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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Detroit Debate Wrap-up

The Daily Escape:

Mt. St. Helens, WA – 2019 photo by 12_woman. The big eruption that devastated 230 sq. miles was in May, 1980. Hard to believe that’s almost 40 years ago.

The two days of Detroit Fight Nights are over, and the bloviating about who won or lost is rocketing around the internet, so Wrongo will add his few cents to the till.

First, CNN worked really, really hard to gin up fights between the candidates. They had some success by giving also-rans (John Delaney and Mike Bennet) a chance to go at the front-runners on both nights. The CNN idea was to make it a contest between progressive Dems and moderate Dems, and the debaters happily complied.

This is being talked about as a fight for the soul of the Party. It isn’t; that will happen at the convention when no candidate wins on the first ballot.

Second, it’s clear that these 20 people include 10-12 who should be on the JV team for some other openings in Democratic politics. The NYT reports that just seven candidates have qualified for the next Democratic debate: Those seven are Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren, while Castro, Klobuchar, and Yang are close:

“The Democratic National Committee has set stricter criteria for the third set of debates, which will be held on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 in Houston. If 10 or fewer candidates qualify, the debate will take place on only one night. Candidates will need to have 130,000 unique donors and register at least 2 percent support in four polls. They have until Aug. 28 to reach those benchmarks. These criteria could easily halve the field.”

Castro and Yang each have more than 130,000 donations and each have three of the four qualifying polls they need, while Senator Klobuchar has met the polling threshold, and has about 120,000 donors, so a one-night 10-candidate show is likely in September.

Regarding Detroit’s winners and losers, Wrongo’s view is that Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg won on the first night. On night two, Biden won by not losing. But night two had more interest. Castro did better than expected, as did Booker and Yang. Harris slipped a bit, while Gillibrand, Gabbard and Bennet had moments, all are in Brownian motion. The rest of the less-than-one-percenters should save their pennies.

We’re not going to get a real sense of how this campaign will unfold until Sanders, Warren, Harris and Biden are on the same stage. They will be joined by Buttigieg, Booker and O’Rourke, and possibly three others.

The tests we should be keeping in the back of our minds are:

First, can I envision this candidate giving a speech to the nation from the Oval Office while demonstrating leadership and being completely credible?

Second, can this candidate stand up to Trump on the trail, and if it should be necessary, beat him in a face-to-face debate?

Even with downsizing the group to 10 candidates, very few can meet both eye tests to Wrongo’s way of thinking.

How do you see the candidates?

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Last Night’s Debate and Medicare For All

The Daily Escape:

Dix Pond from the Dix Mountain trail, Adirondacks, NY – July 2019 photo by Shelley VK

A few thoughts about last night’s Democratic debate. Tom Sullivan captured Wrongo’s thinking:

“Watching Part One of the second Democratic debate was an endurance contest. CNN’s 30-second response format was a disaster, barely giving candidates time to formulate a sentence before being cut off. Questions from CNN moderators seemed designed not to probe policy issues, but to get candidates to snipe at each other.”

And snipe they did. The fringe and vanity candidates tried very hard to tell us which policies wouldn’t work. They were enabled by CNN’s question-askers, who mostly asked gotcha questions designed to provide sound bites for Republican attack ads down the road.

Elizabeth Warren won the night by responding to a poor-mouthed critique from Republican-lite John Delaney about health care:

“I genuinely do not understand why anyone would go to all the trouble of running for president just to get up on this stage and talk about what’s not possible. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/cOCz5TS3AF”

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 31, 2019

But, let’s take a moment to talk about the topic that took about most of the first hour of the debate: Medicare for All (M4A). Wrongo wants to remind everyone about an Upshot article on Monday in the NYT by Austin Frakt and Elsa Pearson. It asks, “What Would Medicare for All Cover? From the article:

You can divide current Medicare coverage into two layers.

The first is relatively transparent. Traditional Medicare does not cover certain classes of care, including eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental or long-term care. When the classes of things it covers changes, or is under debate, there’s a big, bruising fight with a lot of public comment. The most recent battle added prescription drug coverage through legislation that passed in 2003.

