Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Democratic Primary States

President Biden proposed a change to the order of Democratic primaries to nominate a president.

It was a mistake.

He should not have put his thumb on the scale. It looks self-interested. Worse, the order he proposes is not likely to select the strongest candidate.

My own political tourism has a strong bias in favor of New Hampshire remaining the first primary state. New Hampshire has experience. Venues know how to host candidates. Voters show up at events. The state is small enough that the news media can cover multiple events in one day.  New Hampshire is also small enough that an observer like myself, attempting up-close views of presidential speeches, can compare and contrast two or three events every day. South Carolina is more spread out.

Herb Rothschild has a different reason for hoping South Carolina isn't the first state with a primary. It won't serve the interests of electing Democrats.

Herb Rothschild has been a life-long political activist on behalf of racial justice, the environment, civil liberties, peace, and political process. He is a retired professor of English Literature at LSU. He makes a home in Talent, Oregon.

Guest Post by Herb Rothschild


Unless the full Democratic National Committee rejects the decision of its Rules and Bylaws Committee, the first state to hold a Democratic presidential primary in 2024 will be South Carolina, not Iowa. Given that President Biden was the force behind the committee’s December 2 decision, its rejection is unlikely. The sequence will be South Carolina on February 3, Nevada and New Hampshire on the 6th, Georgia on the 13th, and Michigan on the 27th. The Republican primary schedule will remain as is.

Biden urged the Rules and Bylaws Committee to “ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window.” That’s a praiseworthy recommendation in itself and in light of the diversity of the Democratic Party base. Both Iowa and New Hampshire are 90% White. The choice of South Carolina to address that reality, however, is problematic.


The lesser problem is the optics of the choice. Biden’s 2020 run for the nomination was flagging after weak showings in Iowa (fourth), New Hampshire (fourth) and Nevada (a poor second after Sanders). Endorsed by House Whip Jim Clyburn, the state’s only Democratic Congressman, in South Carolina Biden won almost 50% of the vote and 39 of its 54 delegates. That victory turned the tide. On Super Tuesday four days later, he won half of the 14 state primaries. Moving South Carolina to first in line seems like political payback.

The day before the committee vote, Biden called Clyburn to tell him of his intention to promote Clyburn's state. According to a report in the New York Post, Clyburn said, “I didn’t ask to be first. It was his idea to be first.” “He knows what South Carolina did for him, and he’s demonstrated that time and time again by giving respect to South Carolina.” Scratching the back of those who scratched yours is a time-honored aspect of politics, but this instance of it is more blatant than most.

The far greater problem is whether the winner of the South Carolina primary will have the best chance to win the general election. S/he will certainly not carry South Carolina--Biden lost it to Trump by 12%. Relevant to that consideration is that of the seven states Biden won on Super Tuesday--Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia--in November he carried only Virginia, and none of the others was close except North Carolina. Don’t both strategy and equity require that the candidate who does best in the blue and purple state primaries should be the party’s nominee?

Further, elevating South Carolina is hardly the only way to ensure that voters of color have an early voice in choosing the nominee. Pennsylvania and Minnesota have a smaller percentage of White people than does South Carolina, plus many more Hispanics and Asians. Indeed, their racial/ethnic makeup--all roughly 62% White, 12.5% Black, 19% Hispanic, and 6% Asian--closely approximate our national demographics. Nevada and Pennsylvania are crucial toss-up states, and Minnesota isn’t a slam-dunk for Democrats (Hilary Clinton beat Trump there in 2016 by only 1.5%).

Black voters are far more loyal to the Democratic Party than Hispanic voters (with them the recent trend is worrisome) and Asians tend to be independent. So the outcome in South Carolina won’t necessarily indicate which candidate will do best even with BIPOC voters? Further, Blacks in Southern states tend to be more conservative than Blacks in the large urban areas of the rest of the U.S. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming choice of Black voters in the Southern primaries, but the percentage of all Blacks who voted in the general election dropped significantly. In Wisconsin--a decisive loss for her--it dropped 19% below 2012.

Beyond the sequence of the primaries and how early results unduly impact campaigns, it’s worth thinking about whether every state should have votes at the party convention proportional to its votes in the electoral college (i.e. based on its population). Why should a state like South Carolina or Alabama or Tennessee, where Democrats consistently fail to deliver their electoral votes to their party’s presidential candidate, proportionately have as much say in selecting the nominee as California or New York or swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin?

