Every generation has its annoying catch phrases. The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.” More recently, “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.
“Whatever!” It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”
I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase. When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”
The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth. Catch phrases are contagious that way.
I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me. It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.
My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions. So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:
Me: “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”
Youngster: “I know, right?”
Me: “Right. That’s why I just said it.”
Youngster: “I know, right?”
Me: (stink eye)
I know, it’s not really a question. But then, why include the “right?” part.
I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised. Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.
But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).
Minneapolis ranked 4th, trailing San Francisco, New York City and Boston, but edging out Seattle, Santa Fe and Chicago. The Travelers’ and Leisurers’ take on us:
Perhaps readers felt intimidated by these bookish, indie-music-loving, craft-beer-drinking hipsters, who also ranked highly for being exceptionally tidy. If these Minnesotans feel self-satisfied, is it any wonder? They also scored well for being fit and outdoorsy; you can join them at the Chain of Lakes, where, depending on the season, folks are hiking, paddling, or even ice-surfing.
Snobby? Really? Isn’t having interesting stuff in your community a desirable thing?
Of course it is. Having the option of experiencing something new and different that isn’t available just anywhere is a huge advantage of living in a great city like Minneapolis.
But T and L got it right. Minneapolis is a snobby city, because having new and different things is not enough for many Minneapolitans. They feel obliged to look down from their lofts and rooftop cafes judging people who don’t worship at the altar of all that is new and different.
For instance, God help you if you express dislike for Surly Furious beer inside the Minneapolis city limits. It’s perfectly reasonable that some people would enjoy the bitter taste of the hop-heavy brew, and some would not. Preferences are preferences. But to hipster Minneapolitans, a distaste for the hops in IPAs is a clear sign that one is not sufficiently evolved.
The same thing applies to food and wine. If my God-given tastebuds just can’t distinguish between a ten buck meal and a fifty buck meal, does that really mean that I’m a closed-minded rube? Maybe it just means that I’d rather hold onto the extra forty bucks to buy four extra ten buck meals. Saffron and truffle oil? Can’t taste it dude. Hints of oak barrel? Even if I could taste it, why would I necessarily desire it?
I also plead guilty to wearing khakis and not possessing a single pair of skinny jeans. Why? One, BECAUSE I’M NOT SKINNY. (Neither, by the way, are many of you.) Two, because I still have khakis in my closet from the 90s that have some more miles on them.
And then there are bicyclists. Minneapolis is thick with them these days, and I’m all for them. I support more bike lanes, bike racks, and people out of cars, if that’s what works well for them. But just because I prefer not to arrive at meetings drenched in sweat and expect bicyclists to obey traffic laws doesn’t make me a Neanderthal bike hater who doesn’t understand the profound awesomeness of Amsterdam.
The fact that many Minneapolitan hipsters equate rejection of a trend with inferiority is what makes them snobby. Trends are fine. Enforcement of trends is snobby.
It’s a little more difficult for me to understand when snobbery happens in a city of folks who are largely transplants from small towns, suburbs and rural areas. Even most of the free spirits in Uptown and downtown lofts did not grow up in Soho or Greenwich Village. They are only a few short years removed from enjoying Folgers, Mogen David, Buckhorn and IHOP. If those folks find that Peets, Pétrus, Surly, and Café Lurcat brings them more joy, enjoy already. But really, there is no need to evangelize and snigger. We hayseeds are perfectly comfortable, in all our glorious frumpyness.
For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness. For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor. Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up! But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.
Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb. (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.) This is the assignment Draftfcb was given: Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.
But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment: Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image. Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.
People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:
“Blah, blah, blog. I hate blogs. Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification. Seldom right, but never in doubt.”
Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.” (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)
But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent. Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.
Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings. Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry. That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs. For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.
The lack of fact-checking. When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets. Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived. Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them. All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.
The overwhelming volume of information. The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence. The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack. That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here. Drinking from Niagra Falls?
The echo chamberiszation of the planet. In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions. That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.
The rush to judgement. Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse. This makes the world move a lot faster. If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale. As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification. The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.
The lack of information gatekeepers. Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts. Very few of us were talented enough to get published. Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted. Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression. But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want. If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free. Blogs have made free speech a little more free.
The lack of money influencing publishing decisions. Almost no blogger makes money blogging. That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.” For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.
The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news. Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news. The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters. What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant. News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves. The interplay of news events matters. These are important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.
The coverage of previously ignored niches. Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche. But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close. For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.
The lack of editing and style guides. Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose. They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens, and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) . But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations. It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled. Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.
The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.
I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world. After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots. As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.
The Sunday news shows are living proof. Virtually no intelligent life can be found there. It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent. It’s because the guests have all been trained.
About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications. PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs. That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.
Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world. Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness. “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.” Blah, blah, blahtedy blah. Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.
The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable. For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized. I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.
As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi. I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted. After all, they have been trained.
If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.
Warning: Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of the kiddies, clergy or your mother:
And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.
Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.” Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen. Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.
If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School. And you know what? F*#k me for doing it.
Programming note: Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.
The questions I had on November 14, 2008 when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) came out with its final report are the same questions I have today. And four years later, I worry that a smaller group of news reporters has even less capacity to investigate such complex stories than it had then.
For old times sake on this sad anniversary, my earlier bridge collapse questions from my November 14, 2008 post follow. They weren’t comfortable to pose then, because no one likes finger-pointing. They are no more comfortable to pose now. But if we want to learn from history, the questions have to be asked…
U See U10, U Fix U10?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has concluded that the I35W bridge collapse was caused by undersized gusset plates and oversized construction load, and that corrosion did not cause the collapse. I’m as far from an engineer as you can get, but all of that makes logical sense to me.
But it strikes me that the NTSB made an error of ommission. It failed to explore why no steps were taken to address a gusset plate that was known to be badly warped, more than four years before the collapse.
Some terrific investigative reporters at the Star Tribune discovered that Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) bridge inspectors had a June 12, 2003 photo of a very warped U10 gusset plate in their inspection file. U10 is the plate that NTSB says failed.
That part of the process seemed to work well, and we should be comforted by that. Inspectors spotted and documented a major problem.
But then what? Did the inspector report the problem to superiors? Did the inspectors’ superiors discuss options for strengthening the warped plate? If strengthening or replacing was technically infeasible, did MnDOT consider closing the bridge, as they have in the face of similar problems in St. Cloud and Hastings?
Assuming the plate couldn’t be fixed, why didn’t someone at least warn against parking several tons of construction equipment — reportedly the largest load the bridge had ever borne, equal to the weight of a 747 jet — directly on top of the badly warped U10 gusset?
