Friday, December 30, 2016

The Trump Bubble

Something very strange happened in the 24 hours following the election. Going in, everyone on Wall Street “knew” that Hillary Clinton would win. It is an old adage that Wall Street hates surprises, so everyone also “knew” that the stock market would get clobbered if Trump somehow won by mistake. Indeed, as the results became known, markets in first Asia and then Europe plunged. Futures for the US stock market began to predict a brutal day for American stocks as well. But, as 9:30 AM November 9 approached, (which marked the opening of the US stock market), European markets and US futures began to recover strongly. In fact, US stocks as measured by the S&P 500 index not only rose strongly that day, but they have gone on a tear ever since, in what has come to be called “the Trump rally”. Literally overnight, the market went from fear and despair to euphoria. Euphoria is something Wall Street is very good at, but it usually ends badly. So call this my year end forecast edition.

Before I look forward, however, I should provide some background. It is vital to keep in mind that the stock market is not the economy. In the best example of this, when companies merge or lay off workers for any reason at all, unemployment increases, which then reduces consumer spending and thereby hurts the economy over a longer period of time than most people appreciate. But an announcement of a merger or layoffs almost always boosts the price of a stock, because profits increase. What is good for stocks more broadly can also be bad for the nation, so a new law or president that greatly weakens the EPA for example increases the profits of companies that pollute, but it means poisonous air and water for the rest of us. Given this, you might expect that voters would reject any candidate that Wall Street liked, and indeed there are some progressives who vote that way. But that ignores that fact that Wall Street is not monolithic. Individuals like George Soros may be hedge fund billionaires, but they recognize that, over time, progressive causes are good for the country and the markets.

You also can not say that voters are going against their own economic interests without thinking about the 401(k). Today, it is easy to think that 401(k)s have always existed. In fact, however, they are named for a section of the tax code in a 1978 law, and they only took off after a rule interpretation in 1981. Look at a graph of income inequality, and you will see that our current situation has its roots around this time. Yes, Reagan’s tax policies also made a big difference, but 401(k)s have made a big difference in our politics. Before the 401(k), companies provided retirement benefits through defined benefit plans. This meant that you were guaranteed a pension that grew predictably over time, no matter what the stock market did. The 401(k) is another matter, and it has replaced completely the old defined benefit plans for most workers. With a 401(k), you contribute to the plan with an employee match, but how it grows is entirely based on how the stock market performs. I’m simplifying somewhat, since most 401(k)s also offer money market and bond options, but the big gains are to be had in the stock funds offered. The greater risk is also to be found in these funds, but too few people appreciate that. What’s important is that 30 years on, voters now have to weigh the health of the nation against the possible impact on their retirement funds. The Trump rally is good for Wall Street traders, but it is also good for your 401(k).

This, of course, is short term thinking, but that is how many people vote. Retirement planning done properly however involves thinking in the long term. Policies that provide a social safety net and help share the wealth throughout society boost consumer spending over time, thereby creating jobs, which create more consumer spending. On the other hand, policies such as tax cuts for the rich and assaults on safety net programs concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, reducing both employment and consumer spending over time. This is ultimately bad for stocks and corporate profits, which is why the market consistently performs better during Democratic presidencies than Republican ones. And the difference is not small.

The Trump rally is short term thinking at its finest. After the initial panic, analysts began drool of the prospect that expensive regulations would be swept away by the new president and the Republican congress. Healthcare companies and insurers expect increased profits as the Affordable Care Act gets kneecapped. That means they will pay less and we will pay more for healthcare. The demise of environmental regulations is expected to be profitable for polluters in raw material industries. Military contractors look forward to a new arms race with Russia. Investing in general and the mortgage industry in particular will see a return to the casino environment that preceded the 2008 financial crisis. But the most absurd part of the Trump rally is the idea that Trump’s infrastructure plans will mean a huge increase in government spending. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s infrastructure proposals would have had that effect, but Trump is talking about tax incentives and privatizing things like toll roads and bridges, many of which are currently free. Initially, companies will reclassify existing projects wherever they can to get the tax benefit, diluting the power of these programs to create jobs. Over time, the new toll roads and bridges will be a burden on drivers, and therefore a drain on consumer spending. So, once again, your 401(k) may benefit in the short term, but the economy will suffer in the long term. Actual infrastructure spending by the government would never pass in this congress, even if that was what Trump had in mind.

So, here is my stock market prediction for the Trump presidency. In 2017, we will be operating under the last Obama budget, and many of our current laws will still be in effect. The economy will continue to create jobs for which Trump will try to take credit, but in reality job growth will slow as Trump’s changes begin to take effect. The stock market will drop somewhat in January as the current rally stalls, but the market will be up slightly at year end. In 2018, we will begin to see the full effect of Trump’s policies. From that point to the end of his presidency, the market will fall. We will see a new recession by 2020, the severity of which will depend on whether the Democrats can gain control of the Senate in 2018 and curb some of Trump’s worst impulses. The market will also fall if Trump finds a way to get himself impeached. That seems likely when you consider his contempt for our system of laws and the Constitution. So over all, voters can look forward to four lost years for their 401(k) plans.

Monday, December 19, 2016

“He Doesn’t Know the Territory”

Not to dismiss Russian hacking, voter suppression in key states, and other outside factors, but Donald Trump won the election as well because he is a much better salesman than Hillary Clinton. Actually, Hillary Clinton probably had the least sales skills of any major party general election candidate in my lifetime. This is not a compliment to Trump. I speak as someone who worked as a telemarketer for ten years, and received additional sales training during a year I spent trying to be a stock broker. This is soul-destroying work that requires you to put your conscience on the shelf, hopefully to be used later. Sales is an acting job, and a key talent of a successful politician. That’s why Ronald Reagan was so good at it. You must persuade people with values that are alien to you that your way deserves their support. It is not either enough or even necessary to have the moral high ground. Sales is how Republicans get working class voters to vote against their best economic interests. You must believe your arguments while you are presenting them, even if you know they are nonsense, or if they don’t really reflect your reasoning.

