Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trump frames the debate to his advantage

Donald Trump is at work changing the story on Puerto Rico.  

It is not a matter of federal government inattention and lack of concern.   It is the ideal Trump frame: Hard working traditional Americans being set upon by Incompetent and undeserving outsiders.

We can see the Trump formula at work in three tweets.   People who underestimate Trump will be his victims.
Step One:  Attack the critic's moral legitimacy.  In this case by saying she is dishonest (having been complimentary prior) and that her motives are corrupt (instructed by Democrats rather than the facts).

Step Two:  Attack the critic's competence (poor leadership ability) then generalize to the general Hispanic population (other leaders, and unmotivated workers)

Step Three:  Place the situation into the frame of lazy or incompetent Hispanics being a financial burden on  majority Americans (10,000 Federal workers doing a fantastic job.)

This is Trump at his archetypal best in issue framing, turning the Puerto Rico hurricane response into a frame of hard working Americans with the burden of shiftless, incompetent, unmotivated non-English speaking people.   

This blog has focused the past week on issues of inside vs. outside.  Trump has effectively framed Puerto Rico's citizens as outside and undeserving.  It is a corollary of his framing of the NFL players as being outside and unpatriotic.  The populism of cultural conservatives, a group that is a substantial majority of the Republican electorate, responds favorably to the notion of closing ranks and defining America and Americans as the traditional majority of white Christians, a group that is being disrespected and outnumbered.

Trump has turned the Puerto Rico story from one of federal government malpractice into one of whites burdened by incompetent and ungrateful Hispanic benefit seekers.   That image fits a Trump narrative nicely.

Trump: Distract from taxes; focus on the National Anthem.

Trump is a magician.  Look at my pretty assistant.

This week had important events on health and taxes.  The GOP failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, but behind the scenes it isn't being fixed; it is being sabotaged. This effects millions of people directly and all of us indirectly.  Trump announced tax plan that cuts business taxes and marginal tax rates and ends the alternative minimum tax, while asserting that it is a tax cut for the middle class.   This effects everyone, and the consequences for the budget deficit is huge.   Meanwhile 3.5 million Americans are without electricity and thousands of buildings are destroyed.

It is easy to be fooled.  Democrats posting in Facebook appear to think this was a bad week for Trump.  CNN appears to think so as well, with a lead headline about a "mind-bogglingly bad week."

It is CNN whose mind is boggled.  

Trump has distracted the public attention, positioning CNN and the mainstream media as fake and out of touch.  Trump is positioned as the sensible, American truth teller.

It is a pretty good magic trick.

Trump is using big, bold body-language symbolism on cultural issues to overwhelm the straightforward stories of GOP failure and hypocrisy on health and taxes and has made the story about things that serve the big Trump story that makes Trump and his base majority of Republican voters immune to attack.  He finished the week in which he was slow to acknowledge the problems in Puerto Rico with an attack on his accuser.  It is her fault.

Fox News has become the Donald Trump defender network.  Breitbart has stepped into the role of spokes-media for the Trumpian id, but Fox is now State Television, with Donald Trump personally being the state.  (Louis XIV:  "L'etat c'est moi."  "I am the state," he told his Parliament.)   The opening splash page of the Fox News site changes, so I have preserved it with a screen shot, shown below.

Look at the stories covered: Tom Price resigns, Will & Grace outrage (i.e. their topical digs at Trump in the return of the show after several years), a gift by Melania Trump rejected because of political correctness, a black man making "outlandish" accusations against cops, NFL protests, NBA commissioner dealing with protests, Bernie Goldberg opining on NFL protests, Louisiana dealing with anthem protests, How to hack-proof your home, Conservative students being targeted, Tucker Carlson commenting on leftist political correctness, Tucker Carlson commenting on leftists being hypocritical satanists, Tucker Carlson saying politically correct leftists hate Dr. Seuss, the Supreme Court and alert to bias against conservatives, Trump's attacks on poor leadership in Puerto Rico.

Thirteen of the top fifteen stories on page one deal with the culture war.  There are zero on health care and zero on the tax plan.   The stories present blacks, Hispanics, and leftists as unruly and disrespectful of white leadership.  Blacks and Hispanics are unruly and wrong; white liberals are snobs.   Trump--and Fox--are on message.   White resentment, yes; health care and tax policy, no.

Meanwhile, based on 30 years as a Financial Advisor, with decades of close observation of the tax issues of prosperous people in and around the top one percent of income, I consider the Trump tax plan is a modest tweaking rather than a dramatic overhaul of the tax system, but that the effect of it will be to help my prosperous now-former clients lower their taxes.   The mortgage deduction primarily helps the pretty well off, people who have nice houses and mortgages, not the very well off, who don't have mortgages.  The alternative minimum tax generally catches people with big incomes and sheltered incomes or deductions, and that is proposed for elimination.  This is abig deal for the very prosperous.  So is lowering the marginal tax rate.   The news analysis presented in the mainstream news sources--saying that the tax plan has minor effect on everyone but the very wealthy--seems accurate to me.

Meanwhile, Trump calls that news source fake.  Believe him, not them.

