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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

“The Oven is Preheating, But Your Goose is Not Yet Cooked.”

The quote above is from “City on Fire” (Knopf, 2015) a novel by Garth Risk Hallberg that describes NYC in the 1970s when it was both dangerous and in decay. And it aptly describes the current phase of American politics. What we are seeing with Trump, and to a lesser extent with Sanders, is that angry white working class people have decided to overturn our election process.

Maybe not in 2016, but certainly by 2020.

It shouldn’t be difficult to understand, since wages for working class white males peaked in 1968, 48 years ago. For their entire working lives, conditions for working class males have been getting worse. Here is a chart from the WSJ:

White Men in Labor Force

For white working-class men in their 30s and 40s, in what should be the prime decades for working and raising a family, participation in the labor force dropped from 96% in 1968 to 79% in 2015. Over that same period, the portion of these men who were married dropped from 86% to 52%. (The numbers for nonwhite working-class males show declines as well, though not as steep, and not as continuous.)

More from the WSJ:

In today’s average white working-class neighborhood, about one out of five men in the prime of life isn’t even looking for work; they are living off girlfriends, siblings or parents, on disability, or else subsisting on off-the-books or criminal income. Almost half aren’t married, with all the collateral social problems that go with large numbers of unattached males.

In these communities, about half the children are born to unmarried women, with all the problems that go with growing up without fathers. Drugs also have become a major problem outside of urban areas, in small towns and in the suburbs.

During the same half-century, American corporations exported millions of manufacturing jobs, which were among the best-paying working-class jobs. They were (and are today) predominantly men’s jobs.

The share of the total income of the bottom 80% of US households vs the top 20% of households also peaked in 1968: 57.4% vs 42.6%. As of 2014, the share of total household income of the top 20% has increased from 42.6% to 51.2%, while that of the bottom 80% has declined to 48.8%.

So in 1968, the combined share of the bottom 80% of household income was 14.8% greater than that of the top 20%. In 2014, it was only 2.4% less. That is a 17.2% negative swing. So, the quality of life for the average white male peaked in 1968.

And it’s not just men. Poor women are angry too. One thing everyone in the lower rungs of the ladder (the bottom 50% of the household income scale) have in common is that most of them now realize they are getting screwed. The numbers of white working-class voters will dip to just 30% of all voters by 2020. This is a dramatic decline from 1988, when white working-class voters were 54% of all voters.

Trump supporters want to use political power to restore their economic position. As any aware citizen knows, you never get power exactly the way you want it. Therefore, Trump’s supporters think they need to overturn our established politics to make change, and that can only happen if they follow an authoritarian like The Donald. A good current example of this is the Congress’s Freedom Caucus, who with just 40 members, have thrown out a Speaker of the House, and plan to drive the federal legislative process.

Contrast this with the American Civil Rights movement, which was ideologically diverse, incompletely successful, but mainstreamed in our politics. It negotiated a better life for African-Americans. But today’s white underclass are through playing the long game. They do not plan to struggle for as long as the black underclass did, and they are believe that working within the system is futile.

Remember, most of them are armed. Our concern meter should be dialed up to 11.

America is starting to look like a pre-revolutionary society. Life today shouldn’t be “black ties matter.” Unregulated capitalism makes for a mean culture, and today, it is dominating us.

So, the oven is preheating. There is still time to avoid cooking our goose, but we have had a president who called himself a “uniter, not a divider” and failed. We then had a president who promised to be post-partisan, but deepened our political divisions.

And there is no political leader on the horizon who possesses the skills and message to unite us.

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Careful What You Wish For in The Primaries

After Super Tuesday, Part Three, it is hard to see how anyone but Trump wins the GOP nomination. But given that there are still powerful forces who stand against him being the Republican presidential candidate, the fight will continue, particularly if he doesn’t win enough delegates in the primary season to win on the first ballot.

On the Democratic side, Hillary won big. As of this writing, all of the delegates have not yet been awarded, but so far, Clinton has won the race 326/220 (60%/40%). As primary night wore on, Wrongo heard many Dems saying how happy they would be to run against Donald Trump in the general election.

Dems should be careful what they wish for. It isn’t a completely new phenomenon for Dems to root for a Republican presidential candidate that they perceived to be an easy target, and be wrong.

