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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Can Democrats Be Republican Lite in 2020 and Win?

The Daily Escape:

Bowman Lake, Glacier NP – June 2019 photo by TheChariot77

We’re facing multiple crises over the next few years that require big policy fixes. Climate change is an existential threat, and the consequences of inaction far outweigh the risk of doing too much, too soon in trying to solve it. Education, healthcare, and housing costs are growing in unsustainable ways, and threaten to leave large swathes of Americans behind. The under-investment in our infrastructure is approaching a point of no return. The toxic combo of immigration, income inequality and political division could lead us into a second Civil War.

When we look at both Party’s candidates for 2020, do any of them have ideas that can solve these problems? Trump offers nothing to address them. A few of the Democrats running for the nomination have big ideas, and a few newbies in Congress have big ideas of their own.

The question is, will the Establishment Democrats prevent the candidates from offering big ideas to American voters?

In a prescient article in the WaPo, “Haunted by the Reagan era”, Ryan Grim made the point that older Democrats, like Pelosi, Schumer and Biden were scarred by past defeats, and subsequently, have attempted to placate their Republican opposition. From Grim:

“It’s hard to overstate how traumatizing that 1980 landslide was for Democrats. It came just two years after the rise of the New Right, the Class of ’78 led by firebrands like Newt Gingrich, and it felt like the country was repudiating everything the Democrats stood for. The party that had saved the world from the Nazis, built the modern welfare state, gone to the moon and overseen the longest stretch of economic prosperity in human history was routed by a C-list actor. Reagan won 44 states….”

It also happened in 1972, when Nixon swamped the liberal Democrat, George McGovern, 49 states to one. More from Grim: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“When these leaders plead for their party to stay in the middle, they’re crouching into the defensive posture they’ve been used to since November 1980, afraid that if they come across as harebrained liberals, voters will turn them out again.”

Maybe it’s political PTSD. For younger politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), this is a strategic error. For the young Democrats, Republicans shouldn’t be feared, they should be beaten.

But, Joe Biden is leading the polls for the Democratic nomination. He, like the other Establishment Dems, assume the voters won’t agree with them on fundamental change. They think that Democrats only get elected by avoiding riling up the conservative silent majority, or, at least, the majority of those who actually turn out to vote. From David Atkins:

“They hew to the late 20th century perspective that the wisest course lies in not making change too quickly, or giving any political party the power to make sweeping changes. This status-quo philosophy is part of why America hasn’t made any major changes to its economic or political structures since enacting Medicare in the 1960s.”

They believe this, no matter how much polling shows that voters increasingly reject conservative precepts. More from Atkins:

“Voters swept Barack Obama and the Democrats into unitary control of government in 2008, and got for their trouble a too-small stimulus and a relatively minor adjustment to the healthcare system. Voters… swept Donald Trump and Republicans into unitary control of government in 2016, and for their trouble got a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans….And when neither party has total control of government, practically nothing happens at all.”

So, should the Democrats run to the center in 2020? Hillary lost doing precisely that in 2016, but the Dems took back the House in 2018 mostly by winning centrist districts, including many that had voted for Trump in 2016. The Establishment Democrats want to hedge their bets, protecting a status quo that, in the medium-term, may prove very dangerous to the country.

The Dems won 2018 in part by promising to reign in Trump. Once in control, Pelosi took all substantive actions off the table, opting instead for a series of small, politically-irrelevant investigatory gestures.

Those who voted for them have to wonder: If this all that they’re going to do, why give them the power?

Sanders and Warren are old enough to be Establishment Dems, but they are true progressives. Neither Warren, nor Sanders is a once-in-a-generation superstar like Barack Obama. Assuming none of the current pack of nominees are like him, the question is whether the Dems on the extreme left, or the center-left, are more likely to turn out enough voters to carry Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and possibly, Florida.

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What the Dem Debates Are Telling Us

The Daily Escape:

Yosemite Falls from floor of Yosemite Valley – June 2019 iPhone8 photo by Believeland313

Wrongo, Ms. Right and a few friends saw the play “Ink” on Broadway this week. It’s the story of Rupert Murdoch, and how he disrupted the newspaper business in England in the early 1970s. Everyone knows the story’s outline: A tradition-bound business is revolutionized by an outsider who uses tactics that the industry won’t consider using.

When the Newspaper old guard finally understand that failure is staring them in the face, they try half-heartedly to change, and fail.

