More California Ballot Cranks

Hayes D. is back with a look at some legendary ballot cranks of California history:

I took a sick pleasure in writing about Measure S and Michael Weinstein the other day. Thanks to Steve for asking me to do that.

While I was at it, I dug into some of the other rich, angry men who took advantage of the California ballot system: guys like Weinstein who spent a ton of money and made pretty extreme changes to the law without ever actually being elected to office.

Here are two!


Howard Jarvis was the guy behind Proposition 13, a 1978 state ballot initiative that slashed the property tax for everybody in California by about 60 percent.

That tax cut now costs California somewhere between $20 billion and $150 billion a year.

“Is that a lot?” Well, the entire state budget for 2017-2018 is $179.5 billion. So if you take the middle of the Prop 13 cost estimate, that means one slightly overweight businessman from West Hollywood basically cut California’s budget by a third.

Jarvis was a millionaire from LA who got rich making airplane parts and garbage disposals and other stuff. Your classic 1950’s generic “businessman.” What separated him from his peers was how much he hated taxes.

So after he retired in 1962, he ran for office a few times on an anti-tax platform. Lost every time. Then he discovered the ballot initiative route, and in 1979 he wrote up Proposition 13: a rule that the property tax could only be about 1% of the appraised value of the property, and it couldn’t go up unless the property was sold.

With the help of the base he built from his other campaigns, he and his wife gathered 1.5 million signatures to get it on the ballot. Then Jarvis went on a barnstorming tour of California and riled everybody up so good that the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.

How did he get this thing passed when basically every elected official in California was against it? This section of his LAT obituary about his rallies might sound familiar to those of us who were alive in 2016:

“When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell ’em how government is clobbering them. I rev ’em up. I talk about basic human rights.”Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public’s fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.

Fun word choice in that last sentence! Like being mocked from the past.

Also familiar in modern times: Jarvis was rich but managed to come off as an everyman because he was a loud, fat, funny slob. Here’s one of several observations about his pipe habits from this article by a guy who worked for him:
When he got excited, Jarvis would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter, Jarvis got agitated and started puffing hard. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. Jerry Carroll, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, wrote in a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle story that at one point in an interview Jarvis, “jerked opened a drawer in his desk, spit into it and slammed it shut.”

Buried in that passage is the revelation that there is such a thing as a “false desk.”

Jarvis made a bunch of commercials for Prop 13 starring himself and was constantly on TV talking about it. Somehow he got nationally famous doing this. He made the cover of Time!
A 75-year-old California anti-tax activist! On the cover of Time Magazine! The past: it was different.

Here’s maybe the most insane thing. Remember the guy in Airplane! who waits in the cab for the entire movie? That’s Howard Jarvis.

Some people seem to think that his cameo was some kind of inside joke referencing Prop 13. I’m not persuaded by that.

Prop 13 is still California law today, and the legacy of it is… just incredibly depressing. It’s so bad.
Here’s a KPBS reporter talking about it in 2010:

FARYON: Well let’s go back to prior 1978, back in the day when schools needed money. More money to hire students, to pay for classrooms, supplies, and so on. They basically looked to the local taxpayer for money in the form of property taxes. And in fact, they set their budgets, went to the county assessor, the property tax rate was set, and then they collected enough money. As much money as they needed. After 1978, what happened was we couldn’t do that anymore. It was a statewide cap. One percent – that’s all the money that you got. So as a result, before 1978, before Prop 13, statewide the schools had a $9 billion budget. After Prop 13 they lost $3 billion – a third of that – overnight.
Here’s a look at California’s per-pupil spending for the past four decades in comparison to other states. The last time California was at the top of the heap was 1965, when it ranked 5th. In 1978 – the year Prop 13 passed –California was 14th out of 50. The next year, the state fell to 22nd place. In 1988, California fell below the national average for the first time and never recovered. The state now ranks 43rd.

Somewhat relatedly, LAUSD is currently running a deficit of 1.46 billion.