There is an alternative. The number of delegates a state has at the national convention could be based on how the Democratic candidate fared in that state in the previous presidential election (or the average of the last two or three elections). One way to implement such a principle would be to give a state a number of delegates exactly proportional to its electoral votes if the Democrat won. If not, the number of its delegates would be fewer than its electoral votes in proportion to the size of the loss. Thus, swing states would have just about as much say in choosing the nominee as they now have, but Red states like Alabama, where Biden won almost two-thirds of the vote in the primary but only one-third in the general election, would have considerably less say. 

I think such a system consistently would produce the nominee most likely to win the White House. In 2016, Hillary Clinton finished with 359 more pledged delegates than Sanders mainly because she won the former Confederate states by a margin of 418. Then, the South went overwhelmingly for Trump and she lost states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Sanders probably would have won. Additionally, such a system would incentivize each state party to get out the vote even if the Democratic presidential candidate typically loses the state. That would help its down-ballot candidates. Turnout is never close to what it should be. Alabama Democrat Doug Jones’ historic victory over Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in 2017 illustrates what can be achieved, even in a deep Red state, when there is a strenuous effort to get out the vote.

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Friday, December 30, 2022

Partisanship in Jackson County, Oregon

Jackson County is reddish purple now.

Jackson County--New York Times Maps

I have a farm in a bright red part of Jackson County. 

Farmland area, north of town
"Stronger together" has a better ring among people who choose to live in town than among people who live on large rural lots. COVID shutdowns seemed less appropriate among people whose work is outdoors and neighbors are far away. 

I live in a neighborhood east of downtown Medford. 

East-Medford residential neighborhood
I live among prosperous retirees attracted to the nearby hospital system and golf courses. The electoral vibe of my neighborhood is the old-school "country club/chamber of commerce/Rotarian" style of Republican. A bare majority of my neighbors stay loyal to the GOP brand, even though the party has moved downscale and populist. My neighbors are educated enough to be Democrats, but many remain Republicans out of inertia and for the tax cuts. 

Mix bright red rural Jackson County together with a slightly-red Medford, and combine it with bright-blue college town and upscale Ashland. The result is a county with a small Republican edge. The Trump vote underestimates the real partisan tilt. Trump underperforms his party in a general election.

Kevin Stine is a leader on the Medford City Council. He is a navy veteran. He is politically astute. He is a Democrat. He is active in local politics, taking a leadership role in expanding Medford parks. He is handling his nonpartisan work on the City Council well, and he was just re-elected to another term. He is widely expected to run for higher offices at some point, which is an advantage and disadvantage. It means that people have their eye on him and have liked what they see. It also means that Republicans in the local area understand that he has a promising future, so they run candidates against him, trying to nip in the bud his career in politics. So far he has overcome that. 

He offers these observations about partisanship in this community.

Guest Post by Kevin Stine

What do Ted Wheeler (2012), Ron Wyden (2004, 2010, 2016), Jeff Merkley (2014), Ellen Rosenblum (2012), and Bill Bradbury (2004) have in common? They are all current or former Statewide-Democratic elected officials who won Jackson County. And as I’m sure it will be pointed out, Barack Obama won by 47 votes in 2008. 

This all seems bizarre in a 2022 context, as Republicans won across the board in partisan races. As Peter Sage has pointed out, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden received 46.4% of the vote with over $9M spent across Oregon, with plenty of money reaching Jackson County. Joe Yetter, running for Congressional District 2, spent less than $100,000 total, and got 43.2% in Jackson County. 

Party-line voting isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has taken hold in a way that we haven’t seen before. The national 2016 election was the first in history where every state voted for the same party for their Presidential and U.S. Senate elections. This nearly happened again in 2020, but Maine re-elected moderate Republican Susan Collins while voting for Joe Biden. 

Voting trends in Jackson County show a big change away from ticket-splitting in the post-2016 world. Congressman Greg Walden (R) comfortably won Jackson County by an average of a 66%-33% margin in his 7 elections from 2004-2016. With Trump’s election in 2016, Democratic Party activism rose with the creation of groups such as Indivisible, and generally sleepy affairs like deep red CD2 received far more attention. Jamie McLeod-Skinner ran a vibrant campaign, turning a 33% margin in 2016, down to 5% in 2018. 

Greg Walden retired after a long political career in 2020, and Cliff Bentz took his place. The attention of the race largely cratered, but the Democratic nominee’s percentages stayed relatively the same. Jamie received 45.1% in 2018, while the two largely penniless campaigns after her received 42.9% and 43.2% in 2020 and 2022 respectively. 

