The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

How to Blow a “Blue Wave” Election

The Daily Escape:

Tillamook Head Lighthouse, Oregon – 2018 photo by Shaun Peterson

2018 is supposed to be a “Blue Wave” election, but Wrongo has doubts. We spoke yesterday about the pathetic performance of Team Dem during the shutdown. The Financial Times (paywalled) quoted Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The Republicans are very good at casting this debate [DACA] as being about illegal immigration and Democrats were not willing to own that this was at its core about the Dreamers and to define the Republican position as hurting kids and tearing apart families…The Trump people were clearly thinking about their messaging in advance and preparing ads in advance and there was almost no [Democratic] co-ordination with outside groups and no air cover by Democratic strategists…

That Schumer, Pelosi, et al. had no Plan B shows that they weren’t serious, no doubt because DACA isn’t an important issue for their base, the top 10%. Can the current Democratic Party leaders turn a wave opportunity into another squeaker like they did in 2016?

There is a large group of disaffected and/or disappointed voters who can be claimed in the 2018 Congressional elections. It’s a group of voters so disgusted with both parties that they could, just as easily vote in huge numbers, or stay home in droves.

Democrats said after the 2016 election that one new principle was to “crack down on corporate monopolies”, but since then, have done nothing. Here is a candidate that should be an example to Democrats on the subject of corporate power over the lives of regular people.  Austin Frerick is a 22-year-old running as Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa against a conservative Republican. Watch him explain concentrated corporate power in a way that Schumer and Pelosi can’t, and won’t:

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

The basic skill a politician must have is to bring disparate groups a message about what they want/need, and how to get it. Chuck Shumer, the beacon of Wall Street, can’t be the guy fighting for Main Street voters.  Anything Schumer comes up with will not be the kind of clear and concise message that Austin Frerick can use to win his district.

Civil Rights activists in the 1960s didn’t win the prize on day one, but they never took their eyes off the ball once they achieved a few small wins. It’s important to remember that in the 1960s, the Party’s leadership was aligned with their Main Street supporters. But today, Democrats in Congress and their usual Democratic supporters have little in common. Schumer/Pelosi are not seeking the same prize as Main Street Democrats. They are captured by the monied elites, and have no message directed at the little people. Their only message is “Russians! Trump!”.

So far, Dems have won a few special elections, and won the Governorship in NJ, which should never have been lost to Christie in the first place. It’s time for the progressives in Congress to stage an actual coup, replacing today’s leaders with a few of their own. Otherwise, 2018’s messaging will be: 2016 – the sequel.

Will Wrongo be wrong again? Will the Democrats win with their current leaders? Or will they field so many unpalatable mainstreamers, backed by no message at all, that few will vote for them?

We’ll know in just a few months, and then, 2020 is just around the corner.


Hail The Orange Overlord

(Wrongo will say more about Veteran’s Day during Sunday’s cartoon edition. For today, let’s acknowledge that Veteran’s Day is one of America’s most patriotic holidays, and that this year, it feels very disappointing to many of us. Leave that aside. Take a minute to reflect on those who fought for us so that we have the right to vote for whomever we please.)

Regarding the election: Aren’t you happy that America is on its way to being great again?

For both the winners and the losers, please don’t make things worse than they have to be by deepening the divide between the two political camps. Most of all, try to be understanding of each other. Half of the country is not reacting well to this, and some on both sides are going to say things that they’ll regret, or that put them at odds with you and your core values.

People aren’t at their best when they’re afraid and confused, so take a beat, and let the next month or two go by without overreacting. There will plenty of time to do that after the inauguration.

And there is little value for Democrats in performing a self-flagellating post-mortem. We can analyze the results, but we can’t change them. We know what went wrong, even if we won’t admit it. Here’s what has to happen:

  1. Democrats need to find a way to make sure that their primary process favors new faces with bold, inspiring ideas. We can’t have any more competent retreads. Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton were all competent technocrats who were really weak candidates. How many times must we replay this record before changing direction?
  2. It’s time for Democrats to stop using white working classas a pejorative. Not so long ago they were the bedrock of the New Deal Democratic Party. Find a way to be respectful. Think about how to bring them back to the Democrats’ side.
  3. There is one argument that we need to see less of: that the demographic makeup of the US is sure to produce a Democratic paradise. This argument is false, as we learned on November 8, and it promotes lazy thinking by the leaders of the DNC: the “We’ll just sit back and they’ll drop into our hands like ripe fruit” kind of thinking.

Finally, the notion that since the old white people will die off, we should focus solely on Millennials is stupid. Time makes more old people every day. And as people age, they change their opinions and politics.

