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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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Fixing Social Security

The Daily Escape:

Tahitian Gardenia, Maui – 2013 photo by Wrongo

On June 13th, The New York Times had an article on the Social Security (SS) shortfall: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Unless a political solution is reached, Social Security’s so-called trust funds are expected to be depleted within about 15 years. Then, something that has been unimaginable for decades would be required under current law: Benefit checks for retirees would be cut by about 20 percent across the board.”

With life expectancy increasing, by 2035, Social Security estimates, the number of Americans 65 or older will increase to more than 79 million, from about 49 million today. This is the high point of eligibility, as the number of Baby Boomers will start to decline by then.

Americans are counting on Congress to fix this problem. As usual, there are two answers, one offered by each Party. The GOP thinks that we can’t afford SS and Medicare. In fact, they’ve been trying to cut our SS checks since the Reagan presidency. The right-wing Heritage Foundation offered a new policy paper in May. As in the past, they favor cuts to benefits and siphoning money from payroll taxes into individual investment accounts. This is a recycling of George W. Bush’s 2005 idea, that the Democrats blocked at the time. The Heritage Foundation overlooks that at one time, pensions were widespread, and SS was a supplementary source of income for many retirees, not their primary source as it is for most today.

The Democrats have suggested an increase in Social Security benefits, along with higher taxes for the wealthy. Taken together, these measures would eliminate the SS program’s financial shortfall.

Millions of words have been written about how to deal with the shortfall. Here is one idea from Dale Coberly posted at the Angry Bear:

“All we have to do is pay an extra dollar per week per person per year.  After next year It will be more like a dollar and ten cents.  And if we wait another year it will be about a dollar and twenty cents for the first few years, then a great deal less than a dollar per week on average. This would keep Social Security solvent essentially forever.  The Deputy Chief Actuary at Social Security agrees that this is true.”

Most of the political discussion is about “we can’t afford it”. They mean the US government. But, when we think that if the individual wage earner CAN afford it, there’s no reason why the government can’t pay for it. This isn’t socialism, and the US government doesn’t have to come up with $ Trillions all at once.

Social Security was not designed to be welfare. It isn’t an “entitlement”, as though it’s an unearned benefit. People contribute a hefty portion of their annual income for their entire working lives to the SS fund, and they have the right to their SS payments in retirement. The original intent was for workers to save enough money to pay benefits when they were too old to work. Today, even the “rich” are not paying in more than they will get back with reasonable interest.

The Times article doesn’t mention that the easiest, and most obvious solution is raising or eliminating the SS cap. Most people forget that only the first $132,900 are taxed. Anyone earning more than that is paying into Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us.

Here’s a message to Jeff Sommers, who wrote the NYT article: You are fanning the flames of a false emergency when there is a sound solution to be implemented.

Several studies have shown that simply removing the cap, which affects less than 10% of US taxpayers, would solve the SS program’s solvency issues indefinitely. No benefit cuts needed. No political horse trading needed between the Republicans and Democrats, except that the GOP base will scream bloody murder if they are forced to pay in more than they will get back.

But, why should we give a pass to the rich, when the rest of us depend disproportionately on social security income to meet basic needs?

Now all we need is the political courage to get it done, which is in absurdly short supply these days.

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Is Ending Income Inequality a “Radical” policy?

The Daily Escape:

Mount Robson & Berg Glacier, BC, Canada – June 2019 photo by DrTand the women

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz writes: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the Federal Reserve just released…its new Distributive Financial Accounts data series [that] offers a granular picture of how American capitalism has been distributing the gains of economic growth over the past three decades. Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project took the Fed’s data and calculated how much the respective net worth of America’s top one percent and its bottom 50 percent has changed since 1989.

He found that America’s super-rich have grown about $21 trillion richer since Taylor Swift was born, while those in the bottom half of the wealth distribution have grown $900 billion poorer.”

