Archive for September, 2012

The Answer to All Our Problems (seriously)

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2012 by thebluebros

What would you say if I told you that I have the answer that will solve virtually every problem in our country? You’d probably assume that I was either: (a) joking; (b) completely delusional; or (c) hopelessly naïve and ill-informed about the state of affairs in this country. I won’t keep you guessing. Here’s the answer: campaign finance reform, or more specifically, publically-funded elections.

I just heard the sound of someone’s eyes glazing over with disinterest. Before you click back to Facebook to get the latest update on someone’s zany pet let me explain how this issue could single-handedly solve all of the problems we face in this country.

Something we can all agree on is that there is too much money in politics. In 2008, the presidential candidates spent roughly $5.3 billion. According to The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP)—a non-profit, non-partisan research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy—US House members who won in 2008 spent on the average $1.4 million. US Senate candidates, on average, spent more than $9.2 million. For those individuals who see national politics as out of reach, they may contemplate a run for state senate. They will no doubt be disappointed to read the findings of The Pew Research Center, which estimated in 2004 that winning a state senate seat can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In California, one state senate campaign spent $938,522. So the idea of the average American running for public office at any level—even in a losing effort—is extremely unlikely. There’s a reason that so many of our political candidates are rich. You almost have to be to have a chance of winning an election.

What happens to the candidates who can’t compete financially? They get thumped. Examples of this are seen every election cycle. One example occurred in 2004 in Massachusetts. Democratic House Member James McGovern was defending his seat against Republican challenger Ron Crews. Crews was outspent almost 10:1. He mustered together a paltry $150,000, which paled significantly to McGovern’s $1.25 million. Crews lost by 43 points. We can dismiss this as another liberal Massachusetts election, but McGovern’s seat is in central Massachusetts, well away from the liberal hub of the greater-Boston area. The person who held the seat before McGovern (for much of the 1990s) was a Republican, and the three counties represented in McGovern’s district overwhelmingly voted for Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown in the 2010 special election. Similarly, Russ Feingold—the long-time senator from Wisconsin, well known for reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans—lost his senate seat to the ultra-conservative Tea Party candidate Ron Johnson in 2010. Johnson outspent Feingold 3:1, berating Feingold with an onslaught of negative TV ads. Feingold lost by five points.

When discussing his ability to predict elections, MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan quipped, “If I know who raised more money, without even knowing anything else, 94 percent of the time I will pick the winner.” When I checked the validity of this claim, I found that it was Ratigan wasn’t far off. According to, in 2008 93% of the House candidates that spent the most money won; and 84% of Senate candidates who spent the most money were victorious. So Ratigan’s number may have been somewhat inflated, but not by much. The message remains the same. What kind of Democracy do we have when money is the best predictor of who wins?

The obvious problem is that the money has to come from somewhere. In 2008, the pharmaceutical and health care industries invested $236 million in lobbying. Oil and gas companies spent more than $130 million for their lobbying efforts. Politicians can’t rely on $25 checks from individual supporters. They need corporate money and money from special interests to compete. The inevitable situation is that politicians receive money to keep their campaigns afloat and in turn agree to vote for (or vote against) legislation that serves the interests of their donors. (I admit this is a simplified explanation of the lobbying process, but you get the idea.) Because of the significant role money plays in the electoral process, politicians do not serve the interests of their constituents but rather the interests of their financial benefactors. This does not occur in just presidential politics but at all levels: federal, state, and local. Instead of a country that is of the people, by the people, and for the people; we have a country that is of the people, by the people, and for the moneyed interests. The Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in 2009 solidified this reality.

The solution is simple. We ban all money from elections. No individual donations; no corporate donations; no loopholes. For people who cry foul and want to rail about their freedom of speech being violated, I encourage them to exercise their First Amendment rights by becoming active. Volunteer your time and work for your favorite candidate; spend time learning the issues and canvas your neighborhood talking to potential voters; register voters in your area; put up a yard sign; put a bumper sticker on your car; wear an election pin; vote; drive people to the polls.

Publicly-funded elections are the answer. In other words, our tax dollars will fund all political races. Conservatives will no doubt raise hell over this proposal, labeling it another government program and expenditure. But this cost does not need to be large. In a federal budget that includes $2.6 million dollars to help Chinese prostitutes learn how to drink responsibly and $1.8 million to aid the Museum of Neon Signs in Las Vegas, I think we can scrape together the cash for something as important as real campaign finance reform. This would not have to be an expensive program. Several solutions have already been proposed. One of those was by a group called They developed a plan that would allow public funding of all federal elections (President, US Senate, and House of Representatives), and it would require each American to pay just $6 more in taxes each year. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting bent out of shape over six bucks, but for those that do, I encourage them to look into how much our government has spent in the last year on tax subsidies for oil companies alone.

Clearly the spending on elections would be greatly reduced, meaning there would be an end to spending $5 billion on presidential elections, and US Senate seats would no longer cost $9 million. For the sake of fiscal responsibility, significantly less would be spent on elections. This would create some significant changes. First of all, the election cycle would be much shorter. Mitt Romney’s five-year race to the White House would no longer be a possibility because candidates would spend the vast majority of their money in the few months leading up to the election. Campaigns would not have the capital to spend millions of dollars 12 months before the election. The second thing it would do is provide the public with more focused and more thoughtful campaigns. The strategy of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks would no longer be strategically advantageous. The money would have to be spent wisely.