These are legitimate questions that the NTSB seems to have bypassed.
Think of it this way. Imagine if a doctor spotted a tumor, stuck a PET scan of it in the file, labeled the tumor an unfortunate biological design flaw, and took no further action to prevent further damage from the flaw. The doctor would be 100% correct; the tumor is a design flaw, and not her fault. But the doctor would still need to explore all options for removing, killing or slowing the tumor.
And so it goes with MnDOT. The NTSB seems to have done excellent work examining the strictly technical issues behind the collapse. But for whatever reason, it stopped short of delving into the human and process issues.
I have no interest in villifying MnDOT. They do amazing work that keeps us safe, and keeps our society and economy humming along. I just want to see a great agency get better. There was a gap between inspectors seeing the flawed U10 gusset plate and MnDOT doing anything about it. To prevent future catastrophes, NTSB needs to help us understand the reasons for that gap.
Since the Twins aren’t much to watch on the field these days, the sideshows start to take on more significance. Target Field itself remains a draw. Witness the fact that we still feel compelled to post Facebook photos of ourselves making the scene at games. But beyond the overall venue are the sideshows, both the good and the bad:
Mascot Race. For some reason, almost all pro sports teams feel compelled to feature some sort of cartoon figure race. Whatever charm they once initially had is long gone. While Target Field’s mascot race is slightly better than Metrodome’s cartoon tire races, it is still very, very lame. And does anyone else think it’s just a little crooked that Target’s corporate mascot has won more races at Target Field than Babe the Oxe, Squita, and the others? The corporate fix is obviously in. Are you seriously telling me a mosquito can’t move faster than a bull terrier?
Every Day is Veteran’s Day. Before I get hammered for this, please know that I’m extremely thankful for people who serve in the military, especially when they serve in places and ways the politicians should never have authorized. Overall, we don’t thank them enough. Still, the cynic in me wonders if the fact that pro sports corporations honor veterans every single game has something to do with “patriotic by association” brand building. I hope I’m wrong, but that suspicion eats at me. I’ve worked in PR and marketing long enough to know that such crassness is a distinct possibility. Yes, honor veterans on Memorial Day, July 4th and other special days. But when the honoring is done every single game, several times per game, it starts to feel forced, cheapened and self-serving. I’m sure I’m the minority on this issue. But there, I said it.
Interlude Music. I’m very, very old, but even I find myself longing to hear music at the game from the current decade. Not only am I sick to death of 70s and 80s classic rock staleness, but the songs themselves just don’t fit the Minnesota venue. “Just a city boy, growing up in South Detroit…” Hello, can you say “hated division rival?”
The Wave. From a very young age, my kids learned that if they participate in The Wave, it will make them ineligible for 7th inning ice cream, and they will be suspended from attendance to the next game. Sometimes parenting requires tough love. The Wave is never acceptable at a baseball game, but the worst is when it is done when the home team is getting hammered. Serious fans do not participate in expressions of “Yay, we’re so euphoric about being 10 runs down that we’re going absolutely bananas here at Target Field!”
Applause Signs. The electronic scoreboard prompts to “ make some noise” also brings out my grumpy. Call me old school, but I feel like fans themselves should decide when they feel like cheering. And if fans aren’t feeling it – perhaps because the home team is hitting .150 with runners in scoring position – electronic begging comes across as just plain pathetic.
Kiss Cam. Though I’m strongly opposed to public displays of affection, I confess I’m a complete sap for the Kiss Cam. From the “awww”-inducing octageneraian pecks to the twenty something’s scandalous tonsil ticklers, that old Kiss Cam always makes me smile, in spite of myself.
Hecklers. Thousandaires lighting into gazillionaires with a string of creative insults — “I’ve seen snakes with better arms!” — also brings a smile to my sourpuss face. I don’t heckle, because my momma brought me up right. Plus, I genuinely feel like the guys are usually doing their best. But the fact that the powerless can feel free to let loose on the powerful, without fear that they will be punished for it… Aint that America?
Kid Preference. When ball players flip a ball into the stands, it’s almost always to a young kid. When an adult fan kills himself to haul in a foul ball, they often give it away it to a kid, often a kid they never met before. This is us at our best. Would that our collective fiscal decisions were borne of such magnanimity.
Candid Sales Pitches. I always bought from the beer vendor who called out “Beer here, fifty-one dollars per six pack,” until he mysteriously disappeared. I also love “Free Root Beer! $4.75 delivery.” Thankfully, that guy is still on the job. I appreciate candor in the face of thievery. If only the banksters were that transparent and self-effacing.
Take Me Out To the Ball Game. I never tire of it. I always sing it, badly. That quote “a bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day at the office” must have been conceived during the sentimental singing of baseball’s national anthem. “I don’t care if I never get back” indeed. Bring us home, Buck:
Hospitals generate reams of patient safety-related data. But that alone doesn’t make them accountable.
There is power in that data– the power to arm patients and purchasers with the information they need to demand better. But in the unorganized, unsummarized aggregate, the data are not so powerful. Not to patients anyway. Obviously, individual patients don’t have the time, inclination or expertise to decipher, organize, summarize and promote the hospital data on their own. Therefore, the hospitals’ data are effectively invisible to them.
The hospital data only realizes its potential power in the marketplace when boiled down into something that can be understood by patients at-a-glance, because a glance is all that most of us are willing to give the subject. Only when boiled down will the hospital data be accessible enough to drive purchasing decisions.
And that is what a national patient safety group called Leapfrog did this week when it summarized hospitals’ patient safety data into school-like grades. Casting judgements about hospitals is perilous business, because hospitals are fiercely defensive institutions that understandably prefer to promote their miracles over their mistakes. Though Minnesota hospital leaders were very courageous a few years back to begin publicly disclosing their medical errors, hospital advocates in Minnesota pooh-poohed Report Card Day:
“It’s really a repackaging of what’s publicly available,” (Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) data expert Mark) Sonneborn said.
I really should have tried that one when I was a lad. “Chill mom, that “D” in Social Studies is actually just a repackaging of information that has been available to you all semester.”
Yes, the data behind the grades is available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So, if I understood which measures were most meaningful, and I don’t, it would have been technically possible for me to construct the spreadsheet that the Leapfroggers did, and make some kind of a comparison on my own.
But the practical reality is that I never did, and never would. Life is just too busy to summarize all the data impacting my life. And even if I was geeky enough to do my own little patient safety data research project, the effort would only benefit me, and not the rest of the country.
