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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Super Tuesday Turnout Wasn’t So Super

Many in the media echoed this from Newsweek:

“Turnout was higher overall in every state except for Oklahoma, but the percentage of voters who were 17 to 29 years old was lower than in 2016.”

That’s true as far as it goes, 2020 was higher than 2016. But 2020 turnout was nearly one million fewer than in 2008, 972,443 to be exact. So Democrats shouldn’t be getting their hopes up just yet.

Here’s a helpful chart from Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Sabato says:

“Turnout overall is definitely up when compared to 2016, but not when compared to 2008, the blockbuster Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton primary…remember that population size naturally grows almost everywhere, so even matching 2008 doesn’t necessarily mean turnout was better.”

(California is excluded in the above, because so many votes remain to be counted. States marked with an asterisk have not fully reported yet.)

What does it all mean? That’s TBD, but everyone should look clearly at these turnout numbers. We know that Bernie’s reason for running is that he can turnout young voters, and other disaffected non-voters. But Sanders hasn’t performed consistently with his strategy. He hasn’t turned out more young voters, nor has he expanded his base. It’s now clear that at least some of his support in 2016 was a function of being the alternative to Hillary Clinton.

Biden’s surge shows our pent-up demand for a return to normalcy, a place where we wouldn’t be shocked by politics 24/7.

But Biden’s winning won’t fix the problems underlying our politics. A vote for Joe is a vote for the status quo, and that’s not going to work out so well for the millennials or younger Americans. Biden’s nomination will not do anything to deal with the malaise among America’s youth, who worry about climate change and college debt, and the minimum wage all of which will get back-burnered by Biden and the DNC. So, how can we get them excited enough to turn out and vote?

What’s Biden’s strategy to do that in November?

 

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2020 Census Brings Scams, Confusion

The Daily Escape:

Florida Beach in February – 2015 photo by Wrongo

(Posting will be light and variable until March 8th, as Wrongo and Ms. Right spend a few days warming up in Florida)

The 2020 census is about to start. That’s the way we estimate the number of people living in each location in our country. The census is more than just a headcount; it shapes the distribution of political power and government funding for the next 10 years. It will inform the redistricting process at every political level across the country. So Congressional seats and Electoral College votes hang in the balance.

The Census Bureau is running more than 1,000 census ads in the US through July 2020 to encourage all households to participate. The Census Bureau confirmed that all advertisements will include a disclaimer underscoring that participants’ information will not be shared with any other parties, presumably, like ICE.

It’s expected that scams will be everywhere. According to AARP:

– 70% of respondents were incorrect or unsure about whether the Census Bureau would use email to contact them. Actually, all correspondence is sent via US mail

– 35% expect or are unsure whether the Census questionnaire will ask for their Social Security number, bank account information or passwords, or that it will require payment of a fee

It’s clear that the AARP crowd skews older, so you might expect that there would be some level of confusion that could make them susceptible to scams.

In addition to scams, Republicans are taking the opportunity of the census to collect information and raise funds with a form letter labeled “Census”. Here’s a sample:

The document asks questions, some of which are leading and biased, such as:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ agenda to raise taxes, provide free health care and college tuition for all, open our borders to all immigrants, enact dangerous abortion policies, pack the Supreme Court, allow inmates to vote and abolish the Electoral College?”

There is also continuing confusion about whether the census is asking a citizenship question, despite the fact that the US Census Bureau was directed by the Supreme Court not to include it.

A Pew Research Center survey just found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that the 2020 census will ask about whether each individual in the household is a citizen:

“A 56% majority of the public thinks the census will include a question about citizenship, according to the Pew survey. Another 25% are not sure. Only 17% know that a citizenship question will not be on the census. By demographic segment, here’s who knows there will be no citizenship question on the census:

14% of women, and 20% of men

20% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans

15 to 16% of adults under age 65 and 21% of those aged 65 or older

18% percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, but only 9% of blacks

21% of foreign-born Hispanics versus 16% of native-born Hispanics

26% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 13% of those with less education”

Whether this mistaken belief will suppress participation in the census, which is just a few weeks away, remains to be seen. Also, Pew says that certain groups are more hesitant to participate, including black and Hispanic adults. The Census Bureau says it is targeting black and Hispanic populations, as well as some groups of young adults, for additional outreach because they have been hard to count in the past.