So the authors say that a Medicare for all program that excluded all private insurance coverage, and that resembled today’s traditional Medicare would leave Americans with significant coverage gaps. And therefore, we should have a debate about what M4A would cover.

The writers go on:

…there is a second layer of coverage that receives less attention. Which specific treatments does Medicare pay for within its classes of coverage? For instance, Medicare covers hospital and doctor visits associated with cancer care — but which specific cancer treatments?

The devil is always in the details.

Although Medicare is a national program, most coverage determinations are local. Private contractors that are authorized to process Medicare claims decide what treatments to reimburse in each of 16 regions of the country:

What people are covered for in, say, Miami can be different from what people are covered for in Seattle. Many treatments and services are covered automatically because they already have standard billing codes that Medicare recognizes and accepts. For treatments lacking such codes, Medicare makes coverage determinations in one of two ways: nationally or locally…..There are more than 2,000 local coverage determinations….National coverage decisions, which apply to the entire country, are rarer, with only about 300 on the books.

Wrongo wasn’t aware of these differences in coverage, and that is something to talk about if/when M4A is seriously discussed in Congress.

It seems that what should be covered by any health insurance program is an evolving target, informed by changes in treatments and their reported efficacy.  The issue isn’t unique to Medicare. Wrongo prefers the decision to include or exclude a treatment not be made by an insurance company that can make more profit based on what forms of healthcare are offered.

For example, in many private plans, cataract surgery isn’t covered, while Medicare does provide coverage for a basic lens replacement.

And we shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. In this country, tens of millions of people have no coverage, and tens of millions more are either under-insured, or face very high deductible plans. By contrast, throughout all other developed countries, every person is covered for all medical needs.

A few things to think about between here and the 2020 election.

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Marist Poll Points Towards Winning Democratic Policies

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Castle Reef, Montana – July 2019 photo by xzzy. Not to be confused with Capitol Reef NP, in Utah.

Yesterday, Wrongo showed an analysis of possible voter turnout by gender and age, and the implications for 2020. Overnight, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows how it may be possible to craft policies that appeal to those groups, among others.

The poll was conducted from July 15 to 17, after the president’s tweets about the four Democratic congresswomen. It surveyed 1,336 adults largely (68%) by mobile phone, and has a margin of error of ±3.5%.

Some of the top line results: By a 53%-to-39% margin, Americans said they would definitely vote against Trump. That compares with the 54% of American voters who actually didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, an insufficient number to win the Electoral College. Trump did better among independents. A third of which said they would definitely vote for him, while 54% say they definitely won’t.

But, let’s focus on a few topics that had majority female support. Overall, 59% of women disapproved of the job that Trump is doing, compared to 52% of all respondents. And 62% of women said they would “definitely not vote for him”, substantially higher than the poll’s average.

All isn’t roses for the Democrats with women. When asked “do you think the ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates running for president would generally move the country in the right/wrong direction?” Women only gave the Democrats a 52% “right direction” tilt. Overall, Americans split 46%-to-43% on whether Democrats would take the country in the right or wrong direction, within the margin of error in the poll. Much of that may be due to unpopular policies offered by the current crop of candidates.

Here’s a list of the most popular policy proposals by Democrats:

  • 89% say requiring background checks for gun purchases or private sales is a good idea
  • 70% support offering Medicare for all as an option alongside private health insurance
  • 67% are in favor of regulating prescription drug prices
  • 64% are for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the US illegally
  • 63% support legalizing marijuana
  • 62% favor Increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million
  • 57% are for banning assault-style weapons
  • 56% support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour

There are a few issues that are very unpopular, even with Democrats:

  • 26% are for a guaranteed universal basic income of $1,000 per month
  • 27% favor providing reparations for slavery
  • 27% support decriminalizing illegal border crossings
  • 33% support offering health insurance to illegal immigrants
  • 41% are in favor of doing away completely with private health insurance

People are split on giving free college tuition at public colleges and universities (53% said it’s a good idea, 43% said it’s a bad idea.

