Life is a Mystery

18 November 2017 . Comments Off on Punishment and Reward for the Inexcusable

Punishment and Reward for the Inexcusable

I’ve been struggling with my own response to the Al Franken revelations this week. On the one hand I think Al’s admitted behavior is reprehensible, on the other hand I think his acknowledgement and apology are sincere and important. He did the wrong thing then, he is doing the right thing now. Do we punish him for his past behavior or reward him for his present behavior?

One of my frustrations with my fellow men is that we seem to be incapable of owning our own behavior. Not only do we do terrible things from time to time, we seem to find it impossible to acknowledge those terrible things later. In the case of assault and other less aggravated insults agains women, we compound our transgression by then accusing the women of lying about these situations, or of being unreasonable in their own responses. Just last week I was telling my sister that I wished one of these prominent men being accused could accept the accusation and simply apologize.

Here we are, a week later, and I believe Franken has more or less fulfilled my wish. After an initial resistance, he has issued a sincere public apology to Ms. Tweeden and apparently even called her to offer a private apology as well. He has admitted being an ass and not made excuses for himself. He has avoided compounding the damage he already did to Ms. Tweeden. This is the behavior I want to encourage in men, this is what owning our own past actions looks like.

None of this excuses his past action. Clearly he was a turd six years ago. He is probably still a turd now and then today. So am I. So here we all are. Do we punish him for his past behavior or reward him for his present behavior?

For the most part I’ve seen this framed in Minnesota as a question of whether Al should resign from his seat. The political calculus goes something like this: Al should resign and let our DFL (Democratic, for those of you not from around here) Governor appoint a strong woman to the seat, she can run for the partial term in 2018 which will likely be a blue year and then be in a stronger position in 2020 to win the seat outright.

My fear about this course is that it could discourage other men from responding as Franken has. If acknowledgement of and apology for an action like his results in being immediately cast aside, then why not simply resist any acknowledgement, call the women crazy, and hope to ride out the storm. In this scenario, the best of men would acknowledge their actions and be sacked for it, while the worst would further victimize their victims and be rewarded for that choice. This is more of the same, more of what we have seen for all too long.

And yet, his behavior was reprehensible. Doesn’t it deserve some consequence?

I believe that Franken would face harsh headwinds should he stand for re-election. He has been a bright light of the Democratic Party in Washington and around the country. He has used his notoriety to raise funds for candidates around Minnesota and the whole US. That Al is gone; he has lost his standing, and most likely lost any chance to carry on his career in the Senate. That is already a significant consequence.

I wonder if there is not another option available. What if Al serves out his Senate term but announces now (or soon, anyway) that he will not stand for re-election in 2020. In this case the punishment for his past behavior would be the conclusion of his Senate career (a harsher punishment than Ms. Tweeden has asked for, by the way), and the reward for his present behavior would be room for a dignified exit.

Of course, if there are further shoes to drop from Al’s past, then this path is probably precluded. Minnesota deserves a Senator working for the people, not distracted by a litany of mea culpas for a past of insensitivity, insult, and assault.

Whatever happens next, I hope that it encourages men to acknowledge how harmful they have been to women, encourages women to keep sharing their stories and holding men accountable, and results in a deep and shared understanding that sex and power are never things to be grabbed, but are gifts to be given and respected. Whatever happens next, I hope it makes our politics less toxic rather than more.

(P.S. Yes, I realize that this is not always a male/female dynamic of disrespect. Please forgive me for simplifying the picture using the most common pronouns rather than a more comprehensive accounting of perpetrators and victims.)

18 June 2017 . 3 Comments

This is what democracy looks like?

I am still processing yesterday’s Saint Paul and DFL convention, and I must say the intervening day hasn’t made it feel any better. We say that the party process helps us to select the best candidates, those who most reflect our DFL values, those with the best chance of winning office. I’ve heard people argue against the primary process because it allows the unwashed masses to dilute the party. Personally, I value primary challenges because they strengthen our candidates. Still, I understand the value of party endorsement, and conventions are a relatively participatory way to produce an endorsement.