The 2020 Census will be the first to be completed largely online, assuming that the Census Bureau’s plan goes off without complications. And Pew says that 60% are interested in doing so. But, the possibility of scamming will be ever-present.

People do have the option to request a paper form. One way to verify that the document received in the mail is an official Census Bureau form is to see if the enclosed envelope to mail it back is addressed to Jeffersonville, IN, or Phoenix, AZ, locations of the Census Bureau’s processing centers.

Like in the 2020 national elections, turning out for, and completing the census is very important to the future of the country.

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Facebook Could Destroy Democracy

The Daily Escape:

Pond, Greenville County SC – February 2020 photo by Ninjiteex. It’s rare to see snow in SC

On Facebook, Wrongo mostly reads the posts of friends who are involved in showing dogs at AKC events. People who show dogs skew older and female, and thus, so do Wrongo’s Facebook friends. Many share a constant amount of pro-Trump (dis)information.

So, Wrongo tried a week-long experiment, letting some of those posters know that their posts were factually incorrect. Let’s focus on one, a picture of a very young Bernie Sanders being hauled away by police:

The photo’s caption says:

“In 1963 Bernie Sanders was arrested for throwing eggs at black civil rights protestors. This is the side of Bernie that CNN and the fake news media don’t want you to know”

The picture is real, the caption is false. Sanders was actually protesting police brutality and segregation, and was arrested for “resisting arrest”. Facebook has now taken down the post, but it was up for over a week.

When Wrongo told friends that their posts were false, everyone deflected, and minimized their intent. One, a fervent Trumper, said, “I just wanted to post a picture of him when he was young”. Never mind that this photo is available all over the internet with the simplest of searches, all with the correct reference.

Despite a week’s worth of trying, no one was willing to delete a false post. Many of these people post disinformation six or more times a day, so it was an exercise in futility to try and make these “friends” admit the truth about their posts, much less show any awareness about their biases.

This is a small example of what McKay Coppins wrote in his Atlantic article, “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” As an experiment, Coppins signed up at many pro-Trump social media sites, and soon was deluged with alternative facts: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.”

All of this is helped by Facebook’s excellent micro-targeting tools. They allow an advertiser to slice the electorate into narrow and distinct niches and then reach them with precisely tailored digital messages. More from Coppins:

“An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive.”

The results can be overwhelming. The Trump campaign runs hundreds of iterations of ads. In the 10 weeks after the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry, the Trump campaign ran roughly 14,000 different ads containing the word impeachment.

No one has the bandwidth to sift through all of them, and then call them out.

It gets worse. Coppins says that the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have compiled an average of 3,000 data points on every voter in America. They have spent years experimenting with ways to tweak their messages based not just on gender and geography, but on whether the recipient owns a dog or, a gun.

Raw Story quotes former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) saying that Donald Trump intentionally wants America to be anxious: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“I had a colleague that was in a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and….he heard Trump say, ‘Have you ever seen the nation so divided?’ My colleagues and others said, ‘No, we haven’t.’ Trump said, ‘I love it that way.’’

He thinks this how he’ll be re-elected!

Last Sunday, Walter Schaub, former director of the US Office of Government Ethics had a remarkable tweet thread on this, saying: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…we’re in a dangerous new phase of Trump’s war on democracy. What do we do now?

….the greatest threat we face is despondency. The enemies of democracy…want you drowning in hopelessness. A hopeless populace is a helpless one. To that end, a hostile foreign power set up an infrastructure to weaponize social media against you.

Compounding the assault on your senses, he [Trump] also wields a corrupted government, which follows his lead in disseminating lies to sow confusion…

In the face of this psychological warfare, our most urgent mission—our civic duty—is to reject despondency. Everyone has a bad day, so we may need to take turns leading the charge. But our job as citizens is to resist the temptation to spread defeatism on social media.”