Think back to 1968. This wasn’t a great year for Dems, considering that the convention was held in Chicago during a year of riots in more than 100 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Both Kennedy and Sen. Eugene McCarthy had been running against the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. There was violence on the convention floor, outside the convention center and at Grand Park.

With all that going on, it is doubtful that Dems paid much attention to the GOP primary contest, but they were relieved when Nixon was nominated. After all, a Democrat had beaten him in 1960 (JFK) and 1962, when Nixon lost the California gubernatorial election to Pat Brown, and famously said: “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.

But, in 1968, Nixon won the popular vote by the very narrow margin of 0.7 of a percentage point, while easily winning the Electoral College, 301-191.

In 1976, Dems probably were unhappy to be running against Gerald Ford, who had replaced Nixon when he resigned in 1974, since incumbents have a strong advantage. Ford defeated Ronald Reagan by a narrow margin on the first ballot, but Jimmy Carter won the general, pitching himself as a reformer.

In 1980, Dems probably were happy to run against Ronald Reagan instead of George HW Bush, but they lost in a three-way contest.

By 1988, Dems thought George HW Bush couldn’t possibly win. But the Dems ran Michael Dukakis, and Bush won.

In 2000, Dems were delighted to be running against George W. Bush instead of John McCain, and proceeded to lose to him twice.

In 2008, no GOP candidate had a chance to win unless they repudiated the 8 years of the Bush/Cheney administration. So McCain was no longer feared by Dems.

In 2012, none of the GOP candidates came anywhere near close to being strong enough to deprive Obama of a second term.

Therefore, Democrats who want to run against the person they believe to be the weakest GOP candidate have a poor track record, one that blinds them to the weaknesses of their own candidates during the Democratic primaries.

Trump vs. Clinton is the general election race that the establishment Dems want, but it seems risky to Wrongo. Hillary isn’t an inspiring candidate, rather, she’s probably about on par with John Kerry, another career politician.

OTOH, Trump’s campaign style is almost tailor-made to defeat an elitist associated with practically every economic and political failure of the past 30 years. He now has months to refine how to go after her, and years of material to use.

So be careful what you wish for, Democrats.

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Are Trump and Sanders a Ripple of Populism, or a Wave?

Since sophomoric jokes have failed to derail Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (e.g., running silly pictures of Trump, mocking his soundbites while ignoring his policies and his authoritarian condemnations), let’s try understanding what’s happening.

So, is Trump a problem, or just a symptom of the problem? And folks, what is the problem? The Donald captured the essence of “the problem” in his Super Tuesday victory speech: (Brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

People in the middle-income groups are making less money than they were 12 years ago. And in her speech, [Hillary Clinton] said, ‘they’re making less money.’ Well, she’s been there with Obama for a long period of time. Why hasn’t she done anything about it?

Trump for the win! He asks a question that neither Hillary Clinton, or the Establishments of both parties, have a satisfying way to answer (so far), something like what we said about John Kerry being “for the war before he was against it.”

The nation’s real problems are those articulated by Bernie Sanders, but he is not a messenger who can win in the fall. But his popularity, and that of Donald Trump show that we are looking at the swelling of a populist wave in America. Maybe it is still far from the beach; maybe it is just a ripple. We will know in November, but early signs are that the wave could be big when it hits us.

Consider Trump’s victory in the Massachusetts primary – 310,847 voted for Donald Trump. That gave him 49.3% of the vote in a five-candidate race. A pretty overwhelming endorsement, even considering that independents can vote in either primary, and many use that option to vote against a candidate.

The next day, Massachusetts’ Republican Governor Charlie Baker refused to endorse him. He said that he did not vote for Trump on Tuesday and:

I’m not going to vote for him in November.

Charlie Baker is immensely popular with pretty much every segment of the state’s voting population; his job approval numbers are about 70%. He’s perceived as highly competent at running the government, he’s socially liberal, and people just plain like him. So, Baker doesn’t need the Trump wing of the GOP.

Trump isn’t going to carry Massachusetts in November, Clinton and Sanders totaled 1,190,500 votes between them. But the current populist resurgence will not end with Bernie’s failure to win the Democratic nomination, or with a Trump general election loss in November, because the underlying anger isn’t going away. Remember that Trump and Sanders totaled 897,500 votes in MA, to Hillary’s 603,800. From Fabius Maximus:

Populism’s resurgence has, as always, terrified our ruling elites and their servants. Since most journalists don’t understand it, Campaign 2016 is a series of surprises to them.

Maximus goes on to say that from the start of Trump’s campaign, the similarities between Trump and Andrew Jackson were obvious: Trump’s isolationist foreign policy (but bellicose towards threats), his hostility to minorities and Wall Street bankers, his concern for the poor, his appeal to national greatness — these same views also astonished the elites in 1830 when Andrew Jackson rode the wave to the White House. The 1830 elites despised Jackson like today’s elites despise Trump today.

Jacksonians were the first populists in America to gain power. Even today, their strain of suspicion of federal power, skepticism about both domestic and foreign do-gooding (welfare at home, foreign aid abroad), opposition to federal taxes, but obstinately fond of federal programs seen as primarily helping the middle class (Social Security and Medicare, mortgage interest subsidies) continues.

These “Crabgrass Jacksonians” constitute a large political bloc in America. Crabgrass Jacksonianism sees the contemporary homeowner working on his/her modest suburban lawn, as a hero of the American story.

The Establishments of both parties may have fun demonizing their populists, but they ignore the similarities between the strategies of Trump and Sanders, and the appeal both have to significant numbers in both parties. Separately, progressives and populists are weak. If they can be combined as they were at the time of the New Deal, they can be a huge force for change.

US News reports that historical patterns and political data all show that the real presidential election battle takes place in just seven states: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire. Based on recent Clinton vs. Trump head-to-head polls in these seven states, Trump is within striking distance of winning the general election against Clinton.

For those who believe a Trump presidency is not really possible in today’s America, you may want to re-think that proposition.

That populist wave may be closer to the beach than you think.

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It’s Always Groundhog Day in America

Do Conservatives Have a Learning Disability? A few who read the Wrongologist are convinced that Wrongo is just a clueless, woolly-headed Progressive who hates America and the baby Jesus. None of that is true, except for the Progressive part.

From Krugman’s Monday column:

Marco Rubio has yet to win anything, but by losing less badly than other non-Trump candidates he has become the overwhelming choice of the Republican establishment.

PK points out that Rubio:

• Proposes tax cuts, like completely eliminating taxes on investment income — which would mean, for example, that Mitt Romney would end up owing zero in federal taxes.
• Proposes tax cuts that would be almost twice as big as George W. Bush’s as a percentage of GDP, despite the fact that Republicans have spent the Obama years warning incessantly that budget deficits will destroy America, any day now.
• Insists that his tax cuts would pay for themselves, by unleashing incredible economic growth. Never mind the complete absence of any evidence for this claim, or that the last two Democratic presidents, both of whom raised taxes on the rich, presided over better private-sector job growth than Mr. Bush did.
• Called for a balanced-budget amendment, which makes no sense, since he is calling for budget-busting tax cuts. Also this amendment would have been catastrophic during the Great Recession, when deficit spending helped bring us out of a crash.

Finally, Marco Roboto said a few days ago that it’s “not the Fed’s job to stimulate the economy” (although the law says that it is precisely their job). Krugman closes with: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

In short, Mr. Rubio is peddling crank economics. What’s interesting, however, is…he’s not pandering to ignorant voters; he’s pandering to an ignorant [GOP] elite.

It doesn’t require a Nobel Prize in Economics to see the entrenched divisions in our politics. But let’s focus today on the great coup by American Conservatism, convincing its followers that personal opinion counts for as much as any fact.

We live in an America that Conservatives have turned into an oligarchy. The system has been gamed to support the interests of the wealthy. Politicians are able to choose their voters through a cynical, manipulative gerrymandering re-redistricting process. The idea of “one man, one vote” has, via Citizens United, been turned into a largely meaningless exercise in which those with big bucks and an agenda pay to propagandize the American voter, many of whom are far more comfortable reacting emotionally, than thinking critically.

Conservatives like Rubio (and the rest of the GOP) have retreated into a content-free bubble, where they manufacture truth on the fly to suit their purpose. You know this since few on the Far Right put forward cogent, supportable arguments for their ideas, instead lazily relying on a smug arrogance which allows them to laugh off opposing ideas, as does Mr. Rubio.

The problem is, the vast majority of our electorate are largely oblivious to the nuances of the underlying issues. What information they have is derived from main stream media, or right wing propaganda organs, or social media.

Data are boring and unacceptable: My belief is superior to your data or to my own education. It is easier to just vote for the candidate promising to make America Great Again, ignoring the reality of the deep and nuanced causes of our problems.

The rigidity of the Republican doctrine on taxes as outlined by Rubio looks like an alternate version of the movie, “Groundhog Day“, where Bill Murray experiences a time loop in which he repeats his experience until he corrects the problems that had landed him in limbo.

Sadly, in the GOP alternative version, they begin every presidential election cycle with a demand for lower taxes. The tax policy of the previous four years has no effect on this mantra. Nor do the economic trends of the time alter their robotic claim that lower taxes will cure all difficulties. In the Conservative view, a smaller tax bite will trigger an economic boom that offsets the costs of GOP tax cuts to our budget.

In the GOP version of “Groundhog Day”, the GOP doesn’t learn from its mistakes. Unfortunately, this means the entire country suffers from the inability or unwillingness of Republicans to learn from experience.

It’s time to turn off Fox News and set out on a walkabout in the reality-based world.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 21, 2016

The preliminary results from the Nevada Caucus gives the win to Hillary Clinton, while the preliminary results from South Carolina say that Donald Trump has won, with second place too close to call at this point.

For the Democrats, the mainstream candidate now looks quite likely to take the nomination, while on the Republican side, the insurgent appears to be the one who will be the nominee. The Sanders Democrats will fall in line behind Clinton for the general election, because they know that no issue in this election trumps judicial philosophy, and the nation can’t survive another Scalia.

Here’s why: Federal judges have great power over our democracy. We could review many of Scalia’s decisions, but let’s just focus on three:

• The five Supreme Court judges (including Scalia) who decided the 2000 election by awarding the White House to George W. Bush.
• Or, the five judges (including Scalia) who decided Citizens United, saying that big corporate money was speech.
• Or the five judges (including Scalia) who gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The judiciary controls many, many aspects of our lives; therefore, the importance of having federal judges who reject far right-wing ideology cannot be overstated.

On to cartoons. Who will walk in Scalia’s shoes?

COW Scalia 2

Obama has about as much chance of getting a Supreme Court nominee approved by Senate Republicans as he does of convincing the average GOP voter that his Hawaiian birth certificate is genuine:

COW Scalia 3

GOP dilemma: Let’s honor Scalia by ignoring the Constitution:

COW Ignore the Constitution

Obama gets a lesson in the Senate’s Advise & Consent process:

COW Clarence Votes twice

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Is Bernie Electable?

Nobody knows. Maybe. The “a miracle can happen” argument was made by Bob Lefsetz, who all of you should bookmark and read:

…in 1964, Elvis was king. And then the Beatles wiped him off the map. We had a decade of rock and roll. It had been whittled down to a formula…And then…A band with roots who didn’t believe in convention, who’d honed their sound off the radar, delivered an honest wallop that was undeniable. And overnight the youth switched allegiance.

Could happen again. Probably will if Bernie Sanders is any indicator.

First, he has to get the nomination. Even after winning 60% of the NH vote, Bernie has barely dented Clinton’s lead, which thanks to super delegates, currently stands at 394-42. The super delegates are lining up for Clinton, and what happens if Sanders can’t beat a massively powerful political machine? It proves his fundamental point about establishment hegemony. And if Clinton can’t beat an old leftie from Vermont on his first national run? It disproves her arguments about electability, experience and competence.

But it takes 2,382 delegates to win the Democratic nomination for president. Check out Bernie’s difficult path in the upcoming primaries:

538 Primary Polling

It won’t be easy for Bernie to win the nomination. And he has built-in disadvantages: He angers the big donors. He has limited support in the Democratic Congress. There are no governors supporting him. Add that a lot of Democrats are skittish about Sanders’ embrace of “democratic socialism,” and add his Dovish positions on foreign policy, and you’re not likely to see a stampede of Democratic insiders rallying to his cause.

OTOH, Hillary had all the insider support imaginable and couldn’t win in NH. And if she can’t beat a grumpy old socialist Jew without super delegates putting their collective thumbs on the scale, how the hell is she going to beat the Republican Media Complex fighting uphill against the Benghazi and E-mail scandals?

But, Sanders has a long, long way to go to maybe get within striking distance of the nomination. Even then, he will continue to be reviled by forces on the right that will pull no punches in order to defeat him. The Conventional Wisdom will always say that Sanders isn’t viable, electable, (a “socialist” can never win), is too old, can’t raise enough money, won’t get the votes of women, African American’s, Latino’s, etc.

And if he smashes any one “barrier,” the remaining “barriers” will be elevated in importance.

And new “barrier” constructs will be created.

Returning to the Lefsetz meme, what narrative could resurrect Hillary’s appeal to the young? “Experience” reinforces her establishment brand. “Pragmatism” runs counter to every progressive aspiration of the Sanders campaign. “Fights for people like you” invites an examination of Bill Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, and his welfare reforms, or his legal reforms which imprisoned many minorities.

Those who say “Hillary can work within the system and get things done where Bernie can’t” have to realize that is a double edged sword. Millennials are the largest single voting bloc this time. They think unemployment and jobs are the biggest issues. They think the system has screwed them. They want the system to be rebuilt from the ground up.

And it’s not too hard to figure out why.

They are saddled with debt, their economic opportunities are far more limited than that of any recent generation. They are told they are being selfish by the Boomer generation − the generation that while achieving many great things, has left a huge economic and geopolitical mess to deal with.

When they look at Sanders, they see someone thinking outside the box. When they see Hillary, they see the establishment. And, you can’t say Hillary is not the establishment when she has the majority of the Super Delegates and all the endorsements from, well, establishment Democrats.

So, can Bernie win? Who knows?

A hard-fought primary battle served the Democratic presidential candidate well in 2008; it’s very likely that a similar primary battle will serve the winning candidate well again in 2016.

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What NH Should Teach Us

The popular vote in NH was about 521,000. Of that number, 278k went to Republican candidates, and 243k went to Democrats. Bernie led all candidates with 145,700 votes, with Trump second at 97,300 votes. Hillary was third at 92,530.

For the record, the 2008 turnout was: 287,342 for the Democrats and 238,979 for the Republicans.

The media is all over the demographics of the NH primary, and how Bernie won all segments except for people over 65 years old, and those who make more than $200k, both of which went to Hillary.

But one headline from NH ought to be that the Dems performed 15% worse than eight years ago, while the GOP performed 14% better than they did when a NH resident (Romney) was on the ballot!

In Hillary’s post-primary speech, she said that there isn’t a huge difference between the two Democratic candidates. Bernie talked about how the party had to come together down the road to prevent a White House take-over by the GOP.

But are these candidates that similar?

Let’s hear from Benjamin Studebaker, who says that Sanders and Clinton represent two very different ideologies, a neo-liberal view represented by Ms. Clinton and an FDR big government program viewpoint represented by Mr. Sanders:

Each of these ideologies wants control of the Democratic Party so that its resources can be used to advance a different conception of what a good society looks like…This is not a matter of taste and these are not flavors of popcorn.

Studebaker thinks that Hillary is ideologically similar to Barack Obama, describing that in 2008: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most prominent difference between them was the vote on the Iraq War. On economic policy, there never was a substantive difference. The major economic legislation passed under Obama (Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act) did not address the structural inequality problem that the Democratic Party of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s…existed to confront.

In fact, while inequality decreased under FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ, it has increased under 3 Democrats: Carter, Clinton, and Obama. It also increased under 3 Republicans: Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.

Now comes the Hill & Bernie show. Sanders is not running to try to implement a set of idealistic policies that a Republican-controlled Congress will block; he is running to take the Democratic Party away from its current leadership that is unwilling to deal with the systemic economic problems that have led to wage stagnation and the shrinking of the middle class in America.

But can he be successful? David Brooks said in the NYT:

Bernie Sanders…has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

OK, that must mean that Sanders has no shot. The conventional wisdom is that the Democratic Party cannot be reclaimed by the FDR/LBJ types, or that if it is reclaimed, it will lose in 2016.

But, in the 1968 and 1976 Republican primaries, a guy named Ronald Reagan ran to take the Republican Party back from the Richard Nixon types who went along with the Democrats on welfare and regulation. He was bidding to return the Republicans to their 1920’s Conservative roots. Everyone in the 60’s and 70’s knew that Reagan couldn’t pull that off. But he did.

How? Yesterday, we spoke of Movement Conservatism, where Republicans built a conceptual base, a popular base, a business base, and an institutional infrastructure of think tanks, and by the 2000s, Conservatives again controlled the Republican Party.

So, one lesson from the NH primary is that the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination is not just a contest to see who will lead the Democrats, it’s a contest to see what kind of party the Democrats are going to be in the coming decades, what ideology and what interests, causes, and issues the Democratic Party will prioritize.

The Republican Party faces exactly the same problem in 2016.

And these facts make the 2016 primaries far more important than in any other recent election.

This is about whether the Democratic Party is going to care about inequality for the next decade. We are making a historical decision between two distinct ideological paradigms, not a choice between flavors of popcorn.

Choose carefully.

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The Last Election You’ll Ever Need

“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do, and what a man can’t do”Captain Jack Sparrow

Some may have seen Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson. The movie came out in 1974, a time of increasing fear of random crime, creeping distrust of life in our cities, and growing frustration with what the Right called the moral relativity of liberalism. The film resonated with the US public, and had four sequels over the next 20 years.

The context for Death Wish was New York City’s decline after the fallout from years of redlining, blockbusting, and failed urban renewal. The city’s crime stats began to rise. Son of Sam would arrive in three years, a Republican president would tell a bankrupt NYC to drop dead, and Reagan’s morning in America would usher in a decade of anti-city films bookended by Escape from New York and New Jack City.

So, the question for 2016 is: Does America have a death wish? Are we about to start another period when our cities are declining, and our fears are growing? There is plenty of evidence to support both, from urban decay in Detroit and Flint, Michigan to our fears of Muslims and immigrants, to the distressingly difficult geopolitical landscape for which we have no clear strategy.

In the case of Flint’s need to replace its water pipes, no government – local, state or federal, has any idea where the money will come to fix the problem.

And in the case of geopolitics, we chose to spend $trillions on defense and homeland security, while willingly giving up some of our Constitutional rights out of fear, but are still failing to stem the tide of persistent conflict.

And no candidate from either party is offering a coherent set of policy positions that will solve these issues. Consider that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two front-runners, offer a similar pitch: Trump’s “I know how to get things done” is the same as Hillary Clinton’s.

But what can get done?

Whenever we talk about a solving a big problem, what we say is: “We can’t do that.” But in politics-speak, “can’t,” doesn’t mean: “That’s impossible” or, “We don’t have the skills or money”. What we really mean is: “It’s too hard”.

Or the solution is outside our ideological comfort zone. Ian Welsh said in 2009:

While there are no problems that America has that America can’t fix, it also appears that there are no problems America has that America is willing to fix properly. And it doesn’t matter why.

The world won’t grade us on a curve. You need to jump the fence, and you can’t. You’re running away from a bear, and you don’t run fast enough, and you’re dead. You wanted to get into a good grad school, but you don’t have the grades or test scores.

As we enter the 2016 election process, this is where America is:

• We have been shipping our real economy overseas for 30 years
• Ordinary families have had wage stagnation for the same 30 years
• We’ve voted for lower taxes
• We’ve not paid for infrastructure reinvestment, or education, or much of our domestic needs

This is where America is, and we continue to struggle to find our way in both domestic and foreign policy, despite the growing criticality of our problems.

In 2001, we elected a president who had a conservative ideology, and under his watch, we had disastrous foreign wars and the Great Recession. So, in 2008, we elected a president who we thought had a vision for the future. Someone who spoke to our better angels, who would drag us out of a near-depression, who would focus on our domestic problems and get us out of war in the Middle East.

Like Jack Sparrow says, after 16 years of presidents with very different ideologies, neither could do most of the things they promised. And we are the worse for that.

Now it is time to elect a new savior, and no candidate looks ready for the job. But choose we must, and one of them will be the next president. If, after we make our next choice, our political divisions again prevent progress for another eight years, it may be the last presidential election we ever need.

Collapse of the state is not an event, it is a process. A process that we are in.

We are right on schedule.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Super Bowl Edition

Today’s Super Bowl marks the end of the football season, but still overshadows the political silly season, that will be with us for what will seem to be a long, long time.