The key takeaway, however, is that the news that is getting high emotional attention and is the subject matter of news read by the Trump base is not about taxes or healthcare.  It is about white resentment at dangerous or incompetent blacks and Hispanics, and about the snotty hypocrisy of white liberals.   Trump changed the subject.  The technique is to take the most mockable, least comprehensible cases and generalize them.  So there are two stories on a librarian uncomfortable with a Dr. Seuss book and no leading story on taxes.  And he characterizes the NFL players as people spitting on America.

The result is that Trump gains credibility where it counts.  He appears to understand and share common values (i.e. there is nothing wrong with Dr. Seuss books) and he associates the mainstream press with over-the-top liberal snobbery and hypocrisy.  If on cultural issues Trump is credible, and CNN and the NY Times are unreliable, then Trump must be the credible one on taxes, too.

This works for Trump.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Marijuana industry

Update on Marijuana in Southern Oregon

Let's assume for a moment that this is the early years of an important new industry.   Oregon is at an inflection point and things could go in very different directions.

One direction is legalization and industrialization.  If California production comes on line with thousand-acre fields, then the US could be flooded with good-enough industrial marijuana.  The price would settle around "cheap", i.e. beer.  There would be room in the marketplace for "craft marijuana" but this would be niche marketing of niche volumes.  The business would industrialize and become a commodity.   

Southern Oregon is awash with rumors that big tobacco companies are buying up big farms here.   There is hope that, even in an industrialized marijuana situation, southern Oregon marijuana would be in demand.    Why Southern Oregon?    Same reason as Napa wines or Kentucky bluegrass.  Apparently we have ideal climate for marijuana grown outdoors.  But there are limits to southern Oregon niche marketing. People who smoke marijuana tell me that the gold standard for quality is marijuana grown indoors, under lights and controlled circumstances.   They are essentially laboratories manufacturing THC in hydroponic factories.   Because of the artificial light and technology that marijuana is not the cheapest, but it can be the best.   

Another direction is regulation-to-death.  It would be a one-two punch of federal illegality plus the State of Oregon trying to get control of the industry, both for monitoring volumes and to attempt to collect taxes.  There is already a complicated set of rules for Medical Marijuana growers and an even tighter set of rules for Recreational Growers.  There are a million pitfalls and opportunities to have a crop seized.  Regulations in Oregon could drive the small-scale entrepreneurs out of the business and leave it being produced only by well capitalized industrial farms, organized around lawyers and compliance officers.   The industry would look more like the insurance or investment brokerage business: a few national firms controlling the vast majority of the business.

This would not end local production but it would end the open, active industry of local entrepreneurs growing on one acre parcels, the current arrangement.  The risk of confiscations and land seizures would be too great under a legal and enforcement program intended to "bring marijuana under control."  Do-it-yourself very small scale production would remain, though.  Production would move from open (but fenced) fields back into bedrooms and disguised back yards and private grows sites--in short the system that persisted for decades before Oregon legalized it.   Only now, people have gotten very good at growing spectacularly powerful marijuana.  The knowledge gained would not disappear. Marijuana would have two tracks: legal and taxed, and underground and untaxed.

Status quo.   In this situation there would remain three basic routes to marijuana production.  Highly regulated Recreational Grows, with close monitoring of production and distribution.  Less regulated Medical Grows, in which marijuana is grown in small parcels on behalf of patients who have been issued a marijuana card, a record that they have been prescribed marijuana to treat some condition.  And Personal Use grows, which allow four plants per residence.   Market participants inform me that there is more marijuana grown under these three programs than is plausibly used within the boundaries of Oregon.  Some of it presumably travels out of state, where prices are higher.  

A backyard grower sent me this early harvest photo.
Oregon marijuana may find its way there, although I know of no market participant with direct knowledge of out of state pricing, so I will report on rumors and assumptions.  Some presumably gets sold to people who deliver it to places where marijuana is illegal.

I have heard that some has been attempted to be shipped by UPS, where it is intercepted by drug-sniffing dogs.  I have direct knowledge here.  My own packages of 20 pound boxes of vine ripe melons, which I have attempted to ship by UPS, were routinely interrupted, opened, and destroyed by federal agents suspicious that my odoriferous melon packages were attempts to ship marijuana.   Agents of UPS or the DEA stop my perfectly legal packages of 8 perfect melons, arranged to arrive in perfect condition in 24 hours, and they send them to a processing place in Troutdale, Oregon.  There they open my packages of melons, presumably out them open expecting to find marijuana, and then send me notice that my packages of melons "got over-ripe and were destroyed."   They do not offer compensation or any other explanation.   I put conspicuous notices on the outside of the package telling the DEA that the package contained melons and only melons and that if they opened them please to repack them carefully and send them on their way.   My notice and request was ignored.  One in five packages that I sent was opened and destroyed.)

Presumably Oregon marijuana shipped out of state illegally is competing with and displacing marijuana from Mexico, sold in states where marijuana was still illegal.   The status quo situation creates state pricing arbitrage, cheaper in Oregon than in Texas or Alabama, and therefore there is profit potential captured by people doing the transportation.

