Thanks but no Thanks

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Thanksgiving is the most inclusive, and most American of holidays. You don’t have to belong to any particular race or religion to celebrate it. You don’t even have to believe anything one way or the other about the first Thanksgiving, on which this holiday is loosely based. It’s just a time to gather with family and be thankful for all our blessings and for each other. Then we watch sports and eat too much. It’s perfect!

Naturally, the Democratic National Committee wants to turn it into a progressive indoctrination session.

We saw the same thing last year, when they pushed young lefties to proselytize about Obamacare in between bites of candied yams. It’s part of a disturbing trend of making every event in human life about politics. It’s not completely new: the “personal is political” cliche from the ’60s is the beginning of such a theme on the American left, and extremists of right and left in Europe have long sought to view every facet of existence through a political lens. But it is new for a major American political party to seek to invade non-political spaces with as much vigor and persistence as the Obama-era Democratic party.

I think this goes too far even for most Democrats. My own family has people of all different political views, and some who don’t much care about politics either way. None of them ever tried to indoctrinate me, and I never tried to indoctrinate them. It just doesn’t feel natural or respectful to do it.

With some relatives, I’ll have political banter, but only with the kind of folks who just like to talk and think about interesting ideas. None of us is really seeking to change minds or to upbraid someone for their thoughtcrimes.

Instead of a list of counter-arguments, I suggest this: enjoy your family, enjoy your turkey, enjoy your football, and don’t bait relatives who disagree with you into turning Thanksgiving into a real-life version of Twitter. Be cool! Give thanks! Have fun!

Jindal Drops Out

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It’s strange that Gilmore, Pataki, and Santorum continue to haunt Iowa’s 99 counties while Governor Bobby Jindal, a man of learning, good sense, and excellent experience, drops out for lack of funding and lack of interest.Much has been said of him already, but this analysis by Dan McLaughlin at Redstate says it best:

Jindal is both the youngest and most experienced candidate in the race, the one with the best record of conservative accomplishment, the best and most detailed conservative platform, and the proven character and ability to lead the nation in crisis and to turn policy proposals into actual results. He is both the best potential President in the 2016 GOP field and a better general election candidate than any of the alternatives who might be considered more conservative or more anti-establishment. No candidate is perfect, but Jindal deserves to be among the finalists in this race, and should certainly be a significant part of the next Republican Administration.

McLaughlin touted Jindal as the best candidate. I’m not sure I’d say that, though he was certainly in my top five. He is unpopular in his home state, but I hope he still has a future there and that we’ll see him in some future presidential sweepstakes. Before that happens, a Senate seat will likely come open in Louisiana next year. Jindal’s resume hardly needs polishing, but he would be a credit to the Senate and bring some needed intelligence to that lethargic body.

The Debate Nobody Watched

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There has been a strange divide between the two major parties this year. The Republicans have seen record numbers watch their primary debates, while the Democrats have tried their best to make sure no one witnesses theirs. Even Vox, the notorious apologists for the Democrats in general and the Clintons in particular, admits that scheduling a debate in Iowa on a Saturday night when Iowa football is on is sketchy. But it’s not the result of bad planning, it’s the result of a bad candidate, Hillary Clinton, and the party machine’s desire to protect her from scrutiny. And it is lost on no one that Clinton’s own party thinks the best way to help her win is to never let anyone see her.

This debate was on CBS, and moderated by John Dickerson, to general acclaim:

The debate began with opening statements. In hers, Clinton sought once more to assure the American people that she is not a robot:

The people remain skeptical:

Once the debates started, the questions naturally turned to the ISIS murders in Paris and the wider question of war on Islamic fundamentalist terror. Clinton tried to sound tough, tougher than President Obama, just as she did when she ran against him in 2008:

Bernie Sanders turned, as all old Bolshies do, to the past, highlighting the various misdeeds of the nation he seeks to lead:

Martin O’Malley said some things:

Generally, the output was underwhelming:

The candidates next turned to their tax plans, which no one believed:

They talked about reform of the financial industry, which let to the first interesting question of the night: is Hillary Clinton owned by Wall Street? Sanders says yes:

Clinton offered an unusual counterargument: 9/11?

