reached an all-time high under George W. Bush in 2008, and Republicans made the claim that they would go even higher under Obama. A number of Republican politicians (e.g. Sen. Mike Lee) made outlandish claims about skyrocketing gas prices under Obama, but Newt Gingrich’s prediction takes the cake. When he ran for president in 2012, he predicted that gas prices would rise to $10 a gallon during Obama’s second term; and his campaign slogan was $2.50 gas! For the record, when Obama left office last month, the average price of gas was $2.31 a gallon. Final Grade: F

Prediction #19 – Obama will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the federal government. Franklin Graham, who was a vocal supporter of Trump and who spoke at the Trump inauguration, made this claim in 2011. Final Grade: BSC

Prediction #20 – Jade Helm: Obama’s illegal army will invade Texas, seize all personally-owned guns, and put people in concentration camps. In 2015, a military exercise called Jade Helm 15 sparked intense fear and paranoia in fringe right-wingers. They believed that a routine military exercise was something far more sinister, an Obama-hatched plot to invade Texas, confiscate all personally-owned weapons, and put citizens in concentration camps. They even implicated Wal-Mart in this scheme, saying that abandoned Wal-Mart stores would be used to detain citizens. Final Grade: P/BSC

Prediction #21 – Obama will limit religious freedom, outlaw Christmas, and ban the Bible. Most of these predictions came after Obama signed the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The connection between the legislation and Christianity is not immediately clear, but Christian leaders who criticized it, did so primarily because they saw the legislation as offering tolerance towards homosexuality. This was seen as an attack on the teachings of the Christian church, and thus came the far-right paranoia about Obama banning Christianity and the Bible. Final Grade: P/C

Prediction #22 – Obama will impose Sharia Law in the United States. Another bizarre prediction based on the belief that Obama is a Muslim terrorist. Final Grade: BSC

This isn’t an exhaustive list of every right-wing prediction ever made about Obama, but these are the most prevalent ones and the ones made by some of the most notable conservatives. You can’t cast all of these predictions aside as the lunatic ravings of right-wing extremists. The majority of these claims come from mainstream individuals. This includes politicians (e.g. former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Rand Paul; Senator Mike Lee of Utah, former Governor and Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin; former U.S. Representative and winner of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll, Michele Bachmann, etc.), political commentators with millions of fans (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, etc.), major religious leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jr.), and our sitting President (Donald Trump).

In a sincere effort to provide conservatives with the benefit of the doubt, I tried earnestly to find conservative predictions about Obama that actually came true. After all, I wouldn’t feel right cherry-picking the predictions that make Republicans look stupid and then ignoring the ones that vindicate them. I researched this exhaustively and even requested assistance from the social media world, but that was little help.

The closest prediction that may have come true is that some conservatives said that an Obama presidency would hurt the economy. This could be based on the sluggish GDP and the increased federal debt. However, this remains a tough sell because by virtually every measure, the economy has improved significantly since 2009. Unemployment is under 5%; there have been 75 consecutive months of job growth (an all-time record); the housing market has bounced back; the Obama Administration set a record for most consecutive months of job growth; and the stock market is at an all-time high. With literally hundreds of different metrics used to measure economic prosperity, we can certainly find data to show that the economy is not perfect; but it’s clear that the economy is not in the toilet, and Obama did not cause an economic depression as predicted. And we arrive at what appears to be another false prediction.

The bigger issue in all of this is the prevalence of fake news and the impact it has on elections. If there is one thing we can learn by studying the predictions made about Obama it’s that fake news didn’t originate with the 2016 Election. It’s been around for at least as long as the Obama Presidency. And it works. If you ask the average Republican about why he/she doesn’t like Obama, it will likely be because of one of the debunked predictions cited above (e.g. He’s not really an American; he sympathizes with Muslim extremists; he wants to take our guns; he’s killed our economy; he’s made us less safe; he’s responsible for the deaths at Benghazi; he’s raised taxes too much; etc.). All of these criticisms are based on what people have heard from fake news sources and deliberately deceitful pundits.