Things to look for in Super Bowl 50:

COW Superbowl 50a
“And, when we score a touchdown, make sure you know your assignments for the end-zone celebration.”

And what to look for in your living room:

COW Superbowl 50

But, even at the Super Bowl, the problem of football concussions isn’t going away:

COW CTE

So far, the Democratic race is between an idealist Grandpa and a wonk Grandma:

COW Grandpa Bern
In New Hampshire the political woods are full of free running saps:

COW NH Sap

Something not so super this week was this dickhead:

COW Shkreli

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Will Hillary’s Campaign Strategy Win?

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”Mike Tyson

The primary season clown show has moved on to New Hampshire. Republicans will see more mud wrestling between Cruz and Trump, while Rubio, Kasich and Christie try to elbow their way in to be one of the top two by next Wednesday.

Iowa showed that the Democrats will have a tough time choosing between the candidates, both of whom will struggle to refine the message(s) they need to take to South Carolina and beyond in order to win the nomination. Like that great philosopher Mike Tyson says, now the top two in each party need to present a plan that connects with voters nationally.

Think for a minute about the messages that Hillary and Bernie have been running with:

Bernie is saying we should have (and can get):

• A single-payer health care system
• Universal pre-K and free college tuition at our state universities
• Guaranteed sick leave and vacation for every employee
• A minimum wage of $15/hour
• The big banks broken up, and Glass-Steagall reconstituted
• Our campaign finance system is reformed
• The super-wealthy should pay for it all

Hillary is saying we can’t get all that:

• We must focus on what can be accomplished, not what Sanders is proposing
• Single-payer is a nice idea, but is too politically toxic to be viable
• She agrees with Sanders about sick and maternity leave
• College shouldn’t be free for all, some should pay, mostly because their parents can afford it
• Breaking up the big banks isn’t the best way to address financial market risk
• $15/hour is too high a minimum wage, $12/hour is realistic
• Since Republicans will control at least one house of Congress next year, they’ll never vote for what Sanders proposes

Hillary is in a difficult position. She’s telling people that they can’t have the things they want. Every parent understands this, but Clinton is also saying: “his policies can’t win”, all the while she is thinking: “I can get some of this through Congress.”

That may not be a winning message, particularly if Sanders is still running in a dead heat with Clinton in April. His charm is that he’s not willing to settle for campaigning on a platform that is calibrated to work in our gridlocked politics.

So, will Hillary change if she can’t shake Bernie? And what would her new message be?

She needs to start by finding a way to relate to an electorate that has limited interest in politicians like her who speak for the status quo.

Today’s voters say that the status quo is unacceptable. In fact, that’s the only thing everyone in America seems to agree about right now. And since 60% of the Democratic delegates actually get selected in March, Clinton needs a message better calibrated to meet today’s political realities, or she risks losing the nomination, or winning it only after a fight that weakens her party.

It is true that if elected, either Clinton or Sanders will be in virtually the same place regarding what they can actually achieve. The big difference today is in the vision they are laying out, and whether the voters will buy it. Will they buy a president who articulates unobtainable goals and blames the .01%, or do they want a president who articulates modest, but still unobtainable goals?

Would the electorate buy that her insider status would bring about some (or all) of her goals?

Candidate Clinton is running primarily on her resume. She presents us with a CV of job titles, not accomplishments, and if there is a campaign persona that she is embracing, it is the idea of being a lifelong fighter. But will that be enough? From the 2/2 NYT:

…she still faces an authenticity problem, even among Democrats. Some 47% of likely Democratic primary voters said that they felt Mrs. Clinton said what voters wanted to hear, rather than what she believed. 62% said they believed Mr. Sanders said what he thought…

Clinton’s liabilities as a campaigner could be lessened by treating the campaign more like a struggle between opposing parties instead of one between political celebrities. Overall, she performs well enough as a candidate. She debates well, she interviews well.

Her argument should be: if you want to see the incomes of the middle class grow, if you want to retain Constitutional freedoms that are under attack by a conservative Supreme Court, if you want to keep Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs like Obamacare, if you want less foreign adventurism, then you have to vote Democratic regardless of what you think of Hillary Clinton.

It’s sort of a vision.

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