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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – October 21, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Autumn at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park – photo by Jack Bell

Wrongo wonders where we went wrong. Was it the 2016 election, or were things heading towards the cliff for many years? Is there a way back from our national free-fall?

Another week when Trump dominates the news cycle by making it all about him. The federal response to the Puerto Rican disaster? A 10. Which president calls the next of kin of GIs killed in the line of duty? Trump, not the black guy. Who was for the bi-partisan insurance fix for Obamacare before he was against it? His Orangeness.

There was a notable softness in commentary on what Trump and the GOP are doing that is making America win. And the news from overseas is worse. Friday’s NYT speaks about how our Syrian and Kurdish proxies have taken Raqqa, the headquarters of the ISIS Caliphate. It says that now that our guys have won, we have no idea who/how to fill the political vacuum we just created: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Trump administration officials acknowledge privately that the military campaign in Syria has by far outstripped the diplomatic campaign, to the point now where there is no real plan for what to do in a post-Islamic State Syria.

We attacked ISIS in Syria because that was popular with American voters, and doing what the neo-cons really wanted, attacking Assad in Syria, wasn’t something the American public would accept. Now, ISIS is fading into the woodwork, and we will soon be face-to-face with the Syrians, Russians and Iranians. Certainly, Syria expects it will control Raqqa. What’s the Administration’s plan?

This is depressingly similar to what Wrongo has written this week about Iraq and Iran. Lots of energy, but no plan. Certainly, nothing that can be legitimately called “strategy”.

It’s Saturday, time to downshift, and find a calm place. Today, Wrongo suggests a Vente cup of Sakona Coffee Roaster’s Jaizlibel Blend, (€28.00/Kilo). Note that Sakona roasts to order, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Then, find your Bluetooth over the ear headphones, get comfortable, and watch the leaves fall on this October day.

Now, listen to Martha Argerich. The NYT reports that Martha Argerich, the 76-year old Argentinian pianist, and one of the world’s greats, played in NYC on Friday night at Carnegie Hall. She’s one of the last remaining old masters. Once she’s gone, much of what we hear will sound like what everyone else is playing. She rarely visits the US, but there is a large YouTube library of her work. Here is Argerich playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 written in 1837. The video is from 1966, when Argerich was 24:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 15, 2017

Weinstein. Why do Conservatives (and quite a few Democrats think) the D’s have a “Harvey Problem“?

Is it a surprise that Democrats took money from someone who turned out to be despicable? Yes. But isn’t the real question what the Democrats did with the money?

Conservatives want you to believe that Democratic political contributions are like holy water, where one unsanctified drop spoils the whole font. There is no excusing Weinstein, and if the D’s were doing helpful things for this scumbag, that’s inexcusable. But there is nothing inherently wrong with taking/using Weinstein’s money before they found out how deplorable he is:

Trump thinks the press writes disgusting things. His friends agree:

The GOP believes in a few things, more or less:

Iran, DACA, ACA, EPA. Trump’s plans are working just perfectly:

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Can We Have an Honest Discussion About The GOP Tax Plan?

The Daily Escape:

When the dog lies about his previous sheep-herding experience

A new set of tax policies have been proposed by the White House and the GOP. They involve both tax cuts, and some tax reforms. Here are the bullet points of the GOP’s sales pitch:

  • The tax cut won’t help the rich, and won’t help Donald Trump personally
  • The tax cut will generate enough growth to pay for itself
  • Most of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the middle class

Here are the NYT’s calculations on Trump not gaining anything:

Trump could save more than $1 billion under his new tax plan

And here is the Tax Policy Center’s take on the benefits to the wealthy:

  • The top 1 percent of households (those with incomes above $730,000) would get about 53% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or roughly $130,000 a year on average.
  • The top 0.1 percent of households (those with incomes above $3.4 million) would get roughly 30% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or about $720,000 a year, on average.

Turning to the statement that “tax cuts will pay for themselves”, Trump claimed in a talk with House Ways and Means Committee a few days ago, that his tax plan will produce more than 6% growth.

An economist once said that you don’t need to look at the details of a Republican tax plan. The higher the Republican growth forecast, the worse the actual deficit in their plan. That’s because they need greater revenue growth to cover the deficit hole they are creating. Given Trump’s 6% growth forecast, you just know the tax plan is going to be a budget buster.

