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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Can Dems Beat Trump In The 2020 Battleground States?

The Daily Escape:

Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, NY – October 2019 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

Some news was made by pollsters yesterday. The NYT and Siena College are out with a poll of 2020 battleground states that shows Trump is highly competitive in head-to-head matchups with the top Democratic candidates. Even though Trump is by far the most unpopular president in American history, these polls indicate that he could get re-elected.

Here are the top line results. Among registered voters, Biden narrowly leads Trump in four of them, Sanders in three, Warren in one:

These states were the key contests in 2016 between Hillary and Trump. Trump’s approval ratings have long been in the high 30s to low 40s, and he trails Biden by almost nine points in an average of national polls. But as the 2016 race showed, the story in the battleground states can be quite different. Mr. Trump won these six states even while losing the national vote by two percentage points.

In this poll, Trump trails Biden by an average of two points, but that result is within the margin of error in the individual states. And we know how erroneous the polls were in November 2016. You can look at the current poll’s cross-tabs here.

Hate to pour cold water on Democrats, but Trump could lose the 2020 popular vote by upwards of ten million, and still win in the Electoral College.

This is reality – it will come down to six states. This is why people get so disengaged from presidential politics. Then, by not voting in election years, the Congress, state houses, and state assemblies stay with the Republicans.

Ten years from now, the demographics will be different. Consider Texas, where Latinos will outnumber non-Hispanic whites by 2022. OTOH, we have a census next year, and some states are deploying multimillion-dollar efforts to ensure their population gets counted correctly. But in the South, only three states have allocated state funding for census outreach, with just eight months to go.

It may take time, but much of the South will again come back into play. Maybe people won’t feel like they’re overlooked if presidential campaigns actually required the votes of people in most states in order to win.

Just six states. That should infuriate everyone. We remain at the mercy of the Electoral College.

But there’s more. Nate Cohn says in the Times article:

“Nearly two-thirds of the Trump voters who said they voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2018 say that they’ll back the president against all three named opponents.”

The crossover by Republicans to vote for a Democrat in 2018 was a factor in taking back the House. So, losing two-thirds of them sounds terrible for Dems, until you realize that it means 1/3 of Trump’s 2016 voters in those states say they’ll stay with the Dems in 2020. And Trump’s margin in PA, MI, and WI was just 80,000 in 2016

We’re at a point where the Democratic field is narrowing. Four candidates have moved clear of the field, Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. Biden and Buttigieg represent middle-of-the-road liberalism, while Warren and Sanders represent a more liberal, anti-corporate philosophy. Only Buttigieg is under 70, but that doesn’t matter if the opponent is over 70 himself. The rest of the field barely polls at 2%.

It’s likely that the Dem nominee will be one of these four, but it’s way too early to be concerned about how they perform vs. Trump’s relative strength in the battleground states he won in 2016.

It’s smart for Democrats to fight as though every poll has them way behind. And the figures on advertising dollars spent per campaign show that Trump is currently spending as much money as all the Democrats combined.

A year from now, we’ll be entering a different world. But since we can’t know the future, it could be either wonderful news, or more of the brain-melting hell in which we currently reside.

To make sure it’s a new world, we have to do everything we can to ensure that someone new is elected, someone who will oppose with every vote, every fiber of their being, the policies and hate spewed by Trump and his GOP fellow-travelers.

This means we have to work to turn them out not only from the presidency, but from every other elected office, from county commissioner to the House and Senate.

How?  There are a lot of ways, from donating money, to donating time at the local Party office; to writing letters to the editor, or making your voice heard through whatever means you can.

The How is important, but the Why is what should energize every one of us.

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More Thoughts on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

Frenchman Bay, viewed from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia NP, ME – 2019 photo by pmek99. Note the cruise ships lining up to visit Bar Harbor.

Following up on our post about climate change, many responded by attacking the premise that climate change is happening or, that it is due to human causes.

There have always been deniers. For example, a survey conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Global Project in partnership with the Guardian, found that 13% of Americans believe that humans are not at all responsible for climate change. Another 5% of Americans don’t even believe the climate is changing. So, 18% think we shouldn’t worry about climate change.

Then again, 20% believe that extraterrestrials live amongst us.