The floor has been raised for Republicans as well. Since Jeff Merkley defeated Gordon Smith in 2008, the recruiting of nominees for the Republican nomination has been a disaster. Those nominees have been Jim Huffman (2010, random law professor), Monica Wehby (2014, a good candidate on paper who absolutely imploded), Mark Callahan (2016, a perennial candidate with a host of personal issues), and Jo Rae Perkins (2020 and 2022, most famous for her QAnon support). 

The percentage of the vote each Senate Republican candidate has received in Jackson County:

2010: 45.1%

2014: 42.5%

2016: 39.8%

2020: 49.1%

2022: 50.9% 

I don’t believe Jo Rae Perkins had any special appeal to Republican voters here, as it’s most likely that voters didn’t know anything about her other than seeing the R next to her name. The same is true of Democratic candidates running for Congressional District 2. Party affiliation is the ballgame, now more than ever.

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Russian falls three floors to his death.

Another Russian legislator fell from a hotel balcony.

He had criticized the Ukraine war.

He was in trouble. He had written, then deleted, a WhatsApp message about Russian bombing in Ukraine: 

It’s extremely difficult to call all this anything but terror.”

That was a mistake. Pavel Antov was a member of Putin's political party in the Russian legislature. He was chair of the committee on agriculture and ecology. He was a wealthy meat magnate.

It was the second death in two days. One of Antov's travel companions to India, Vladimir Bidenov, was found dead at the same hotel two days prior. Local police speculated that Bidenov had a stroke and Antov died by suicide, depressed over the unexpected death of his friend. Yeah, maybe.

These hard-to-explain deaths of Putin critics and potential rivals are taking place almost once a week, which goes beyond weird. I listed these in a post on December 21, "A series of accidental deaths." Now there are two more. People in the Russian political class don't think they are accidents. They think they are assassinations. People who criticize Putin have heart attacks and fall from heights.

I consider what we are seeing in Russia a warning for the United States. No, American politicians and business leaders aren't mysteriously falling out of high windows, not yet. But we are experiencing a gradual change in our political environment. Political violence is getting normalized. It is being excused, minimized, and contextualized into a framework where violence is necessary and just. Mainstream leaders are voicing it or tolerating it being voiced. Some of this is Trump and his brand as the bad boy rule-breaker. In a crooked and violent world it takes a crooked and violent leader. But it isn't just Trump. It is widespread within the GOP.

We know January 6 was not a one day protest that got out of hand. It was part of a multi-month plan to overturn the election. More troubling is that now, with the hindsight and cool heads of two years, the GOP House condemns investigation of the January 6 violence. Many Representatives and Senators praise it. Trump declares that if put back in office he will pardon the participants. This doesn't shock Americans. Indeed, GOP voters support it and Republican officeholders will support his re-election. After all, the rioters were patriots.

Meanwhile, people on the populist right routinely make references to "2nd Amendment remedies." This isn't fighting British redcoats. It is taking arms against American military and law enforcement. Militia groups plot to kidnap a Michigan governor. The response is what one gets from a crowd at a ball game. Kill the ump! Cheer the home team!


Trump goes to Michigan, criticizes Governor Whitmer, and leads Michigan crowds chanting "Lock her up." Lock her up, not the kidnap plotters. 

Extremist kooks we will always have with us, but what is significant is that "responsible" GOP officeholders minimize and defend talk of political violence. Marjorie Taylor Green, who tweeted about killing Nancy Pelosi, and Paul Gosar, who tweeted about killing AOC, are welcomed back into the good graces of the GOP. Kevin McCarthy needs their votes to become Speaker. Meanwhile, Kyle Rittenhouse becomes a GOP poster boy for self-help and vigilante justice.

The political left made its own moral and political mistakes. The George Floyd murder gave the left a chance to make a good, careful point about racial violence in America. Instead, too often, Democratic leaders made a careless point. Left leaders did not adequately distinguish between peaceful protest and street violence. Biden said the right things, but Biden cannot command public attention as a spokesperson. Democratic mayors and governors acted torn. Democrats failed to read the room. The public will tolerate peaceful protest. It fears violence and disorder. Democrats couldn't bear to criticize their own presumed allies who said that violence was the inevitable response to injustice. Street violence nearly cost Democrats the presidency in 2020 and it remains a drag on the party still.