Overall, independents said they were not impressed with the direction either President Trump or Democrats want to take the country at this point. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College, said:

“They’re not willing to grant President Trump reelection, and yet they’re not persuaded by Democrats at this point.”

Showing that Democrats are not truly happy with their choices for president, 82% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they have not yet made up their mind on who to support in the Democratic primary. A majority (54%) say they want a nominee who can beat Trump, rather than one who shares their position on most issues (42%). That’s up 13 points from last month when 47% said they wanted someone who shared their position on most issues versus 46% who said they wanted someone who has the best chance of beating Trump.

Turning to the other side, Trump’s primary support comes from white males, Gen X (ages 39-54) and evangelicals. When asked if they would definitely vote for Trump in 2020, 66% of evangelicals, 51% of Gen X and 47% of white males said yes. That’s quite the weird coalition.

BTW, just 23% of Gen Z/Millennials (ages 18-38) said they are definitely voting for Trump.

As we said yesterday, Democrats have a chance to present a set of policies that will appeal to women and the youngest voters, in addition to their base. The field of 20+ has certainly reviewed the NPR/Marist Poll results at this point. Maybe a few are rethinking their stance on eliminating private insurance, or offering insurance to illegal immigrants.

It’s still early, and this poll is just another snapshot. The true picture will emerge in a few months.

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Dems Should Talk Foreign Policy

The Daily Escape:

Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, Italy – 2018 photo by Marco Zanta. The glass-enclosed extension is a restaurant.

Every Democratic candidate for the 2020 nomination is discussing domestic policy: Medicare for All, Free College, and all of the other jump shifts in policy, but what about global politics?

Biden isn’t unique among candidates in saying the 2020 election is about a return to the way things were before Trump, the Economist reports:

“’This too shall pass,’ Joe Biden told America’s allies at the Munich Security Conference in February. ‘We will be back.’ The applause he received reflects a longing to return to a world order that existed before President Donald Trump started swinging his wrecking ball.”

It is problematic to rely on the ideas of a Clinton operative, but the Economist quotes Jake Sullivan, a 2016 Hillary advisor who says that the thrust of the Democrats’ foreign policy approach is simple: reverse much of what Trump has done. Sullivan talks of a “back to basics” approach: Value alliances, stress diplomacy:

“Compared with domestic policy….there is less focus on new ideas.”

All of the Democratic candidates would rejoin the Paris climate agreement. They would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, possibly with new pre-conditions for lifting sanctions. All would reassure NATO allies of their full commitment to the alliance.

Most Dems agree with Trump’s more confrontational approach to China. However, they would ask America’s allies to work with us on the outcomes.

Biden has a long foreign policy track record. He proposed cutting Iraq into three states for the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. He wanted to arm the Ukrainians against Russia. He opposed the surge in Afghanistan, and the intervention in Libya.

The other candidates have said less, and have no distinctive foreign policy positions.

It would be great if we actually talked about foreign policy in the 2020 primaries. Let’s take a step back and remember 1991. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world’s other nuclear-armed superpower, we became the sole superpower. Until then, our strategy had been to contain the Soviet Union, but afterwards, lacking a global competitor, neither Party put forth a coherent global strategy.

We blundered into the Middle East with the Gulf War in 1991. After 9/11, we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. We then hatched the war on terror, and subsequently expanded our globalized military across the world. And when the ledger finally closes on our expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost will approach $4 trillion.

Had we spent that amount on domestic priorities, we could have shored up Social Security and Medicare for a generation. We could have paid for the repair of our crumbling infrastructure. Instead, we’ve emerged from our Middle East blunder with two global competitors, China and Russia, along with a huge fiscal deficit. Neither had to happen.

America has failed to see the connections between our global strategy and domestic strategy. Providing incentives to our multinational corporations that enabled them to make goods abroad has marooned large swaths of our domestic workers.

