Friday, November 9, 2018

2018 Midterm Debrief

Deep breath. We gave ourselves a chance. We did not end the Trump administration, we did not stop the rise of fascism in America, and we did not finally, finally, finally wipe out the lingering Confederacy that the Republican party has essentially become. Wednesday's firing of Jeff Sessions and installation of Trump lackey as acting attorney general make that abundantly clear. (Of course, we couldn't have one fucking day.) But we gave ourselves a chance. And with the campaign infrastructure we built over the course of this election, with some of the wins in governors races, with some of the election reforms passed by referendum, and with a more advantageous Senate map, we have a chance to really eradicate this Republican party in 2020. The Republican party has been building this particular system of power since Richard Nixon's Southern strategy and it has been successful for decades. We're not going to erase it in one election, especially when there are so many structural impediments to the type of change we seek. But we might be able to do it in in two. Deep breath.

Here are my thoughts about what happened in the mid-terms and where we can go next.

Flipped the House!
We flipped the house in two distinct ways. First and foremost, there is a Democratic majority, which means that (assuming we can make it to January) we have saved Medicare and Social Security for now, as well as what remains of Obamacare, and prevented (well, we'll see what happens in the lame duck) more catastrophic tax cuts. And it also means that there will actually be oversight of this administration. There will at least be a chance at confronting and controlling the rampant corruption in the cabinet. At the very least, it's only a matter of time before Trump's tax returns become public. This was the knife-edge upon which democracy teetered and we needed to flip the House Democrat, regardless of who those actual democrats were, in order to keep us from falling completely over into fascism.

But another flip happened in the House. On Tuesday, the House took the single biggest step I think any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, and perhaps ever in American history, towards actually looking like the population of America. There are now Muslims in the House, as there are in America, and Native Americans in the House, as there are in America, and Latinx in the House, as there are in America, and refugees in the House, as there are in America, and there are more women in the House, closer to the actual number of women in America and more people of color in the House, closer to the actual number of people of color in America. The House even got slightly queerer.

There was a time in the not too distant past when the argument that the Democrat and Republican parties were essentially the same held water, but, today, all you need is your eyes to know that is no longer the case. The Democratic Party looks like America and the Republican party looks like the Confederacy. And now the House looks more like America.

Flipped Governor's Races, State Houses, DAs, and Newly Competitive Seats
The devastation of the 2010 midterm wasn't really in Congress, but in the states where Republicans were able to leverage the census year to insulate their power from all but the most dramatic voter uprisings. 2010, in many ways, ended up being a culmination of liberal, progressive, and Democratic neglect of state and municipal politics, a neglect that allowed Republicans to entrench themselves at all levels of state government and leverage that entrenchment to create power at the national level they would not otherwise have secured.

In 2018, Democrats, liberals, and progressives paid attention to state and local politics and it showed, with states flipping executive, legislative, and judicial branches, progressive DAs being elected, and ballot referendums successfully enacting a number of policies that will make it easier to elect more Democrats the next time around. It is going to be hard to know this and even harder to feel this in a meaningful way and even harder to feel it with the same intensity as we felt the disappointment in certain losses, but, in this election, we improved the lives of millions of Americans. We saved lives. I'll say that again, we literally saved lives.

Furthermore, even in some high profile losses, the Democrats showed the power of a run-everywhere strategy. An energetic campaign, especially one that draws on both national resources and local volunteer energy, like Abrams (who at time of writing still hasn't officially lost), Gillum (who at time of writing might actually have won), and O'Rourke, can create victories elsewhere. We can confidently attribute two flipped seats in the House to O'Rourke's campaign and maybe two more to Abrams. I think it's also fair to say that the enthusiasm for Gillum probably gave a boost to Prop 4 in Florida. Run everywhere is effective even if you can't win everywhere.

And the thing is: Independents, Democrats, liberals, progressives, democratic socialists, even some Republicans, and others want to save their fucking country from Donald Trump and his brand of white nationalist fascism so why not give all of those people the opportunity to do so by giving them campaigns to work on. When the energy is there you can create positive results beyond winning a specific seat this specific year. And now, in 2020 when the demographics will be even more advantageous for Democrats, there will be thousands of experienced campaign volunteers in every single state ready to take the lessons they learned in this election and apply them to the next one.

American Society is Center-Left
The majority of Americans voted for Democratic governors. The majority of Americans voted for Democrats in the House of Representatives. The majority of Americans voted for Democrats in the Senate. Progressive values won races all over the country, including in red states, in the form of referendums and ballot initiatives. Medicare was expanded. Voting rights expanded. Minimum wages raised. Gerrymandering ended. Marijuana legalized.

When you add it all up, you get a population that is (essentially and, of course, not uniformly) politically center-left. You get a population that, in general, supports the social contract of the New Deal, wants to lower its insane incarceration rate, and wants competitive elections, all of which are core Democrat and center-left policies and ideologies. Why red states consistently elect representatives that specifically, even aggressively, oppose the policies the people themselves support is one of the great mysteries of American politics (if you ask me, it's a heady mix of good old fashioned American racism with Republican identity politics, but that's a post for a different time) but it still contributes to the same conclusion: by and large the American people want Democratic policies even if they don't always vote for Democratic representation.

The Polls Are Alright
For the most part, the election looked like we expected it to look. Of course, there were some surprises both for the Democrats and for the Republicans, but, by and large, the results reflected what pollsters and history suggested: the Democrats would take the House and make gains in other places, while the Republicans would hold the Senate and maintain control in others. For some reason, we seem to treat polls as though they are predictions, when they are really just educated guesses that are useful for assessing political strategies and interesting to interact with in the same way sports statistics are interesting to interact with.