Lots of clips of Jarvis and stuff about the present-day effects of Prop 13 in this fun NYT docushort.

Ron Unz


Ron Unz with 80 dollars. Source

Ron “Make ‘Em Say” Unz wrote and spent $750,000 of his own money on Proposition 227, a ballot initiative that made it against the law for California schools to teach in any language other than English.

He was born in North Hollywood under cool, 60s-style circumstances. From an LA Weekly profile:
When Ron Unz’s mother, a politically active left-wing schoolteacher from Los Angeles, was in her mid-20s, she met an older professor from the Midwest on a flight to Israel. He seemed odd, eccentric even, but clearly brilliant, too, and Esther-Laio Avrutin decided, after he‘d visited her several times when she’d returned to L.A., that she would a have a child with him. When Esther-Laio wrote to her lover to let him know about her pregnancy, the letter was opened by the professor‘s wife — the existence of this wife came as startling news to Esther-Laio — and that ended any possibility that, her sister says, they would be married.

Unz only met his dad a couple of times in his life. A sad thing I discovered: the dad’s obituary does not mention Ron among his children. Oof.

A few details from this somewhat excessively flattering New Republic cover story:
After college, Unz became sort of a nineties proto-Peter Thiel: he got rich writing software for the financial industry, then got involved in libertarian policy and spent $2 million to run in the Republican primary against the incumbent governor of California, Pete Wilson.

He got 34 percent of the vote, which seems like a lot? Against a sitting Governor, as a non-famous person? Would real Peter Thiel even get that much today?

In 1998, Unz simultaneously ran for Senate and launched Prop 227, because he thought teaching immigrant children in their native language wasn’t preparing them to get good jobs. His staff for both campaigns was only two people.

Here’s an ad for 227, seemingly targeted at Latino families:

Unz whiffed on the Senate run, but 227 passed with 61% of the vote. Did it help kids? A 2014 Stanford study conducted with 18,000 students over ten years looked into that:
The results show that while students in English immersion programs perform better in the short term, over the long term students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up to their English immersion counterparts, but they eventually surpass them, both academically and linguistically.

So: no, not really. Forcing kids who didn’t speak English to be taught exclusively in English was, it turned out, not a great idea.

Unz put a lot more measures on the ballot, none as successful as Prop 227. But the fact that he was able to rally millions of people to do anything at all is still impressive, because Ron Unz is not, uh, traditionally charismatic. Listen to this voice:

That’s from his 2016 Senate bid. Not successful. Prop 227 also got overturned by a huge margin in that same state election. Also in 2016, Unz staged a failed coup against the Harvard Board of Overseers as part of a very strange, backhanded campaign against affirmative action. Tough year for Ron Unz!

Weird mood in Hollywood


Based on a short walk around the physical area Hollywood in the middle of the day,  I gotta say: a weird vibe!  Hazy conditions contributing to an off-kilter mood.


No one likes to see their society’s most important ritual suffer a systematic breakdown.

Far the exuberance and confidence of 1996.


More Hayes is in the pipeline on California’s proposition cranks, and we have a report to come on a visit to the District 5 City Council Debate.

No On Measure S

Today, Helytimes Readers, we have a special treat.  Writer Hayes D. will learn us about Measure S!  

You may know Hayes from his work on Hollywood Handbook, Family Guy, and Eastbound & Down.  He is also on the case of Los Angeles issues.  We have an election here on March 7, and the tale of Measure S is crazy and worth hearing about!

Take it away Hayes

Los Angeles in 1878 (and 2020 if Measure S passes). Source.

Measure S is a proposition on the ballot in the March 7th Los Angeles election. If it passes, it would stop most new construction in LA from being built for two years.

It would also ruin the city.

Is that an exaggeration? Maybe. But also: maybe not!

LA Is In the Middle of a Full-Blown Housing Crisis


Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office

Los Angeles is currently the least affordable city in the US when you account for median income, and it has the largest unsheltered homeless population by tens of thousands.

