The presidential race and the problem with politics in the US


Note: This podcast was recorded before Ted Cruz's Super Saturday victories and Ben Carson dropping out of the race.

We have problems with our politics these days. I've been holding off on posting about it because I'm not sure I've had reasonable words, but comedian (and UFC commentator, etc.) Joe Rogan and former CIA covert operative Mike Baker really get it right.

Baker, who is more a rationalist than anything else (he has operational issues, for example, with Hillary Clinton — he explains in plain language what happened with her email), spells out the issue with anyone willing to run for the presidency: "There's a certain personality type that's way up its own ass that allows you to think, 'Yes, I should be president of the United States.'"

"We're down to assholes, basically," agrees Rogan. "Bernie Sanders seems like an old kook, he doesn't seem like an asshole," but he doesn't seem to think we should really be voting for anyone who would actually want the job.

That all happens in the first few minutes of the podcast, by the way. You needn't put yourself through very much of the video above (the first five or seven minutes will be plenty to get you started) to see where they head with the conversation.

Let me be honest with my perspective, before we get too deep in here. I'm a disenchanted liberal. I grew up in a strictly Democratic household, and identified as a Democrat until about 2000, when I really saw Ralph Nader's point. Barack Obama brought my back into the party, but quickly lost me (here's my very hopeful post after his first inauguration, and my jaded look forward after his reelection). I now live in a state with open primaries, so I have no need to register for a party ever again. In political "quizzes," I match up as a left-leaning Libertarian.

Louis C.K. — another comic — writes, in what I think is a really important rant about Donald Trump, puts it nicely:

When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while.

Around 11 minutes into his discussion with Rogan, Baker points out that somehow compromise is now seen as a weakness. And that's really a major problem for me. That's what we're built on: discourse and compromise. The rhetoric from both sides these days is not only angry, it's vindictive. And that's our fault as voters.

It's been pretty well figured out, I think, that to win a primary, a candidate has to move toward an extreme, and then will have to move to the middle to win a general election. What we don't know is what happens when the president gets into office — on Day 1, is he handed a book (he, here; we haven't had a she yet) of what we know and then he has to look back on his campaign promises and say, "Holy crow, we can't do that!"

Baker says soon we're going to need an end to the two-party system, to really have stronger other options. He also goes on to say he thinks presidential candidates should have to disclose who they'd like in their cabinet: after all, presidents don't know everything about everything, they take advice from their circle. Rogan goes even further, saying maybe we should eliminate the position of president, instead making decisions by committee.

We sort of do that, actually. We need a point person, and the president sort of acts as CEO — the board (cabinet, generals, etc.) gives him all the options, and the president has to make the final call. For example, Baker points out, there's a lawyer in the White House who advises the president on whether the secondary casualties that would result from going after a "high-value target" make it a doable operation.

As for Trump, Rogan says that people like him because he "talks shit," which he clearly does. Personally, I don't want someone who's verbal political tactics are a great way to get into a bar fight. "There's so many goofy white guys who are ready and psyched to have a reality star as president," he says.

C.K., in his rant, calls for people to just read up a little on Trump. "If you do vote for Trump," he writes, "at least look very carefully at him first." Here's a guy who has said he likes people who weren't captured, but further, that John McCain, who was the target of that criticism, "has to be very careful" for criticizing the candidate and that "he'll find out" why. I don't know about you, but the way I read that, any US soldier who gets wounded or captured is going to be in trouble, and that if you say anything bad about Trump, you'd better be prepared for...something.

We do know that Trump wants to change libel laws (that's a conservative publication I linked to, by the way). The Daily Beast (which claims to be independent but seems to lean liberal at a quick glance) has a good explanation of our current laws and Trump's proposed law.

Whatever you think of the Chronicle's take on Trump gutting the First Amendment, I can say that I watched his Super Saturday rally and noted that Trump said, before taking questions, "you know the press is among the most dishonest people created by God, so I would love to take a few questions from these dishonest people." Start around 12:37 here:

If I'd have been there, I probably would have left. As a voter (and Jew and member of the media), I'm scared of Trump; as a journalist, I'm over him. If you could get me to go to cover a rally, I'd be there with duct tape over my mouth.

I'll close with Baker talking about Trump and the American Dream. Baker served the US as a covert CIA officer abroad for many years, and now runs an intelligence agency called Diligence LLC (around 51 minutes into the conversation).

How does it happen that this country — this fantastic country, and again I've spent most of my life overseas — I can go to the deepest darkest shithole out there, somewhere out there [in the] middle of nowhere, and someone will say, "if I go to America and I can work this hard and I can do really well, I just have to, you know, if I can get to America," they still — people out there in the middle of nowhere — still believe the American Dream.