The big payoff of publicly-funded elections is obvious. Our represented leaders would no longer owe favors to their financial contributors. Their legislative decisions would be directed by the wants and needs of the people they represent and not the wealthy private interests that got them elected.

How this plays out is the most exciting part. It’s fun to speculate. Government contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater would no longer have the power to influence politicians to vote for war. If the war profiteers no longer have a say in the political process, our chances of getting mixed up in another unnecessary war are dramatically decreased. And the troops overseas will likely come home in record time. The climate change crisis would finally be dealt with seriously and would no longer be controlled by corporations that profit from polluting and producing greenhouse gases. Tax revenue would likely increase because the corporations and private interests that advocate for lower tax rates for the wealthy would no longer have a grossly lopsided say in the political process. We would likely see income tax rates return to where they were under Reagan and Clinton, an increase in the historically-low capital gains tax, and an increase in the also historically-low estate tax. Private pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies would no longer have a strong hold over the political process, making it more likely that our healthcare system could turn from a for-profit industry to a system that makes the goal treating and preventing disease. And the list goes on.

It may not be the flashiest issue on the campaign trail, and it’s not going to excite any rallies; but there is not a more important political issue out there.


– Nathan


I was a Flip-Flopper Before I was a Flip-Flopper

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2012 by thebluebros

Much has been made about Mitt Romney’s downward spiral over the last two weeks. Every day we hear political pundits tell us how out of touch Romney is and how he hasn’t been able to connect with middle-class voters. Conservatives have attributed the fall to specific political missteps such as when Romney failed to mention the troops in his acceptance speech at the RNC or when a senior Romney campaign staffer compared his boss to an Etch-A-Sketch—which by the way—still remains my favorite moment from the 2012 election season. Democrats blame Romney’s downfall on the “out of touch” factor, frequently citing his great wealth, top-secret tax returns, and the elevator he had installed in his California home for his car. They simultaneously chide him for being wooden and inhuman. For this argument they often refer to his quote, “I like firing people,” which they usually tie to his record at Bain Capital, where Romney and his colleagues purchased ailing companies, sucked out any equity they could for themselves, loaded up the company with debt, and then filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying these debts. One of the many costs of this kind of vulture capitalism is that it resulted in the loss of thousands of American jobs. To further dehumanize Mitt, liberals also love citing the incident where Romney tied his dog Seamus to the roof of his car for a 12-hour road trip and then when asked about it, Romney claimed that Seamus “liked it up there.” No word on how the Romney family felt about Seamus defecating liquid down the windows of the car (yes this actually happened). For those of you drawn to this story, there is actually a facebook page devoted to the incident. This week political pundits are enamored with the footage of Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser and stating that 47% of Americans are lazy free loaders and that he could win this election if only he were Latino. And the hits keep comin’.

These incidents (and others like them) certainly haven’t helped the Romney campaign, but I don’t think we can point to them as the primary reasons Romney will lose in November. The biggest reason he will lose is that people simply don’t trust him. Voters have shown time and time again that they will vote for criminals, philanderers, former drug users, and every other form of lowlife imaginable, but they don’t want a flip-flopper. Previous elections show exactly that. John F. Kennedy was born into extreme wealth and prestige, but voters didn’t care; Ronald Reagan was the first President to be divorced, but voters didn’t care; George H.W. Bush was classified as rich and out of touch, but voters didn’t care; Bill Clinton was known to be monogamously-challenged, but voters didn’t care; George W. Bush was notorious for putting his foot in his mouth at virtually every campaign stop, but voters didn’t care. Misguided or not, there was a level of trust with all of these candidates. Even with Slick Willie in the White House, many Americans trusted that this was a man who understood the needs and pains of every-day Americans.

With Mitt Romney, however, people have no idea what they are getting. As Ted Kennedy famously said in his debate with Mitt Romney in 1994, “I am Pro-Choice; my opponent is multiple choice.” A joke that keeps popping up throughout the campaign season is this one: A liberal, a conservative, and a moderate walk into a bar. Then the bartender asks, “What can I get for you Governor Romney?” These attempts at humor highlight a much larger problem for the Romney campaign. No one knows where he stands, and that makes voters uneasy.

In many ways, this election is similar to the 2004 election between John Kerry and George W. Bush. In 2004, the country was in the midst of two wars, one of which was extremely unpopular; no weapons of mass destruction had been found; bin Laden was still at large; the Bush Tax cuts did not give the hoped boost to the economy; the federal debt was spiraling out of control; the Bush White House obliterated the surplus created under President Clinton; no new jobs were being created and manufacturing jobs were vanishing. The election was Bush’s to lose. Democrats liked their chances, and why not? They were running against an unpopular president who was guaranteed to produce countless gaffes on the campaign trail.

But something happened. In the weeks before the 2004 election, George W. Bush said something that I believe was the single sentence that won him his re-election. He said, “You may not agree with me, but you know where I stand.” When I heard that I said, “Wow. He’s right.” The image of Bush’s conviction juxtaposed with John Kerry saying, ‘I voted for the war before I voted against it’ was the reason Bush went home the victor. (The actual Kerry quote was “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” referring to the war’s funding. The real quote about spending morphed into the quote you see above.) What became apparent is that the American people would rather have an honest thief than an indecisive flip-flopper. Apparently Romney didn’t learn much eight years ago.