Election night, California, 1968
We see the obvious in Russia. Putin is maintaining control through terror. It is harder to see the creeping trouble in America, but it is present. Americans are becoming accustomed to watching illegal and violent political behavior. It isn't as shocking and wrong as it needs to be to preserve our democracy. Violence can escalate. It can move in the direction of Putin, toward a terror state in which candidates for office are scared off by the person who controls the military. Maybe Pete Buttigieg or Ron DeSantis will have heart attacks and Ted Cruz falls off a balcony. That would probably be enough to send a message. Or it can move in the direction of self-help by individuals, in the manner of Sirhan Sirhan and John Hinckley, Jr., and before him John Wilkes Booth. That, too, changes the course of events.

We are entering a dangerous time.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Tesla lost its coolness.

Tesla rebranded itself.

Elon Musk didn't expand the Tesla brand. He damaged it.

Tesla Model S
I am not a "car person." I don't love cars. I drive a Toyota Avalon hybrid. It needs washing. But I am aware that cars make implied statements about the owner because they express choices and tradeoffs: Size, performance, occupancy, number of doors, and fuel choices. A convertible says something different than does a mini-van.  A Toyota Avalon hybrid is larger than a Camry. It implies an older, prosperous White guy who wants a roomy comfortable sedan. I call it a "Japanese Buick," although most of it was manufactured in Kentucky. I wouldn't drive a Buick because they are too White. Too Episcopalian. 

Dodge Ram
Am I reading too much into car brand statements? Yes. The nuances of brands overstate the case, but some vehicles make very bold statements. For example, big pickup trucks, especially Dodge Rams, are an unmistakable statement of power, along, of course, with the utility of a truck bed. A Dodge Ram implies can-do capability. A Dodge Ram could bring a washing machine home from Best Buy, saving the delivery charge. Plus, a Dodge Ram passenger sits high behind a formidable front end. A man could buy a Dodge Ram thinking he is protecting himself and his family in a manly way--not by getting his family vaccinations for COVID, which is for wimps, but by being the "winner" in any collision with a car or tree. There is a belligerent side of the Dodge Ram image. It has a Gadsden flag quality: Don't tread on me. It fills up the road or a parking space. Possibly, somewhere in America, there is a Dodge Ram with a bumper strip that says Co-exist or Stop the Keystone Pipeline or even Biden, but I have never seen one.  Those bumper strips are for people driving a Prius. 

Teslas were bold statements, too. Teslas represented technology and progress. They represented new and cutting edge. Teslas represented smart environmentalism. Teslas represented upscale cool. Tesla cars had an urban sophisticated quality. Prosperous people drove them. People who read the New York Times drove them. You don't see gun racks in the back window of Teslas. Possibly somewhere in America there is a Tesla with a bumper strip that says "Trump Won," or "Let's Go Brandon," but I have never seen one.

Red state traditionalists aren't going to start buying Teslas. Fox News hosts sneer at people who speak of climate change, greenhouse gases, and electric cars. The populist right celebrates internal combustion engines and jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Teslas are like wind power: Untested, inconvenient, and another example of "woke progressive nonsense." Red state populists who watch Tucker Carlson think Tesla drivers are elitist libs. 

Elon Musk muddled the Tesla brand. He tweeted "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci." Prosecute?? He retweeted a post suggesting Nancy Pelosi's husband was involved in a homosexual tryst, not a home invasion. Say, what??

Musk is acting manic and foolish. He muddled the Tesla brand along with his own. It is now a vehicle for upscale people who are OK with downscale opinions. Teslas are expensive, so upscale is baked in. Conspiracy theories voiced by Marjorie Taylor Green and Tucker Carlson were not upscale. Anti-establishment nose-thumbing has the potential for being cool, but not if it reflects Q-Anon conspiracies. Know-nothing politics isn't cool--not to Tesla buyers.

The bloom is off the rose. I will wait until Ford or GM or Volkswagen comes up with something. No use overpaying for a Tesla.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Candidate quality is (nearly) irrelevant

Headline: Incoming GOP Rep Cops to Major Campaign Lies.

So what?

Apparently candidate George Santos made up a bunch of stuff. His education. His work history. His source of income. His religion. Whether he made major contributions to a nonprofit or whether he pocketed the money other people gave to that nonprofit. Maybe his sexual orientation.