Flash forward to America in 2019: The Murdoch-owned FOX network has disrupted our news organizations, assisted mightily by the internet and by little people like Wrongo. Trump disrupted our politics in 2016, and now it’s the Democrats’ time to decide to disrupt, or stay the course. Their Party is dominated by Biden, Schumer and Pelosi. Schumer is 68, while the others are in their 70s. All represent the old guard.

After two Democratic debates involving 20 would-be candidates, it’s clear that the Party is on the horns of a dilemma: Embrace disruption? Or, stay the course? One of the fringe candidates, Marianne Williamson said it’s not about policies, it’s about playing Donald Trump’s game and beating him.

The MSM says Dems should get down in the weeds, talk policies and how to pay for them. But we should really talk about the direction the country should be taking in a post-Trump America.

Democrats face a conundrum. The Democratic disruptors may be out in front of the public. Those candidates are Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, and a few others. Republicans will attack them as radical socialists, but their message, that the average person has gotten screwed for at least 40 years and only systemic change can solve that, resonates.

For the disruptors, Incremental change hasn’t worked. That’s something Trump realized, and these few Democrats have as well. You have to be playing the long game. It’s not about one debate. You stick to your message, and make sure it resonates.

Then there are the traditional politicians like Biden, Beto and Klobuchar who are playing the old style game. Biden in particular says, “look at what I’ve done in the past. Give me the reins again“.

But it’s unclear whether voters want to play it safe. Wrongo had a good conversation with his Trump-supporting friend Dave C., who says he’s fiscally conservative, but may be flexible on some social issues. He knows that Trump won’t fulfill all of his promises. And no one should think that Sanders, Warren or any Democrat will be able to fulfill theirs either.

DC doesn’t work that way. But many things count bigly, like the appointment of Supreme Court Justices.

And regarding the “socialism” epithet, Bernie had a piece this week in the WSJ entitled “Trump Is The Worst Kind of Socialist.” If you read it, you’ll be sold. Bernie is not just saying Trump must go, he’s going at the Right’s main attack on him, while doubling-down on his position.

Bernie may not be your cup of tea; he isn’t Wrongo’s. But, he delivers his position with passion. This isn’t Hillary taking a poll, and trying to cover all bases. Bernie’s willing to drop a few bombs, and then deal with the fallout.

Biden can only go downhill from here. He’s rusty. The Biden we saw may not be around for Iowa if he doesn’t sharpen his game. Here’s Wrongo’s view of Biden and Bernie: (hat tip: Sean O.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kamala Harris showed passion, and her prosecutorial skills to viewers. But will that convince voters? Particularly those in the suburbs? Warren won night one. Let’s see how she does when she’s on stage with night two’s survivors. She’s certainly got the vision thing down, but Kamala seems to have more fight.

Ultimately, the next 18 months are going to be about who can win the suburbs. In 2018, Dems reversed their 2016 losses in the ‘burbs, while again losing rural areas, just like in 2016. The difference was that in 2018, they won control of the House.

Trump’s 2016 formula worked. He traded suburban votes for small-town and rural votes and it got him an Electoral College win. Democrats can win in 2020 if they continue their 2018 success in the suburbs.

If the Democratic presidential candidate focuses exclusively on climate change, he/she will lose a lot of rural votes. A candidate who berates everyone who works in financial services will lose suburban support. But, a candidate that offers solutions on health costs, a fairer, less monopolized economy, more affordable education, a serious approach to the opioid crisis can probably win urban and suburban America.

It’s a long slog from here. And the winning candidate’s job is to keep voters engaged about how important 2020 will be to our kids and grandkids.

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Does Calling Them “Internment” or “Concentration” Camps Matter?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Tetons Sunset – June 2019 photo by Shaun Peterson

A protracted discussion started when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) used the term “concentration camps” to describe the places on the US-Mexico border where “illegal migrants” are being held, and where some of them have died.

This got started when AOC was sharing an article from Esquire, which quoted journalist and concentration camp expert Andrea Pitzer:

“There have been concentration camps in France, South Africa, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and— with Japanese internment— the United States. In fact, we are operating such a system right now in response to a very real spike in arrivals at our southern border.”

Immediately, right-wing individuals and organizations lashed out at AOC, not Esquire Magazine, calling her “silly”, and launching a debate about definitions while drawing attention away from the actual story— the conditions under which child refugees are being kept on the US border.