Hillary and her campaign team failed. They raised $1.1 billion by Election Day, and lost conclusively. Their strategy, and its execution were both failures. If you spent a $billion in the corporate world and failed, you would be fired immediately by your organization. Dems should take no consolation from Hillary winning the popular vote. It doesn’t change who the president is. The real numerical difference is very small, and may even be reversed by the time all votes are counted.

Hillary did not articulate an inspiring vision. Her damned emails and the Clinton Foundation were self-inflicted wounds. Her team’s strategy of micro-targeting, which worked well for an inspiring candidate Barack Obama, was self-limiting for the technocrat Clinton.

The 2016 problem that Democrats failed to address was that nearly half of the electorate was dissatisfied enough that they were willing to vote for Donald Trump, arguably the least qualified person to ever hold the office. And Clinton and her campaign team had no message or vision directed at the group Donald inspired.

Presidential campaigns are an affair of the heart, but Hillary was a cerebral candidate in a highly-charged emotional situation.

The so-called Deplorables have spoken. Democrats have opened the door and let the Right Wing demons in. The GOP now has free reign. And doubtless, there will be no mercy dispensed as they roll back the new deal legislation that remains of the books.

It is likely that the “lesson” the DNC will learn from their loss will be to move even further to the right. Yet, when Americans have to choose between an ersatz Republican-lite and the real thing, they will choose the real thing every time. If the DNC had an ounce of clever thinking, they would recognize the need to be once again have a platform that is:

  • Fully committed to adding more jobs, jobs, jobs
  • For reining in the economic power of large corporations
  • For reversing income inequality
  • For Medicare for all
  • For additional taxation of the highest personal income brackets
  • Against endless war
  • Against Citizens United

The question is whether progressives attempt to “reform” the Democratic Party, or whether they organize a new party. It might begin like the Republicans began when they split from the Whigs. The Whigs split started in 1850, and by 1856, the Whigs were no longer a national party.

Maybe in these times, a new “American Justice” party could recruit Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, Gavin Newsom and most important, a battalion of young messengers to bring a third party to power in the US.

If that doesn’t happen, we need to see the DNC leadership’s heads on a pike.

In either case, we face a decade or more of rebuilding progressivism into an American political majority.


Enabling the Tea Party Revolution

Tuesday is the first Democratic Presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. It is 100% certain that you will not hear any one of the Democratic hopefuls discuss how the Democrats in the House of Representatives have enabled the current chaos in the House by Republicans.

How have they enabled Republicans? Democrats routinely save them from their dysfunction. On Sunday, we discussed that raising revenues and deciding where to allocate funds was the primary task of the party that controls Congress.

That would be the Republicans.

We also said that whenever John Boehner has tried to pass his own spending bills using just Republican votes, he’s failed. He then goes to Nancy Pelosi and asks her to get some Democrats to vote to keep the government open, and the Democrats then vote for a Continuing Resolution, or a short-term Debt Limit increase. This is enabling bad behavior.

Enabling is doing certain things for someone that they could, and should be doing themselves.

They enable Republicans by bailing them out when they have painted themselves into a corner on fiscal matters, in the same way that people help alcoholics continue to (ab)use their drink of choice, by allowing them to avoid the full consequences of their actions.

When John Boehner can’t keep the government open or pay our bills and protect our nation’s credit rating, his party should crash and burn. Instead, his “friend” Pelosi does the equivalent of hiring a high-priced lawyer to quash Boehner’s drunken driving arrest. Boehner drives on, but his party doesn’t govern on its own.

And when the smoke clears, the Republican leadership extracts no price from their Republican Revolutionaries, who are allowed to keep their committee assignments, and receive campaign funds from the National Republican Campaign Committee.

So, there is no political price that the Republican Revolutionaries have to pay for bad behavior.

Democratic enabling has allowed a minority of Republicans to not just persist with their brinksmanship, but along the way, they have vastly strengthened their political power. There is no reason why Dems should vote for Republican appropriations bills, that is the job of the majority. The GOP needs to act like a majority party, which means they must learn how to fund the government on their own, or share power with those who will work with them to fund it.

The value to Democrats for their enabling is that they can say they are saving the country from the Republican Revolutionaries. But, the opposite result has actually happened. Democrats have enabled the Republicans to badmouth Washington DC and Congress, to bluster about how they can insist on defaulting on our debts, or about shutting down the government.

This has allowed Republicans to develop an increasing tolerance for avoiding basic political realities. Now, the Republican Party has snapped its moorings. Now, they have to dig out of the hole they have spent time and effort digging, all the while “supported” by the Democrats.

There are two possible outcomes. First, the Republicans could elect a Speaker that they agree to follow, but that seems to be the opposite of what the Republican Revolutionaries want, which is a Speaker who will follow their demands. The link details the 21 demands of the Freedom Caucus, including that the Speaker candidate must agree to shut down the government until some of the legislative achievements of the Obama Administration are repealed. Otherwise, the Caucus will deny their votes to that candidate.

