Mike McFadden’s Desperately Naive Campaign Pledge

Mike McFadden Wrong for MinnesotaMike McFadden doesn’t have a record and his party has no serious ideas.  As a matter of policy, in fact, Republicans have done little more than cause trouble and get in the way.  They simply don’t like government and have no respect whatsoever for the current Obama administration and Democrats in office.

So it isn’t surprising that McFadden’s primary focus in his campaign is to call out Al Franken for voting in favor of issues supported by the Obama Administration.  If you’re party is little more than anti-Obama, anti-anything, this might make sense.  It is even somewhat intellectually honest.  Republicans reject even the simplest and least controversial proposals from our President.  They just don’t like the man and that seems to be all they have for a campaign issue.

Oh…but let’s not forget that McFadden does mention Minnesota’s education gap.  He’s going to do something about that, he says.  In a campaign filled with fluff, that mention merely sounds trite and conniving.  Perhaps a desperate grasp for a minority vote.

But nothing is more desperate than his apparent pledge not to vote 97% with any party.  In his recent television ad he promises to pack up and come home if he does.  What, exactly, does this mean?

Al Franken

Al Franken is doing a great job for Minnesota and the country.

This is an attempt to reach uninformed people who have either limited understanding of what’s happening in Washington or don’t like government or both.  In large part he is speaking to his base — Republicans — and that might not be a bad strategy.  He has nothing to offer other than promising to be an ideological puppet.  It is a good idea to reassure the base that this is true.

However a promise like that cynically calls out to disengaged voters generally and unfortunately there are too many of those among us.  Too many of us are poorly informed and have been misled regarding the role and place of government in our lives.  I find it disturbing that we would consider someone who fosters this ignorance and distrust a suitable candidate for serious public office.

Moreover, the pledge is plainly stupid.  It should surprise no one that a strong Democrat like Senator Al Franken would vote for with his party.  Are Republicans any different?  Much has been made about the divide being stronger today than it has been in generations.  Party line votes generally are the norm today, but that is a condition of our national political nightmare.  We have a lot of bad people in public office working to undo the work of government.  Sides are therefore digging in the heels.

Pragmatically, what is McFadden saying here?  I suppose it is a safe pledge to make is you expect to be a senator while a Democrat is president.  Although one wonders…would he find anything to support if we have a Democrat president?  What happens if we’re faced with a President Cruz?  I suppose then even a well-coached political pawn might find an policy supported by the president to oppose.  Cruz is outrageous.

My point is you don’t know what your voting record will be years in advance of votes.  To keep the vote balance sheet within the pledge, would we expect him to vote for or against an issue just for that reason?  How useful is that?  How does that serve his constituents?

The pledge is a political trick, one without substance or value.  And in that way, it is entirely consistent with Mike McFadden.

Dara’s (Almost) Soft Drink Meltdown!

Welcome Pause Coca-ColaOh my…Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl doesn’t think much of soda pop!  In fact, if you drink it, I’m not sure she thinks much of you!

But I could be wrong…

However, on today’s Chad Hartman show on WCCO Radio, Dara certainly made it clear she doesn’t like soda pop and carried on one of those whiny, bullying complaints that just get aggravating.

I recall Dara’s long 10-15 minute anti-soda pop rant from memory which, while I believe to be nearly perfect, has been proven to wander some.  But that’s ok, the gist is here.

Eat a chocolate eclair, Dara suggested, because it is your life.  Live!  Try a flavored tea.  Live!  Put caramel in your coffee.  Live!  And so on.

And so dull.

Come on, Dara!  People might like pop, what difference does it make if they take their half-cup of excessive sugar in a cold sweet drink or a muddled cocktail?  Nearly all of us take in too much sugar.  And certainly some ways might be “better” than others…As a matter of fact, I know a few people who would rather see me take my sugar in the form of a Coke than a bottle of Brunello, although I don’t entirely understand why.  However, for whatever reason — maybe personal choice?  — for some people a bottle of Coca-Cola is preferred to a chocolate doughnut.  So what?