Wrongo isn’t sure that we are focused correctly when we talk about climate change. It’s not the planet that’s in trouble, its humans. Humans thrive within a specific range of availability of water, air, and food, as do all animals. If one of the critical inputs is compromised, humans will fail to thrive, our habitable locations will shrink, and the human population will also shrink. The planet will survive.

For much of human history, humans have lived in hotter, dryer locations. They also survived in colder places, and in both, were able to live hard, but reasonably happy lives. Do we want to regress to that?

Peak human experience requires surpluses of food and livable space if the population is to grow. How can that happen on an overpopulated, resource-constrained planet?

Focus on this: Global population is projected to reach approximately 10.9 billion by 2100. If that is true, we will require 10X today’s electricity output by 2100. When you think about it, even if today, we had already reached the (unrealistic) level of 50% of power sourced from renewables, that would equal only 5% of the power we will need 100 years from now.

So, where will all that energy come from? Can Silicon Valley invent a different form of electric power generation? Will the world go fully into nuclear power?

The same is true for water. Where will the increased water resources come from? Desalination?

Suppose there is no climate change. We are still facing peak oil and peak other resources. We live on a finite Earth. Think about energy: We’re in a world of expanding energy demand. This will mean substantial shortages in the medium-term, which means immense and unavoidable energy price increases.

Politically, the higher prices should be used to defray the energy costs of the majority of the population that isn’t rich enough to pay them. Doing that will take a different economic system than we have today.

Can deniers also wish these problems away?

  • We live in a world where the big polluters, corporations, are dedicated to maximizing short term returns for a relatively few wealthy beneficiaries.
  • We still live in a Neoliberal world where government works for the few, where government largess continually transfers income to the wealthy, while our infrastructure is allowed to decay.
  • We still live in a world where economic growth cannot be sustained forever without collapse.

It will take a global mobilization that is massive, disruptive and smart to deal with the resources constraint, even if there wasn’t any climate change. What we really lack is the SOCIAL technology to mobilize corporations and politicians to bring about change.

Concern about the twin problems of finite resources and climate change hasn’t brought about any particular political, social or spiritual commitment on the part of the power elites in finance, corporations or politics.

For all of our superiority at the apex of the animal kingdom, we seem unwilling to solve what surely lies ahead. That’s why we see Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old scolding world leaders, with 4 million kids standing behind her. To adapt, we will require a Manhattan Project-level of effort, but we’ll have to do all that work in the face of depleted resources, an unstable climate, and a contracting economy.

We have choices. We can continue as we are, or we can stop now, take a moment to reassess, and then put ourselves on an alternative path, as the younger generation says we must.

Thunberg challenges us to stop being selfish, to care about the future, to care about living things and recognize that we are all part of the natural world, and that our commitment to continuing economic growth is killing the planet.

We should listen, organize, and act.

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The Ethics of Responsibility

The Daily Escape:

John Muir Wilderness, CA -August 2019 photo by petey-pablo

Nobody in America should be rooting for a recession, and no political party should root for one either. Shame on those who are.

US economic policy is often driven by ideology, and those operating policies can change whenever the party in power changes. That seems to be more likely to occur in 2020 than it has at any time since Reagan. Like it or not, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama all followed similar economic policies.

Trump has disrupted much of them, returning to a vigorous trickle-down policy, aggressive deregulation and the imposition of unilateral tariffs.

Max Weber, in his 1919 essay on “Politics as a Vocation”, made a distinction between politicians who live by the “ethics of responsibility” and those who follow the “ethics of conviction”. The ethic of responsibility is all about pragmatism; doing the right thing in order to keep the show on the road. But the ethic of conviction is all about moral (ideological) purity, about following the playbook despite the impacts.

An example is the Kansas Experiment, where Sam Brownback, following right-wing convictions, cut taxes to produce a “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Economic growth was below average, state revenues crashed, and debt blew up. But, still a believer, Brownback vetoed the effort to repeal of his laws.

You don’t need more from Wrongo to paint the picture. We’re in a time of the ethics of conviction.

Let’s take a look at two recent articles about the economy. First, from the Economist, which is telegraphing the possibility of a US recession:

“Residential investment has been shrinking since the beginning of 2018. Employment in the housing sector has fallen since March….The Fed reduced its main interest rate in July and could cut again in September. If buyers respond quickly it could give builders and the economy a lift.”