What really bothered me yesterday was that the convention appeared to be designed to make sure that no endorsement for the mayoral candidate resulted. In particular, the rules committee proposed a set of rules that would have made an endorsement very difficult. The convention body selected an alternative set of rules, more likely to result in an endorsement, offered by a minority report from the rules committee. But then that alternative set of rules was further amended so that the convention ended up with a hard stop time of 7pm.

As anyone who’s been around this kind of process for a while realizes, a hard stop is simply an encouragement for those who want no action to spend their time postponing matters. The adoption of the 7pm stop time virtually ensured that the convention would end up deadlocked and without an endorsement. And that is what happened.

The only point of holding a convention is to endorse a candidate. Designing a convention’s rules to avoid endorsement is designing a convention to waste everybody’s time. The first four hours of yesterday’s convention was spent arguing about the rules. In all the convention spent 10 hours of people’s time on a beautiful Saturday doomed to fail in it’s purpose. That was a disservice to everyone. Yes, I realize we did endorse three school board candidates in a single ballot. But the big race was the mayor’s race, and our failure to endorse in that race is an indictment of the convention process.

The Saint Paul DFL was not courageous enough to allow even its own small democratic process to play out in its convention. I believe that the adoption of ranked choice voting, along with appropriate technology to count those ranked choice ballots quickly, is a better alternative for democracy today than primaries. But even with ranked choice voting, an endorsement is a valuable asset for a candidate. We should be ashamed of ourselves in the Saint Paul DFL, that we could not design a convention that was able to produce an endorsement. I am particularly ashamed that we wasted so much of so many people’s time, and left them with such a bad taste of what our democracy looks like.

11 October 2015 . Comments Off on Building a New Majority

Building a New Majority

I have been imagining what a New Majority in the US House of Representatives might be like ever since Speaker Boehner announced his retirement. What if a non-partisan majority emerged? Tonight I woke from my dreams and wrote the following letter to my representative in the House. If you believe this could work and make our country stronger, I urge you to send a sililar letter to your representative.

Betty, thank you for signing the export petition for the Export Import Bank on Friday. It is not so much the issue I care about as the principal of working together and bringing legislation to the House floor for a vote. Congratulations on the small break in the tyranny of the minority that has ruled the House for so many years. I am writing in hopes that you, my representative in Congress, can help build this small kernel of progress into a movement and a New Majority.

My dream is that a new coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats will come together around the principals of moving legislation to the floor (with committee consideration, but minimal committee blocking) and voting as a whole body (with zero party discipline). I wonder if such a majority could be built, elect a (Republican) speaker and a (Democratic) majority leader who would assign mixed (but majority R) chairs (with opposite party vice-chairs) for committees and with whipping aimed to move legislation rather than enforce party discipline. The notion would be to return majority rule, true democracy, to the House.

I know this would be unprecedented in US history, and a nearly impossible scenario. But I believe it is time to make some history and start bringing our country back from the partisan brink we stand on. I say this as a partisan, long time DFL organizer and officer of my local (SD64) DFL party. I believe you could help heal this dangerous divide. Now is the time for radical cooperation among those who simply believe the House should be a functioning and relevant body rather than a pit of partisan bile. Please, help make it so.

You will have my support and gratitude. Please help build a New Majority in the house.

Move beyond our party for all of us.


Let’s see if we can make history!


28 November 2012 . Comments Off on What is $2000 worth?

What is $2000 worth?

I just got an email from the White House asking me to tell the President and Congress why it is important to keep taxes from going up on the middle class. They would like me to explain what $2000 is worth to our family. Here is how I responded:

$2000 is a month living in our home. It is the new computer for our high school student. It is a couple months of food on our table.

We are not even halfway to the $250,000 cutoff the President is considering for raising taxes, but we believe in our government and its ability to bring us together to do things we cannot do alone. As members of the middle class, we are willing to give up this $2000 right now if it goes toward health care for all, services for the poor, maintenance of vital infrastructure, and education for all our children. We are ready to pay the price of living in a vigorous society that builds a bright future.

So, please, take our $2000 and build a stronger America for all of us. We would rather start paying now, than saddle our children and grandchildren with a decayed America that has forgotten the price of freedom.

I welcome tax increases. I see our tax-sheltered society as a shameful abdication of responsibility to future generations. I hope we come to our senses and start building a stronger society together again, because I fear the one we are building as individuals is getting more ragged and divided every day.

