Archive for November, 2012

The Attack of the Hacks

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2012 by thebluebros

In the American political system, there is an extreme shortage of honest brokers—i.e., those people who approach politics fairly and objectively. A truly honest broker will decide to support an idea or candidate based on the idea or candidate’s merit and consistency with the honest broker’s core beliefs. Further, an honest broker holds all politicians to the same standard, and places little importance on party label.

The above description of an honest broker is so obviously not the norm in our current political system. Instead, we have become overrun by hacks—the opposite of an honest broker. Hacks are people who cannot support or oppose an action or idea until they know whether the person promulgating those actions or ideas have a “D” or “R” after their name.

The most obvious example of the proliferation of hacks is with regard to the national deficit. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, it is well known that he inherited the largest surplus in U.S. History (projected by CBO to be $5.6 trillion from 2001 to 2011) and turned it into the largest deficit in U.S. History (increasing national debt from $5.9 trillion in 2001 to $10.7 trillion in 2009). During Bush’s eight years in office, there was virtually no discussion from conservatives or Republicans of the deficit or debt, or any type of opposition to Bush’s spending ways. However, the moment Obama took office in January 2009, the eight-year silence from Republicans on the issue of deficits ended. Why do the same people who idly watched one of their own double our nation’s debt suddenly care if someone else does the exact same thing?

The deficit is the most obvious example of this, but a more recent example is the Benghazi issue. To most Americans (virtually all who are not Fox News watchers), this issue is about as important as who Honey Boo Boo endorsed for president (Obama). I will occasionally overhear a conservative commentator compare this to Watergate or see a Facebook friend comment on it three times in a two-hour period, and I catch myself wondering if I was just missing a really big scandal. Well, I’m not. What I am missing is Republican’s attempt du-jour to discredit our president. This chart helps explain how I arrived at this conclusion: 

This post came from the Facebook page“Being Liberal” and when I saw it I was so struck by its message that I assumed it was not true and just misleading liberal propaganda. So I googled each of these incidents and confirmed each of them had happened, and the death/injured numbers were accurate (in some cases a little low). To rephrase the content of the image, during Bush’s eight years in office, at least seven American embassies or consulates were attacked, resulting in dozens of deaths, and over 100 injuries. Republicans couldn’t be bothered to bat an eye. Now, an American embassy is attacked under Obama (a much less bloody attack than the 2008 attack in Yemen) and they want to equate it to Watergate.

When you see such disparate treatment of similar events depending on who is in office, it is easy to see why so many Democrats are quick to call Republicans racist. I do not subscribe to the belief that most Republicans are racist, but I cannot fault those who do. It does leave the question of what is going through the minds of these Republicans who so obviously work under a double-standard. One of two frightening options must be true; either (1) These Republicans knowingly and dishonestly apply different sets of rules to Republicans and Democrats, or (2) they are so blindingly loyal to their party that their minds have unknowingly created two separate realities without their knowing it?

While this piece fairly focuses on Republicans, I would be remiss to ignore that Democrats do the same thing—albeit to a lesser extent. For example, if a Republican president had extended the Bush tax cuts, continued the Afghanistan war for another six years, increased the use of drone attacks, and gave a free pass to the war criminals in the Bush administration, would Democrats have remained as largely silent as they have been over the past four years? Of course not.

Obama should be called out for these things by Democrats and Republicans, and he is not the only Democrat too easily let off the hook by rank-and-file Democrats. For example, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Al Gore and his crusade against global warming, but Fox News is correct when it points out Gore’s hypocrisy of living in a mansion quadruple the size of the average American home (and yes, I know he works from home). I love Bill Maher, but his views on vaccinations is embarrassingly irrational. And while I have tremendous admiration for Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, I recognize both were incredibly flawed presidents who presented virtuous ideals, but whose long term impact on the country was minimal in some places and downright devastating in others.

