The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Hillary Should Grab Populism and Run With It

The biggest change in our politics in the past 20 years is the rise of populism on the left and right. The populists believe that we are led by a selfish elite that cannot—or will not—deal with the problems of ordinary working people, and there is ample evidence that they are correct.

Trump and Clinton say they will bring back jobs that corporations have shipped offshore. They make China the scapegoat for lost economic opportunity, while the real causes are automation and the triumph of the spreadsheet in corporate strategy.

Those jobs are never coming back, and a candidate who says they can negotiate with foreign governments to bring jobs back demonstrates either their naiveté about the true cause of job loss, or a simple desire to BS the American public.

Voters can see through that.

Economic and cultural insecurity are the bedrock causes for populists. Unemployment and stagnant wages hurts working-class whites, while cultural issues are a top issue for older white Americans. The first group sees their jobs threatened by automation and globalization. They join with older whites in seeing immigrants as scroungers who work for less, grab benefits and if you believe Trump, commit crimes.

Both groups also believe that American society is being undermined by diversity and foreign-born citizens.

This is the battle line of the 2016 presidential election. The mediocre economy that has been with us for nearly 20 years has caused real harm. We remain a wealthy country, but certain groups now see their opportunity slipping away. Slow growth, or no economic growth, means only a few elites will do well, and most voters see the self-serving political class as siding with the elites.

So can a candidate unify an electorate that now plays a zero-sum political game?

  • The Pant Load has the better position in this game, since he can exploit pre-existing fears that are based in fact.
  • The Pant Suit must carefully calibrate her message, but she cannot be a “maintain the status-quo” candidate and win.

Clinton would do well to consider what William Berkson said in the WaMo:

If there is one national goal that Americans can agree on, it is opportunity for all.

Berkson makes the point that since President Reagan, Republicans have advocated a simple theory of how to grow the economy: The more you reduce government involvement in the economy and the more efficient markets become, the more the economy grows.

Sorry, but the simplistic theory of free market economics has been drowned in a tsunami of fact in the past 35 years. Berkson says:

Both Democratic administrations since Reagan—that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—have raised taxes, and under them, the economy grew more rapidly than under the tax-cutters Reagan and George W. Bush.

This opens a path for the Pant Suit. In order to win, she must assure voters that she will deliver more and better jobs. Family income must go up. But how to achieve this?

By advocating a policy of economic opportunity through public investment in infrastructure. It fulfills the promise of opportunity for all, a populist message that has proven to work throughout America’s past. And it allows Clinton to hammer the GOP Congress and Paul Ryan about the lack of any track record for laissez-faire policies, since they have never worked, not even once, as a miracle cure for jobs and income inequality. This would be an open return to Keynesian economics. Here is Eduardo Porter in the NYT:

The Keynesian era ended when Thatcher and Reagan rode onto the scene with a version of capitalism based on tax cuts, privatization and deregulation that helped revive their engines of growth but led the workers of the world to the deeply frustrating, increasingly unequal economy of today.

And led to the low growth economy that drives today’s populist anger.

How to fund that infrastructure expense? More revenue. For the last 40 years, Democrats have been unwilling to counter the conservative argument that higher taxes are a redistribution of wealth between classes. Clinton should argue that current tax policy is really a transfer of resources from tomorrow’s generation to today’s. This is a strong populist message.

Younger Millennials understand this clearly. They already believe Social Security will not be there when they need it. She can win them over if she makes a case for new jobs and new revenues.

When conservatives say that it is unfair for people in their highest earning years to pay more taxes on that income, Clinton can point out that this is a past-due bill that they need to pay just as their elders paid higher taxes that supported the current earners when they were starting out. It was that investment in public resources such as public education and infrastructure, and in research, technology and industry that enabled today’s peak earners to get where they are.

While the strategy opens Clinton to criticism from Grover Norquist and the right about fiscal irresponsibility, it pits Trump against the Tea Party and the GOP. He would need to choose between being a populist or a doctrinaire fiscal conservative. Either way, it will bleed votes from some part of his base.

The strategy could work in down ballot races as well, particularly in the Rust Belt. Maybe working class conservatives will hear her, and not vote against their economic interests for once.

We’ll see if she will move from status quo, to “let’s go” as a campaign strategy.