When Donald Trump won the Presidential election, defying all of the prevailing predictions, we reacted as if the very act of polling was somehow invalidated and perhaps even fraudulent. This is another example of jumping to a conclusion in a moment of trauma to find an explanation (any explanation!) for what the fuck just happened. And just like the whole narrative of the white working class and just like the narrative of the flaws of Hilary Clinton's campaign, once every vote was counted (more on this soon), once we got the full story we realized that, in fact, Trump's campaign threaded that handful of a percent needle he needed to win. Literally tens of thousands of votes in three states.

Oh, and there was a sophisticated foreign-lead misinformation and manipulation campaign that (allegedly) coordinated with the Trump campaign itself to boost his campaign. Almost by definition a this-crazy-shit-has-never-happened-before event isn't going to be factored into 538's latest projections.

Polls are not perfect and never will be, and really, aren't supposed to be. They are impressions. They are guesses. They are spectra. They are one of the many different kinds of tools campaigns can use to strategize and people can use to understand our country and our politics. 2016 was an aberration because shit happened that had never fucking happened before. And that's not the fault of polls and pollsters. That's the fault of criminals who defrauded and conspired to defraud the United States.

Results Before All the Votes Are Counted
At time of writing, the odds that Andrew Gillum actually won the governor's race in Florida continue to rise. A recount for Florida's senate seat is all but guaranteed and a recount for the governor's race in Georgia also looks increasingly likely. As the denser, more populated districts with more mail-in and absentee ballots to process continue to work through their ballots, more and more votes for Democrats are added to the totals. It's looking like the number of flipped seats in the House will land closer to 40 than to 30. And two of the three Big Emotional Disappointments on election night, might actually turn out to be Big Significant Victories.

Will that change the narrative that Tuesday was an overall disappointing performance for the Democrats? Even if they eventually hold on to the Senate seat in Florida? Even as all those Democratic votes in California keep getting piled on top of the totals?

Of course not. Once a narrative sticks, even if it is based on data that is eventually proven inaccurate it is almost impossible to change it. It gets even harder when that incorrect narrative benefits those in power (Republicans) and/or fits neatly into pre-existing narratives (the mainstream media idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Democratic Party). Just like in 2016, when we called the election and drew conclusions from it before seeing exactly how many more votes Clinton received than Trump and before seeing how razor-thin his margins in the rust-belt were and before seeing the actual composition of his voters, we are likely to continue to discuss Tuesday's election is if it were something far less impressive than it was.

There is, of course, an easy way to fix this: do not release the results until all the votes have been counted. Honestly, it should be a law.

We Built the Tools, We Learned the Tricks, On to 2020
Hundreds of thousands of Americans learned, over the course of this summer, the amount of and the kind of work it takes to win elections in this country. Hundreds of thousands of us have learned to canvas, to call, to text, and to organize. Democrats had to develop unprecedented capacities to absorb and deploy volunteers. Progressive think tanks pioneered new data driven fundraising initiatives, developed new Get Out the Vote techniques, and found new ways to tell their story. They found ways to replace Super PAC money with volunteer energy. (For example, I was one of a mass of volunteers who did remote data entry for the O'Rourke campaign.)

But we also know where we need to do more work. We need to start registering voters now for 2020 and be willing to spend the money and time to get them all through the registration process. We need to have the resources to respond to new Republican suppression tactics. We need to be in high schools now, because today's 16-year-olds are 2020's 18-year-olds. We need to give all those thousands upon thousands of volunteers opportunities to keep contributing to the world they want to see. We need to start organizing ballot initiatives that drive Democrat voters to the polls.

And we need to keep fighting now to even get to January. Rick Scott is calling the counting of every vote in Florida fraud. The President is moving to end the Mueller investigation. And I haven't checked the internet in a few minutes so who knows what's being cooked up for the lame duck session.

But I am not exhausted. I am not overwhelmed. I am not deterred. Perhaps the most important thing we learned on November 6 was the work is worth it. Small donations, grassroots organizing, and thousands of volunteers engaging with an aware public can overcome Super-PACs, gerrymandering, and other structural impediments to Democracy.

The work is worth it. Deep breath. On to the next fight.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Why You Should Canvas

There are four weekend days left before the election that, to me at least, will decide whether we will continue our slide into fascism or not. You should use at least one of those days to canvas for a Democrat somewhere. It could be in a swing district like ME-02, but it could also be for a sure thing, (like Elizabeth Warren) or a long shot (like Jay Gonzales). Door-to-door, person-to-person canvasing has been shown to be themost effective way to turn out votes for your candidate and if you don't like what the Republicans have been doing with their power, the best thing you can do is turnout votes for Democrats. But, canvassing is one of those activities where you get out almost as much as you put in, and whatever value you bring to the campaign, you get back in other ways. So, here are some reasons why you should canvas—on top of the whole defending the country against white nationalist misogynist fascism thing of course—for yourself, followed by a few observations from my last turfs.

A Good Walk
I know this sounds like one of the hokey things recruiters will tack on at the end of a pitch, but seriously, canvassing is walking and you, you're not walking enough. Walking is good for you. Being outside is good for you and you're not outside enough either. Well, here you go: a good walk outside. For me anyway there are few activities as fulfilling as walking through a new landscape and canvassing is inherently that.

A Look Inside a Campaign
Politics is almost a parodoxical combination of the simple and the complex. You vote and a candidate wins. (Or you don't vote and a candidate wins without any input from you.) In nearly every instance you will have a choice between a Republican and a Democrat and in an even higher percentage of instances even when you have other choices, you're only meaningful choice will be between a Republican and a Democrat. (Except for you folks in Maine, who now have ranked-choice voting!) And most of us already knew which one we were going to choose, because we've been making the same choice for years. Simple.