The busy harvest season is still ahead.  Harvest has been going on beginning earlier this summer for marijuana grown outdoors.   Growers can create an early harvest by growing plants in a location that has a removable opaque cover, a "light deprivation" system.   When the daylight hours are shortened the plants trigger flowering and buds in preparation for winter.   In Oregon, at the 42nd parallel, this would not normally happen until August, creating a crop harvestable in late October.   If a grower grows the plant in a greenhouse or outdoor location with arrangement for pulling an opaque tarp over the plants, the grower can create early twilight and darkness earlier in the year meaning plants will flower, bud, and be ready for harvest early.  This allows some growers to "beat the market" and have product for sale prior to the natural period in southern Oregon, where the harvest normally would take place in October.  I am informed by several market participants that prices are higher in August than in the busy October harvest season.

Planting, maintenance, grooming, harvest, drying.  Marijuana production is a labor intensive crop.  Market participants inform me that to be salable marijuana must be essentially perfect:  well formed buds, clean of leaves, consistent THC content, harvested at the optimal time, organic production, organic and people-safe insect control.   This means the plants require grooming throughout their grow period, with leaves removed by hand from the interior of the plants, time consuming fertilization and insect control and inspection for mold or other imperfections.   

This has made farm and orchard labor more expensive in the area, and it has also created a market for labor-saving devices, including de-leafers and bud trimmers.  Grow shops sell these devices with prices ranging from $800 for some models of leaf simmers to $10,000 for some models of bud trimming. Traditionally drying of the crop is done by turning the entire plant, or individual branches from the plant, upside down to hang on racks, in de-humidifying and temperature controlled rooms with constantly moving air.   This has meant that warehouse space, previously under-used and low rent, has become valuable--a boon to warehouse owners but an inconvenience to those who had become accustomed to inexpensive and readily available warehouse space.

Note to readers:  I do not use either alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco.  I consider all of these dangerous drugs.  But because I don't use alcohol my perspective on psychoactive drugs is unusual.   In my circle of acquaintances most people drink alcohol and consider it socially acceptable and high status.  They discern differences between varieties of wine grapes and quality of wines.  They discern differences between Johnny Walker Red and Johnny Walker Black.    Meanwhile, they consider marijuana mildly disreputable.

I have a different view.  I consider them both dangerous and essentially the same.  Therefore, I judge marijuana by the same standards I judge alcohol.  Both are dangerous, both should be controlled, both have the potential to destroy lives and endanger others. 

I recognize that a great many people consider alcohol acceptable and marijuana disreputable.   I consider that inconsistent and hypocritical.  I have experience in the long past with both drugs and consider alcohol more dangerous than marijuana.   But of the three drugs, tobacco cigarettes kill the most people.   If any of the three should be a schedule one narcotic, it should be nicotine. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It isn't Trump. It is Trump's audience.

Trump did not come from out of nowhere.  People appalled by Trump are unhappy with the wrong thing.  

Trump is a reflection on America.  He speaks for a great many Americans.  Perhaps not for you, but for people who live in your community.  Fellow Americans.  Voters.

Progressive and culturally liberal Americans are at risk of learning the wrong lesson from this season of 24-7 Trump.   Trump is a master of showmanship and grabbing media attention, and so we think it is all about Trump.   It is not.  Trump is the vehicle, not the message.

Indeed, Trump has done so many things that would appear to disqualify himself from holding public office that it demonstrates that Trump-ism is as strong or stronger than Trump.  Many people voted for Trump despite Trump being Trump.

The election of Roy Moore in Alabama is a bit of evidence.  Rush Limbaugh described it as the Trump voters having Trump's back.  They voted Trump-ism notwithstanding Trump's weird, qualified, apparently uninformed or mis-informed endorsement of Luther.

Add caption
Asked the question in a Remington poll, should NFL players "stand and be respectful during the National Anthem" some 64% of voters said yes; 25% said no; 11% were unsure.  A majority of Americans disapprove of the NFL players.  They don't see the issues of the protest.  They see it as disrespect for America.   Is this wrong, misinformed, unfair?  Maybe, but it is reality.  Taking a knee at the National Anthem is big body language.  People read it as they see it.   America is being dissed, not honored.  A great many people don't like that.

In the past 24 hours multiple news sites have headlined that polls show a majority of people--57%-- do not favor the outright firing of all NFL players.  The implication is that Trump's position is being rejected.  

I believe the real meaning of the poll is the opposite.  A majority disapprove of the protest.  In fact, their disapproval is so strong that a significant minority want them outright fired.  This includes a strong majority of the Republican base, but there is crossover into Independents and Democrats.   Those 19% of Democrats who feel so strongly that the players should actually be fired are voters that would be expected to vote Democratic but who are being estranged from their party on this cultural issue.

Click Here: It's a simple matter of disrespect for America.
Readers of this blog likely respect nuance and likely distinguish between a message of protest against racial injustice versus intentional disrespect for the flag, but angry rants like the one shown here on Fox do not happen in a vacuum.  They happen because they reflect the beliefs of many people, including people in upper midwest states who were presumed to vote Democratic but who do not.  

Jon Oliver's satire show this week used a clip of this astonishing rant by the Fox commentator as an example of laughable over-the-top invective.  Her comments did not need amplification or exaggeration to make the satirical point.  It is shocking on its own, and indeed funny.   Look at the crazy lady.  But there is another, opposite, reality to consider, and that is that for a great many people her outrage and invective and passion were not laughable.  They agreed with her.  She did not air that talk as comedy.  She did it straight and in earnest.  