The irony is Dara suggested that people choose soft drinks because it is a kind of status symbol.  She seemed to want to shame people to be more thoughtful about that.  (“Drink water!  Save your money!”)  For my part, I have never thought of a six pack of ANYTHING as a status symbol.  Have you?  In fact, “six pack”, as in Joe Six Pack, for example, has decidedly non-status connotations.  What does sound like a status symbol is walking into the office with a highfalutin doughnut or ordering a “craft” cocktail.

Am I Right?

Whatever was going on with Dara today, it was interesting to see someone have so much trouble putting a simple drink into context.  You bet…A lot of people eat too much sugar.  A lot each too much period!  The real story here is what is happening to those drinks.  The sweeteners in most are processed sugars and cutting those — as Pepsi and Coke intend to do — will only likely mean that soft drinks have more chemicals and whatnot mixed into the ingredients.  That’s the scandal in my book, not the whether people prefer a soft drink over a slice of cheese cake.

See below for more useful Dara material (including a link to the best pretentious iced high-calorie coffees).  Dara does good work.

Where Did the 40 Hour Work Week Go?

good questionThere was a glaring omission in Heather Brown’s recent Good Question story on WCCO meant to answer the question “What Happened To The 9-5 Job?”  In fact, one might argue that the story missed the mark entirely.  The story didn’t answer the question why as much as it explained how.  Let’s take a look.

Guest expert, Ernest Owens, a management professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Business, calls these longer hours a trade off. “‘It depends on what you want for a standard of living,’ Owens said. ‘Do you want these things? Do you want comfort? Do you want these trips?'”

Owens has this wrong.  While there certainly has been an increase in consumer spending, it certainly does not reflect higher incomes resulting from more work.  In fact, in real dollars, worker compensation has remained flat — and even declined for many workers — despite the extra hours and second jobs.  And let’s not forget, since the 1970s, most families have relied on dual incomes.  Professor Owens tells us this is what we need to do if we want comfort.

heather-brown

Heather Brown

Unfortunately, part of Professor Owens’s explanation is the correct answer.  We work more because we have to work more to have the comfort we expect.

Of course the Good Question story doesn’t end there; that’s an unsatisfactory answer.  Heather Brown tries to answer it, putting the answer into a context of lifestyle and technology.  It is about busy schedules and climbing ladders.  It is about results and getting work done rather than fixed schedules.  But ultimately it is about necessity.  Most people work more because they have to work more.

So what’s happened?  Heather Brown’s story hints at it.  She tells us “the 8 hour work day began in the late 1800s as a negotiation between managers, owners, workers and unions.”  And this is absolutely true, although she makes it sound like the three parties were drawn to this agreement mutually.

The 8 hour work day was the product of negotiations that relied on strong organized labor, i.e., unions.  Nearly all labor reforms result from strong organized labor.  There are exceptions to this.  Highly specialized talent and worker shortages can put the worker in the seller’s position, for example, but this isn’t common.  And even among highly specialized workers — professional football players, for example, or airline pilots — unions have played a significant role in building their fortunes and security.  Labor Share of GDP

Heather Brown was incorrect to suggest that these negotiated labor relations began to change after World War II, unless she means by that the late 1970s and 1980s which were indeed after WWII.  In fact the highest labor participation rate in unions occurred around 1960 with almost 35% of workers in unions.  This also marks a period of great prosperity in the United States for workers of all ranks.  Union and non-union workers alike did relatively well in the years of strong unions.

These are all important facts to keep in mind when answering the question why today’s work week averages 47 hours and not 40, 60 or more if you’re salaried.

The glaring omission in Heather’s story is the role of organized labor.  The role of organized labor has been largely eliminated from the American labor market.  While giving unions a some credit for the 8 hour work day early in her story, Heather Brown doesn’t make the connection with the role of organized labor today.

The Great Recession in particular created an even more desperate labor market, one which favors employers and managers, which further put a lid on worker rights.  As a matter of public policy, the rights of workers to organize has been attacked in recent years.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that workers who do have jobs work harder to keep them even if that means little, if anything, in the way of additional compensation for their work.

Ernest Owens

Dr. Ernest Owens

This affects workers throughout the economy whether they work in industries traditionally represented by organized labor or not.  The lack of well-paying jobs, benefits, and long-term security compels people to work within more restricted opportunities.