Now that Obama is out of office, it would be nice if somebody on the political right acknowledged that all of these predictions were baseless, dishonest, and politically motivated. If conservatives are not willing to do that, they need to point out which of these 22 predictions is accurate. If none of them are, they owe all of us an apology and an explanation. I won’t hold my breath.

– Nathan

Looking to be a One-Person Army Against Trump? Here is Your Roadmap

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2017 by thebluebros


The recent protests by over a million Americans who stand against Donald Trump (and for everyone else) are incredibly encouraging for our democracy. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of these protests is the number of people coming out for them who have never before been active in politics; and I am not referring to just young people, but people of all ages who are being moved for the first time to become politically active and make a difference. This is critical.

What is not encouraging is that the Left is failing to capitalize on these rallies to the extent it should. There have been reports of thousands of protesters in locations but no one there to sign them up, or let them know what they can do tomorrow. If you ask most activists what the plan is (including myself), few will have an answer. This passion is only useful if it can be harnessed and maintained.

Luckily, Republicans have largely shown us the path forward. The Tea Party movement, which many on the Left were quick to dismiss, has been a tremendous success. While the Tea Party unquestionably cost Republicans a few Senate seats, its overall goals have been achieved. The Republican Party has lurched incredibly far to the right; Congress is now controlled in both chambers by Republicans who 20 years ago could never have been elected in the most conservative of districts; and the Tea Partiers have one of their own, Donald Trump, in the White House. The Movement has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. So how did the Tea Partiers—a relatively small proportion of the electorate—do it?

The first thing the Tea Party had was tremendous financial backing by Big Tobacco and the billionaire Koch brothers, which is why the movement is sometimes referred to as “Astroturf” rather than “grassroots” (for those not familiar with these terms, “grassroots” refers to people-powered political activism from the ground-up, while “Astroturf” refers to corporate-powered political activism masquerading as grassroots). The Tea Party also had a tremendous right-wing media empire ready to broadcast its message in the form of Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and AM talk radio.

The Left in this country will almost certainly not have the money or media platform enjoyed by the Tea Party. While there are wealthy Democratic contributors, they are fewer in number and wealth than the right-wing contributors. And second, Democrats do not have anything like Fox News, CBN, and talk radio. Democrats also lack a devoted group of listeners (e.g., “dittoheads”) who will believe anything and do anything for their leaders. Liberals and moderates are sprinkled more broadly among diverse and often-times non-partisan news sources such as the nightly news, CNN, and NPR. Having said that, there is still much we can do. Much of what the Left lacks in the way of money and doctrinaire-thinking can be made up for via social media, greater numbers, and just working harder.

So here is the roadmap I propose:

Step 1: Do not lose interest. How do you feel right now? Angry? Ready to take on the world? Great! Keep in mind that this feeling is going to wane as you get somewhat used to a Trump presidency and the constant assault on what you care about (it will happen). Your passion and outrage will wane even further when you realize you still have to keep your job, pay your bills, maintain friendships, etc. Fight this waning! Keep your fire lit. Step 1 is the most important step.

Step 2: Give Money. This is something some can do better than others, but each of us should strive to give something, even a little bit if that is all one can afford. Small monthly contributions are better than big lump-sum contributions. And do not give to the Democratic National Committee or any other organization that you do not entirely trust to use that money effectively. This is admittedly a tough decision. Keep your eyes peeled for a future article from The Blue Brothers attempting to address the very question of where to give (and not give) your blue dollars.