The primary cause of these problems is a housing shortage, especially affordable housing. LA needs to build a lot more places for people to live, as quickly as possible. If the housing supply grows, then costs don’t rise as quickly, more people can afford to live here, and fewer people get thrown out of their apartments by landlords who want to charge more. LA barely avoids becoming a luxury playground-fortress for billionaires like San Francisco is doomed to be.

But Measure S means LESS housing. And that means the crisis would get way worse. Rent would go up, affordable housing construction would plummet, and many, many more people would end up displaced and homeless.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties of Los Angeles have come out against it, along with the Mayor, the LA Times, and a lot of others.

A lot of actual experts have written much better stuff than I could about this.

But maybe the scariest thing about Measure S, to me is that it’s basically the whim of one rich guy.

A lot of California initiatives are like that: if you spend enough money, you can buy enough signatures to get pretty much anything on the ballot. Then, if you spend even more money, your proposal has a pretty good chance of becoming the actual law.

As a result, the state has a history of very wealthy, very angry people throwing cash around to get their own measures through the ballot initiative system, sometimes even successfully.

The angry person behind Measure S is Michael Weinstein.


Michael Weinstein’s website bio pic.

Weinstein, the CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is positioning himself to be the premier California ballot crank of the 21st century. My man is real good at this.

He almost singlehandedly got two propositions on the November 8th state ballot:
  • Prop 61, which was supposed to lower the prices that public employees pay for drugs
  • Prop 60, which would force porn actors to wear condoms

Two normal things for the people to vote on, as the Founding Fathers intended.

And he originally had THREE things on that ballot! Measure S was supposed to be on it too, but he moved it to March.

Both of his November measures failed, and Measure S probably would have, too: Weinstein moved it because the turnout is much older and more conservative in March, and therefore more likely to be mad about multi-family housing being built within ten miles of them. That’s how ballot-savvy this guy is! Dude lives for this shit.

But Weinstein differentiates himself from a traditional ballot crank in a couple of ways that make him, to me, a lot scarier. First:

Michael Weinstein’s ballot initiatives are designed to benefit Michael Weinstein.

Let’s look at Weinstein’s two November ballot measures for a second, Props 60 and 61.

The condom bill, had it passed, required the state to appoint a “porn czar” who would be allowed to sue any porn studios that were caught (sorry to use a legal term) rawdogging.

The bill also specified that:
  • The porn czar had to be Michael Weinstein.
  • He would get paid by the state to do this job (watch porn and sue people over it).
  • The state wouldn’t be allowed to fire him, unless it got a majority vote from both houses of the state legislature.
  • Even then, he could only be fired with “good cause.” Like… not watching enough porn, I guess.

This is all 100% true. The porn czar stuff starts at the bottom of page 12 of the bill, if you care. Of course, none of this information appears on the actual ballot, so most voters would never find out about it.

(The story of Weinstein’s lifelong condom-pushing is significantly too convoluted and weird to even get into here, but read this Vice article if you want to know more about it.)

Weinstein’s drug bill, meanwhile, would have made it the law that the prices paid by state employee HMOs for drugs couldn’t be higher than the discounted price the VA pays. Sounds great! But it exempted certain HMOs from the rule… including the HMO Michael Weinstein himself runs. He also once again wrote in a rule allowing him to sue people who violated the law, while having the state pay his legal fees.

(That bill was also sloppily written and potentially bad for other reasons, but the whole thing is pretty complicated so read this rebuttal maybe.)

Both of these propositions BARELY failed. Each one got about 46% of the vote. Weinstein came very close to fulfilling his goal of filing thousands of lawsuits a day over drug price violations and unsheathed penises.

But Measure S is somehow even more baldly self-interested than 60 and 61, and much simpler in its motives. It’s all about a building next to his building.

A couple years ago, a developer signed an agreement with the Palladium concert hall in Hollywood to build a couple of high-rise apartments right behind the venue. This made Michael Weinstein extremely mad, because the Palladium is next door to his AIDS Healthcare Foundation building, and he thought the towers would block the view from his corner office.