The second possible outcome is a bipartisan coalition that will keep the government open and pay our bills.

Since we definitely need to do that, then that coalition should elect the next Speaker. Given the makeup of Congress, that Speaker ought to be a Republican. But for Democrats to enter a coalition, they need to extract concessions: The Republican Speaker needs to bring some Democrats onto the leadership team, demoting recalcitrant Republicans.

We could be at a turning point in the House’s process. It has been a two-party place for most of its history, with the majority party electing the Speaker. But there was a four-party stalemate of the House during the Eisenhower administration. The Democrats split along FDR/Farm-Labor/Dixiecrat lines, while the Republicans were split between the Old Guard Republicans who supported big business and dismantling the New Deal; and the Modern Republicans, who supported individual freedom and the market economy, but thought the government should provide necessary social welfare assistance.

That split was the start of the modern conservative movement’s push for ideological purity, that push and the Democrats’ recent enabling has given us the three party split we now see in the House of Representatives.

The Republicans could elect a Speaker at any time, and restore the two-party process.

Otherwise, we could be in a three-party scenario that might function like a parliamentary system, with occasional votes of “no confidence”, and the formation of a new coalition that elects a new Speaker, and then, new committee chairs.

If a coalition happens, it will happen because the Republicans realize that they cannot elect a Speaker on their own who hasn’t promised to deliver a global economic catastrophe in early December when we have to raise the debt ceiling.

Interesting times, eh?


Monday Wake Up Call – September 28, 2015

Wrongo and Ms. Oh So Right were in South Hero VT for the weekend. Here is a pic just after sunset, looking west towards Plattsburg NY. There is little fall color in Northern Vermont yet:

Lake Champlain Sunset

A few thoughts about Boehner’s resignation. Boehner faced a choice between a coup and a shutdown. That led him to make a deal with the Teahadists: If he stepped down as Speaker, they would vote for a “clean” Continuing Resolution (CR) and avoid a government shutdown. Several members of the Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that led the revolt against Boehner’s leadership, said they will now support the spending bill without demands that it include language to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Alex Pareene summed up the Boehner era:

It was not a distinguished tenure. His meager accomplishments came in spite of himself and to the great consternation of his Republican colleagues. He pinballed from one pathetic humiliation, usually at the hands of his own caucus, to the next. The only reason Boehner remained speaker for as long as he did—to his eternal regret, it is clear—is because his bitterest opponents were too stupid to figure out how to oust him, and his likeliest replacements never wanted the job.

So, at least as of the time this is written, the corporate wing of the GOP will get their clean funding bill (and retain a shot at the Presidency next year), at the same time, the Teahadists are allowed a “victory” by getting rid of Boehner. The corporate wing will insert another one of their guys in the Speaker position and a year down the road, Boehner is out from under the lobbyist rules, and goes on to a job paying 10 times of his current salary.

But we’ve got unfinished business, like the transportation bill, the Debt Ceiling and the Omnibus Spending Bill to keep government functioning into next year. These will be left for the next Speaker.

The GOP establishment looks to be fragmenting into two parts. They have the majority, but they have lost Eric Cantor, their rain-maker. Boehner, another rainmaker and cat-herder, is now gone. McConnell has now lost the air support he used to enjoy from the House. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may need to be the next head on the chopping block, particularly for his unwillingness to get rid of the Senate filibuster. From Salmon:

We made a lot of promises to the American people, that if we took the Senate, that we would do certain things and those things have not been accomplished…A lot of the problems we are engaged in is because the Senate doesn’t take any action on anything and there’s nothing that any presidential candidate on our side says that will ever be realized as long as the modern-day filibuster is enacted in the way it is today.

The firebrands in the House say that Sen. Ted Cruz is the defacto leader of the party. The Presidential primaries might determine a different leader, but the establishment wing of the GOP doesn’t have the control it used to have.

But, all is good in the cesspool. So, let’s try to wake up both John Boehner and the Freedom Caucus. Here are The Rolling Stones with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, recorded live at the Max in October 1990 and released in 1991:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 4, 2015

RIP Mario Cuomo:

Cuomo Koch

(Columbus Day Parade, October 11, 1982. Mayor Edward Koch, Gov. Mario Cuomo and Westchester County Executive Alfred DelBello march down New York’s Fifth Avenue) Credit: Associated Press

You have to wonder how different the country would be if Mario Cuomo had agreed to become a Supreme Court Justice in 1993 when Bill Clinton offered to nominate him to replace Byron R. White. George Stephanopoulos has written that Clinton came within 15 minutes of nominating Cuomo, until the latter rejected the job in a phone call with Stephanopoulos.