Look at the image the White House presents as representing this cause. A family becomes shoppers. A house alone and isolated. Pavement and suburban grass. This is the ideal we are striving for? I think this vision is part of the problem, it separates us from each other, it encourages us to carry as much as we can into our mortgaged houses. Will we wake up?

A caring society is worth much more to me than $2000. Let’s build one! Tell the White House what you want to do with your $2000.


15 November 2012 . Comments Off on Fix the Filibuster

Fix the Filibuster

Two years ago I created the 51 is a majority campaign. It didn’t catch on and neither did filibuster reform in the US Senate. This time around I hope the Democrats in control of the Senate will realize that they have to fix the filibuster.

For the past few years the requirement to get any work done in the Senate has been 60 votes. This is so common that 60 votes is the new normal. But the Senate was designed to work as a body that, for the most part, respects majority rule. The filibuster is a tool for the minority to raise serious concerns, but was never intended to be invoked on nearly every piece of legislation that comes through the body.

We must reform the filibuster, and I want my Senators out front on this one. There is a proposal being put forward by Senators Merkley, Udall, Gillibrand, Harkin, and Warren to make sure the filibuster is a “talking filibuster,” one that requires Senators to actually stand up and say what they believe if they want to block the action of the majority. Why are Senators I respect, like Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Michael Bennet, and Sherrod Brown not out front on this. We must have filibuster reform to get anything done in the next two years.

Please, write your Senators and sign the petition to reform the filibuster. Here’s what I said to my Senators (write Amy and Al yourself if you are in Minnesota):

Dear Al and Amy,

I hope and expect you will support filibuster reform. Make the filibuster a “talking filibuster” that requires a Senator blocking a vote by arguing that more debate is needed to do so by taking the floor and making a case to the American people.

Abuse of they filibuster has crippled the US Senate for long enough. A talking filibuster will protect the minority with enough power to block truly controversial legislation, but it will ensure that the filibuster is reserved for only important cases.

Please, be swift and clear in your support of filibuster reform. Fix the Senate!


UPDATE (19 Nov 2012): Amy Klobuchar has signed onto the effort! Thanks, Amy. Now are are just waiting for Al.

9 November 2012 . Comments Off on Marriage in Minnesota

Marriage in Minnesota

Let me start by saying I support marriage for same sex couples. I think marriage, the public commitment to build a life together and support a family, strengthens our society whether it is between one man and one woman, one man and one man, or one woman and one woman. I am eager for the day Minnesota welcomes this commitment from all. I am particularly excited that this week Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Now I’ll get to the harder pill to swallow…

I think Minnesota should move slowly to changing its law to facilitate marriage between same sex couples. If the DFL (Minnesota’s “democrats”) moves to legislate that change ASAP, now that it controls both the legislature and the governorship, it will come back to haunt us all too soon. The conversations opened by the beautiful campaign of Minnesota United need to continue, we need to continue to open hearts and minds to the coming change. We need some time to allay the fears of many friends and neighbors.

I fear some in the party are pushing to make marriage a priority in the next legislative session. I think we first must build a new budget, fund education properly, add some new revenue to the picture, then we will be ready to address marriage. This year should be a year of fundamentals: a year to undo damage done to us by leaders who refused to pay the cost of a vibrant modern society, to avert our slide into mediocrity.

I also note that the marriage amendment drove our voter turnout this year. More citizens voted on the marriage amendment than voted for president! I believe the marriage amendment made our new DFL lead statehouse possible. We will need that turnout again in 2014 if we are to keep the governorship and legislature facing the future. After a year of deep conversations on the issue and some practical accomplishments under our belt, 2014 will be the right time to take on marriage equality. I believe this change will spark joy and reveal the demons of the right as myths. It will be a very positive story for Minnesota. I want that positive energy as close to the next election as possible.

In order to build our constituency for change through respectful conversations, in order to get some important gritty work done in the legislature this year, and in order to place a positive story closer to the next election cycle, I hope Minnesota’s progressive community takes a deep breath, enjoys our recent victory, and targets 2014 as the year of marriage equity in Minnesota.


