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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Partisan Gerrymandering Overturned in North Carolina

Daily Escape:

Colchuk Lake in the Enchantments, part of the Cascade Mountains, WA – August 2019 photo by atgctgtt

This summer, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in the case Rucho v. Common Cause that federal courts could not invalidate maps based on partisan gerrymandering, although states might still do so.

At the time, Wrongo snarked about the decision:

“Wrongo’s shorter John Roberts: The federal government can’t do anything about your state stripping you of representation. You have to go back to the people who stripped you of representation and ask them.”

Despite Wrongo’s skepticism, on Tuesday, the North Carolina (NC) state Supreme Court put an end to eight years of Republican partisan gerrymandering when it ruled against NC Republicans who had installed it in 2011. From the Daily Kos (DK):

“On Tuesday, a three-judge panel delivered a major blow against Republican gerrymandering when it struck down North Carolina’s state Senate and state House districts for violating the rights of Democratic voters.”

More:

“The state court ruled that these maps, designed to entrench Republican rule, ran afoul of the state constitution’s guarantee of free and fair elections. These illegal districts were so extreme that they helped Republicans to maintain their legislative majorities in 2018’s elections even though Democratic candidates won more votes statewide. If fairer districts are implemented for 2020, they could put Democrats in striking distance of a majority in one or both chambers.”

NC’s current state-district maps had to be redrawn again in 2017, after the US Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that they constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

Now, NC’s voters will be voting in new state election districts for the third time since 2011.

This decision is similar to one in PA in 2018, where a state court ruled that PA’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. It also relied on the PA state constitution, so its decision was not reviewable by the US Supreme Court.

When SCOTUS decided not to rule on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, it said quite clearly that state courts could rule on the question based on the individual state constitutions. NC now joins PA as states in which this strategy has succeeded.

The NC and PA decisions are reminders that we can challenge bad laws under state constitutions. States are free to recognize more rights than those enumerated in the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you never learn about.

More from DK:

“While this case only concerns the maps in one state, every state constitution has provisions similar to North Carolina’s that could be used to challenge partisan gerrymanders so long as there’s a receptive and fair-minded state Supreme Court majority to hear such a case. This ruling therefore underscores the importance of Supreme Court elections in key swing states next year, including Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Progressive victories in these races would go a long way toward blocking the GOP’s lopsided control over redistricting as we head into the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census.”

The NC court decision was 345 pages long. The opinion really makes it clear how there’s just no possible defense for what the GOP was doing in NC. In addition, the opinion might as well have had “John Roberts is an embarrassing hack” stamped on every page.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats can relax between here and 2020. Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin are states where 2020 state Supreme Court elections could either give Democrats a majority, or set them up to gain one in subsequent elections. That will be crucial in the next decade, since the Census will also take place in 2020. There will be new voters to count, or to disenfranchise, depending on your Party’s ideology.

This war must be won in the trenches, not by the national candidates.  Wisconsin gave us a bad example in April. Although Democrats in Wisconsin won the popular vote in 2018, they didn’t work hard enough to get their state Supreme Court nominee over the finish line in 2019, despite having a progressive plurality.

Democrats have to realize that they won’t win if they think only certain elections are important enough to get out and vote.

These battles are local, not national, and now that the US Supreme Court will be sitting on its hands for a decade or more, these are fights we must win.

Democrats can’t afford not to contest local judicial elections.

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Saturday Soother – August 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ground Swell – 1939 painting by Edward Hopper

In news you most assuredly haven’t seen, the 10th District US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that “Faithless Electors”, people who do not cast their votes in the Electoral College for the winner of their state’s presidential election, are now free to vote for anyone they want.

This Colorado case came about because in 2016, one elector refused to vote for the state’s winner, Hillary Clinton, and instead, voted for John Kasich. The Colorado Secretary of State ordered him to cast his vote for Clinton, or be replaced. He refused and was subsequently replaced with an elector who voted for Clinton.