MHA is correct that Leapfrog’s methodology is just “repackaging.” But the grades will drive quality improvements much faster than the status quo way of managing the data. Because whether a hospital got an “A” or a “F” grade, the minute hospital leaders know that easily understood grades are going to be regularly appearing in the hometown news media and competitors’ marketing materials is the moment they start investing more effort, thought and resources into patient safety improvements. With the advent of publicized grades, they now know that consumers and purchasers will use their new found knowledge to vote with their feet, and their pocketbooks.
Markets work if consumers are informed, and the beauty of the grades is that they are simple enough to do that. Lifesaving work is most often done by the miracle workers in hospitals wielding scalpels, microscopes, medications, lasers, gauze, latex, disinfectants and needles. To be sure, these folks are heros. But lifesaving work can also be done, indirectly, by data jockeys wielding spreadsheets and press releases. Leapfrog, I give you an “A.”
Minnesota–based Target Corporation is outraging the conservative Family Research Council and American Family Association by giving consumers the option of expressing “love,” “pride” and “harmony” on their clothing. Thems fightin’ words for social conservatives, at least if the love, pride or harmony has to do with gay people.
In association with National Pride Month, t-shirts carrying those messages are now being offered by Target. In addition, up to $120,000 from sales of t-shirts apparently will go to the Family Equality Council, which supports same-sex families in a variety of ways, including in the political arena. The Family Equality Council website says “Because of us…the law more often recognizes all the moms and dads who have made the commitment to be parents.”
Context: In 2008, Target Corporation CEO Gregg Steinhafel stepped in prodigious political poo when he gave $150,000 in corporate money to support Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is anti-gay rights. For several months, protests, boycotts, stockholder questioning, flash dances, Lady Gaga scoldings, and lame corporate apologies tarnished Target’s valuable brand. It wasn’t pretty.
I support gay marriage, and criticized Target for using corporate money to support Emmer. I even engaged in a quixotic little boycott myself. So you might think I am pleased with Target.
And I am. Target is finally on the morally defensible side of the issue.
But from a strict brand management standpoint, I don’t understand why Target is a) selling merchandise related to any politically contested issue and b) tying sales proceeds to any group engaged in political advocacy. I don’t care what the issue is, or whether the issue position is pleasing or displeasing to me. It’s just plain dumb idea for Target brand managers to put their enormously valuable brand in the middle of damaging political crossfire.
The lesson Target took away from 2008 seems to be “we need to show that Target is a gay-friendly brand.” Wrong lesson. The lesson they should have taken away from the 2008 debacle is “we need to keep our valuable brand out of all divisive political issues.”
Compared to other Americans, are Minnesotans more intellectual in their media choices? More conservative? Liberal? Business minded? Worldly?
Or are they sophmoric wise asses?
It appears the latter. A recent Forbes analysis says that stereotypically stoic, humorless Minnesotans are disproportionately likely to be readers and sharers of, drumroll please:
Yes, The Onion, the self-styled “America’s Finest News Source.” For those of you who aren’t real Minnesotans who are familiar with The Onion, it is a satirical news publication that currently features such fine journalism as:
While I’m going to keep up with my normal “rumination and fulmination about communications” at the Same Rowdy Crowd, I thought I’d mention that I’m going to be posting some of my political views to a personal blog – Wry Wing Politics. If you’re interested, stop by. If not, I’ll continue to see you here.
I support teacher’s unions, but they are wrong to oppose reforming “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher termination practices. Even great organizations sometimes are off-base, and Education Minnesota is wrong on this issue. The logic for changing this system is overwhelming, presented nicely here by an education reform organization called Students First.
The politics of the issue are as compelling as the logic. A statewide poll commissioned by Students First found that almost two-thirds (64%) of Minnesotants believe a measure of teacher performance should be the most important factor in deciding who to keep, while only 15% of voters say seniority should be the most important factor, as it currently is.
Looking at those numbers, it is clear that Education Minnesota is compelling DFL legislators to jump off a political cliff. Governor Dayton should save DFL legislators from themselves, and sign this bill. It’s the right thing to do, both substantively and politically.
As with most issues, I know that the devil is in the detail. I know that you have to do all you can to build a solid performance evaluation system to make the new system fair to teachers. I know that evaluating teachers is particularly tricky. But no performance evaluation system will ever be flawless, so waiting for a flawless system to be developed makes perfect the enemy of the good. Almost all large employers have performance evaluation systems in place, and there is no reason why school administrators can’t do the same, and continue to refine the system over time.
I’m glad Governor Dayton isn’t caving to Republicans on corporate property tax cuts, paid for by short-term accounting gimmicks. I’m glad Dayton is fighting Republicans to get a better bonding bill to repair the infrastructure, and put unemployed and underemployed Minnesotans to work. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Republicans are right on this issue.
A brilliant and widely circulated Chicago Tribune obituary claims that Facts has died. If you haven’t read the whole thing, here is a flavor:
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.
But those halcyon days would not last. People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts.
… Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.
Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.
I’m a starry eyed optimist, so I choose to think Facts is still on life support hoping for a miracle recovery. But if the President and his team can’t successfully breathe life back into five key Facts that are currently on life support, it’s difficult to see how he can win in November.
Fact #1: Obama opted for a private health insurance reform model developed by Mitt Romney and other conservatives, rather than an insurance plan run by government.
• Fact on Life Support: Only 25% of people who took the Kaiser health reform quiz understood that Obama’s health reforms will not “create a new government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans.”
• Implications of Death: GOP parrot trainer Frank Luntz has commanded his cockatiels to repeat the phrase “government takeover of health care” for a very sound political reason, because market research shows that is a compelling reason for moderate swing voters to oppose health care reform. The more swing voters believe that falsehood, the less they like Obamacare and Obama.
Fact #2: Bush policies and the economic downturn under Bush were the most powerful causes of the ballooning national debt, and Romney wants to extend those Bush policies.
• Fact on Life Support: Out of twelve issues, there is only one issue where voters say Romney would do a better job than Obama – handling the deficit. Voters currently believe Bush disciple Romney is the best person to tackle the debt that Bush policies largely created.
• Implications of Death: The size of the debt is especially concerning to moderate swing voters, so getting blamed for causing that problem badly hurts the President’s prospects of wooing that key constituency.
Fact #3: Obama’s stimulus package of tax cuts and investments helped ease the pain and damage done by the Great Recession.
• Fact on Life Support: Over half of independents (56%) believe the stimulus didn’t make any difference.
• Implications of Death: The central issue of the campaign is the economy, stupid. If swing voters don’t believe Obama was effective on the issue that concerns them the most, look out.
Fact #4: In terms of private sector job creation, things have gotten significantly better during Obama’s time in office than they were under Bush and the the Bush policies Romney proposes to resurrect.