To see how this works, consider the issue of universal healthcare. Hillary Clinton tried to get universal healthcare back in 1993, but she thought selling it meant listening to arguments from all sides, and then crafting a program that helps everyone. It’s impossible, because you can not avoid harming insurance companies when you take them out of the healthcare game. Bernie Sanders tried to sell universal healthcare as a moral imperative, but we have just had conclusive proof that, for enough voters in key states, elections are not about morality. Elections are about “What’s in it for me?”, and too many voters vote defensively to avoid helping someone who might be in competition with them for services and benefits.

Despite this, I am not saying that we should give up hope of ever seeing universal healthcare in the United States. I am saying that we need a better way of selling it to voters. We should be making the capitalist argument for it. There really is one. Universal healthcare is a major job creator, and it can help to prevent jobs from being outsourced to other countries. Under our present, broken system, we have given twenty million new people health insurance they can not afford to use. Getting sick means spending money you needed for other things on getting treatment instead. That means getting sick is a major drain on consumer spending, Universal healthcare would mean you never have to divert funds for getting better, so it all goes to consumer spending. That increases demand, and that is where jobs really come from. Universal healthcare also means keeping jobs here in America. Under our current system, American companies operate at a major competitive disadvantage. Having an American workforce means you are penalized with huge health benefit expenses. Yes, you can pay much lower wages to workers in China and Mexico, but the healthcare costs really seal the deal and make it worth the expense of moving jobs to other countries.

That’s the pitch, but we also need someone with the right personality to make it. Hillary Clinton proved that the right contacts and the best fundraising machine is not enough to get it done. We need someone who thrives on working large crowds, but can also score points in a televised debate. We need a bulldog who will not leave any criticisms unanswered, but will rapidly respond without seeming mean. Clinton’s basket of deplorables remark was terrible from the point of view of making the sale, as was Mitt Romney’s 47%, because you must never insult a potential customer. It doesn’t matter if you think you are at a private function, because everything you do when you run for president is public. I don’t know who the right person is for this, but we have four years to find them. In 2020, this person will have the facts on their side, but the facts will never be as important as the pitch.

In closing, I don’t usually include music with my posts, but this really needs to be here:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Ray of Hope

There are many reasons why Donald Trump will be are next president, and this result makes me fear what will happen to our country. I would like to say that the Democrats, or even the Republicans, have learned a valuable lesson from this election, but I see no sign of this yet. But certainly, this election was a shock to the system. Professional pollsters learned that this country is a much darker place than they thought, and their precious science was wrong. They will be scrambling to understand how to fix their models, and that will have an impact on how we conduct our elections in the future. But that is not what gives me hope going forward. The first signs I see that something positive can come from this are the reactions in the media.

The media coverage of the campaign can certainly be blamed for the election of Donald Trump. Both the false equivalences promoted by the mainstream media and the proliferation of fake news on social media were gifts to the Trump campaign. Together, they enabled what has been called the “post-factual” environment where Trump was somehow more trustworthy than Hillary Clinton. But it seems to me that people in the media are genuinely horrified at what they have done, and the reactions of the public are contributing to positive change in ways that I don’t see elsewhere in our society yet.

Consider this recent article on Vox by German Lopez. Lopez takes the New York Times to task for false equivalency for a paragraph that came deep in an article about the atmosphere on college campuses in the wake of the election. The actual paragraph read:

According to a campuswide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president, bias incidents have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump.

Lopez was actually being dishonest in his reporting. He misquoted the paragraph this way:

Bias incidents on both sides have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump, according to a campuswide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president.

So the New York Times is simply reporting that Mark Sclissel included both a concrete threat to a student and accusations of racism in his report as bias incidents, but Lopez rearranges the paragraph to make it seem that the New York Times is drawing no distinction between the severity of these two acts. Lopez also makes it seem that this was the focus of the New York Times article, when in fact it was buried deep in what I found to be a fair piece of reporting. Lopez’ article also had a fine example of a click-bait headline: The New York Times’ False Equivalency Problem, In One Paragraph. So the Vox article was not a bad example of the problem of misleading reporting, but I still see hope in this incident. I could wish that Lopez would have found a better example to make his case, but I am glad he tried, because false equivalency was a big problem at the New York Times and elsewhere leading up to the election. On the other hand, I have seen a change in the tone of the Times’ reporting since the election, which may be why Lopez had to report this the way he did. They have been critical of Trump in recent articles, and they no longer seem to be bending over backwards to criticize his opposition at the same time. The New York Times also received a lot of criticism for the article Lopez flagged, to the point where they felt the need to issue a public response in defense of the article. So they know that people are paying attention, and that is a positive sign in its own right.

Meanwhile, I have seen a steady stream on Facebook of articles from various sources about how to spot fake news. Most have had generous lists of links to fact checkers and sources for responsible reporting. There have been arguments on the left about some of the liberal sites that have been named as sources of irresponsible reporting, and I have even seen cases where some sites were removed from lists of offending sites after someone raced to defend them. This is all to the good. (Full disclosure: Vox is an opinion site that I rely on for some of the writers who work there, my comments above notwithstanding.) Facebook and other social media sites have been seeing pressure to ban fake news, which is difficult to completely eradicate. But we can hope that this combination of pressure and education will limit the damage fake news can do in future elections.

Of course, money speaks louder than the loudest complaint or the most gentle persuasion. But there are positive signs here as well. Major consumer companies have been using bots that place their ads all over the web, but I saw a report that, since the election, some companies are asking to have their ads removed from sites like Breitbart that air fake news and promote racism. The public can get involved here by pressuring advertisers, even to the point of threatening boycotts. It doesn’t matter how many clicks a Breitbart gets if they don’t have advertisers to pay the bills, so it may really be possible to, as it were, drain the swamp. Money can also be put to positive use, and there are hopeful signs here as well. Non-profit fact checkers and investigative journalism organizations have been reporting an upsurge in donations since the election.