– Nathan

Hot Coffee & The Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2012 by thebluebros

If you are harmed by a person, a business, or a government entity, your only legal recourse is through the government. No private person, business, or organization has the capability to obtain justice for you. As you will recall from civics class, there are three branches of government you can go to for assistance: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each of us knows, however, that for all intents and purposes, the legislative and executive branches are virtually closed off to us. Access to these branches requires connections or money most of us do not have. For most of us, our sole remedy for wrongful acts committed against us is whatever we can obtain through the judicial branch of government—i.e., our court systems. Therefore, protecting the integrity and accessibility of that court system is critical.

I just recently watched a fairly phenomenal documentary called Hot Coffee. In addition to affirming my belief that no American of the past 30 years has been as much of a cancer to our society than Karl Rove, the film shows how large corporations have worked tirelessly, and with great success, to limit the ability of individuals to use our 7th Amendment right to obtain justice via a trial and jury. The film does this in several ways, but I would like to highlight just one of those in today’s piece, and that is the myth of the frivolous lawsuit.

When someone says “frivolous lawsuit,” most everyone’s brain has been trained to think of the McDonald’s coffee case, and how it represents just how out of control our judicial system is and how it rewards those seeking “jackpot justice.” Ironically, however, the McDonald’s coffee case is actually a shining example of just how well our jury system works. I do realize such an assertion flies in the face of what we have been told to think about this case. To most people, the true facts of the case are rather eye opening.

The McDonald’s case was brought by a 79-year old grandmother, Stella Liebeck, whose nephew had just purchased her a cup of coffee. While sitting in the passenger seat of her nephew’s parked car (story usually says she was driving a vehicle at the time of spill), the lid to her coffee came off and coffee spilled into her lap. The result of this spill was burns to six percent of her body including third-degree burns to her inner thighs and vagina. It required multiple surgeries and skin grafts to repair. The documentary includes photographs of the injured areas (if you can stomach a picture of her burns, go here and scroll to the bottom of the screen). Ms. Liebeck’s family contacted McDonald’s to request they pay her $10,000 medical bills and consider storing their coffee at a lower temperature. McDonald’s instead offered Ms. Liebeck just $800. Pushed in a corner, Ms. Liebeck’s family urged her to hire an attorney. At trial, the jury awarded Ms. Liebeck a total of $160,000 for her medical bills and pain and suffering. The jury then awarded Ms. Liebeck an additional $2.9 million dollars in punitive damages (two days of McDonald’s’ profits from coffee), and it was later reduced by the judge to $450,000.

The jury did not award Ms. Liebeck $2.9 million because she deserved it, but because it wanted to punish McDonald’s—which is the precise reason punitive damages even exist. The reasons for the punishment include: (1) McDonald’s was serving its coffee 50-60 degrees higher than what is normally served in a home kitchen; (2) the investigation leading up to trial revealed McDonald’s had received at least 700 complaints from people regarding the unsafe temperatures of its coffee; and (3) many of these prior complaints included people that experienced serious and disfiguring burns, including many children; and (4) despite all of these complaints and serious injuries, McDonald’s took no action to prevent future serious burns and continued storing coffee at higher temperatures to maximize its shelf life. This was the quintessential case of a huge corporation putting profit over human health.

Despite these facts being readily available to all, Ms. Liebeck, who died in 2003, remains the posterchild for frivolous lawsuits. There is even an organization that has created “The Stella Awards” to honor really stupid people doing really stupid things, and then suing someone for it. These “awards” have become email chains you have likely received. These stories, however, rarely include a fair account of the actual facts, and often times make stories up from whole cloth. One of the most indispensable (and independent) websites out there,, routinely debunks these Stella awards and people’s attempts to mischaracterize real lawsuits.

Perhaps the most famous example of a pro-corporation, anti-consumer leader lying about a lawsuit for political gain was an anecdote told by Ronald Reagan in a speech he gave in 1986, in which he said:

“In California, a man was using a public telephone booth to place a call. An alleged drunk driver careened down the street, lost control of his car and crashed into a phone booth. Now, it’s no surprise that the injured man sued. But you might be startled to hear whom he sued: The telephone company and associated firms!”

Certain facts Mr. Reagan seemed to have forgotten to include: (1) This phone booth was located in a dangerous location; (2) in the previous year, a car had hit the phone booth, completely removing it from its location; (3) after the crash, the phone company put the phone booth in the exact same location without installing any protective devices or warnings; (4) the phone company did not repair the broken door of the booth, and it was this broken door that prevented the injured person from escaping (testimony from the trial revealed that witnesses saw the man struggling unsuccessfully to open the door to escape harm’s way); and (5) one of the man’s legs was amputated and he would no longer be able to be a janitor (his profession at time of injury).

Next time you hear someone complaining of a sue-happy society or litigious Americans unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions, ask them to put up or shut up. Tell them to point to a single incident of a person bringing a frivolous lawsuit and collecting a dime. If they point to the coffee case or the phone booth case, you are now armed with some facts. If they cannot provide anything else, advise them to limit their bloviations to topics they know something about.

Efforts to convince us that the court system is under attack by a slog of frivolous lawsuits are unfounded. That meme is put out there by corporations to convince us to give away our constitutional right to have our day in court so these corporations can continue to act as bad citizens and dangerous entities without fear of having to pay the consequences of their bad acts.