Today's news is full of discussion of civil war within the GOP.  Senator Robert Corker of Tennessee is leaving office, realizing this conservative senator will face Tea Party opposition in a primary.  He just doesn't need the hassle.   Senators in the "governing" wing of the Republican party are on notice.  Steve Bannon and the insurgents are on the warpath.  Being very conservative is not enough.  One must be angry and uncompromising.  Congressman Eric Canter and Senators Bob Bennett and Richard Lugar are cautionary examples.  

GOP officeholders see it happening.  The GOP electorate is not the party of Romney and Dole, and indeed they are now the enemy.  It is a party of talk radio and Trump.   Republicans in Oregon had every opportunity to vote for Governor John Kasich instead of Donald Trump in May of 2016 when the choices had been whittled down.  They overwhelmingly chose Trump.  They did not conservative and sensible.  They wanted someone Trump-like, and Trump was the genuine article.  There is a Trump-ian plurality among American voters, and on cultural issues very probably a clear outright majority.  The cultural and economic changes happening in America are unsettling and Trump promised a return to better days.  

Trump leads a populist revolt, but he did not create it.  It was here.

The challenge for Democrats is to recognize the reality on the ground among voters.  Belittling Trump, mocking his quirks, even impeaching him if they had the majorities to do it, would be like killing the rooster because they disliked the dawn.  The Democrats have huge advantages.  They likely lead majority opinions on issues of taxation and health care.  But they lose those majorities when they dismiss the cultural fears and resentments of voters.  It's the economy, stupid, but it is also whether Democrats communicate that they share American values.

Democrats can and must remain a party of racial tolerance and justice, with commitment to racial, religious, and ethnic inclusion.  Patriotism and pride in America can be the unifying glue, but Democrats have ceded that to Republicans.  Take it back.  Trump is claiming his tax plan is designed to help the working and middle classes.  Democrats need to re-claim that mantle as well. 

The Bernie Sanders campaign demonstrated there is a large constituency of liberal populism and anti-elitism.  There are common-man sensibilities regarding patriotism, religion, and coastal elitism that cross party lines and over-lap between Tea Party cultural conservatism and Sanders populism.

Democrats will not lose in 2020 because their policies are wrong.  If they lose it will be because their cultural sensibilities are exclusively those of snobby coastal elites.  They will have failed to assure voters that they are proud to be Americans.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Left is addicted to the culture war.

Trump is a drug dealer.  The left injects what he sells.   They aren't fools and ideologues.  They are addicts.

It hurts so good.
It is the shocking taste of sour apple candy.  It hurts so good.  

The addiction leads them to self destruction.

Progressives in America have reason to think things are going well:

Obamacare lives on.

"Tax reform" is already being defined as tax cuts for the wealthy and a broken populist promise.

Republicans generally look confused, divided, and unable to govern.  

A majority of Americans distrust Trump's judgement on North Korea and question his temperament to handle foreign affairs.

However, In the midst of success, the left continues its pattern of pushing middle America into the hands of Republicans and policies they don't like.  Trump distracts.  He doesn't just throw out proverbial red meat for culturally conservative Republicans.  It's real target is the left.  They are the ones who eat it, and it is poison for them.  

Democrats do not see it in themselves, but they have become as self righteous and intolerant as the Christian right.  Culturally modern liberals notice with joy and amusement the intolerance of the Baptists for the Mormons, of the home schoolers who insist Moses co-existied with dinosaurs and object to textbooks that say something different. 

The left has its own intolerance.  The culture war battles do not favor the left when they are put onto the table of wedge issue debate.  The left wins the culture war when it is waged quietly, when it happens by accretion, like weight added inexorably to the stomachs of middle age men.  The left is, indeed, winning the culture war--attitudes toward homosexuality, toward mixed races, toward diversity, toward women, to the normalization of secularism--are all being won.  That is the problem for cultural conservatives.  They are losing.  

But conservatives have a formula for surviving: liberal self destruction.

Pew Poll
Conservatives win when Democrats-progressives-cultural liberals fight to demand the margins on the changes taking place. The perfect scorns the good.  The vegan walkers condemn the vegetarian bicyclists who condemn the Prius owners.  

Trump succeeded in pushing out of the public eye the damning issue of a Republican health care bill that would have pushed millions of Americans--including Trump voters--off of health care, and replaced that discussion with a discussion of patriotism and respect for American soldiers.  

Progressives-Democrats took the bait and they have been doing it for decades.  In 1968 Black Power and urban rioting replaced Martin Luther King's non-violence as the face of black protest.   King emphasized shared values.  Black power emphasized difference and separatism.   Movement on civil rights ended and backlash superseded forward progress.  Nixon used the Southern Strategy, campaigned on cultural values, and won.

This blog received extensive push-back from progressives for the advice it gave to NFL players two days ago.  The advice was to protest, yes,  but to change the optics of that protest.   It is easy to confuse taking care in the message not to alienate with advice to slow or temper the message.  That was how it was received, that it was advice to give in, to slow down.