All told, I see since the election some soul searching on the part of the media. There seems to be a genuine concern that they enabled the election of Trump, and a real effort to find ways to do better in the future. The public is engaged, both as a watchdog and as a source of targeted funding. The only question is how long this will continue. I hope this election marks a final repudiation of “fair and balanced reporting”, aka false equivalency. While I think it is probably optimistic at best to think we can take down a Breitbart or a Fox News, we can challenge their business model with our spending decisions. On the left, we can and should demand responsible behavior from our media sources. And most of all, we can learn how to make better use of the information sources we have, so that we don’t get fooled again. We can not avoid four years of Trump/Pence, but we can work towards a media environment that will prevent a repeat of this election. It is starting to happen, and I hope it will continue.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How to Elect a President

In the wake of the presumed election of Donald Trump as our next president, there have been calls to abolish the Electoral College. This will be the second time in my experience that I personally was robbed, having also voted for Al Gore in 2000. So I have long agreed that we should get rid of this odd historical relic that now has the potential to subvert the will of the people. But I have come to realize that I was wrong. The problem is not that the Electoral College exists, but rather that we are not using it correctly.

Think about it. Hillary Clinton lost because she failed in the states that had the electoral votes she needed. But that was part of a much larger problem. Polls show that winning candidates are usually taller than their opponents. They tell us that who the voters would rather have a beer with is more important than what a person would actually do as president. Marital infidelity may tell us nothing about how a person would govern the nation, but it can end a political campaign or even be grounds for an unsuccessful impeachment.

I thought for a long time that the Electoral College was simply a historical anomaly. In eighteenth century America, the United States consisted of only thirteen states, but crisscrossing those to make yourself known to all of the voters was impossible in an age long before automobiles, trains, or airplanes. Likewise, the technology that makes mass media possible was at least a century away. So voters could not possibly get enough information to make an informed choice for president. As that changed over time, the current system developed, where we assume that any voter can easily get all the information they could possibly need, so we vote directly for the candidate of our choice. The problem we face now, however, is that we have access to too much information, much of it false or unreliable, and I can see no way that a filtering system could be devised to purify our information stream. This election was decided as much as anything else by fake news and the ability to spread it effectively.

If we go back to the original design of the electoral system, we may be able to solve this problem. The founding fathers knew that a lack of information could mean that direct election by the people of their legislators and especially their president could allow a tyrant to win. We now know that our modern-day information glut poses the same danger. So they devised a system where the voters, instead of voting for a president, voted for electors who would then meet and make that choice for us. Electors were people who were known in their respective states, and they would detail the qualities they would support in a president, and that would be the basis of the people’s choice. Today, even the size of the states is too big for this to be effective. Breaking it down further, even a congressional district may represent more than a million voters. To solve the problem, we must have a system that selects electors at a local enough level to bypass the problem of gerrymandering as well.

So here is how I would solve the problem. I live in a small town in New Jersey. My state is reliably blue in presidential elections, but there are red patches throughout New Jersey. No state is monolithic in this way. New Jersey had 14 electoral votes this year, meaning we have twelve congressional districts. But my town has two voting districts, and the surrounding township has fourteen more. There should be a national standard for the population of each of these voting districts, and a polling place for each one. We could then vote for a pre-elector, if you will, from each of these voting districts. Prior to the election, local candidates for pre-elector could hold a series of town halls where they could meet and greet the voters, and conduct Q&A sessions. They might have party affiliations, but they could not align themselves with any candidate nationally or for the office of statewide elector. On Election Day, people would go to the polls to select their pre-elector. The top vote getter in each voting district would win. These pre-electors would them attend a state electoral college. They would be presented with candidates from around the state, and they would be forbidden to vote for themselves. This could probably be best enforced by requiring that pre-electors could not run as statewide electors in the same year. In New Jersey, the top 14 vote getters at this state electoral college would then represent New Jersey at the national Electoral College, where they would choose the president. Variations on this system could also be used to choose members of the House and Senate.

Note that no member of the Electoral College would be bound to any candidate. The pre-electors would have to earn the trust of their communities with their presentation of the issues facing the country. Likewise, national media outlets leading up to the election would not be able to base their coverage on personalities, so they would hopefully spend more time on the issues of the day. This system would also take money out of the process of choosing our government. Because electors would be unbound, and pre-electors could not align themselves with any candidate, a sitting president or senator say would not have to neglect their duties to run for re-election. Lobbying would also have to change, because campaign cash would not be the incentive it is now. There are surely problems with this proposal that would only become apparent after it was implemented. Surely, powerful people who benefit greatly from the current system would resist making this change. Not only the moneyed interests who have so much say in our current system but also the media outlets who rely on their advertising dollars would suffer.But I am not sure that even a Constitutional amendment would be needed to make this happen, and the potential advantages are surely worth considering.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Backward and Forward

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. I still feel that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president. In particular, I believe that many progressives would have been pleasantly surprised. No, we would not have gotten universal healthcare or a $15 dollar minimum wage, but we would have gained ground on both fronts where now we stand to lose. In this post, I do not want to brood, but we must understand why we lost if we are to win next time. In Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party insiders chose a candidate and gave her a big head start in fundraising, but she was still the candidate who could not even win the nomination in 2008. That is because she has a great resume, but is a terrible candidate. In this year’s campaign, you can see why in the strategic choices she made in the debates.

After the first debate, Clinton won praise and a bump in the polls for her performance, but it is now clear that she lost that debate and the ones that followed before she even took the stage. She pursued a strategy that suited her personality, and I have to admit that I thought at the time it was a good idea; she tried to present Donald Trump as a man who was not worthy of her respect. By extension, the concerns of his potential followers were not worthy of her respect either. Hillary Clinton would defend the status quo, and you were a “deplorable” if you thought the country had serious problems. It was as if the Bernie Sanders scare in the primaries had never happened. She decided to disrespect her opponent by addressing him by his first name, and she decided to act like his criticisms of her did not deserve a serious response. She admitted, for example, that her Iraq vote and the handling of her emails were mistakes, but she missed the opportunity to tell us what she learned from them. They remained legitimate concerns of voters, where they could have been presented as valuable learning experiences.