The faithless elector sued, and the 10th Circuit decided in his favor, saying that the Constitution provides:

“…Presidential electors the right to cast a vote for president and vice president with discretion. And the state does not possess countervailing authority to remove an elector and to cancel his vote in response to the exercise of that Constitutional right.”

The court traced the history of faithless electors back to 1796, when Samuel Miles voted for Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams. Congress counted his vote. In the 2016 election, there were 13 anomalous votes from three states, and Congress also counted those votes.

This decision could have major ramifications for future presidential elections. The attorney for the faithless elector, Jason Wesoky, said the Court’s ruling essentially makes the laws requiring electors to vote for the state’s winner unenforceable. That impacts 16 states today.

It is even more significant, since a growing number of states are rethinking their Electoral College systems in response to the 2016 election. The 16 states that have passed laws that award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, currently equal 196 electoral votes.

If states representing another 74 electoral votes pass it, the so-called National Popular Vote bill will control the majority of votes in the Electoral College. The bill has passed at least one chamber in 8 additional states with 75 additional electoral votes.

This Appeals Court’s decision means that yet another crucial issue to  the future of our democracy will be in the hands of the Supreme Court, once the appeal gets to them.

Enough of news you won’t ever use, it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Honduras Marcala coffee ($19/12oz.) from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee Roasters. The founders are professional cyclists who met while riding in the Amgen Tour of California, America’s best bike race.

Now, settle back and listen to something very different, a guitar band from Mali called Tinariwen. They are Tuareg musicians from northern Mali. They play rolling melodic lines and loping rhythms that evoke the desert sands of the Sahara. The band’s name literally means “deserts” in their language, Tamasheq. Here they are playing “Kel Tinawen” from their upcoming album “Amadjar”, available on September 6th:

The video is of a road trip along Africa’s Atlantic coast as the band and crew cross the Western Sahara. They will be touring the US in September. For an early date in Winston-Salem, NC, some locals on social media are leveling violent, racist attacks against the musicians. Welcome to America!

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

Evil tongues – you can keep talking.

The uprising will be impossible to suppress.

The treachery of your evil words has sold out your brothers for your own interests.

You’ve locked them up in a prison, every last one of them.

You fine talkers, tell us what road you plan to take to avoid us if we remain rooted.

You’ve forgotten the suffering of our parents,

The suffering they have experienced since birth,

Unable to find water, unless they dig wells with their own hands.

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

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Trump Still Wants His Citizenship Question

The Daily Escape:

Sandia Mountains, New Mexico – 2019 photo by cameforthegames

On June 27, the Supreme Court held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 order directing the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire could not go forward. At the time, we all thought that there would be no such question on the census.

Now, that’s no longer true.

“President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr began working to find a way to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census just after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month, Mr. Barr said on Monday, adding that he believes that the administration can find a legal path to incorporating the question.”

More from Barr:

“I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified…”

The ruling left open the possibility that the citizenship question could be added to the census if the administration came up with a better rationale for it.

Here’s a way to look at what the Administration means: The Supreme Court said we couldn’t do this. Our reasoning was stupid and insulting. So now, we have to come up with something better. Yeah, we said it was too late for that, but we’re working on a brilliant new reason.

And you shouldn’t make anything of the fact that the lawyers the DOJ had working on it just quit:

“Barr also acknowledged that the career Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the census question had little appetite to continue on the case after Mr. Trump inserted himself into the process…. The Justice Department announced a day earlier that it was replacing them, a nearly unheard-of move.”

On Monday, the plaintiffs in the case asked a NY judge to block the DOJ lawyers’ withdrawal because they did not demonstrate “satisfactory reasons” for the change. On Tuesday, the judge denied the request, except for two DOJ attorneys.

Barr also said that the Trump administration would soon reveal how it plans to add the question, but he wouldn’t detail exactly how it would be justified.