This is what a few of the Democratic presidential candidates have been talking about, some loudly and some quietly, for the past few months. Levitz asks the right question:

“So, is an economic system that distributes its benefits in this manner consistent with Americans’ common-sense views of economic justice? If not, would incremental changes be sufficient to bring it into alignment with the median American’s values? Or would more sweeping measures be required?”

In a sense, Democrats are testing whether advocating for changing Capitalism is an argument that voters will accept in 2020. More from Levitz:

 “Some Democratic presidential candidates say that America’s economic system is badly broken and in need of sweeping, structural change. Others say that the existing order is fundamentally sound, even if it could use a few modest renovations. The former are widely portrayed as ideologues or extremists, the latter as moderates.”

Essentially, the question is “who’s the extremist?” in the Democratic Party. This conflation of “extreme” or “radical” with “bad” is what the GOP and the Main Stream Media do every day, and it weakens our policy-making.

We use “extremist” or “radical” as a way of signaling that a policy position is too awful to consider.

If you simply say that something is bad, then you are forced to defend your position. But, when you describe it as “extreme“, you’ve called it bad, and people will HEAR that you think it’s much too big a change to even discuss.

Respectable talking heads like Judy Woodruff will ask: “Will Americans really go for THAT?”

This is bad faith messaging about important questions. This is so ingrained into people who talk about politics that it largely goes unquestioned. We shouldn’t care about pundits and broadcasters saying how extreme or not extreme something is. We should care about the merits of the argument.

Republicans have been calling Democrats “extreme” “radical” and “Socialist” for decades. They’re using bad-faith tactics; de-legitimizing an idea or a candidate without having to debate on the merits.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are offering “extreme” policies only if our baseline is what the average Congress critter’s economic agenda looks like. It’s not clear why that’s an appropriate yardstick.

Did we think calls for sweeping change in Egypt were extremism when students took to the streets demanding basic civil rights? Do we think the young people demonstrating today in Sudan are radicals?  Our assessment (and support) of these dissenters’ ideologies has more to do with how far their values are from those of their corrupt political and military leaders.

And also by how close they seem to be to our core values.

Whether it is extreme or moderate to propose sweeping changes to American capitalism should depend on how close our existing system is to how a just economic system operates. And these latest data show that the one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since 1989, while the bottom 50% have gotten $900 million poorer.

This is what economic class warfare looks like. Saying that isn’t hyperbole. The earnings and wealth of a majority of our citizens has been systematically declining with the complicity and power of our government, in order to benefit the rich.

It shows how bad things are when the “radical” in American politics is anybody who argues that the American economy isn’t working for a huge percentage of the population.

Judy Woodruff may think that the economy is great, but incrementalism has failed most of us for the past 40 years.

Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly someone who is indifferent to economic inequality.

We need to adopt redistributive economic policies. That may sound like an extreme position, but the alternative of continuing our growing wealth inequality, should really be thought of as far more radical.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 16, 2019

Some harsh news from California for Kamala Harris this week. The LA Times quotes findings from a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, commissioned by The Times. It has bad news for some Democratic presidential contenders, starting with Sen. Harris.

The poll shows Biden leading the race. He has support from 22% of likely Democratic primary voters. That is well below his average in most national surveys. Warren and Sanders followed close behind, with 18% and 17% respectively.

Harris is in fourth place at 13%, and Pete Buttigieg is fifth at 10%. No other candidate topped 3%, and many received less than half a point of support.

This is important because California is Harris’s home state. Candidates in California’s primary can only gain delegates by winning at least 15% of the vote. California also has the largest haul of delegates in the Democratic nomination fight, and they’ve moved their contest from the end, to the beginning of the primary season, making it truly important for the first time.

Harris is counting on a California win to propel her into the top tier. On the other hand, not a lot separates the top five, so it is possible that she can still get back into the mix. On to cartoons.

GOP’s two-part voting strategy:

For DT, the FBI’s evidence IS his plan:

Accountability works only one way:

Sanders steps (way) down, but does hell have a bottom?