But housing is not the only warning sign. The Economist points to this chart, showing the change in payrolls in the 2nd Quarter of 2019:

It’s clear that much of America is doing quite well. It is also clear that most of the 2020 battle ground states are not. Indiana lost over 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last downturn, almost 4% of statewide employment. It is among a growing number of states experiencing falling employment: a list which also includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In 2016, those last three states all delivered their electoral-college votes to Trump, and were decisive in his electoral victory. Trump’s trade war may still play well in these states, but if the decline in payrolls continues, it suggests a real opening for Democrats, assuming they are willing to hammer on pocketbook issues.

Second, the Wall Street Journal had an article about winners and losers in the 10 years since the Great Recession. It isn’t a secret that those left behind are in the bottom half of the economic strata, and there is little being done to help them:

“The bottom half of all U.S. households, as measured by wealth, have only recently regained the wealth lost in the 2007-2009 recession and still have 32% less wealth, adjusted for inflation, than in 2003, according to recent Federal Reserve figures. The top 1% of households have more than twice as much as they did in 2003.”

We also call wealth “net worth”. It is the value of assets such as houses, savings and stocks minus debt like mortgages and credit-card balances. In the US, wealth inequality has grown faster than income inequality in the past decade, making the current wealth gap the widest in the postwar period. Here is a devastating chart from the WSJ showing the net worth of the bottom 50% of Americans:

There’s a big difference between the 1% and the bottom 50%: More than 85% of the assets of the wealthiest 1% are in financial assets such as stocks and bonds. By contrast, more than half of all assets owned by the bottom 50% comes from real estate, such as the family home.

Economic and regulatory trends over the past decade have not only favored stock investments over housing, but they have also made it harder for the less affluent to even buy a home. The share of families in the bottom 50% who own a home has fallen to 37% in 2016, (the latest year for which data are available), from 43% in 2007. OTOH, homeownership among the overall American population is higher since 2016.

Weber’s ethics of conviction have driven our politics since well before the 2008 recession. We know what it caused: inequality, demonstrated by lower wages for the 90%, and a devastating decline in net worth for the bottom 50%.

Can we turn the car around? Can we elect politicians who will follow Weber’s ethics of responsibility at the local, state, federal and presidential levels in 2020?

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Tuesday Wake Up Call – September 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Clouds and light, Zion NP, Utah – 2019 photo by walkingaswind

It’s fair to ask, “What happened to the Wrongologist?” He’s taken a long break from posting, in part due to fatigue brought on by our toxic political environment. But beyond that, Wrongo has (at least temporarily) despaired of seeing a path forward to meaningful political change.

Here’s a few relatively connected changes to ponder on Labor Day.

We’re in the midst of a big demographic change. Demo Memo reports that Non-Hispanic Whites (that’s white people to us non-demographers) will account for just 47% percent of the nation’s 2019 public school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That means the majority of students (53%) in grades K through 12 will be Hispanic, Black, Asian, or another minority.

That’s a big drop since 2000, when 61% of public school students were non-Hispanic White. Their share fell below 50% in 2014. The non-Hispanic White share of public school students will continue to fall. In 2027, non-Hispanic Whites will account for 45% of students, according to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics.

It’s not a coincidence that nearly 32% of Americans aged 18 or older can speak a language other than English. According to the 2018 General Social Survey, this figure is up from 28% a decade ago. Asians and Hispanics are most likely to say they can speak a language other than English, 83% and 69%, respectively. By generation, the youngest Americans are most likely to be able to speak a language other than English, with the iGeneration at 43%, Millennials at 39%, and GenX’ers at 33%.

Times they are a-changing.

Changes on the jobs front have already occured. Here is chart from Visual Capitalist showing the largest non-government employer in all 50 states. Sadly, even in this time of economic progress, Walmart is the largest employer in 21 states:

In many states, either the state or federal government is the top employer. California employs 250,000 federal workers. New York State is unique, since NYC’s municipal workforce is the state’s top employer. And then, there is the US Department of Defense: Eight states have more active military personnel than any single private employer.

Universities and hospitals are top employers in nearly half of the states.

But Walmart is the biggest private employer, with 1.5 million workers. They employ about 1% of private sector workforce in the US. Amazon is a distant second with more than 500,000 employees.