The Wrongologist never drops bold-face names in the blog, but today is an exception. In 1988, he (and Ms. Oh So Right) were backstage speaking with Frank Zappa, who was playing in Boston. Wrongo asked who Zappa would support for president the next time around, since the Dukakis debacle had just happened. He said: “only Mario”.  At the time, the Wrongologist agreed. But Mario would never run, and Zappa died in 1993.

On Christmas, Neil deGrasse Tyson sent this Tweet:

It caused the usual spewing by the “war on Christmas” crowd, who claimed that Tyson was deliberately provoking them. Tyson replied:

Imagine a world in which we are all enlightened by objective truths rather than offended by them.

Speaking of truth, here is the whole objective truth:

COW The Truth2015 will be totally different, except:

COW New Boss


We just ceased combat operations in Afghanistan. What did we learn?

COW Lessons Learned

Republican leader Scalise attends Klan meeting. What did the GOP learn?

COW Scalise


Who Gets the Dynamic Score?

No, it isn’t Kobe, it’s the corporations that backed the GOP in November. When Republicans took control of both houses of Congress, they won an important new power: They now can change how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores tax cuts and budget cuts. The changes they are planning can be used to make tax cuts appear less harmful to the deficit.

For years, the GOP has wanted to change the way that the (supposedly) nonpartisan CBO calculates — or, in Washington speak, “scores” — the budgetary impact of changes to the tax code. The methodology that the Republicans want to use is called “Dynamic Scoring”. Dynamic Scoring has been popular among conservatives since the 1970s. Instead of just figuring out how much more money a tax increase would produce for the Treasury, or how much a tax cut would cost in lost revenue, the GOP wants to use complex computer models to try to predict the long-term, and broader impact of hikes and cuts on the economy, since they are looking for proof of GDP and tax revenue growth.

Here’s how it would work. In January, Republicans will be in charge of the CBO, which produces official budget projections and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which calculates how tax laws affect revenue.

Today, when the CBO and the JCT calculate the impact of tax laws on government income, they consider how Americans might alter their behavior in response to tax rate changes. But the two staff departments do not evaluate how tax legislation could affect economic growth—largely because those sorts of impacts are hard to predict.

Republicans have believed this as an article of faith since the days of St. Ronnie. Tax cuts lead to greater economic activity, which in turn produces greater tax revenues—a perpetual motion revenue machine that is the wet dream of most Republicans. Scott Walker used this kind of “math” in Wisconsin. The result? A $2.1 Billion budget shortfall. Oh, and there is Kansas, where another Republican governor, Sam Brownback, is staring at $1.3 billion in deficits after cutting taxes and  hoping for economic growth.

Math can be much easier when the answer is whatever you want it to be. But, the new math is the first step toward passing the Republican version of tax reform.

A keystone of any successful tax reduction plan is that they ought to be revenue neutral, that is, tax receipts will not go down, despite tax cuts. Using this form of new Republican math, you can inflate the value of possible future revenues from today’s tax cuts. That can be sold to the American people as a new version of “revenue neutral” although it is really a new version of “take the nickel little boy, it’s bigger than the dime”. This is extremely appealing to Republicans, since it makes tax cuts appear to cost the government less than they actually do – it allows them to say that tax cuts mostly pay for themselves—and wave the JCT-CBO seal of approval to justify that claim.

Democratic leaders and progressive economists reject dynamic scoring as an accounting gimmick, pointing to the aftermath of the Bush tax cuts as evidence that tax breaks do not create tax revenue. The Washington Examiner reports that Kenneth Kies, a GOP-nominated former director of the JCT, says that this accounting device falls:

Somewhere between pure mathematics and theology.

The real dynamic score will be by America’s corporations and financial firms.

Think it won’t happen? Incoming Chair of the House Ways and Means committee (which has jurisdiction over tax reform), is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Last week, in an interview with the Washington Post, Ryan said he will push to make sure that the two congressional budget scorekeepers use dynamic scoring when evaluating GOP tax reform legislation. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), incoming Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said last week that he was open to implementing the change.

Ryan and Hatch can implement dynamic scoring by simply ordering the two budget scorekeepers to accept this budgeting method. If such direct intervention seems too heavy-handed, Republican legislators have another option: They can appoint directors at the CBO and JCT who will use the kind of assumptions the GOP favors. Democrats can do nothing to prevent that.

So, what will stop Congress from using politically motivated economic models that incorporate rosy assumptions? Absolutely nothing.

Behold the future − you voted in the Republicans.

In practice, Dynamic Scoring is just another way for Republicans to enact tax cuts and block tax increases. It is not about honest revenue-estimating; it’s about using smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.