On Monday, Speaker Pelosi announced that she intended to schedule a full House vote “soon” to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas for documents related to the census question. This had been recommended last month by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

If Barr goes forward, the question will be provisionally added, and a new time clock for the case starts again.

But, Trump may have screwed the pooch. He admitted that the whole point was to favor Republican redistricting, which was exactly what his lawyers have said is not the case, because that’s unconstitutional. Trump said we need the census citizenship question for many reasons:

“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for redistricting,” he said Friday. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

Trump apparently doesn’t realize that America bases redistricting on the population of the district, not the citizens in the district. Yet, there’s still a strong possibility that his question will be part of the census.

In the case mentioned above, four Supreme Court justices said they would vote for literally any position the administration takes on the issue. And a fifth vote (Chief Justice Roberts) searched in vain for any possible fig leaf that would allow him to join them. When he couldn’t, he sided with the liberals.

Americans should be outraged that the Trump administration willingly engaged in an illegal action, and then lied about it in federal court. They should be outraged that four members of the Supreme Court thought that was just fine. The Chief Justice thought it could have been fine, had they come up with a less blatant pretext, which he invited them to provide. Any Chief Justice worthy of the title would have simply ruled that the process couldn’t be salvaged.

The big story here isn’t the census question. It’s the DOJ’s legal team refusing to continue working on the case. This is unprecedented, and a really big deal.

The most plausible explanation for their quitting is that they told the Supreme Court it had to decide by June 30th, or the question couldn’t be included. If they now have to go back to SCOTUS, they would have to admit that was a lie.

We have to hope that the administration’s malevolence will be ruined by their incompetence.

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Fed Study Shows Rising Financial Desperation in Poorer Zip Codes

The Daily Escape:

Aliso Creek State Beach, near Laguna Beach, CA – 2019 photo via

Simon Johnson observes at Project Syndicate: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“To defeat populism requires coming to grips with a fundamental reality: bad economic policies no longer necessarily result in a government losing power. In fact, it is now entirely possible that irresponsible populists may actually strengthen their chances of being re-elected by making wilder and more impossible promises – and by causing more economic damage.”

Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF, believes that structural economic factors, including automation, trade, and the financial crisis have left many people feeling neglected by those who control economic policy.

When politicians back policies that add economic uncertainty, or that discourage investment, we see lower economic growth, and fewer good jobs. Ordinarily, dissatisfaction shows up at the ballot box, holding that government accountable at election time.

But this is no longer reliable, because politicians wiggle out of the trap by saying that the media are biased, that the experts are wrong, and that the facts are not the facts. And the angrier people become, the easier it is to persuade them to accept that no one is to blame, and vote again for those who helped to cause their economic distress in the first place.

A new study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank examined American financial distress by Zip Codes. It sheds light on a topic we regularly debate: Why are there so many signs of distress in a supposedly robust economy? And this time, will politicians be held to account?

Since 2015, the lowest income households have been taking on more debt. Their wealth has become even more concentrated in home ownership. The level of distress in lower-income households has also increased, despite the official story of increasing prosperity.

The study drills into Zip-Code level data to show that even adjacent Zips show striking divergence in wealth accumulation (or erosion). For instance, they looked at the percentage of people within a Zip Code that have reached at least 80%t of their credit limit on their bank-issued credit cards.

That is believed to be a good proxy for financial distress.

Before the 2008 crisis, analysts missed the rising levels of household debt. That debt was often funded by borrowing against home equity. Rapidly falling home prices after 2008 showed how fragile many of those borrowers were.

The contrast between national averages and Zip Code households is stark. Looking at averages, the recovery appears to be quite broad.  But zooming in by Zip Code showed a bifurcated economy still suffering from the 2008 crisis. The researchers found that looking at the value of assets and reliance on debt shows a clearer picture: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the poor and high-leverage ZIP codes that are more affected by wealth shocks may still be vulnerable. What’s more, trends in less affluent groups are masked in nationally aggregated statistics by groups with more wealth.”