You said it, Walter!

We gotta keep hope alive.

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Important Lessons About the Youth Vote in Iowa

The Daily Escape:

Left Mitten, Monument Valley NP, AZ – photo by Enigma Fotos

The Iowa caucuses are just around the corner. On February 3, Iowans will kick off the primary season. With so many candidates still running, it may only take 40,000 votes to “win” the caucus. Vox quotes Norm Zterzenbach, former Iowa Democratic Party official:

“Maybe the top candidate ends up with 20%, because you’ve got six strong candidates going into caucus night….that’s only 40,000-50,000 votes.”

538 says that it’s likely that Sanders finishes first in Iowa. It’s a little complicated, since Iowa has 41 delegates, of which 14 are decided by the state-wide vote, and 27 by the vote in each Congressional district. Here’s 538’s forecasted vote tally:

Sanders:   13.0

Biden:       12.4

Buttigieg:   8.0

Warren:     5.4

All other:   2.2

An important factor affecting the outcome could be Iowa’s youth vote. Tufts University reports:

“Young people are poised for a potentially historic turnout in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, and young Democrats prefer Sen. Bernie Sanders…”

This is based on a poll by Tufts and Suffolk University who surveyed 500 young Iowa residents ages 18-29, who are eligible to vote, regardless of their voter registration status. The survey was conducted between Jan. 15 and Jan. 20, by telephone. The margin of error is +/-4.4%.

The key findings were:

  • More than a third (35%) of young Iowans (ages 18-29) surveyed say they are “extremely likely” to caucus on Feb. 3, 2020
  • That would represent a 300% increase over youth voter participation in 2016, when 11% participated
  • Moreover, the last two times that only one party had an active nominating contest, youth turnout in the Iowa caucuses was only 4%
  • 39% of young Iowans polled intend to caucus for Sanders, followed by 19% for Warren, and 14% for Buttigieg
  • Among young Iowans, Yang was favored by 9% while Biden only had 7%
  • Among all Iowa youth polled (Democrats, Republicans, and independents), 41% support, and 49% don’t support Trump’s impeachment and removal
  • On the issues, those polled said the following issues were most important: health care (18%), the environment (12%), taxes, (mostly mentioned by young Republicans) at 12%, and international relations (9%)

The youth vote played a decisive role in the 2008 caucuses when 57% of young caucus goers supported then-Senator Obama, helping propel him to a win in Iowa. In 2016, according to the exit polls, 84% of Iowa youth supported Bernie Sanders at the Democratic caucuses, giving Sanders a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton (who won 49.9% to 49.6%) and kicking off a trend of national youth support for Sanders throughout the 2016 Democratic primaries.

Winning any election depends on turnout, and Iowa is no exception. In the Tufts poll, 72% of Iowa youth said they have been personally contacted and asked to support a specific candidate or party. That included 82% of young Democrats, and 75% of those who are Independent or unaffiliated.

One-fifth (21%) of all in the poll said that they want to register to vote, but didn’t know how. Tellingly, more than half (55%) didn’t know that they have to register with a party in order to participate.

Can anything be more depressing than learning that 55% of kids over 18 in Iowa don’t have a basic understanding of civics? Wrongo suspects that this is true in most states. Insuring that all people are registered to vote should be every politician’s job #1. The best way to achieve this is automatic voter registration (AVR).

Oregon was the first state to implement an AVR system in 2015. And in 2016, it saw 44% of automatically registered voters cast a ballot. Since Oregon, fifteen more states, and DC, have followed suit.

In general, states that have implemented AVR have higher voter turnout rates.

There are two main types of AVR implementation: front-end and back-end. In a back-end system like Oregon’s, eligible voters are automatically added to the voter rolls when they interact with a government agency. They are given the chance to opt out via mail afterward.