Moreover, when workers compete individually, their options are restricted.  The power of one against a large employee doesn’t stand a chance.  Indeed when labor is nothing more than a commodity, the ability of one worker to compete with another is largely a matter of factors beyond a worker’s control.  This affects  low-paying wage workers to higher paying salaried and skilled workers.

Professor Owens suggests that we work more hours because we can.  And again he is right, but the context is wrong.  Certainly computers and email and all that go with it have made us both more connected and more flexible, but it has also made us more available.  It explains how we work the extra hours — checking email before leaving home in the morning or while out with the family in the evening — but it doesn’t give a satisfactory answer for why other than the simple answer that we have to do it.

US_GDP_per_capita_vs_median_household_incomeAll this technology and extra time has made the American worker more productive.  Worker productivity in the United States is at record highs.  Correlating with that productivity are corporate profits and cash reserves that are also at record highs.  Worker compensation, on the other hand, for most workers is flat or even declining in real dollars.  People work more — over 40 hours a week — and get paid no more for it, often less.  They do it because they have to do it.  Technology is just a means to that end.  It is the “how”, not the “why.”

(Remember those Utopian stories about technology meaning we would work less and have more leisure?)

There is an ongoing argument about whether the economy can support higher wages and the answer generally is yes, it can.  (Unless you’re an employer answering the question.)  Again, the American worker is producing greater wealth than ever before, however their share of that wealth is less today than it was more than 60 years ago.

While we resist making comparisons with our economic peers, it doesn’t hurt to see how other countries compare.  Workers in most other developed countries work less hours, enjoy a greater share of the wealth they produce, and have a higher quality of living.  The United States still dominates the world economy, but the profits of our economic power has not “trickled down” as once promised.

Reduced labor compensation — which includes the longer work week (NB working more hours for the same pay equals a reduction in compensation) — is a measure of trickle down failure.  Workers put in more hours because they have to put in more hours. In the past, an increase in overall productivity meant an increase in overall standard of living, workers included.  That is no longer true and that answers tonight’s good question.

We Broke It, That’s Why.

People on both the left and the right are questioning why we are involved with the wars in the Middle East.  Listening to SiriusXM Progressive radio today, for example, the left-leaning radio hosts like Thom Hartmann are taking the view that we have no responsibility in the Middle East wars.  The people of Syria or Iraq or Turkey have to assume responsibility, they argue.  We can’t afford it.  We can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into another quagmire and so on.

The right — well, the opinions from the right are irrelevant as they are entirely political and unhelpful — so think what you will about them.  But the right is certainly culpable — indeed most culpable — and largely responsible for the chaos in the Middle East today.

The United States has meddled in Middle East affairs for decades in order to advance and protect its selfish interests.  However, the seeds for today’s horror in the Middle East begins with the Iraq War which destabilized the region and radicalized millions.  The Bush Administration and its war cabinet — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al — have so much to answer for.

Absolutely nothing about that war has made the United States or the world more secure.  Nothing.  We are living in the legacy of that war today and likely will for decades to come.

Destroying countries and the lives of millions is not a way to make friends and gain peace.

We have responsibility in the Middle East because we broke it, that’s why.  Running away from it won’t make up for our mistakes.  It won’t protect us from them either.

Adrian Peterson’s Fall?

Adrian PetersonJon Tevlin’s column isn’t as bad as the headline — “Taking some lessons from Peterson’s fall” — but I think we need to back up and look at how we are treating the Adrian Peterson Scandal.

Most, but far from all, people would say Adrian Peterson crossed a line from discipline to abuse when he whipped his son with a stick.  Actually…I’m not sure we can even say most people agree.  It is sounding more and more like a “I would never do that” claim from people who have done that or something similar.

Adrian Peterson doesn’t need my support and I am not his defender, but he really is becoming the whipping boy of his own mistakes.  I suppose that’s the way we want justice to work.  After all, in our culture doesn’t justice involve some revenge, maybe just a touch?

And that brings me back to my complaint of a few days ago.  The story about Adrian Peterson and his son has become a national stage to talk about almost everything but what happened.  We have turned ourselves into self-righteous victims and in all the glory of a classical Greek tragedy our hero has fallen.