Others defended AOC as technically accurate. They lauded her for drawing attention to conditions in today’s migrant camps. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has warned of dangerous overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at processing facilities for migrants at the border. The military has been asked to construct tented camps for thousands of migrants at military bases surrounded by chain link fence and topped by barbed wire. CNN, in discussing AOC’s remarks, reported that:

“The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of concentration camp (which was their top trending term Wednesday) is: a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard —used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners.”

Liz Cheney and others who have denounced Ocasio-Cortez’s word choice claim they are concerned for the “real victims” of history’s abominable acts, those who suffered under the Nazis.

As bad as the Holocaust was, no one should have the exclusive right to use the term “concentration camp”. Could AOC have done better by using “internment camps”? Maybe, but she was going for the shock effect, and we shouldn’t be normalizing what is happening at our Southern border.

Five migrant children have died since December in detention facilities described by politicians, legal advocates and human rights organizations as overcrowded and unsanitary. The “inmates” experience meager food and extreme temperatures. Some in the administration have suggested that they don’t need soap or toothpaste. A Justice Department attorney argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that withholding basic amenities, like soap and toothbrushes, from detained migrants does not violate the government’s responsibility to provide “safe and sanitary” conditions to detained children.

Those who spend time parsing whether conditions in these camps (which are, for civil, not criminal custody) are bad enough to qualify as concentration camps and who berate anyone who dares to describe them accurately, are more concerned with protecting those directing the acts than they seem to be with the acts themselves.

This is another effort by the Right to rebrand something for their propaganda. We’re the country where “Kentucky Fried Chicken” became “KFC” to make us forget that our chicken is fried. Where “torture” was called “enhanced interrogation,” by GW Bush. Where some Congressmen are now calling natural gas “freedom gas”.

Of course Republicans will happily rebrand them “immigrant children internment camps”. They’ll call them anything but “concentration camps”.

The argument about these two words is not an argument about definitions. Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term “concentration camp” refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. AOC is choosing the term to show that what’s happening is by definition, fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves, and is therefore, unimaginable.

What America needs today are more young people like AOC. We need fewer Bidens, Trumps and Pelosis. America needs our young people to speak up, because the old guard will never take the risk to do what AOC has done.

AOC’s focus is different from our older generations, but you shouldn’t hold that against her. She’s not trying to insult WWII victims, or their legacies.

She’s trying to wake America up to the moral issue on our Southern border.

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Dysfunction in the House?

The Daily Escape:

Doubtful Sound, NZ – photo by patlue1101

Wrongo doubts that the way Congressional Democrats are going about their business will make them completely successful in 2020. The media would have us believe that the House is all about investigations. That is compounded by the way they are spinning their wheels about a decision to impeach Trump.

In reality, House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to the investigations, they’ve been passing legislation. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills since January, of which, 49 have passed.

Do you remember the House voting to end the longest government shutdown in history? Or, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, or to protect preexisting medical conditions? They also passed nine bills on veteran’s issues. You should remember HR-1, aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, and expanding voting rights.

A complete list of what the House has passed is here. Despite Trump’s complaints about doing nothing on infrastructure, lots of legislation has been passed in the House.

The few things the House has been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include the bill to reopen the federal government, a resolution to end US involvement in Yemen (later vetoed by Trump), and the recent federal disaster aid agreement.

So why does the media make it seem like Congress isn’t getting anything done? The vast majority of their bills hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the media is only interested in the investigations, and the fight with the White House.

Trump’s attempts to thwart these investigations have turned into a mud wrestling contest between the administration and the Democratic committee chairs. Congress is attempting to perform its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the executive branch, while Trump is attempting to obstruct their oversight.

A few individuals have agreed to testify, others, including AG Bill Barr and former WH counsel Don McGahn, have been held in “civil contempt” of Congress.

In the case of the Census question, the media gets it wrong. The DOJ handed over tens of thousands of pages about the Census question, but the media didn’t mention that those materials were not what was subpoenaed, and in some cases, not even relevant. Thus, Barr’s contempt citation.

Civil contempt has no teeth, unless enforced by the courts. Even then, after a federal court held that Trump cannot block a House subpoena targeting his accounting firm, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reverse this decision. That case will languish until it is decided by the Supreme Court, most likely, next year.

We could nap from now until September, and wake up to find zero progress in Congress on their investigations. Nothing will happen until after the August recess, and most likely, we won’t see much until next year.