More Political Lessons From Brexit

There is a neoliberal aspect to Brexit that has many Brits in the 1% quietly (and tentatively) quite happy. Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, writing in the WSJ, said the Brexiteers:

…think the vote for Brexit was about liberty and free trade, and about trying to manage globalization better than the EU has been doing from Brussels.

Neoliberalism at its finest. You could substitute “No Obama” for “Brexit”, and “Washington” for “Brussels”, and think it was the GOP talking.

Mr. Nelson says that a major problem was that the EU’s centralized, command-type structure makes local issues difficult to manage. He says that regulations issued at the European level, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits didn’t know, people they never elected and cannot remove from office, became law in the UK. More from Mr. Fraser: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Mr. Cameron has been trying to explain this to Angela Merkel…He once regaled the German chancellor with a pre-dinner PowerPoint presentation to explain his whole referendum idea. Public support for keeping Britain within the EU was collapsing, he warned, but a renegotiation of its terms would save Britain’s membership…Mr. Cameron was sent away with a renegotiation barely worthy of the name. It was a fatal mistake [by the EU] not nearly enough to help Mr. Cameron shift the terms of a debate he was already losing.

The EU took a gamble: That the Brits would not vote to leave. A better deal—perhaps aimed at allowing the UK more control over immigration, a top public concern in Britain—might have stopped Brexit. But the absence of a deal sent a clear message: The EU isn’t interested in reform.

The EU apparently needs fixing, but it won’t be the UK who does it. Cameron tried in a lukewarm way to fix Europe a little around the edges, and failed. A final point from Mr. Fraser:

The question is not whether to work with Europe but how to work with Europe. Alliances work best when they are coalitions of the willing. The EU has become a coalition of the unwilling, the place where the finest multilateral ambitions go to die.

Perhaps. It IS clear that not all regulations are created equal, some are inefficient, and some are just stupid. But, a business environment with fewer government regulations is the wet dream of most business owners, while it often harms consumers. It is also true that the Brexit supporters were able to conflate in the minds of voters all the discontent with UK austerity, benefit cuts, poor quality job creation and wage stagnation along with the EU’s hegemony, into a big ball of emotion.

And it worked.

The inside-the-bubble UK neoliberal view is that the EU was the problem, and the British voters solved that. America doesn’t have an analogue. We could leave NAFTA, but that has none of the earth-shaking possibilities. We could fail to pass the TPP. That would be a yuuge anti-neoliberal event.

There is an economic malaise in blue collar UK. Once an industrial powerhouse, it has become service driven, with finance and lawyering representing a significant portion of its economy. Sounds just like America in 2016.

Let’s link all of this up with our domestic political economy:

  • Income inequality has grown in the US since at least the 1980s.
  • Real median income is the same as in 1996.
  • Our Labor Participation Rate (the share of American civilians over the age of 16 who are working or looking for a job) is about where it was in the 1970s.
  • Despite a rosy headline unemployment rate of 4.7% (which counts only people without work seeking full-time employment), the U-6 rate (includes discouraged workers and all marginally attached workers, plus those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons) is much higher at 9.7%. In human terms, that is 15.3 million souls who need a job.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both see these things. The candidate who convinces voters that s/he will really address them will win.

Trump is correct when he says if there are millions out of work, how can we permit immigration? He wrongly focuses on Mexicans, but he’s right: We need fewer people pursuing the fewer jobs we will have until at least until 2025, when finally, all the Baby Boomers retire.

America is in a class war, but it’s the working class versus the middle class rather than workers versus billionaires, as Bernie talks about. Joe Six-pack doesn’t hate the billionaire class. Therefore, Trump is acceptable.

The Pandering Pant Load sees this, and has moved to exploit their anger.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 10, 2016

This week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tore her Republican colleagues a new one in the pages of the Boston Globe:

For seven years, through artificial debt ceiling crises, deliberate government shutdowns, and intentional confirmation blockades, Senate Republicans have acted as though the election and reelection of Obama relieved them of any responsibility to do their jobs. Senate Republicans embraced the idea that government shouldn’t work at all unless it works only for themselves and their friends. The campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the next logical outgrowth of the same attitude — if you can’t get what you want, just ignore the obligations of governing, then divert attention and responsibility by wallowing in a toxic stew of attacks on Muslims, women, Latinos, and each other.

If Senate Republicans don’t like being forced to pick between a bullet and poison, then here’s some advice: Stand up to extremists in the Senate bent on sabotaging our government whenever things don’t go their way.