How are the facts about majority/minority schools and Walmart as  our largest employer linked? According to Walmart’s 2019 diversity report, 44% of Walmart employees are people of color. This means that after graduation, Walmart is a likely workplace for many of them. People of color account for 61% of Amazon employees.

And the average wage for a full-time Walmart employee in the US is $14.26. Recent full-time pay in a New Jersey Amazon warehouse was $13.85. Both sound fine until you realize that these are average pay rates for full-time workers. Many earn far less. And few actually are full-time workers, most are part-time.

Are these good jobs at good wages? They are not.

Our schools are getting more diverse, and the jobs we hold now are increasingly fragile. What’s more, for many Americans, one job doesn’t provide a living wage. As the NYT reported in a Labor Day opinion piece by Binyamin Appelbaum and Damon Winter:

“More than eight million people — roughly 5 percent of all workers — held more than one job at a time in July, according to the most recent federal data.”

Dignity. Shouldn’t America strive to make working at one job pay enough to provide for a person’s family? We tout the low unemployment rate, and the statistics that show millions of available and unfilled jobs. But, except for a few jobs involving high barriers to entry, “worker shortage” is a euphemism for “this job doesn’t pay well enough, or have good enough conditions to attract enough workers.”

There’s no worker shortage in America, there’s a pay and good working conditions shortage. Work doesn’t have to be absorbing, but it should be free of fear, and it should be worthy of one’s talents.

It’s baffling to Wrongo that supposedly smart politicians have facilitated a system that has robbed wealth from the bottom 90% of Americans and funneled it to the top 1%, largely through holding down workers’ wages, when our economy is driven by consumer spending.

All of us are wage slaves to a degree, we all sell our time and talent for money. Our schools are the basis for building talent. That, plus job experience, is what the average American offers to sell to employers.

So this is mostly a post about future Labor Days.

Time to wake up America! Without profound changes to how we educate our kids, and how we reward capitalists and capitalism, our country of tomorrow will bear little resemblance to the nation of today.

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Marist Poll Points Towards Winning Democratic Policies

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Castle Reef, Montana – July 2019 photo by xzzy. Not to be confused with Capitol Reef NP, in Utah.

Yesterday, Wrongo showed an analysis of possible voter turnout by gender and age, and the implications for 2020. Overnight, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows how it may be possible to craft policies that appeal to those groups, among others.

The poll was conducted from July 15 to 17, after the president’s tweets about the four Democratic congresswomen. It surveyed 1,336 adults largely (68%) by mobile phone, and has a margin of error of ±3.5%.

Some of the top line results: By a 53%-to-39% margin, Americans said they would definitely vote against Trump. That compares with the 54% of American voters who actually didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, an insufficient number to win the Electoral College. Trump did better among independents. A third of which said they would definitely vote for him, while 54% say they definitely won’t.

But, let’s focus on a few topics that had majority female support. Overall, 59% of women disapproved of the job that Trump is doing, compared to 52% of all respondents. And 62% of women said they would “definitely not vote for him”, substantially higher than the poll’s average.

All isn’t roses for the Democrats with women. When asked “do you think the ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates running for president would generally move the country in the right/wrong direction?” Women only gave the Democrats a 52% “right direction” tilt. Overall, Americans split 46%-to-43% on whether Democrats would take the country in the right or wrong direction, within the margin of error in the poll. Much of that may be due to unpopular policies offered by the current crop of candidates.

Here’s a list of the most popular policy proposals by Democrats:

  • 89% say requiring background checks for gun purchases or private sales is a good idea
  • 70% support offering Medicare for all as an option alongside private health insurance
  • 67% are in favor of regulating prescription drug prices
  • 64% are for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the US illegally
  • 63% support legalizing marijuana
  • 62% favor Increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million
  • 57% are for banning assault-style weapons
  • 56% support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour

There are a few issues that are very unpopular, even with Democrats:

  • 26% are for a guaranteed universal basic income of $1,000 per month
  • 27% favor providing reparations for slavery
  • 27% support decriminalizing illegal border crossings
  • 33% support offering health insurance to illegal immigrants
  • 41% are in favor of doing away completely with private health insurance

People are split on giving free college tuition at public colleges and universities (53% said it’s a good idea, 43% said it’s a bad idea.

Overall, independents said they were not impressed with the direction either President Trump or Democrats want to take the country at this point. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College, said:

“They’re not willing to grant President Trump reelection, and yet they’re not persuaded by Democrats at this point.”

Showing that Democrats are not truly happy with their choices for president, 82% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they have not yet made up their mind on who to support in the Democratic primary. A majority (54%) say they want a nominee who can beat Trump, rather than one who shares their position on most issues (42%). That’s up 13 points from last month when 47% said they wanted someone who shared their position on most issues versus 46% who said they wanted someone who has the best chance of beating Trump.

Turning to the other side, Trump’s primary support comes from white males, Gen X (ages 39-54) and evangelicals. When asked if they would definitely vote for Trump in 2020, 66% of evangelicals, 51% of Gen X and 47% of white males said yes. That’s quite the weird coalition.

BTW, just 23% of Gen Z/Millennials (ages 18-38) said they are definitely voting for Trump.

As we said yesterday, Democrats have a chance to present a set of policies that will appeal to women and the youngest voters, in addition to their base. The field of 20+ has certainly reviewed the NPR/Marist Poll results at this point. Maybe a few are rethinking their stance on eliminating private insurance, or offering insurance to illegal immigrants.

It’s still early, and this poll is just another snapshot. The true picture will emerge in a few months.

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Can Dems Energize Voters in 2020?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming – July 2019 photo by dai_yue

How did we come up with such an uninspiring field of Democrats? Wrongo understands that November 2020 is a long way off, but pundits have been saying that Trump has a lock on the Electoral College, and that the Democrats are in total disarray. What to do?

From Tom Sullivan:

“Democrats don’t need to run for president on better policy, though they have that. Their candidate needs to generate excitement among traditional nonvoters….from the top of the ticket to the bottom, they need to give nonvoters something to vote for.”

When we scan the current 20+ Democratic presidential nominees, none are truly charismatic. Some have an easily understood message: Bernie focuses mainly on improving the economic lot of poor and working people, but he’s lost 9 points in the average of polls since late April. Why?

Warren has been the policy wonk among these candidates, and her ratings have improved to the point where she’s basically tied with Sanders, but both still lag Biden.

OTOH, Trump’s approval rating is now about 43%, the highest since the opening weeks of his presidency. A couple weeks before the 2016 election, Trump’s favorability rating was at 35%. Despite all of Trump’s outrages, his commitment to walling off his base from inroads by Democrats seems to be working. The current political wisdom seems to be that he has 2020 in the bag, as long as his base of Deplorables sticks with him in the states that matter.

So, should Dems be ignoring Trump and focusing on policy?

The Dem’s strategy should be to write off Trump voters; they are beyond reach. A few may be susceptible to the health care and jobs agenda, but most will prefer Trump’s anti-immigrant message. Second, we need to tell the unvarnished truth about the wrong Trump has caused. Focus on healthcare and jobs, but make it very clear that Trump has spent as much time and money paying off porn stars as he has spent thinking about how you’re going to pay your hospital bills.

We need to focus on the 50%-60% of Americans who aren’t for Trump, and energize them so that they turn out. Let’s look at two sub-sets of that majority: young voters and women voters. Vox explains how younger voters made the difference in 2018:

  • Young people drove voter turnout increases. Nearly 36% of 18- to 29-year-olds reported voting, a 16% jump from 2014, when only 20% of the youngest voters turned out to the polls. Adults ages 30 to 44 also increased voter turnout by 13%.
  • Voter turnout increased more among voters with college degrees than among those without. Voters with more education have historically had higher voter turnout, and that impact was even greater last year.
  • More urban voters (54% of citizens) voted compared to those who live outside of metro areas. That’s in sharp contrast to 2014, when slightly more people in rural areas voted than those in urban areas, by 44% to 42%.

Most important, in 2018, more women (55%) turned out to vote than men (52%). Here’s a chart:

Turnout among younger women was higher than among young men. That flipped with voters 65+, where more men cast ballots than women. The future of voting is apparently female.

For Democrats to win, they have to engage the Democratic base, including women and young voters.

In 2008, Barack Obama gave nonvoters a reason to register and vote. He won the youth vote nationally, 67% to 30%, with young voters proving a decisive difference in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to Tufts’ Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Did young people register and turn out in 2008 and 2012 because of Obama’s policies? No, they did it out of passion for someone who seemed to embody a better, more hopeful future.