18 January 2012 . Comments Off on A letter to my four favorite senators: Drop support for PIPA

A letter to my four favorite senators: Drop support for PIPA

I was distressed to learn that all four of my favorite senators are co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. This is a terrible bill that does more to threaten the technical and philosophical foundations of the internet than it does to actually protect intellectual property. Please, encourage your own representatives to oppose or withdraw support for this legislation.

Dear Dear Al, Amy, Michael, and Sherrod,

I am writing you, my four favorite senators because I hope I can get your attention. You are all four co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act and I believe you are making a grave mistake. I hope you take the time to read this letter personally, and reconsider your co-sponsorship.

You all know that I am a life-long Democrat. Amy and Al know that I have been an active DFL organizer in Minnesota and campaigned hard for their election here in SD64. Though I’ve never lived in Colorado, I’ve known Michael since we could count our age on our hands and campaigned for Sherrod long before he became a senator. I am more proud than I can say of all of you, and your presence in the US Senate gives me hope for our country.

However, Protect IP is fatally flawed. I have worked with technology for over 30 years, I’ve built tools on the web since 1993. While we all tend to imagine that the code supporting the internet is deep and robust, let me tell you, it looks a lot like the code that holds together our country, vast and contradictory. Protect IP assumes that some simple tweaks can solve the problem of piracy: that is a lie. Piracy will stay with us, what Protect IP will actually break is the foundation of the internet.

Al, you wrote to me that “We must protect American jobs from piracy, which has become rampant on the Internet. We don’t tolerate shoplifters in stores and we should not tolerate them online.” I agree that piracy and shoplifting are bad. But I ask you all to consider consequences. When someone shoplifts from a store, do we shut down the store? Do we require that all stores prevent all theft? What would our society look like if we did? Visualize this for a moment. Metal detectors or full body scanners at every entrance? Customers always treated as potential thieves? Stores that have “sponsored” shoplifting cut off from their bank accounts? It is hard for those who are not technologists to imagine what Protect IP looks like to those who would have to implement it, but it is a lot like a world where shoplifting is treated with such disproportional harshness.

Yes, we have to protect jobs. But consider how many jobs depend on the internet as a whole. Consider how many jobs are created by the open network that is easily accessible to all inventors and investors. Consider the chilling effect of Protect IP on legitimate commerce and expression. Consider the ease with which it will be abused.

I understand the entertainment industry is important, and their concerns about piracy are well founded; but Protect IP is a terrible abuse of government power and a vast overreaction to the problem. You are being hoodwinked by an industry that will do well enough without this “protection.” You are sponsoring an internet that will at best encourage the development of tools to facilitate repression around the world and at worst be the germ of an American repression we will all live to regret.

I am so proud to have you all in the Senate. But I can’t tell you how sad I am that all four of you are co-sponsors of this dreadful bill. This one is a show-stopper for me, if you can’t see past the lobbying of the entertainment industry to the truth of what Protect IP does, then I am afraid I will have to question the role of my party in the protection of freedoms that are so much more vital than intellectual property.

Please, reconsider your co-sponsorhip of this bill. Please do everything you can to make sure it does not actually see the light of day. See that it gets tied up in committee, or suffers some other face-saving demise. Please, make sure Protect IP is never actually the law of this land.

With deepest respect and thanks for all you do,

Eric Celeste

2 December 2011 . Comments Off on Less than Zero

Less than Zero

As the financial crisis of 2008 hit us squarely in the gut, I was telling Mary that it would be interesting to see how the Fed would get interest rates below zero. They swung rates to zero so quickly that it was clear if interest rates had to go below zero they would have to invent some new excuse. It would be odd to hear on the new that interest rates had gone “negative,” but I was looking forward to something like that.

Let me say a word about negative numbers: they don’t exist. Or, more correctly, they are a fiction we invent to help us do math, but in the real world, they don’t exist. If you see a negative number in the real world, it simply means zero was put in the wrong place. Is the temperature -20 degrees? That just because we put zero in the wrong place on the F scale.

Today I finally realized how the Fed did it. Watch this piece by John Stewart…

How did the Fed create negative interest rates? Through the secret beyond-TARP program they loaned banks 7 trillion dollars at -3% interest! To create a negative interest rate you have to pay someone to take your money, right? That’s just what they did! By giving banks $7,000,000,000,000 at 0.01% interest, and then borrowing that same money back from banks at 3% interest, the effectively gave money away to the banks: that 3% is the negative interest rate. It is the payment for taking our money.