And yet you worry about it, because I think we seem to be giving up on it here. If this is the best we've got, if we're willing to follow this guy down the tunnel, I don't know where we're heading, but it's not good."

This week in political correctness (or is it?): Trump, Schumer, Mexicans, the Confederate flag and the Washington Redskins

Wow, it's an interesting week in political correctness, or whatever we're calling it these days.

Let's see. Should we start with the Confederate flag, Mexicans or the Washington Redskins? Hmm. Maybe Mexicans.

You may have heard that the Miss USA Pageant had to set up streaming video on its own website after being dropped by Univision and NBC (and later picked up by Reelz) after pageant owner Donald Trump called Mexicans "rapists." You know who else called Mexicans "rapists" (or insinuated that they are)? Comedian Amy Schumer. A couple of WaPo columnists are saying she should be Donald Trump's running mate.

Really, what I think they're saying, is that Schumer has a new movie out and a show on Comedy Central and maybe you should put up a boycott. Uh...here's the thing. Schumer is a comedian. She's trying to get a laugh. If she tries a joke and it doesn't work, she won't use it anymore. If people find her funny, she'll keep saying it, even if she doesn't believe it.

Donald Trump is trying to be president of the United States. You know, the guy who helps make laws and is expected to be able to talk to other world leaders about international policy.

Nobody really thinks Tom Segura wants to gain 800 pounds or that Louis CK thinks it's ridiculous that people have Chinese babies or Daniel Tosh this his his sister getting raped is a good practical joke. Know why? They're comedians. Donald Trump? Not a comedian. If Trump's elected, the president of Mexico can skip the Amy Schumer movie but is stuck sharing a border with a guy who said publicly he's probably a criminal.

On to the Confederate flag.

The biggest debate right now, of course, is the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Capitol. It's been there since South Carolina joined the Confederacy integration movements in the 1960s. It represents racism to some people, states' rights to other people, and a whole bunch of other stuff to other folks.

The question facing the government is, should it come down? The state Senate said yes it should, and the House debated for 11 hours before agreeing.

Of course it should come down BUT here's why. It represents nothing more than a rooting interest, and it's at a government building. The U.S. flag is a symbol of the United States. The South Carolina state flag is a symbol of South Carolina. The Confederate flag is a symbol of a union of states that hasn't existed in 150 years, and now represents a variety of things to a variety of people.

They might as well put up a Gamecocks banner and wait for the Tigers fans to lose it.

Ever since the Charleston church shooting, the Confederate flag debate has also seeped into popular culture. Golfer Bubba Watson said he'll remove the Confederate flag from atop his "General Lee" (the car from "Dukes of Hazzard," a show TV Land pulled).

Some are really angry about that. They say TV Land and Bubba Watson are bowing to popular pressure; they're "selling out." Of course they are! You know what happens to television stations when people stop watching? They go off the air. Know what happens when people won't buy tickets to PGA events because one of the athletes is doing something to bother them? The PGA takes away his livelihood. Of course they'll bow to popular pressure. That's how they stay popular, because that's how definitions work.

On almost a side note, some NASCAR fans in Daytona were flying the Confederate flag — sometimes above the U.S. flag. Now, I get the flying of the Confederate flag, but above the U.S. flag? That's at the very least disrespectful (and a violation of U.S. flag code); it might actually be treasonous. As in, actionably so. As in, your choice of what you fly on top of your camper could get you drawn and quartered.

More: Minnesota firefighter suspended for flying Confederate flag on fire truck »

Another thing that happened this week is a judge said the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office was right to cancel the trademark of the NFL's Washington Redskins. The trademark was canceled last year, though the team can keep the trademark until it completes the appeals process.

Under section 37 C.F.R. 1.211, Publication of applications, of the trademark code, subsection (d):

The Office may refuse to publish an application, or to include a portion of an application in the patent application publication (§ 1.215), if publication of the application or portion thereof would violate Federal or state law, or if the application or portion thereof contains offensive or disparaging material.

Essentially, under the determination that the term "Redskins" is offensive, the team can't hold a trademark on the name. That's not to say the team name has to change, but if they lose the trademark, they lose that big money on licensing. You or I or anyone else could start making Washington Redskins shirts or hats or bumper stickers or dog collars without paying the team for the use of the name. That's a huge business in sports.

That one's the most interesting to me, I think, because there's no precedent for it, it deals with a privately held business (even if the business is WAY in the public eye) and the outcome is going to swing millions of dollars in one direction or another and affect owners, employees and patrons all differently.