A decision to open an impeachment inquiry strengthens immeasurably all of Congress’s arguments for information. They would have an unambiguous Constitutional basis for their demands, much stronger than what backs their common legislative oversight demands. It all might still wind up in the courts, but Congress’s chances of prevailing would be enhanced.

Finally, Trump walked into a propeller on Wednesday when he said he would accept opposition research from a foreign government. It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of political information isn’t unambiguously a contribution. Mueller didn’t decide if opposition research provided for free by a foreign government constitutes a “thing of value” and thus is an illegal foreign campaign contribution.

OTOH, you would think that Mr. Art of the Deal must know that if he accepts information that is useful to his campaign from a foreign government, it comes with strings attached. When he then says he’d do it again, he shows that he’s learned nothing from 2016, or from the Mueller Report’s conclusion about foreign government intervention in the 2016 election.

Trump has again invited the Russians and others to intervene in our elections. The question is will he get away with it?

Should Congress continue down the path of waiting on the courts to decide to get them the information they need to make a case? Or, should they launch an impeachment inquiry that limits the legal defenses of the administration?

Time has come for the Congressional Democrats to leave the “do little, say less” portion of their current term behind. We are already six months into the current Pelosi Speakership. That means just 18 months remain until the House is up for re-election.

The war for 2020 has already begun. Democrats shouldn’t worry about the political implications of an impeachment inquiry. It’s time to do what’s right by holding the Trump administration accountable.

It’s time to let America know what Democrats in the House are doing.

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Is It Time to Cull The List of Democratic Nominees?

The Daily Escape:

Yellowstone Falls – 2011 photo by Wrongo

With so many candidates, Axios reports that there is a real chance for a brokered Democratic convention. Letting the corrupt DNC’s Super delegates choose the nominee sounds terrible to Wrongo. The main reason is that the Democratic Party’s rules impose a 15% electoral threshold, which means that to win delegates in a state primary, a candidate has to win at least 15% of the vote.

This matters, because there are so many candidates, and most of them aren’t polling very well. A Quinnipiac poll this week shows the difficult road ahead for the Democratic candidates. The chart below shows that only six of the candidates are known well enough that at least half of respondents have an opinion about them. For 17 of the candidates, at least half of respondents said they didn’t know them well enough to say whether they viewed the contender favorably:

Buttigieg is just outside the six, polling at 5% while O’Rourke, who is better known, polls at just 2%. Quinnipiac also looked at the candidates’ net unfavorability among Democrats. The net rating is determined by subtracting the favorable ratings from the unfavorable:

Just three candidates have net unfavorable ratings among Democrats: Tulsi Gabbard, Seth Moulton and Bill de Blasio. OTOH, only eight candidates have truly interesting favorability ratings: Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Booker, Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Castro. Clearly, the bottom three have no hope at all in the 2020 Democratic nomination race, but the same most likely applies to the next eleven.

Finally, let’s look at how Quinnipiac says the candidates have performed over the last few months:

It’s early days, but Warren jumped over Harris, Buttigieg and O’Rourke in the past two months. Sanders’s biggest problem in the short run isn’t Biden, but Warren, who is just behind him in the Quinnipiac poll. If she in fact passes him, it’s not clear how Sanders would strike back. Sanders’s support seems to have moved with Buttigieg: When Mayor Pete gained ground, Sanders fell. With Buttigieg’s support dropping back down, Sanders’s has gone back up.

Also notable is the fall of Beto. He benefits from being well-known, but not well-liked as a presidential candidate. There have been calls for him to drop out and run for the other Texas Senate seat, held by John Cornyn, who has a campaign war chest of $7.5 million. But, there is already an announced Democratic candidate, MJ Hegar, who lost a close race for a seat in Congress in 2018. So look for Beto to keep running. Also, four million people in Texas voted for Beto in 2018, while just 11,000 elected Mayor Pete last time, so Beto has shown the ability to raise money and win votes.

While polling isn’t voting, these numbers suggest that some winnowing of the field would help focus primary voters on the future of the Party, and on the election. Overall, Quinnipiac shows that 18 candidates are polling at 3% or less (and many of them not registering even 1%), so they face an uphill task to achieve relevancy.

Should the DNC raise the threshold for admission into the debates from 1% to 2%, the debate field would shrink to only eight. Is it too soon to call for 10-14 Democrats to drop out of the running?