In 2020, a Democratic candidate will run against either Donald Trump or Mike Pence. Especially if the Democrats win the Senate in 2018, I believe there is a high chance that Donald Trump will find a reason to be impeached. Still, either Trump or Pence will be the sitting president, and they will deserve to be addressed in the debates as Mr President. It will be all too easy to attack the president on all the ways he has failed the working people who placed their trust in him, but we must do more. We must offer a positive vision of the future. We must do what Hillary Clinton did not, by showing that it was the Republicans in Congress who kept the country down. It was the Republicans who kept the public option out of the Affordable Care Act and loaded it with concessions to the insurance and medical industries. It was the Republicans who loaded the Supreme Court with the Justices who made Citizens United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act realities, and that is how our system is rigged. It was the Republicans who have stood in the way of minimum wage increases and meaningful gun control measures. And it was the Republicans who shirked their Constitutional duties, and refused to govern for the eight years that President Obama was in office. These are all negatives against the Republicans, but their flipsides are the beginning of a Democratic vision that should have won this year, and must win in 2020. We must acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act gave 20 million Americans health insurance they never had before, but still couldn’t afford to use. We must admit that cost of living increases in Social Security benefits over the years have not kept up with what it costs to be a senior citizen in the United States. We must let the workers and potential workers of this country know that the official employment numbers show an improvement, but we know too many people are still being left behind or exposed. The Republicans now know that blaming immigrants and persons of color for this is a winning strategy, one that can be explicitly stated. We must show that there is a better way, and that means explaining that the money and security that once went people who worked hard now goes instead to the very wealthy. We must show that we are all, white, black, brown, Christian, Moslem, Jew, male, female, straight or queer, in this together.

It truly is the economy, and it should have been a simple matter to defeat Trump’s message of hate and fear with a message of concern and hope. But Hillary Clinton’s defense of the status quo didn’t get it done, and Bernie Sanders’ message of righteous anger was not enough to win the chance to try. In 2020, the Democrats need to open the primaries to all comers, to not clear the decks for anyone. Then, the DNC needs to avoid any hint of favoritism, and let the people choose. Expect to be hacked, so keep both private and public communications clean. In 2020, Hilary Clinton will be the woman who lost the presidency to Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders will be almost 80 years old. So let’s start with a clean slate and no favorites, and find someone we can all support with enthusiasm. And then, let’s win this thing back.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Little Bit of Why

As we begin to recover from our shock from the election, we need to form a plan of action to limit the damage over the next four years, and we need to make gains in 2018 and lay the groundwork for the next chance at the Whitehouse in 2020. To do that, we need to understand how Donald Trump could possibly have won. What we don’t need to do is start an endless cycle of blame. It won’t help to say this or that demographic group should have come to the polls in greater numbers, or that such and so wasted their vote. In this post, I don’t claim to have all of the answers, not by a long shot. What offer instead is a story that I hope raises some of the questions we need to be asking.

To begin, I live in New Jersey. I never finished college, but I was raised by two parents who earned graduate degrees and held professional positions. My brothers and I were raised to question authority by doing our homework, so facts and details are important to me. To a Trump voter, I think like a liberal elitist. I work as a customer service representative, so I spend my days talking to people all over the country, and I usually tell my customers as needed that I don’t discuss politics with them. However, on Wednesday, a customer said something I found interesting. She said she didn’t like Donald Trump, but she voted for him, and she was glad he won because Hillary Clinton scared her. At first, I found this incomprehensible, but I did not press her for details because that is not the job I was doing. But thinking about it later, I remembered something that happened in 2013.

In the spring of that year, my family and I made a trip to Williamsport PA for my daughter’s college search. Williamsport is home to the Little League World Series, but I didn’t see much else to recommend it. The city looked to me like a concentrated suburb, with the local Wallmart being a prominent feature, and no particular sign of any local culture. But my wife saw something quite different. She had lived briefly in Williamsport about 25 years earlier, and she had found it at that time to be a pit of despair. It is a town that would much rather be known for baseball than being home to a large alcohol and drug rehab center. But, in 2013, my wife was astonished at all the new construction she saw. Something had brought hope to this place, and the local economy was on the move.

Later, we found out what it was. We stopped at a local diner for lunch, and our waitress was friendly and talkative. I enjoy this kind of service, and would be happy to get her again if we were ever out that way. She told us in glowing terms what had happened to Williamsport and that part of Pennsylvania. In two words, natural gas. The natural gas industry, including fracking, had arrived, bringing plentiful good paying jobs, and it had saved people’s lives out there. To our waitress, anything the natural gas industry did was all good, because it helped her and everyone she knew. In the distant past, this had probably been coal or steel country, but those jobs were gone and never coming back.

Was our waitress racist or xenophobic? I have no reason to think so, but it is possible. She probably would not have said sexual harassment was OK if we had asked, and might even have had a story to tell. But I’m guessing she and many people she knew voted for Trump. It’s not hard to see why. I can sit in my New Jersey home and tell you all about the evils of fracking, and I can give you the facts to back it up. But that waitress would only find all of that threatening to the life she knows. She might have said that Hillary Clinton scared her, and this is why. When I think about this, I realize that the substance of the Clinton email scandal was not important in places like Williamsport. It did not matter that the FBI eventually finally declared that there was no basis for any criminal action. In Williamsport, what mattered was having some kind of cover to justify voting for Trump. The racism, sexism, and all of the other –isms might have made our waitress uncomfortable, but having something to blame Hillary Clinton for made a Trump vote easier on her conscience.

To recover from this election, we need to bridge the gap between the insular world of Washington DC and all of the Williamsports around the nation. Before we try to explain in loving detail why our ideas would be good for that waitress, we need to listen to her and address her concerns. Out of that may come new ideas, ideas that are good for both of us. We can certainly find solutions that are kinder and nobler than what Trump wants to do, but we did not do that this time. Instead, we put all of the Williamsports in a basket of deplorables, and tried to win without them. Now we know how that worked out. It is worth remembering that towns like Williamsport were once Democratic strongholds. We need to remember why, and get back to treating people there like part of our community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Tonight my Facebook feed is full of words like “grieving”, “mourning”, and “freaking out”. I am seeing profanities from people who don’t normally use them. I am sorting out my feelings as I write this, but I agree with all of this. How could this happen? I feel that the only nation I have ever called home, the nation that became a refuge to my family when they were fleeing progroms, that nation has betrayed me. This country has been swayed by lies when we should be defenders of truth. America has just gotten a lot more dangerous for immigrants, sure, but also for persons of color, LGBTQ people, even people on the autistic spectrum. For anyone who is different. Income inequality just got exponentially worse. The legal protections that ensure everyone the right to vote just got much weaker. There will now be a “conservative” majority on the Supreme Court for a generation, and Citizens United is with us for at least that long. Gays may lose their right to marry, women to have a legal abortion. What exactly is it that “conservatives” conserve these days?