O’Malley joined Sanders’s criticism, then touted his his own bona fides:

Sanders and O’Malley called for the forward-thinking innovation of re-enacting laws from 1933:

This was difficult for Clinton to agree with, since her husband had worked to repeal the act in question in 1999. Plus, you know, she’s owned by Wall Street:

In closing, the candidates reminded the viewer of their strengths.

Sanders called for more “free” stuff:

Clinton emphasized her age and her proximity to important things:

O’Malley said something, but even he wasn’t paying attention:

There was not much said here, and not many people watched it. The only real take-away was in the most ridiculous item of the night:

Fortunately, Democrats will have a chance to revisit the issue in their next two debates, to be held on the Saturday before Christmas and on a Sunday in January, opposite an NFL playoff game.

Against contractors

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This weekend SEPTA1 is opening a new train station in Lansdale. It is between two existing stations, and will help deal with some overflow parking when nearby Lansdale station undergoes parking garage construction. Building this station, the first new one since 1997, has been a low-profile affair. The construction was pretty quick, as transit agencies go, and was conducted with in-house labor and resources.

That last fact stood out to me as I read another SEPTA story in the Inquirer yesterday about the trains that spray leaves off the track in fall.

These wash trains weren’t made specifically for the purpose of cleaning away leaves. Between foul weather and the vibrations from the moving train, the gear takes a beating. Mechanics improvise makeshift, low-tech solutions to keep the thick gel flowing properly and the wash trains running.

They proudly point out how a particular problem was solved simply by punching holes in a pipe, or how a flatbed car’s equipment, including a shelter for the two 265-gallon gel tubs, a generator, a fuel tank, and high-pressure electric pumps for the water all were installed in-house.

There’s a pattern here. Quality, affordable work being done by the people SEPTA already employs. This is a theory that deserves further consideration by governments and agencies at all levels. Former Bush administration official (and Philadelphian) John DiIulio explores this theme as it applies to the federal government in his book, Bring Back the Bureaucrats.

It’s a good read, and it makes a good point. We associate shrinking the federal workforce with shrinking the federal government, but the two aren’t the same. The taxpayer’s money is still being spent, it’s just going to a different person’s paycheck. Many duties of the government are farmed out to contractors (often no-bid contractors) in the interests of efficiency, but those same jobs could be done better and more cheaply with government workers.

Associating efficiency with the government workforce is not something you often hear, but when you consider situations like the one above, you’ll see it makes sense. SEPTA already employs these people, so the cost of finding them is eliminated. And their interests align far more with the agency’s than an outside contractor’s would. If they do a bad job, they have to live with it and fix it. If a contractor does a bad job, he either moves on to another project, or gets paid more to correct his own errors.

I’ve been a permanent employee and a temp, and believe me you approach the two jobs differently. It may be time to consider that difference and change our approach to government hiring.

  1. The Philadelphia-area mass transit authority, for you non-Pennsylvanians

Mill-e-wah-que

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Tonight, the Republicans will gather for their fourth debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I suppose the locations don’t matter, but why they don’t do it in Iowa is beyond me. Anyway, the debate (on Fox Business Network) will be a little smaller this time, not because anyone has dropped out of the race, but because the debate organizers have required that a candidate average 1% in the national polls to participate. Three candidates, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki, have failed to reach even this low bar.

The field is still unwieldy enough to require two debates. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum will sit at the kids’ table, while Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump take the main stage. I hope a debate among eight debaters proves easier to manage than one with ten, which has just seemed absurd at times.

As before, the task for the candidates in the first debate is to get noticed. As the primaries near, this begins to look more and more like a lost cause, but there is still some hope. Jindal polls higher in Iowa than he does in the national polls that determined his placement here, and Christie has the ability to make himself heard. The other two, if they don’t make a strong showing in Iowa (and they haven’t so far) are doomed.

