Fear the Chaos

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Donald Trump is an embarrassing President. He says racist, sexist things regularly. He enacts regressive policies. He insults foreign allies. He leaves key jobs vacant. His West Wing is a revolving door. I can’t think of much good to say, other than that his ineptitude has prevented him from melting down the American economy or starting a new war.

As bad as that all is though, all of those matters ultimately can and should be viewed through your personal opinion. How you feel about his Stormy Daniels affair is up to you. What should terrify everyone, beyond any partisan argument, is Donald Trump’s impulsive behavior. His erratic process for making decisions is terrifying.

Donald Trump is a man-child. He is instituting tariffs on foreign steel, over objections from his National Economic Council Chair, Congressional leadership, the Pentagon, and big business. He decided to start a trade war all of a sudden, because he was mad at his Chief-of-Staff, and apparently upset his son-in-law was under attack in the press. This is not mature policy making. This is not how any White House works. This random act of chaos tanked the stock market for days. That may be the best part of this. Wait until foreign markets retaliate.

A lot of Democrats want to attack Trump for being a bad guy. They want to attack him for disagreeing on policy. These things are minor by comparison. The Republic has survived inept and bad Presidents. We have not survived impulsive man-children. What happens when he’s mad at a foreign enemy or rival- will he start a war? Will he cause a global military crisis? Could this happen just because someone says something not nice about his daughter?

Fear the chaos. It’s what could kill us.

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What if the Stuff You Think Matters in Elections, Doesn’t.

We political people like to assume the things we do are actually important. The problem is that this isn’t true. The chief problem with political operatives and activists, and our judgment, is that we have little to nothing in common with the vast majority of the people voting, let alone society at-large. The things we value in candidates have nothing to do with what the rest of the country values in candidates. We make up a tiny percentage of the country, and we’re quite different than everybody else. This is true of both conservatives and liberals. The biggest rallies and marches struggle to represent 1% of America.

A mistake that many candidates for public office make is that they don’t realize that. They spend lots of time talking to the most passionate, the most engaged people, and not worrying about how they are going to talk to everyone else. Elections are decided among the rest of the public. They are who you need to talk to.

Elections come down to paid communications and ground game. Can you mass communicate, and can you mass mobilize? Do you have the money to reach out to the general public and reach them on issues they care about?

The least important part of an election is the “activist” primary. That’s not where you win elections. Politicos spend a lot of time worrying about it, but in the end, that’s energy not being spent on the important stuff.

Janus the Jerk

I grew up in a union household, and thank God I did. My father was a PBA member, a correction’s officer in New Jersey, and the effectiveness of that union made our lives better. My parents were able to buy their first home, and their second, go on vacations with us, send my sister and I to college, put food on the table, and generally live a comfortable life.

My father was a public sector worker, who paid union dues, and worked hard every day for 25 years in a tough job. The return for that was a comfortable, middle-class earning, negotiated by his union under collective bargaining. There was no special secret about it. We lived decent because my father had a union.

Of course, that has to be under attack too. A man named Mark Janus, who benefits from his collectively bargained, union contract, thinks he should not have to pay into the union that represents him. He wants to strike down the dues that allow his union to function. Aside from the self-harm aspect of this story, Mark Janus is a jerk. He’s been glad to live the benefits of the union, but thinks he should get that for free. If people like Mark Janus had their way, I’d have grown up poor.

The Sad Truth About Pawlowski’s Fall in Allentown

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Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was not my favorite guy. I was never a part of his inner circle, and I was on the receiving end of his political consultant’s wrath a few times. Ed is not a sympathetic, warm and fuzzy character either. At best, he’s an acquired taste. There’s another side to it though- he really wasn’t a bad Mayor. The re-development of Downtown Allentown that he undertook has improved that city. His political sense, to bring the rising Latino and Syrian communities into the political process, will make the city better for decades to come. Good things have been happening in a city that was not going in a good direction when he got elected. Remember, his predecessor left office very unpopular, while Ed was re-elected pretty convincingly last Fall.

To be clear though, the jury believed the government’s case, that Ed Pawlowski was a liar, corrupt, and had defrauded the public of honest public services. They believed he undertook a vast conspiracy, to use his office’s power to raise money for runs for higher offices, while in the process not doing what is right for the people. Essentially, they believed he was a lying crook. In truth, the recordings were devastating. The government’s cross-examination of Pawlowski, in which they forced him to admit he was a liar, sealed his fate and sent him to jail, probably for the next decade. It’s hard to argue with the juries findings, given the evidence that was put forward. Once Ed admitted he lied about some things, why would they believe he wasn’t guilty of everything?

So one has to ask how this happens? I have no evidence that Pawlowski, an ex-preacher, is somehow particularly evil. While it may not be okay for a Mayor to take football tickets or dinners from vendors, let’s not pretend this guy was Congressman Bill Jefferson (D-LA), with $50,000 in his freezer. It appears that this guy became blind with ambition, and his need for political benefactors drove him to do things that he probably didn’t expect to do when he ran in 2005. It also appears that his political consultant became blind with greed, and the ability to make money from politicians, unions, developers, and anyone else who had a checkbook. The whole thing is kind of sad, and frankly very cautionary. Here was a city that was making some positive progress, and now we see that it was all built on lies. That’s a damn shame.

I think the honest truth here is that campaigns cost too damn much money. This is why Pennsylvania legislators were using state staff to run campaigns in exchange for bonuses a decade ago, and it’s why we’re watching Allentown’s positive story unravel now. It costs too much money to run 1,000 points of television, or to send a mail piece to a state house district, or to pay for a couple of field organizers. Obviously this doesn’t lead most elected officials to corruption- out of the tens of thousands of candidates for office every year, only a small percentage are even ever investigated, let alone charged, let alone convicted. We should treat this as a particularly appalling case. While fundraising, one should never even discuss promises of public policy outcomes, and everyone in politics knows that, while only a few violate it. Even so, it’s hard to finance a campaign at any level, at least if you want to win.

Here’s the truth about campaigns- you can’t make them free. Mail has to cost postage. Television commercials cost money to produce, let alone buy air-time to show. Campaign staff have to be paid in order to be able to work for a candidate. Printers have to be paid for printing literature. Campaign offices have to cost rent. You can’t force people to provide these goods and services for free.

There’s a second truth too- you can’t stop interested people from donating to campaigns. Who are most interested? Those involved in the governing process. You cannot limit the ability of anyone in our society to speak out on political matters- this is what the First Amendment expressly protects. When you limit the ability of people to donate directly to candidates, they end up creating their own dark money groups and independent expenditures- which ends up leading to confused voters, shady messaging, and elections bought by the billionaires and oligarchs.

None of this should be accepted as normal or okay. No matter how hard it is to finance your political ambitions, you cannot sell public policy for campaign donations. You cannot rig bids to help campaign donors. You should not be sweeping your office for wires and phone taps. You cannot lie to the FBI when they launch an investigation into your work. The jury found Mayor Pawlowski guilty of that.

No one won in the case of Ed Pawlowski. He will go to jail, which is obviously terrible for his family and friends. The city was making progress, and becoming a better place to live, which now falls under question. The taxpayers were denied honest services by the entire conspiracy. The whole situation is sad. We shouldn’t treat it as normal.

Dear @MLB: Impeach Rob Manfred for his “Pace of Play” Initiatives

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I don’t go to baseball games to see how fast they can be finished. No one does, really. I spend thousands of dollars going to 40 some professional games a year, and I do so because I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the thinking aspect of the game. I enjoy the game itself. Yes, a game lasts three hours. It’s not a game that lends itself to instant gratification. It’s a game that takes time, requires thought, and generally lends itself to the strategically inclined. It’s a game of inches, adjustments, and patience. Baseball fans like all of this stuff. They also enjoy kicking back in their seat, with a cold beer in their hand, and watching the game. It’s what we pay for.

Apparently Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t think that’s the case, or more likely, takes us for granted. In his efforts to bring more marginal fans into the stadiums and watching the TV’s, Manfred is hellbent of making baseball more timely. He thinks baseball needs to improve it’s pace of play to be more interesting. He thinks that baseball can somehow emulate the pace of play in other sports, sports like the NBA that are basically built for constant action. What he thinks is basically incorrect.

Manfred’s latest brilliant idea, limiting the number of mound visits a catcher can make, is idiotic. He has floated equally silly ideas about how many pitching changes a team can make in an inning, and putting a base-runner at second base to start innings during extra-inning games. The goal? Less stoppages. More action. A faster game. He thinks this will bring more fans to the sport in 2018. He essentially is saying society is too ADHD for baseball.

The NFL would serve as a good model for why Manfred’s plans are doomed from the start. The NFL’s best efforts to appeal to the casual fan in recent years have left them with egg on their face. From their attempts to have it both ways on national anthem kneeling, to their attempts to “get tough” on off field behavior, to their feeble attempts at addressing head injuries, to their completely inept inability to define what a catch is, the NFL’s attempts at change have left them actually with lower ratings than ever before. Is this because their efforts to protect their players and combat domestic violence were wrong? Of course not. It’s because these attempts at doing the right thing, at changing a league’s identity, are not going to bring new people into the game, by and large. You do that through enhancing the experience for fans in attendance, and creating more compelling television for the fan watching at home. One could simply look at the NBA’s recent success with these things and see that.

People who don’t watch baseball now are not likely to start watching baseball because you speed up the game. People who find baseball boring aren’t going to come over because of rule changes. They’re going to come over because the game is compelling TV. You have a game that is going global, who has compelling stars like Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, and an in-game experience for the fans at the game that is enjoyable and relaxing. Changing the identity of the game to chase people who don’t like baseball now is going to leave Rob Manfred every bit as unpopular with the fans as Roger Goodell is with NFL fans. It’s also not going to work- kind of like the NFL’s recent decisions haven’t. Market what we love, don’t chase people who don’t. That’s the formula for success, and Manfred should understand that or get lost.

How Democrats Can Win Back Pennsylvania in 2018.

Pennsylvania had possibly the worst gerrymandered Congressional map in the country. Fortunately, it also had a Supreme Court ready to act. They struck down the gerrymander and put into place a fair map.

The emphasis needs to be on fair.

Here’s the brutal reality of Pennsylvania- while it’s a very narrowly divided swing-state, it’s a politically segregated state. Most of the Democrats live close to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. The areas around the state’s smaller cities are “purple,” or competitive. The rest of the state, the overwhelming bulk of the land, are dark red Republican. Those “red” areas are demographically white, Christian, and rural. There’s just not any fair, constitutional way to draw a map that favors Democrats overwhelmingly. The Court did not try to.

Democrats will almost certainly pick up seats on this map. Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 18 are solidly in the Dem column. Districts 1, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 17 are all toss-ups on a normal year. Districts 9 and 16 can be in play, with the right candidate, but normally are Republican. Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 are Republican. If I were a betting man, I’d say the state will go 9-9 this year, even though it should be a Democratic year. I would bet seven or eight seats decided by the margin of error though.

If Democratic activists want to maximize their gains this year, they’d be smart to realize they are not the median voter. Most of Pennsylvania is not Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. The people who will decide our 2018 gains have to be persuaded to vote for us- even if they don’t like Donald Trump, who they very well may have voted for in 2016. There are a lot more Northamptons, Hazletons, Kittanings, and Beaver Falls in the swing districts than there are Allentowns and Scrantons. These people aren’t looking for movement liberalism and societal change as much as they are looking for someone to solve their problems. It is important to speak to our base, but these districts will not be won there. They’ll be won in the places where Hillary lost 2016, among people who we have struggled to speak to for a while. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not win us back the U.S. House with their new map- they simply gave us a fighting chance to go out and fix our problems. Will we take it?