A reasonable question to discuss is whether we can continue supporting globalization while building good jobs in the heartland of America.

And there should be a real debate regarding Trump’s foreign policy. He has sided more closely with Israel. He’s walked out of the Iran nuclear deal. He’s threatened Venezuela with possible “military options” that are being seriously discussed at the Pentagon.

Over the weekend, the Israelis told Bolton and Pompeo that the Iranians are preparing to attack the approximately 5000 US military personnel in Iraq. That may or may not be true, but it led to Pompeo visiting Baghdad.

Do American voters want another war in the Middle East? Trump is daring Iran to fully withdraw from the Nuclear Deal. Who will become the fall guy if there is an Iranian closing of the Straits of Hormuz? Trump, or Iran?

Trade talks with China seem stalled. North Korea’s recent missile tests press Trump’s bet on a deal with NK. Surely Kim is carefully watching Trump’s moves in the Middle East.

Then there is Russia. The Dems overreached with Russiagate, but the Russians are working with Syria to eliminate one of the last places in Syria (Idlib) where terrorists still hold sway. Neither Israel nor Bolton seem to want a stable Syria. Will they try to force Trump to obstruct this important operation?

Debate by Democrats may focus on military spending, with some wanting to cut it, and the mainstreamers being more cautious. A new policy towards the Middle East, and Israel in particular, should be discussed.

Regardless, Trump will surely attack Dems as “soft” on national defense.

But Democrats should thoughtfully challenge the Right-wing assumption that America must have a military-first strategy, rather than a diplomacy-first strategy.

We’re stretched thin trying to have a military presence everywhere in the world. It’s worth a real debate.

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Financial Industry Buys Politicians

The Daily Escape:

Tulip time, Skagit Valley, WA – 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Yesterday, we talked about how the Democrats might ultimately need Wall Street money for the 2020 presidential election. Now, we learn from Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a consumer interest group, that Wall Street spent at least $1.9 billion on political campaigns and lobbying during the 2018 mid-term elections:

“The figure, which includes contributions to campaign committees and leadership PACs ($922 million) and lobbying expenditures ($957 million), reflects a massive rush of pro-industry nominees and legislation over the last two years, at a time when the biggest banks made $100 billion in profits for the first time.”

That was the largest-ever amount for a non-presidential year, outstripping the total of $1.4 billion, in the 2013-14 election cycle, by 36%.

The 63-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington”, uses a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on behalf of AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial services industry spending. The data excludes spending by health insurers, who work to influence a different group of issues than do US banks.

The data also doesn’t include “dark money” that goes mostly unreported, so the actual sums of Wall Street spending are likely to be much higher.

The report breaks its findings down by Campaign Contribution and Lobbying:

Campaign Contributions:  Individuals and entities in the financial sector reported making $921.8 million in contributions to federal candidates for office during the 2017-18 election cycle.

Of the $519.6 million in party-coded contributions by individuals and PACs associated with finance, 53% went to Republicans and 47% went to Democrats. About $402.2 million in additional cash flowed from financial sector contributors to candidates through outside groups.

Lobbying: The financial industry reported spending a total of $956.8 million on lobbying in calendar years 2017 and 2018. This spending only got the financial sector to third place. The “Health” sector was second, spending $1.12 billion, and “Miscellaneous Business” which comprises companies and trade associations, was first, spending $1. 02 billion. “Miscellaneous Business” includes the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent $189.4 million.

And which politicians got the money?

In the House, Republicans did very well, with Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the way. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), now the House minority leader, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), now the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, both benefited from Wall Street largesse.

The freshman class in the House, including first-term Democrats, had substantially less reliance on money from Wall Street than those Democratic incumbents who won re-election. Another report that AFR co-authored on small-dollar contributions found that 17% of money contributed to the Democratic freshman came from small donors, compared to 9.4% for incumbent members.

In the Senate, the data underscores how money moved to members who supported the industry’s legislative goals. Overall, spending favored Republicans. But the industry gave significant amounts to Democratic Senators who helped get S. 2155 passed, which was a significant rollback of the Dodd-Frank regulations.