He might as well wave toilet paper at this point:

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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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Immigration

The Daily Escape:

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado – 2019 photo by VincentLedvina

Whomever the Democrats nominate for President must share their vision on immigration. Democrats need to have clear answers about how we got here, and how Trump is making it worse. And they have to say what we should do about it.

The American voter barely pays attention, but they are persuadable by big ideas that are communicated clearly.

The UN reports that a quarter of a billion people worldwide are immigrating. Moral considerations aside, the developed world needs to deal with migration on an epic scale over the next 20 years. This is partly due to climate change in the global South, and is partly due to mass destabilization caused by tribal warfare throughout the third world.

These factors create two kinds of migrants: economic migrants seeking a better life, and refugees fleeing personal danger. The WaPo reports that we’re seeing huge numbers of migrants: (brackets by Wrongo)

US Customs and Border Protection statistics …show more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody [in May], a 32% jump from April. It was…the largest one-month arrest total since…Trump took office, and it was the highest monthly figure in 13 years….May was the third month in a row that border detentions topped 100,000, led by record-breaking levels of illegal crossings by Guatemalan and Honduran parents bringing children.

Some 45 million foreign-born people now make their home in the US. About 12 million live here illegally. Globally, immigration is remaking nations on a world-altering scale.

Politicians throughout the developed world are aware of these trends, and either deny their existence, or are calling for draconian policies to protect their borders and keep migrants out. In America, we see some people who want open borders and many who want the borders closed.

Wrongo witnessed how open borders work in Eastern Europe last year. The EU has the Schengen policy that allows cross-border migration throughout Europe. Poland and Hungary continually lose educated, younger workers to Western Europe, because pay and working conditions are better. Open borders have caused Poland’s and Hungary’s populations to skew older, and less skilled.

America needs a comprehensive policy that deals humanely with all types of migrants, but we must secure our borders. We can’t have open borders.

How should we secure our borders? We need physical border control in all high traffic areas, and we have to add border enforcement wherever it is easy to cross unimpeded.

  • Democrats should take Trump’s wall off the table for 2020. Its cost is a rounding error in the annual budget, and more security is better than less.
  • We need a hard annual cap of immigrants to the US. It could be high, say 1 million, or lower. The level is worth a serious debate.
  • Once the cap is exceeded, anyone trying to enter will be returned to their home country.
  • We should give preference to those immigrants who have demonstrable skills or educational preparation. American economic growth relies on the skill and productivity of our people. When an immigrant joins the American economy, that person is asking us to honor a multi-generational commitment to him/her and to each of his/her descendants. We should be selective.
  • We should continue having geographic quotas that apply against the overall hard cap.
  • We should expand work, temporary work and student visa quotas.
  • We should deport any immigrant convicted of a serious crime either in the US, or in their home country.
  • We should provide amnesty to all law-abiding illegal immigrants now resident in the US.
  • Any illegal migrant who is physically in the country must be treated humanely and with respect until their case is adjudicated. Cages must go.
  • To accomplish this will require a substantial financial investment to support migrants who the border patrol is apprehending. We’ll need more case workers, immigration judges, medical staff, and substantially increased, and humanely built and operated facilities.
  • This will cost billions, but eventually, the bulge of migrants attempting to enter may decline, and we will then be able to cut back on the level of services.

Pushing our border control back on Mexico is a partial solution. Trump is correct about that. His gratuitous brutalities shock our conscience, and fail even on their own terms. Intended as deterrents, they are not deterring.

If Mexico can cut off a portion of the illegal immigration before migrants try to enter the US, we are better off, but Mexico is worse off. It would be easier to get Mexico’s support via cooperation, rather than by coercion via tariffs.

Democrats want to restore development funding for Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. That’s a fine idea, but we should not expect that it will achieve much of a decrease in economic migration. Most of the funding will be siphoned off by the governments and by local criminals. Little will reach the target.

America needs a bipartisan immigration solution. If we weren’t paralyzed by partisan rancor, we would already have one. Controlling immigration, and selecting the immigrants more carefully, enables us to quickly and successfully absorb those who come here, and to ensure equality of opportunity to both the newly arrived, and the rest of us.

