Stop the Madness

“Toys in the attic, I am crazy
Truly gone fishing
They must have taken my marbles away
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.” — Roger Waters

Okay, I have a confession to make. This probably makes me a bad Democrat and a bad progressive, but I need to get it off my chest. I have never voted for Hunter Biden. What’s more, I will never vote for Hunter Biden no matter what he’s running for. It’s a character thing for me. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite. After all, George W. Bush was a recovering alcoholic and alleged drug addict and millions voted for him. Of course, I wasn’t one of those but I have to admit that I saw him differently. He was clearly in recovery and had been for decades. We can’t be too sure about Hunter Biden.

What’s more, I am willing to acknowledge that he has gotten multiple opportunities in life that 99 percent of people in other walks of life would never get. He has made more money and put in more positions of prestige than anyone deserves. Maybe he should have served some jail time for his drug habit. Of course, I have never really been big on dolling out jail sentences for addicts, but I suppose fair minded people can differ on that point. Simply put, he will never get my vote.

The funny thing is that he has never been on a ballot. He has never held any position within any presidential administration in the United States. He is currently a private citizen and is likely to remain that for the rest of his natural life. If he’s committed a crime then he deserves to go to jail. I don’t know that the current president has ever said differently, but maybe he has and I’m just not aware of it. Maybe he has the location of Jimmy Hoffa, the real story behind the JFK assassination, and the location of aliens on his laptop, but I tend to doubt it. Maybe that laptop holds the key to inflation, the price of gas, and the secrets to solving the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Maybe it’s just a damn laptop.

Somehow, Hunter, his drug problem, and his laptop didn’t make it on Twitter in the summer of 2020. Apparently, there were tweets about this that were taken down or not published for some nefarious reason. Somehow this “scandal” amounts to an affront to free speech and the kind of cheating that means the 2020 election was stolen. Yet, and I’m just spitballing here, no one that was undecided at the time gave a hoot about his laptop. Maybe no one that was undecided gave a crap about Hunter Biden. Maybe it was because Hunter Biden wasn’t on the ballot, but again I’m just spitballing. Maybe it was because they still haven’t proven a damn thing about why I should care. Maybe it was because we looked at the two candidates and decided that no matter what had happened with Joe Biden’s only surviving son, he couldn’t be worse than the worst president in the history of the nation. Of course, I’m just spitballing here.

A Fall from Grace

Politics brings out the very worst in all of us. That could be no more true than what we have witnessed from Mattress Mack over the last several months. It started when Mack broke a cardinal rule of business when he openly endorsed Alex Mealer for Harris County Judge.

Lina Hidalgo won re-election in a very close race. In her celebration speech she referred to the forces against her and referenced a “furniture salesman”. Maybe she should have left well enough alone. Maybe she could have mentioned him but in an effort to reach across the aisle to repair broken relationships. She certainly was respectful when she referenced Mealer herself. You are almost always better served when you can be magnanimous.

Mack forgot that lesson. He responded with a full page ad in the Houston Chronicle. This is a failure on so many levels. It is a failure on Mack and those around him. Someone should have gotten to him much sooner and told him not to openly endorse Mealer and do so publicly. He can support whoever he wants and he can certainly contribute to any campaign he wants to, but his reputation deserves more than that. Those that have been in business for any length of time will tell you how foolhardy it is to openly support either side.

Someone should have gotten to him before he sent this letter into the Chronicle. They should have told him to hang back and let the water flow underneath the bridge. The Chronicle itself probably should have either declined to accept it or should have urgently swayed him against wanting it published. It made him look small. It threatens his legacy and he has built quite a legacy in the Houston area.

I was introduced to Mack (not personally but in terms of consciousness) when I was in junior high. That was approximately 35 years ago. He spoke to our junior high. I saw his business grow out of literal tents into a furniture empire with multiple branches. We saw him stand up during hurricanes, tsunamis, and other crises in town and around the world.

He became Houston’s biggest fan. Whether it was the Astros, Texans, Rockets, or University of Houston, he was there cheering the loudest. Did it help his business? Sure. Being a good guy got him a ton of free advertising. Yet, there was also little doubt that it came from a genuine place. He also circulated in Catholic circles as well. All of that pointed to his likely conservatism, but he didn’t broadcast it. He stayed above the fray. That is until this year.

