Marianne Williamson – Nope.

I have thought of a million ways to start this blog post about the candidacy of Marianne Williamson, and none of them are keeping with the tone of dignity and civility that I’m aiming for here. So…

I think her primary policy idea is prayer?

Ms. Williamson is not without an impressive resume of good work done in the world – from the founding of Project Angel Food to feed HIV positive and AIDS victims in the 80s to her work advocating for peace in various forms. Good on her.

However, listening to her is like listening to a self-help book on tape, when you know that most of what you are hearing is meaningless, but maybe there’s a nugget of something you can learn.

What I found particularly interesting is that of all of the candidates that I’ve listened to so far, Williamson is the most defensive about her candidacy. When challenged by an audience member who suggested that her message was “abstract”, she became heated and insisted that she has more specific policies than any other candidate. (She doesn’t.) It was weird, uncomfortable, and poorly handled.

Williamson is all about God, and that’s okay. For her. It’s not okay that she seems to indicate that the rest of us need to be all about God/god, too.

I’m trying to decide if it is deal-breaker for me that she doesn’t have a college degree. I know a lot of incredibly smart people who do not have college degrees, and I know that it is possible to seek and receive a well-balanced education outside of the traditional college setting. I also know that a college degree – even advanced degrees – don’t make you an intelligent, reasoned person. But…

For so very many reasons, nope. Nope. Nope-edy-nope.

I primarily focused my research on this series of interviews from WMUR in New Hampshire. (WMUR interviews are still fantastic – and am finding that the questions asked are incredibly well thought out, range across many topics, and somewhat consistent between candidates. Great source to learn more!)

Is anyone taking her candidacy seriously? Can someone reassure me that you’ve read this, so that I didn’t lose two hours of my life listening to YouTube videos of interviews with her today for no good reason. Link me to any articles, videos or just let me know what you are thinking in the comments.

John Delaney – Worth a Listen

I was really prepared to not like or care about this guy at all. As it turns out, I don’t dislike him, he seems to have some pretty good ideas, and I still don’t care all that much.

Solution-Oriented, Bi-Partisan Problem Solver

Delaney’s core “message” is that he is a solutions-oriented guy who can work across party lines to get things done. Sounds reasonable, but also like something pretty much every candidate says. Unlike some other candidates, Delaney does have some really specific ideas on policies and programs, he’s really well-spoken and articulate about those ideas, and he’s enough of the centrist and pragmatist to actually work across party lines.

I’ll continue to listen to Delaney- but I’m not inspired.

I’m going to continue to pay attention to Delaney, mostly because he does have some solid ideas and he isn’t uncomfortably painful to listen to when he articulates them. But I’m not at all inspired by him. He talks about every issue he’s asked about as a “priority” and “the number one issue facing…”, and I don’t feel like it is really genuine. I don’t think he’s dishonest, but I think he’s not comfortable saying, “I haven’t actually considered that idea or that topic.”

Also, at the risk of falling into the trap of identity politics, he’s a middle-aged, white guy from the Mid-Atlantic states. It’s not a reason to write him off, but it’s also not an advantage in this race.

I primarily focused my research on this series of interviews from WMUR in New Hampshire. (WMUR interviews are fantastic sources of information, btw.)

Is anyone a big Delaney supporter? I’m particularly interested in anyone who has been following his career for a long time. Link me to any articles, videos or just let me know what you are thinking in the comments.

Andrew Yang – Tech Geek, Single Issue Candidate

I don’t think Andrew Yang wants to be President of the United States. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself in order to understand his candidacy. Yang has an urgent message about the impact of automation on the workforce in the next 5 – 10 years — specifically the loss of jobs in trucking, customer service, and retail. He seems to be using the 2020 Democratic primary as a way to get that message out. It’s a worthy message – but it’s his only message, and it isn’t enough to put him on my list of potential candidates.