May be vulnerable”? They will certainly be vulnerable when the next downturn begins.

Since 2015, debt and financial distress have been rising the fastest in these low-wealth areas, while it rose the slowest since 2015 for the wealthiest households. We already see softness in economic indicators like retail sales, home sales and housing construction. It’s reasonable to expect that the next recession isn’t far away.

We’ve had a long economic recovery, but its gains were not distributed as broadly as they had been in previous downturns. What we got was an uneven economic recovery, with most gains going to an increasingly narrow group.

More people are left out of this supposedly robust economy than the politicians and most economists think. The Fed study shows that the averages conceal plenty of pain. Maybe this isn’t an earthshaking idea. We all see income and wealth disparities in our communities, it’s not that unusual. But the fact that the differences are now extreme enough to show up in ZIP Code level data seem significant, and worrying.

So, will politicians pay any price in 2020 for the continuing maldistribution of gains since the 2008 recession? Or, will politicians tell the people that no one’s to blame, that the Laffer curve will surely work this time?

The miracle of modern Republican economic theory allows for both the Laffer curve, and “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” not only to be truths, but to be the desired outcome.

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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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Is It Time to Cull The List of Democratic Nominees?

The Daily Escape:

Yellowstone Falls – 2011 photo by Wrongo

With so many candidates, Axios reports that there is a real chance for a brokered Democratic convention. Letting the corrupt DNC’s Super delegates choose the nominee sounds terrible to Wrongo. The main reason is that the Democratic Party’s rules impose a 15% electoral threshold, which means that to win delegates in a state primary, a candidate has to win at least 15% of the vote.

This matters, because there are so many candidates, and most of them aren’t polling very well. A Quinnipiac poll this week shows the difficult road ahead for the Democratic candidates. The chart below shows that only six of the candidates are known well enough that at least half of respondents have an opinion about them. For 17 of the candidates, at least half of respondents said they didn’t know them well enough to say whether they viewed the contender favorably:

Buttigieg is just outside the six, polling at 5% while O’Rourke, who is better known, polls at just 2%. Quinnipiac also looked at the candidates’ net unfavorability among Democrats. The net rating is determined by subtracting the favorable ratings from the unfavorable:

Just three candidates have net unfavorable ratings among Democrats: Tulsi Gabbard, Seth Moulton and Bill de Blasio. OTOH, only eight candidates have truly interesting favorability ratings: Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Booker, Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Castro. Clearly, the bottom three have no hope at all in the 2020 Democratic nomination race, but the same most likely applies to the next eleven.

Finally, let’s look at how Quinnipiac says the candidates have performed over the last few months:

It’s early days, but Warren jumped over Harris, Buttigieg and O’Rourke in the past two months. Sanders’s biggest problem in the short run isn’t Biden, but Warren, who is just behind him in the Quinnipiac poll. If she in fact passes him, it’s not clear how Sanders would strike back. Sanders’s support seems to have moved with Buttigieg: When Mayor Pete gained ground, Sanders fell. With Buttigieg’s support dropping back down, Sanders’s has gone back up.

Also notable is the fall of Beto. He benefits from being well-known, but not well-liked as a presidential candidate. There have been calls for him to drop out and run for the other Texas Senate seat, held by John Cornyn, who has a campaign war chest of $7.5 million. But, there is already an announced Democratic candidate, MJ Hegar, who lost a close race for a seat in Congress in 2018. So look for Beto to keep running. Also, four million people in Texas voted for Beto in 2018, while just 11,000 elected Mayor Pete last time, so Beto has shown the ability to raise money and win votes.

While polling isn’t voting, these numbers suggest that some winnowing of the field would help focus primary voters on the future of the Party, and on the election. Overall, Quinnipiac shows that 18 candidates are polling at 3% or less (and many of them not registering even 1%), so they face an uphill task to achieve relevancy.

Should the DNC raise the threshold for admission into the debates from 1% to 2%, the debate field would shrink to only eight. Is it too soon to call for 10-14 Democrats to drop out of the running?

Turning to Trump, Quinnipiac says he has a huge problem with women. While 60% will definitely not vote for him, just 28% would definitely vote for him. Among white women (a group he won in 2016), he has a 20-point gap between those who will definitely not consider him and those who definitely will vote for him (55/35%). The GOP’s ongoing war on Roe v. Wade is truly bad for a candidate that faces the wall of female opposition Trump is facing.

Let’s close with a quote from Quinnipiac in 2015: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Leading the pack with 10 percent each are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker…Trump tops the “no way” list as 21 percent of Republican voters say they would definitely not support him. Bush is next with 17 percent, with Christie at 15 percent. “

This proves once again that polling isn’t voting. Democrats must choose wisely, or the GOP could be back in 2024, likely with someone at least as bad as Trump, but who is much more sophisticated, say Tom Cotton.

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Demographics is Making Us Less Democratic

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

There was an article by Phillip Bump in the WaPo (paywalled) “In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.  By 2040, 49.5% of our population will be living in the eight most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. All are growing significantly faster than the collective population of the remaining 42 states.

Sounds like just an interesting demographic fact until you consider the implications for the US Senate. Matt Yglesias tweets:

When Yglesias says “four” instead of “two” he means the margin in percentage points of the 2020 national vote for president going to the Democrat. His point is that even with a weakened presidential candidate like Trump, it will be a long uphill climb for Democrats to control a majority in the Senate.

Last fall at the Kavanaugh hearings, many pointed out that Senators representing only 45% of voters were able to appoint him to the Supreme Court. Some said it was the first time that a president elected by a minority nominated a Supreme Court Justice who was appointed by a minority in the Senate to decide certain legal questions against the will of the majority of Americans.

And while California has about 68 times the number of people in Wyoming, their votes can cancel each other out in the Senate.

This demographic imbalance is the result of 1787’s “Connecticut Compromise”, which created our two houses of government. This was designed to balance federal power between large and small state populations. Today, equal representation in the Senate is a permanent feature of our system.

After each decennial census, the map of US House districts are redrawn and seats are shifted to states that have gained the most population. That means, leaving aside the gerrymandering issue, each state’s representation in the US House will roughly reflect its share of our total population.

This isn’t the case in the Senate, where the representation of all states is fixed at two Senators apiece. And that can’t be changed, because it’s based on a Constitutional provision (Article V) which establishes that an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. It also says: “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” It’s hard to imagine a situation where a small state would agree to give up one of its two Senators to another, larger state.

That was the essence of the Connecticut Compromise. The framers agreed to make the guarantee of equal power in the Senate beyond even the reach of the amendment process. It was a means of protecting the rights of the minority as “minorities” in 1787 were small states, while today, minority has an entirely different meaning.

Changing demographics has implications for the Electoral College as well. Each state’s votes are the sum of their House and Senate representatives with the total number of Electoral votes fixed at 538. If population growth moves representatives from rural states to the big eight in population, their share of votes in the Electoral College become larger as well.

There is a state-based movement to make the Electoral College represent the will of the majority of America’s voters. NPR reports that so far, 11 states have passed legislation that requires their Electoral College electors to vote for whoever wins the national vote total. To be effective, the move would require approval by states representing 270 electoral votes, the same number it takes to win the presidency. So far, they are 98 votes short of that goal.

Colorado appears poised to join as the 12th state. The state legislature passed the bill, and the governor is expected to sign it. New Mexico is considering it. This would be one way of restoring the idea that every vote in the country counts equally.

Wrongo’s pie-in-the-sky dream is that every American voter gets a third vote for a Senator in any other state. Then we could vote for, or against a Senator we wanted to see stay or go. Wrongo’s dream began when Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina, but imagine, being able to vote Lindsey Graham out of office today.

That would be a real masterpiece of one-person, one-vote in America.

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Today’s Wages Have the Same Purchasing Power as in 1978

(Email publishing of The Wrongologist should be restored as Wrongo is using a different vendor, WordPress. Apologies to those who read in email.)

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, as it might have looked at night in the 12th Century lit by camp fires. Mesa Verde is unique since it is the only NP that preserves the works of man – photo by Rick Dunnahoo

This is going to be a historic year, even when compared to 2018. And it’s starting out with a bang. The government is shut down, half the cabinet is empty, the 2020 presidential race has officially started, and the Democrats are taken over the House.

And that’s without whatever Mueller shoe will drop sometime in the year, or whatever Twitter atrocities Trump decides to commit. In other words, we’re going to have our hands full.

But today, let’s talk about how bad the economy is below the surface of the headline numbers. Debt is rising, and rising debt is supposed to be matched by rising income. It shouldn’t be a surprise that more income is required in order to service more debt. But so far, in the 21st century, for the bottom 90%, debt is growing while income is stagnating.

Pew’s Fact Tank has an analysis that speaks to this problem. Average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in July were $22.65, 2.7% above the average wage from a year earlier. But in the years just before the 2007-08 financial collapse, average hourly earnings often increased by around 4% year-over-year.

And during the high-inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, average wages commonly jumped 7%, 8% or even 9% year-over-year.

However, after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has about the same purchasing power it did in 1978. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

Here is Pew’s chart demonstrating the problem:

Because there’s been little growth in wages, the growth in the standard of living for those below the 90th percentile has been largely fueled by additional consumer debt. The WSJ reports that consumer debt, including credit cards, auto and student loans and personal loans, is on pace to top $4 trillion in 2019, the highest in history. Debt allows you to furnish your home, pay for education, and get a car without having to save for them. In that way, it supports the growing economy.

But Pew also shows how most of the income gains went to those at the top of the food chain:

 

 

Among people in the top 10th of the distribution, real wages have risen a cumulative 15.7%, to $2,112 a week – nearly five times the usual weekly earnings of the bottom tenth ($426).

This lack of symmetrical growth in debt and income actually matters. At some point household borrowers will default in greater numbers than they do today. When those losses occur, the monetary system won’t be able to bail out debtors (or banks) this time around as handily as we did in 2008.

 

Sluggish and uneven wage growth is a key factor behind widening income inequality in the US. Another Pew Research Center report found that in 2016, Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523).

Compare that to 1970, when the top 10th earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom 10th ($63,512 versus $9,212).

There is no simple solution to get American workers back on the right track. At a minimum, it will take a political groundswell aimed at overturning the way the tax code favors corporations. Along the way we will have to displace the political power of our corporate oligarchs.

Government must be made to serve the public interest, not Mr. Market.

Democracy is the sole mechanism enabling our citizens to have political and economic agency. But, democracy will cease to matter in a corporate-controlled, globalized system of government influence.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

View of the Tetons, Jackson, WY – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) is making waves. Fortune Magazine reports that she has proposed replacing Columbus Day with a national voting holiday on Election Day. She tweeted this question:

How is Columbus Day a holiday but Election Day not?

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 18, 2018

A tweet storm ensued, led by David Martosko, US political editor for Britain’s Daily Mail, who accused AOC of “angling for more vacation days.” His tweet struck many as a reference to an inaccurate stereotype of Hispanics as lazy. AOC shot back:

…I would disagree with your complaint that Americans get too much vacation time (we work some of the longest hours of any dev country & have no Fed required paid leave)…

Although voter turnout in 2018 was the highest for a mid-term election in a century, many think the 49% turnout figure could be substantially improved because many people can’t take time off for work to vote. Other politicians, like Bernie Sanders, have called for making Election Day a holiday.

Others are opposed to making Election Day a holiday, arguing that it might give many white-collar workers and students a day off, while people working in service businesses, like restaurants, and retail stores may still have to work that day.