But getting more people to vote for your candidate is a massively complex challenge that involves volunteer management, workflow, data collection, data processing, writing, editing, graphic design, coding, polling, fundraising, financial management, and more with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. When you canvas, you get a peek at all of that. You get to see what's on the walls of the offices, how many people are working, and what kind of snacks they have. From whose doors you knock on and where those doors are and the script and talking points you're given, you can get a sense of the campaign's strategy, of how big their canvassing effort is, and of who they think they can turn out on election day and how they think they can be turned out.

If you're at all interested in the mechanics of elections and politics (and you really should be) canvassing is a great way to get a glimpse of that machinery.

Get Out of Your Bubble, But Not in the Stupid Fucking Soft-Focus NYT Piece Set in a Hardscrabble Bar in Northern Kentucky Bullshit Way (Not that I Have Anything Against Said Bar & Its Kindred Bars.)
By the last two weekends of the election, you will most likely be knocking on Democratic doors (at least suggested by the campaign's data), but that doesn't mean you'll only be talking to like-minded people. In fact, there's a good chance you'll end up talking to one of the (for me and probably for you) strangest animals on the planet: the semi-aware American sometimes-voter. Like, dude, this isn't Bill Clinton era political triangulation, this is children in fucking cages, this is the most corrupt administration we have ever seen, this is a President obviously aligned or at the very least amenable to some of the most repressive regimes in the world, including one was the villain in, like, half the action movies in the 80s. This is an obvious partisan hitman on the Supreme Court. This is someone who at the very least had a drinking problem in his life that he refuses to confront but is probably also a serial sexual assaulter. This is lying from the Oval Office at an unprecedented rate. This is a Republican party who's only policy commitment is keeping itself in power by any means necessary. (And they give themselves bonus points when they get to hurt people they don't like along the way.) How the fuck are you lukewarm about any of this? I can kind of understand devotees to the cult of Fox News and though I don't understand why you would ever feel this way, I at least understand why white supremacists are supporting the Republican party. Same goes for all those fucking asshole misogynist men who felt seen and spoken for by Grassley's, Graham's, and Kavanaugh's temper tantrums. I don't understand what the fuck is wrong with you, but I understand how being such a piece of shit would lead you to certain actions. But to see all of that and still think, “I just don't know?” Or, worse, to see all of that and think, “Meh?”

What this tells me is that contemporary mainstream political journalism has failed--at a level far worse than I imagined--in its primary goal of informing citizens on the state of political power in our country. In order to project some strange definition of “balance,” mainstream media has downplayed the threat the contemporary Republican party poses to America, while overemphasizing the flaws in the Democratic party. I mean, the few times I was able to discuss specific issues with people while canvassing they wanted to talk about health care, so we did. OK. Fine. In Maine, I saw an a Bruce Poliquin ad arguing that he was in favor of protecting patients with preexisting conditions, despite voting to repeal the ACA with no replacement legislation to protect the patients repealing the ACA would leave vulnerable. And this isn't isolated. Somehow, Republicans around the country are trying to run on fucking healthcare. They believe they can get away with this because they know our political journalism will not be able to respond.

A current in this failure is how “get out of your bubble” was leveraged by the right to mean, “Let another white guy from the Midwest talk at you.” Somehow, our media has allowed the right to control the debate on connecting and listening to other perspectives to somehow only mean that all liberals have a responsibility to listen to a specific range of conservatives. (And if we don't listen in the exact right way and do exactly what they ask of us no matter how damaging it might be to other populations it's our fault, not theirs if they help elect Trump and Trump-like Republicans.) Somehow, the media has helped create another one-way street in which certain white men get to talk at the rest of us as much of they want and without any meaningful responsibility for their own actions. Which is really tragic, because there are lots of different ways to get out of your bubble. It doesn't just mean talking to your political opposite. It doesn't just mean listening to someone who doesn't believe you are fully human. It doesn't just mean another fluff piece on Rust Bowl Trump voters. There are lots of different types of people you can meet and perspectives you can interact with once you're there. Political belief is a spectrum, in terms of policy and intensity and it is always good to find ways to talk to people on different parts of both spectra.

Canvassing might be the easiest way to do that.

They're All Crooks!
A corollary to the “Meh,” voter is the “They're all crooks!” voter. It is undeniable that the Democratic party has its flaws and that it is influenced by its donors. It is also true, that there have been times in our recent political memory (Bill Clinton's triangulation and Al Gore's subsequent campaign) where there wasn't much to distinguish between public statements and no small amount of enacted legislation. (Again, Bill Clinton era crime bill & welfare reform and some post 9/11 security state stuff. Oh yeah, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) It is also true that there have been corrupt Democrats and that there will certainly be corrupt Democrats in the future, but there is nothing in modern memory anywhere close to what Trump and the Republicans are doing. This, of course, goes back to how “balanced” journalism works. There's a negative story about a Republican being a fucking fascist, well, run a negative story about a Democrat and present them as equal in scale even if they are not even remotely of equal scale.

I should also note, that this is a consequence of “horse race journalism” as much as it is of “balanced” journalism. In terms of what a journalist does, it shouldn't fucking matter whether Republicans claiming to protect preexisting conditions is an effective election strategy because it's a fucking lie. But, instead, the various policies and positions of both parties are presented neutrally, as being equally valid arguments conducted in equally valid ways and the only thing of interest is which one ends up more popular. So voters, especially voters who don't dive deeper than the headlines, come away with the sense that the two parties are both equally bad and so why bother. In fact, one person I talked to was visibly angry that both campaigns were “bothering” him, so he was going to vote independent. Of course, HIS name wasn't the name I had on my list, which brings me to my next observation...