We have learned from past GOP tax cuts that they won’t reduce deficits or balance budgets. Want proof?

  • The George W. Bush tax cuts made the deficit larger, while doing little or nothing to stimulate the economy
  • The income-tax cuts in Kansas caused the state’s deficit to accelerate significantly, while economic growth lagged the contiguous states
  • Even Ronald Reagan’s tax analysts, David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, have acknowledged that unfunded tax cuts don’t create growth, they make for bigger deficits.

Regarding the point that most of the cuts will go to the middle class, it won’t happen. Since 83% of the plan’s cuts are going to the top brackets, there’s not much left for the middle class.

What they don’t talk about is their plan to get rid of personal exemptions, which is a key deduction for middle class families, especially those who itemize deductions. To determine whether middle-class families get a cut or an increase under the new plan, you need to calculate if the higher standard deduction, plus the proposed expansion in the child tax credit, (no details about that yet), is greater than the loss of personal exemptions.

Josh Barro at Business Insider crunched the numbers, and his conclusion is: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While there are still a lot of details to be filled in, the information we have available suggests the new Republican tax proposal would raise income taxes on many families who make just a bit more than the national average.

They are promising to eliminate the “alternative minimum tax”, (AMT) a tax provision designed to ensure that wealthy taxpayers (who can have accountants find deductions) would pay some modicum of taxes rather than get off scott-free. In fact, the GOP has it backwards: People who owe the AMT should be paying more tax than they would pay with the AMT. It serves its intended purpose. Elimination of the AMT is another tax break for the wealthy:  For example, Trump has had to pay the AMT, as have most real estate developers.

Now, ask yourself why should personal tax rates be less progressive in 2017 than they were in 1963? Shouldn’t progress towards a more equal society mean our rates would be MORE progressive, not less? It’s not as if we have less inequality, we have more.

The reason we should want to tax the rich (till it hurts) is to reduce their power and overwhelming choke hold on policy.

When will the GOP engage in an honest discussion about their tax plan?

Not soon. Maybe not ever.

Here’s First Aid Kit doing a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”, from 2014:

We all need to look for America, its getting very hard to find.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Distressed Communities: Another Divide In America

The Daily Escape:

“Impressions of Lijiang” Show, Yunnan Province China. Lijiang Impressions is a cultural show about the traditions and lifestyles of the minorities in Lijiang. The open-air stage is at 10,000 ft. above sea level. The Dragon Snow Mountains behind the stage are higher than 16,000 ft.

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) has an interesting report on Distressed Communities in the US. They have surveyed changes in counties in distress, from 2000-2015, using census data. The study notes:

America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists, is quickly eroding beneath their feet.

The study found that the majority of new jobs created as the recovery began came in the 20% of American ZIP codes that were already the most prosperous. The 20% of ZIP codes in the least prosperous areas generated just 1% of jobs created between 2011 and 2015.

This isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. Both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have widened the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

The EIG study captured 99% of the US population. It covers 26,000+ US zip codes that have a population of at least 500 people, the more than 3,000 counties with at least 500 people, and the nearly 800 cities with at least 50,000 people.

Here is a map from the study showing areas of economic advance and retreat:

Our most significant modern recession and the subsequent deeply uneven recovery has exacerbated the gap between wealthy communities and poorer areas, creating a patchwork map of economic haves and have-nots around the country.

Here is another map from the study, showing the most disadvantaged small and mid-sized cities:

 

In Hartford, CT; Newark, NJ; Stockton, CA; and Trenton, NJ, more than one in five residents are now foreign-born. In general, cities with smaller foreign-born populations are more likely to be distressed: In the average distressed city, 15% of the population is foreign-born; in all other quintiles, the average is between 18 and 19%.

In the Northeast, more than two-thirds of the population living in distressed zip codes reside in high density neighborhoods, so distress in the Northeast is predominantly an urban phenomenon. In the South, nearly 60% of the distressed population resides in low density, mainly rural zip codes.  But, all types of distressed communities can be found in all regions.