Hacks are dangerous. They stoke the worst fires in each of us: laziness, intolerance, and partisanship over all else. But how do we bring about a revival of honest brokers in an age dominated by such hacktitude? I suggest all major media outlets put in place a moratorium on any interviews of any person on a campaign payroll or labeled a “campaign spokesperson.” It may do a lot…or nothing at all. But even if it does nothing to help the targeted problem, I think we can all agree that reducing the number of canned pieces of meaningless spin certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

– Dylan

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Changing a System that Lets Losers Win

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2012 by thebluebros

In our electoral system, you need not go far to find something broken. In the world of broken political workings, however, there may be nothing more broken than the undemocratic way we elect our U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, the party that wins the most votes does not necessarily win control of the body, and that is precisely what happened last week. Nationwide, Democratic House candidates received about 500,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts, but nonetheless, will begin the next legislative session firmly in the minority with 40 fewer congressional seats than Republicans (234 Republicans to 197 Democrats—4 races still undecided). This kind of undemocratic result comes about because of gerrymandering and our collective unwillingness to figure out a fair way of drawing congressional lines.

Congressional lines necessarily have to be redrawn every 10 years when the census figures are released. Lines need to be drawn to account for the losing or gaining of congressional seats, but also to account for shifting populations so that all districts have approximately the same number of people (thereby preserving the principle of one person, one vote). In an ideal world, this redrawing of congressional lines would be a mundane activity carried out by disinterested bureaucrats. However, this is a hyper-partisan process fueled by big money in order to stack the deck against one party and in favor of another.

Unfortunately for Democrats, they faired very poorly in the 2010 elections. Republicans took over many state legislatures and governorships, and these bodies redrew the lines in 2011. Hyper-partisanship combined with improving technology allowed these Republican-controlled states to redraw the lines in a way that stacked the deck more effectively than anyone had seen before. Four states deserve particular attention:

Michigan

  • Voter Registration: 40% Democrat; 33% Republican (+7% Democrat)
  • Obama – 54.3%; Romney – 44.8%; (Obama +9.5%)
  • 14 Congressional House Seats: 9 Republicans; 5 Democrats

North Carolina

  • Voter Registration: 45% Democrat; 32% Republican (+13% Democrat)
  • Romney – 50.6%; Obama – 48.4% (Romney +2.2%)
  • 13 Congressional House Seats: 9 Republicans; 3 Democrats (one race still undecided)

Ohio

  • Voter Registration: 37% Democrat; 36% Republican (+1% Republican)
  • Obama – 50.1%; Romney – 48.2%; (Obama +1.9%)
  • 16 Congressional House Seats: 12 Republicans; 4 Democrats

Pennsylvania

  • Voter Registration: 51% Democrat; 37% Republicans (+14% Democrat)
  • Obama – 52.0%; Romney – 46.8%; (Obama +5.8%)
  • 18 Congressional House Seats: 13 Republicans; 5 Democrats

What we see from these numbers is four states that are anywhere from politically middle-of-the-road (OH and NC) to leaning pretty firmly left (PA and MI). Despite these demographics, Democrats control just 17 of these four state’s 61 congressional seats (just 28%!).

Had these four states drawn their congressional maps in a way that accurately reflected the people who live in those districts, Democrats may very well have taken control of the United States House of Representatives, and suddenly the political and legislative future looks much different. Instead, we have disingenuous Republican Congressmen claiming Republicans actually have a mandate to keep taxes low on the rich because they retained control of the House. You really have to be in awe of the chutzpah of these guys.

Democrats also have the problem of conceding many of those areas where they could easily do the same thing. For example, California—the state that has more congressional seats than any other at 53—is a solidly Democratic state. Obama beat Romney by over 21 percentage points and Democrats control all levers of power. They could really use that power to gerrymander the hell out of the state and help Democrats. Instead, the state has created a citizen commission to redraw lines. Despite the heavy leanings of the state, the commission is made up of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 unaffiliated voters. While I admire the effort to remove politics from the process, I can’t say I support the unilateral draw down while the other side ramps up their efforts to hamstring Democrats wherever possible. Be wary of any effort to bring about the same thing in your state. If you are in a red state, efforts to depoliticize the redrawing process are almost certainly being brought by a blue organization, and vice versa.

I found a five-minute video below that very succinctly and interestingly summarizes the problem of our current system, and shows how it can be improved upon. Hopefully enough people get this issue on their radars and we can begin to do something about it.