Special Report for the Department of Shocking but Not Surprising
Holy shit there are still a lot of men who will not hesitate to speak for their wives. The last house I stopped at yesterday a man, roughly my age (38) saw my button and said, “We're Republicans here,” which was especially interesting because the woman's name I had on my list was, according the state registration information, a registered Democrat. For all I know, that person had honestly changed her mind at some point in her life and just hadn't bothered to update her registration. That is, of course, a “perfectly rational explanation.” But, much more likely, this guy is a fucking Republican so his family is fucking Republican and that's fucking it. There are a lot of forces, both historic and contemporary that have created Trump's 38-42% approval rating, but a big chunk of it has to be men who believe it is their right to speak for their household and Donald Trump is overtly protecting, shit, even celebrating, that power. (Should also note that “shocked but not surprised” is perhaps my most common emotion in 2018.) (I should also note that if you're not planning on voting at the moment, maybe you could just to deal this asshole a loss. You know the smugness liberals are accused of having? This fucker oozed it, but with that extra dose of 'I can't be smug because I'm a Republican' smugness. Wouldn't you like to ruin his day?)

It's All Rigged
One of the more interesting responses was someone who told me he never votes because it's all rigged. Canvassing really isn't the time for a long conversation about anything, so I wasn't able to drill down to what he actually meant, as that could mean anything from a version of “They're all crooks,” above to, “the Illuminati controls the world.” I bring him up only because, later I realized I should have said to him, “I'm not here to convince you, but, just ask yourself, who wins because you don't vote?” Seems like a pretty good question for anyone thinking of sitting this election out to answer for themselves.

Rays of Hope
My lists the past two Sundays were of infrequent voters; people who had not voted in the last few elections or in the last few midterm elections. This included Democrats, Undeclared voters, Independents, and some Republicans. This means that the campaign has the resources to go after unknowns, to expand its potential base, and to reach votes the Democrats haven't reached in the last couple of election cycles. And a good number of people I actually talked to are voting Democrat! Like, a little over a third of the people I actually talked to. Sure, that's maybe 10 people, but if you all canvas on at least one of the remaining four weekend days, that hundreds or even thousands of Democrat voters. I don't know if that's enough, but it's either do something or don't.

Canvasing Links (Because you're definitely going to canvas now.)

Canvas for Democrat candidate for MAgovernor Jay Gonzalez (Because, last I checked, Charlie Baker was still fine being a member of a misogynist white nationalist fascist party.)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Your Hero Opportunity

Most of the time, it's hard to know the real value of what you do. For most of us, we know that whatever we did today was good enough or at least not bad enough that we kept our jobs for another day, that our marriages stayed together another day, that we got the kids back and forth to school, and as important is it is to do all of those things, it's hard to know exactly whether what we said was good or just good enough, whether what we did was right or just not so wrong someone would say something about it. With the exception of professions like nurses, doctors, EMTs, soldiers, fire fighters, pilots, and a few others and very rare cases like car accidents and natural disasters, we can only guess at whether or not what we did was the best thing we could have done.

And, that's fine. For me, one of the primary skills we need to develop to live fulfilling lives is a base level of comfort with ambiguity. Honestly, I'd go even further and say some of the most destructive forces in human society, fascism, racism, theocracy, are based in creating a false sense of certainty. They are supported by and destructive because they create these certainties upon which people then live their lives, regardless of the consequences or impacts their actions may have on others.

Which is a long way to say that ambiguity is not a problem and not something I routinely try to remove from my life and my writing.

There is no ambiguity here. There is no doubt. Even in this postmodern, post-structuralist, deconstructed world, there is a right thing to do.

We've all wondered, in various lexicons and with various fantastic or realistic scaffolding, what we would do if we were put in a life and death situation, if we were given a dramatic choice, if we were called on to be a hero.

There may not be an actual ticking time bomb, their may not be flames or car chases or dearly beloveds dangling from cliffs, but this is your life or death moment, this is your hero opportunity and what you must do is clear.

You must vote Democrat in every race this election. If you always vote Democrat, if you always vote Republican, if you mix it up, if you vote third party, if you don't vote, if you've never voted before, the right thing for you to do, the heroic thing for you to do is vote for every Democrat on your ballot.

If you're reading this, odds are you already planning on doing that. I don't know if I have the eloquence and insight to breakthrough to those of you who are not already planning to vote Democrat this fall, but you can't succeed if you don't try. That said, I know there are some of you who will never vote Democrat, who will always vote Republican, and this is the part where I'm supposed to say that I respect you and that we're supposed to find common ground, but I don't, there is no meaningful common ground, and though I will applaud those of you who undertake the long and difficult personal journey away from this current incarnation of Republicanism, right now your votes are literally tearing families apart, literally destroying our system of government, literally traumatizing millions of your friends, neighbors, and family members, and literally killing people and if Fox News is protecting you from that truth my little blog post isn't going to bust in.

So I'm going to focus on three types of people who might not vote for Democrats in November.

I Oppose the Two-Party System
How much has voting third-party or abstaining from elections done to diminish the power of the two-party system over the last twenty years or so? How many Green Party members are there in Congress? Governors? State legislatures?

Listen the two-party system is undemocratic, has pushed American policy far to the right of the American public actually believes, and fundamentally stifles the conversation around policy and legislation, but how does helping Republicans maintain power, despite the fact that most Americans do not support the Republican agenda, push us towards a multi-party system? In fact, because Republicans are actually disenfranchising voters, specifically progressive voters, on top of everything else, empowering Republicans by voting third-party or abstaining from voting actually hinders our ability to transition to a multi-party system.

If you really want to begin diminishing the power of the two-party system, vote for very Democrat on your ballot and then do whatever you can in your state to reform your elections to include ranked choice voting or instant run-off elections. It is a popular idea, it won on the ballot in Maine, and it is the first step in breaking through the two-party system.

The Democrats Are Whores to [Insert Special Interest Here]
With the exception of radical conspiracy theorists, you're also probably right. Contemporary politics is a money game and in contemporary American capitalism very few good people have the kind of money it takes to influence politics. Look behind your favorite Democrat politician and there's probably at least one really bad corporation or industry (probably pharma) donating to them.