I hope some good can come of this. I hope the news media will take a good look at their complicity in this, and vow never to bow to the god of false equivalency again. I hope the Democratic Party agonizes over this, and realizes that they should have given us a range of real choices in the primaries, not anointed a deeply flawed Hillary Clinton as the only real choice. Don’t get me wrong on that one; I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but I don’t buy the argument that he would magically have beaten Trump either. Sanders’ biography would have offered the right wing hate machine all sorts of juicy points of attack, and the campaign would have been just as ugly as the one we had. But surely there must have been someone who could have stood for the Democrats that could have brought the same empathy and dignity to the campaign that Barack Obama did to the last two.

There will be better days for this country. I have to believe that. Those of us who feel that America at its best is a refuge will have to pull together and take care of each other in the bad times just ahead. We will have to accept that there are differences between us, but we can unite for the greater good. Right now I am angry at anyone who took this one for granted and did not vote at all, but I can not find a state where third party votes made the difference. I will need some time, but we need to put all of that aside, and find a way to work together if we are to have any hope of making things better. We can start by working our asses off to make some gains for the good guys in the 2017 elections.

For myself, I will try to keep my friends and family always in mind, and look for small and large ways to help. I will continue to speak out, and I will encourage others to do likewise when I can. In sadness, fear, and anger, I will try to remember to love.

Monday, November 7, 2016

One Final Word

I know I said my previous post would be my final one before the election, but this one came to me today and demanded to be written. If you are a writer, I am sure you know what I mean.

I have voted in every presidential election since 1980, and I have always tried to ignore a candidate’s personal life in making my choice. In particular, I said to anyone who would listen in both 1992 and 1996 that I did not care about Bill Clinton’s infidelities, that they had nothing to do with how he would govern. This year, I do not care that Hillary Clinton has a husband who cheated on her; the Clintons have resolved the matter between them, and that is good enough for me. To be fair, I also do not care that Donald Trump very publicly cheated on a previous wife, and I do not hold against him that two previous marriages have failed. However, I do care that he has boasted of sexually abusing and harassing women, and I do care that he will stand trial in December for raping a minor. I believe other actions and statements of his reinforce the importance of these transgressions, and help to demonstrate why they make him unfit to be president. Before you call me a hypocrite, I can explain in one word why these actions are different, and why I feel they are not just private matters to be dismissed as locker room talk or simple mistakes of a younger man.

That word is consent.

Bill Clinton’s infidelities did not leave a trail of victims, because the women involved were all willing participants. As I said, the Clintons made their private peace with what happened. Not so with Donald Trump. He has left a trail of victims because he has never cared about anyone’s consent for anything. This attitude extends well beyond his sexual activities and appetites. At the beginning of his real estate career, he demonstrated that he did not need anyone’s consent to discriminate against minority tenants. He settled one discrimination case, only to go right back to the behaviors that got him in trouble in the first place. Of more immediate concern, we have a concept that is one of the foundations of our system of government: the consent of the governed. It means there is no question that we will accept the judgement of the voters and gracefully concede when we lose an election. No one has to ask Hillary Clinton if she will accept the results if she does not win; before Trump raised the issue, the idea would have been absurd. The consent of the governed also means that a president accepts that there are constitutional limits to his power, that voters also choose Congress separately for just this reason. When Donald Trump criticizes Hillary Clinton for not accomplishing more in 30 years of public service, however, he is saying that he believes in a form of absolute power that yields to no one. She should have been able to do whatever she wanted, because that is what he would do.

Consent also has to do with honoring our treaties and alliances. Hillary Clinton will do that, and she will not order prisoners of war to be tortured, because she respects international law. Donald Trump, when he talks about foreign policy, clearly believes that, as the most powerful nation on earth, no other nation has the right to tell us what to do. He also regards torture and treaty violations as a show of strength. He believes that women should be afraid of him, and so should nations.

When you frame all of this in terms of consent, you realize that Donald Trump did not arise from a vacuum. It was George W Bush, not Trump, who made us a nation of torturers. The issue of reproductive rights is all about consent, and it has been a mainstay of Republican politics for many years. Since 2008, the Republican Party has refused to govern unless one of their own was in the White House; most of Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishments date from the brief period when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. The Republicans who are now promising not to confirm a Supreme Court justice until he or she is chosen by a Republican president are violating the principal of the consent of the governed. Make no mistake, this is a fundamental difference between the two major parties as they exist now. The Democrats would never behave this way, nor have they. In doing so, the supposedly patriotic Republicans are displaying as great a contempt for the Constitution as their presidential candidate.

On Tuesday, I will give my consent as one of the governed to someone who cares about that consent. I will do so up and down the ticket. I hope the results will show that the American people still care about the consent of the governed. Donald Trump has shown that he does not care about that consent, and his treatment of women is a facet of that.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

It’s the Economy

This is likely to be my last post before the election, so it’s time to filter out all of the noise. There has been an incredible amount of noise in this campaign. So, for the purposes of this post, I will pretend that having a husband who cheats on you is the equivalent of being an unregistered sex offender. I will pretend that a foundation that openly reports all of its donors and uses almost 90% of its funds for good works is somehow the equivalent of a foundation with secret donors that engages in self-dealing and pays bribes to state attorneys-general to drop fraud investigations. And so on. Instead, I want to focus on what the likely impacts on regular people would be of a Clinton or Trump presidency. Specifically, I want to talk about the economy.

As it happens, excellent work on this subject has already been done by people who are much wiser about the economy than I am. Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics assembled a team over the summer, and presented detailed analyses of how the economy would perform under a Trump or a Clinton presidency. I don’t expect everyone to read these all the way through, so check the conclusion section of each of the three scenarios presented, and then read the overall conclusion. Zandi’s team says of a Clinton presidency:

“…the upshot of our analysis is that Secretary Clinton’s economic policies when taken together will result in a stronger U.S. economy under almost any scenario.”

Of Trump, he says:

“The upshot of Mr. Trump’s economic policy positions under almost any scenario is that the U.S. economy will be more isolated and diminished.”

To see why this so, consider the historical precedents for what each candidate wants to do. Broadly speaking, Hillary Clinton wants to continue and strengthen the policies of the Obama administration. Obama rescued the country from the brink of an economic disaster that could have rivalled the Great Depression. He has also presided over the longest streak of months of uninterrupted job growth in US history. Under his stewardship, the deficit has dropped more in dollars than under any other president. Hillary Clinton will keep that going. Strengthening the Affordable Care Act, including the addition of the public option, would provide a boost to consumer spending, creating jobs. Increasing the minimum wage would cost the government nothing, and it too would boost consumer spending. That is why, one year later, Seattle saw so a big boost to employment after raising their minimum wage to $15/hour, despite the dire predictions of opponents.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to follow the model of George W Bush, only take it much further. Bush passed the largest tax cut for the wealthy in US history, and he pushed for deregulation. The result was that Bush took the first budget surplus since at least the 1950s, (gifted to him by the policies of Bill Clinton, by the way), and turned it into the largest deficit in our history. Trump thinks Bush did not go far enough, as though creating the conditions for the 2008 financial crisis wasn’t severe enough. Trump may really think this, since he was able to personally profit handsomely from the 2008 crisis. Bush presided over the worst economic performance of any president since Herbert Hoover.

I should note that Mark Zandi is one of the most respected economists on Wall Street. He can not afford to have his reputation sullied by even a hint of partisanship. He has customers of all political persuasions, and his success depends on all of their trust. I also want to add a note for anyone who says Hillary Clinton lies and Trump tells it like it is. Donald Trump can stand in the lobby of one of the hotels he built with illegal Chinese steel, dressed in one of his name-brand suits which are made in China, and tell you how he wants to prevent American jobs from being shipped overseas. Something doesn’t compute. Please think about that before you vote on Tuesday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Media and the Message

For my readers who feel that the negatives attached to Hillary Clinton are too strong for you to give her your vote, I want to propose an experiment. Don’t do this for me or for Hillary Clinton; do it for yourselves. Make a list of every reason you can think of why you can’t vote for Clinton. Take your time, and include everything, no matter how trivial. Now remove from your list anything Donald Trump doesn’t agree with. If your list didn’t shrink much or at all, that should scare the hell out of you. How could this happen? The answer is that, if you trace all of your reasons to the root source, you are relying on the same media sources as Donald Trump. At this point, you may tell me that there is no way Trump gets his information from, say, Bipartisan Report, and you might tell me that they are reliably progressive. Yes and no. There are many sites like this, whose owners are truly progressive, but the stories they publish had their start in the right wing media. Even if they don’t, the key is understanding how to tell fact from fiction.

To illustrate this point, let me show you an article a friend of mine posted recently. She proclaimed that this was a deal breaker for her, why she could never support Hillary Clinton. The article was from a site I had never heard of before, True Activist, and the provocative headline was: ”Future Clinton Treasury Secretary Announces Plan To Privatize Americans’ Retirement Savings” . Something didn’t seem right about this, so I tried to find out who was behind this website, and what their agenda was. There is no “About Us” page, so I looked at the submission guidelines for new writers, and I learned that True Activist wants to “expose false or misleading events that are misrepresented by the mainstream media, etc.” Now that could be a rallying cry from the left or the right, and the home page presents a hodge-podge of articles that reflect this. This site seems to have no overarching point of view at all, except for the premise that everything in the mainstream media is suspect. That assumption creates an environment where outright lies can flourish, but I did not have a smoking gun at this point. So I went back to the article itself, and I noticed something I had missed before: the text in red, which I had thought was simply for emphasis, was actually a set of links. Follow the link for “most likely pick for Treasury Secretary”, and you will find an article on Politico that says the subject of the True Activist article, Tony James, is “sometimes mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary in a Clinton administration.” That hardly makes him the future Treasury Secretary proclaimed in the headline, so now I have caught True Activist in a lie. But what about James’ proposal? The article on True Activist never says that his plan privatizes Social Security, but it stokes those fears, saying “Americans’ retirement savings would be lumped together under Wall Street control, allowing them to gamble with the massive sum and make a killing from the bets. However, any “misplaced” bets would be the problem of everyday Americans invested in the system, not the hedge funds who made those bad bets.” So I followed the link that reads, “revealed his plan”. It turns out that Tony James isn’t proposing any changes to Social Security at all. He is actually concerned about how people who do not have traditional pensions save for retirement to supplement the benefits they will receive from Social Security. 401(k)s, IRAs, Keough Plans and more are all completely at the mercy of market gyrations, and these plans are already “under Wall Street control”, as the True Activist writer puts it. What James is proposing is to replace all of this with a Retirement Savings Plan that would be guaranteed by the government to return at least 2% in any year, no matter what the markets did. He also wants to change the tax treatment for this plan, so that lower income workers would get a tax benefit from their contributions that is only available now to more affluent workers. At this point, the True Activist article has collapsed completely, and I feel comfortable saying that they are an unreliable media source, one of many. The author of the article may be a well-intentioned progressive or not, but she read her sources for this article expecting to find a smoking gun. Because the right wing media had spread the idea that Hillary Clinton wanted to privatize Social Security, our hapless author found that, even though it wasn’t actually there.