It doesn't matter. He will be seated in the House of Representatives on January 3. He doesn't owe his colleagues an apology or even an explanation. He won, and that makes him a U.S. Representative.  Enough voters in New York were tired of the Democrats and they wanted a Republican so they got one. That's it. Candidate quality didn't  matter that much in the campaign, and it likely won't matter in a future re-election. If he is a good Republican vote, and people in that New York district want a Republican, they will vote for him again. Maybe in 2024 there will be a few Republican voters who will think him a weak general election candidate and they will replace him in the primary. They would likely vote for him in the general election. He is a Republican. Possibly his scamming the nonprofit will cost him a few votes in a general election. Who really cares if he graduated from college or if he got promotions at Citibank and Goldman Sachs or whether he is Jewish, or as he explains, Jew-ish, because maybe he has a Jewish relative? He isn't sure. 

People voted for the party, not the candidate's resume.

I recognize that this assertion contains an insult to candidates all across the country who won their elections because they did a good job. It is also an insult to campaign managers, to campaign volunteers, and to campaign donors.  It insults voters who take time to read campaign material. It even disparages political observers like myself who write with know-it-all self confidence about the importance of message and branding. What matters is party. Everything else is irrelevant.

Or almost irrelevant. In close races--and there are some states and districts that are closely balanced--candidate quality matters on the margin. Herschel Walker lost. Kari Lake lost. Blake Masters lost. Dr. Oz lost. Those races were winnable. A better candidate or smarter campaign moves the needle a couple of points, and that is the margin of victory or loss. College classmate Jeff Golden won re-election to the Oregon state senate as a Democrat. He takes pride in his job in office. He ran an energetic campaign of door-to-door meetings with voters. He won. I have written here that the real dynamic in the campaign was that his Republican opponent lost. Randy Sparacino threw away two or three percentage points with a million-dollar campaign message that he was a loyal Republican and Trump-compliant caboose on the Republican train. A potentially strong candidate ran a stupid campaign. That message would have won in a Republican district, or even a 50-50 district in this red-wave election for downstate Oregon voters. But Golden's district is the portion of my county with a small Democratic voting edge. Having flooded the media to prove he represented the wrong party, Sparacino lost 48-52. 

In 2022 people voted their party. In a U.S. Senate race, centrist Democrat Ron Wyden, the very powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee, lost Jackson County to Republican Jo Rey Perkins 51-46%. Perkins ran no campaign at all, so voters had no idea that she was a Q-Anon supporting kook. Widen campaigned hard and spent millions on ads showing him fighting inflation and working on pocketbook issues.  Meanwhile a newcomer Democrat, Joe Yetter, ran for Congress against the incumbent Republican Congressman, Cliff Bentz. I know Joe Yetter and held a fundraiser for him, but realistically, in a campaign with no real money, he was essentially unknown District-wide. Yetter got the baseline Democratic vote. He lost in Jackson county 43-57%. Wyden, unquestionably Oregon's most popular and generally acceptable officeholder, running against the weakest imaginable candidate, ran exactly three percent better than Yetter.

That's it-- the margin of candidate and campaign influence: three percent.

New York's new U.S. Representative will likely be an unusually weak candidate in 2024. In a partisan oscillation that brings that district back to partisan parity, his weakness may be dispositive. I think candidate quality matters a great deal. I think the future of our country depends on it. Apparently, though, it matters little toward electability. What matters a lot is political party.

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Monday, December 26, 2022

A sensible talk to grownups.

Mitt Romney explains why he voted YES on the Omnibus bill.

Good for him.

I write in praise of Mitt Romney, what he said, and how he said it.

It seems unexceptional. There should be nothing special about a U.S. senator explaining a vote. What is exceptional to me is how normal it was.  It felt like time travel, back to an earlier day, before Trump. Before Gingrich. Back to when being a legislator was about the resolution of competing interests. No partisan sneers. There are no subordinate clauses alluding to Joe Biden's age, Hunter Biden's addictions, the trouble at the southern border, left wing radical communists, or any of the "usual suspect" shots. Those are the devices which allow a Republican to say something neutral while still assuring GOP voters that the person is an angry partisan. 

Romney praised money going to Utah projects. He assured voters that defense spending would go up 9% while domestic spending would only go up 5%.  An urban coastal liberal might think Romney emphasized the wrong things. He isn't trying to please them, but he isn't picking a fight with them either. What he is doing is unfamiliar because it is so normal sounding. He sounds like a serious man doing a serious job of governing, not posturing. Here it is, a three-minute video.