– Dylan

Republicans Miss the Mark; Then They Miss the Point

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2012 by thebluebros

Since Tuesday, I have heard conservatives rail that the reason Obama won a second term is because Americans have become dependent on the government, and these Americans simply cannot imagine their lives without a monthly welfare check. In essence, America has chosen a free hand-out instead of hard work and initiative; a welfare check over the American dream. Lots of problems with this.

First, only 4.4 million Americans—or 1.4% of the population—receive federal welfare. (Republicans like to broaden this number to include Social Security and Medicare. This is of course entirely misleading for the reason that we pay into these programs.) So any idea that the American electorate voted for Obama because they wanted their welfare checks is simply untrue and draws attention away from the real issue. It’s also worth noting that the majority of Americans who receive Social Security and Medicare (what Republicans refer to as welfare) voted for Romney.

The bigger injustice here is that Republicans are blaming their loss on factors outside of themselves. They blame the “Nanny State;” they blame Hurricane Sandy; they blame the so-called liberal media; they blame Governor Chris Christie; they blame the Tea Party; they blame two senators who made incendiary comments about rape; they blame their inferior ground game; they blame low turnout from their base; they blame Obama’s negative ads for suppressing the vote; they blame Romney for not having dark enough skin. But all of these conclusions miss the mark. The Republicans lost because they continued to peddle the same empty message.

The Republican Party again ran on the ideas that: (1) Reducing taxes for the rich will create jobs; (2) Less regulation of business will lead to economic prosperity; (3) The Republican Party is the party of fiscal responsibility; and (4) The Bible dictates social and moral issues (e.g. gay marriage, abortion, contraception).

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party assumed the American people would forget that trickle-down economics has never worked and proved to be disastrous under George W. Bush. They assumed the American people would forget that lack of business oversight is what lead to the 2008 economic collapse. They assumed the American people would forget that George W. Bush never had a balanced budget, despite inheriting a budget surplus. And they assumed the American people would forget that gay rights and women’s rights are civil rights. They assumed incorrectly.

It also didn’t help that the Republican Party selected the physical embodiment of what most Americans see as the problem with America: a rich, out-of-touch, white man who made his millions off the backs of struggling Americans. Al Cardenas, longtime GOP leader and the head of the American Conservative Union said after the election that the Republican Party is “too old, too white and too male.” Looking at the exit polls, it’s difficult to disagree with him.

The conservative ideas pushed in this election were no different than what we heard from Reagan in ’80 and ‘84, Bush in ’88 and ‘92, Bob Dole in ‘96, Bush in ’00 and ‘04, and John McCain in ‘08. We can go back even further and look at the Republican campaign promises from Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, and William McKinley. It’s the same song and dance. The only difference this time is the dancer happened to be Mormon and have good hair.

It would be great if the Republican Party changed their message and adopted positions that take into account the rights of women, racial minorities, and the LGBT community. But we know the Republicans won’t change. In 2014 and 2016 they will no doubt pull out the same tired talking points about cutting taxes for our job creators and the dangers of government oversight in the business sector. The only difference is they will most likely find a woman or a racial minority to spew it.

– Nathan

Who Are You Taking into the Voting Booth with You?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 by thebluebros

It’s well-known that the Democrats pick up all the cool celebrity endorsements. Obama can count on votes from George Clooney, Jay-Z, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen; while Mitt Romney has to rely on support from Kelsey Grammer, Jeff Foxworthy, Suzanne Somers, and Vanilla Ice. Celebrity endorsements are fairly meaningless, but what gives them at least some weight is the fact that the celebrity is typically well-known and well-respected. For example, no conservative supports the politics of Bruce Springsteen, but most Americans—regardless of political persuasion—respect Springsteen as an artist and recognize him as a genuine slice of Americana. Not sure the same can be said about Romney-endorser Wayne Newton.

Obama has been pulling out his big guns in the past couple weeks, getting support from people like Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, and Mayor Bloomberg, and even garnering some support from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. For some reason we have seen very few Romney surrogates on the campaign trail. This begs two questions: (1) Who are the people who have endorsed Romney; and (2) Why aren’t they appearing on the campaign trail with him?