Maybe there is still time for him to fix this. Maybe someone around him will convince to reach out to Judge Hidalgo. Maybe she will reach out to him and extend an olive branch. It would probably be the best move from both involved. I suspect he will realize that he made a big mistake and we hope he does before it is too late.

Well at least he wasn’t gay

“He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me.” — Harry Chapin

Occasionally you see something in the news that you have to sit on for a few days. The horrible mass shooting in Colorado Springs is one of those moments. It isn’t the mass shooting itself. There have been deadlier and more tragic mass shootings in recent months. It wasn’t the fact that a specific group was targeted. We’ve seen that before too. It wasn’t the complete inaction following the event. That’s become the norm.

It was the reaction from the father of the shooter. Of course, before I get into that I need to offer some perspective. There are moments when we disappoint our parents. I still do it at times. There are moments when we are disappointed in our children. The worst moments come when we have to either apologize for their actions or when our parents had to apologize for us. I can still remember these moments as many as 40 years later and it is impossible to completely wash away the shame.

In a very generic way I feel a ton of empathy for the parents of mass shooters. This is particularly true for the ones with children that die during those events. They lost a child just like the families of the victims. They have to mourn both their child and those their child took. They have to do it privately because no one is going to feel an ounce of compassion for them. In many cases, they will be blamed for not doing enough to stop it. More over, there is very little they can say that will take any sting off.

Having said all of that, the shooter’s father failed the basic empathy test. He said virtually nothing that could soothe anyone in the wake of this event. All he could muster was the sentiment that at least his son wasn’t gay. He showed no concern for the victims. Somehow, killing five people and injuring two dozen others was somehow preferable to his son being there socially.

A part of me wanted to come on here immediately afterwards and just completely lay into him. Maybe it would have been cathartic. I suppose in a sense it would have made me feel better. However, that would be temporary. All of the snark and all of the vitriol wouldn’t be able to erase the fact that evil like that exists in the world.

It also wouldn’t erase the fact that I have disappointed my parents on occasion. I wouldn’t be able to soothe those feelings. It wouldn’t erase the times where we have been disappointed in our daughter. We are proud of her 99 times out of 100. I’m not sure if the same ratio exists with my parents. Still, it is human nature to dwell on the times where we have failed.

There is a whole subtext in daytime television dedicated to the concept of schadenfreude and self-loathing. Watch enough talk shows and court shows and you will find yourself uttering, “at least I’m more together than that girl/guy” or “at least our family isn’t like them.”

There is a reason they say that schadenfreude is “shameful joy.” We are not made better when we witness examples of questionable humanity. We are not made better by comparison even if it might feel that way. We are worse in the collective. Our families are worse off. Our communities are worse off. Our nation and world is worse off. It leaves a hole in our collective heart. It creates the second worst feeling in the world. It is the feeling we get when we have to explain to our children why the world is a dangerous place.

The Cruelty is Key

“You used to say live and let live. You know you did, you know you did, you know you did. But if this ever changing world in which we live in makes you give in or cry. Say live and let die.” — Paul McCartney

As we heard about another mass shooting in the news, my thoughts immediately went to a Joy Reid rant on TikTok. Now, I’m a bit old, so TikTok is not necessarily my thing, but the sentiment seemed so accurate that I couldn’t help but share it.

For those of you that haven’t followed the news, the latest tragedy involves a LGTBQ club in Colorado Springs. As of the latest reporting, five have died with over two dozen being injured. It might have been more on both fronts if not for the heroic efforts of some inside the club.

I should point out that there are plenty of people I know that are conservative and good, decent people. This turns into one of those logical statements that we used to get on the SAT or GRE. Not every conservative is an asshole and I would surmise that most conservatives aren’t assholes. Yet, when you picture an asshole in your head you probably see a conservative.

Maybe that isn’t fair. I’m willing to concede that some liberals could be assholes. Heck, some people might think I’m an asshole. However, let’s consider the campaign we just finished. Crime seemed to be the number one issue on the ballot for them. Yet, whether violent crime really is as pressing an issue is open to considerable debate.