In fact, the advice was different.  It was to change the optics and to use people's respect for tradition and the sacred.  The advice of putting TWO knees down, in prayer FOR America, keeps the protest an advance of shared community.   One knee down, in protest of America, is a wedge issue because it appears to deny the sacred.   Progressives say the symbol is actually a message of the legitimacy of dissent, but it is not viewed that way.  It is viewed as disrespect to the shared community.   The posture of prayer for America by Americans re-establishes the message as connection and respect for the unity, for the home team.

Progressives do not need to divide to make their points, but they choose to, because in progressive politics there is need to drive out heresy, to purify.  Trump exploits that.

The left loves to fight the culture wars:
   race, religion, the National Anthem, politically correct speech, notice of micro aggressions, concern about 'cultural appropriation', homosexual rights, transgender bathrooms, abortion, gay marriage, Christian symbols in public parks, the words used to describe Muslims, immigration limits, guns, bicycle lanes on streets, speaking English, bi-lingual education, immigration rules, Sharia law, the words used to describe foreigners, the speed of aid to Puerto Rico, NFL players, Tim Tebow, allowable speakers in colleges, racial profiling of blacks in policing, respect for police, respect for the military.

Click Here. 30 Seconds. We speak English.
The list goes on and on.

When Trump wants a distraction he knows what to do.   He fires off something that causes the left to fight among itself, publicly, over exactly how to to best address the point.  The left insists on making it about division, not unity.  The NFL athletes hold themselves outside the group, thinking that is the message they should send.   Trump loves that.  It is political suicide.  Blacks want to be separate, great.  Let them, middle America thinks.

The progressive left is in its own bubble.  Outside that bubble Republican candidates harvest the electoral benefits of the culture war.   

An example of this is the attached ad by a candidate for governor in Alabama.  Many readers will find the ad amusing, and the ad has been the subject of parody, but there is a lesson here in this ad if progressives will have the empathy to learn from it.    Candidate Tim Jones believed this addressed the concerns of his constituents, that it addressed their resentment over people who hold themselves separate from the rest of us.  Some people aren't trying to join the team, i.e. of English speakers.  

Democrats are the party of inclusion, of multiculturalism.  They do not need to back away from that policy.  But they need to change emphasis lest they exacerbate a culture war that serves the interest of the backlash, not the social change.   Words and body language in support of inclusion need to demonstrate inclusion, i.e. part of team America.  That means showing respect for symbols of inclusion and unity.  And better yet, using them.

  It isn't easy, but it is simple.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Garbled mess in Alabama

Roy Moore and Luther Strange are both saying the same things.  They represent two different moods of the same politics.

Establishment versus hell raiser, maybe.  But both are claiming to be the hell raiser.  And both claim to be endorsed by Trump.

Click: 30 seconds. Actually, I like Moore, too.
Tuesday evening readers will be hearing commentary on the Alabama Senate primary, the vote to decide whether appointed incumbent Luther Strange or former Chief Judge Roy Moore will be the Republican nominee for the Senate seat vacated by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to serve as US Attorney General.

Luther Strange was loyal to Mitch McConnell and voted faithfully for the Trump agenda.  Trump was trapped.  Trump is now the establishment and a loyal soldier stood with him, so he is in Alabama supporting Luther Strange.  But the man whose mood and temperament is more in line with his own is the opponent, Roy Moore.

The quandary is demonstrated in this ad on behalf of Roy Moore: "I might have made a mistake."

Click Here: Moore coddles sex predators.
Meanwhile, the back and forth between Moore and Luther are familiarly ugly.   Luther is attempting to show that Moore did shockingly bad things, in this ad accusing him of coddling a sexual predator.  It has the same elements as the famous Willie Horton ad:  large black criminal, weird music, deep voiced narration, attribution of evil motives to the opponent.   The implied charge: Roy Moore endorsed a "liberal court" decision, an argument that pushes against every bit of Roy Moore's image and messaging for decades.  The tagline:  Moore is "too risky" for us.

Click Here: Anti-Luther
Roy Moore challenges the way Luther Strange got the office, by appointment of a governor on the brink of leaving office under the weight of an adultery scandal.  Strange had been an lobbyist.  Strange was supported by McConnell.  Strange was establishment.  Strange is part of the swamp, the Moore campaign asserts.  

Click Here: Endorsed.

Insofar as there is a difference between the two candidates it comes down to the division between the person who is endorsed by the reliable conservative gatekeepers, Right to Life and the NRA, and the person who fervently agrees with those gatekeepers and has been a tireless fighter for them in no-holds-barred political rabble rousing and political theater.   Roy Moore gave up judgeships over the issue of bring a statue celebrating the Ten Commandments onto the lawn in front of the state capital, and then a second time when he instructed lower court judges to disobey court orders to process same-sex marriages.  It was a big gesture, courageous and unmistakable and popular in Alabama.   Moore has his body language.  Luther Strange has the endorsements of credible leadership.

Both sides run ads touting the support of Trump, and each accuse the other of not really supporting Trump.   Here Moore does it, saying Strange is actually supported by insiders who are Trump-resisters:   Click Here.   Meanwhile Luther Strange runs attack ads saying Roy Moore fails to support President trump.

It goes both ways, each wanting Trump as proof of bone fide Alabama conservatism.  This is further complicated by the fact that conservative commentator Alan Keyes criticizes Moore for his association with Trump, saying Trump is not conservative enough:  Click Here

Either way, Trump will be able to define this as a win.  He will have a loyal soldier in Strange or a kindred spirit in Moore.   Strange will be less trouble, Moore will raise more hell and say some of the things that Trump would say.