This report would not be complete, though, without showing the immediate comments posted on Twitter, which is where he posted this. In multiple posts I have described my dismay at the behavior of GOP officeholders. They have tolerated and enabled Trump, giving him credibility and status as the voice of the GOP even when he makes unhinged rants. (See yesterday's post showing his Christmas greeting.) I consider this cowardly and dangerous for American democracy. I keep hoping GOP candidates and officeholders will reclaim the GOP, but they don't. There is an explanation:  A majority of GOP voters appear to prefer demagoguery. GOP voters don't like what Romney is serving up. Twitter is not a representative sample, but representative samples in polls show that an overwhelming majority of GOP voters still like Trump, Trump’s pugilism, and his message.

Here are the first ten comments that followed his post:

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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas!

 Merry Christmas from President Joe Biden:

Merry Christmas from former president Donald Trump:

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Saturday, December 24, 2022

Nativity scene.

Christmas Eve: 

The artist John Trumbull painted a nativity scene. It was the birth of a republic. 

The painting is an image of the peaceful transfer of power. George Washington, the victorious general stood in front of the  throne of power cloaked in purple. He turns his back on it and returns his commission to civilian authority.

John Trumbull describes the painting:
What a dazzling temptation was here to earthly ambition! Beloved by the military, venerated by the people, who was there to oppose the victorious chief, if he had chosen to retain that power, which he had so long held with universal approbation? The Caesars, the Cromwells, the Napoleons, yielded to the charm of earthly ambition, and betrayed their country; but Washington aspired to loftier, imperishable glory, – to that glory which virtue alone can give, and which no power, no effort, no time, can ever take away or diminish.

Washington projected virtue. He was unselfish. Americans honored that. This became part of the usable history of our country. 

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Friday, December 23, 2022

Vietnam Christmas 1965

Home for Christmas

Larry Slessler spent the Christmas of 1965 as a soldier in Vietnam. He is home now.

Slessler has written 10 guest posts here over the past three years. All of them are reflections on his time as a soldier in a "hot war," with bullets, artillery fire, booby trap bombs, and the threat of imminent death by violence. Some of them are set in Vietnam. Others are reflections on his joy and relief at being home from Vietnam.

Most Americans experienced Vietnam as we are now experiencing the fighting in Ukraine--as spectators. During the Vietnam war, and especially in our conflicts later, Americans outsourced warfare to a tiny fraction of our population. The military mostly operates in isolation, like a specialty occupational trade. Today America has 1,360,000 active military personnel. We have 1,450,000 accountants and auditors and 2,100,000 heavy tractor-trailer truck drivers. For most Americans, war-fighting is something we
pay for, not something we do. It makes it easier to think of soldiers and war as something done by them, not us.

America is both a republic and an empire. It is useful for a self-governing people to know what it is doing and who is doing it.

Guest Post by Larry Slessler

I woke up on Christmas 1965 with what felt like a stocking filled with coal. My mother would worn me during my youth that a coal filled stocking was what Santa would bring me if I was a naughty boy. I was no longer a boy…I was in my middle 20’s and knee deep in a cesspool called Vietnam. Talk about a stocking filled with coal.

There were no cell phones, no computers to message home. Snail mail was my connection to/from the United States; or what we called “The World.” Home was so abstract and remote it was like we were on another planet and I wondered if I would ever see that home planet again. We all lived for that day when a “Freedom Bird” would fly us back to the United States.

I had already missed the birthdays of my 3 year old daughter and 2 year old son. My view of the day was summed up by a saying we had in my unit; “There is no gravity, the earth sucks.” Probably the most accurate description of Christmas for me was the historic tag attached to D-Day of June 6, 1944; “The Longest Day.” Christmas 1965 was the longest day of my life. I guess I was guilty of the world’s most self-inflicted pity party. I know the day competes for the number one worst day of my 83 years on the planet.

So Larry; why are you bringing such a downer story to 2022?

December 25th, 2022 is my 57th Christmas since 1965. My 3 year old daughter is now 60. Her brother is right behind her at 59. Daughter Malia and son Matthew have been added to my family. I have lived a special life that is blessed with family, friends, meaningful work and at 83 a still healthy body.

That terrible Christmas of 1965 will rear its ugliness in my emotions every December. But it is now a precious gift that gives not takes. The remembrance is a 4 carat diamond, a million dollar winning lottery ticket and all the best any man can have. That Christmas gift is the reminder of how good a life I have had and still do.

Slessler's children long ago

 I can select the temperature of my home, turn a key and drive when and where I want. I can open up a fridge and select what I want to eat and if so moved, cook it in/on a stove or handy microwave. I can connect with all my friends via phone or other electronic means. As an average person in 2022 America I have it better than 99% of the humans that have lived on this planet we call earth.

Christmas 2022…a wonderful day it will be, is.