Wall Street gave heavily to the Democratic senators who supported the bill and were up for reelection in 2018, mostly from states that Trump won in 2016. One Dem who won in 2018, was Jon Tester (D-MT); others, including Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not win.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) won after she supported the legislation as a House member.

But, not all top Senate Democratic recipients of Wall Street money did the industry’s bidding. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opposed S. 2155.  He was the only Democrat in Ohio to win statewide office in 2018.

Who spent the most? The top five donor companies and trade associations in the financial sector were:

  • National Association of Realtors — $144,716,676
  • Bloomberg LP — $96,481,469
  • American Bankers Association — $25,769,494
  • Paloma Partners — $25,575,800
  • Citadel LLC — $20,596,381

You can see a list of the top 20 donors here. It is easy to see that turning down Wall Street funding could put a big dent in the Democratic nominee’s spending plans for 2020.

It also seems clear from yesterday’s reporting that Wall Street Democrats might bolt to Trump if the 2020 nominee is Sanders or Warren. A decision to reject Wall Street funding could hand Trump a very large gift.

The money spent by the financial services industry won’t be any lower in 2020 than in 2018. We’ll just have to wait and see if the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee rejects their support.

OTOH, this money helps Wall Street rig the system in its favor, largely by buying the support of politicians who will help insulate them from accountability.

Does any Democrat have the guts to reform capitalism?

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Will Dems Develop a Winning Message?

The Daily Escape:

Lady Liberty from the water – June, 2015 photo by Wrongo

Joe Biden kicked off his run yesterday by saying that he’s for the middle class, and against Trump. CNN is reporting that Biden now leads the field with 39% of voters supporting him. Sanders is second with 15%. Warren is third with 8%, and Buttigieg fourth with 7%.

It’s good to remember that there are still 551 days to go before the 2020 election. Here are a few other past poll leaders with 551 days to go: Hillary Clinton led the Democratic primary by 9.1% in 2008. In the 2008 GOP primary, Giuliani led by 12.4 points. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton once led by 56.6 points. In the 2016 GOP primaries, Jeb! Bush led by 1.2 points. All of them lost.

The biggest issue for Democrats right now is squaring the circle on their message. The leading Dems don’t divide neatly by labels. Some are Republican lite, some are very progressive. All have to articulate policy and show charisma, while working to garner enough delegates to win the nomination.

Let’s discuss two issues: First, are they really going to run against Wall Street? Are they going to take campaign funding from the financial services industry? As Wrongo said last week, there is an inherent tension in the current funding strategy of the Dem candidates. They all are targeting small donors in order to demonstrate substantial grass-roots support. But, the nominee will need to raise more than $1 billion for the general election, and it’s doubtful that individual donors have such deep pockets.

That means they will eventually have to turn to PACs and corporations in order to win.

But Sanders and Warren have pushed the party to the left on Wall Street and capitalism. NY Mag had a piece describing a meeting among Wall Street Democrats, who are unhappy with the field. They dislike Sanders and Warren, and when they strategize, the financiers’ primary goal is to find a Democrat who can both deny either of them the nomination, and also beat Trump:

By evening’s end, multiple donors walked away planning to write checks to three or four or five candidates — hoping they stay relatively moderate — rather than going all in on any one. Among the committed Democrats on Wall Street, this wait-and-see, as-long-as-it’s-not-Bernie-or-Elizabeth posture has become the norm.

Can the Democrats win without Wall Street’s money? Will the current crop of candidates walk away from their promise to take on the financiers, in order to beat Trump?

Asking for a friend.

Second, what will their message be on the economy? Trump is presiding over a late-stage economic boom. By November, 2020, Trump will be able to claim credit for the longest period of uninterrupted growth in American history. How will Democrats counter a Republican argument to stay the course?

The best possible message may be: That big corporations aren’t paying their fair share (as opposed to more taxing of the rich). That too much of the prosperity that working people create stays with the corporations. That the cost of both health care and education are too damn high.

Just this week, the WaPo asked voters, “Do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit all people, or mainly works to benefit those in power?”

  • 60% of all respondents said it benefits those in power
  • 66% of independents said the same thing
  • 81% of Democrats agreed as well

Regardless of how strong the economy is for the next 19 months, Americans are sure to remain discontented with the economic dominance of the powerful. The NY Mag Intelligencer says the Dems should focus on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania: (brackets by Wrongo)

We know that this tiny subpopulation leans left on economic issues and tends to resent the rich. We also know it leans right on immigration and tends to resent “illegals.” When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney [made] the 2012 election a referendum on whether rich business owners earned every penny they have, a critical mass of Midwestern swing voters broke for the Democrats. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed to make 2016 about whether rapid demographic change was making America “Stronger Together” — or less great than it used to be — they broke right.

In 2012, Barack Obama told an “us versus them” story about class conflict. Sanders, Warren and Biden are doing that right now. A message that says “the rich have rigged our economic and political systems to their advantage” is an immensely popular message.

If Democrats don’t run on it in 2020, it won’t be out of concern for alienating voters, it will be out of concern for alienating Wall Street.

Let’s close with a tune in honor of May Day. Here’s Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot, performed at BBC Proms 2012.

Your May mileage may vary:

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

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Plenty of Fallout From Mueller’s (Non) Findings

The Daily Escape:

Monument Valley – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

How comfortable will Americans be with Trump in the White House, now that they have learned that he did nothing prosecutable while he was trying to get the job?

Larry Sabato at University of Virginia, says that the fate of the Trump administration is now in the hands of the voters in November 2020:

“Democrats only control who they nominate and what they emphasize in the campaign….On policy, Democrats have a wide variety of subjects that could allow them to make a favorable contrast with Trump: climate change, health care, and economic fairness, just to mention three. The message and the messenger will be critical.”

Sabato points out that the Democrats did not run on the Mueller probe in the 2018 mid-terms, and that for the most part, the announced 2020 candidates haven’t really been doing much of that either.

The biggest fallout from the Mueller investigation is that Trump gets to say he’s an undeserving victim for the next two years. No matter what negative things may come out in the next two years, Trump has been inoculated against real political harm. He can always say it’s the same people who were wrong about him during the Russia investigation. He’s certain to keep saying the media’s coverage of him is “Fake News”.

One victim of Mueller’s non-findings is the main stream media. They were largely anti-Trump and anti-Russia throughout the Russia investigation. Now, they look biased in exactly the manner that Trump has been saying they were for the last two years.

Matt Taibbi has an article, “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” in which he says:

“Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

He means most of the mainstream media. It’s a long read in which Taibbi highlights several media outlets including the NYT. He starts with Monday’s Times editorial: “We don’t need to read the Mueller report”. Taibbi says they make that point because: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We [the NYT] know Trump is guilty, Baker at least [NYT’s Peter Baker] began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

He compares the media’s coverage of Russiagate to their coverage of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when we were making the decision to invade during GW Bush’s administration. In hindsight, the media was badly compromised then when they dutifully reported what the administration wanted them to report.

Finally, the Democrats have to deal with their own fallout. They can continue investigating Trump, looking for some fire behind all the smoke. Or they can move forward, and focus on building a winning campaign for 2020. It’s possible that the ongoing House investigations of Trump may bear fruit, and provide some campaign fodder.

Journalism in 2019 appears to have returned to the way it was in America’s early history. It’s become another partisan element in our politics. And, as the process of journalism has decayed, somehow, people’s ability to contextualize facts seems to have decayed right along with our journalists.

The reputation of the American media as free, independent and truth-seeking was always a myth. Think about our unjustified Spanish-American war (“Remember the Maine”) was more than 100 years ago and it was promoted by the press (Hearst papers).

Then there was that pesky Vietnam War, which the US press supported for years. Back then, we had music, like Country Joe’s “(1, 2, 3, 4) What are We Fighting For”, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Neil Young’s “Four Dead in Ohio” as our alternative news media.

We do know that Russia conducted a sophisticated information operation to influence the 2016 election. Mueller’s investigation firmly established this. But Wrongo still doesn’t see anything to say their efforts upended the 2016 electoral results.

The various Congressional and DOJ investigations will continue, just as sure as the sun will rise in the east. What is uncovered is likely to be more of the same, and not advance the ball towards the goal line.

Hopefully soon, we’ll see a press conference by AG Barr and Mueller. That will be must-see TV.

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Who’s Electable?

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada – 2019 photo by trolleg

Ultimately, that question will be about Donald Trump vs. whichever Democrat is chosen as the Party’s nominee in 2020. Today, it’s a way to try to make a cut from among the 15+ Democrats that have announced their intention to seek that 2020 nomination.

Wrongo talked last week about the landscape of the 2019 primaries, saying:

“The internet is full of comments about which of the 14 are most worthy, and plenty of hot takes on who can’t win vs. Trump.”

We know that in past presidential elections, a few candidates always emerge early as having the ability to “excite the voters”. The press starts to say that “this one might have a chance”. It works out sometimes, as it did for Bill Clinton vs. Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown, or Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton. Both Clinton and Obama had charisma, which their opponents lacked. What hasn’t worked so well is being a policy wonk or having a bulletproof resume. Every candidate has a resume, a story to tell about themselves, but some try to parlay long careers in politics to the winner’s circle.

Think about Nixon and his resume squeaking past Hubert Humphrey, also with a long resume in politics. GHW Bush took his long resume to the White House for one term. The idea is that you can’t ask voters to look ahead while looking backwards at the same time. For Baby Boomer politicians, there are things in the rear-view that aren’t pretty, or even relevant today.

This is Joe Biden’s problem: When you’re challenging the status quo, ahead is the only winning direction. For another Boomer, Elizabeth Warren, her political resume is short, so less baggage in the 2020 primaries, and more new ideas.

It isn’t totally clear how the electability equation works. The media’s biases have a lot to do with deciding who gets the early buzz. It should be pretty simple to sort them into electable/not-electable categories, but think about Obama in January 2008: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Senator Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa has improved his standing within the party on a critical measure: his electability. The percentage of Democrats who say he would be the strongest candidate against the Republicans has more than doubled in a month, to 35% from 14% in December.”

So today, we have no idea who is electable, and probably won’t know until after Super Tuesday (March 3rd), when 54% of Democratic primary votes will have been cast.

And does anyone have a reliable metric for “electability”? We can’t really say that John Kerry was un-electable. Hillary was chosen FOR her (supposed) electability, as opposed to the (supposedly) “un-electable” Bernie Sanders.

The GOP have usually played the most electable hand. That gave them Bob Dole, George Bush 43, John McCain and Mitt Romney as candidates. Only one winner among them.

Ultimately, are we capable of analyzing “electability”?  We want it to be useful and true, but is it? The media and the pundits think that moderate political views make a candidate electable, but it’s really more like charisma and authenticity.

At this point Wrongo wants to give a brief plug to Pete Buttigieg. He’s met the Democratic National Committee’s threshold of 65,000 individual donors, which means he’ll be included in the Democratic primary debates. He’s 37 and gay. He’s a Harvard and Oxford grad who served in Afghanistan and speaks Arabic. All of that probably signals to Establishment Democrats that he’s un-electable.

Wrongo thinks he has charisma and authenticity, along with very rare smarts. Here’s a quote from a Buttigieg profile in the New Yorker:

“If you thought in terms of the effects of public policy on millennials, he said, you began to see generational imbalances everywhere. The victims of school shootings suffered because of the gun liberties given to older Americans. Cutting taxes for the richest Americans meant that young people, inevitably, would have to pay the bill. Climate policy, he said, was the deepest example of the imbalance…”

Buttigieg may be strong in the Mid-West, and may be able to bring out non-voters. Non-voters were the biggest cohort in 2016. Many don’t vote because they don’t believe any of the candidates will make things any better. America needs a candidate that is committed to meeting increasingly desperate needs. Maybe Buttigieg would bring non-voters to the polls.