It is a garbled mess and pundits who attempt to draw meaning from it would be overthinking it.   Either way, the voters are getting a version of the Alabama-Trump base voter, either the polite one or the boisterous one.

Nothing to see here.

Monday, September 25, 2017

NFL Players should have been on TWO knees during the Anthem.

One knee reflects on the National Anthem.   Two knees would have used the sacred (religion) to question the sacred (the nation.)

How dare they insult us and our Anthem!
It is hard to whip up conservative audiences against men on their knees in prayer to God.  

Trump is winning with his speeches and tweets condemning the NFL players for taking a knee during the National Anthem.  Crowds who cheered Tim Tebow for bringing religion onto the field condemn NFL players for bringing criticism of racism onto the field.  What is going on?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt sheds some insight on football and Trump’s audiences who cheered him when he said the refs were destroying football by stopping head-crashing “beautiful tackles” and his condemnation of player protests during the National Anthem.  Haidt observes that all humans (great apes, too) have a certain inborn moral values: a sense of fairness and a sense that it is wrong to do harm.   Liberals and conservatives share those.

But conservatives have, to a much stronger degree than liberals, three additional moral senses:  group identity, respect for authority, and desire for purity/sanctity.  

Football fans—and the crowds cheering Trump when he says the team owners should “fire the sons of bitches” who don’t stand for the National Anthem—are demonstrating their three conservative values.  Liberals can be tone deaf to what is motivating Trump’s audiences. They aren’t cheering for brain damage; they are cheering for a branded uniformed warrior s showing courage in fighting for their team’s colors, college, city.  They are watching group identity celebrated and defended.  Go Bears! 

Telling owners to fire players is a defense of authority.  They are employees and should know their place.

They can fix this
The players’ failure to stand for the National Anthem is an affront to group identity and the sacredness of the National Anthem.  

Trump is defending the group, authority, and the sacred, the three moral values.  Conservative crowds roar approval.

Here is what NFL players can do.   Take two knees.   Pray, not protest.   Say they are praying that America be better, and that God would lead Americans to fairness and justice to all its citizens.

As it is, NFL players are positioned as refusing to join the group--Americans showing respect for America,and they are committing sacrilege, by not standing for the National Anthem.   They stand outside the group, insulting the group.  Bad positioning.

Two knees would change the message.  They would be inside the religious group praying for reform of the national group. That means they are protesting from the inside, wanting purity.  Currently Trump is using the sacred as a weapon.  Two knees would turn the tables.  It would be the NFL players using the sacred as their weapon of judgement.

Hard to jeer this.
It isn't too late. Even if the players are not themselves religious, do it anyway.  Have a Christian minister be a spokesman.  Henry IV of France resolved a religious war: Paris vaut une messe.”  Paris is worth a mass.  Drop to the second knee.  

The message will change and so will the politics of this.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump wins the football culture war: "The refs are ruining the game."

Trump bashes the NFL   It is a win for him.

This seems so wrong, so contrary to the news about traumatic brain injury, it cannot be true.   But it is true.  Fans are watching the violence, not experiencing it, and they are thinking about their team, not the brain damage.

There is a long history of crowds enjoying watching violence and death.  Gladiators in Rome. Public executions.  Lynchings. Football back in around 1905.  Boxing matches.  NASCAR crashes.  Football today.

President Theodore Roosevelt intervened to attempt to change the game of college football back in 1905.  Back in those days there were, among the smaller number of colleges that fielded football teams, hundreds of serious injuries and multiple deaths right there on the field, some 18 in 1904.  The game involved players locking arms in a V formation, there was piling on after the ball was down, there was kicking and choking and eye gouging.   This went on for several years.  Some colleges dropped their football programs, others were considering it.

There are two takeaways I draw from this history.  

One is that Theodore Roosevelt met privately with the leading representatives of the game, at that time the Athletic Directors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.  He gave them an ultimatum.  Change the rules of football so it is less violent or he will do something to ban the game.   They did.  They changed the rules to allow the forward pass and to require six men on the offensive line.  This opened up the game and ended the worst of head to head bashing.

The second is that the colleges adopted this reluctantly.  Amid yearly deaths on the field, the colleges had been voting year after year to continue the program.  Football was popular with the players, the institutions, and the fans.  Students died on the field and they kept doing it.

Donald Trump criticizes the "disrespect" shown by players by kneeling for the National Anthem, and he criticizes the game for becoming sissified.  Too many rules, not enough hits.   Here is a transcript of Trump in Alabama, but it is best to watch the three minute video.  In it he takes up the related themes:  the kneeling players are bad, the owners should get tough and fire the "son of a bitch" players, the fans should boycott the games, and that the refs are ruining the game by being worried about the safety of the players.

“Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game."

Click Here. 3 minute video. Trump in Alabama this week.

The most important thing to notice when watching this video is the element that is not the center of attention.  The center of attention is Trump, thoroughly enjoying himself.   Trump says that the NFL ratings are down because so many people are watching him instead.  He preens and congratulates himself.