As a trial attorney (mostly for insurance companies), I have some insight into this. There just are not that many frivolous lawsuits because there are too many factors that make them not worth taking, including: (1) Suing someone is not free. Costs to file a civil complaint can exceed $1,000; (2) It is tough to find an attorney who will take a frivolous case. Besides damaging one’s professional reputation and ability to effectively attract and try legitimate cases, a frivolous case will almost certainly not pay for the time that will go into it; (3) There are very real risks for clients and attorneys who pursue a frivolous claim. If you lose, which you presumably will if the case is truly frivolous, you risk having to pay prevailing party fees and the other side’s costs. You also risk a claim against you for wrongful use of a civil proceeding.

Finally, those that favor taking away our rights to access the court system would have you believe that a jury of our peers cannot be trusted to determine how much you are really owed for your injury. No one has yet been able to explain to me why the average citizen suddenly undergoes a temporary lobotomy once he or she enters a jury box. And if we cannot trust a jury to make that decision, who should we trust? The frighteningly common alternative is an arbitrator selected by the defendant’s insurance company. That’s better than a jury?

For the average person, the judicial branch is the only branch of government he or she can access, while big money has the other two branches at their beck and call. It drives the monied interests crazy that we still have access to one of our three branches of government, and they are doing everything they can to change that. Don’t be an accomplice to this effort. You can start by defending Stella Liebeck.

– Dylan

DADT Repeal One Year Later: Study Reveals No Gay Orgies Yet

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2012 by thebluebros

A news headline many of us may have missed last week was the announcement that a research study coming out of the Williams Institute at UCLA found that 12 months after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), there have been no negative consequences of any type. Researchers gathered data from generals and admirals who originally opposed the repeal; they interviewed professional opponents of the repeal including various watchdog organizations; and they interviewed active-duty service members from every branch of the military. The researchers also observed military units directly and collected survey data from these units, and they analyzed survey data collected from independent outside groups. When all of these factors were studied and analyzed, the data revealed no negative impact of repealing DADT. There was no evidence to suggest that the repeal undermined recruiting efforts, lowered morale, or negatively impacted troop readiness. In fact, there was evidence to suggest that the repeal actually improved trust and cohesion among troops.

At a time when we constantly debate the issue of homosexuality, these research findings seem particularly relevant. Just a couple weeks ago, at the Republican National Convention, we saw these words added to the party platform: [We] “reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation…[We will carry out an] “objective and open-minded review of the current Administration’s management of military personnel policies and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action.” In other words, we will make every effort to undo the repeal and put things back the way they were, but we can’t just come out and say that because a growing majority of Americans support the repeal of DADT.

We have all heard about the moral degradation of being gay, about how it tears away at the fabric of American morality, undermines our religious convictions, and strips us of the very essence of what it means to be American. I remember when one person told me with all seriousness that if the repeal goes through we could very well see gay orgies break out amongst the ranks. We hear these kinds of statements, but these claims continue to be untested theories. Finally we have a scientific study to address some of these concerns.

In 2011, you couldn’t walk past a newspaper stand, sit in a waiting room, or browse the news on-line without being inundated with story after story related to the pending repeal. Every political pundit from Sean Hannity to Rachel Maddow was talking about it, as were their casts of political pundits. Every news source was obsessed with the question, “What impact will this have on the military?” We now have an answer: none.

I did some sleuthing on-line to determine what level of coverage this UCLA-based study received. Of the four major networks, it appears only NBC covered the story. ABC, CBS, and FOX did not report any of the findings. CNN was not much better. Although CNN did print a story on the study’s findings on-line, one would have to first find the “Security Clearance” section on CNN’s website to access it. To give you an idea of how little traffic this part of the website gets, the article received eight comments from CNN readers. To help put this in perspective, the current front page article on has almost 5,000 comments posted. To find virtually any mention of this study, one has to visit a progressive political website or a blog like this one.

If the findings of this study do somehow find the light of day, I’m curious to know how opponents of the repeal will respond to the news. Will it change their minds on the issue? Will they soften on their position to keep gays from serving openly? Will it cause them to assess their personal opinions on other gay rights issues such as gay marriage and gay adoption?

Unfortunately, I get the feeling we already know the answers to these questions. Most conservatives, certainly the talking heads on TV, will not bat an eyelash. They will have some reason to discount the research, either saying the researchers were biased, or that academia always has a liberal slant, or that 12 months is not enough time to truly assess the long-term consequences of such a repeal. However, if the research found the opposite–that the repeal did result in negative outcomes–they would most likely be leading with this story.

The take home message for me is that we must sometimes do what the media does not. We need to remind people of the science. Every time we hear John McCain tell us about decreased troop effectiveness; every time we hear a relative at Thanksgiving dinner tell us about lowered morale; every time we see a guy on Facebook posting that gay orgies are about to break out on military bases around the world, we need to remind them that the evidence does not support their beliefs.

– Nathan

The Gore Years

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2012 by thebluebros

In every presidential election, you can rest assured that pundits, politicians, and activists will proclaim the upcoming election as “the most important of our lifetime.” By definition, however, there can only be one of those, and as important as this year’s race is, 2012 is not it. I am quite certain 2000 was the most critical presidential election I have lived through, or will ever live through.

