Friday Talking Points -- Democrats' Closing Midterm Argument

[ Posted Friday, October 19th, 2018 – 17:18 PDT ]

As usual, there was all sorts of idiocy in the political news last week. But, for a change, we're only going to skim lightly over most of it in an abbreviated weekly roundup, because we've got a special talking points section at the end, where we try our hand at writing a "closing argument" speech for all Democratic congressional candidates to consider using. So there's that to look forward to. Before that, though, let's take a very quick look at the week that was.

President Donald Trump really wants the whole scandal over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to quietly go away. However, this hasn't been happening -- it's been headline news for weeks, and shows no signs of abating. Trump also really wants to just go back to being buddies with the Saudis without anyone looking too closely at how totalitarian their government is. After all, they rolled out the red carpet for him! With a sword dance and everything!

America is now so little respected in the world that dictators who are purportedly our friends feel unrestrained enough to viciously murder an American legal resident inside their own consulate, without the fear of serious consequences. Trump tries to mouth the words, but he obviously doesn't believe that he should be all that concerned with the fate of the guy -- after all, he wasn't a citizen, it didn't happen here, and maybe it was just rogue assassins or something. He continues to parrot the line his advisors have fed him, about how murdering journalists should bring severe consequences, but then he goes out on the campaign trail and praises a Republican congressman for body-slamming a journalist. It's pretty easy to see what Trump really believes about all this, in other words.

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Could California Republicans Help Elect A Liberal?

[ Posted Thursday, October 18th, 2018 – 17:11 PDT ]

Admittedly, it must be tough to be a California Republican these days. Although not on the official endangered species list, they are still definitely a dying breed. The state's large coastal urban population tilts the state deep blue, so the rural parts of the state are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the state's politics, because they're so outnumbered. The only Republican elected statewide in the past few decades wasn't even really a Republican, he was just an actor playing one for votes. Remember when the rest of the country laughed at California for electing a complete novice to the highest state office solely because of name recognition and the entertainment factor? Seems almost prophetic, these days. The state's "top-two jungle primary" has only made things worse, since now Republicans don't even have their own candidates on the ballot in many races on Election Day. Such is the case this year for the race for a U.S. Senate seat, because Dianne Feinstein will be facing off against fellow Democrat Kevin De León in November. Which got me thinking about a bizarre confluence of events that could actually see Republican voters propel the more liberal candidate into office.

This is just one of the strange situations the jungle primary has begotten. And by pointing it out, I draw no conclusions as to the likelihood of it actually happening. In other words, this is nothing more than sheer speculation on my part. But as strange as it seems, Republican voters may indeed help a very liberal guy defeat a sitting and very centrist Democratic senator.

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O, Canada!

[ Posted Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 – 16:31 PDT ]

Our neighbor to the north made some big news today, as Canada is now the largest country in the world where marijuana can be freely bought, sold, possessed, grown, and used by all of its adult citizens. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now made good on one of his big campaign promises, and today Canadians from coast to coast began legally purchasing recreational marijuana for the first time since it was outlawed.

In related news: the sun still rose in Canada's east, the sky did not actually fall down, people did not riot in the streets, fire and brimstone did not rain down on the populace, and life as Canadians knew it beforehand went on as usual. Canada is proving by example that marijuana legalization does not mean (as its critics would have you believe) the end of civilization as we know it. Far from it.

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Powers Of Two

[ Posted Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 – 16:18 PDT ]

At a first glance, this may resemble a political column, but it's not. Instead, it is a digression to examine the awesome progression of exponential mathematics. No, really. I'm taking a slight break from the political world to opine on the powers of two.

Of course, this idea didn't pop into existence out of a vacuum. There is indeed an event in the political world that gave rise to it. But I already spent yesterday talking about Elizabeth Warren's DNA test, so today I'd like to address a common misperception among anyone claiming any specific ancestry in the far and distant past. Again, Warren's situation provoked this column, but this column is not about her specific case.

I've actually had this entire conversation before, in my private life. A good friend of mine is proud that her family traced her lineage all the way back to the Mayflower. While not dismissing her claim in any way, I pointed out that we all love to trace one single branch out of our family tree, but usually in doing so we discount the thousands upon thousands of others on all the other branches.

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Elizabeth Warren Calls Trump's Bluff; Trump Breaks Million-Dollar Promise

[ Posted Monday, October 15th, 2018 – 17:08 PDT ]

It's hard to see today as anything short of the unofficial launch of the 2020 presidential contest, at least on the Democratic side of the aisle. That may be either exciting or frightening (depending on your view of endless political campaigning in general), but either way it's kind of hard to deny. Because Senator Elizabeth Warren -- again, unofficially -- just threw her hat in the presidential ring, in a big way. She did so by calling President Donald Trump's bluff, which has so far resulted in yet another Trump million-dollar promise being broken.

If it seems a little dated and unusual for presidential candidates in this day and age to be questioned about what degree of whiteness they possess in their genes, well, that's because it is. A century ago and more, such a thing was paramount, of course, since in the Deep South even "one drop" of African-American blood in your family tree made you automatically "black," no matter what your genetic makeup said otherwise. This was a very big deal, back then, to certain people. There were even words used to describe the proportion of white blood to black blood any individual possessed (look up "quadroon" and "octoroon" in a good dictionary).

You'd think that in the year 2018 we'd be beyond such hair-splitting, but apparently we're not. Not with Donald Trump in charge. But in an unusual twist, he's not questioning an opponent because of some secret non-white genetic history, instead he's questioning a claim of non-whiteness because he doesn't believe that Senator Elizabeth Warren's family stories about having Native American ancestry are true. So it's no longer "you're not white enough," but instead "you're totally white, I don't believe you have any other ancestry." This, it should be pointed out, is not exactly progress in racial harmony.