And they really would! Look at this picture. Weinstein’s building is on the far left.

Rendering by Palladium Towers, found at Curbed

Other than the fact that it says “SINATRA” on the marquee, the important thing about that image is that Michael Weinstein’s view is definitely being messed up. And the view from his office is important to him, as illustrated in the lede of this great LA Weekly profile:

Michael Weinstein peers out the window of his corner office on the 21st floor. Hollywood is growing all around him. In every direction, there are construction cranes, dirt pits and street closures.

“It’s just ungodly,” he says.

Very chill, approachable guy. Not at all supervillainy.

So Weinstein filed a bunch of complaints to stop the Palladium towers. When the city approved the towers anyway, he sued the city.

And in case that didn’t work out, he spent millions of dollars to get an initiative on the city ballot that would stop construction of not just the Palladium towers, but ALL new high-rises in Los Angeles, along with hundreds of other projects, including tens of thousands of units of affordable housing.

That’s all Measure S is. One guy’s blood vendetta against an unbuilt high-rise. For all the rhetoric about preserving neighborhoods, it’s really about preserving Michael Weinstein’s view, at no cost to him.

Really. This whole campaign isn’t costing him a dollar. Because:

Michael Weinstein doesn’t spend his own money on his political causes. He spends money donated by other people to the AIDS foundation he runs. 

Everybody who lives in LA knows about the AIDS Healthcare Foundation from their billboards. They advertise their STD testing services and, of course, condom use. And they are quite cheeky.

Here’s a fun one:
Others employ topical humor. (“GET TESTED AND CHILL,” “WE CATCH ‘EM ALL”). Some just have giant condoms on them that say “USE A CONDOM.” (Disclosure: I kind of like all of these billboards.)

But as of the last few months, almost every AIDS Healthcare Foundation billboard now reads “VOTE YES ON MEASURE S.” 

Because Michael Weinstein put all of the foundation’s STD prevention advertising on hold to push his ballot initiative. According to his election filings, all those Measure S billboards cost his AIDS charity $250,000 (in addition to the cost to society of all the untreated gonorrhea cases that the old billboards would have prevented).

So who else, other than the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is contributing to Measure S? Let’s check Ballotpedia:


A guy named Aaron Enstein and a patio company, for a total of $9,000.

Also, “Aaron Enstein” is probably a typo for Aaron Epstein, who’s listed among the Measure S endorsers and is…
…also a patio company.

The patio stuff seems weird but maybe it’s very smart? If Measure S passes that means fewer apartments, more single-family housing… more patios, baby! Patios are lot more relevant to the cause than, say, an AIDS foundation.

As of last Friday, AHF pumped even more into the campaign fund.


So that’s about $3 million from AHF, about $9,000 from anybody else.

And look at all the grassroots support Weinstein amassed for Propositions 60 and 61 from November.

For 61 (the drug bill):
And for 60 (the condom bill):

One name you don’t see among any of the donors is “Michael Weinstein.” It’s all foundation money. He has near-total discretion over how it’s spent. Far from costing him anything, he gets paid $400,000 a year by his foundation to do this.

I went to the AHF website. On the landing page, there’s a giant DONATE button. I smashed it.

Here are the options they give you for where your money goes:
  • $10 – Be a Friend of AHF
  • $50 – Help Purchase Medical Supplies
  • $100 – Help Save a Life
  • $500 – Trains a Physician in the Provision of HIV/AIDS Medical Care
  • $1000 – Provides HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care to Five Patients for a Year
  • $5000 – Provides HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care for 25 Patients for a year
  • $10000 – Supports HIV/AIDS Prevention & Care Worldwide

No option for “Help Finance a Local Ballot Initiative to Stop the Construction of Apartment Complexes in Los Angeles.”

I looked around some more. Couldn’t find any mention of any of their ballot initiatives ANYWHERE ON THE SITE.