But does that put them on par with what Republicans do? Really? Does the fact that many (but not all!) Democrats take money from problematic corporations really mean that the Trump administration is acceptable? Is your ideological purity worth all of this collateral damage?

Furthermore, as above, how does helping Republicans remain in power by voting third-party or abstaining from voting help get money out of politics? Do you see any Republicans at any level advocating for campaign finance reform? Cause I don't.

So, vote for every Democrat on your ballot this Fall and help get money out of politics by donating to politicians that reject corporate and PAC donations and pushing for campaign finance reform in your state.

I Don't Care
Someone you love does.

The most important voters in America are nonvoters, those who are eligible, but don't. There are lots of reasons for this, many of which come from structural impediments to voting (many of which are intentional) so I'm not really talking to those who are logistically prevented from voting (but let me break in here to say, do whatever you can. Lyft will take you to the polls, Get out the Vote organizations will get you there, coordinate with your boss, your coworkers whatever, because, honestly, you might not get another chance to vote.).

Whatever reason you have for not caring, whether it's that feel as though your vote doesn't matter, or that no politicians represent you specifically, or whatever is fine and I'm not going to try to argue against that idea. I don't know what matters to you so I have no idea how to make you care.

Someone you love cares. Someone you love was traumatized by what happened yesterday in the Kavanaugh hearing. Someone you love was traumatized when the Access Hollywood tape didn't end Trump's campaign. Someone you love is terrified because they emigrated here recently or are first generation or just happen to have a Hispanic sounding name and there is a real chance ICE could sweep them up. Someone you love is scared of the uptick in hate crimes, someone you love is scared of LGBT information being scrubbed from federal websites, someone you love is scared their asthma will become unmanageable if the air quality regulations are eliminated, someone you love is scared of dying from an illegal abortion. Someone you love has gained weight and lost sleep and felt a pit with sharp edges in their stomachs for what feels like forever and someone you love will never be the same again the way our grandparents who lived through the Great Depression would keep old junk in their basements because they could never quite shake the fear of bread lines.

Maybe politics doesn't actually affect you. Maybe you have good reasons to not care. Maybe those reasons are good enough for whatever logistical challenges you face to voting to count as a hassle.

Fine. Whatever.

But you are not the only person in your life. If you're not going to vote Democrat for yourself, vote Democrat for someone you love. And let's put a rational self-interest spin on this too. If Republicans hold on to the House and Senate, someone you love will look up from weeping and ask you if you voted yesterday and your relationship with them will never be the same if you say, “no.” Shit, vote Democrat for someone I love. I mean, if it really and truly doesn't matter to you, why not make my grandmother's day?

Your Opportunity
So this is your opportunity to be a hero. I won't say we're lucky to have this opportunity and I won't say we should be thankful our opportunity is so easy to capitalize on, but here it is. Our chance to do something great.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Turinng the NHL Into a Two-Tier League

For fun, let's imagine restructuring the NHL into two-tiers, sort of like professional soccer leagues around the world. There would be a Premier League (or Prince of Wales division, see what I did there.) and a Second League (or Adams division). Reorganizing the league this way would greatly reduce the number of “meaningless games” during the regular season and reduce the value of “tanking,” while producing more potentially exciting games and more interesting interactions between the teams, and, give the league a structure for incorporating all the expansion they're desperate to do. You'll see how all of that could happen as I get in to the details.

First, some basics.

36 teams, 18 in the Prince of Wales Division and 18 in the Adams Division. Each division would be divided into an East and West conference of 9 teams each. (This will also work just fine with a 32 team league, though the playoff structure would have to be redone.) Only the teams in the Prince of Wales (or Adams, doesn't really matter to me what the premier division is called) will be eligible to compete for the Stanley Cup (more on the playoff structure soon). (Obviously, the Adams division will have it's own playoffs, again more on that later.) All the teams will play every other team in the league at least once, but no team will play any team in the other division more than twice. (With the extra game being for “natural rivalries” between teams in different divisions, say, going from this year, Calgary and Edmonton.) In theory, once this is in place, you could keep adding teams as much as you want. Just keep the PoW at 18 and stick as many expansion teams as you want the Adams division and adjust the playoff structure accordingly. In theory, you could even add another tier if you wanted to.

The draft lottery would work essentially the same as it does now, with the entire league drafting together, so the last place team in the Adams would have the best chance at the first pick. Trades could also happen between divisions (more on that later.) Every team makes the playoffs within its division with one exception (more on that later). There will be a system of relegation and promotion (more on that later). That's pretty much the basics.

Let's get into the weeds.

Let's start hashing things out by getting the League up to 36 teams and dividing them into the two divisions. The league has 31 teams at the moment, so we'll need five more to get there. Here are the cities that I think should get teams: Seattle (since it seams like they're going to get one anyway), Quebec City and Hartford (since they already had teams), Hamilton (since there has been some momentum around a team in Hamilton for years now, but for some reason we care about what the Sabers think), and...

a team owned by the NHL located in some city that wins some crazy-ass year long competition. Does Montreal have room for a second team? (Maybe.) Does Boston? (No.) Could somewhere small, but with hockey history like Saskatoon (birth place of Gordie Howe) make a case? Is there another Las Vegas hiding somewhere? (Branson?) PEI? Madison? A team shared by the Dakotas? Lake Superior? New England? And if, after some reasonable amount of time (5 years, let's say), that city, can't support an NHL hockey team, well, they just hold the contest again. The operations of the team would be independent of the NHL, but the NHL could potentially use it as a kind of ambassador team. Moving it around North America (or beyond), and trying out new things (ticket packages, carbon neutral arenas, municipal stakes a la the Green Bay Packers). Maybe this makes it hard to keep top talent and compete, but, well somebody's got to be last and if somebody's got to be last it might as well be a team that is also doing interesting things for the game of hockey.