I’d have to do more digging and math than I have time for right now, but I think we now see how the Fed was able to get the lending rate below zero. I am not so upset about that, but I am incredibly upset that they did this in secrecy. Why not let the public know this was going on? Why not let congress know how big a hole we were in? No wonder this depression is taking so long to crawl out of, it was (is?) nearly a black hole!

6 August 2011 . Comments Off on What does the downgrade mean?

What does the downgrade mean?

We woke up this morning to this question from Nate:

what does the down grade from AAA to AA+ mean? How will it affect us? just wondering

nate 🙂

How can I resist a question like this from my 13-year-old? I’m glad he’s thinking about the issue. Here’s how I responded. What would you say?

It’s kind of like a movie review. The rating is a review by Standard & Poors of America’s likelihood that we’ll repay the credit other people give us. Before we were three stars (the best), now we are 2.5 stars (pretty good). I think the impact will be not very large because I think most investors have their own sense of the USA and our credit worthiness. We are in the news all the time, and the news has been scary weird of late. Anybody with have a brain-cell should be worried about our future ability to pay back debt, so they’ve already gotten a bit jittery about buying that debt from us. In other words, I don’t think the movie review matters as much when everyone has seen the movie for themselves.

That said, the fact that smart investors will get jittery about our debt is a problem. It means we won’t be able to borrow as much, and since our lifestyle in the USA has been built on that borrowing, it means that tough times lie ahead. That, however, is not news. Where else can we get the money we need if we can’t borrow it? I think we have to face the fact that our taxes are too low and we each need to help pay for the services our government provides, or cut those services. Services we can cut should begin with the military. Taxes we should raise begin with those on the wealthy.

So, that’s the picture from my little brain,

14 July 2011 . Comments Off on Getting mugged

Getting mugged

The state of Minnesota was just mugged. There were no negotiations, there was no compromise. Our legislative Republican majority did not make a single new proposal during two weeks of government shutdown. Our Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, on the other hand, came out with idea after idea seeking compromise and only got obstinate “no way” responses from the other side. To me this began to feel like a real crime, like a mugging. The criminals had no intent to compromise and no interest in their victim. Our only choices were to hand over what they wanted or get shot. As we all know, the sane thing to do when you are being mugged is to hand over the goods and hope the criminals don’t kill you. Today Governor Dayton handed over the goods, we’ll see how severe the damage is over the coming year.

While I am disappointed that the Governor had to eventually accede to the awful proposal the Republicans made before the shutdown began, I also don’t think there was much choice left. He gave in to a plan that even former Republican Governor Arnie Carlson says “represents some of the very worst” financial planning he’s ever seen. It is a plan that extends the financial gimmicks Minnesota has been playing to absurd levels, stealing even more money from already strapped schools by delaying state payments to school districts and giving away future tobacco payments in order to raise the revenue required to scrape together a budget. In order to keep a few more dollars in millionaire pockets, the tea party “conservatives” have left Minnesota in even worse fiscal health than ever. This is a disastrous budget that will keep Minnesota on its downward trend for years to come.

Still, the Governor did get a few concessions. Some terrible social policy language was stripped from the Republican proposal, a 15% state workforce cut was avoided, and a $500M bonding bill will accompany the budget outside the usual odd/even year cycle for this sort of thing in Minnesota. Dayton is not up for reelection until 2014, he’ll get at least one more chance to push for a budget that turns Minnesota around.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are busy claiming victory for a plan that will expose them for the hypocrites and liars they are. They claim to value fiscal responsibility and demand a budget of smoke and mirrors. They claim to value every voice, yet refuse to negotiate with the Governor in good faith while their state is in crisis around them. Today they got exactly what they wanted, and our job as Democrats will be to remind them that this was a Republican plan from beginning to end, forced on the state at virtual gunpoint.

Every single Minnesota House and Senate seat is up for election again in 2012, thanks to redistricting brought on by the recent census. This plan credited to the Republican right should give us the foundation we need to take back the Minnesota legislature in 2012 and give Dayton some partners he can work with.


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /