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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Letter From London – Saturday Soother Edition

On Thursday night, we saw “An American in Paris”. It played on Broadway, winning four Tony awards before moving on to Paris and now, London. It is based on the 1951 film with George and Ira Gershwin’s music that won six Oscars. Since it was just six years after the end of WWII, the movie is played as a lighthearted romp, filled with tap dancing.

On the stage, the focus is on the romantic story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl in Paris, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. The American GI, Jerry, a painter in Montmartre meets Lise, a young saleswoman. Lise however, is loved by Henri, a rich kid singer of middle-of-the-road popular songs.

The stage version is balletic, even to the point of including a 15+-minute classical ballet when Jerry and Lise reunite, after it seemed their love would be unfulfilled. The sets are magical. A swastika flag turns into the French Tricolor before our eyes. Backlit screens showing Paris are conjured in line drawings that are slowly sketched in, like our hero Jerry, the GI artist might do on the streets of the city. All of the sets are animated by 59 Productions. As the images float in, computers project these scenes exactly on time with the set as it moves into place. (Sorry no photos are allowed in the theater!)

This was a wonderful experience, and Wrongo and Ms. Right, who missed in on Broadway, were delighted to see it here. “Who could ask for anything more?

After the show, we were fortunate to meet with Leanne Cope, the Tony nominee who played Lise in NYC, Paris and now in London. She was joined by Zoe Rainey and Julia Nagle, featured members of the cast. Cope is a member of the Royal Ballet and brings those skills to the role of Lise, plus she also has a beautiful singing voice.

It is incredibly difficult to perform the dancing sections for eight days each week, and Leanne said that the fear of injury is always present. She only performs seven of the weekly shows, and thus gets a long weekend each week for rest and recovery.

On Friday, we traveled out of London to Highclere Castle for dinner:

2017 photo by Wrongo

This is the big highlight of a highlight-filled week in London. Obviously, we did not dress for dinner like Lord and Lady Crawley did in the 1900’s, but the Castle insisted there should be no stilettos or sneakers. Turns out they have been doing private dinners for a couple of years. They have the occasional marriage on site as well.

We had a brief tour of the bedrooms shown on the series, but what was the most interesting was our tour of the Egyptian antiquities that were discovered by the fifth Lord Carnarvon. He and Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Much of the Lord’s collection was sold in the 1920’s to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum. Howard Carter catalogued what remained and said he had stored a few unimportant items at Highclere.

Those items were hidden within the Castle, until re-discovered by the family in 1987. An incredible story.

We had dinner in the dining room that is featured on the show, and it was outstanding. But a big thrill for those who watched “Downton Abbey” on PBS was that after the meal, someone said, “Shall we go through?” And we retired to the magnificent library for coffee, and single malt or cognac.

We can marvel at the manner in which some at the very top of the wealth pyramid lived back then, but remember, the castle still doesn’t have central heating. Highclere was part of a lifestyle on a grand scale that, for both social and financial reasons, can no longer exist, probably not even for the most obscenely wealthy hedge fund guys of today.

Here is the theme music from the show for our Saturday Soother. Our driver had the CD playing as we drove up to the main entrance of the castle:

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

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Letter From London – October 12, 2017

A day off, with “American in Paris” on tap for tonight. But today was throwback Thursday, so Wrongo and Ms. Right visited old haunts from Wrongo’s time in London with the global bank. A visit to Harrods was our first stop, where we saw this outrageous jacket:

2017 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo asked a young Harrods employee if this was the most garish jacket in the Men’s department, and he replied “Sorry, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.” And apparently so. There was even one that seemed to be a faux royal military outfit that might have been worn by Michael Jackson back in the day.

We then went to the Food Halls for some sweets:

Hard to believe, logo chocolates! 2017 photo by Wrongo

We moved on to visit the public school Wrongo’s sons attended, which is co-ed now, these many years later. Then to the flat that Wrongo lived in on Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge. It sold recently for about £7.5million, a tribute to how out-of-reach real estate has gotten in central London in the intervening years.

We went to Ottolenghi Belgravia to purchase spices; sumac, and black garlic specifically. By now we were hungry, and moved on to Dishoom, one of the best Indian restaurants in London. For Connecticut residents, quality Indian food is very difficult to find, without driving at least an hour. So when one of the best is a ten-minute walk from your hotel, you have to visit. Maybe twice.

We loved Dishoom’s Mahi Tikka, the Lamb Boti Kebab, and the House Black Daal, among others that were simply terrific.

Last evening we saw “Apologia” at the Trafalgar Studios. The play is about a disastrous family reunion between a Boomer career mother, her two grown male children, and the women in their lives. Stockard Channing is the mom (Kristen) who became an eminent and successful art historian, but was unable to keep custody of, or stay connected to, her two sons when they were young. Joseph Millson plays both sons very effectively. Some in our group didn’t realize the same actor performed both roles. Simon says:

I have to tell you now that the thing I remember most about you is your absence.

Things do not go well at Mom’s birthday dinner. The triggering point is Kristen’s recently published book about her life, in which she fails to mention either son, Peter or Simon. When the sons and their partners Trudi (Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael) and Claire (Freema Agyeman) show up for Kristen’s birthday, they want only to confront her about her decisions, both about her career and the book that represents it. Over the course of the evening, Kristen is forced to confront her sons’ antipathy for her, because of her commitment to career over family.

There is plenty of humor to cut the tension of the many confrontations, but ultimately, Kristen is left alone and unloved, a prisoner of the choices she made.

Stockard Channing is the lead, and turns in an excellent performance as Kristen, but it was Laura Carmichael as Trudi, the “Wisconsin nice” fiancée of Peter who knocks it out of the park. Trudi is a born-again Christian who seems naïve, possibly insipid, and a less-than-worthy opponent for Kristen. But it is Trudi who delivers the coup de grace to Kristen in the final moments of the play.

Excellent. See it if it comes to the US.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 8, 2017

(There will be limited blogging until 10/17, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are visiting London to see five plays in seven days. We are also having dinner at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Please keep your tray tables in the locked position while we are away.)

Another week of shocks to the system. Cartoons may help. The GOP reaction to Las Vegas is almost automatic, just like bump stocks:

Some are reluctant to give up their Congress:

The Senate is always on sale:

Tillerson tries to explain Trump’s undermining:

Trump tosses different kinds of paper depending on the audience:

RIP Tom Petty:

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Our Military Needs to Take Charge in Puerto Rico

The Daily Escape:

Floating lanterns in Motoyasugawa River, Hiroshima Japan. The lanterns mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. There is one lantern for each person who died in the bombing – photo by the Asahi Shimbun

Why hasn’t Trump mobilized America’s military to help rescue Puerto Rico from the disaster that grows worse every day? Why the Band-Aid of repealing the Jones Act?

After eight days of delay, the Trump Administration has issued a Jones Act waiver. The Jones Act prohibits the transportation of cargo between points in the US, on any vessel owned or operated by a foreigner. The Trump administration issued a Jones Act wavier earlier this month, for petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Irma.

Similar to many things that happen in Washington, the Puerto Rican Jones Act waiver is a sham. Why? Because it is a 10-day waiver. This, from the DHS announcement: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This waiver will ensure that over the next ten days, all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico. It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms…

And the clock has already started. Wrongo used to handle shipping finance in Europe for a top-three bank. It will take a few days to get foreign ships loaded with the appropriate goods. Then it will take many days, possibly a week or more, for them to travel to Puerto Rico.

As an example the US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, leaving from Norfolk Virginia will take at least five days to reach Puerto Rico. And the Comfort travels at about the average speed of a container vessel, or a tanker, 17 knots. Even if a foreign tanker or container ship was already loaded and ready to go this morning, it is clear that few, if any, could arrive and unload in less than 5-7 days.

So, Trump’s “waiver” is a sham. OTOH, the situation in Puerto Rico is already far beyond needing a waiver of the Jones Act. Bloomberg reports that:

Thousands of cargo containers bearing millions of emergency meals and other relief supplies have been piling up on San Juan’s docks since Saturday. The mountains of materiel may not reach storm survivors for days.

Distributors for big-box companies and smaller retailers are unloading 4,000 20-foot containers full of necessities like food, water and soap this week at a dock in San Juan operated by Crowley Maritime Corp. In the past few days, Tote Maritime’s terminal has also taken the equivalent of almost 3,000 containers. The two facilities have become choke points in the effort to aid survivors of Hurricane Maria.

Mark Miller, a spokesman for Crowley, said:

…that’s where the supply chain breaks down — getting the goods from the port to the people on the island who need them…Trucks are ready to be loaded with the goods and precious diesel for backup generators, but workers aren’t around to drive. Instead, they’re caring for families and cleaning up flood damage — and contending with the curfew.