Opinion: If I were a donor to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, maybe because I or a loved one had been affected by AIDS in some way, I might not be psyched to find out that my money was being spent the way Weinstein is spending it. I might… I don’t know, call the police?

Disclaimer: I’m sure they do a lot of great things to prevent the spread of AIDS also.

A friend once told me about a guy he grew up with in Arkansas who threw a charity crawfish boil for a children’s hospital, then pocketed all the cash. I see only a marginal difference between the fake charity crawfish boil and what Michael Weinstein is doing with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Measure S. And the crawfish guy, I’m told, got caught and went to jail. Weinstein is doing this in plain view.

I hope the people of LA can get together and block that view on March 7th.




continues to be a guilty pleasure.

Eisenhower appears in a dream

Last night in my dream Dwight Eisenhower appeared.  What would he make of all this?  We didn’t have a chance to discuss it.

A golfer.  A university president.  Chosen over other generals to command the Allied Expeditionary Force because of his understanding of and gift for diplomacy.

100% white men around him.  What would’ve been his view on trans bathrooms?

A Republican who invested the government in big projects, like the interstate highway system, and warned against defense spending in his farewell speech, which is thought-provoking:

Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Confidence, competence.

The current president like a clown version of him, a grotesque vision from a nightmare.


Source: the Wikipedia article on “grotesque”

Eisenhower was from Abilene, Kansas.


First president to ride in a helicopter.


Three Good Reads


Way out in Death Valley

Three provocative reads about Trumptimes.

First up, this one, from Medium: “4Chan: The Skeleton Key To Trump” by Dale Beren, about 4Chan, Gamergate, and young male Trump supporters:

They disguised their own sensitivity (namely, their fear that they would be, “forever alone”) by extreme insensitivity. The rules, like everything else, were always half in jest. Everything had to be a done with at least a twinkle of winking irony. This was an escape route, a way of never having to admit to your peers that you were in fact expressing something from your heart, in other words — that you were indeed vulnerable. No matter what a user did or said, he could always say it was “for the lulz” (lols). Like (by comparison the tame and sophisticated precursor) “Something Awful” board that spawned it, 4chan defined itself by being insensitive to suffering in that way only people who have never really suffered can — that is to say, young people, mostly young men, protected by a cloak of anonymity. The accepted standard was a sort of libertarian “free speech” banner, in which isolated man-boys asserted their right to do or say anything no matter someone else’s feelings. This meant generally posting pornography, swastikas, racial slurs, and content that reveled in harm to other people.

And this:

It was almost as if all these disaffected young men were waiting for a figure to come along who, having achieved nothing in his life, pretended as though he had achieved everything, who by using the tools of fantasy, could transmute their loserdom (in 4chan parlance, their “fail”), into “win”.

Section 5 of the article is where it really gets going, if you’re strapped for time:

Trump, of course, has made his fortune in a similar manner, with casinos, correspondence courses, and pageants, swindling money out of aspiring-millionaire blue collar workers, selling them not a bill of goods, but the hope of a bill of goods, the glitz and glamour of success, to people who don’t win, or in Trump’s parlance, “don’t win anymore.” As if once, in the mythic past he invented, they did once and soon will again, since at the heart of what he promised was, “you’ll win so much you’ll get sick of winning”. In other words, if we are to understand Trump supporters, we can view them at the core as losers — people who never ever bet on the right horse — Trump, of course, being the signal example, the man obsessed with “losers” who, seemingly was going to be remembered as one of the biggest losers in history — until he won.

The older generation of Trump supporters the press often focuses on, the so called “forgotten white working class”, are in this sense easier to explain since they fit into the schema of a 1950s-style electorate. Like the factory workers in Factotum, the baby boomers were promised pensions and prosperity, but received instead simply the promises. Here the narrative is simple. The workers were promised something and someone (the politicians? the economy? the system itself?) never delivered. Their horse never came in.