• Fact on Life Support: Three-fourths (75%) of independents believe that the economy has gotten worse or stayed the same, and 77% of independents believe the economy is still in recession.
• Implications of Death: Even if most voters blame Bush for the economic meltdown, as most still do, according to polls, it’s difficult to see how swing voters who believe that things are still headed in the wrong direction will vote to rehire the incumbent President.
Fact #5: In the Obama years, taxes for the middle class were near historic lows.
• Fact on Life Support: Eighty-five percent of independent voters incorrectly believe taxes on the middle class either increased or have not changed.
• Implications of Death: Independent swing voters vote their pocketbooks, and oppose paying more in taxes. If they perceive that they were paying high taxes in the middle of a recession, the Democrat in charge will get the lion’s share of the blame, because Democrats are usually presumed to be advocating for higher taxes.
But in a year when the economy is the top issue, and with the health reform bill about to get hot again after the Supreme Court rules, these are the five dying Facts that are hurting Obama the most with swing voters. Team Obama needs to resuscitate good old Fact, or Obama’s political career will perish with him.
Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson (R- Alexandria) – she who compares providing Food Stamps to low income children with feeding wild animals – is once again speaking out. But this time, I agree with her, kinda sorta.
Franson and I both find prayers in the House chamber to be offensive. The agreement ends there.
Franson has long felt that Earth Day is a Pagan holiday, which offends her Christian faith. Therefore, she was not thrilled to hear Minnesota House Chaplain Grady St. Dennis mentioning Earth Day and the BP oil spill in the prayer that recently opened House proceedings. As the Star Tribune reported, Representative Franson Tweeteth that St. Dennis’s prayer:
“may as well been dedicated to “Mother Earth”, coincidence? I think not. 2nd offensive prayer in a month.”
The prayer Franson finds offensive, I find inspired. And I can guarantee we’re never going to convince each other.
Such disagreement is the rule, not the exception. Minnesotans don’t agree on who God is, what He wants us to do, and what He thinks about the issues. It’s not just that Christians, non-Christians, doubters and non-believers don’t agree. Christians and Christians don’t agree. People sitting in the same aisle of the same church don’t even agree.
And resolving this disagreement about God is not what the Minnesota House does. It’s not their job.
So why have an official daily House prayer? Why bring any kind of religion into the chamber — Mary Franson’s brand of Christianity, John Marty’s brand of Christianity, Keith Ellison’s Islam, Frank Hornstein’s Judaism, Pete Stark’s Atheism or anyone else’s spiritual viewpoint?
Just leave it out. Let people say a silent prayer to themselves, if they so choose. But keep all officially sponsored, publicly expressed religious pronouncements out of the legislative chambers.
I presume that official government-sponsored and -organized prayer in the legislative chambers must have been determined to be legally permissible. But that doesn’t make it advisable. Heaven knows, the Legislature has enough difficult issues to resolve without adding unresolvable theological questions to their “to do” list.
This is the only way I can guarantee that Mary Franson and I won’t be offended again by what we hear in the daily House of Representatives prayer. If she and her colleagues aren’t willing to separate the work of religious institutions from the work of our democracy, I guarantee both of us will be offended on a regular basis.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how badly the mainstream media and punditry class had miscalculated the public reaction to the Obamacare contraceptives policy. You’ll recall that the national news media originally declared that President Obama was getting slaughtered due to the “controversy” and “firestorm” he had caused by proposing to provide contraception to women.
Then polls showed that the issue had actually helped expand a gender gap in favor of Obama.
A few days ago, a similar cycle started again, although this one didn’t even have anything to do with Obama or an Obama policy. It all started with lefty pundit Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life, forgetting three important words “outside the home.”
Reporters and pundits immediately became aroused. Forget that Rosen isn’t Obama. Forget that Rosen doesn’t speak for Obama, or work for him. Forget that most people know what Rosen presumably meant – that millionaire stay-at-home moms don’t have much in common with non-millionaire working moms — and that is an absolutely fair and relevant point. Once again, the national news media and pundits declared that Obama had a huge political problem on his hands that was crippling him with lovers of motherhood everywhere.
U.S. News blared the headline “Damage Already Done By Rosen’s Ann Romney Comment,” relying on conservative pundit Frank Luntz, who assured us:
“What she said is an insult to millions of American women,” Luntz told me, adding that even though Rosen apologized, the damage had already been done because many stay-at-home moms were offended.
CBS News went with the headline “Hilary Rosen flap a ‘win in every regard’ for GOP, says Nicole Wallace.” It quotes the giddy conservative pundit explaining:
“Ann Romney was able to connect in an instant to every woman in the country, with every woman in the country” by defending her decision to raise five boys.”
Talking Points Memo (TPM) even broke out The Suffix of Political Death, “-gate.” I kid you not, they went with “Rosengate” in their headline.
Holy Cuban plumbers, a “-gate!?” Because a supportive pundit mangled her soundbite?
Despite all that hyperventilating about Rosen’s comments and the dire consequences they supposedly had for Obama, today we’re starting to see some polling on the issue. From the Examiner:
A new Reuters poll out Tuesday shows Obama with a comfortable 14-point lead on Mitt Romney among women likely to vote in November’s general election, 51-to-37 percent. That split is more or less the same as a similar poll taken back in March that showed Obama with a 54-38 advantage.
A CNN poll out Monday offered similar numbers. The survey gave the president a 52-to-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney among registered voters, and also gave Obama a 16-point lead over Romney among women, 55-to-39 percent, almost as good as last month’s 18 points.
Another interesting development in the survey: “Despite Republicans’ efforts to portray themselves as the party of the family, Obama even had a big edge on family values among women, with 51 percent picking him as better on that issue compared with 36 percent for Romney.”
In fact, the poll found women rating Obama stronger on all issues, including the economy, jobs, health care and foreign policy.
So, after all of that talking head drama, apparently what we actually have is Nobodygivesashitgate.
It’s that time of the year again. The April tax deadline, when Americans come together as one to feel sorry for ourselves about the outrageous tax burden heaped upon us. Ooooh, the agony!
Fueled by corporate-funded anti-tax groups and a malleable news media, the news is once again awash with stories about Americans suffering under heavy and rapidly increasing taxes.
Paying taxes is no one’s joy, but the collective wailing and gnashing is embarassingly out of proportion to reality. I hate to break up the pity party, but our taxes are much lower than Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Japan, France and Ireland. Our taxes are significantly lower than the average for industrialized nations.
Sorry Tea Partiers, Wall Streeters, One Percenters, talk radio callers, and news anchor wise crackers, but relative to the rest of the developed world, you aren’t oppressed. The fact is, almost all of the planet’s citizens who are enjoying a comparable quality-of-life bear more of a tax burden than Americans do.