Universal Basic Income

Yang has some good ideas, including the idea of universal basic income – which might not be the right answer, but it is an idea worth discussing. As the overall economy of the United States is actually growing, income inequality is increasing and the vast majority of the people are not seeing the benefit of that growth. The benefits of automation translates into corporate profits, but there is no motivation to use that profit to create additional human jobs. Keep automating to minimize the cost of human labor, and you keep growing profit. Yang’s solution is to provide a “dividend check” on that growth (funded by taxes on corporate profit) to all Americans. I don’t hate the idea. I don’t love the idea. That’s an entire series of blog posts in itself.

Yang is a No from me.

While he’s clearly smart, Yang is a single issue, single focus candidate. He’s not terribly articulate about anything other than automation and universal basic income, although he admirably tries to bring every issue back around to this point. I also think he’s very wrong on the Supreme Court, where he strongly believes that setting term limits.

My sources were primarily this interview at Georgetown University from February, and this series of interview from WMUR in New Hampshire from February.

Do you disagree? Is there something about Yang that I’m missing? Link me to any articles, videos or just let me know what you are thinking in the comments.

My Current 2020 Democratic Candidate Ranking

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As I do my own research into the candidates, I’m going to keep a ranking for my own purposes of where candidates fall. The ranking won’t be totally accurate or fair, because a.) I’m still learning about many of the candidates, and b.) at some point in the list, they all just become the same level of “no”.

Updated 04/14/19

But why did he run?

antwonroseOn Tuesday, June 19th, Antwon Rose was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh.  He was 17.  He was Black.  And he was unarmed.

Vox and the New York Times both have good summaries of the facts.  (If you are more of a Fox News person, their article is okay, but not quite complete.)

Here are the facts of this case:

  • Antwon Rose was running away from the police after the car in which he was a passenger was stopped, because it matched the description of a car that had been involved in a fatal shooting earlier that evening. (There is bystander video of Antwon fleeing the scene with his back to the officers when he was shot.  This fact is not currently being disputed by the Pittsburgh Police.)
  • Antwon was unarmed, but police did recover an unused clip of ammunition from his pocket.
  • Two firearms were recovered from the car in which Antwon was riding; however the driver of the car was released by police. (I personally conclude that this means the firearms were registered and that no other charges were pending, but I have also not independently verified that.)
  • The officer who shot Antwon was sworn onto the Pittsburgh Police force hours before the shooting, but he had previously worked in suburban police forces for several years prior.

The officers had no evidence that Antwon (or the others in the vehicle) were involved in any crime.  The question that I keep hearing over and over again is, “But why did he run?”

Why did he run?  Because he was a 17 year old Black teenager pulled over by police.

I can provide the researchI can tell you the facts.  I can even debate with you over alternative interpretations of the data.

What I can’t do is to make you understand the reality of living a life in a body that is instinctively seen as a threat.  I can’t possible understand that reality myself, but I know that it is true.  I know that it is true, because when I see a Black man approach me on a sidewalk, my instinct is fear – and every day I have to fight that instinct, knowing that I might not be personally to blame for the existence of that fear, but I am responsible for not acting on it.

Why did he run? 

Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Philando Castile was shot while he sat in a car with his girlfriend and her daughter, for doing nothing more than reaching for his driver’s license.  Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Kalief Browder was held in jail for 3 years awaiting trial for stealing a backpack (a crime for which there was no evidence and he was ultimately found not guilty), because the criminal justice system was never designed to provide justice for boys that look like him.  Maybe Antwon ran because there were firearms in the car, and if 12 year old Tamir Rice can be killed for a toy gun, it’s not a stretch to think that he might face the same fate.

And maybe Antwon ran because he was a scared, 17 year old kid who was just afraid of getting into trouble.  Maybe he was a teenager who made a mistake.  Maybe he was a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The maybes don’t matter.  What does matter is that regardless of why he ran, he did not deserve to die.

Justice Stevens forces me to eat my words. And I’m annoyed.