Step 3: Hound your elected officials. This is a great way to make a small group seem big, and a big group seem enormous. This is something we need to adopt from the Tea Party’s playbook. Call your elected leaders, and voice your concern. A good thing to do is to block out 2 minutes each morning to make one phone call to an elected leader who is adopting some form of Trumpism. If you have an elected leader who is holding a town hall, show up and ask a question. If an elected official is going to be in a parade, be ready with a sign that will end up in his line of sight. If you are really devoted, and know of a particularly problematic elected official, you can dress up as something that mocks him or her, and follow that person around to all of their public events. This was done to George H.W. Bush in 1992 when a man in a chicken suit followed Bush everywhere because Bush refused to debate. It drove Bush over the edge, and the chicken-suit guy became a story himself (just don’t break any laws). A chicken suit is awesome, but obviously not appropriate for every poor official. Get creative. An important side note is to only hound the people that represent you. If you are out of district, the elected leaders will understandably not care what you say. Finally on this point, if you are represented by a good elected leader, call them and thank them. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Step 4: Run for office. One of the great shortcomings of our system is that we have the wrong people running for office. This often takes the form of politicians who lack the skillset and temperament to hold elected office (e.g., Donald Trump), or we have people that are highly qualified to hold office, but lack the political skill and likeability to win office (e.g., Hillary Clinton). If you have the skills to win office and can do a good job once there, please seriously consider running. We need to start small, and build a bench of highly skilled leaders. This means you cannot start running for office when you are 60 and the kids are all gone. We need you running for office now. If you feel that you are not the proper person to run for office, find someone who is and draft him or her.

Step 5: Primary Democrats. This is related to Step 4, and equally important (especially in districts that are safely Democratic). The Tea Party’s willingness to go after Republicans has made Republicans more concerned about their primary elections than the general elections. The result is more conservative Republicans. If we want Democrats who are not so closely aligned with big banks, big tobacco, and gun manufacturers, we need to run Democrats against them in the primary.

Step 6: Adopt a Specific Cause or Candidate: Find one thing on the ballot that matters a lot to you at the state or local level, and do what you can do to assist it. This can be a candidate or a ballot measure. There are many things you can and should do to help this cause, including: (1) introducing the topic or person to an organization in your district to get the cause/person out there; (2) throw a house party for that person or cause; (3) help organize canvassing parties in your neighborhood where you go door-to-door talking about the issue or candidate; and (4) contact the organization directly to see what you can do.

Step 7: Win the Water Cooler Wars and Speak Up. Many of us are constrained from speaking up when we hear someone say something inappropriate like “Just send em’ all back to Mexico,” or something incorrect like, “Obama did nothing to stop illegal immigration,” or just plain stupid like, “If they’re gonna’ live here, they need to learn to speak American.” Educate yourself on the issues, and be prepared to push back against the inappropriate, wrong, and stupid. If you can do this in a thoughtful, respectful, and informed way, I promise you will win some people over. Do your best to get conservatives you know out of their Fox News echo chamber, and hear an opposing viewpoint. It is the only way they will ever change—to the extent they can.

Step 8: Engage your Friends and Family. Are you going to a townhall meeting on Thursday night? Post about it on Facebook and invite your friends? Did you meet a great upstart politician who is looking to get her name out there? Offer to let her speak at your rotary club (or whatever you do). Did your state representative just introduce a bill to require transvaginal ultrasounds of any woman looking to get an abortion? Tweet about it, and ask your friends to call that person’s office, and then post about how that call went. Be known as the person in your social circle that cares about your community.

Step 9: Vote. This seems too obvious to mention, but make sure you vote, and make sure everyone you know votes. Seriously, shame your family and friends into voting if they give any indication they are considering not voting. Let them know that if they truly value our armed forces, there is no greater way of saying thank you than exercising your most precious right—voting. The flipside of that is that if they choose not to vote, they are sort of pissing on our military and founding fathers, and who wants to do that? Finally, talk to them about the uselessness of casting a protest vote and the dangers of throwing votes away on candidates who have zero chance of winning. The time for “sending messages” is over. It’s time for actions and votes that will bring about substantive change.

Step 10: See Step 1.

This is certainly not a complete list of what you can do, but it is certainly a good start. Imagine if just 2% of us (that’s 7 million people) tackled this list with passion and determination. We’d live in a lot better country.

What’s that you say? You can’t help out because you have a full-time job and small children? With all due respect, drop the excuses and get off your ass. Who cares if you raise a couple of well-adjusted children if they have to find a way to survive in a police state ravaged by world war, global warming, mass extinction, and a President Eric Trump?

See you on the front lines.