Take a look at reality, nicely aggregated by the Center for American Progress:
• Our tax revenue is at its lowest level since 1950.
• Today’s top tax rates are historically low.
• Taxes on investments are historically low.
• The tax on large estates has virtually disappeared.
• The wealthy and super wealthy’s tax rates have plunged.
• U.S. corporations are taxed at lower levels than their foreign rivals.
As I’ve written before, the April tax deadline is our day to pay-it-forward in patriotic thanks to past American taxpayers who kindly paid to lift our ancestors into the middle class, and paid for our education, roads, national security, Internet, police, fire, parents’ health coverage and retirement income and many other things.
But if you can’t find it in your heart to be grateful for all that past generations of Americans have done for you, your country and your loved ones, be at least be a tiny bit realistic about what is being asked of you.
President Kennedy challenged us to “ask what you can do for your country.” Right now, Americans are being asked to do damn little. So could we hold the whining down just a little?
The other day, I highlighted research showing that face-to-face brainstorming meetings are not as effective at generating ideas as quiet contemplation. It’s important to note one partial exception to that rule: online brainstorming.
The research is very supportive of online brainstorming. With face-to-face brainstorming, the larger the group, the worse the performance, both in terms of quantity and quality. With online brainstorming, however, the bigger the group, the better the performance, according to the research.
Why? I’d say it is because online brainstorming fosters what introverts particularly need to excel, time for quiet contemplation and self-vetting. Online brainstorming – a prolonged email-based discussion, for instance – removes many of the problems associated with the ubiquitous face-to-face brainstorming sessions so many organizations adore.
First, online brainstorms remove many of the distractions inherent in face-to-face brainstorm sessions. In face-to-face brainstorming sessions, our minds are racing from irrelevant subject to irrelevant subject: “The facilitator is not as funny as he thinks he is…do people think I’m talking too little, or too much…why Snickers…bad hair day, dude…why does she always work the word “synergy” into every monologue…if I had pointy shoes like that guy, would people conclude that I’m creative…wouldn’t white boards be more environmentally sustainable than giant Post-it notes…is the facilitator on happy pills?”
When you’re back at your keyboard, those environmental distractions are removed, so you can focus on the task at hand. Sure, distractions still exist in your office, but nothing like the wild sideshows happening in Cirque du Brainstormsession.
Second, the problem of “evaluation apprehension” – the fear of looking moronic in front of colleaugues — is mitigated online. After all, with online brainstorms, you have ample time to self-scrutinize and research your argument before expressing it, which builds confidence in the value of the contribution. When allowed sufficient time to develop the idea, you are much more likely to share it, and it is likely to be a better developed idea. Not so with the spontaneous blurting required in face-to-face brainstorming.
Third, the problem of “production blocking” – where thoughts are lost as you’re waiting for others to express their ideas — is nearly eliminated during online brainstorms. With online brainstorms, thoughts can be written down, and fully developed, as you have them.
In short, online brainstorms allow for uninterrupted contemplation, while still taking advantages of the “wisdom of crowds” phenomena.
In the book Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki sings the praises of the decisions crowds jointly make. But Surowiecki also stresses that crowds are capable of making very bad decisions. He says that a primary factor that leads to poor crowd decision making is when members of the crowd are so conscious of the opinions of others that they start to emulate each other and conform, rather than thinking as individuals.
Face-to-face meetings are much more apt to generate this kind of blind following of vocal group leaders than large groups of people sitting at their keyboards thinking independently.
Granted, online brainstorms are far from perfect. For instance, the problem of social loafing – sitting back and letting others do the work – arguably could be aggravated with large online groups. And tragically, there is no junk food supplied at e-brainstorms. But online brainstorms do avoid many of the problems associated with face-to-face brainstorms, and research indicates that they produce better results.
Those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing business are probably very familiar with the brainstorm model of idea generation, but I know it is also used in many other industries.
For those of you who have been left out of the brain rain, here is a crash course: During brainstorms, a group of colleagues closes themselves into a room and spontaneously blurts out ideas on the given topic. The ideas are excitedly written on giant Post-it notes adhered to the walls by a perky brain storm facilitator.
“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” the facilitator, pacing around the room frenetically, continually reminds us, usually after someone offers a particularly bad idea. “The wilder the idea, the better!”
The group is urged to generate a large quantity of ideas, and rapidly build off ideas with supplements or variations. Toys and treats are often offered, to foster creativity. A few people usually sit quietly looking at their watches, and looking idealess, while a relative few dominate the airwaves. The session ends with the chirpy facilitator congratulating the participants, pointing to all of the giant Post-it Notes on the walls as evidence of the world changing ideas that the brainstorm precipitated.
Brainstorming, which was particularly promoted by legendary BBDO ad man Alex Osborn, is the operational and cultural building block of many creatively oriented businesses. The brainstorm session is to PR and agencies as the assembly line is to a manufacturer. It’s the place where the company’s talent synergistically comes together to create MAGIC.
Or does it?
In the book “Quiet: The Power of Intoverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain examines the heavy workplace emphasis on consensus and teamwork generally, and the brainstorming work model specifically. Cain cites research done by University of Minnesota psychology professor Marvin Dunnette in 1963. Dunnette asked ad executives and 3M executives to do a set of tasks. Some worked alone, and some in groups. Cain writes:
The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists.
Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusions. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…
‘The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. ‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’
…Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only person can talk or produce an idea at once while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehehsion: meaning the fear of looking studid in front of one’s peers.”
So, why is brainstorming still such a big part of business operations?
Because we’re all afraid to protest, for fear we will look like killjoys who can’t appreciate all the giddy merriment and free Snickers bars?
Because all of those Post-it notes on the wall feel more like tangible evidence of productivity than the evidence offered by peer reviewed scientific research?
Because the extraverted leaders that tend to lead organizations personally are attracted to the energy such sessions gives them?
Quick, someone get some giant Post-it Notes, colored markers, beanbag chairs and Cheetos. We’ll get to the bottom of this in no time!
In the blockbuster dystopian movie and novel The Hunger Games, when contestants are near death, wealthty sponsors are allowed to intervene by sending a silver parachute containing the life-giving substance they need to survive long enough to kill others. These powerful sponsors watch the bloody show stealthily from the sidelines until they are moved to use their wealth and power to save or waste lives. They play God.
In politics, we now have a remarkably similar system. The contemporary silver parachutes contain hundreds of millions of dollars in messaging for candidates near death. The sponsors are stealthy puppeteers possessing the power of political life and death. We call them Super PACs and 527 groups.