Once we have all the teams we'll need to divide them into the two divisions. So, the PoW division would be composed of the original 6, plus the next 12 teams with the highest total of regulation and overtime wins over the last, say, five seasons. Yes, this means that an undeserving team or two might get bumped for an original-6 team that's had a bad run of late, but I honestly can't imagine starting out with any number of original six teams without a shot at the Stanley Cup. If they play their way into regulation after the league has been reorganized, well, that's on them. (Every redemption story, starts with a fall.)

The long term wins total, as opposed to say, the end of season ranking, is a way to reward long term success and prevent a good franchise that just happens to be going through a rebuilding year or two from being relegated and a bad franchise that happens to get a few good bounces down the stretch from being promoted.

With the divisions and conferences set, the regular season plays as it does now, with the scheduling exception described above. Oh, and while I've got you: 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime win, 1 point for an overtime loss, and...1.5 points for a shootout win.

The first thing one might object to, to this current structure is there isn't really a playoff race. Every team will end up in some form of playoff, either for the Stanley Cup or whatever the Adams division trophy is called. (The Kenora Cup, perhaps.) The only thing the regular season will decide, in terms of the specific season, is the seeding going into the playoffs. But that seeding will be significant and whether a franchise is safely in the PoW or in jeopardy of being relegated will be determined by their seeding. Let's see how that works.

First of all, the top seeds in the Adams East & West conferences will play the 9th seeds in the PoW East & West conferences in a one game playoff. We could have both games played on the same day, maybe a Sunday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. This essentially creates a hockey holiday, in which pretty much all hockey fans are watching both games and both games are absolutely vital for both teams. Think of how much money the bars in Canada would make on this day. Think of the parties. Think of how much fun that would be, to be with a group of neutrals and just pick a team to root for. Think of the parties the winning teams' fans throw. Think of the parties the losing teams' fans throw! The NHL could even throw a whole bunch of weird and awkward ceremonies all over the place and it would still be about as much fun as you can possibly have as a hockey fan.

The winners of these one-game playoffs, face the 8th seeds in the PoW East and West conferences in a best of five series. The winner of that series enters the official Stanley Cup Playoffs as the 8th seed. Depending on the situation, what happens in those playoff games and in that series, could have huge implications for the teams involved, but I'll get into the more when I get to relegation and promotion. And then it's a regular 8 team playoff. 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7 and so forth.

I want to point out one other benefit to this playoff structure: ta da! We have created a bye-week at the end of the season for seeds 1-7. One of the things no one really acknowledges about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that, often, it's the good team that happens to be healthiest that wins. A bye-week doesn't solve all of the health problems that can impact the results of the playoffs but it mitigates them, at least a little bit. Every 1-7 team will have a week to give their legs a chance to rest, to recover from small injuries, to get their goalies off their feet a little bit. And since there will be hockey going on during that time, it's not like it would be dead time for the league or the fans.

And how about the difference between the 7th seed and the 8th seed? Significant games indeed.

Most of the new significance, though, will come from the relegation and promotion system, so let's do that now.
First of all, the Stanley cup winner is protected from relegation for two years. (Success should be rewarded.) Conference champs will be protected for one year. (So, you know, they can finally all touch the conference trophies.)

If an Adams Division team wins its way into the Stanley playoffs, it is promoted to PoW and the 9th seed of the PoW is relegated to the Adams. Now the difference between the 8th and 9th seed in the PoW conferences is massive. Furthermore, in the Adams division, the difference between 1 & 2 is huge, as 2 doesn't even get a shot at promotion. But wait, there's more.

As above, the Stanley Cup winner is protected from relegation for two years. So they are not eligible for relegation, even if they end up 9th in their conference, and even if they lose that one game playoff. If that happens, the 8th seed is made eligible for relegation. If they lose that subsequent playoff series, they are relegated instead. So, if a Stanley Cup winner struggles at the beginning of the season, the significance between 7 & 8 is huge (on top of the significance of the by-week), as the 8th seed could become eligible for relegation. But, also from above, it is possible for a PoW conference to have two teams protected from relegation in the same season; the Stanley Cup champ from two seasons ago, and the conference champion from the preceding season.

What happens if they're both terrible? And the 1 seed from the Adams beats them both. We can't have that team play the 7th place team to settle the relegation issue, as that would wreck the playoff structure. So in that (most likely) rare case, if the Adams team wins more total playoff games than the 7th seed PoW team, they are promoted and the 7th PoW team is relegated. This means, that not only is difference between 6 & 7 significant, but, we could find ourselves with two playoff series where 4-1 is significantly different from 4-0. We could also see (again highly unlikely) a conference final in which the winner is protected from relegation for one year and goes on to the Stanley Cup finals and the loser is relegated.

So, now, through this system two-tiered system, there is a huge difference between the 9th and 8th place teams in the PoW, as moving up to 8th most of the time protects you from being relegated, and there is a huge difference between 8th and 7th because the 7th place team dodges that extra playoff series and is even more likely to be safe from relegation than the 8th seed, and, in rare years when two protected teams are bad, the difference between 7th and 6th is now everything.

In the Adams division, teams that would normally be churning through their season without a shot at either the playoffs or the top draft choice, will have something to play for as the difference between 2nd and 1st will also be huge. The 2nd place team, settles for playing for the Kenora Cup (look it up!) and the first place team gets a shot at promotion.

The primary goal of this reorganization of the NHL is the create more meaningful games over the course of the season and the playoffs, and so we could see a last week of the season or even last day of the season, in which massive rewards are played for, and playoff wins that are significant even in playoff series losses. Sure, there might still be some tanking, but that would only be at the bottom of the Adams division. And you know what, that's fine. They're the bottom of the Adams division.

