Plots and Thoughts

Fuck You Massachusetts

Posted in Observations by Captain Optimistic on January 20, 2010

You picked a loser Democrat to fight against a Republican prepared to do the work.  The silver lining isn’t (Lieberman will continue to be a powerful asshole).  The only possible good I see comes from Arianna’s encouraging take.  Oh wait, no, the Democratic party will simply slide further into centrist hell.  YEAH THAT WILL WORK.

Really this is less about Massachusetts, and more about the Democratic Party: Party of colossal fuckups.

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On Crying in Public

Posted in Observations by Captain Optimistic on January 18, 2010

A rather good post over at Pandagon regarding women crying in public.  I think Spencer Morgan is a misogynistic prat:

I’m sure he thinks women go home and just power down like a computer deprived of its electricity, except in this case our electricity is attention.  And since sadness, like all female behavior, is a ploy for attention, it pisses Morgan off because it’s not the performance he wants from women.  So he’s going to make fun of the sad women and bully them into performing behaviors he finds sexier, presumably non-stop grinning.

However I have to disagree here:

Why is it that he sees people—okay, women—occasionally crying in public?  And when people see this, why don’t they stop to talk to the crying women, to offer help?The answer to thess questions, from a non-misogynist perspective, in order: Probably because they’re sad.  And because others realize that the crying woman probably would like not to be crying in public, and would like to be accorded the respect and privacy her sadness deserves.

I actually think when you see anyone who is sad, its a good thing to check and see if they are ok if it seems appropriate.  If they want to be left alone, they’ll let you know and you can respect that.  In some instances a person crying in public isn’t approachable, in others, they are.  That’s a judgment call that is very much based on the particular situation.

I am the type of person who tries to help people who are feeling down.  I’ve battled with depression, and I come from a family where its rife.  Expressing sadness in public can be a private moment that tumbled out unexpectedly, or it can be a cry for help.  And its ok to listen to that cry should you hear it.

I was walking home late one night and I noticed a girl sitting by herself outside a hotel.  Her head was in her hands, and you could feel something was wrong.  So I walked over and asked if everything was allright.  It wasn’t.  I ended up sitting down and talking for hours.  This woman had served in the war, and had found out a few hours before that her former CO had been killed in Iraq.  She needed someone to talk to.  I was there, so we talked.

If you see someone who seems down, take a chance on looking like an idiot or intruding, and ask if they are ok.  If they want to be left alone by all means respect that.  But if its someone in need of a shoulder or an ear, don’t hesitate to lend it.

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The Politico has a Crush on Thune

Posted in Analysis, Observations by Captain Optimistic on January 13, 2010

Awwwww.  Johnathan Martin thinks Thune is ever so dashing.  He’s written the sort of soft-journalistic intro piece one often sees gently ushering conservative hopefuls onto the national stage.  Remember the reader’s digest article that praised George W. Bush as a bipartisan guys-guy who got stuff done?

John Thune is presented as someone Democrats and Republicans can agree upon:

“At a time when we’re burning taxpayer money like coal in a 19th-century steam engine, Thune’s message of focused fiscal restraint, coupled with aggressive small-business incentives to drive growth, will resonate extremely well with the GOP base and independents as well as Democrats,” said Jeff Kimbell, a Republican lobbyist and Thune enthusiast.

Wow, he sounds great!

But McKinnon sees a third possibility: “He could be the 2012 federal version of Bob McDonnell,” said the GOP adman of the Virginia governor-elect. “He’s unquestionably conservative but not in an ideological way — more in a Midwestern, rural, country, small-town way. So he’s acceptable to all factions.”

Not in an idealogical way huh?  Check out this interview with Christianity Today:

Having a Christian worldview shapes my decision-making with respect to all aspects of my life. I always respect people in public life who are principled, and those principles have to be connected to something. And my faith is what serves as the anchor and directs my actions.

Ladies and gentleman we have ourselves another theocrat being groomed as mainstream.  He’ll be a reliable force for anti-gay, anti-women values.  You know, family values.

As the Politico article briefly mentions:

Though he doesn’t promote it, and it wasn’t listed on his 2004 campaign website, Thune is a graduate of a California Bible college. And on cultural issues such as gay marriage and abortion, he’s pure to the party base.