In Minnesota, gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer had a 527 group funded by Target, Best Buy and other corporations spending millions to fund his anti-gay crusade.
Nationally, Newt Gingrich has been near death countless times during the Republican primaries. But timely life-giving silver parachutes keep arriving from a billionaire Super PAC pupetteer, allowing Newt to continue to bloody his opponents.
Now, Mitt Romney, staggering from wounds inflicted largely by fellow conservatives and himself, has a D-Dayesque number of Super PAC silver parachutes lofting into his lap. This morning’s news advises that as much as $200 million in Super PAC money will be arriving to heal what ails him. The size of that number had me choking on my Cheerios. The money, a consultant cooly explains, will be used to “dislodge voters” from Barrack Obama.
President Obama will also have his own silver parachutes arriving to do his own “dislodging.”
A handful of powerful sponsors playing God in a game where lives are saved and lost. There are many problems here. The lack of limits. The lack of disclosure. The granting of individual rights to corporations.
Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The silver parachutes possessed by a relatively small club of powerful sponsors are drowning out the voices of those who are supposed to have an equal voice in a democracy. Are the silver parachutes corrupting? Absolutely.
I’ve always thought WCCO-TV meteorologist Paul Douglas looked like Pee Wee Herman, comedian Paul Reubens’ brilliant character who famously responded to insults by using every elementary student’s favorite plaground rebuttal: “I know you are, but what am I??” Works every time.
In contrast to KSTP-TV weather man Dave Dahl, Douglas has long been a believer in climate change. But he really provoked the anti-science crowd in this tour de force. It’s a long piece, but worth the read. Here are a few excerpts:
I’m going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real.
I’m in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up. It’s ironic. The root of the word conservative is “conserve”. A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly “global warming alarmists” are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.
My father, a devout Republican, who escaped a communist regime in East Germany, always taught me to never take my freedom for granted, and “actions have consequences”. Carbon that took billions of years to form has been released in a geological blink of an eye. Human emissions have grown significantly over the past 200 years, and now exceed 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide, annually. To pretend this isn’t having any effect on the 12-mile thin atmosphere overhead is to throw all logic and common sense out the window. It is to believe in scientific superstitions and political fairy tales, about a world where actions have no consequences — where colorless, odorless gases, the effluence of success and growth, can be waved away with a nod and a smirk. No harm, no foul. Keep drilling.
Thems fightin’ words. Hang on, Paul, a violent storm front is rolling into your neighborhood.
Republican politicians love to cite private sector experiences as their guiding compass in legislative matters. They puff out their pin-striped draped chests and declare (feel free to use a Foghorn Leghorn voice if you’d like):
“In the private sector, we do audits and cut the fat we identify.”
“In the private sector, we know how to create jobs by golly.”
“In the private sector, we demand accountability from our investments.”
These kinds of private sector references got a lot of traction with voters in the 2010 elections. To voters, the private sector expertise seemed key to producing the “jobs, jobs, jobs” that Republican candidates were promising, promising, promsing.
For now, let’s put aside the question of whether the private sector really is more lean, efficient, and accountable than the public sector. For today, I pose a different question. Can you ever imagine private sector fans making this boast:
“In the private sector, we set a goal of punching out super early with major projects unfinished, so we have more time to be at home.”
That’s not one I hear a lot. Yet according to an article in yesterday’s Star Tribune, those in the Minnesota Legislature who are most likely to start sentences with “In the private sector” are…
…edging toward a historically early end to the legislative session, potentially ditching dozens of prized initiatives in their determination to head home and hit the campaign trail.
“The tulips are up, the bushes are budding and it’s time to go home,” said Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, amid buzz that next Friday’s targeted start for spring recess could instead become a final adjournment.
Senjem has been cajoling lawmakers into adjourning by the end of the week, more than a month before the constitutionally mandated end.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, would prefer to go till the end of April. That would still be the earliest adjournment in 14 years.
Really? When the going gets tough, the tough gets…gardening?
I ask you, do you hear old Bill Cooper, the CEO at TCF Bank, declaring to his Carlson School cronies, “The tulips are up, boys, so let’s punch out early and head to our respective mansions?” Hell no, Bill the Bankster makes sure they all stay until every last bank fee is raised. That’s the way they do it “in the private sector!”
But among the private sector’s champions at the Capitol, it seems their goals are mighty modest.
“As far as I am concerned, if we can block a whole bunch of spending in a bonding bill and get the photo ID bill done, that’s enough,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who faces his first re-election.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see them stay in session into the summer, like last year. As Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”
But I have to say, with all the issues Minnesota faces — schools that need to be paid back, chronically unemployed workers who need jobs, structural deficits that need fixing — the earliest adjourment in 14 years seems pretty lame to many of us “in the private sector.”
Earlier this week, the Republican majority in the Legislature refused to approve most bonding requests from Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the two cities that are Minnesota’s most reliable Democratic political strongholds. Longtime observers of the Legislature characterized this year’s bonding bill as the most partisan in Minnesota history. But Republican leaders maintain that further pressure is needed to break the core cities’ will.
“Killing their dream of a sub-minor league baseball field was a start, but more government reform is needed,” said Senate Capital Investment Chairman Ronnie Wright (R-Bunker Hills). “So we’re going to blockade the metrosexual candy asses.”
In anticipation of the blockade, Republican legislators were reported to be hording legislators’ favorite urban delicacies before they become unavailable during a blockade, such as Fabulous Fern’s ‘Fern Burgers,’ mini soap bars from the Kelly Inn Best Western, and tassles from Augie’s Cabaret.
“Hey Jack Kennedy smuggled 1,000 cigars out of Cuba, so you can’t expect us go cold turkey,” said Rep. Richard Dick (R-Sticks). “And I’m just telling you, they don’t call it the ‘Best Western’ for nothin.”
The blockade leaders rejected charges that they had lost their promised focus on producing “jobs, jobs, jobs” during a sluggish economic recovery.
“Those in the liberal media who charge that this is just about a raw political power grab are dead wrong,” said Rep. Wy Kayer (R- Stillwhiter). “It’s simply about raining the Creator’s righteous wrath down upon those in Sodom and Gomorrah who insist on voting for unconstitutional sinning, that’s all.”
But legislators acknowledge that even a full commercial, economic and financial embargo may not be sufficient to keep their Tea Party supporters sufficiently aroused.
“If the blockade doesn’t work, we are not ruling out a full Bay of Pig’s Eye invasion,” said Kayer.