The point of all this is that we must all become smarter media consumers. A major reason Donald Trump became the Republican nominee in the first place was the development over a long period of time of a system of right wing media outlets that have a blatant disregard for facts. Fox News and Breitbart are two of the best known, but there are many others. This year, they learned that they could create a website that seemed to be engaged in reasoned discourse, and people on the left would spread their stories, ostensibly to support Bernie Sanders. I saw this in Sanders groups throughout the primary season. People avoided the harder task, perhaps, of making the positive case for Sanders, and instead spread anything and everything they could find that attacked Hillary Clinton. This served to legitimize websites that did not deserve it, which only made things worse.

I understand how this can get started. It is true that mainstream media sources will neglect to cover a story that might not sit well with an important advertiser, for example. This does not mean that they are lying in what they do cover, but it does mean we need additional sources of information. I also understand the thrill of discovering a story that no one else has heard of yet, or a new source of information. That is exactly why I went into such detail about the True Activist article, and how I debunked it. It is also why I list fact checkers and trusted media sources on the sidebar of this blog. I don’t pretend that either list is complete, and I welcome suggestions for inclusion, but I intend to be very careful in making any additions; this is just too important. In my example, I mentioned the importance of trying to find out who is behind the website you are using, and determining their agenda. You can also sometimes check the credentials and agenda of the author of the article. If you are still not sure, use your fact checkers; in my example, that was not necessary, but it often is. Finally, understand that no one has an exclusive for long without a reason. If a story has substance, you should be able to find more details and reports in other places within a day’s time.

With all of this in mind, I invite you to return to your list of negatives about Hillary Clinton. Take the time to subject each and every one of them to this test. I guarantee you will have to drop some of them. I don’t agree with everything she wants to do, but I always have a small list of negatives about any candidate for president I decide to vote for. That happens when you have to form a consensus with millions of your countrymen to select your next leader. It’s called Democracy, and I would never be willing to give it up. If your newly fact-checked and smell tested list of Clinton negatives still persuades you to withhold your vote from her, I respect that. But I hope you will do the work first, and know that you are making your decision based on facts.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bad Business

Donald Trump likes to claim that his best qualification to be president is his great skill as a businessman. As with so many other things he says, there is no good reason to believe this. First, governing is vastly different from running a business. In particular, the management of debt in the real estate business, especially as practiced by Trump, is a recipe for disaster if practiced by a president. Second, there is the widely quoted fact that, if Trump had taken his initial stake in the business world and simply invested it passively in the stock market, he would have been vastly wealthier now than the most generous estimates of his actual worth. This is despite his exploitation of cheap labor from illegal immigrants, his string of bankruptcies that enriched him at the expense of his lenders and investors, and a long line of people who performed work for him that he simply refused to pay for at all.

But none of this is the best way to see how bad a businessman he truly is. For that, we should look at the worst decision he ever made, in terms of its impact on his business interests: his presidential campaign. Donald Trump went from being a wheeler and dealer in commercial real estate to becoming a brand. A good chunk of his money these days comes from deals for the use of his name. In both phases of his career, his reputation was essential. From the beginning of the primaries, however, Trump made the decision to base his campaign on the hatred and fear of Mexicans and Muslims, and his bigotry would spread to others soon enough. Right away, this hurt his business interests, as retailers began to refuse to carry his branded merchandise. In the Republican debates, however, he bullied his opponents, so they knew they could not criticize him for this without him lashing out and highlighting their own failures in this area. The pot did not dare call the kettle black. Hillary Clinton simply introduced American voters to the Khans and Alicia Machado, and let Trump do the rest to himself.

Considering what the Access Hollywood tape has done to Trump’s reputation, he should never, from a business standpoint, have run for president. Even if he did not know the tape existed, he should have known that his abuse of women would somehow become public. Will any businesswoman, or husband of father of a daughter want to do business with him ever again? More and more accusers have come forward as they realized that what happened to them was not their fault. Although it is not happening in such a public way, it stands to reason that former business partners who came out on the short end of a deal with Trump are also realizing that their experiences were not unique. They now know that he can not be trusted to deal with them fairly.

The campaign, particularly the debates, has also shown Trump’s lack of skill as a negotiator. After all, the debates are a kind of negotiation with the American people. You present your deal with the voters, your opponent presents hers, and your job is to persuade us to take your deal as the best option. There are many examples of Trump’s failures to do this in the debates, but one example from the third debate will suffice to make the point. Somehow, the topic of abortion did not come up until this final debate. It has been said that moderator Chris Wallace was trying to help Trump by bringing the subject up. Abortion rights are one of the trickiest cases to make for a liberal. One must somehow avoid the trap of being labeled a baby killer. But Trump played the weakest hand he had by going straight to late term abortions as his focus. Sure, the graphic details of these procedures are horrifying, but these are procedures that no woman or couple ever want to have. Their stories are heartbreaking, and command our sympathies, and several of these stories have now gone viral in the wake of the debate. The exchange in the debate solved a big problem for Hillary Clinton, allowing her to display her genuine passion for this issue and her sympathy for the people it affects. Trump, on the other hand, only showed that he had taken the discussion into an area where he was completely ignorant.

It is now all but certain that Donald Trump will lose the election. The appeal of his brand is largely based on his persona as a winner, but he will have lost the biggest prize he ever tried for. If we see the landslide that now seems so likely, this persona will take an even bigger hit. The damage this election could do to the Republican Party would be an even bigger problem for Trump’s brand in the future. It is not a stretch to say that almost any activity Donald Trump could have engaged in over the last year would have been better for his business interests than the way he chose to run for president.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Victory We Need

In a previous post, I wrote about how important I believe it is to not opt out of this election, either by voting for a third party candidate or not at all. I still think that is important, but I realize that I was thinking in terms of normal strategy for a normal election. This election is not normal. Once in a generation, the Republican Party loses its way so completely that they nominate a candidate who represents a clear danger to everything the country I love stands for. The last one was Barry Goldwater in 1964. The new one is Donald Trump in 2016. If there was any doubt of that before, the release last weekend of the Access America video should put those doubts to rest.