It also mentions that the the former lobbyist … is liked by lobbyists:

Though he doesn’t have the infrastructure of Romney or even Pawlenty, Thune has many fans among operatives and lobbyists, and he’s surrounded by savvy strategists, including the well-regarded Brasell and longtime GOP adman Scott Howell.

Great.  A slick “Republican Obama – minus the brains” lobbyist theocrat.  He’s already getting promotional press.  He should do well in a crowded GOP field.  2012 is looking ever more interesting.

Congress: Term vs Age Limits

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 10, 2010

I find myself disagreeing – strongly – with Amanda Marcotte.  This of course has me a bit startled.  At issue is the question of term and age limits.  Amanda is upset about old out of touch white men in public office.  Which is understandable.  It isn’t like our generation will be any better when we find ourselves in power.  These men – across both parties – represent positions and hold perceptions that are way out of whack with the rest of the country.  Her solution is to avoid term limits and their associated problems and instead institute a mandatory retirement age.  There are a number of problems with this solution.

  • Medicine and Technology are turning 65 into 75, and 75 into 85.  At what point is a citizen no longer allowed to hold office because their world view is no longer relevant?  Should we instead of a citizenship test of sorts – a litmus test – to ensure aged political hopefuls are with the times?
  • Is there any premium at all on differing perceptions?  Do we want to make our governing body more homogeneous?

What we ought to be doing is removing age limits.  There is no reason a 20 year old cannot run for the highest office in the land.  Part of the problem is that congress is dominated by entrenched power, and entrenched power and age go hand in hand.

I’m hesitant to suggest term limits.  I think they’re a bad idea for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact that the existence of senior politicians is often a good thing—experience and stature helps them get things done. While we were talking about this last night, Marc also pointed out to me that term limits encourage corruption by encouraging the Dick Cheney-style revolving door between holding office and working for corporations.

We therefore need to couple term limits with strong and effective anti-corruption laws.  Encouraging the ageism in our political system does not strike me as an effective way to gain allies or improve our representation.

What if, instead of encouraging politicians to hang onto their seats as long as humanly possible, we created an incentive for politicians to groom and root for their successors?  One reason we’re all so scared to see someone like Ted Kennedy or Robert Byrd leave office is we’re afraid of who will take their place, but I think if these politicians were looking forward to retirement instead of waiting for death, that might not be so.  They would have much more of a reason to groom someone suitable for their seat, and help get them elected while they still had the energy to do so.

These incentives would increase the stranglehold of entrenched politicians even further, so they could continue to exert their influence after they leave through their successors.  Take a good hard look at Putin and Medvedev.  Do we really to encourage that here?

To strengthen our representation in Congress we need to increase diversity of representation and freedom of choice while simultaneously restricting entrenched power and corruption.  Here is what we need to agitate for:

  • Removing age limits
  • Instituting term limits
  • Selecting a new system of voting (along the lines of instant runoff) that allows people to rank their choices
  • Make elections entirely publicly financed, outlawing the spending of any private funds

It would be a start, a small step forward.  Age limits would be a step backwards, an act that legitimizes existing age limits when we need to do what we can to remove them entirely.

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Hawaii vs DC: Taxation Without Representation

Posted in Observations by Captain Optimistic on January 10, 2010

The AP notices that:

Cash-strapped Hawaii can’t afford to pay for an election to replace a congressman who is planning to step down next month to run for governor, potentially leaving 600,000 urban Honolulu residents without representation in Washington.

Funny, 600,000 is roughly the population of the District of Columbia.  Hawaii will have to wait at worst until next fall’s elections.  DC will have to wait until hell freezes over, or Congress decides having one more urban district really won’t be that awful a tragedy.

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Negotiation Skills: Why Democrats Lose

Posted in Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 9, 2010

I was discussing my last post with a friend, and she mentioned that she agreed that politicians ought to stand up for what they believe.  But that isn’t it.  Yes, politicians with backbone will crush those with none.  But to truly be effective we need to understand a basic point of negotiation and perception.  Let’s take an example.