Most of Romney’s endorsers fall into one of four groups:

1) The Ghosts of the Past. These are past Republican politicians who fell out of favor with the general public because their radical agendas and policies were either proven to be ineffective or exposed to be crazy. These people include: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, etc. These politicians remind voters of the Republican Party’s failures and extremist positions, and for that reason are not welcome on the campaign trail.

2) The Embarrassing. Most of Romney’s celebrity endorsements are from B-list celebrities with zero credibility—in their respective fields or elsewhere. But because Romney endorsements from genuine celebrities are few and far between, many of his endorsements from sub-par celebrities have been front-page news. Obama received endorsements from such music icons as Paul Simon, Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Jack Johnson, and countless others, and they went largely unnoticed. However, when Meat Loaf endorsed Mitt Romney last week, it was front page news for several news cycles. Meat Loaf—a guy who has the social relevancy of a Garbage Pail Kid and who hasn’t had a hit record in almost two decades—was front page news for a fledgling Romney campaign. Similarly, I read a recent article highlighting a Romney endorsement by actress Patricia Heaton. For those of you not familiar with Heaton’s name, she was Raymond’s wife on the TV show, Everybody Loves Raymond. The Embarrassing list contains the names of pseudo-celebrities, people who have become national punch lines and would have a difficult time landing a spot on next season’s “Celebrity Survivor.” This list includes such names as Donald Trump, Hulk Hogan, Ted Nugent, Chuck Norris, Gary Busey, and Larry the Cable Guy. Although the people on this list may help turn out the White Trash vote, they do little to attract undecided voters and ultimately bring embarrassment to the Romney campaign, thus negating their presence at any Romney/Ryan rally.

3) The Religious Fundamentalists. The endorsers in this crowd love nothing more than a good wedge issue: abortion, gay marriage, contraception, abstinence-only education, and the completely made-up issue of religious freedoms coming under attack. The people on this list include Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Bill Donahue, and various religious organizations. This group routinely reminds the rest of America how scary religion can be and how ugly religion becomes when combined with the political process, thus they are not welcome on the campaign trail.

4) The Bigots. This is the most controversial of the four categories, but any blog piece devoted to describing Romney’s supporters would be remiss to not mention the bigots who vote. Although Romney would never admit it, he knows he can count on racists, misogynists, and homophobes to turn out for him in droves on Election Day. I am by no means saying that all Republicans are bigots. The majority are not. But this is a contingency that certainly leans right. Nightline ran a piece last week on the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview with the Grand Dragon, Steven Howard, we learned that the Klan is strongly opposed to the Obama Presidency (surprise!) and predicted that if Obama wins re-election, White Americans will be rounded up and placed into concentration camps. Sounds like Romney found some support in Mississippi. For obvious reasons Mr. Howard and his ilk have not been invited to any Romney events.

Do Democrats get endorsements from oddball celebrities? Absolutely. No one on the left is bragging about picking up the endorsements of Ashton Kutcher, Miley Cyrus, or Sinbad. But the difference is that while Obama also picks up harmless endorsements from entertainers, he doesn’t have to worry about hiding shameful and embarrassing endorsements. For example, in the category of “Ghosts of the Past,” Romney has to hide from a litany of Republican names. Obama has the luxury of being able to embrace the Clintons, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Jimmy Carter. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are far less popular, but even they don’t have the toxicity of Bush, Cheney, Palin, and the other Republican counterparts.

In terms of endorsing organizations, Obama has his share of less than helpful endorsements. For example, endorsements from leftist groups like PETA, the Sierra Club, and the ACLU arguably hurt Obama’s attempts to appear moderate. However, while these groups certainly have liberal agendas, they do not carry near the negative imagery for most Americans as religious fundamentalists, the birther movement, the Tea Party extremists, or bigots.

When I vote, I like to remind myself of who I’m voting with. On Election Day, I will be voting with women, racial minorities, the LGBT community, the educated, the young, and the middle class…and yes, the tree-hugging hippies and the potheads. For Republican voters, they get to step into the voting booth with the political ghosts of the past, the embarrassing, the religious fundamentalists, and the bigots. If you are a Republican who does not fit into any of these categories, I encourage you to look at the people who also support your candidate and ask yourself if these fellow Romney supporters represent a brighter, more prosperous America. And do you feel slightly uncomfortable with the fact that when you pull the lever for Mr. Romney, you’re sharing a goal and an action with people with whom your candidate refuses to be seen? Grover Cleveland put it well, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” What company are you keeping in the voting booth on Tuesday?