What is important to notice is the crowd.  The crowd is cheering wildly.  They love this, too.  They interrupt his speech to chant USA, USA, USA.

Trump is defending the moral value of respect for authority, of group solidarity as Americans, and of cleanliness, i.e. avoiding desecration of holy things, i.e. the National Anthem.   These are core moral values held by cultural conservatives.   These are the values that multicultural liberals feel less strongly and therefore under-appreciate.   Liberals are often tone deaf to their appeal.  All humans understand the moral value of fairness and not doing harm, but conservatives include those three additional values.  Those are the ones that Trump is defending.  

[There is another subtext, which this speech brings to the surface, and it is an opportunity to consider in future blogs.  The owners of football teams are white men.  Most of the players are black men.   Trump is urging those white "owners" to re-establish control.  The owners make the rules.  The players obey.  There is a hierarchy that has been broken and needs to be re-affirmed.  Race is a subtext.]

The crowd loves it.
Doesn't watching violence offend the value of not doing harm?   Yes, but it gets transformed.  A public execution or lynching is seen as an affirmation of group solidarity and cleanliness, ending a defilement of group or values.   It isn't harm.  It is a cleansing.

Football players are seen as warriors, not victims.  They put on a uniform are transformed from victims into the group identity and brand itself,  fighting for Fair Harvard, the Oregon Ducks, or the New England Patriots.  We see courage in their effort and risk taking, not harm.  

The harm takes place later and off field. If football players died right there on the field the game would, in fact be banned.  Football has been made safe for fans to watch, not for players to play, but what we do not see we need not contemplate.

As it is, Trump can celebrate the "two guys, just really, beautiful tackle" as he bangs his fist together.  

Many of this blog's liberal, progressive, gentle readers were astonished by Trump's victory.  They would not have been in that crowd chanting USA, USA and cheering Trump.  But those were American voters in that crowd, and he would have found such a crowd in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, states that Obama won and Trump did as well.  
Peace Corp

Trump has connected with a great many voters by appeals to patriotism, identity, and sanctity.  These can be progressive values as well.   Indeed, there is a long tradition of it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Candidate Watch: Jason Chaffetz

The 2020 Campaign has already begun.

A close look at Jason Chaffetz.  He is running for something.

Let me remind readers that this blog began over two years ago, meaning that in less than two years we will be deep in it again.  I attended my first campaign event for the season, one for Hillary Clinton, in August, 2015.  In September, 2015--two years ago this week--I was in New Hampshire meeting multiple candidates.   

They were all there. The candidates below, and more.   Of course, it seems crazy-early to think about 2020.  But actually it isn't too early.  People are already jostling.  If we are not looking now we are missing something that has already begun.

First, a look back:  

September 17, 2015
September 19, 2015

September 20, 2015

September 23, 2015

September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015

At the time I did not know what to look for in a candidate.  No one did.  The issues that motivated people had not yet begun to jell.   That is the very point of these early observations.   Things that don't seem important usually aren't important.  But some will turn out to be important.   So I tried--and still try--to notice everything.

Back then, Donald Trump was just one of many candidates, but his event that week was the biggest.  His was the only one with a high school band greeting visitors. He had a stemwinder of a introduction from a talk show host.   He had the biggest crowd--about 3,000--compared with crowds for Hillary of 250 and 300.   I noticed the way he did not correct the person who said Obama was a Muslim.  People at the time thought that was an error.  I certainly did.  It wasn't an error.  He wanted people to know he did not mind one bit if Obama was described as a Muslim in his presence.  That wasn't a bug.  It was a feature.  I noticed things but did not know if they were important yet.

I noticed that Hillary stood for 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I did not know that her stamina would become an issue.   

I noticed that Lindsey Graham, whom I had seen on the Sunday shows every week or two for a decade, did not draw a crowd, and I surmised that was important but I did not understand why he drew so little interest.   

At the event with Chris Christie I asked the gathering's only hostile question from the front yard of a local county commissioner, a question about Bridgegate, posited as the sort of question that mean-Hillary would ask of him.  His response was that he hardly knew the people who caused the traffic jam and how could he be expected to know what all 60,000 New Jersey employees were doing.  I guessed right then than the George Washington Bridge closure was going to be a major problem that endured since his answer would never hold up.  Those employees were his closes aides.

I watched Rand Paul with his hands in his pocket at a meet-and-greet and thought he was more of an ideologue than a politician and that this would hurt him.  But I didn't know; it was just a guess.

You don't know what is going to be important.  The effort of this blog was to look closely, be open minded, and be ready to notice things that seem little at the time.  Some will turn out to matter a lot.

We will see more of Chaffetz

Let's look at Jason Chaffetz.

He is a Fellow at the Kennedy School.   He is not just there for a drop-in speech.  He is there for at least a semester.  He has students and teaches regular classes.  I saw him repeatedly, talking with secretaries, getting teacher-administration questions clarified, solving problems with student lists, access to printers, etc.  He has a job there.

This is a nice gig for him.  It positions him to be nice to people who will be useful to him, but more importantly, it will give him stories to tell.  He will be able to describe the snooty condescention of coastal elites from the inside.  It wont be sour grapes of someone on the outside.  

I watched how he interacted.  He is in the middle of an interesting re-positioning of himself.   He is charming and friendly.  He is making useful friends. 