A full two-thirds of distressed zip codes contained fewer jobs in 2015 than they did in 2000, while 72% saw more businesses close than open over that same time span. In total, 55% suffered net losses in both categories

Fifty-two million Americans live in the most distressed ZIP codes across the nation. Those people are more likely not to have graduated from high school. The poverty rate in those communities is 11 points higher than the national average. And adults in those communities are twice as likely to be out of work as in the wealthiest counties.

They are also far more likely to live near sites polluted or contaminated enough that the Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean them up. There are nearly 13,000 of these brownfield sites in distressed ZIP codes, compared to 3,700 in the most prosperous ZIP codes.

Those who live in distressed areas have a life expectancy almost five years shorter than those who live in prosperous areas. Rates of cancer, suicide and violence are all markedly higher in the poorest areas, and substance abuse disorders are 64% percent more likely, the report found.

The report concludes by saying:

It is fair to wonder whether a recovery that excludes tens of millions of Americans and thousands of communities deserves to be called a recovery at all.

The days of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are gone forever. You can’t use trickle-down economics arguments to fool all of the people all of the time, and you can’t even fool a majority of them for very long.

And now, time’s up.

Capitalism hasn’t worked for all of the people since well, never.

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Where Can The Working Class Afford To Live

The Daily Escape:

Quilotoa Crater Lake, Ecuador. You get there by bus, and it takes six hours to walk around it. 

The Senate is trying to pass their worst possible health care idea. They have already passed a $700 billion military budget, more than even Trump wanted. And they are trying to pass a $1 trillion tax cut for their buddies. Will any of that help you? No.

They should be focused on improving the lives of working class people, but they can’t be bothered with that, because they have no desire to accomplish it. Things are just fine the way they are for Senators.

Wrongo has been remiss by not turning you on to howmuch, a site that creates visualizations about money, and in-depth tools about what things cost in the US. You should spend time checking them out. They created this very interesting chart about where working class people can afford to live in the US:

Source: howmuch

Each bubble represents a city. The color corresponds to the amount of money a typical working-class family would have left over at the end of the year after paying for their living costs, such as housing, food and transportation.

The darker the shade of red, the worse off you are. The darker the shade of green, the better off you are. The size of the bubble has meaning — large and dark red means the city is totally unaffordable. Bigger dark green bubbles indicate a city where the working class can get by. So, where are the best places from a financial perspective for a working-class family to live? These are the top five cities with the net surplus remaining after living expenses:

  1. Fort Worth, TX ($10,447)
  2. Newark, NJ (($10,154)
  3. Glendale, AZ ($10,120)
  4. Gilbert, AZ ($9,760)
  5. Mesa, AZ ($7,780)

The worst five cities are:

  1. New York, NY (-$91,184)
  2. San Francisco, CA (-$83,272)
  3. Boston, MA (-$61,900)
  4. Washington, DC (-$50,535)
  5. Philadelphia, PA (-$37,850)

Yes, a typical working-class family would need to make an additional $91K+ per year in NYC just to break even on a reasonable standard of living. And most job creation is taking place in cities, so the challenge for anyone, working class or higher, is how to afford living in one of them. There are exactly zero affordable cities on the West Coast. More from howmuch:

Of the ten most populous cities in the country, the only place where you can enjoy a decent standard of living without taking on debt is San Antonio. Out of the top 50 largest cities, only 12 are considered affordable. Low-wage workers are better off in smaller cities.

Kevin Erdmann, who blogs at Idiosyncratic Whisk, says the problem is that most coastal cities have closed access to housing, while inland cities have open access. Open access cities have relatively liberal housing and zoning codes that allow for new building, including relatively low-cost housing. Houston is the most prominent example. Closed access cities artificially reduce supply of housing, driving prices up. NYC is the most prominent example. From Erdmann:

You can tell what type of city it is just by looking through the newspaper. In open access cities, people complain that poor people are moving in and taking away jobs, pushing down wages. In closed access cities, people complain that rich people are moving in and bidding up rents.

People in red states have experienced high in-migration of low income people, both natives and immigrants. Poor people are leaving the closed access cities.  So, to someone living in a closed access city, it seems racist for people to focus their ire on Mexican immigrants.

And think about what happens if folks in a bad neighborhood manage to do the hard community work to make it somewhat livable. In New York or Los Angeles, the minute that a neighborhood becomes safe, the plots that hold those $100,000 duplexes will be worth $500,000, and the neighborhood will gentrify.

Rinse, lather and repeat, and the cycle starts again.

Can a working-class family live comfortably in your town? If so, can they find work?

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Saturday Soother – September 2, 2017

(Wrongo is ceasing labor for Labor Day weekend. Blogging will resume on Tuesday, 9/5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!)

The Daily Escape:

Harbin Opera House, Harbin, China – 2015 photo by Hufton Crow. Harbin is China’s eighth-most populous city. It is located in the extreme northeast of China.

Feeling anxious? Seeing too much of the devastation in Houston?

Amazing what it takes to push the Trumpet off the front pages for a couple of days. The clean-up and rebuild will take years, the scale of the losses are beyond imagining.

To top that, Lil’ Kim fired a missile across Japan, and onto the front pages. Appropriately, it wasn’t important enough to move Harvey out of our consciousness, but it showed we need to pay more attention to North Korea (NK). You probably think of NK as a backward place, but according to the Economist, its 25 million citizens are surprisingly well-wired:

Perhaps half of all urban households now own a Chinese-made “Notel”, a portable media player. Over 3m have mobile-phone subscriptions, with NK-branded smartphones like the Pyongyang and the Arirang. South Korean NGOs that smuggle foreign films and TV shows into the North on USBs receive text messages from their contacts there with requests for specific titles (South Korean soaps and Hollywood dramas are popular).

The NK government abetted the communications revolution. In 2008, it developed a 3G network. Today, there are more sanctioned NK mobile phones than illegal Chinese ones. Many use them to conduct business on the black market, by checking prices elsewhere in the country. Notels can be bought for around $50 on the black market, sold in state-run shops.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, signal jammers for mobile phones have been set up along the border with China. These are powerful enough to ruin cell service for Chinese living on the other side. North Koreans are banned from calling abroad.

Most North Koreans do not have access to the internet, and the few who are allowed to go online are limited to a state-run intranet with 28 mediated websites. The Economist says that NK censorship tools have allowed the regime to automate surveillance. For example, they have the ability to make unsanctioned media files on phones and Notels unreadable. TraceViewer is installed by default on NK phones. It takes random screenshots of users’ devices, so big brother is always watching.

Kim Jong-Un’s calculation is that technology allows it to gain more control than it loses. It dictates what kinds of handsets North Koreans use; it can shut off the mobile network whenever necessary. The appeal to the regime is that it knows it can’t keep all information out, so it is better to monitor it.

Makes Kim seem like a rational actor. Let’s hope so.

And let’s try to forget about this past week for a few hours, as we start the Labor Day weekend. The thought of Labor Day always reminds Wrongo of the lyric from the Jackson Browne tune, “The Loadout”:

They’re the first to come and the last to leave,

Workin’ for that minimum wage

The Loadout” was recorded live in Maryland at a show in August, 1977. Browne had been working on the idea with his band, but they didn’t have an arrangement they liked. When Browne did three encores, they were out of material, but still wanted to play. Russ Kunkel (the drummer) suggested they play the new song and see what happened. The resulting performance was good enough to make the album, “Running on Empty”.

It was the first time the band played the song, and they created a medley with it, segueing into “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)”, with Rosemary Butler on vocals along with David Lindley doing the falsetto.

Find a cup of Joyride Coffee’s Cold-brew (sadly, only available in kegs at a barista near you) and listen to “The Loadout”:

Those who read the Wrongologist on the execrable Feedburner can view the video here.

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Houston’s Petrochemical Industry Fails to Protect City

The Daily Escape:

Ranwu Lake Campsite, Tibet photo by Arch-exist Photography. Ranwu Lake is a tourist attraction in SE Tibet, and is called the “Tibetan Switzerland”.

Life in the age of corporatism resembles life in the food chain. In a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has had several explosions of peroxide and other volatile chemicals. From the NYT:

The company had already ordered all workers to leave the damaged plant, and Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile radius.

These chemicals have to be refrigerated. When the plant’s warehouses lost power, they transferred the product to diesel-powered refrigerated containers. But later, the backup generators were swamped by flood waters, so cooling was lost, and the explosions began. On Tuesday, the company released a statement:

Refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely….while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.