The Democratic brain and the Republican brain work differently. When you say violent crime, the images that pop into our head are vastly different. For many conservatives, violent crime is a dog whistle that point to certain people committing those crimes. The Colorado Springs shooting involved a young white male. Most of these mass shootings involve young white males. So, there is some cognitive dissonance going on here. There is a difference between who we think is dangerous and who might actually be more dangerous.

It would be irresponsible of me to claim that this shooter (I will not publish his name) was somehow radicalized by the rhetoric on the right. We know that was true in the El Paso mass shooting. Yet, it isn’t true all of the time. It isn’t true that they are ALWAYS white males, but that seems to be a good rule of thumb.

I suppose I risk the possibility of becoming the old man sitting in his lawn chair and shaking his fists at the neighborhood kids playing in the street. However, I don’t remember this many zealots actually representing us in government when I was younger. The inflammatory rhetoric has an effect. It ramps up the tension and widens the divide. It creates the irrational view that the other side aren’t real Americans or even real people. It becomes easier to depersonalize and shuts off our compassion when tragedy befalls us. We become numb.

I wish I had some answers for everyone. I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and make it all go away. Maybe it starts with each of us individually. Maybe each of us can make a small contribution to returning our discourse into something resembling civility. Short of that then it becomes simply a live and let die world.

Mind the Gap

The space between our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from the pain.” — Dave Matthews

In England there are signs everywhere to “mind the gap.” If we translate that into English we would discover they are talking about the gap between the platform and the train. Since public transportation really isn’t a thing here in Texas, we can certainly borrow that term and apply it to our politics.

We see two gaps that threaten long-term stability in our country. The first gap is the gap between how many people consider themselves to be moderate, liberal, progressive, or leftist and how many of those politicians actually end up representing us in Congress. Yet, the percentage of total voters registering as Democrats is growing. So, there is a gap between the number of representatives that are Democrats and the number that should be Democrats.

That’s a problem that’s not easily fixed. As we have seen in Texas, the GOP has a stranglehold on the state. Very few particularly like any of the Republicans that occupy state offices and yet they continue to vote for them. This has been a two decade tradition. They have rigged the game to make it easier for them to win. It will take a doubling of efforts to get that turned around and we see the same thing nationwide.

The second gap is one Democrats can address and address immediately. This is the gap between what gets done in Washington, Austin, and any other government center and what people actually think on the issues. Take any issue and you can see clear fault lines of where the public actually is on the issue. You could talk abortion, gun control, health care, public safety, education, or any other issue.

What Americans think on these issues is pretty clear. Overwhelming majorities agree on numerous planks on all of those issues. Yet, we are told America is a center-right country with center-right values. The problem is that this statement has no basis in fact when you actually look at public opinion polling on each of those issues individually. The GOP is on the wrong side of each issue and it isn’t even particularly close.

Democrats collectively make the mistake of getting off message. Either they overshoot these widespread popular opinions by suggesting things beyond what the general public want or they bungle up the messaging with slogans that don’t reflect the will of the people. These things are simple. Let’s keep them simple.

For instance, Americans want background checks on gun sales, don’t want guns in the hands of dangerous criminals, and generally don’t want automatic weapons in anyone’s hands. These are easy things to keep hitting over and over again. Yet, Beto O’Rourke introduced the idea of gun confiscation. That pushed the envelope too far and made him seem extreme. So, stick to background checks, keeping guns away from criminals, and an assault weapons ban. That’s easy messaging that will resonate with the majority.

It’s about simple messaging. When people understand what you are for and they are for the same things they vote for you. When they think you are an extremist or if they don’t understand what you are for they don’t vote for you. It’s really as simple as that. You find out what they like and then keep repeating that you are for that and the other side is against that. You keep repeating that until they understand. You keep repeating it. That is how you close the gap.

Where we are

“We all know that Democrats are evil.” — Anonymous Facebook poster

The poster above wasn’t really anonymous, but I didn’t want to besmirch her good name by posting this for everyone to see. We often post on friends walls and simply assume everyone that reads it thinks like we do. Beyond the more global implications that we will get to in a minute, I had to grapple with the fact that someone was calling me evil.