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Thursday, December 22, 2022


"You'll walk the floor the way I doYour cheatin' heart will tell on you."

                   Hank Williams, Your Cheatin' Heart, 1952 

In my 30-year career as a Financial Advisor I saw the damage cheating did. People lost faith in markets. Clients lost money. Companies like Enron cheated in their accounting. Brokerages gave "strong buy" ratings to stocks they thought were garbage. Banks and mortgage companies bundled "liar loans" into bonds. Ratings agencies called those loans AAA. People cheated to get an edge, to make more money faster.

Yesterday's post focused on cheating to gain political power. Something does not need to be true for people to assert it. Indeed the assertion can be well-established as false. It only needs to be arguably true, which then permits someone to assert that position. An ongoing point of frustration for me, evidenced in this blog, is that people who like the outcome of a pretext legal fiction are so willing to assert it. It turns out that democracy depends on more than the rule of law. A cheater can pretend something is legal and find fellow cheaters to go along with the pretext.  Democracy requires people to be good sports and recognize the validity of the unspoken rules of the game they are playing. To bear true witness.  It requires good character. For laws to be enforceable, it requires that the public demand good character of others.

Mullen, 1965
Jack Mullen spent his youth in Medford, Oregon where he was a star junior high and high school athlete. There is a strong ethic against cheating in sports at that level. Coaches teach sportsmanship. The joy and validation of victory wouldn't feel right if one cheated to win.


Guest Post by Jack Mullen

Somewhere deep in the American psyche lies a tolerance for cheating--if cheating results in the common good.

 John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan somehow withstood Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting and managed to gain wide public acceptance, if not admiration, both for the work they did in their careers and for their philanthropy. San Francisco's Nob Hill has institutions that bear the names of railroad barons. Huntington, Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Crocker are considered the great empire builders of an America that stretched from coast to coast. The descendants of the people who did the hard manual labor live in tiny apartments in Chinatown, three blocks away. For all their faults, and there were many, the four robber barons made a contribution in the 19th Century. We have railroads to show for their work. 

The morality of our 21st Century titans of industry is becoming more and more suspect. Their reputations took an unusually big hit in 2022. Sam Bankman-Fried played too cute with his clients’ crypto accounts and now finds himself in a New York jail. Elizabeth Holmes' company, Theranos Inc., scammed the likes of Henry Kissinger and George Shultz by promoting her supposed pharmaceutical miracle. She is now in jail. Elon Musk may get through this rough patch with Twitter with reputation intact. He had banked some reputation good will; we have electric cars and renewed space travel to show for his efforts as a business innovator and disrupter. But take a look at  Bankman-Fried and Holmes. Did they have the common good in mind as they amassed their wealth, based on what now appears to be deceit? The early admiration for these so-called geniuses melted away quicker than a Frosty Cone on a mid-August afternoon in Medford.
In 1954 Jacques Barzun said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and reality of the game.”  There is nothing like baseball to uncover how much cheating America can tolerate.

Two miles south of Nob Hill sits Oracle Ballpark. Barry Bonds, a talented athlete, routinely crushed home runs in to the San Francisco Bay. He smashed the home run records of  Hank Aaron, Mark McGwire, and because of his shortened seasons, the great Babe himself. 

All, save the most loyal San Francisco Giants fans and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, knew and acknowledged Bonds was doing something to get an unfair advantage. It was steroids. It is eye-opening to compare before-and-after photos of Bonds and McGwire. Still, sellout crowds came to see Bonds play, to cheer him in San Francisco, and to boo him at visiting ballparks. 

So how did the baseball establishment handle cheating? Baseball commissioned the Mitchell Report, which listed all the players who cheated by using steroids. In addition to big boppers like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire the report also included pitcher Roger Clemens and Designated Hitter David Ortiz.

The records of all the above-mentioned players are still in the books. However, baseball’s Hall of Fame refuses to enshrine most of the players who cheated the game, players such Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens. It is significant to acknowledge that Bonds, McGuire and Roger Clemens were considered by most, especially the press, to be boorish, A-1 jerks. But good guy and well-liked Mike Piazza, also a steroid user listed in the Mitchell Report, was voted into the Hall of Fame this past year. Personality and likability matter.
Good works matter, too. David Ortiz, a steroid user, was a beloved figure by Red Sox fans. He rallied the City of Boston with his stirring speech after the 2013 massacre at the Boston Marathon. He, too, is in the Hall of Fame.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A series of accidental deaths

There is a way to keep control in an autocracy.