Turning to Trump, Quinnipiac says he has a huge problem with women. While 60% will definitely not vote for him, just 28% would definitely vote for him. Among white women (a group he won in 2016), he has a 20-point gap between those who will definitely not consider him and those who definitely will vote for him (55/35%). The GOP’s ongoing war on Roe v. Wade is truly bad for a candidate that faces the wall of female opposition Trump is facing.

Let’s close with a quote from Quinnipiac in 2015: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Leading the pack with 10 percent each are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker…Trump tops the “no way” list as 21 percent of Republican voters say they would definitely not support him. Bush is next with 17 percent, with Christie at 15 percent. “

This proves once again that polling isn’t voting. Democrats must choose wisely, or the GOP could be back in 2024, likely with someone at least as bad as Trump, but who is much more sophisticated, say Tom Cotton.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 20, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Steps leading to Franciscan Sanctuary, La Verna, Tuscany, Italy – photo by Guiseppe Pepperoni

Over the weekend, Wrongo and Ms. Right, along with a few friends, saw “Hadestown” on Broadway. It is a theatrical home run that has received 14 Tony nominations. Describing the plot is difficult. Most reviews focus on the mythology at the heart of the play. The story is a re-imagination of Orpheus and Eurydice set in contemporary time.

The mythological story is that Orpheus is the world’s greatest poet, and Eurydice is his bride. It is intertwined with the love story of King Hades and his wife Persephone. During the play, we take an epic journey to the underworld and back.

In the myth, Eurydice is killed by a snake bite, and the mourning Orpheus travels to the underworld to beg Hades to return his wife to life. To make his case, Orpheus sings a song so beautiful that Persephone begs Hades to let Eurydice go.

That is loosely followed in the play, where these mythic characters are pawns in a central metaphor of capitalism as death. That seems so current in today’s predatory capitalism, and yet, the play is not a polemic. In the play, Eurydice isn’t bitten by a snake. Instead, she’s lured into Hadestown by Hades’s promise of work and food.

Hadestown is a factory town, and Hades is both the god of death and a merciless taskmaster, forcing his subjects to build an endless wall around Hadestown. In his April 15thMonday Wake Up Call”, Wrongo used Hades’s call and response song, “Why We Build the Wall”. The song seems right for 2019 because of our Orange Overlord, but in reality it was written in 2010.

Wrongo posts a sample lyric for you:

Who do we call the enemy? The enemy is poverty, And the wall keeps out the enemy, And we build the wall to keep us free. That’s why we build the wall;

We build the wall to keep us free.

The Wall makes us free. Arbiet macht frei. The few Trumpets in the audience demonstratively did not applaud the song, while the vast majority cheered. Partisanship is an always-on emotion.

Some call-outs to cast members: Patrick Page and Amber Gray are standouts, he as Hades, and she as Persephone. The legendary André De Shields, plays Hermes. He’s the show’s narrator. His cool swagger pulls the audience into the play from the opening curtain.

See it if you can.

During our pre-theater meal, we talked about the Democratic presidential candidates, a list that seems destined to continue growing. Our friends at dinner follow politics quite closely, and none are fully happy with any of the Democrats on offer.

Most defaulted to “electability”, espousing the view that it is “Do-or-Die” time in America, that we can’t take four more years of what we are experiencing now. That leads them to accept Joe Biden’s candidacy. Wrongo has a different view, as captured in this Vanity Fair article: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, it’s because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain.”

So, what will happen this time? Those who believe in Biden’s electability should remember that there are 45 million Americans with student loans: 22% of those loans are in default, and 99% of them fail to qualify for loan forgiveness.

It was Biden’s decision to make student loans not dischargeable in bankruptcy. That’s going to be one large group of people who, when they learn who is behind their plight, probably will vote against him.

Biden has been on the job in Washington for around 50 years. Suddenly, according to Bloomberg, he wants to “Fix Things”?

Wake up Democrats! Find a candidate who inspires YOU. Work for that candidate in the primaries. Don’t buy the argument “but he/she isn’t electable” until that is proven by the results of the primaries.

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Four More Years of Reality TV?

The Daily Escape:

Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante NP, UT – 2019 photo by Foobucket

The question is, how will we avoid four more years of Trump? The simple answer is electing a Democrat as president in 2020. And looking at 2020 presidential polling from 538, Biden is up big against the rest of the Democratic field, and in some polls, wins head-to-head vs. Trump.