As you can see, promotion is actually pretty difficult to achieve. You could have a team do well for several seasons, and just choke in the one-game playoff. Likewise, you could have a team hanging out in 9th place for awhile, getting saved from relegation over and over again by 8th place teams. Or who knows what else could happen? So, I'm also totally on board with the idea of a semi-regular reassessment of the tiers, maybe every five or six years, in which some quorum of significant members of the league (owners, managers, coaches, players, scouts, journalists, etc.) get together and, through some formalized and transparent process, consider promoting and relegating teams outside of this structure.

For the most part, trades and the salary cap would work in the exact same way they do now. (However that is.) There would be trade deadlines and trades could happen across divisions. Free agency would work the same way, though, of course, Adams division teams would have a tougher time signing top name players, but, for the most part, things would look the same. But I would introduce one wrinkle, specifically around “rental” players.

A “rental” period would be open sometime after the formal trade deadline, but, only trades between the divisions would be allowed. This would give PoW teams a chance to stock up for the playoffs AND give good players stuck on Adams division teams an extra chance to end up in the playoffs. But let's add another wrinkle. PoW would be able to include “cash considerations” in their trade, however, that cash paid to the Adams division team would count against their cap for the year. (Who knows, maybe that's how it works already. I certainly don't understand all the cap rules and well, I'm not going to look it up.) But it will be different for the Adams team.

The Adams team would tag that as cap-free salary and as long as they apply it to players salaries it is excluded from cap considerations until it is “spent.” Here's how that would work. Say a PoW team sends a prospect and $10 million in cash to an Adams team. The Adams team could then use that money to bump up the salary of a youngish top-pair defenseman approaching the end of his contract by $5 million a year for two years. Or if they think they can play themselves into promotion with one big free agent signing, they can pay someone an extra $10 million the next year without any cap consequences. You could actually see a smart GM in the Adams division, draft well for a couple of years, make a couple of “rental” trades every year for a few years and end up with enough cap free salary to build a promotion team in one off-season. The important thing about this, is it provides a way for Adams divisions teams to compensate for the natural disadvantage they have in signing free agents.

It should also be noted, “rental” players wouldn't just be for teams looking to stock up for a serious Cup run. It could also be for teams trying to jump up to 8, 7, or 6. More teams would have motivations to make some kind of play near the end of the season to protect their place in the PoW and so more of these deals would happen, redistributing a fair amount of wealth downward.

Furthermore, the fact that inter-division trading exists and that there will be some incentive for Adams division teams to trade their players in rental deals, means that Adams division players, along with playing for the success of their teams, will also, essentially, always be trying out for the PoW division. Even if your particular team doesn't have the combined talent to do anything more than languish in the bottom of the division, you don't have to. You can play your way into the PoW division and perhaps right on to a Stanley Cup contender.

The Adams division will also have a playoffs, which, I think, will be great for everyone. More hockey, with more significance. Maybe there's a fan base somewhere that just needs to see playoff hockey to get excited. Maybe there's a player who will thrive in that environment but never gets the chance because he's on a shitty team. The NHL is good at trophies, so why not have another. (The Kenora Cup. I made up this whole thing, so I can name the trophy.)

The Kenora Cup playoff structure will be the inverse of the Stanley Cup playoff. If the number one seed in the division plays its way into the Stanley Cup playoffs (one-game playoff, plus best of five series) it has essentially moved out of the Adams division, meaning that its conference will now have eight teams in it and a good old fashioned 8-team playoff will start. If the number one seed does not advance into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the 8th and 9th seeds in the conference will play a best of five series to become the 8th seed and then we'll be back to the regular 8 team playoff structure.

And there you have it. More significant games. More playoff hockey. More story lines. New rivalries. More fan bases will have the opportunity to celebrate a kind of success. Better teams will play each other more often. More games with playoff implications would happen. There'd probably be more trades at the deadline. And the league can keep adding teams as long as they want without potentially compromising any of that. And we get a hockey holiday. It may be an impossible dream, but it's a good dream.

Also, 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an overtime win, 1 point for an overtime loss, 1.5 points for a shootout win. Think about it.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Sean Spicer at BEA

The Trump administration's first, definitive step towards authoritarianism was so quick, so small, so...stupid, that I think most of us missed it. Maybe we were still reeling from Trump's “American Carnage” inauguration speech or from the images of this obvious con artist standing next to President Obama or from the failure to trigger any of the constitutional mechanisms that would have prevented his inauguration or from the fact of his presidency at all or from the trauma of election night. Maybe we were thinking about how stupid we were to send money to Jill Stein for that recount. Maybe we were expecting the administration to at least try to pretend for an entire fucking day that this was going to be a real presidency with a real President. Maybe we were thinking about the Women's March, or planning our activism, or maybe, we were just expecting something else, something bigger, something more calculated, something closer to the Muslim ban, or at least something less...stupid.

On January 21, 2017, Sean Spicer, in his first official act as Press Secretary for the President of the United States of America, lied to our fucking faces. He lied about an objective truth. He lied about what we could see with our fucking eyes. He lied not for some kind diplomatic or strategic reason, not in an attempt to keep us safe from some kind of threat, or to forward some kind of policy they believed justified being dishonest with the American public. He lied to assuage the ego of a narcissist.

And nothing happened. He and the administration were criticized in the press of course, mocked in certain corners of the media, but no one involved in that obvious, profoundly stupid lie suffered any negative consequences. One of them is still president and one of them is a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

In some ways, the inaugural crowd-size lie was a test. Would Congressional Republicans let the President obviously lie to the American people? Would Congressional Republicans allow the institution of the Presidency and the institution of Congress be radically diminished as institutions of society and governance? Would Congressional Republicans do anything more than pay the occasional lip service to the idea of objective truth and rule of law? If they are not willing to stand up to the administration over matters of arithmetic, and say, demand Sean Spicer resign or demand the President issue a retraction, or censure the President, or ask if someone who is willing to lie to the American people about what the American people just saw with their own eyes should have nuclear codes, would they be willing to stand up to lies with more ambiguity or lies that help them advance their agenda?