The buildings that would hold the supplies are either destroyed, or have no power. The over-the-road transport companies that have staff available and diesel on hand encounter downed poles and power lines while attempting to navigate on washed-out roads.

Planning for something of this scale should have started once we knew that Maria was a CAT 5 storm making a direct hit on Puerto Rico. But that didn’t happen, and now, the number of people who are out of money, food, water, fuel and critical medical supplies grows every day.

We should be sending vast amounts of equipment and manpower to help clear roads, and get things in a condition to where people can begin to rebuild. We should be sending mobile medical teams that can move in and out of remote areas and evacuate those who may die without medical intervention.

Our military has divisions of logistics experts that can supply an army even under very difficult conditions. They have units that can build bridges in a day, or rapidly repair roads for supply convoys.

Our military has the mobile medical teams that can handle wartime injuries. They need to be on the ground. We need a military-style operation to stem the tide of this disaster.

Why hasn’t General Little Hands ordered them into action?

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Where Can The Working Class Afford To Live

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

Source: howmuch

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

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

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

The worst five cities are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are Smartphones Destroying Teens?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, September 2017, near Granite Bay CA – photo by David Dodd

The Atlantic’s article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” makes the point that teens today are:

…less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56% of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85%.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67% since its modern peak, in 1991.

The article was written by Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. The article can be summarized as these teens are more comfortable online than out partying, but they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

More from Dr. Twenge:

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture…has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school…In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Quite a difference from Wrongo’s growing up in pre-boomer times. The idea of having your mom drive you to an event was as close to being humiliated in front of your friends as you ever wanted to be, so everyone got a driver’s license as soon as possible.

But today’s teens are less likely to leave the house to see friends. Twenge says that the shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

We have seen this kind of alienation in Japan, where these people are called hikikomori, a term the Japanese use to define those who haven’t left their homes or physically interacted with others for at least six months. Japan has virtual high schools for teens who can’t leave home. Virtual high school is a thing in the US as well.

Add smartphones and video games together, and you can slow or pause social development and engagement with the real world. The real trouble is in the separation of virtual from lived experience that becomes physical separation and alienation.

No doubt there is a large group of teens who seem to live primarily through social media, some in Wrongo’s own family. Smartphones have made social media much more accessible, but are smartphones in and of themselves the causal factor? Hard to say. Wrongo has had a smart phone for a long time, still sees friends and family, and gets things done.

And the current crop of teens have the tools to be the best informed generation yet. OTOH, they have to be curious enough to perform in-depth search on those smartphones.

So, blaming the smartphone is using correlation to indicate causality.

In fact, this article may describe primarily an upper middle class phenomenon, not something that is society-wide. The kids being coddled are from families with enough money to do it. The intelligent ones among them are opportunistic harvesters of their parents’ resources, and perfectly capable of adaptation.

The genuinely alienated kids exist, but probably not in any larger numbers than the problem kids of earlier generations. But their problems manifest differently than in earlier generations.

If we believe our kids and grandkids are not prepared to face the reality of life, the fault lies with us, as it is our job to prepare them. The responsibility of any parent is to figure out how the world works, and to teach their children how to survive in it – this is true for all mammals.

BTW, today’s photo was shot by Wrongo’s grandson on his smartphone, on the way to his job, after his day at college.

Here is the Who doing “The Kids Are All Right” from their 1965 album, “My Generation”:

 

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Houston’s Petrochemical Industry Fails to Protect City

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part II

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

They are the pragmatists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towhey says that these people elected Donald Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 20, 2017

Jon Stewart in a surprise appearance at Dave Chappelle’s show at Radio City Music Hall skewered white supremacists:

If you guys feel like you’re losing out, fucking work harder. I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re a white supremacist, if you think you’re the master race, how come we’re kicking your ass so easily? You’re the master race! How come you’re not winning everything? Why aren’t the Olympics dominated by you? You’re the master race. What do you have left? Golf and tennis, maybe, maybe. And even then, the first black people you came across, you’re like, ‘We can’t play this game anymore.’ Williams sisters, Tiger Woods. O.K.

Suppressing political violence is a matter of will. It requires that we rise above our tribal loyalties and defend the political system that is at the heart of America.

Trump is having trouble keeping members of his advisory councils:

Trump uses wrong finger:

Is the Confederate Flag about heritage? Absolutely:

The monuments are only part of the problem:

Bannon’s real job was easy to see:

The Trump Eclipse requires different glasses:

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