The rains are over, but the chemical fires linger. Richard Rowe, the CEO of Arkema’s American operations said:

The company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant…the company has no way to prevent…this worst case outcome.

The CEO says, “No way to prevent explosion“. Back in the olden days, that would be known as a “major design flaw”. Most engineers would have recommended placing the generator sets above at least the 100-year high water mark, just to prevent this kind of fun event. They would also put the diesel tanks above that water line.

Maybe next time. The Houston Chronicle had this amazing map of chemical plants in the Houston area:

In case it is hard to read the map legend, the yellow markers are for petrochemical plants that have a “medium” potential for harm based on their location within the 100-year flood plain. The red markers have a ”high” risk for harm. Houston’s ship channel and the surrounding area along the Gulf coast represent about 40% of U.S. petrochemical manufacturing. At least 25 Houston-area plants have either shut down, or experienced production issues due to Hurricane Harvey’s flooding.

Any guesses that the concentration of plants in the Houston flood zone will cause our corporate overlords to think about relocation of a few of these sites? Or, how they best secure them from the next 500-year flood, which looks like it will happen in say, the next five years? From Forbes:

Harvey was a wake-up call, reminding us that it is time to take a more serious look to ensure the safety of the petrochemical industry and the public at large, just as the nuclear power industry has done in reaction to the Fukushima disaster.

But Arkema has worked hard to change EPA rules in their favor. David Sirota reports that the new rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a lobbying campaign by Crosby plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council:

Those rules — which would have taken effect on March 14 — were blocked by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The move was a big win for the chemical industry that has spent more than $100 million supporting federal lawmakers since 2008.

Apparently, sacrifices must be made in the name of making America great.

The closures are not just disrupting markets; they’re also causing the release of toxic pollutants that pose a threat to human health. The NYT reports that damaged refineries and oil facilities have already released more than two million pounds of hazardous substances into the air.

The sheer number of facilities around Houston that have to come back online at the same time creates another huge emissions problem. From City Lab:

The real problem is that the plants are allowed to operate so close to residential areas in the first place. Houston’s lack of zoning regulations have been front-and-center in discussions about why Harvey has been so terrible for the city, and that’s no different in the discussion about air pollution.

Not to worry, Houston, your petrochemical corporations will be fine. They have insurance. They will get to write off any damage against their profits. They will get tax incentives to rebuild, or if they choose to move, tax credits from the town down the road.

The people? Most will have no insurance to rebuild their homes or to purchase new furniture.

And the pollution impact? A cost of doing business for the petrochemical industry.

Unfortunately, for the people, pollution’s about their health. And there will be no help forthcoming for the most vulnerable Houstonians.

Have a slice of Texas-themed music: Here is Robert Earl Keen, doing “Corpus Christi Bay” from his 1993 album “A Bigger Piece of Sky”:

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A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part II

The Daily Escape:

This is the last in a series from the NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

Today, we continue with G. Mark Towhey’s idea that our political parties no longer work well enough to be relevant to a large segment of middle class voters. He says that the parties must appeal to the voters he calls pragmatists:

The opening episode of the fourth season of Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy-winning TV series The West Wing... [places]…what typical Americans want from government…into perspective for…Toby Zeigler and Josh Lyman, both senior White House staffers in the show. They’re…in a hotel bar and strike up a conversation with a middle-aged “typical American” who’s spent the day touring the University of Notre Dame with his college-aged daughter.

The man and his wife together earn $80,000 a year and, he laments, ‘I never imagined I’d have trouble making ends meet. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall on my front porch. It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college…that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment. Putting your kids through college, taking care of your family… [But] it should be easier, just a little easier, because in that difference is…everything.’

That guy doesn’t want welfare reform, or tax reform. He wants government to focus some of its resources and brainpower on making his everyday life “just a little easier.” The typicals don’t want perfection, just small, concrete steps that improve their lives.

They are the pragmatists.

We shouldn’t confuse “pragmatists” with centrists who are in the space between the Left and the Right. They are not necessarily moderates. Pragmatism isn’t a moderate ideology, but a different prioritization of issues. From Towhey: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s a focus on the concrete, rather than the abstract. It targets immediate, specific problems rather than deep, systemic causes. It prefers clearly defined and implementable solutions rather than aspirational visions…what if, instead of referring to a place on a Venn diagram, the pragmatic-idealistic divide actually functions like a different political axis?