The average of polls by 538 makes it pretty clear that Biden’s the frontrunner. They also have a good summary of the key state-by-state polling, which isn’t quite as good for Biden, but, it doesn’t show any other candidate as particularly strong. Biden is +21 on the Democrats in Iowa, Sanders is +6 over Biden in NH, and Biden is +36 in SC. In CA, Sanders is +1 over Harris, although a new, smaller Quinnipiac survey of 484 registered voters has Biden leading at +8.

None of this is reason to jump on the Biden Express. Frontrunners at this stage can win but many don’t, as we outlined here.

Wrongo thinks that Biden is a vulnerable frontrunner, but a path to victory for Biden is emerging: Since his announcement, he’s getting more cable media coverage than all the other Democratic candidates combined. The problem for most of the non-Biden candidates is that they are, like Biden, running to “restore” the Obama coalition. That group includes Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar.

The question for these candidates is how to differentiate themselves from Biden: all are younger, and all are less left-leaning than Sanders and Warren. But few have gained traction.

One small thing that people forget about Biden is that he introduced the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act that has enabled cops to steal more from Americans via Civil Asset Forfeiture than robbers can. Apparently, Biden continues to support it.

Here are Jamelle Bouie’s “electability” arguments for Biden:

“The case for Biden’s unique electability rests on his overall popularity as vice president to President Barack Obama and his particular appeal to the blue-collar whites who backed Trump in the 2016 election. Fifty-six percent of Americans said they had a favorable view of the former vice president in a February Gallup survey, including 80 percent of Democrats. A more recent poll, from CNN, shows Biden leading Trump in a hypothetical matchup, 51 percent to 45 percent. That same poll shows Biden losing blue-collar whites by just 13 percent, a better margin than his competitors’ and a huge improvement over Clinton’s 37-point deficit against Trump in 2016.”

Sounds good, but Jamelle Bouie also says:

“Biden, like Clinton, is extremely vulnerable to Trumpian forms of faux-populist attack. He is a 36-year veteran of Washington who backed the Iraq War, cultivated close ties with banks and credit card companies and played a leading role in shaping the punitive policies that helped produced mass incarceration…..Trump can slam him on these issues and sow division among Democratic voters. It’s how he won in 2016…”

Also, Anita Hill. Bouie also points out that like Biden, Hillary Clinton was widely admired by the public at the start of her campaign. In 2012, 65% of Americans said they had a favorable view of her. This, of course, did not last. By November, 2016, Clinton was the second-most unpopular nominee in history, next to Trump.

Biden’s front-running in the polls shows just how nervous moderate Democrats are. Their sole objective is to win the White House. The 2016 election should have been a wake-up for Democrats, but a lot of them really believe that everything back then was OK, except that Trump was elected.

Dems also think that once Trump’s gone, everything will be “restored” to the status quo ante. That’s a fantasy. Trump won because Republicans and quite a few Obama Democrats liked his policies and his rhetoric. Many of them will likely vote for him again in 2020. Besides, the GOP controls the Senate.

Biden isn’t Wrongo’s favorite candidate. That person will be the one most likely to expand the Democratic base by much more than the 80,000 votes in PA, WI, and MI that cost Hillary the 2016 election. That candidate will have long coattails that keep the House majority and can bring the Senate into play.

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Barr May Never Face the House Judiciary Committee

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

(There will not be a Saturday or Sunday column this weekend, or next. Wrongo and Ms. Right are traveling to two different states, attending the college graduations of grandchildren Elise and Conor.)

After the contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, AG Bill Barr has canceled his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. There is plenty of speculation about what happens next.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had previously said that he would subpoena Barr if he refused to testify. If Barr ignores the subpoena, as the Trump administration has done regarding document production, Democrats on the committee have indicated that they will move to hold the AG in contempt of Congress. From the LA Times:

“A contempt finding is how Congress may respond when someone refuses to testify or provide information as part of a House or Senate investigation. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that Congress has a right to compel people to comply with its oversight efforts.”

In the past, just the threat of being held in contempt (not to mention Congress’ power over funding the government) was usually enough to convince an administration to comply with a request, or at least negotiate a compromise.

No longer. The Trump administration has no intention of complying with subpoenas from Democrats.

If Barr was held in contempt of Congress, what happens next? Congress has a few options. The most common is that it can send a criminal contempt referral to a US attorney. If prosecuted and convicted, the punishment is up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

The last administration official to be held in contempt of Congress was Anne Gorsuch, Neil Gorsuch’s mother, who was head of the EPA in the 1980s. The House issued a subpoena, Ms. Gorsuch said “no thanks”. Congress referred it to the DOJ for enforcement, and the US Attorney refused to carry it out.