On December 9 Russian oligarch Dmitriy Zelenov, 50, was out to dinner with friends. He felt unwell, and tumbled down several fights of stairs. He hit his head and died.

Two days prior, Grigory Kochenov fell to his death from his balcony while police were conducting a search of his apartment. On November 29 Vyacheslav Taran, co-founder of Libertex, a forex exchange company, died in a helicopter crash. On November 23 Tiantian Kullander, co-founder of Amber Group, died unexpectedly in his sleep from unknown causes.  A cryptocurrency entrepreneur drowned in Puerto Rico on October 28 after tweeting that he thought people were attempting to kill him.

There were five suspicious deaths of Russian oligarchs in the month of September. The Director of a Russian Railway subsidiary shot himself while standing on the balcony of his apartment. The former head of Moscow Aviation Institute fell down a flight of stairs. The editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda suffered a stroke and suffocated while on his way to lunch. The Aviation Director of a development company drowned after falling from his boat. The Chairman of Lukoil, fell out of a window to his death.

One can imagine a montage of these deaths in a black comedy/drama scene, with gang enemies falling victim to the movie protagonist. There was such a scene in Breaking Bad, where a meth operation reached into prison to kill ten men in one minute to keep them quiet. The scene is scored in counterpoint with a lighthearted musical background while the murders take place.

A similar scene took place in The Godfather, when the Corleone family gang wiped out rival crime families while Michael Corleone was pledging Christian faith at a baptism. This scene had a similar audio counterpoint, set against a church organ, a priest's ritual, and Michael Corleone renouncing sin.

In Russia this is not a movie. There is no ironic music and it isn't a comedy. It is a brutal form of political body language. No Russian should entertain any illusion that their money, job, or connections will protect them from Putin's long arm if they appear disloyal to him.

The pretense is that these are accidents and natural deaths. Russians can pretend that laws are being obeyed, but everyone knows better.  A deep corruption settles into Russian culture. People know they are consenting to live with the pretense. Otherwise they might fall out of a window.

Pretense is at the heart of Trump's behavior surrounding the election, and it has created a corruption of people who protect their own political interests by closing their eyes. Trump threatens political death. Jeff Flake showed what happens to U.S. Senators. Liz Cheney shows what happens to political dynasties. Jeff Sessions shows what happens to cabinet members. 

Trump pretends there was widespread election fraud. His allies pretended there was reason for legislatures to reverse the vote. Trump urged his Justice Department to pretend they found fraud so Republican-majority legislatures could pretend they had justification to accept pretext electors. Trump pretended that Vice President Pence could throw out electoral votes. The pretense preserves the form of democracy but not its reality. 

Democracy will be preserved when leaders in Trump's party have the courage to say aloud that they won't pretend anymore.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

News Blackout

Fox News viewers don't know. 

Worse, they don't know that they don't know.

They think Democrats are picking on him over nothing.

This helps explain why people who consider themselves loyal U.S. citizens, who think they support the Constitution and American form of government, are perfectly OK with supporting Trump. How can they possibly do that, in the face of his multi-pronged effort to overthrow the government by artifice, pretext, and then violence? Answer: A great many Republicans get their news from Fox News and they know almost nothing about Trump's sedition plot. 

The House January 6 Committee outlined the facts of the case against Trump, a case mostly built on the testimony of Republicans appointed by Trump. Yesterday the Committee made a formal criminal referral to the Department of Justice, based on that evidence. Six hours after the hearing I reviewed the Fox News website to see their take on the events of the day. I post the results at length. I need to post them at length because I needed to scroll down, and then down further, to find something about it. 

The silence itself is a message with consequences. Fox News viewers get snippets of information from outside the silo that Democrats seem to care about something involving Trump and the election. They are inclined to draw the conclusion that Democrats are making a mountain out of a molehill. 

Fox News reporting helps explain why Republican candidates make unforced errors in blue and purple areas. Their home base voters think people are picking on an innocent Trump. Candidates need to cater to that. Democrats, too, need to recognize that references to "democracy in peril" sound overblown to Republican voters. They think Trump simply wondered aloud if the election was correctly counted and that Mike Pence caved to Democratic pressure amid a peaceful protest. Republican voters in the silo aren't excusing or approving a flagrant effort to overthrow the government. They don't think that happened.


Fox Website Page One:

Fox Website top stories continued

More stories

Webpage sidebar

Stories continued

Yet more stories. 

Note the 46th story on the website. The hearing was "panned" by critics wondering why they were bothering us over nothing.