Language is a precise thing. I’ve been trying to teach my daughter that ever since she was little. We correct her grammar. We correct her spelling. More than anything, we correct the syntax that she uses when making statements and asking questions. Words matter. One can’t help but have a tiny bit of introspection when something like this happens. Am I writing off thousands of people as evil myself?

The midterm election results are still flowing in. We probably won’t know the exact breakdown for a few days, but it seems that we have more or less maintained the status quo. There might be an isolated senator here or a representative there, but the numbers should roughly shake out about the same. Of course, how anyone interprets that is clearly up to them.

In fact, the battle in Georgia is prominently on my mind. It pits Raphael Warnock against Hershel Walker. One of those is a minister that most people say is a good man even if they disagree with his stances on the issues. He is thoughtful, intelligent, and caring. His opponent is none of those things. Maybe Mr. Walker was intelligent at one time. Maybe his brain was irreparably damaged from years of concussions on the football field.

Even the most hardened of Democrats, liberals, or leftists have to feel sorry for Walker. He was clearly used for his fame and name recognition in spite of the fact that no one could claim he has any business being near the Senate. That race is almost even as I write this. I’m not sure which way it will go and that thought is absolutely frightening. It means that nearly 50 percent of the voting public either think substantially like the woman above or don’t think at all.

Either way, we have to acknowledge eventually that we are electing people. Our democratic system isn’t built to elect ideologies. It was built to elect people. Maybe in some places you could pull the lever for red or blue and simply trust the party to appoint the right people accordingly. We don’t live in one of those places.

Perhaps, we have been far too eager to defeat an ideology and have allowed ourselves to vote for bad people because we see the other side as the enemy. I also know this is an gross simplification of the problem and steers us into “both sides” territory. Perhaps that is part of the problem altogether. Perhaps one side is doing this far more often than the other. At this point, I have to admit that I am biased and therefore not completely capable of arbitrating this point.

These are all fair criticisms and all points of view are welcome. The point is that someone like Hershel Walker shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Washington. He never should have gotten this far in the first place. An election is a decision between two or more people. As citizens we need to elect the best among us. If we want the best possible government then we can do nothing less.

Offering Suggestions

“She said “there is no reason”
And the truth is plain to see.” — Keith Reid

I’ve spent the last few posts complaining about campaign ads. It occurred to me that simply complaining is a more or less empty gesture. Besides, at least some of my readers are not Texas residents, so complaining about Texas campaign ads likely falls on deaf ears. So, I thought I would offer three suggestions to improve the public discourse.

All 50 states, D.C, and Puerto Rico have the same election rules

This would require a law from Congress. There are three parts to this law, but the first one involves voting rules. This one is pretty simple. If you want voters to have ID, then it should be the same throughout the country. If you want the polls open 24 hours then it should be that way everywhere. If you want drop boxes then it should be the same and mandated with a certain number per one million voters.

If you want early voting then it should have the same rules and times everywhere. Congress has the right to regulate elections where a national office is involved. That involves the presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives. If you are electing city officials, school board races, or dog catchers in odd numbered years then follow whatever rules you like. If my family were to move across the country I should know what the rules are because they would be the same everywhere.

Congressional Districts are Drawn by Computer

This sounds simple, but it would be revolutionary. If you go back to my complaint in the last piece it would be how easy it is to tie candidates to the most extreme members of their party. One of the reasons why these extremists are there is because the Congressional districts are drawn by the state party in power. Louie Gohmert was never going to lose in East Texas despite how stupid he was.

Sheila Jackson Lee is never going to lose in urban Houston either. When a member doesn’t have to worry about reelection then they will never appeal to their voters. They can continue throwing bombs and acting like a fool. Studies have found that less than ten percent of districts are truly competitive. When you go to the fringes of each party you get more performance artists and fewer serious adults. Different research models have predicted that a neutral drawing of districts would result in more than 50 percent being competitive. When you are forced to campaign to the middle you will find different candidates rising to the top.

All General Elections are Publicly Funded

We aren’t eliminating dark money, the Koch brothers, or George Soros. We are simply saying they can only influence the primaries. If you want to use foreign money, drug money, or money from terrorist groups like the NRA to get out of your primary then go right ahead. The rules then change for the general election.