At the big show, Kasich, Paul, Fiorina, and Bush are fighting against the draining of their supporters to the two emerging leaders among the normals: Rubio and Cruz. That sort of a break out is difficult: Fiorina achieved it once, in the performance that elevated her to the grown-up table, but since then her support has receded. For Paul, the number of like-minded libertarians in the party may be too small to move him any farther than he already is. Kasich does well among moderates and the media, but even the disproportionate attention he gets hasn’t raised his standing among actual voters. And for Bush, the challenge is the most acute. He went for the knockout last time, and Rubio counter-punched him back into his corner. It’s hard to see any different result this time.

Trump and Carson continue to struggle to find respect among serious voters, and I don’t see how they’ll do so tonight. Both have run policy-free campaigns. Will they get serious this time? I doubt it. Expect more bombast from Trump and weirdness from Carson.

That leaves the two frontrunners among serious candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Cruz won some hearts in the last debate with his cogent policy remarks, self-awareness, and attacks on the inept moderators. More of the same won’t hurt him. Rubio, the recipient of several high-profile endorsements since the last debate, needs only to replicate his previous performances to show that he is the proper mainstream candidate around whom the party regulars should continue to coalesce.

Who Lost Appalachia, Part II

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Last night, the Democrats’ retreat from Appalachia turned into a rout as Matt Bevin was elected governor of Kentucky. The state had elected a Democrat to the office four years ago with a large majority, and mainstream opinion this time was that Bevin (who unsuccessfully challenged Mitch McConnell from the right in a primary in 2014) had no chance. He won by 9 percentage points.

This was a real test in Republican strength, and two points show that strength to be quite real. The first we knew for months: GOP voters outnumbered Democrats in the primary for the first time ever. That’s not always dispositive, but it shows a core party strength of numbers that conveys at least some advantage.

Second, the success carried down the ballot to some of the fairly anonymous row offices. These are as good a test as any for a parties’ statewide base, since it involves choosing a candidate that you know little or nothing about for an office you might not have known even existed. All you have to go on is the person’s name and party. The Republicans took most of these, with the Democrats holding only those in which their candidates had famous names (both are the children of Democratic politicians).

Kentucky has been Republican in presidential politics for a while now, but after last night we can say that it is well and truly a red state.

Philadelphia Maneto

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I don’t normally listen to TED talks. Typically, the seem like a lot of hot air. But this one by Roman Mars on the subject of flag design intrigued me, so I took a listen. I’m glad I did because his point, that city flags are horribly designed, is one with which I absolutely agree.

Take a look for yourself, if you like:

Inspired by this, I took a look at the flag of my hometown, Philadelphia:

2000px-Flag_of_Philadelphia,_Pennsylvania.svg

It’s not the worst you’ll ever see. It has colors in a pattern that most flags don’t replicate, so it’s recognizable. Those colors actually have a purpose, too, being derived from the flag of the first European settlers in the region, the Swedes. So that’s good. But it still has that seal-on-a-bedsheet problem that many state and city flags have. The seal is too small to be recognized from a distance, and has too many components to be easily remembered or drawn by hand.

But what does symbolize our city if not the city seal? Well, what makes Philadelphia unique in American history, even more than the brief colonization by the Swedes, is that it was the largest city founded by Quakers. The religious tolerance of William Penn and his coreligionists drew thousands of settlers from Europe to the city and the surrounding colony of Pennsylvania, making Philadelphia the colonies’ largest city for a time.

The Quakers don’t have any official symbol that I know of, but the American Friends Service Commitee has long been associated with what is informally known as the Quaker Star:

Quaker_star-T

Those colors on a blue and yellow flag would not be easy on the eyes, but the symbol is one that spoke to me as a perfect representation of the city’s Quaker connections. A little tinkering with the color scheme led me to this, with the dark blue of the state flag and the lighter blue of the city flag standing in for the AFSC’s red and black.

Revised Philadelphia flagSo there’s my proposal. Elegant, simple, and symbolic of the city’s storied past. Let’s make it happen, Philadelphia!