This telling of the story ignores the fact that, as Trump often points out, “it was a bad deal”. The real story is not that the promise was never fulfilled. Manny and Hank’s deal with the workers was the same as the factory’s deal with them: the empty promise was the bargain. The real story is not that the horse didn’t come in, it’s that the bet was never placed.

In the first presidential debate, Hillary evoked her conservative father as a way of appealing to the electorate, “My father was a small-businessman.” she said. “He worked really hard… And so what I believe is the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in you…”

No one noted how wildly outdated Clinton’s picture of the average voter was (her father, a suburban business man in the 50s) because we are used to every politician holding up the same faded 65 year old snapshot anytime he or she regards the American electorate. Just like how images of Christmas on Coke bottles and catalogs are forever stuck in the 30s and 40s, so we expect politics to be eternally frozen in the 1950s. That is to say, as a nation still (somehow!) defined by its baby boomers, we understand this era as the baseline for understanding ourselves, considering it, “where we are from”.

But what does the American electorate look like if we put down the snapshot? Peel away how we perceive ourselves from what we actually are? How has that image of a 1950s business man who owns his own home in the suburbs changed after decades of declines in wages, middle classdom, and home ownership?

To younger generations who never had such jobs, who had only the mythology of such jobs (rather a whimsical snapshot of the 1950s frozen in time by America’s ideology) this part of the narrative is clear. America, and perhaps existence itself is a cascade of empty promises and advertisements — that is to say, fantasy worlds, expectations that will never be realized “IRL”, but perhaps consumed briefly in small snatches of commodified pleasure.

Thus these Trump supporters hold a different sort of ideology, not one of “when will my horse come in”, but a trolling self-effacing, “I know my horse will never come in”. That is to say, younger Trump supporters know they are handing their money to someone who will never place their bets — only his own — because, after all, it’s plain as day there was never any other option.

In this sense, Trump’s incompetent, variable, and ridiculous behavior is the central pillar upon which his younger support rests.

This made me think about the Chapo Dudes.  Though from the opposite side of the political aisle, their failson language and busted, depressed tone seems somewhere on the same spectrum.  Their Twitters are really funny but kinda hopeless and nihilistic.

Trump supporters voted for the con-man, the labyrinth with no center, because the labyrinth with no center is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them. A labyrinth with no center is a perfect description of their mother’s basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.

Trump’s bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behavior — what the left (naturally) perceives as his weaknesses — are to his supporters his strengths.


at the pyro festival in Lake Havasu

Next up, “Sanctimony Cities” by Christopher Caldwell in the Claremont Review, “the bible of highbrow Trumpism” says the NYT.  (I first found Claremont Review back when Mark Helprin was writing for it, where’s he been?  Too much Mark Helperin, not enough Mark Helprin if you ask me).  Thought this insight about tribalism was worth hearing:

Any place that has political power becomes a choke-point through which global money streams must pass. Such places are sheltered from globalization’s storms. They tend to grow. Austin, Texas, adds tens of thousands of residents a year, and is now the country’s 11th-largest city. The four richest counties in the United States are all in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Resources are sucked from almost everywhere into political capitals and a few high-tech centers and university towns allied with them, where ambitious people settle and constitute a class. The Democratic Party is the party of that class, the class of the winners of globalization.

There are now just three regions of the country in which Democrats dominate—New England, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise, the party’s support comes from the archipelago of powerful New Economy cities it controls. Washington, D.C., with its 93-to-4 partisan breakdown, is not that unusual. Hillary Clinton won Cambridge, Massachusetts, by 89 to 6 and San Francisco by 86 to 9. Here, where the future of the country is mapped out, the “rest” of the country has become invisible, indecipherable, foreign.