Last night, I finally had enough of the false narrative that pro-gun control liberals who support the March for Our Lives movement were out to repeal the Second Amendment.  It’s just not true, I insisted.  And I posted this:

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12 hours later, I was eating my lunch and browsing the news sites – and I see this headline: John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment.

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Let’s start by saying, I stand by my statement that the overwhelming majority of people do not support a repeal of the Second Amendment.  (Former Justice Stevens is, in fact, a Republican.  Not that this makes any difference whatsoever, but it feels like it is worth mentioning.)

I cannot, however, deny that I owe someone an apology.

Is there any validity to Justice Stevens’ recommendation?

There is value in reading Stevens’ op-ed in the Times, which outlines how he landed at his “repeal the Second Amendment” conclusion.  It’s interesting.  Interesting, but not valid.

Stevens argues that for the first 200 years of our country’s existence, it was generally understood that the Second Amendment did not preclude the government from passing gun control legislation.  (Curious about my take on the origins of the Second Amendment?  Of course you are.)  The NRA became a powerful lobbying force only within the past 20 years, at which point “gun control” became thought of as the antithesis of the Second Amendment.

Okay, Stevens – so far, so good.

He then points to the 2008 Supreme Court decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller as the turning point – a decision that enshrined the right for an individual to bear arms for any reason – as the moment that the NRA took over the narrative.  Stevens dissented on this ruling, and continues to believe that this ruling should be overturned.

But this is where the Stevens takes a weird turn.

If the 2008 ruling was incorrect, the solution – which Justice Stevens refers to as “simple” – is to repeal the Second Amendment.  It’s a bizarre conclusion in the best of times, but in our current political environment where the country is so divided – particularly on this issue – it’s just irresponsible.  You can have whatever personal opinions you want to about the Second Amendment, but to distort the current movement into one of a full repeal of the Second Amendment is counterproductive.  It’s either an effort to deliberately derail the movement, or a naive and idealistic understanding of politics.  Real political and cultural change comes in compromises.  It comes over time.  Positive change is never achieved by making the worst fears of a large chunk of citizens come true overnight.  (The irony of that statement given the last election is not lost on me, y’all.)

I know I have some liberal friends who are reading this and thinking that I’m a sellout and a centrist.  Maybe I am.  Maybe in another ten years, I’ll look back on this blog post with embarrassment.  But for now, I’m going to remain the pragmatist, striving to find the common ground and looking for the solutions in the space between.

 

 

 

Oh, SNAP.

33921116_sA couple of nights ago, I posted a link to an article on my Facebook feed about the SNAP (or “food stamps”) program.  The NY Times article, “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” (written by Anahad O’Connor), suggested – and was reinforced by the headline and photo used – that families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend their benefits on junk food and soda.

I had linked to another Facebook post by a gentleman named Joe Soss.  Mr. Soss provided a rebuttal of that NY Times article, suggesting that the original study was misused in the article.  Since then, Talk Poverty has also picked up the story and expands on Mr. Soss’ original post.  While the article seems to question whether families receiving SNAP should be able to purchase “junk food” with their benefits, the underlying USDA survey actually found very few differences from the spending habits families on SNAP and those who are not.

Passion and Productivity sometimes don’t mix

My post sparked the passion of several of my friends, and I have a huge amount of respect for the amazing women who shared their feelings.  They came into the conversation about SNAP benefits from very different backgrounds, and those experiences created the strong feelings that they have on the topic.  Unfortunately, sometimes that passion can cloud our ability to address each other with empathy and respect, and it was the first time that I felt compelled to delete a Facebook post.  

Having deleted the post, though, I still wanted to present their viewpoints (to the best of my ability) and provide my thoughts.  There were two big issues that became contentious:

  1. How much fraud happens within the SNAP benefits program – and how much does it matter?
  2. Should those who receive SNAP benefits be restricted in what they are allowed to purchase, limiting junk food and other non-essential food items?

Food Stamp Fraud?