You want to make $20 an hour.  You’ve done the research, and in your town that is a real living wage.  You currently make $8 an hour.  Rather than going against your boss directly, you are taking your case to the people for a vote on a new minimum wage.  How do you make that case?

If you are a liberal blogger, you present the research and opine that $20 an hour is the only solution which makes sense economically and ethically.

If you are an Elected Democrat, you begin by saying we need to fight for $15 an hour.  However, you acknowledge, you need to negotiate with Republicans (who believe in no minimum wage at all and are very reasonable people).  Given the disparity of their position and your own, you decide to offer an olive branch by discussing $14 an hour.  The Republicans go wild, discussing how any wage mandate at all is a slap in the face of the free market.  Protests by people proud to be making $8 an hour spring up as if by magic (connections to well financed Republican PR firms are only weakly acknowledged in the mainstream press).  You find your conservative Democrat allies are saying they will not even allow a vote unless you commit to no more than $12 an hour.  You hurriedly do so in the most patchwork manner possible.  Your aides leak to the press you’ve been intending to go as low as $10 an hour, to try and manage expectations (No, not the expectations of the opposition as to how far they can get, but your constituents as to what they can expect you to accomplish).  This creates additional downward pressure, as the Republicans do not budge an inch (pledging to vote against any bill you come up with).  Conservative Democrats, sensing blood in the water, argue for $10 an hour and again threaten to block the bill.  By the time all is said and done the final bill has dropped to a magnificent $10 an hour, and your constituents love you.  Don’t worry, you’ll still get elected in the next cycle.  After all, no one wants to elect a Republican and lose $2 an hour or more when they roll back your latest legislative victory.

So how should an effective progressive make their case?  Start by repeating the average compensation for a CEO in hourly wages.  That comes to $5,240 an hour.  Begin building a case for $50 an hour, not $20.  Don’t paint $20 as the goal.  $20 is what you are settling for.  $40 would be livable, but why shoot for just livable?  Why not really push for working Americans?  Bring the discussion past your goals.  Make $20 seem like a concession, and remain united and focused on that front.  If the Republicans can do it, why can’t we?

This is why Democrats keep losing our battles for us.  Partially because they are in fact centrists and conservatives elected under the Democratic banner, and partially because of a political ineptitude that would see them fired from any private position in the country.  We can elect people who will do better.

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Health Care: Progressive Wonk Rhetoric Fail

Posted in Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 9, 2010

Lindsay takes progressives and allies to task for tearing apart those of us who argue the Health Care bill is so pathetic and harmful it needs to die.  She effectively points out the concepts of negotiation and leverage so many powerful progressives fail to understand well enough to utilize.  However she leaves out a basic rhetorical concept that the right wing has mastered to the continuing detriment of the left: the overton window.

Lindsay observes:

Health care reform is no longer just an intellectual argument, it’s a negotiation. KTBers understand that. Wonky progressives cringe when KTBers say the bill will be worse than than nothing. When they say that, wonks hear a ridiculous overstatement. Which it probably is.

There is political power in ridiculous statements that goes beyond the act of negotiation.  If the discussion is dominated by those far to the right of our goal, and the only opposing voice is aiming for a position closer to the center than our real goals, we are losing ground.  We need people who are so committed to the ideal of universal care that they argue beyond single payer.  Where are the progressives arguing that the right to life enshrined in the constitution entitles every human being to free health care, food, and shelter?  We need people arguing that restricting our goal to only health care, and allowing co-pays at all, is a concession.  We need people arguing that health insurance companies provide such an essential service they have no right to exist as private for profit corporations!  These arguments need to be made with all the skill and fervor we can muster if they are going to be taken seriously enough to push the national discourse back towards an ethical resolution on health care reform.

If we are going to win, we need negiotiators and savvy rhetoricians applying leverage and changing the national conversation in our favor.  Whether or not the current bill passes, we as citizens need to use the above skills to ensure the next round of legislators are braver, shrewder, more effective and more loyal than our current batch.  This means discussing the health care reform effort as the monumental failure it is for failing to go far enough and in the right direction.

If we are going to win, we need to learn the lessons of negotiation and rhetoric well enough to become a political force to be reckoned with.