And the rest of the country belongs to Trump. Pretty much all of it. Trump took 85% of America’s counties; Hillary Clinton took 15%. Trump even won a third of the counties that voted for Barack Obama twice. In November the New York Times had the idea of drawing up a topographical map for each candidate that showed won counties as land and lost counties as water. Trump’s America looks almost exactly like the actual United States, diminished a bit on the coasts and with a couple of new “lakes” opened up in urban areas. Hillary’s looks like the Lesser Antilles. It is possible to travel coast to coast—from, say, Coos Bay, Oregon, to Wilmington, North Carolina—without passing through a single county that Hillary Clinton won. Indeed there are several such routes. This is the heart of the country and it is experiencing a kind of social decline for which American history offers no precedent. (The economic crises of the 1870s and 1930s were something different.) Here people fall over, overdosed on heroin, in the aisles of dollar stores, and residential neighborhoods are pocked with foreclosures. This country, largely invisible to policymakers until the 2016 election, is beginning—only just beginning—to come into view. Trump was the first candidate to speak directly to the invisible country as something other than the “everyplace else” left over when you drive away from the places that are powerful, scenic, or sophisticated.


Trump intuited that the difference between Republicans and Democrats was a tribal one. Feminism and anti-racism had become successful policies not because they convinced voters logically or struck them as sensible, although in many cases they did, but because they conveyed loyalty viscerally. “Breaking the glass ceiling,” for instance, was supposed to be the theme of Hillary Clinton’s victory party on election night at New York’s Javits Center. Her staff chose that venue because it literally has the largest glass ceiling surface in New York. Glass-ceiling rhetoric was not an ethical argument but a war-cry. It was not about women but about our women. When, shortly after the election, Trump named his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway a White House counselor, his press release announced she was “the first female campaign manager of either major party to win a presidential general election,”—which indeed she was! Had ideological feminism rather than tribal loyalty been at issue, this would have been considered an achievement worthy of extensive coverage. It was not.


Badwater Basin had rain in it!

Last, “The Shallow State” by David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy:

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.


It is convenient to blame Trump and write this off as a flaw in his character and that of his acolytes and enablers. But, honestly, you don’t get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge (like the nature of the nuclear triad — after all, it has only three legs) without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer. That’s not to say that not much is wonderful in the world of media today … but attention spans are shrinking. Social media contributes to this. But the way we consume even serious journalism does, too. Much of it is reviewed in quick snippets on a mobile device. The average visit to a news website is a couple of minutes, the average time spent with a story shorter still. We skim. We cherry-pick.


A long road ahead



Source: giphy



From the Heritage Foundation, about as conservative as it gets:

Similarly, the Framers intended the Emoluments Clause to protect the republican character of American political institutions. “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” The Federalist No. 22 (Alexander Hamilton). The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation. Louis XVI had the custom of presenting expensive gifts to departing ministers who had signed treaties with France, including American diplomats. In 1780, the King gave Arthur Lee a portrait of the King set in diamonds above a gold snuff box; and in 1785, he gave Benjamin Franklin a similar miniature portrait, also set in diamonds. Likewise, the King of Spain presented John Jay (during negotiations with Spain) with the gift of a horse. All these gifts were reported to Congress, which in each case accorded permission to the recipients to accept them. Wary, however, of the possibility that such gestures might unduly influence American officials in their dealings with foreign states, the Framers institutionalized the practice of requiring the consent of Congress before one could accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from…[a] foreign State.”

Meanwhile I read the news:

China awards Donald Trump valuable trademark deal

Donald Trump sons set for UAE visit to open Trump International Golf Club Dubai

(A fun aspect to the Trump deal is: feels like every Joe and Josephine on Twitter is rapidly presenting themselves as a self-taught expert on like intelligence practices and the Ninth Circuit and what “emoluments” means.)

A thing I don’t understand: there must be at least one or two of the 248 Republican congressmen who’ve fantasized since youth about a chance to go full Profiles In Courage.


Here’s your chance bro!  Take on your scumbag President, go down for it, live on!  Are they all too lame? (Update: a possible candidate)

Anyway.  A chance to revisit famous mills of my youth:

Wayside Mill, Sudbury, MA

Wayside Grist Mill, Sudbury, MA