– Nathan

Thinking About Voting Third Party? Grow Up.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2012 by thebluebros

Swing-state voters who support third-party candidates for president need to grow up. This is a sentence I have been repeating to myself for 12 years now, but rarely say in public because of the violent reaction it invokes in people who normally consider themselves my political allies. I apologize for the crassness of my statement, but with a close race for president just days away, I think it needs to be said.

Whether to support a third-party is a critical topic, but a hard one to approach, in part, because it is amazing we are still having a debate over it. I thought after 2000, the stupidity behind a third-party candidate running for president and people voting for him or her would be forever resolved. Not the case. Again, we as a nation show a stunning unwillingness to learn from our mistakes.

For those who were too young to remember 2000, or have repressed the events of 2000, let me provide a brief recap. Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. However, our nifty electoral college does not care so much about who gets the most votes. Rather, it comes down to who wins each state’s electoral votes. Election Night 2000 produced no winner. 49 states’ and the District of Columbia produced the following electoral vote total: Al Gore: 266; George W. Bush: 246. Gore needed just 4 more votes to win and Bush needed 24, but those numbers did not matter. There were 25 votes left, all in Florida, and they would all be going to one candidate; whoever won Florida, won the White House. A long, drawn out recount went on for more than a month in which Bush’s lead continued to dwindle. The recount was ultimately halted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on December 12, 2000. By that date, Bush’s lead in Florida had shrunk to just 537 votes (out of 6 million cast). The tragedy in all of this is that Ralph Nader’s insistence in running for president despite no chance of winning and aggressively campaigning in swing states, very much handed the election to George W. Bush. This is not a point on which reasonable people can disagree.

Ralph Nader received 97,488 votes for president in Florida in 2000. Polling of Nader voters in 2000 showed that had Nader not run, 45% of his supporters would have voted for Al Gore, 27% would have voted for George W. Bush, and the rest would have stayed at home. Applying these numbers to Florida, this means that had Nader not run for president in 2000, Al Gore would have won Florida by 17,000 votes instead of losing it by 537. And that is the difference between a President Gore and a President Bush.

Nader and his quixotic followers argue that Gore ran a lousy campaign, and the Supreme Court decided the race, and that 250,000 Democrats nationwide voted for Bush, blah, blah, blah. None…of…that…matters. All that matters is that Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign changed the outcome of the election. That is a mathematical certainty.

What Ralph Nader does not understand (or pretends not to understand) is that we live in a pluralistic system (also called “First Past the Post” system), meaning that all that is required to win an election is to receive more votes than anyone else—as opposed to having to get 50% of the total vote (majority or “second ballot” system) or apportioning power based on the percentage of votes each party receives (proportional representation). The result of a pluralistic system like ours is that it creates a two-party system by its very nature. This is known as Duverger’s Law. The way a plurality system works, third-parties, by definition, are doomed to undermine those causes they profess to care about because they necessarily split the vote of particular interest groups and leave the unsplit oppositional party to win with a plurality (exactly what happened in Florida in 2000).

This year I have many friends and family members who will be voting for Jill Stein. Ms. Stein is a terrific woman whose ideals fall very close to my own, but there is no chance I will be voting for her. Why? For the same reason I did not vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. We live in a two-party system that presents us with two options for president: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. One of these men will become president. While I like neither choice, Barack Obama is clearly the better option so that is who will receive my vote.

My critique of those supporting third-parties is not meant as a condemnation for not being an obedient Democrat or Republican. Be a rabble rouser, but understand there is a time and a place for that. Passionate liberals and conservatives should put pressure on their elected leaders to stand with them. If they don’t, the citizens should primary them. If, however, these advocates fail to significantly move the candidate on the issues and fail to defeat him in a primary, it becomes time to put on your big-boy pants and vote for the least-worst option. To do otherwise is the equivalent of throwing a political temper tantrum. If you live in Massachusetts or Utah, feel free to throw that temper tantrum. But if you live in any state with even the remotest possibility of the election going either way, grow up and vote like you understand the system in which you live.

– Dylan