This allows for two things. First, it puts everyone on an even playing field which makes for fairer elections. Second, it means that a public commission gets to approve all ads. So, hit pieces on your opponent will be a thing of the past. You can run ads about your record, your plans, or your life story. If you want to throw mud around then your ad doesn’t get approved. Period. We are the federal election commission and we approve this ad.

Political Bingo

“You can act out the part
Though you know
It wasn’t written for you.” — James Taylor

Everyone that has worked in industry would have had a ball if we had known about this invention. Apparently there is a group that will allow you to make your own bingo cards. Inside you can put certain catch phrases that we always hear in whatever industry we happen to work in. Just imagine the hilarity of hearing someone yell, “bingo!” in the middle of a staff meeting.

One of the games of conservative politics is the game of identity politics. Whatever you do, don’t run on your record. This is particularly true in Texas where Republicans have controlled statewide politics for 25 years. It’s kind of hard to saddle your problems on your opponents when they haven’t held statewide elected office this century.

So, you play identity politics. For Dan Patrick, your opponent isn’t Mike Collier. Collier is a mainstream Democrat that is hardly radical. At least he doesn’t have anything on his legislative resume that would scream radical. So, we tie him to every “dangerous” liberal we can think of in order to scare people from realizing that Republicans have done a perfectly good job of screwing up Texas on their own.

So, we link him to Joe Biden and his America. Let’s ignore that Biden inherited a nation where you could literally see the dumpster on fire. Let’s ignore that we have had record deficit reduction, job creation, and solid economic growth. Let’s ignore that COVID is now under control and the vast majority of the population got vaccinated in short order. Let’s ignore that our reputation around the world is coming back. Let’s forget about all of that. Mike Collier is not Joe Biden.

Then, we link him with AOC and “her Green New Deal”. Let’s forget two things immediately. First, let’s forget that most people couldn’t accurately tell you what’s actually in the Green New Deal. Secondly, let’s forget that the GOP can’t go three minutes without complaining about gas prices and our dependence on foreign oil. Yet, begin suggesting policies to move to alternative energy sources and you are a radical. Mike Collier is not AOC.

Then, we link him with Nancy Pelosi and California. Apparently, California is some kind of hell scape with zombies and the purge simultaneously coming to kill the residents there that haven’t already been radicalized. In actuality, they mentioned sanctuary cities, weak immigration policies, and cheap bail. Goodness knows we don’t want to be like those vegetable eating commies over there in California. They cannot produce quotes Collier of saying any of these things. He’s a Democrat. Nancy Pelosi is a Democrat. It must be so.

The candidate running against Lauren Boebert was so fed up in their debate about her mentioning Nancy Pelosi that he finally had to keep repeating his own name. This is Mike Collier. He’s running for Lieutenant Governor. Joe Biden isn’t running. Nancy Pelosi isn’t running. AOC isn’t running. I haven’t heard about “woke” policies, boys playing girls sports, or sanctuary cities, but if you had those on your bingo card you are today’s winner.

Bad Faith Arguments

“Make the world safe for democracy.” — Woodrow Wilson

A group is advertising against Joe Biden and his support of Ukraine. They have mentioned how we have given Ukraine 66 billion dollars and how we could be using “all that” money at home to solve our own problems. They are calling themselves common sense for something or other, so I thought I would take a look at their arguments in case you have friends and family uttering the same things.

I should say first that we should ignore the name of this organization. They know very well what they are arguing and it has little to do with common sense. It always pays to look up who is supporting them financially and where their support is going politically. Do they have ties to Russia? I could spend time on that, but there are earnest people making the same arguments, so we will focus on that.

Let’s start with the sum of money. 66 billion dollars is a lot of money and it sounds like a huge sum. In 2022, 6.27 trillion dollars has been allocated. That means that the 66 billion referenced accounts for a little more than one percent of the federal budget. Let’s remember that the aforementioned Biden (or really Congress since they pass the budget) has cut the deficit by a heftier percentage than at any time in history. So, it’s not like we are talking about runaway spending here.