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Friday Talking Points -- "Civil" War

[ Posted Friday, October 12th, 2018 – 17:35 PDT ]

There's a debate going on right now among the chattering classes in Washington over whether Democrats should be "civil" or, alternatively, whether they should "kick" back at their opponents. No, really. The hilariousness of such a genteel debate seems to have escaped everyone engaging in it, apparently. Because it is pretty funny, when you consider the actual facts. Which show that Republicans completely abandoned civility altogether, right about the same time they started supporting Donald Trump -- and things have (if it's even possible) now gotten even worse in the midterm campaigns. So all they're really doing is attempting to hold Democrats to a standard they don't even pretend to hew to themselves anymore (after decades of being the moralizing, finger-wagging party, it bears mentioning).

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What Would A Bear Market Mean Politically?

[ Posted Thursday, October 11th, 2018 – 17:56 PDT ]

I am often (quite rightly) accused of writing nothing short of crassly political columns, where I examine events and trends seen through the lens of how they will affect the political landscape without much regard for their overall impact on society. Today is certainly going to qualify, I'll state that, right up front. Because after the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen almost 1,400 points in the past two days of trading, it's hard for a pundit not to wonder what it would mean if this trend continues.

Now, I am not a professional market analyst, not by a long shot. My 401K can attest to this fact. So I have no real clue about what will happen next -- a strong comeback because stock prices are now so low, a "dead-cat bounce" where the market appears to revive, only to soon head downward again, or a full-fledged panic attack by investors. I simply don't know what the future will bring.

As of this moment, we are not yet in a "bear market." Definitions differ from expert to expert, but most of them define a bear market with some respect to time -- stocks head lower for two (or three) months, perhaps. Some also include a percentage qualification, the most common being that the stock market slides at least 20 percent in value over this period of time. We are nowhere near either one of these right now, because (1) it's only been two days, and (2) because the Dow was so high, even a 1,400-point drop is only a little over five percent of the market's total at its high. So even if the market continues downward, we've got a long way to go before professionals start talking about bear markets.

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Mob Mentality

[ Posted Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 – 16:48 PDT ]

Today's column is brought to you by the word "mob."

OK, maybe I didn't need that Sesame Street opening, but I just wanted to be as clear as possible from the get-go. Because after Donald Trump (and his Republican minions) started fearmongering their madding crowds (irony alert!) by warning of the Democrats' mob tactics, I started thinking about the word itself and its use. Today, I read Donald Trump's recent opinion piece in USA Today, which got me thinking about a whole different use of the word. Hence today's somewhat-disjointed column, and hence this introduction trying to tie it all together linguistically.

The word "mob" was first coined circa 1690 A.D., as a shortening of a Latin phrase: "mobile vulgus." The Latin translates roughly as "the moveable common people," although "movable" could have meant "fickle in their opinions" as much as it could have meant actual physical motion. The most succinct translation into English I've seen is "moveable party." This points out the political nature of the term's origins and its continued usage over the centuries.

The most common image of a mob is usually of an angry and perhaps violent group of people. But unlike the horror-movie cliché, the people with torches and pitchforks aren't marching against a literal monster (such as the one Frankenstein built), but against something they perceive as monstrous -- which is usually something political in nature.

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Good Riddance, Chief Wahoo

[ Posted Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 – 16:30 PDT ]

The Cleveland Indians' season is over. While this was a cause for sadness among their fans, there is also a good reason for everyone else to rejoice at the close of Cleveland's 2018 season. Because the 71-year tenure of the maniacally grinning and blatantly racist Cleveland mascot "Chief Wahoo" is also now at an end. Sort of. The Indians, starting next season, will not display this offensive logo any more on their uniforms -- however, they will still (sadly) continue to sell Chief Wahoo merchandise to their fans. A step forward, in other words, but not the true end of the road for what unquestionably has to be the most racist and offensive logo in modern professional sports.

For those of you who don't follow baseball and may be unaware of precisely how offensive this logo is, please decide for yourselves:

Indians logo

In this day and age, that is an image that is absolutely impossible to defend, on any reasonable grounds. Change the skin color to black (and remove the feather), and it would be nothing short of a version of Little Black Sambo. Which no sane team owner today would pick for a logo for their franchise, it goes without saying.

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One Month To Go

[ Posted Monday, October 8th, 2018 – 17:05 PDT ]

Four weeks from tomorrow, America will vote in the 2018 midterm congressional elections. We're officially in the homestretch now, in other words. And even with all the recent political events, things stand pretty much how they have all year -- Democrats are still favored to take control of the House of Representatives, but Republicans are still favored to retain control of the Senate. The political pundits right now are focusing too tightly on possible effects of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court fight, but the bigger picture hasn't really shifted all that much.

Democrats are still confident (perhaps too confident) that a big blue wave is a-comin', which will wash dozens of Republicans right out of Congress. Republicans are confident (definitely too confident) that "the polls were wrong once, so that means they'll always be wrong," and that their own base has now woken up and will match Democrats' enthusiasm at the polls due to successfully seating another conservative on the Supreme Court.

Personally, I'm not ready to buy into either argument quite yet, for the simple fact that we've still got four whole weeks to go. And, in the age of Trump, four weeks is an absolute eternity. Anything could happen, and if the past is any prologue, it probably will. I'm reserving overall judgment until we're a lot closer to Election Day, myself.

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