And haven’t Baby Boomers done enough to screw up both America and the planet?

Maybe we should give a Millennial a shot. At least for Vice-President.

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Trump Says Dems Are Socialists

The Daily Escape:

Sulfur Skyline Trail, Jasper NP Alberta, CN – August 2018 photo by MetalTele79

Trump wants to run against socialism in 2020, so he’s trying to paint the Democrats as socialists. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump brought up “socialism” four separate times:

“Just this week, more than 100 Democrats in Congress signed up for a socialist takeover of American health care.”

“America will never be a socialist country — ever.”

“If these socialist progressives had their way, they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat.”

“We believe in the American Dream, not in the socialist nightmare.”

Steve Benen notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), indicated that the Voting Rights Bill passed by the House as HR-1 was a “radical, half-baked socialist proposal”. Benen goes on to say:

“There’s nothing “socialist” about automatic voter registration. Or curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Or requiring officials to use “durable, voter-verified” paper ballots in federal elections.”

Or making Election Day a national holiday.

Perhaps the GOP is redefining socialism as: Any legislation or policy that would diminish the power of the far right, or diminish the wealth differential enjoyed by their business elites.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that just 18% of Americans had a positive view of socialism, 50% had a negative view, and 26% had a neutral view. Most of the skepticism about socialism comes from older American generations. People who are nearly Trump’s age grew up fearing nuclear war. They saw the Soviet Union as an existential threat to the US.

OTOH, Axios reports that 73% of Millennials and Gen Z think the government should provide universal health care. They will make up 37% of the electorate in 2020. And Gallup found that Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).

Vilifying socialism might be a winner for the GOP, unless the Democrats hammer home a series of ideas. First, that Social Security and Medicare aren’t socialism or socialized medicine. Second, that we socialize corporate losses all the time. The taxpayers bailed out banks, capitalists and speculators 10 years ago. We also bailed out GM and Chrysler.

We bail out corporations that do not pay for “externalities”. Externalities are the indirect costs incurred because of actions taken by someone else. Think about pollution. When a manufacturer can make its decisions based on their bottom line, it makes sense for them to dump waste into our rivers or air, pushing the costs of cleanup onto society as a whole.

Today’s GOP is pushing quickly to gut regulations in order to protect the industries of their big donors from paying the cost of these externalities.

Third, reforming capitalism isn’t socialism.  Reform is necessary for the economic future of the country. The current neoliberal form of capitalism dominates both our economy and our thinking about economic success. And in the past 40 years, we’ve changed the rules of the game for corporations. We’ve moved the fifty yard line much closer to the capitalists’ goalpost than it was during FDR’s time.

And corporations and capitalists have been running up the score in the economic game ever since.

Neoliberal capitalism has made selfishness an economic and moral good. One result was that improving our economic security, or our social safety net, can no longer be discussed in our society.

The Green New Deal document directs the government to provide all Americans with:

(i) high-quality health care,
(ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing,
(iii) economic security; and
(iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

These goals are within America’s capabilities, but they come with costs, costs that will not be willingly paid for by corporations, or by “public-private partnerships”. They will only come about with direct government intervention, primarily by implementing policies that encourage them, and by a new tax policy that finances them.

Nothing in the above requires state ownership of corporations, so we don’t have to talk about socialism.

Our market economy should remain, but capitalism needs to be different, because its current track cannot be sustained if we want to contain and correct income inequality, or deal with climate change. Today’s capitalism is creating concentrations in most industries, driving out the little firms. Price gouging is an issue, particularly with big Pharma.

Everyone should agree that companies above a certain size must pay for the externalities they create. That they should also pay a larger share of their profits as taxes. And that they should pay a fee for domestic jobs lost to overseas locations.

2020 should be about those who want to reform capitalism, and how to do it. It shouldn’t be about Trump’s trying to paint Democrats as Soviet-era socialists.

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The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

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