This is not an annual expenditure. It obviously is in response to the crisis. So, let’s focus on common sense. This is what we often call a “straw man” argument. Why are we ignoring these problems at home when we help Ukraine? Well, when you are talking less than one percent of the budget you should clue yourself in that this is a false choice. It isn’t help Ukraine or feed the hungry. It isn’t help Ukraine or clothe the naked. It isn’t help Ukraine or fight “uncontrollable” crime at home. You can easily do all of those things and I think most people would acknowledge that it would take far more than 66 billion to address all of those concerns.

In point of fact, this is anything but common sense. We live in an ever shrinking world and we see a better life economically and in terms of our security when democracies are allowed to thrive. Boil this down and you have one country that wants its own autonomy while the other wants to control it. Deciding to help or not help isn’t about common sense. It is about whether it is in our best interest to help. Is it a better world if we allow Russia to do whatever it wants? It is the same question as with China and it’s neighboring countries. It’s the same as the Middle East. Pick any region of the world and ask the same questions.

This is where one of those friends or family will point out that we can’t afford to help everyone. This is absolutely true, but any decision about who we support cannot be boiled down to common sense. It is much more intricate than that. There are all kinds of factors that go into deciding to help Ukraine and not some other country.

They want the 66 billion spent here. Would they go to the family starving on the street and help them? Well, why do you choose to help this family but not that family? Is it really common sense or is there something else at play here? Again, this is for your earnest family and friends. I suspect we know for those that are creating this ad and we know it has nothing to do with common sense.

Our Worst Enemy

A friend asked me who I thought would win the governor’s race in Texas. We know who is going to win the governor’s race in Texas. We knew before Beto even entered the race. We knew Greg Abbott no matter what was said in any debate, any ad, or anything that might happen between then and election day.

Abbott has been governor for eight years. Forget a look at economic indicators, past news stories, or any number of gaffes that may have occurred over those eight years. Ignores the thousands of deaths during COVID. Ignore the dozens of deaths during the great freeze. Ignore the numerous children killed in school shootings. Think back to any of the Abbott ads on the radio or television. Have any of them touted anything he has actually done as governor? How sad is it for a guy to basically run on the platform of “my opponent is too extreme” when he’s been governor for eight years?

One particular ad had a woman who lost her son to murder. The murderer had been let out on bail by the judge. The Abbott campaign is using this as a reason not to vote for Beto. Huh? The governor doesn’t set bail and Beto hasn’t held elective office since running for Senate in 2018.

By any reasonable measure, Abbott has been a horrible governor and he is going to win re-election. Many around the state have given him the nickname Governor Death and he is going to win re-election. Dan Patrick has been a horrible lieutenant governor and he is going to win. Likeability doesn’t come into at all.

If you want any further proof then consider the case of Hershel Walker in Georgia. He is within the margin of error and he can’t find a coherent thought with a flashlight and road map. He actually flashed a toy badge on stage during the debate and said he was a cop. He paid off a girlfriend to get an abortion and tried to do it a second time and somehow claims to be pro-life. Yet, he could still win the Senate seat there.

It’s easy to blame gerrymandering and restrictive voter laws in these situations and that’s true to a certain extent. I’m sure that peels off five to ten percentage points and that can be enough in a number of races. However, we have to ask ourselves why that is enough when considering candidates like this. We have to ask why an attorney general that has been under indictment for his entire term will get another one. Would you hire a fire chief under indictment for arson?

Somewhere along the line we have to look inside and ask ourselves why a party that continually puts up smarter candidates with smarter policy ideas seem to lose to these dullards. These are policy ideas that a majority of the population support. There must be something else.

I personally think it is a combination of things. I think it’s a combination of really bad branding like “defund the police” and other catch phrases that just backfire. It’s also the relative ease of taking things like “wokeness” and weaponizing it against the left. Most people don’t honestly care about gay marriage, transsexuals, or other issues one way or another. They are just tired of being told they aren’t sensitive enough.

Cohesive communication isn’t easy, but the Republicans have managed to do it for decades. Break it all down and it’s incredibly stupid and it insults our collective intelligence but it is darn effective. You find something that resonates and you keep repeating it. That’s what we don’t do. We are everywhere. We talk about climate change, the wealth gap, equality issues, saving democracy, and helping out kids with college, health care, and gun control. I know I’m leaving stuff out. It’s time to find a cohesive message that works and stick to it.