So the finding of regular contempt is enforced by the DOJ, and the DOJ has the discretion to not prosecute the finding.

If they fail to do it, the House would fall back on their inherent contempt power. Yes, there is such a thing. The long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison someone who is held in contempt until the individual complies with congressional demands.

Problem is, the inherent contempt power hasn’t been used since 1935. The inherent contempt power is not specified in a statute or constitutional provision, but has been deemed implicit in the Constitution’s grant to Congress of all legislative powers.

The Sergeant At Arms is Congress’s proper arresting authority, however, there is no jail in the Capitol. There are holding cells at the Capitol Police Dept., but they are not appropriate for a long term detention. And even if the Sergeant At Arms did arrest Barr, it is likely that he would quickly be released.

Here’s what we’ve learned this week: Congressional enforcement of a subpoena has no teeth if it is used against a member of the Trump Administration. So, there will never be a consequence for Barr, or any other member of the Trump administration disobeying a subpoena.

Democrats need to think very clearly about their messaging in the face of their anger at William Barr. Saying that “Trump is terrible and we are powerless” is not a winning message.

Saying “vote for us and we’ll fix this when we win in 2020” is better, but doesn’t sound like a great message either.

The Mueller Investigation game has already been won by Republicans. Democrats can try to test the system. If it works, we still have a country.

But, if they try, and it doesn’t work, we’re back to saying: “Trump is terrible and we are powerless”.

Things are moving a lot faster than most Democrats realize. It isn’t clear that traditional politics (compromise, etc.) will survive. And it’s even less clear what is going to replace it.

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Financial Industry Buys Politicians

The Daily Escape:

Tulip time, Skagit Valley, WA – 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Yesterday, we talked about how the Democrats might ultimately need Wall Street money for the 2020 presidential election. Now, we learn from Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a consumer interest group, that Wall Street spent at least $1.9 billion on political campaigns and lobbying during the 2018 mid-term elections:

“The figure, which includes contributions to campaign committees and leadership PACs ($922 million) and lobbying expenditures ($957 million), reflects a massive rush of pro-industry nominees and legislation over the last two years, at a time when the biggest banks made $100 billion in profits for the first time.”

That was the largest-ever amount for a non-presidential year, outstripping the total of $1.4 billion, in the 2013-14 election cycle, by 36%.

The 63-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington”, uses a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on behalf of AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial services industry spending. The data excludes spending by health insurers, who work to influence a different group of issues than do US banks.

The data also doesn’t include “dark money” that goes mostly unreported, so the actual sums of Wall Street spending are likely to be much higher.

The report breaks its findings down by Campaign Contribution and Lobbying:

Campaign Contributions:  Individuals and entities in the financial sector reported making $921.8 million in contributions to federal candidates for office during the 2017-18 election cycle.

Of the $519.6 million in party-coded contributions by individuals and PACs associated with finance, 53% went to Republicans and 47% went to Democrats. About $402.2 million in additional cash flowed from financial sector contributors to candidates through outside groups.

Lobbying: The financial industry reported spending a total of $956.8 million on lobbying in calendar years 2017 and 2018. This spending only got the financial sector to third place. The “Health” sector was second, spending $1.12 billion, and “Miscellaneous Business” which comprises companies and trade associations, was first, spending $1. 02 billion. “Miscellaneous Business” includes the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent $189.4 million.

And which politicians got the money?

In the House, Republicans did very well, with Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the way. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), now the House minority leader, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), now the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, both benefited from Wall Street largesse.

The freshman class in the House, including first-term Democrats, had substantially less reliance on money from Wall Street than those Democratic incumbents who won re-election. Another report that AFR co-authored on small-dollar contributions found that 17% of money contributed to the Democratic freshman came from small donors, compared to 9.4% for incumbent members.

In the Senate, the data underscores how money moved to members who supported the industry’s legislative goals. Overall, spending favored Republicans. But the industry gave significant amounts to Democratic Senators who helped get S. 2155 passed, which was a significant rollback of the Dodd-Frank regulations.

Wall Street gave heavily to the Democratic senators who supported the bill and were up for reelection in 2018, mostly from states that Trump won in 2016. One Dem who won in 2018, was Jon Tester (D-MT); others, including Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not win.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) won after she supported the legislation as a House member.