Our goal must be to make everyone feel that they belong to one nation.

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Saturday Soother – Trump Mexican Tariff Edition, June 1, 2019

There’s No Escape Today:

More tariffs! This from CNN:

“President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to impose new tariffs on Mexico if the country does not step up its immigration enforcement actions, combining his boiling border-related frustrations with his preferred method of punishing foreign countries.

Trump said in a White House statement that the first round of tariffs would begin on June 10 at 5% ‘on all goods imported from Mexico.’ The statement said Trump would carry out his threat under authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and that he would lift tariffs only ‘if the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.’

The statement warned further that if Mexico does not act as Trump demands, tariffs would go up to 10% by July, 15% by August, 20% by September and reach a permanent level of 25% by October.”

Mexico probably does need to do more to stop migrants crossing their country.

OTOH, they like America, have rules that safeguard migrants. It’s doubtful that the Trump administration has studied those rules or cares about them, any more than they care about ours.

According to Forbes, The US imported $346.5 billion in goods from Mexico last year and for the first three months of 2019, they increased 5.4%. At that rate there would be $365 billion imported in 2019. At a 5% tariff, companies would have to either raise prices or take an $18 billion hit to profits. And it is companies and eventually consumers that will pay these new Trump tariffs, not the exporting country as Trump consistently misrepresents.

This is why the DOW fell 355 points on Friday.

Trump used the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as his legal basis to place tariffs on Mexico. It’s a Cold War-era law that actually vests the presidency with absurdly broadly defined, near-dictatorial powers in many areas. But, prior presidents, even Reagan and Bush 43, never conceived in their wildest dreams of using them except in an ACTUAL emergency. And they didn’t.

Trump doesn’t care, he sees a hammer, and decides that it isn’t for driving nails; it’s for breaking Mexican kneecaps. Matt Yglesias explains that there’s an easy climb down for Trump in this. Migration from/through Mexico is very seasonal, peaking in the spring, and declining sharply in the summer.

Trump will probably pretend to get some concessions from Mexico and declare victory in a couple of months. His moron supporters will surely applaud that.

At some point, Democrats will have to frame these and Trump’s other tariffs for what they are: a national sales tax on imports. Dems need to start explaining to the public that these tariffs are a national sales tax on everything from Mexico, including cars and components for US car manufacturers. Maybe saying this:

“Trump is making Americans pay a sales tax on imports until illegal immigration stops. How will Americans paying higher taxes force Mexico to stop illegal immigration?”

That’s how it should be framed.

Enough! We’ve been Mueller ’ed and Trump ’ed all week, and it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

On the first day of June, Wrongo hopes that you are in short sleeves, and thinking of getting outdoors, and that doesn’t mean shopping at the mall.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Hawaii Kau Champagne Natural from Paradise Roasters ($19.95/12 oz.). This coffee tied for the highest rating in Coffee Review’s May 2019 tasting report of Hawai’i-grown coffees. They say that its tropical and floral aromas lead into a sweet and complex dessert-like cup.

Paradise has experimented with yeast fermented coffees that produce a more intense and complex flavor than traditional methods. It evokes Champagne, fruity but dry, and not effervescent. They only roast this coffee on one day: June 3rd, 2019. So you have been alerted to act fast.

Now, move outside, assuming you live in a part of the world that isn’t suffering from rain or tornadoes. Put on your wireless headphones, and listen to a Philadelphia-based Irish band, BarleyJuice, play their tune, “Weekend Irish”:

Sample Lyric:
And the blood runs deep,
When the booze is cheap,
Long as you ain’t got an agenda to keep,
You can be a Weekend Irish, hey!
Aye, aye, we’re the Weekend Irish

And we’ll raise a hand,
To the motherland,
Best part of being an American,
To be a Weekend Irish

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

The Wrongologist does not condone identity politics, unless it involves weekend singing, dancing and drinking.

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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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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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