Warren’s anger is righteous anger, it is well directed and well-spoken. But, politicians who make it in our political system are those who hide most of their anger (righteous or not) under a veneer of unctuous civility. She chooses to give as good as she gets from the frat boys in the GOP. Maybe, after another 4 or 8 years of federal failure, that kind of anger will resonate with the American electorate.

Cartoons this week reflected the general coarsening of our society and politics. The bathroom habits of certain minorities made news in North Carolina. Apparently, they should pee in Virginia:

COW NC Bathrooms

Mississippi made similar news:

COW Miss Church

The NY Dem primary will be fought out on the sidewalks of NY:


COW Sidewalks of NY

The NY primaries have both parties looking for some room:

COW NY Primary

The Panama Papers tell us once again that we live in two Americas:

COW Panama Papers













Of course, Tax Day this week is mostly for the little people:

COW Tax Day2



Hillary’s Under-reported Uphill Slough

Wrongo didn’t watch the Democratic debate because it was up against the series finale of “Downton Abbey”. Some think that the effort to bury the Dem debates in popular TV time slots is a conscious decision by DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, designed to make Bernie Sanders less competitive with Hillary Clinton.

Conscious or not, few people are watching these debates.

One thing that is overstated in the Democratic primary process is Bernie’s uphill slough with African Americans. The accepted pundit logic is that he does so badly with AA’s that he has no chance to win.

What is overlooked in that analysis is that the 20 primaries held so far have split 12-8 in favor of Clinton (based on who won the majority of committed state delegates). Clinton does have a big lead in delegates, 1130 to Sanders’s 499.

So, consider what Bernie has been able to accomplish. In winning 8 states, he’s exposed a Clinton weakness: She doesn’t do well among the most committed white Democrats – the kind of folks who turn out for caucuses in states like Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado.

And then there is the under-reported uphill slough by Hillary Clinton: That the Sanders campaign is out raising Clinton’s funds. He’s raising his money from ordinary citizens (five million individual donations at this point). And, unlike Clinton, WaPo reports that he does it easily:

Sanders outraised Clinton again in February for the second month in a row, bringing in $42.7 million to her $30 million. On the last day of the month alone, he brought in $6 million online as the campaign used social media to egg on his backers to give, give and give again.

The WaPo also reported that Clinton has had to take two days off the campaign trail to raise money in California for use against Sanders in the primaries. And in a one-week stretch later this month, she is scheduled to make seven fundraising stops in six states — Georgia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington and California.

Bernie’s funds-raising power has triggered concern among some Clinton allies that it will weaken her — not only because she must spend so much money competing against him, but also because he is criticizing her in ways that could dampen enthusiasm for her in the fall. She may risk donor fatigue when the general election gets under way.

Perhaps one reason why Clinton may risk donor fatigue in the late stages of the election is that she has already tapped many large potential investors. From 2013-15, she earned $21.4 million in speaking fees from 91 organizations. Those funds did not go into her campaign, or into one of her Super PACs. The funds went into her own accounts, making her a member of the 1%.

You can see the listing of the organizations that paid her an average of $235k per speech here.

As Scott Lemieux of LGM said, paying people six figures (plus luxury perks) to deliver rote speeches is one of the more egregious mechanisms by which America’s overcompensated elites reward each other.

More from Scott:

The speaking fees do not constitute quid pro quo bribes, and they will not turn Hillary Clinton into a right-winger. But they’re nonetheless one of the many ways in which the wealthy exert disproportionate influence on the political process.

So, Clinton’s uphill sloughs come first, from needing money to blunt the Sanders insurgency. She needs to take days out of campaigning to pin down more funding by the wealthy to match the funding of everyday people for Sanders. Second, she needs to explain her awesome ability to get paid by US corporations.

This hurts in a few ways: When she talks about inequality and opportunity, she often starts with canned stories of her middle class upbringing – stories which she says prove that she has more in common with the cashier than the CEO. That can’t seem genuine to many low income people.

And when Clinton’s speaking fees come up, she knows that it also rubs lots of people the wrong way. She should say something along the lines of:

This is exactly why I think people like me should pay much higher taxes in this economy, so middle-class people could pay less.

Her tax plans seem to say she believes that, but she has not used her own plan as a direct response to the speaking fees question.

Hill has two different uphill sloughs, both occurring at the same time.