But there’s a catch to the way this is playing out.  In classical Greek tragedy the hero makes a mistake that he never would have made had he known what he was doing.  Oedipus would not have killed his father and slept with his mother unless he were lost in the wilderness, met a muse who warned him (that he disregards), and then later learns of his horrible mistake.  The tragic flaw is hubris.

Peterson?  Well, he still seems to think he did the right thing — although I’ll bet he’s rethinking it — and so do many of his cultural peers.  So to call this Adrian Peterson’s fall is plain wrong.  It doesn’t excuse him from the criticism and debate surrounding discipline versus debate but I think we trying to make something of Adrian Peterson, his behavior, and our society that is not there.

Again…he isn’t a scapegoat, he is (excuse the apparent pun) a whipping boy, quite literally a whipping boy, I argue.  And what is a whipping boy?  He is a surrogate, one that endures the punishment of someone more privileged.

Thousands and thousands of children are abused, many where “discipline” has little to do with good or bad.  Now that this problem is thrust (again) into the spotlight on the shoulders of a broader social scandal (our beloved NFL is in disarray) we are supposed to think we care?  We care why?  We care because we have a whipping boy.  Adrian Peterson.

Sunday: A Post That Has Nothing To Do With Anything

I removed the air conditioner from one of my two bedroom windows.  It allows for a steady and impressive breeze to blow in from one end of the apartment and out the other.  Outside I hear that cool wind blow through the trees.  My curtains and blinds wave in that same wind, too.

Across the ally my neighbor plays his piano, a very eclectic mix of songs, many I know and some I don’t.  He plays slowly, deliberately, loudly, too.  And takes frequent breaks.  Perhaps to think about something.  Then he plays on again.

I’m atop my bed, dressed, with today’s newspaper in a pile next to me and a notebook filled with this morning’s ideas on top of that.  But it is getting late – it is past noon already – and there are things to do.

I should stop first in Uptown and have a beer with friends giddy for yet another day of doing that sort of thing.  Then over to the university where other friends will be having a giddy beer before this afternoon’s football game.  And then toward the end of the day a party being billed as a barn dance.  I’m dressed for it already.  Vest, tie, and checked shirt.  I like the look.  I think it suits me.

But right now I am too much at peace to really want to do anything.  That breeze blows, the neighbor plays, and I just sit in the midst of it all.  It isn’t such a bad place to be.

Mike McFadden: Making Kurt Bills Look Good!

Mike McFadden Wrong for MinnesotaPoor Kurt Bills, the man put up to the task of running against soft-issue Amy Klobuchar because no Minnesota Republican really wanted to suffer the embarrassment.

It would seem that the GOP has chosen a similar “strategy” again this go around again the popular Al Franken.   Mike McFadden looks clearly out of his league in this campaign.  His strategy relies heavily on disingenuous folksy charm that shows more of a lack of acting skill than a depth of character.  His campaign makes one wonder — as oxymoronic as it sounds — whether the GOP really has a deep bench of serious candidates.  Persistence — or misfortune — seem to be all it takes to climb the ladder in the Republican Party today.

But let’s give some credit to Kurt Bills.  At least he tried to talk policy and issues.  Mike McFadden, on the other hand, takes his candidacy as a chance to ham up waggish skits.  Where Kurt Bills appeared earnest and sincere, Mike McFadden appears entitled and smug.

Of course McFadden, as a GOP candidate, really doesn’t have much of a platform supporting him.  We’re supposed to want Mike because he wants to debate, for example, but debate what?  And why?  Indeed, McFadden’s political life may very well depend on NOT debating the experienced and policy-savvy Al Franken.

Committed Republicans will vote for McFadden regardless of how misguided that might seem.  It’s what they do.  If Republicans hope to remain relevant in the future, they need to speak to informed and thoughtful voter who really cares and thinks about issues.  Candidates like McFadden remind us that the GOP really does not have kind of candidate or strategy to win over those voters.  Until they have a meaningful message, that isn’t likely to change regardless of who is put on the ticket.

Politics is serious business and it is best left to serious, experienced people who respect government and work hard on behalf of the people government serves.  Mike McFadden shows nothing that would make us think he is that person.

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