– Dylan

William Fulbright to Kanye West: Our Nation’s Slide into Idiocracy

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 by thebluebros

Being an elected official is incredibly challenging. Among other things, there are so many different areas one needs to know and understand. And it is why we have historically chosen leaders that have strong educational backgrounds as well as a long history of government service. This has changed though.

In the 2016 presidential election, most thought we would be shattering the glass ceiling. Instead, we shattered a very different type of ceiling—the one separating the unexperienced and unknowing from the presidency. While Trump may be the candidate you voted for, it is a fact that Trump had no government experience, no military experience, and no experience of public service prior to running for president, and he knows less about the policies he will be deciding than any presidential candidate of the last 100 years (including George W. Bush).

And it’s not just Donald Trump. The third party candidates this year, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, frequently embarrassed themselves on the campaign trail as they demonstrated how little they knew. Hell, Gary Johnson couldn’t identify a single world leader he admired including Vincente Fox who served as President of Mexico while Gary Johnson was governor of New Mexico.

And in case we thought this may be a one-off and the United States will return to normal in four years, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson announced this summer that he is considering running for president in 2020. As did Kanye West. And we cannot very well discount their chances of winning, can we?

When did it become okay to run for the most important job in the entire world, and do nothing to prepare for it other than be famous? Is anyone else offended by this? Do we treat any other profession this way? If you are undergoing surgery, would you want a doctor who had never gone to medical school or performed this particular surgery? If you were getting your taxes done, would you want an accountant who never got past 6th grade math? If you were going to get a haircut, would you want someone who is on their first day of the job and skipped barber college? Of course not. But when we want to select the person who will be leading the world’s largest military, and making the most complex decisions imaginable, suddenly we are ready to consider people who have no experience, no knowledge, and no business running for city council, let alone the presidency.

If you want to know just how different our times are, I ask you to consider Senator J. William Fulbright. Senator Fulbright led a fairly remarkable life. He went to Oxford University and eventually became a Rhodes Scholar. He represented the State of Arkansas in the U.S. Senate for 30 years (1945 to 1974). While in the senate, Sen. Fulbright was considered incredibly cerebral and a real thought-leader. One of his signature achievements was to create the scholarship program that still bears his name. Did I mention he represented Arkansas?! When Fulbright returned to Arkansas to meet with constituents, let’s just say he didn’t fit in so well at a lot of places. He dressed smartly; had a large vocabulary; spoke in depth about complex things; and that was okay. The great majority of his constituents looked upon Fulbright with tremendous pride, as if to say, “That is MY senator. He is our state’s very best. Let’s see if your state’s got someone better.”

That meritocracy is now gone in too many places. No longer are voters looking for their state’s best and brightest. If Fulbright attempted to run for Senate in 2020 from Arkansas, he would undoubtedly be labeled a smug egghead who thought he was better than everyone, and someone who routinely demonstrated his arrogance by talking down to people. Voters would ask where the candidate is they can have a beer with? So long as voters choose candidates on the basis of their beer swigging abilities, doing so will likely leave us with elected officials who are good at little else.

– Dylan

Wounds are Licked: Initial Thoughts on a Tough Night

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 by thebluebros

Phew. What a night. For a Democrat, this was the toughest election since 2004. After a night like this, it is important to take stock rather than feel hopeless. Here goes.

Undemocratic Outcome

At this late hour, it appears very likely that Hillary Clinton will attain more votes than Donald Trump, but lose the White House. Further, the Democratic House candidates will likely collect more votes than Republican candidates (again), but lose the House (again). The Electoral College and gerrymandering are terribly undemocratic practices and should be abolished. Don’t expect, however, any level or branch of this elected government to change the system that it so richly benefits from.

End the Filibuster

My hope is that the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, will have the guts to end the filibuster. While the filibuster is a nice idea in theory (i.e., one more check on government), its use has become so out-of-control and frequent that it has crippled government.

The voters have spoken. They want Republicans to control the Senate, and the voters ought to get that result. While eliminating the filibuster would be the height of Republican hypocrisy, it would be good for our government, and since when do congressional Republicans have a problem with breaking prior records of hypocrisy?