In other words, don’t appeal to them with policies, speak about solutions. Towhey thinks we should imagine the traditional Left/Right political spectrum on a horizontal line, the “x-axis,” running naturally, from left to right. Now imagine a vertical line that intersects the x-axis at its center. That’s the “y-axis.” At the top of this vertical line, we’ll put people who place a high value on ideals and ideologies that affect society in the abstract. The top end of the y-axis is the “idealist” end. At the opposite end of the y-axis are people who place a high value on practical solutions and actions that help them personally. This is the “pragmatic” end. Here is a representation of Towhey’s matrix:

Prepared by Wrongo from Towhey’s article. Position of politicians by Wrongo

Towhey thinks that the y-axis (Pragmatists to Idealists) shows how most Americans see the world: how a policy affects the world, versus how it impacts me; people who’ve succeeded in the current system, versus people who are struggling in it. Those at the pragmatic end struggle to make it under the status quo. They’re people who want small, but real improvements, a few practical solutions.

Pragmatists are too busy to worry about the future. Whether they’re on the left or right on the x-axis, they share a focus on more immediate needs. And today, voters don’t move along the x-axis as easily as they may have in the past.

If Democrats are to compete in this “pragmatic” voter segment, they need to recognize that the typicals comprise many American citizens, enough to have elected a president in 2016.

The lesson for Democrats is to support leaders who will perform the basics of government exceptionally well. Mayors are great examples of this.

On the national level, health insurance is a great example. Pragmatists want action on health insurance, not on health insurance ideology. If Trump can’t form a coalition with an ideologue GOP Congress, pragmatists would be happy if he worked with pragmatic Democrats, so long as the new health insurance law makes their lives easier. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as it has to be for idealists on the right or the left.

This is the message of pragmatism: less ideology, more action. Small steps, not grand gestures. Results, not principles. And pragmatists are up for grabs. They can, and will vote for Democrats.

They’ll follow a politician who unites them behind a few plans that people think will deliver tangible results. That is how Bernie out-polled Hillary, who had 39 positions on her campaign website.

But, if Democrats can’t make this shift in thinking and leadership, new candidates and new alliances may form, and pragmatists will vote for them.

It could lead to the end of the Democratic Party as a national political power.

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A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part I of II

The Daily Escape:

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia – 2017 photo by Shelley VanKempen

Yesterday, we discussed how building consensus among voters was the best way to beat the disruptive, and in many ways, destructive efforts by Donald Trump to change our democracy.

When Democrats bring up Clinton’s winning of the popular vote in 2016, they overlook the reality that Democratic congressional candidates lost in 23 districts that Clinton won, including seven in California. Imagine, those voters didn’t want Trump, but liked what their local GOP candidate for Congress stood for enough to split their vote.

Trump won the white vote by 58% to 37%, while 51% of American women also voted for him.

To beat Trump, or whoever might be next, Democrats need to move from following a few failed strategies. First, they have been trying only to win the White House, not the Congress. Being a presidential-only party is a powerful thing, until you lose the White House. Second, they need to move away from identity politics. People know the size of the pie is relatively fixed, and the effort to fix the problems of one group can easily be a zero-sum game for others.

An interesting analysis in American Affairs by G. Mark Towhey says that our traditional view of voters as positioned along a spectrum of left to right is no longer germane. He argues for a new grouping of “pragmatists”, who are everyday middle class people:

This bloc of typical citizens—overstressed, under-informed, concerned more with pragmatic quality of life issues than idealistic social goals—has become a powerful political movement…Conventional political leaders seem to completely misunderstand them…

They are not among those of us who read (or write) long-form blogs or articles. We aren’t typical Americans:

We have time to read…we can pause our breadwinning labor and child-rearing duties long enough to consider hypotheticals and to ruminate…on an idea or two. We may not recognize this as a luxury in our modern world, but we should.

Typical Americans don’t read lengthy articles. They: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Get up far too early in the morning, after too little sleep, [and] work too hard for too long in a job that pays too little, before heading home, feeding the kids, cleaning the house, and collapsing into bed far too late. He or she has precious little time to consume news…maybe a two-minute newscast on the radio if they drive to work or a few minutes of local TV news…It is through this lens that typical Americans view the world beyond their personal experience and that of friends and family. It’s through this lens that they assess their government and judge their politicians.