So, Dems should leaven their policy messages with a pivot to Trump’s unfitness: Democrats are fighting for pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s inciting of neo-Nazis and racists at his rallies is unpresidential.

We know what we’re doing, and Donald Trump is a total disaster” can’t be that difficult to get across. How about: “Send him back“? Will either be sufficient to overcome the lack of charisma of the Dem’s likely candidate?

Time will tell.

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New Evidence: Citizenship Question Added to Suppress Minority Voting

The Daily Escape:

Wallis Sands, NH – 2018 photo by CaptainReptar

“If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” David Frum

Sometimes, the proof you need shows up just a little late. The Supreme Court will rule in June on whether or not a citizenship question can be added to the census in 2020. The case, Department of Commerce v. New York was argued before the Court back in April. At the time, most observers felt that a majority of the justices seemed inclined to support the administration’s position that there was no political agenda behind asking the citizenship question.

On Thursday, the NYT reported about a related lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, which shows that all of the relevant information to decide the case was not available. The new evidence was obtained from Thomas Hofeller. Hofeller was the Republican Party’s guru on redistricting of electoral districts for political advantage. After Hofeller died, his estranged daughter found his computers and hard drives, and her mother gave them to her. She discovered files that demonstrated quite clearly that her father had been central to the creation of the census citizenship question.

From The New York Times: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.”

This article on Thomas Hofeller offers evidence of the vote suppression intent of the census citizenship question that the Supreme Court is likely to approve in a few weeks. The new court filing shows that Hofeller’s digital fingerprints are all over the US DoJ actions to add a citizenship question:

  • The first was an Aug. 30, 2017 document from the Hofeller hard drives. The document’s single paragraph cited two court decisions supporting the premise that more detailed citizenship data would assist enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. That paragraph later appeared word for word in a draft letter from the Justice Department to the Census Bureau that sought a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
  • A second instance involves the official version of the Justice Department’s request for a citizenship question. It was a more detailed letter sent to the Census Bureau in December, 2017, presenting technical arguments that current citizenship data falls short of Voting Rights Act requirements. The plaintiffs in the new case show those arguments are presented in exactly the same order, and sometimes with identical descriptions as in a 2015 study by Mr. Hofeller. In that study, Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting.

Seems damning, but why should the Supremes need more evidence? Three federal district courts had already decided this question without seeing this additional evidence. They were able to see through the transparent attempt by the GOP to undermine voting rights.

The 14th Amendment, Section II says:

“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

The founder’s intent there seems pretty clear: The whole number of persons. And since when is it the responsibility of a member of Congress to only represent the eligible voters in his or her district?

The new smoking-gun evidence shows that government officials lied when they used the Voting Rights Act as their excuse for including the question. But, that will likely be seen by the SCOTUS as irrelevant, assuming they believe that the actual reason is a permissible action by the Commerce Dept.

Republicans love to complain about those Democrats who are now advocating for eliminating the Electoral College, saying that doing so would amount to “changing the rules because Democrats lost.” What should be obvious is that Republicans are constantly, and relentlessly changing the rules. See Mitch McConnell’s rewrite of his Merrick Garland policy just this week.

Over and over, Republicans gerrymander and suppress the vote in whatever way they can. They do this as part of their effort to shore up the voting power of their white voter base, while diluting the voting power of minorities.

They know demographics are not on their side, so they are willing to take extreme measures to solidify their position, regardless of the impact on the nation.

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America’s Military Moves Rightward

The Daily Escape:

Bruarfoss, (Bridge Falls) Iceland – 2018 photo by ParticleEngine

There was some controversy on Memorial Day when Trump visited the USS Wasp before returning to the US from Japan. He was greeted by service members wearing unofficial uniform patches with the words “Make Aircrew Great Again”. Here is a photo of the patch:

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale. Such patches are officially barred by uniform regulations, but may be approved by the service members’ chains of command, who are responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations. Those regulations say:

“…active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DOD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

This means that service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.

This is the second controversy involving a visit by a member of the administration to a Navy vessel in the past month. At the end of April, a TV reporter overheard the USS Harry S. Truman’s senior enlisted sailor instructing crewmen to “clap like we’re at a strip club” during a visit from Vice President Pence. He later resigned from his post.