Republican spin doctors are emboldened by public opinion polls that consistently find that a majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare. For instance, this morning’s Star Tribune carried a New York Times News Service story that was typical of the superficial poll coverage you usually see in the news. The headline read:
“47 percent disapprove of health care law, poll finds”
That headline is perfectly accurate, and Republicans think those findings are, as the Vice President would say, a “BFD.” They conclude that Americans oppose Obamacare because it is an overly radical “government takeover of health care.”
But it would behoove GOP spin doctors to probe more deeply into recent public opinion research. Because a more thorough reading of polls shows Republicans are on shaky ground with their promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with some kind of a scaled back alternative.
For example, a March 2012 Pew Research poll found 45% disapprove of Obamacare. Romney wins, right?
Not so fast. The same Pew poll also probed why people disapprove, and it turns out that 53% of Americans either want to do as Democratic candidates suggest, “leave it as is” (20%) or “EXPAND IT” (33%), while only 38% want to do what the GOP field wants, to “repeal it.”
That doesn’t exactly look like Americans rising up against “government takeover of health care,” as GOP candidates continually portray it. According to that poll, most Americans want Obamacare as is, or supersized.
Likewise, a March 2012 Bloomberg poll finds that 57% either agree that the Affordable Care Act “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works” (46%) or “it should be left alone” (11%), while only 37% who think “it should be repealed.”
And then there is a March 2012 Kaiser poll. It finds that 41% of Americans support the Republican solutions of either “repeal and not replace” (23%) or “repeal and replace with a GOP alternative” (18%), while a larger group of 47% supports the Democratic solutions of either “keep law as is” (19%) or “expand the law” (28%).
Finally, Republicans who conclude that those top line Obamacare disapproval numbers indicate that Americans prefer to have Republicans fixing health care in the post-Supreme Court ruling world may want to read further into that Pew poll. Pew found a large plurality of Americans saying that Democrats would “do a better job dealing with health care,” with 49% preferring Democrats and just 35% preferring Republicans.
In other words, be careful what you wish for, Tea Partiers. If the Supreme Court blows up Obamacare, voters may very well prefer to elect Democrats to come up with Plan B.
Reading the top line Obamacare disapproval numbers without digging more deeply into voter research is spin doctor quackery. It’s like a physician concluding that a patient with a headache has a brain tumor, without first digging into detailed diagnostic scans and lab results.
Compared to the GOP-backed Marriage Ban Amendment, Voter Red Tape Amendment and Right-to-Leech Amendment, you hear much less in the news about the proposed the state constitutional amendment to restrict legislators’ future budget choices. This amendment would require a 60% legislative “super majority” approval for tax increases, limit general fund spending to 98% of forecasted income, and ban the use of budget surpluses for “non-emergency” purposes.
Compared to the Vikings stadium and the other hot button amendments, this issue is relatively wonky and boring. It doesn’t rally interest groups the way the other amendments do.
But it’s very impactful, so it deserves more news attention and scrutiny than it is getting. The problem with this issue flying below-the-radar is that it can sound reasonable at first blush, until you understand the intent and implications of the change. Minnesota needs to make this major decision with its eyes wide open.
For over 150 years, Minnesota’s representative democracy has constructed a very successful society using majority rule to govern fiscal policy. With majority rule, we built a prosperous economy, a great public school system, a solid infrastructure and a society that regularly places at or near the top of state quality-of-life rankings.
In other words, majority rule has ruled well.
But under the latest in a long series of conservative constitutional concoctions, we would scrap the historically successful majority rule approach, and make it much more difficult for future Minnesota Legislatures to reach fiscal compromises. The Supegridlock Amendment would make it “super” likely that future fiscal crises are addressed with a “cuts only” approach, since cuts only need the support of 50% of the Legislature, while tax increases would need a “super majority” of 60% of the Legislature. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to get 60% of the Legislature to agree on something as non-controversial as designating a State Insect, much less a tax reform package.
This makes no sense. Dumping constitutional gravel into the already rusted and crumbling gears of Minnesota’s legislative machinery will make future gridlock and government shutdowns much more likely.
“Cuts only” and “shutdowns” are not unintended consequences of this approach. They are precisely what Republicans are hoping to achieve. The aim of the amendment is to create gridlock on all things related to taxation, and consequently force even deeper cuts hurting seniors, kids, veterans, commuters, sick people, crime victims, poor people, tne environment, small businesses, students, and middle class families.
Every legislative body has to do a taxation v. spending balancing act, and Republicans are attempting to put an iron thumb on the “cuts only” side of the scale, to make balance almost impossible.
And remember, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t want the “cuts only” approach Republicans keep trying to force feed them. By almost a 3-to-1 margin, a July 2011 MinnPost poll found that Minnesotans preferred a balanced approach to budgeting. That poll found that 66% prefer the balanced approach with tax increases in the mix, while only 23% prefer a cuts only approach.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that the remedy for our hopelessly dysfunctional 2011-12 Minnesota Legislature is even an more gridlock-inducing set of rules. But that is precisely what the authors of this amendment are pushing. Legislative reporters understand this better than just about anyone. They cover the process every day, and they just lived through Minnesota’s state government shutdown.
What do independent voters make of the odd story of Governor Mitt Romney scaring the crap out of his dog by strapping him in a crate to the top of his car at highway speeds? Clark Griswold benign? Cruel and unusual?
According to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted last week:
• By more than a 5-to-1 margin, independent/other voters thought Romney’s treatment of the family dog was “inhumane” (66% said “inhumane”, 12% said it was “humane”).
• By a 12-to-1 margin, independent/other voters said the incident makes them less likely to choose Romney (36% said “less likely”, 3% said “more likely”).
• 55% of independent/other voters had no opinion of Romney on the subject of dog treatment, indicating the story is familiar to about half of Americans at this stage of the campaign.
This issue is not as prominent as “Obamneycare” style flip-floppery. But with the swing voters who will decide the election, Crategate elicits more bite than lick.
In my high school, we had a Valentines Day ritual that non-popular kids like me dreaded. The Spanish Club came up with the brilliant idea of selling carnations for students to give to each other. Red was for “love,” white was for “hope,” and blue was for “friendship.” And, of course, nothing signified, alas, nothingness.
Needless to say the jocks and foxes looked like Rose Bowl Parade floats all day long, while I was as unadorned as a devout Amish elder. No love. No hope. No friendship. It was botanical bullying, pure and simple. There are scars. Oh yes, there are scars.
Similarly, a litigious version of Carnation Day appears to be brewing at the Minnesota State Capitol. Like the Spanish Club, former GOP spokesperson Michael Brodkorb, who was fired from his job after having an affair with Senate leader Amy Koch, is looking for a good fundraising idea. So he is launching a half million dollar lawsuit, and will be issuing subpoenas to former colleagues who, Brodkorb alleges, have had red carnation style carnal relations with each other.