Towhey says that these people elected Donald Trump.

We all know that there is a gap between the lifestyles, perspectives, and priorities of the most successful Americans and the “typical Americans.” The people who make the decisions that matter in America are, by definition, our political and business leaders — people who have been successful under the current system. They believe that the system works, because it has worked well for them.

The smart people that lead our politics believe the typicals don’t really know what’s best for them. The typicals want to end immigration, hoping it will increase wages, but we smarties know better. From Towhey:

A politician who promises to deliver the demands of an ignorant electorate is a “populist,” and that is a very bad thing. A politician who equivocates during the election, then does nothing to impede immigration, on the other hand, is a wise man skilled in the art of political campaigning and governance.

Typical Americans have always elected the smart people who call themselves Republicans or Democrats. After each election, the typicals wait for their lives to improve, but nothing changes. Most typical Americans don’t simply divide the world into Left and Right. Instead, they instinctively divide the world into things that affect them and things that don’t, things that help them, and things that won’t.

In 2016, the typicals decided that it was time to elect someone from outside the system. Maybe it won’t work out, but electing smart status quo types hadn’t worked out so well for typical Americans, so what did they have to lose?

(Tomorrow we will talk about the emerging political power group of middle class voters that Democrats need to satisfy if they want to remain relevant, the group that Towhey calls “pragmatists”.)

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 28, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Rats Restaurant, NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

The politics of disruption brought us Donald Trump. With hindsight, the evidence was everywhere. Americans were unhappy with our political system. Voters had lost faith in the government and political parties. About 10% of voters believed Congress was doing a good job. Both political parties had favorability ratings of less than 40%.

In 2008, people were frustrated and angry. By November 2016, with continued economic discontent, worsening conflicts in the Middle East, and serious public policy issues left unattended, people voted for the guy who promised to break our politics.

Trump won 53% of the over-65 vote, but was supported by only 37% of 18-29-year-olds. He won the white vote by 58% to 37%. And 51% of American women voted for him.

Mark Leonard  says that the election was decided by pessimistic voters. They were attracted by Trump’s anti-free trade arguments, his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, his (false) statistics about increased crime, and the loss of American jobs to Asian countries.

Trump said all of this was caused by Washington and could be fixed by a disruptive billionaire. The pessimists won, and felt very hopeful that Trump would change America.

Are they having buyer’s remorse today? No, most say that they still support their guy.

Yesterday, we highlighted some findings of the Public Policy Polling (PPP) national poll taken after Charlottesville. PPP found that Donald Trump’s approval rating was steady despite all of his backtracking around the Charlottesville attack:

40% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 53% who disapprove, little change from the 41/55 spread we found for him in July.

This despite that just 26% of Trump voters think he has delivered on his promise to “drain the swamp”, to 53% who say he hasn’t. When asked if Trump has come through on “Making America Great Again,” just 33% of his voters say he has, to 59% who say he hasn’t.

PPP found that 57% of Republicans want Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2020, compared to 29% who say they would prefer someone else. That 28 point margin for Trump against “someone else” is the same as his 28 point lead over Mike Pence. Both Ted Cruz, with a 40 point deficit to Trump at 62/22, and John Kasich, a 47 point deficit to Trump, are weaker potential opponents than ‘someone else’.

All in, Trump is keeping his base together, while losing a few moderate Republicans. So the question is, what will it take to make Trump a one-term president?

If you want to defeat Trump, focus on how his political disruption has only caused destruction. It isn’t enough to tear shit down. Any president has to be a builder, and not just for a phony wall.

Have there been any gains from the disruption? Is there any evidence that Trump has the leadership skills to bring policies into law that will improve the lives of those who voted for him?

The winning message is about building: Build unity. Build the economy. Build a vision for a growing middle class.

Be a builder, not a disruptor.

Wake up America! Find a builder, or be a builder. To help you wake up, here is John Mayer with his 2006 Grammy-winning hit “Waiting On The World To Change”:

Takeaway Lyric:

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

Don’t wait to be a builder. Dr. King didn’t wait, neither did Mandela. They changed the world. WE have the power to change America.

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