So, to be clear: twice in four weeks Navy personnel have gotten themselves in hot water during public events in easily-avoidable ways. In sports, we call these screw-ups “unforced errors.” And in what universe does it make for our military to venerate a commander-in-chief who faked a medical condition to avoid serving?

Naturally, the Navy is reviewing whether service members on the USS Wasp violated Defense Department policy by wearing the patches.

So let’s think about a couple of things: The prohibition against political advocacy while in uniform isn’t about denying service members their 1st Amendment rights; it’s about maintaining good order and discipline. Imagine the chaos and conflict which could potentially result from men and women in uniform actively engaging in divisive political activity? Could we count on our military defending each other, or the homeland, if they’re fighting with one another?

Second, these two incidents remind us that there is a decided tilt in the military toward conservatism, and in some cases, the far-right. The US military, particularly its officer corps, leans Republican, and its younger, more recent veterans, are even more so.

There have also been plenty of problems from far-right military members: In February, a Coast Guard officer was arrested after an investigation discovered he was stockpiling weapons and preparing to attack liberal politicians in Washington, DC.

In the 1990s a white supremacist gang formed in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Brigade, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1995, two members murdered a black couple. In 2012, a member of the Missouri National Guard was arrested for providing weapons for and running a neo-Nazi paramilitary training camp in Florida.

In Georgia, two soldiers were arrested after murdering a former soldier and his girlfriend in an attempt to cover up their assassination plot against then-President Obama. A 2014 Vice News segment showed the KKK was actively seeking to recruit US military veterans, and some were answering their call.

Andrew Exum, former Army Ranger and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy during the Obama administration, wrote about the US military becoming a political-economic entity focused mainly on its own interests.

An apolitical military has been a bulwark of our democracy, but that is under pressure.

It’s been made more difficult by Trump actively working to weaken the apolitical nature of the military. He talks about “My generals”, but has given the military a freer hand on the rules of engagement and targeting decisions. He suggested that service-members lobby Congress for a military budget increase.

The demographics of the military has changed since we ended the draft in 1973. It skews southern, western and rural, all conservative-leaning parts of America. One study at the National Interest shows that over the last generation, the percentage of officers that identifies itself as independent (or specifies no party affiliation) has gone from a plurality (46%) to a minority (27%). The percentage that identifies itself as Republican has nearly doubled (from 33% to 64%).

This shift is dangerous for our democracy. Sadly, it is unclear what might reverse the trend.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hout Bay, South Africa – 2012 photo by Wrongo. Hout Bay is a suburb of Cape Town.

Let’s talk a little about ageism and sexism in politics. Are Biden and Sanders too old to be president? Why are the top-polling four 2020 Democratic presidential contenders men?

Over America’s 230 years of presidents, 220 of those years have featured a man who was less than 70 years old. The ten other years consist of most of Reagan’s two terms, along with all of Trump’s time in office, and the last three months of Eisenhower’s second term.

Reagan was 75+ in the last half of his second term. That’s when many in the White House speculated about whether Reagan’s deteriorating mental condition might justify invoking the 25th amendment:

“He was lazy; he wasn’t interested in the job. They said he wouldn’t read the papers they gave him—even short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn’t come over to work—all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.”

Does any of that sound familiar?

Biden and Sanders are leading the early polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination, so the possibility of an 80 year-old president is very real (Sanders would be 79 upon taking office, while Biden would be a year younger). If Trump gets re-elected, he would spend the second half of his second term as the oldest president in US history.

People in this age group can perform very well, but their odds of dying or getting dementia are reasonably high. So, why not elect younger people? The idea of electing a white man about to turn 80 to the presidency seems crazy. Maybe not as crazy as re-electing Donald Trump, but we aren’t grading on a curve. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable alternatives that don’t carry anything like these particular risks.

And what explains the fact that in the most diverse primary in Democratic Party history, the top four candidates are all white men? We unfairly hold women who hold, or seek jobs in high places to different standards than men, possibly thinking that in politics, “electability” means “white dude”. This is wrong.

We need to let the policy ideas of this group play out, and let meritocracy prevail. At this point, we have no idea who is “electable”. But Wrongo hopes that we pick from among the younger prospects, someone with energy, ideas and a message that unites rather than divides the country.