In a front-end system, like California’s or Colorado’s, individuals are required to decide whether they want to register to vote, or indicate if they want to update their address while interacting with an agency. While there are advantages to each approach, front-end systems do not register as many people as back end systems. Maybe people hate spending more time at the DMV.

Nothing is more sacred to our democracy than the right to vote, but, our national electoral system is broken by gerrymandering and partisan purging of the voter rolls.

If voter rolls are missing certain groups (such as low-income voters, rural voters, and young voters) those people will not be canvassed, or mobilized, and will not turn out to vote at election time.

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Military is Less Supportive of Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Olympic Range from Mt. Elinor trail – 2019 photo by malevolint

A new poll by the Military Times (MT) shows that half of active-duty service members are unhappy with Trump as their Commander-in-Chief. This represented a  decline in his approval rating since he was elected in 2016.

The top line numbers show Trump is viewed very favorably or favorably by 41.6% of those surveyed, while 49.9% view him very unfavorably or unfavorably. 8.5% were neutral on the question. By comparison, when the MT surveyed the troops after Trump won in November 2016, 46% of troops surveyed had a positive view of Trump, while only 37% had a negative opinion.

The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty MT subscribers between October 23 and December 2, 2019, in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The numbers have a margin of error of ± 2%. The survey audience was 92% male and 8% female. Respondents identified themselves as 75% white, 14% Hispanic, 13% African American, 5% Asian and 5% other ethnicities. Here is a chart of the top line changes over time:

Trump’s overall favorability is similar to what he receives in the civilian population.

Some of the big drivers of the increase in his unfavorability have to do with military decisions. While troops supported Trump’s steps to disengage in Afghanistan (59% approve of negotiating with the Taliban), 58% disapproved of his decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria. When asked about using military funds to build the southern border wall, 59% disapproved of his decision. More than half rated current US relations with “traditional allies” like NATO as poor.

Some other findings:

  • Military men are more supportive of Trump than military women: 43% of men rate him favorably, while among women service members, 53% expressed a “very unfavorable” rating, and 56% responded negatively.
  • By race, there were key differences: 46% of whites had a favorable view, versus 45% unfavorable. Among non-white service members, about 66% held a negative view of Trump.
  • 33% of respondents identified as conservative, outnumbering liberals (25%).
  • There was a shift toward more service members identifying as political independents. They now are 45% of respondents, up by 3% since 2018.
  • There was a 3% increase in the number of Democrats, and a 7% decrease in the number who considered themselves Republicans, or Libertarians.
  • Regarding impeachment, 47% backed impeachment, while 46% were opposed, roughly the same as the rest of the American public.
  • More than 75% said they think the military community has become more politically polarized, with about 40% now saying they have seen significantly more division in the ranks.

While historically male, white and Republican, the military is changing rapidly. The swing in the numbers of self-declared Democrats and Republicans is important. Many are confused about the military’s role, and America’s global mission.

Mark Bowden has a current article in The Atlantic about the negative view of Trump held by recently retired generals. Here is the key takeaway:

“In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president.”

Bowden is a highly respected military historian who wrote Black Hawk Down, and Huế 1968. He quotes a general saying that Trump: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…doesn’t understand the warrior ethos…it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve…. Trump [just] doesn’t understand.”

There is an opening for Democrats here. Plenty of issues are up for grabs, like the fact that the military spouse unemployment rate floats around 20%, or that homeless veterans are overrepresented at 11% of all homeless adults, and commit suicide at 1.5 times the rate of their non-veteran adult counterparts.

There are serious problems with lead in both military housing paint, and in their drinking water. Reuters did a special report on this last year.

Democrats have pushed policies for limits on payday lenders, while Trump and the Republicans support them.

Military sexual assault, energized by Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), still has yet to pass. Gillibrand’s law would require that all sexual assault cases are placed in the hands of experienced military prosecutors, outside the chain of command.

So far, Democrats haven’t offered a clear alternative that our military can endorse. Dems need to speak in a voice that conceptualizes the military not just as a special interest looking for a pay raise, but as a unique community that defends us against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Can the Democrats running for president embrace the military?

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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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