Therefore, the State Capitol, whose petty, insular culture has always been a whole lot like high school culture, is all atwitter about this critical question: “Who will get a Shaboink Subpoena??”
However, given my history of floral abuse, I’m obsessed with the question “Who won’t get a subpoena?” After all, imagine the humiliation if it is revealed that, with all the political porking that apparently has been going on, you DIDN’T have what it takes to have had a ball in the Great Hall, or fun-da in the Rotunda?
The funny thing is, when you think about the Minnesota Legislature, attraction is about the last thing that comes to mind. The way they go at each other verbally, it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing the wild thing with anyone else. Plus, they’re so busy defending marriage and all.
But as with prison cells, there are apparently two basic interpersonal challenges associated with life in the tight confines of the State Capitol: The inmates either hate each other too much, or love each other too much.
At any rate, this is just a long way of saying if I were a legislator, I’m pretty sure I’d have my mom call in sick for me on Shaboink Subpoena Day.
Unlike a lot of liberals, I don’t just tolerate President Obama. I don’t just like him better than the dismal alternatives. I admire him more than any other President in my lifetime. Not because he is black, a Democrat and articulate, as I my conservative friends charge. I admire him because he had a breathtakingly difficult economic, political and foreign policy assignment that he has done better than I imagined anyone could. Not perfectly by any stretch, but, given the difficulty of the tasks, very well.
So because of my man crush, I recognize I’m not an objective observer. But trying my best to judge it as a communications professional rather than an Obama admirer, I have to say the video the Obama campaign released yesterday tells the story of the Obama first term better than any communications tactic I’ve seen from Team Obama.
Love Obama or hate him, this is extremely good story telling, or propagandizing, depending on your point-of-view. It sets a context that makes an objective swing voter feel better about only having 8.5% unemployment and one sunsetting war.
Seeing this took me down another road I’ve traveled. I vividly remember despising every second of President Reagan’s masterful Morning in America ad, because it was so effective. Twenty-eight years later, I still hate watching the propaganda film that cemented President Reagan’s reelection, and his version of history.
President Obama’s film isn’t nearly as good as Reagan’s, mostly because it is 16-minutes longer, which severely limits the audience that will see it. But if I were a conservative, I would hate watching this film as much I hated watching “Morning in America” back in the day.
Maybe this isn’t saying much, but Obama’s film is the best political storytelling I’ve seen a Democrat do in a very long time. Base, if this won’t rally you, I don’t know what will.
Well, I see Wisconsin is starting to set dates for its recall elections. The news doesn’t thrill me. In fact, if I were a Wisconsin citizen, I would have to take a barf bag to the ballot box, and vote for Governor Scott Walker and his legislative supporters to keep their jobs.
I disagree with Governor Walker on just about every issue. I think he badly overstepped last year when he led his state like it was a flaming red Mississippi, instead of a moderate purple Wisconsin.
And I think he should keep his job, until his term is up.
Don’t get me wrong. It would feel very satisfying to watch Scott Walker wheeling file boxes full of Koch Brothers’ playbooks out of Wisconsin’s beautiful Capitol Building. But taking the long view, holding recalls over policy disagreements is a very bad idea.
Look, the guy didn’t commit a felony. He didn’t even commit a misdemeanor. He disagreed with me, and lots of his fellow Wisconites. And you know what? Disagreement is allowed in democracies.
As encouraging as it has been to see a million cheese heads rise up against naked corporate cronyism, I hate the precedent here. If we start recalling politicians every time the majority has a mid-term policy disagreement with a leader, two things are likely to happen. First, our democracy will get even more unstable and chaotic than it is today. Second, our leaders will get even more cautious and incremental than they already are, for fear that policy boldness will land them in an $80 million recall election.
To my friends on the left, how would you feel about President Obama being recalled for passing the Affordable Care Act, or Governor Dayton being recalled for pushing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans? Those policies are as unpopular on the right as banning collective bargaining is on the left. But shouldn’t Obama and Dayton be able to move forward if they can assemble enough supportive votes in the duly elected legislative body? Well then, shouldn’t Governor Walker too?
Consider this: In the middle of the 2008-2009 economic meltdown, President Obama and his congressional supporters made an extremely unpopular decision to give financial assistance to automakers. At that time, 54% of Americans said this policy was “bad for the economy,” and many felt it was an alarming move toward socialism. But since Obama was allowed to serve a whole term, the policy was implemented. After seeing the policy play out, today 56% of Americans now believe it was “good for the economy.”
Fortunately, we Americans have a built-in means of expressing disapproval over policy disagreements. It’s called regular elections. It’s called making judgements based on an entire term’s body of work, rather than on snap judgements about single issues. I understand that means Badgers would have to suffer through an entire four-year term of Governor Walker and his legislative supporters. But that’s the way this representative democracy gig is supposed to work.
So enough with the constant calls for mid-term recalls, and resignations, as we have recently seen in Minnesota in the case of Representative Mary Franson. In a democracy, an honest policy disagreement in the middle of a term is cause for us to vigorously rebut, organize, and protest. But in a healthy representative democracy, an honest mid-term policy disagreement should not be a fireable offense.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin advise us that about 46% of Americans self identify as dog people, 12% as cat people, and 28% as both dog and cat people. In all, an overwhelming three-fourths of Americans are down with the dogs.
I share this market segmentation because it may explain why first Newt Gingrich and today Rick Santorum are bringing up the bizarre tale of Mitt Romney reportedly strapping his crated Irish Setter Seamus onto the top of the family vehicle for a lengthy family trip at highway speeds. Reportedly, when Seamus relieved himself mid-trip, due to fear, stress or bursting bowel, Mitt hosed the mutt, and put him back on top.
Grrr, say the dog lovers. Ruff stuff.
Most political consultants will tell you that “Who would I rather have a beer with” really is a relevant political metric. So, is this also a relevant political metric: “Who would I rather have dog sit my little snookems?”
In all seriousness, this will end up costing Governor Romney votes. At best, it makes him look like an oddball, and makes you wonder what other weird ideas lie beneath the hair gelled facade. At worst, it makes him look completely heartless. For a guy struggling mightily to connect with ordinary families, 74% of whom are dog people, this story just can’t be helpful.
Many issue wonks dismiss these kinds of human interest-type controversies as irrelevant. But in an election where the issue positions of the GOP candidates are very similar, and, at this stage, very familiar, these water cooler topics will impact voter opinions on a gut level, both now and in the General Election.
In politics, spouse abuse has long been verboten. It is very difficult for wife beaters to get elected. In this groundbreaking 2012 election, we will soon see whether dog abuse has an impact.