There was a heated discussion about the prevalence of SNAP benefit fraud in the Facebook thread.  One individual has witnessed individuals who have sold their benefits (or food purchased with their benefits) for cash, and suspects that those individuals have used the money to support a drug habit.  For this reason, it is extremely hard for her to feel positively about the program, particularly as an unemployed mom who struggles to make ends meet for her own family and does not qualify for the benefits.

It’s really hard to argue with that experience.  The official statistics on food stamp fraud show that there is a 1.3% rate of “trafficking” in SNAP benefits, according to a 2013 USDA report.  (These appear to be the most current numbers.)  What is critical to understand is the definition of this fraud:  “Trafficking” is defined as users who trade their SNAP benefits to food retailers for cash, typically at a discount.  Individuals who may purchase and then sell the food for cash would not fall under this type of fraud, and these incidents are likely not captured in the total fraud statistics.

If there is unmeasured fraud within the system, is it enough to warrant major changes to the SNAP program?  It’s really difficult to tell taxpayers struggling to make ends meet that even though they see abuses, this program is far more valuable than it is wasteful.  However…

There will always be some individuals who seek to abuse the system; creating a 100% fraud-proof system is impossible, and we’ll spend far more taxpayer dollars trying to eliminate fraud than the cost of the fraud itself.  The SNAP program is one of the most efficient federal programs in terms of administrative overhead (~7% of total budget, with 93% going directly to beneficiaries) and in error rates in distribution.  And the benefit that it offers to our entire society by reducing extreme poverty and providing a safety net for families and individuals to get back onto their feet during difficult times is significant.

Limit the Grocery Items Available?

38611885 - detail of a person shopping in a supermarketThe second issue, and possibly the more contentious one, was an issue of whether or not SNAP recipients should be more restricted in the grocery items that they may purchase.  Should someone on SNAP be able to purchase junk food and soda?  What about steak and lobster?  How about exotic and expensive fruits and vegetables?  Organic items that are more costly?

There are rules established on SNAP benefits that  limit what can be purchased to food items, excluding things like prepared foods.  However, beyond that, the individual beneficiary makes the decisions about what foods to purchase.  Here is where things get complicated.

  • Are there some choices that would appear better than others?  Of course.  I will admit to having judgement if I see someone buying expensive food items using their SNAP benefits.
  • Can such a purchase be justified for special occasions, or if the individual has truly saved up for something?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  
  • Should I be allowed to have an opinion because I’m a taxpayer?  I understand why the answer feels like it should be yes, but no.  We all deserve the dignity of personal decision making, and even if you are receiving government assistance, you are an individual with the ability to make decisions for yourself.  

Setting limits becomes a slippery slope.  If we don’t allow the purchase of lobster, should we also take away expensive fresh vegetables?  If we start limiting items based on cost, then junk food is more attractive, because it’s cheap.  If we also limit food that does not provide high nutritional value (and that has been proposed in Tennessee), we start to narrow down the choices exponentially.   We end up with a program that provides almost no value, and has higher overhead costs to manage the regulations.

Accountability?  Of course.

Should the SNAP program – and all government benefit programs – be continuously monitored and held accountable for results?  YES.  So many people are opposed to “big government” because of the waste and inefficiencies in the programs, and they are not wrong.  Many government programs are poorly managed, with little oversight and no accountability.  We need to stand up as voters and demand that oversight – and insist that we fund programs that work – and change or remove programs that don’t.  We also have to admit that no program is without issues – cracks that folks can fall through, and loopholes that others can sneak through.  We do the best to patch those holes and keep moving forward.

SNAP works in a highly effective and efficient manner.  This is one of the good ones, and we really need to work to protect it.

A note on fostering the conversation

PLEASE keep talking to each other and sharing your point of view.  If something makes you angry, help the rest of us to understand why.  I know you don’t all agree with me – and I hope you will tell me why and help me to learn.  Comment, ask questions, provide links, or suggest further research!