First, some quick background.  He is 50 years old but looks 40.  He was elected to Congress in a very Republican district in Utah in 2008, running to the right of a very conservative 6-term incumbent Republican.  Chaffetz was a newcomer-outsider, though he had been the campaign chairman for John Huntsman's gubernatorial campaign and then his chief of staff. He knew his way around. Chaffetz won over the party delegates, which is how primary elections happen in Utah.

In office Chaffetz quickly moved up becoming head of the House Oversight Committee where he became the scourge of Hillary Clinton, investigating her tirelessly on Benghazi and everything else.  He was a frequent news contributor on Fox and elsewhere.  Upon Trump's victory things changed; he did not want investigations of Trump.

His politics in Congress were uniformly conservative hard right, as libertarian as Rand Paul and as Christian cultural conservative as Ted Cruz.   He had a near-zero rating from environmental groups, he said solar energy was bad for the environment, he opposed gay marriage, he wanted to crush Planned Parenthood, he wanted to end Obamacare.   He openly broke with Trump after the Access Hollywood "pussy grab" exposure but then, prior to the election, said he would vote for him.

He is good looking, has jet black hair, he is well spoken and articulate, and he was considered a rising star.  Then he abruptly quit Congress saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and became a Fox contributor.   He said he did not like being away from home so much, sleeping on a cot in his office.   But there he was at the JFK school, once again 1,500 miles from home.   Strange.

His behavior at the JFK school offers signs that Americans will see much more of him.  I expect him to be a candidate for president in 6 years, and possibly in 2 years.  

He is giving off the signals.

***At a study session I watched him circle the room twice, meeting and shaking hands with the students.  As he went around the second time he remembered which people he had met ten minutes before, and which ones had filed in later.  He wants the human contact.

***He did not use the word "Democrat" as an adjective.  Republicans and Fox News people have a style manual which involves referring to "Democrat legislation" and "Democrat thinking".  Newt Gingrich taught it: mess with the opposition party brand.  Turn the word "Democrat" into a slur.  Chaffetz did not do that.  He said "Democratic."  At Harvard.

***He introduced a visitor to his class: Dan Balz, of the Washington Post.  He did it gracefully and respectfully, saying Balz was a towering figure in journalism.  He is ingratiating.  He is making friends.

***He made two mentions within an hour of his work with Senator Ron Wyden, and his efforts for bipartisan legislation.

Speculation and guesswork, based on bits of behavior and body language (which this blog has consistently argued are, actually, the most important things):   He has a pathway to the White House.:

1.  Avoid loser issues.   His exit from Congress means he can wash his hands of the two-direction stink of health care.  Either Republican officeholders are stuck with failure to repeal and replace, or, worse actually, they are stuck with having created something unpopular.   Chaffetz saw first hand at his Town Meeting that this issue is a loser.   So is investigating Trump or failing to investigate Trump.  Lose-lose.

2.  Stay visible on Fox News, and pick up some Harvard glitter.  He can pick and choose issues, look like an expert, stay on the side of Republican electorate, with tough talk but without tough votes.  After he leaves Harvard he will be in a perfect position to mock it.  He will have stories to tell of liberal arrogance, of the liberal bubble, of the vegan bicyclists multicultural elitists sitting in the classes he taught.   He can tell the stories and roll his eyes in helpless dismay.  This is perfect for him.

3.  Run for Utah governor, or not.  Trump showed that being a TV star is qualification enough.  If he doesn't run for governor he can stay on Fox News.  If he runs and wins the Utah governor race, he has the supposed ideal qualification--Congress plus Governor--the one that John Kaisich has.  Kasich showed that Republican primary voters did not insist on qualifications and experience in government.  They wanted an angry tone and conservative politics plus media celebrity.
Safe Ground on Fox:  Investigate Hillary

4.  Libertarian Moralistic Conservatism.  Run essentially on the platform of Donald Trump on immigration, trade and cultural issues and sound like Ted Cruz on religious issues, but be understood to be nicer than Ted and a fresh face alternative to Trump.  Keep bashing Democrats and liberals on TV but be nice in person.

Chaffetz smiles. He brings waffles to the hosts on Fox and Friends.  Click Here: Resentful, angry, accusatory, outraged.    Chaffetz is perfect for Fox News..  

Click Here: Trump is right. Shut down government.
5. Be a Tea-Party-Acceptable-Non-Trump.  There is an assumption built into this, that Trump personally is exhausting, and people will have had enough.  It is unclear to me if people will want this a lot longer.  People want to be entertained, but they also want "normalcy."   A great many voters will want Trump-ism, but not Trump.  

Watch Chaffetz on Fox.  He is a successor to Trump, the next generation.  He is clean of the multiple issues around Trump: the tweets, the marriages, the emollients, Russia, Trump University, plane rides, Cabinet choices.   He is both Trump and a fresh start. 

Leading the Class
On Fox he is still banging away at Benghazi, media bias, Hillary Clinton's email servers, the visit between Bill Clinton and AG Loretta Lynch, Obama appointees that Trump has not replaced, and the FBI failure to do more investigations of Hillary Clinton, when they instead waste their time in a witch hunt.   This is safe ground.

Is there room for that kind of candidate?  We will see.  He is positioning himself.