We, of course, know the answer to all of these questions. Sean Spicer tested Congress and Republicans with an obvious lie and they failed the test. Sean Spicer was told to lie to the American public and he did, without batting an eyelash. And in doing so, Sean Spicer is directly complicit in the current existential threat to American democracy.

Now he wants to “set the record straight” with a new book. Which, to me, translates to, “now I want to make a ton of money on being directly complicit in the current existential threat to American democracy, while trying to extract myself from the dumpster fire that is the Trump administration by claiming I had 'concerns' or that I 'voiced objections.'” Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has regrets, everyone does things they wish they hadn't done. I think we can accept that and accept that you don't get a fucking take-backsie on abetting the rise of fascism. I mean, it's not like there was any ambiguity here. If Spicer truly believed that lying to the American people is bad (and yes, I understand that spin is a Press Secretary's job) he would have refused to call Trump's inauguration the largest in history and then would have either resigned or been fired if Trump pressed him on it. Instead, he said it, stayed at his job, kept lying to the public, and now Aunt Lydia archetype Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies with breathtaking ease.

Obviously, don't buy Sean Spicer's book. But, if you're reading this blog, I doubt you were planning on it anyway. So why am I spending my time on Sean Spicer when I could be doing, well, anything else?

Sean Spicer is going to kick off promotion for his cynical-money-grab-masquerading-as-a-redemption-tour at Book Expo America, the annual gathering of the publishing industry. Or, to put this another way: a fascist collaborator is going to shill his book at BEA.

Here is what I would like to see happen. BEA should drop him from the programming. (Maybe send event director Brien McDonald an email to that effect. They should issue a statement that they were wrong to invite him or to accept Regnery's proposal for the above delineated reasons and they should give that space to an author from a marginalized community or a community directly impacted by the Trump administration. Sean Spicer's presence does not “welcome a conservative perspective,” or “reflect a commitment to free speech,” or whatever other bullshit defense they'll offer for giving a platform to someone who assisted the rise of fascism by lying to the American people. Short of that, (which I honestly don't think will happen) I think booksellers, publishers, authors, readers, and everyone else in the book world at BEA, should come together and empty the trade show floor during his event. Ideally, the meeting rooms should be empty, the booths should be empty, the other signings happening at the same time should stop, and the ABA lounge should be empty. (Ideally, this should be an ABA-endorsed practice, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that.) If you're an author who is scheduled to sign during his event, you should demand to be rescheduled. If you have a competing event on a different stage, you should demand to be rescheduled. (Maybe that would help increase the chances of option 1 happening.) The silence that descends upon the floor as Spicer's event starts should be the loudest statement made at BEA. Short of that, his specific event should be empty. Not only should every single seat set out for an audience be empty, but there also shouldn't be any journalists covering his event either. Sean Spicer does not deserve our attention. Perhaps, if we can't do that, it's best to make sure enough willing people attend to shout him down, so he never actually gets to pretend he should make money off of his complicity. What would twenty plus people shouting “How big was the crowd?!” throughout his event accomplish?

I'm going to be honest. I'm not an organizer, so I don't have the skills to help facilitate any of that. So far, the best I've come up with is that booksellers should gather at the entrances to the floor during his event, but there are also workshops going on, and meetings with publishers and an event called “Publicist speed dating” which I'm even signed up for.

At the very least, I don't want the book world to just shrug its shoulders. It's one thing for a fascist collaborator to try to make money by writing a book, and it's one thing for a publisher to try to make money by publishing that book, (And Regnery is a primary actor in the great conservative con) but it's something else entirely for that publisher and that fascist collaborator to center that book at the industry's biggest event and it's something else entirely for the industry to let that fascist collaborator use its platform. The book world might not be able to stop this, but that doesn't mean we have to accept it.

So, if you're reading this and you are an organizer and you'd like to help, reach out to me in the comments or on twitter (@InOrderofImport) and let's see if we can make something happen. Reach out even if you're not an organizer but hope something organized can be pulled together. If you're reading this and you're attending BEA in some capacity, maybe publicly commit to leaving the floor during Spicer's event and to convincing your friends and colleagues to join you. We don't have to commit to some huge, well-organized gesture to make a point. (Would #BEAEmptyFloor be useful?) At the very least commit to not attending his event and to convincing your friends and colleagues to join you as well. If we can't de-platform him, maybe we can at least de-audience him. (#LonelySpicey?)

There are times when I think we've got this. That the barricades are stressed but holding. That the blue wave will hit in November and crass survivalism will force Republicans to finally untether themselves from Trump. There are times when I think we'll use this trauma to break through longstanding barriers to true social, political, and economic progress, and in a decade or so, we'll end up with universal healthcare, an end to mass incarceration, a meaningful climate change strategy, massive campaign finance and corruption reform and, I don't know, maybe even a livable wage. There are other times when I think Republicans are going to roll out some kind of October surprise, they'll martial voter suppression forces and techniques in ways we are not preparing for, and their existing gerrymandering will protect them enough for them to consolidate power and finish their decades long process of turning America into a neo-feudalist state run by wealthy white oligarchs.

But the former won't happen on its own. And if the later is going to happen, well, then it will happen despite our best efforts. In the grand scheme of things, de-platforming Sean Spicer from a publishing industry event will be a relatively small victory. But all big victories are made up of small victories, just like all big lies are made up of small lies. And if there's a choice between doing nothing and failing and doing something and failing, I'm going to do something.