Early voting and mail-in ballots are alternatives for those who have to work on Election Day. But that is the rule in only a few states. Many states have rejected making voting easier. The seemingly intentional long lines at polling stations can make working people give up before voting, either because they have to get to work, or they need to get home after a long work day.

AOC’s idea has merit, not least because a large cohort of Americans believe Columbus Day celebrates something which shouldn’t be commemorated.

Many countries have holidays on Election Day. And what better way to promote participation in one of the most important aspects of our democracy? Republicans understand that larger turnouts generally won’t break for their candidates. Why is their default to prevent as many of the “wrong” people as possible from accessing the voting booth?

Areas with a high percentage of voters of color have been hardest hit by closures and election worker cutbacks. In urban counties where a majority of voters are people of color, voters lost an average of seven polling places and more than 200 poll workers. Meanwhile, in counties where more than 90% of the population was white, voters lost just two locations and two election workers on average during the same time period.

Vote suppression takes many forms, and AOC is correct to point out a simple way to make voting easier.

Some on both the right and the left think Ocasio-Cortez should be cooling her jets. After all, she has yet to even take the oath of office for Congress. To their way of thinking, she should keep her head down and get the lay of the land before speaking out.

But, let’s hope that Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of Congressional freshman class quickly decide on their own paths forward.

These new Representatives shouldn’t be asked to be seen and not heard, particularly when the Democratic leadership seems to be bereft of ideas.

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Saturday Soother – October 27, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, near Hopkinton, MA – October 2018 photo by Karen Randall

There’s been lots of talk this week that the bombs delivered to Democrats were a “false flag” operation, designed by Democrats to make Republicans look bad just before the mid-terms. Rush Limbaugh said: (emphasis by Wrongo)

There’s a smell test that this stuff has to pass, and, so far, a lot of people’s noses are in the air, not quite certain of what to make of this…. Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.

Well, it’s early in the investigation, but the guy they arrested has a van with Trump stickers on it, and news sources say he’s a registered Republican.

Some will claim its fake news. Some on the internet are already minimizing the Trump influence, saying he’s “just another crazy guy, nothing really links him to Trump”. Except those stickers on the MAGAbomber’s van.

Can you imagine what Trump would be saying if Republicans had been targeted by a Democrat?

We live in a world filled with hate, mistrust and anger that was hand-built by Trump, for Trump. This is your first view of what might result from that. Every GOP politician now needs to speak up, saying that their political opponents are not an enemy who is deserving of death.

We’re founded on the belief that we can disagree, that we can be part of our own tribes, but we belong to a super-group: we’re Americans. This incident should impress on the public that angry speech and rhetoric have consequences way beyond partisan political positioning.

Kudos to the DOJ, the FBI and the postal service for bagging the suspect. Notwithstanding recent comments from the president denigrating them, it is a job well done by law enforcement.

Just another week that jangled the nerves! Time to sit out the Nor’easter we’re feeling here in New England. Start by brewing up a hot cuppa Luke’s Coffee, from Kent Coffee and Chocolates, in Kent, CT. The fine people at Kent Coffee have adopted a dog named Luke from a local shelter, and 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Luke’s Coffee goes to The Little Guild Shelter in Cornwall, CT. Here’s a picture of Luke:

(iPhone photo by Wrongo)

Luke is Kent Coffee’s third adoption from the Little Guild. They also make spectacular chocolates.

Now, unplug from your devices, (except for Wrongo’s site), and think about the end of autumn, which is just around the corner. Here, the rain and winds are taking down most leaves, except for those on the Oak trees, which will hang on for quite a while longer.

Settle back and listen to Ed Sheeran sing his song “Perfect Symphony” live at Wembley Stadium in London on June 14, 2018. He’s joined on stage by Andrea Bocelli, and it’s magic. Most likely, this will be the first dance song at weddings for the next decade:

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

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