Pro-Business Democrats’ Chickens Have Come to Roost

In a turn of cruel irony, it is largely Bill Clinton’s trade policies that have cost his wife a shot at the White House. Well, that’s not entirely fair. It is not all Bill Clinton’s fault. It is the fault of “pro-business” Democrats who abandoned their working-class base and blue-collar unions in order to embrace terrible trade deals that sent American factories overseas, decimated the environment, and put foreign workers (many of them children) into terrible working conditions. Rather than admit just how terrible these deals have been, Democrats such as Hillary Clinton (as recently as a year ago) and Barack Obama (still!), are pushing for more of them such as TPP.

Both of the major parties abandoned the rust belt, and gave a collective “meh” about 50,000 U.S. factories just going away. Some people though are finally figuring out that these largely abandoned voters are ripe for the picking (see last night’s Ohio Senate race where the Republican candidate got the endorsement of the labor unions and trounced a popular former governor by 21 points!). Trump had the sense (or more likely the luck) to oppose these trade deals vociferously and the Midwest repaid him handsomely.

Dark Times for American Courts

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have, for the past six years, embarked on a cynical ploy to block President Obama from performing his Constitutional duty of nominating very moderate judges to the federal bench. The result is what Chief Justice John Roberts calls an “emergency” with more than 100 judicial vacancies on our federal bench. Now, however, we will see Senate Republicans be rewarded for this reprehensible style of governing. There will be a rapid-fire filling of these 100 vacancies with judges that represent the furthest fringe of the far-right. This genuinely frightens me.

What Do You Have to Lose? Well, A Lot Actually

Trump often made the ridiculous argument that people should vote for him because, “What do you have to lose?” A lot of voters echoed this sentiment, apparently with the entitled and naïve belief that things in American cannot get any worse, only better. I have some news for these people. We have it very damn good here in the United States, and anyone who takes this privilege for granted does so at his or her own peril. Things can get a lot worse. Many who voted for Donald Trump in this election do not adequately appreciate this.

We Again See That When a Party Chooses Its Nominee by Turn, that Party Loses

The best way to select a nominee is to have a lot of people throw their hats in the ring, and for the voters to then select the candidate that gives them the greatest chance of winning. The worst way to select a candidate is to have few choices, and/or pick the nominee mostly by determining whose turn it is. Republicans did this in 1996 (Dole), 2008 (McCain), and 2012 (Romney). All three lost.

The Democratic Party failed our nation by failing to give us a true primary. Not a single Democrat emerged to challenge Clinton. The party had great, charismatic leaders waiting in the wings that could have emerged—people like Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Brian Schweitzer (MT), Corey Booker (NJ), etc. No one did. Bernie Sanders—someone who is not even a Democrat—reluctantly offered to run because he realized the importance of a contested primary, and saw that no one else was going to run. Again, this is a failure of the Democratic Party and cowardice by its leaders.

Hillary Was, Quite Simply, a Lousy Candidate

While I have no question over Hillary’s character, intelligence, or ability to be a fine president, she is a terrible candidate (something I suspect should would admit behind close doors). We often hear that Hillary lacks authenticity and charisma, but what we don’t hear enough is that her overall strategy sucked because she did not learn from her mistakes. Hillary made all of the same mistakes she made in 2008 when she lost to an unknown freshman senator. Specifically, she gave us almost no reason to vote for her. I keep hearing that her website has specific policies about immigration, taxes, student loans and other things, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what any of them are. How is that possible? I follow this stuff much closer than most, and I can’t tell you anything. That is a failure of messaging and vision.

The Democratic Party Establishment’s Hubris Was Cruel and Unfounded

The Democratic Party castigated Bernie Sanders and his supporters (including me) for being a nuisance, and ridiculed us for not trusting in Hillary—who could not lose! Especially if Trump was the nominee! Hillary could lose, and she lost to the most unpopular person ever to run for president. The hubris of the Democratic establishment and its contempt for Bernie supporters was unfair and unfounded.

– Dylan