But, not all top Senate Democratic recipients of Wall Street money did the industry’s bidding. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opposed S. 2155.  He was the only Democrat in Ohio to win statewide office in 2018.

Who spent the most? The top five donor companies and trade associations in the financial sector were:

  • National Association of Realtors — $144,716,676
  • Bloomberg LP — $96,481,469
  • American Bankers Association — $25,769,494
  • Paloma Partners — $25,575,800
  • Citadel LLC — $20,596,381

You can see a list of the top 20 donors here. It is easy to see that turning down Wall Street funding could put a big dent in the Democratic nominee’s spending plans for 2020.

It also seems clear from yesterday’s reporting that Wall Street Democrats might bolt to Trump if the 2020 nominee is Sanders or Warren. A decision to reject Wall Street funding could hand Trump a very large gift.

The money spent by the financial services industry won’t be any lower in 2020 than in 2018. We’ll just have to wait and see if the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee rejects their support.

OTOH, this money helps Wall Street rig the system in its favor, largely by buying the support of politicians who will help insulate them from accountability.

Does any Democrat have the guts to reform capitalism?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 29, 2019

The Daily Escape: (In recognition of Poway, CA)

There’s no escape, we’re staying on the hamster wheel

And this:

All these killers used the same weapon, the AR-15 (or a knock-off of the AR-15). And just how many “lone wolf” killers will it take before America realizes they’re a pack? Do you have any hope that the Congress will rein in assault-type weapons?

Time to wake up, America. This weekend we saw two more acts of domestic terrorism against non-Christians. One by an Islamophobic Christian who mistakenly thought Sikhs are Muslim, and another by an anti-Semitic white supremacist who targeted Jews.

In the first case, a white man drove into a family of Sikhs in Sunnyvale, California, believing they were Muslims. He was allegedly on his way to a Bible study group, and was praising Jesus when authorities caught him.

In the second, another white man, gunned down several people in a synagogue in Poway CA, killing one and injuring three. He apparently wrote an anti-Semitic manifesto. The letter talks about planning for the attack. The letter writer also claims responsibility for an arson fire that blackened the walls of the Islamic Center in Escondido on March 24th, but no one was injured.

The Poway suspect also championed Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people and wounded six others in the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh six months ago.

None of this is to downplay the ISIS killings of Christians in Sri Lanka. But today, we’re focusing on America, and two converging trends: The ubiquity of guns in America, and the growing and unbridled domestic racism that has returned to daylight.

We can blame Republicans for some of the escalating number of US white terrorist acts against non-Christians and non-whites. We all know that Trump has in many cases, encouraged hate to come out of the closet. This from David Atkins:

“White supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and misogynist rhetoric runs rampant across the entirety of the conservative movement. The transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle of violent white male grievance has rapidly accelerated its longtime trend under Trump.”

Atkins notes that the weekend attacks came one day after Trump congratulated the white player picked second in the NFL draft while ignoring the black player picked first. In 2016, Trump won both states that the two players played for, so it wasn’t politics. That’s who he is, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

We on the liberal side of the ledger continue to debate whether the “reachable” Trump voters are as racist as the rest of the MAGAs. Some Democratic pols wonder how many of them could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat in 2020. It’s unlikely that the “reachable” Trump voters are more than 4% of the electorate, but that could well swing what shapes up as a very close presidential election.

Can Democrats appeal to their base and to the persuadable Republicans by hammering on the moral repugnance of these white terrorists, while downplaying any program to weaken the Second Amendment?

At the same time, what will Republicans do? We can be sure that Trump will double down, but will the rest of the Party follow him? More, from Atkins:

“…violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. Vague statements of general condemnation against violence won’t cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with them.”

The thing is, the fires of hatred are not a tool you can use only to fire up your voters to do what you want. Once ignited, it’s not your kitchen stove, where you can turn the heat up, down, or off at your choosing. These are wildfires. You can ignite them, and use them to heat things up, but they can take on a life of their own, burning whatever they reach.

We’re told over and over that we have a civility crisis in this country. That the Democrats aren’t being polite enough to the right.

We do have a civility crisis in this country. We are far too civil to bigots. We are far too tolerant of those who would oppress, or kill others.

The right wing needs to pay a price for its toleration and cultivation of bigotry. It has no right to demand civility when it allows some of its base to treat people with contempt just for being who they are.

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