Things are so bad right now, and have been so bad for so long, that it is easy to forget just how great it was for almost everyone during Bill Clinton’s presidency (January 1993 to January 2001). Here are just some of the numbers:

  • The economy grew at a rate of 4.0% per year, and grew for a record 116 consecutive months.
  • During Clintons’ eight years in office, 22.5 million jobs were created (92% in the private sector)—again, a record for any president.
  • The nation’s unemployment rate dropped steadily for eight years until it hit 4.0% in January 2001 when Clinton left office.
  • The economic gains were felt at every socioeconomic level. Dramatic gains were made in median family income and the poverty rate was slashed by 22%.
  • Fiscal year 2000 produced a surplus for the third consecutive year, and the largest one in history—$237 billion.
  • 53 of our brave men and women in uniform died—22 in Somalia (1993); 4 in Haiti (1995); and 27 in Yugoslavia (1999). While I would never celebrate the death of a U.S. troop, how many of us wish that only 53 our servicemen and women died from 2001 to 2009 instead of the 12,000 that actually did (not counting the countless more wounded physically and emotionally).

These are important numbers that should not be forgotten. Unfortunately, many in this country went into the 2000 election thinking that the miraculous gains we had made over the past eight years in nearly every area of life was the new normal. Many in this mindset further believed these gains were not so much the result of any policy put into place by an elected leader, but more a reflection of how much God blesses us, or how much we deserve it because we work so darn hard. We learned very quickly just how good we had it and how quickly things can change.

In the next couple of years, the United States would experience the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history; we would become entangled in two long, drawn-out, costly wars that may likely produce no benefit to our country; the largest surplus in U.S. history would become the largest deficit in U.S. history; and we would enter the first of many recessions that were followed by “jobless recoveries.”

Would things really have been different had Al Gore been elected in 2000 rather than George W. Bush?


Most significantly, I believe it is likely that 9/11 would not have happened if Al Gore had been president. I routinely get scoffs from people when I suggest this (and I do as often as I can), but there is very compelling evidence to support this; and it is getting stronger as more and more evidence that the Bush Administration has tried to keep secret gets declassified. If one is interested in the evidence, I suggest he or she check out this and this. These articles highlight how the Clinton/Gore Administration approached terrorism very seriously while the Bush Administration ignored numerous threats and warnings in order to focus on an outdated Cold War model of warfare.

Even if Gore had been unable to prevent 9/11, no one can reasonably argue that Gore would have invaded Iraq. If Gore had gone into Afghanistan, we can again be sure that mission would not have been run by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, and would have looked much different. I have no illusion that it would have gone well (assuming Gore went in at all), but it certainly would not have lasted his entire presidency.

Foreign policy aside, we also know Al Gore would not have signed into law the two greatest contributors to our debt (other than the wars discussed above)—the Bush tax cuts and Medicare Part D, a huge giveaway to pharmaceutical companies. There are also the environmental disasters under Bush, the deregulation of banks and polluters, and who knows what medical gains were lost while Bush blocked research of stem cells. I haven’t even started talking about what Gore would have done as president—only what he would not have done. Saturday Night Live took this idea and made a very funny skit back in 2006 (admittedly taking this idea to a humorous extreme).

We can debate all day as to what kind of president Al Gore would have been, but an objective look at the numbers will tell any observer that no president (other than possibly Hoover), has overseen such a dramatic decline in America as President Bush. And while Gore would not have been perfect, we did not need him to be perfect in order for 2000 to be the most important election of my lifetime. He could have been average—say a Carter or a Nixon—and 2000 still would have been a more significant election than anything else we will ever live through. George W. Bush was just that bad for our country, and we should never forget it.

– Dylan

Hey, Where’s the Party?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2012 by thebluebros

As a liberal, it’s fun to mock Mitt Romney and dissect the reasons he can’t manage to find traction in this election. However, as the election season goes on I find that I have more sympathy for Mitt Romney. It’s been pointed out time and time again that this is a man without a Party; this is a man who doesn’t really fit in with his constituency; and this is a man without a political base. So what happened? How did this successful, intelligent, attractive, religiously moral man with a beautiful wife and five handsome sons turn out to be the political equivalent of Typhoid Mary? The more I think about this question the more I realize one thing: It’s not just Mitt Romney who abandoned his Party’s principles; the Republican Party abandoned Mitt Romney.

Consider this. When Mitt Romney’s healthcare legislation passed in the state of Massachusetts, he created a program that was in some people’s eyes, a neo-con’s ultimate fantasy. First of all, Romneycare mandated citizens without healthcare—and those who did not qualify for other programs—to purchase healthcare from private insurance companies. Romney’s program was a huge handout to the private insurance industry, and it ensured the healthcare system remained a privatized, for-profit entity. On top of that, it provided the illusion that real healthcare reform had been achieved. In defense of Romneycare, the number of uninsured Bay Staters significantly dropped under Romney’s plan, but it was a far cry from the more progressive healthcare legislation pushed by Democrats. Under Romneycare the rich got richer, healthcare remained privatized, and the masses were appeased. Romney should have been hailed a Republican superhero. But then something happened that even Romney could not have anticipated…

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Obama introduced a healthcare plan that was virtually identical to Romney’s. Conservatives could have embraced Obamacare and accepted it for what it was, a big wet kiss from Obama to the conservative movement. But instead, Congressional Republicans did what they promised to do: they obstructed. They cut off their nose to spite their face. This obviously created a dilemma for Romney who had planned to tout his record as governor throughout the campaign. But rather than stand behind his single-greatest achievement, Romney was pressured to hide from it and pretend it never happened. In the Republican primaries earlier this year, the other Republican candidates mocked Romney for his Obamacare doppelganger. Instead of defending his conservative healthcare plan and risk being aligned with Obama, Romney cowered in shame.

You can’t blame Romney for creating a program that would have made Ronald Reagan proud. Romney did right by his Party. The problem here is that the Party abandoned Romney simply because they were not willing to back a candidate who did anything that resembled the actions of Barack Obama—even if those actions advanced a conservative idea.

Let’s not give Romney a free pass though. At any time in this election, he could have taken a hard stance on his principles. He could have defended his healthcare program as a conservative answer to a very real problem in Massachusetts. He pushed a conservative healthcare package through one of the most liberal states in the country, and in the process, made both sides of the aisle happy. That’s no small feat. Similarly, Ronald Reagan was able to work with congressional Democrats in the interest of his conservative agenda. Romney could very well have sold his brand by comparing his approach to Reagan’s, and he could have blasted the other candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, etc.) as ideologues unwilling or unable to roll up their sleeves and work with the other side, similar to Reagan. Had Romney painted himself a politician who can work with both parties to enact legislation that helps everyday Americans, he would have appealed to independent voters, giving him the best chance of beating Obama in November. And there is nothing Republicans want more. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), Romney didn’t do that. Instead of standing by his beliefs and proudly defending his record, he kowtowed to the right-wing base and began his four-year charade of flip-flopping on every issue under the sun. He even had John Kerry calling him a flip-flopper at the Democratic National Convention. This has to be the kiss of death.

Come November, conservatives will likely make Mitt Romney their scapegoat. They will talk about the many reasons he failed to connect with voters and the reasons why he was not a true Republican; but the Republican Party has a much bigger problem than Mitt Romney. They’re a party that places such a premium on defeating Democrats that they are willing to sell out their own convictions to do so.

– Nathan

Blind Adherence to Old-Fashioned Notions of Polite Society Makes us Dumb and Lazy

Posted in Uncategorized on September 10, 2012 by thebluebros

I have deep respect and admiration for the 2,500-year old Socratic Method for the hope it offers us. For those who do not recall learning about this in high school or college, let me provide a brief description of just what the Socratic Method is. The Socratic Method is a form of conversation in which a person asks another person a series of thoughtful questions to better understand the other person’s point of view. It is meant to stimulate critical thinking and challenge commonly held, but unanalyzed positions. The hope is that these types of thoughtful conversations lead to a better understanding of each other and an abandonment of ideas that are unsupported by logic.

The problem with the Socratic Method is that it runs afoul of two deeply engrained American principles. First, most of us have had at least one respected elder tell us, “It is rude to discuss politics or religion at/in [insert virtually any location].” Why? Presumably because the risk of hurting someone’s feelings is so great that two of the most important topics in one’s life should only be discussed in places where the speaker has reasonable assurances that everyone within earshot will agree with his belief system. And the second American principle that runs up against modern application of the Socratic Method is each American’s right to hold any opinion he or she likes. Many unfortunately abuse this right (as they are of course permitted to do), and use it as an excuse to subscribe to irrational beliefs that they forbid from ever being challenged.

The result of this American ethos is that we, as a society, have become very poor at discussing politics because we are discouraged from doing it nearly everywhere, and there is no discussion as to how to do it civilly or constructively. Most people keep their political beliefs to themselves unless speaking with likeminded individuals, and then reinforce those beliefs with a supportive media outlet. On that rare occasion when we are confronted by a differing ideology (say on Thanksgiving), a few things happen. First, we often lack the ability to defend our beliefs in a meaningful way because we have never taken the necessary time to learn about the complex issues on which we profess to be experts. Second, we take offense when anyone disagrees with our continuously reinforced, but perhaps baseless belief system. And third, we are devoid of the skills necessary to discuss these complex issues in a productive or civil manner, and discussions quickly turn to personal attacks and other forms of hostile and unproductive communications.

We all know how bad everyone is at discussing politics because we so often joke about how useless it is to discuss politics. There are various Facebook threads that highlight this point. They go something like this: “Thank you for your political posts. They have really opened my eyes and caused me to change my political philosophy – said no one ever.”

When you think about it though, shouldn’t conversations on public policy change our outlook? Look at it this way. There are literally hundreds of political issues out there. Most of them are incredibly complex and require not only a deep base of knowledge to understand, but also require daunting considerations of economics, cost-benefit analysis, constitutional rights, moral/ethical considerations, etc. Doesn’t it make sense that our opinions on such complex issues would constantly be changing, or at least tweaked, as we learn new information and hear different points of view? Of course it makes sense, but it rarely happens. Instead, all of our ideas seem inexplicably locked in.

My suggestion to fix this ideological gridlock that stunts any type of collective political growth is to drop the sacred-cow routine and embrace the Socratic Method. You believe the Bush tax cuts worked so well that we ought to extend them forever? Great, let’s talk about it. We have to agree, however, to get past the trite and inflammatory talking points—i.e., “Why are Republicans against the rich paying their fair share?” versus “Why do Democrats want to punish success?” Instead, let’s have a meaningful conversation about The Laffer Curve, correlations between tax cuts and economic growth, long-term debt projections, economic analyses of the tax cut proposal by the OMB, effect of tax cuts on human behavior, etc.

I have a handful of conservative friends who talk to me like this and it is refreshingly productive. No one is switching parties at the end of the conversation, but it is amazing how much we can find upon which we agree. Moreover, I love meeting someone who can educate me on issues. I have a couple of conservative friends in particular who are especially knowledgeable on public unions and gun control. Both have moved me on these issues because they had something to teach me, and I was open to adjusting my political beliefs based on new information. Too many of us fall into the pattern Stephen Colbert courageously told George W. Bush he fell into: “[You] believe the same thing Wednesday that [you] believed on Monday…no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Be open to new ideas and to defending your current ones. If this seems boorish or uncouth to you, get over yourself. If the idea of having to explain and defend your beliefs in a thoughtful manner makes you uneasy, perhaps your beliefs warrant reconsideration.

– Dylan

This Time it’s Personal

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2012 by thebluebros

I work with a guy who amazes me. He is a true undecided voter. He’s a smart guy who can hold a conversation on a whole host of interesting topics, but he will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t pay attention to the news. We were having lunch together the other day, and he was telling me how silly these national conventions are. In his opinion, it makes no difference who wins the election. He explained that the parties are the same and his life will remain unchanged regardless of who wins. Before I had a chance to respond, he knew I disagreed. So he asked me, “Is your life going to be any different if Obama wins? Or if Romney wins? Would your life be worse now if John McCain won four years ago?” The question caught me off guard because it was so direct and because I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that exact question before. Candidates routinely ask the question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” but it’s always on the campaign trail and to large audiences. We don’t usually ask this question in casual conversation. What a great question it is. And what an important question. Here’s the answer I gave.

When I finished graduate school and found my first psychologist job (at the North Little Rock VA Hospital) I was taking home about $3,400 a month in pay. My school loan payments were just under $1,300 a month. More than 1/3 my pay was going towards my school loans. It was crippling. After paying rent and school loans, my family had less than $1,000 a month to cover everything else (i.e. groceries, cell phones, gas, utilities, auto insurance, etc.). Here I was, a 31-year old with a PhD, and I was living paycheck to paycheck. When I made this realization I was angry. I’d worked hard my entire life; I’d always had a job; I’d always paid my bills; and I’d never gotten into trouble with the law. I did my part! So why was I struggling to make ends meet? Why were my wife and I having a conversation every month about which bills to pay. It was preposterous. Where was the American dream? It reminded me of the George Carlin quote, “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Needless to say, something had to be done.

One of the things Obama campaigned on back in 2008 was helping out college students through increased access to student loans, pell grants, and assistance with paying back school loans. He suggested a program where people could have their school loans reduced if they worked in an area of public service that benefitted a high needs area (the military, veterans, lower-income areas, etc.). One of the first things Obama did when he got into office was push for student loan reform. Less than a year later, I saw my school loan payments drop drastically, the direct result of a federal program. Today, I pay $133 a month in school loans, a reduction of almost 90%. This allows me to save for my retirement, save for my kids’ education, and to take my wife on an occasional date for sushi (guilt-free!). In addition to this, for anyone who remains in public service for at least 10 years and makes all of their school loan payments (at the reduced rate), the remainder of the school loan balance will be forgiven. What a program! John McCain would not have pushed for this program. If Mitt Romney wins, this could easily be a program that ends up on his chopping block to offset the cost of giving another tax cut to the wealthy. So did Obama make my life better? You bet!

My friend looked at me and was silent for a while. Then he offered a sly smile and said, “So are you telling me that it matters?” My friend is older (in his 50s), financially stable, and likely will not see any immediate changes in his life if Romney wins or Obama wins. (I didn’t bother to tell him that his kids who are entering college will be affected or that the Medicare he is counting on in 10 years will be affected.)

Just because we as individuals may be comfortable with either outcome, we must consider how the rest of America will be affected by this election. Will other Americans have access to healthcare or be able to get coverage despite having pre-existing medical conditions? Will other Americans be able to afford college? Will other Americans be able to retire at 65, or will they have to work until 75? Will lower-income children have access to Head Start? Will lower-income families still have access to food stamps? And the list goes on. I hope that when we all enter the voting booth we think of more than just ourselves and our bottom line. Even though the differences in our two political parties get blurred far too often, who we elect still matters.

My friend thought for a while and then conceded that “it probably does matter.” However, he was still undecided, saying that he wasn’t familiar with the changes the two candidates were proposing. I offered to buy him lunch next week.

– Nathan

* UPDATE: It’s been mentioned that income-based repayment and tuition forgiveness programs existed before Obama was in the Oval Office (thank you Candace for the post!). Technically this is correct. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act passed in the fall of 2007, but it did not take effect until 2009. Obama campaigned on the bill before its passage and was a major advocate for it. When the bill came to the Senate floor in the summer of 2007 and again in September, John McCain voted against it both times. The bill was introduced by Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California. The bill passed easily but only because Democrats had control of both houses of Congress. There were 226 Democratic congressmen who voted on the bill, and all 226 of them voted in favor of it. Of the 196 Republicans who voted, more than 75% voted against it. So while the bill did not pass under an Obama Administration, it was a Democratic bill that passed with Democratic support. Looking at my post, it certainly looks like I gave Obama more credit than he deserves; but I would like to point out that he continues to advocate for the program and is fighting to lower the cost of education, make available more Pell Grants, and make loan repayments more manageable. Mitt Romney isn’t even talking about this issue. So while I may have given Obama more credit than he deserved on passing the actual bill, my original point still stands.

Dispatches From Fantasyland

Posted in Uncategorized on September 6, 2012 by thebluebros

In my nine to five job of representing injured workers and those hurt through the negligence of others, I continuously play the same game with insurance companies. To illustrate what I mean, let’s provide a quick example. If I have a client who has suffered $20,000 in damages from an injury, I can never just come out and say, “Mr. Jones has sustained $20,000 in damages; therefore, Mr. Insurance Company, please cut us a check for that amount.” Instead, I have to throw out a ridiculously inflated number (e.g., $60,000) because I know the insurance companies will come back with a ridiculously low number (e.g., $5,000). Negotiations go back and forth for a few days and we typically settle right around $20,000—the amount both parties likely valued the claim at to begin with.