Before accusing Wrongo of being ageist, or of playing identity politics, let it be said that his top three presidential prospects at this point are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. All three seem to have the personality that will relish the fight on the campaign trail. Warren offers more policy positions that Wrongo supports. Mayor Pete and Kamala Harris have that elusive “electability” that Warren may lack.

Speaking of identity politics, we shouldn’t forget that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. So his election would be no less historical than electing a woman, a gay or a person of color.

Time to wake up Democrats! We need to support the candidate who can turn current policies in a new direction. Let’s support the candidate who has the courage, stamina, and experience to be successful.

To help you wake up, here is “I Don’t Understand The Poor” from the 2014 Tony Award-winning best musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”. This could be sung at every Republican Convention:

Sample Lyric:

I don’t understand the poor

And they’re constantly turning out more

Every festering slum In Christendom

Is disgorging its young by the score

I suppose there are some with ambition

Say, the pickpocket, beggar, or whore

From what I can tell

They do quite well

They’re rising above

And its work they love

But I don’t understand the poor.

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

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Saturday Soother – Final Four Edition

The Daily Escape:

Aiguille du Midi – 2019 photo by Berenicids. The Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft.) is part of the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. It can be directly accessed by cable car from Chamonix. If you enlarge the picture, the cable car building is visible at the very top of the mountain.

The end of Wrongo’s favorite sport, the college basketball season, happens on Monday. Tonight is the Final Four, the Wrong family’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, with family gathering for food and drink around the TV.

But, that doesn’t start until the early evening, so we’ve got time to talk about another scary piece of news this week: There will be severe human impacts caused by the next wave of automation. The bottom line is that plenty of jobs will be lost and we’ll see societal disruption as machines and robots take over American jobs. Axios takes it from there:

In a new report, the Aspen Institute nudges policymakers away from any notion that the American economy will naturally adjust as robots are introduced at an accelerated pace over the coming two and three decades.”

Axios goes on to quote Aspen’s Alistair Fitzpayne who says that, workers displaced in prior technological cycles “have experienced profound downward mobility” in new jobs at much lower pay and benefits.

The report’s executive summary warns, “Artificial intelligence and other new technologies may lead to deeper, faster, broader, and more disruptive automation”, and retraining programs may be unable to mitigate the downward trend in earnings and social status. Aspen warns that fewer jobs may be created than are destroyed:

  • No one knows how many new jobs will be produced, where they will be created, or how much they will pay.
  • Most studies play down the real possibility that the automation age could go very wrong, for an extended period, for large swaths of workers and their communities.
  • Workers who lost their jobs in the wave of manufacturing layoffs in the early 1980s, for instance, were still earning 15%-20% less in their new work 20 years later, according to the Aspen report.

Axios reports that Aspen tries to pull the punch, saying that with the right policy choices, we can choose to create an economy that works for everybody. That we can encourage employers to adopt a more “human-centric approach” to delivering the bottom line. That we can support displaced workers through retraining, reemployment services, and unemployment insurance to help them transition to new jobs and careers.

Maybe, but it seems questionable that those things will spontaneously happen. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggests all this new technology might be liberating, but she has reservations:

“The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

The cultural stigma attached to job loss is profound, and that is unlikely to change by adding more retraining programs. Conservatives are not about to celebrate jobless people having more time to learn, to create art, or enjoy the world they live in, as long as they are unemployed.

The merciless mantra of shareholder value above all, and our corporate masters’ acceptance of the inevitability of technological change means that low and moderate-skill workers are expendable. Efficiency for more bottom line is more important than the lives of human workers.

This coming automation disruption is hard to see now. But estimates are that it will impact as many as 40% of American workers.

The 21st Century American corporation isn’t our friend, as currently constituted and rewarded. It is the enemy of our society, because they are quietly working to eliminate our jobs. We constantly reduce their taxes, vainly hoping for them to create more jobs. We look the other way when they pollute our environment. We allow them to disproportionately finance our elections.

It’s time for a new Capitalism.

But you’ve had enough for this week, so on to the Saturday Soother. Start slowly, particularly if you plan to stay up until the last Final Four game ends at around midnight. Let’s brew up a cup of New Hampshire’s Flight Coffee’s single origin Tanzania Tarime AB, ($17/12oz.), with its floral fragrance and intensely sweet flavor. Now settle into your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by David Lloyd Jones. “Spring Morning” is the third of ‘Three Small Tone Poems’ by Delius:

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

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