Monday Wake Up Call – March 7, 2016

Today’s wake-up call is for the Republican Party.

Beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964, the Republican Party began its deal with the Devil by starting their catering to those on the farthest Right edge of the political spectrum, inviting people who traffic in anger, hatred, religious zealotry, and fearmongering of those not like them, inside the GOP tent.

The election of Ronald Reagan helped bring these zealots some legitimacy, not because he was one of them, but because he had courted them in his first run for the White House.

We forget that in 1976, an evangelical Christian who taught Sunday school, and who endeavored to follow Christ in his daily life ran for President and won. But, despite Jimmy Carter’s strong Christian beliefs, Evangelicals went heavily for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Because they admired his Christian faith? No, his faith seemed situational. But he projected what they perceived as strength and leadership.

Evangelicals ignored one of their own in favor of a secular Republican who talked tough and affected an air of someone who could talk tough when events called for toughness. Turns out that for Evangelicals, like many groups, are primarily concerned with political power; their need for a theologically-sound candidate takes a back seat whenever it has to.

That’s the reality today, as it was back then. Trump is barely Christian, and Cruz is solidly Christian, but the politics of the Christian Right demands fealty to a political agenda that tolerates hatred, exclusion, and intolerance. Therefore, Trump and Cruz quality.

The contrast between the Democratic and Republican parties couldn’t be more sharply defined.

Since the late 1800s, when businesses were undertaking tremendous consolidation, leading to the formation of trusts, Republicans supported business, despite the fact that business was beginning to prey on people and overshadow the government.

After the brief Republican Progressive period from 1890-1917, in which Republicans were the force behind “trust-busting”, they have advanced an increasingly exclusionary and discriminatory agenda, denying a collective responsibility to care for our fellow human beings in favor of elevating corporate interests along with their view of individual liberties above all else. Government is an instrument designed to show strength, project American power, and enforce a neo-liberal, dog-eat-dog economic worldview, one that will take the social contract back to where it was in the early 1900’s.

Democrats understood that government needs to be more than a police and fire department. One of the most important roles assumed by government was ensuring that we create a level playing field for all citizens, that corporations were not first among equals in America. They also believed that we must look after those who are down on their luck by providing a social safety net.

Government was not to be primarily an instrument for projecting power and protecting the influential, but rather one of ensuring the American social contract, while protecting our citizens from the abuses of big business.

After years of courting the Radical Right, thinking that they could be kept under control, Establishment Republicans now understand that, not only do they no longer have control, the inmates are now running the asylum – poorly. Faced with the reality that the bill for their deal with the Devil has come due, Republicans trotted out Mitt Romney to make the case against The Donald, who responded with crude personal insults and inappropriate sexual innuendo:

COW Trump Miracle Worker

Congratulations, Republicans, you have only yourselves to blame. Now, you desperately need a Wrongo Wake up Call. To help you wake up, let’s return to the “small hands” innuendo of the last GOP debate.

Here are the Talking Heads doing “Born Under Punches” live in Rome in 1980, from their great album, “Remain in Light”. This 8-minute live version is worth your time, since it includes spectacular guest guitar work by Adrian Belew, who played with Frank Zappa and King Crimson.

Some think the guitar that Belew is playing was originally jimmy Hendrix’s (the one he burned at the Monterey Pop festival). Frank Zappa repaired it, and loaned it to Adrian Belew, whose main influence was Hendrix.

The bassist in the white dress is Tina Weymouth who is (still) married to Chris Franz, the Talking Heads guitarist. Here are some sample lyrics:

Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands
The hand speaks, the hand of a government man
Well I’m a tumbler born under punches, I’m so thin

Hmmm. Is Trump a government man?

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


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day. The news of Week That Was included the New Hampshire primary, another power grab by the Supreme Court, the Zika virus, and proof of the existence of gravitational waves.

Some people have an embarrassment of riches on Valentine’s Day:

COW Valentines Day

NH reminds Hillary about kids in a different way than before:

COW Comeback Kid

Sanders met with Sharpton before heading to South Carolina:

COW Sharpton Sanders

When the history of early 21st Century US is written, the villains will already be wearing black:


Zika virus is all over the news:

COW Zika


Proving Einstein right about gravitational waves took 100 years. Hope we do better with market panic:

COW Gravity Waves


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


Something not so super this week was this dickhead:

COW Shkreli