As I watch the Democratic and Republican national conventions, I am struck by the same dynamic. No one is allowed to be honest about what is really going on. Instead, both parties throw out extreme versions of reality and expect those watching at home to buy it. Does anyone, though?

This can be seen clearly in both sides’ characterization of The Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare). Republicans spent four days calling it “socialized medicine”, “a government takeover”, and characterized it as a threat to our very way of life. Now we see the Democrats touting it as panacea for our healthcare woes, and claim it will insure all Americans (it won’t) and will reign in skyrocketing health care costs (probably not). What is missing in all of this is what the Affordable Care Act is—a moderate improvement to a broken healthcare system.

I am particularly irked by Democrats who stand up there and proclaim Obama has been able to pass major healthcare reform when the past several presidents have tried and failed to do so. While technically true, any Democratic president since John F. Kennedy could have passed the Affordable Care Act if they were willing to settle for a law that did so little. Hell, the first President Bush proposed a plan that did more than Obama’s did, but Democrats blocked it because they did not believe it did enough to expand healthcare to all.

Whether we are discussing jobs, taxes, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the environment, or anything else, we have one party comparing our current state to Utopia and the other party comparing it to Hell on earth. It’s just one more reason why these conventions are fairly meaningless. I enjoy their entertainment value, but I would never consider viewing them to learn what was going on in government, and I hope no one else does either.

Some other notes on the Democrat’s first half of the Convention:

  • Best quote of Monday night: “We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.” – Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio)
  • Best attack line of Monday night: “[Romney]’s a fine fellow and a great salesman, but as governor he was more interested in having the job than doing it.” – Gov. Deval Patrick (Massachusetts)
  • As little as I care about how much any candidate’s spouse wants to be a good parent or what it was like to date said candidate, Michelle Obama gave a pretty phenomenal speech.
  • The polls now show Team Romney experienced no bounce in the polls from their convention. I wonder if this is a testament to how poor of a convention they put on, or whether it is more of a testament that no one watches these things other than partisans who made their mind up many months ago.
  • As cynical as I may be about the whole convention process, some of it does get me excited. For instance, I really am looking forward to Bill Clinton giving his speech tonight. He can usually be counted on to say something pretty powerful.

– Dylan

Memoirs of an Invisible Candidate

Posted in Uncategorized on September 4, 2012 by thebluebros

With one convention behind us, we can all take a deep breath and look at what we learned over the last week. For starters, I learned that the Republican Party wants nothing to do with Mitt Romney. I thought the passion was lacking at the 2008 convention when the Republican delegates reluctantly aligned with a moderate Republican like John McCain; but nothing could have prepared me for the lackluster support given to Mitt Romney at this year’s Republican National Convention.

On the opening night, Chris Christie – in his now famous speech – was noted to have made it more than 2/3 of the way through his keynote address before any mention of Romney. Rand Paul spoke the following day and mentioned the Romney word once(!), and you have to think that was only because he had to. John McCain later stepped up to the podium and delivered a somnolent speech about national security. In his 1,500-word address, McCain went almost 1,200 words without mentioning the former Massachusetts governor who shall go unnamed. Condoleezza Rice continued with the national security theme in her keynote address and then spoke of her childhood in Alabama, barely giving Romney a mention. The final night of the convention brought Jeb Bush to the podium, where we were forced to listen to a long speech on the Florida public education system and the importance of school choice. Again, Romney barely got a mention. And of course we were graced by the guest appearance of Clint Eastwood – the man who preferred talking to an empty chair rather than talk about the presidential traits of his chosen candidate. Ann and Craig Romney spoke endlessly about Mitt in their addresses, but for everyone who didn’t have the last name of Romney, it appeared that Mitt was not a topic of interest.

Just as interesting is that on the rare occasion when Romney’s name did come up, it was usually a completely vapid statement dripping with banality and vagueness. Comments like, “Mitt Romney will change the direction of our country, and our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever.” Or “Mitt Romney has the integrity and experience and the vision to lead us.” Or the powerful, “He will provide an answer to the question, ‘Where does America stand?’” And who could forget the show-stopper, “Mitt Romney will rebuild the foundation of our strength.” Wow.

No one could have hated the convention more than Mitt Romney. I can just see him sitting in his hotel suite pulling his hair out every time a convention speech began wrapping up, and he realized he had been slighted yet again.

The pundits were obviously less than impressed with the convention. How many times did we hear the political commentators say something along the lines of, ‘[Insert speaker’s name here] didn’t amaze, but he did what he needed to do.’ The same FOX News pundits who fell over themselves praising Sarah Palin’s “Bulldog Speech” four years ago had a difficult time coming up with anything positive to say about the Republican speakers this time around.

So did the convention do its job? Are people now talking about Mitt Romney? While it’s not yet clear if Team Romney got the usual – and usually temporary – bounce following the convention, it does seem apparent that people’s interest in Mr. Romney remains unchanged. Headlines on various news sites are focused on Clint’s empty chair technique, Paul Ryan’s apparent distaste for telling the truth, and gearing up for the 2016 presidential runs for Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio. What does it say about the candidate when an entire convention built in his honor and for the purpose of legitimizing his candidacy goes off almost as if he wasn’t there?

– Nathan