Let me be clear. I do not believe Republican voters are evil. We have an honest philosophical difference that defines the set of solutions for the nation’s problems we think we should pursue. But Donald Trump does not represent traditional Republicans. He represents instead the completion of a takeover of the Republican Party by a group of dangerous extremists ruled by hatred and fear. This is the culmination of a lengthy process that had George W Bush making us a nation of torturers, and Mitt Romney playing to these extremists in order to secure his nomination. It goes back to coded language like “law and order” that encouraged fear of the “other” in our society. And it is the reason the sixteen other options traditional Republicans had to choose from this primary season were such an unappealing lot. It is also how the Republican Party became a Party that refuses to govern when a Democrat is president. Congress as a whole is not the reason why their approval ratings are so low; it is the fact that these extremist Republicans hold undue influence over the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. So Donald Trump may be the current figurehead, but it is important to understand that he is only part of the problem. His nomination did not occur in a vacuum.

So, what can we do about it? Obviously, first and foremost, Donald Trump must not become president. But a close election would normalize everything he has done. It would be easy then to say, “Well, it didn’t work this time, but next time we’ll get it right.” There must be no next time. The results of this election must be an unmistakable rejection of Donald Trump and the forces that brought him to power. We need a victory by Hillary Clinton that is so thorough that no one could possibly believe the election was rigged. We need an election with coattails that give Clinton Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. To get there, progressives need to set aside their protest votes for another time, and insure a Clinton landslide of historic proportions. Traditional Republicans need to understand that they must throw what their party has become under the bus this year, in order to reclaim the Party in the future. We need a rejection of Republican House candidates in “safe” districts, especially but not only those who will not renounce Trump.

With luck, this will force the Republican Party establishment to realize that they must once again become a party that shares in the governance of our country. It will also allow Hillary Clinton to govern from further to the left than she will be able to if her Party does not win the Congress. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren might be able to head Senate committees. Clinton could count on getting more liberal nominees to the Supreme Court out of the Judiciary Committee than a Republican-controlled Senate would allow. And the American people, all of the American people, would be able to see for the first time in far too long what good the Government can do when given the chance to actually govern.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Rich Are Different

In this election, we have something we have not seen before. Both candidates come, without apologies, from wealth. The rags to riches story is a staple of American politics, used even by candidates who had to severely strain credulity to claim it. But this year, there are no such claims. Donald Trump was born into an obscenely wealthy family, and Hillary Rodham Clinton was also comes from money. On a subconscious level, the negative approval ratings of both candidates are a statement of class resentment. Because the rich are different, and Americans are not comfortable with the differences.

You can see this when you look at some of the scandals the Clintons have been linked to. In Whitewater, large sums of money changed hands, so there must have been wrongdoing. But for a person of wealth, the amounts of money were not that large, and this was simply a deal that went sour. It happens, and you move on to the next deal. You and I might never be in a position to make such deals, and certainly not take shake off a failed one in this way, but the rich don’t think like us. More recently, Hillary Clinton has drawn fire for her speaking fees from Wall Street firms, and for the donations the Clinton Foundation has received. Goldman Sachs payed her more for one speech than we might earn in four years of hard work. So yes, I would be powerfully influenced by someone who payed me that much all at once. But Hillary Clinton didn’t even need the money; she gave it to charity. When she gives a speech, she accepts a fair market price for her services, and her customers do hope to influence her. But it is all too easy to forget that it is a two way street; Clinton also hopes to influence them. Bill Clinton’s presidency was all about creating a new paradigm for the Democratic Party, a partnership of government and wealth for the purpose of doing as much good as possible. There are limits to this approach, places where the common man gets left behind in the name of compromise. But the Clinton Foundation is a fine example of how much good work can be done this way. Almost 90% of the funds donated go to the Foundation’s programs, and all donations are publicly disclosed. It’s a terrible way to buy favors, but it’s a great vehicle for burnishing your reputation, a verifiable good deed you can boast about. The Clinton Foundation works on AIDS and other public health issues in the third world, climate change, and antipoverty programs in the US and abroad.

And so it is with the rich. To them, money is a tool for extending influence. They give and receive it to burnish their reputations, to try to win an argument, and to recruit allies for their various causes. Bill Gates tries to further his education initiatives. George Soros promotes progressive causes including Black Lives Matter. Even the Koch brothers are trying to advance a social agenda they truly believe in, by playing the influence game. But Donald Trump is an aberration within this world.

The unmasking this week of Donald Trump as a sexual predator really only serves to complete a portrait that has been developing for some time, and extends far beyond issues of gender. Trump truly believes that his wealth means that he can do anything he wants. He can, as he has boasted, buy off politicians and others, as seen in his political donations to end fraud investigations into Trump University. Judge Curiel’s crime, in this world view, is not his Mexican heritage at all, but the fact that he refuses to be bought. Trump believes that his riches and fame mean that no one should refuse him anything, so naturally no woman should ever refuse his sexual advances, no matter how coarse. He took for granted that officials within the Republican Party would have no choice but to line up to support him, and he was right. That may have changed with this week’s revelations, but it is also possible that the Party will come back to his side once the storm blows over. Where Hillary Clinton understands that power is a tool that is not for her exclusive use, Trump believes it is his birthright. Trump can stand in front of a crowd in Ohio and talk about how trade deals are costing American jobs, while dressed entirely in clothes bearing his brand which are made in China, because it is all a game to him. His voters are people whose concerns don’t matter to him, but who can be fooled into doing his will. Where Hillary Clinton can not truly understand what it is like to be poor, Donald Trump does not want or try to understand.

I work with a wide variety of people at my job. We are all in roughly the same place economically, but we are each individuals, and we respond differently to the same circumstances. Hillary Clinton is a rich woman doing the best she can to help. Donald Trump is an outlier, interested only in himself. The rich are different from us, and also from each other.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Few Words About Misogyny

Misogyny. There are a couple of problems that I have with it in this campaign. This year, misogyny is the poisonous idea that anyone who does not intend to vote for Hillary Clinton is taking that position because Clinton is female. At their worst, the misogyny crowd does not even give credit to those who try to prove gender is not an issue for them by supporting Jill Stein. The truth is, gender is an issue for all of us if we are honest, but there are other reasons why someone could not support Hillary Clinton that don’t get addressed as soon as misogyny enters the discussion.

It is certainly true that Hillary Clinton is being held to a much more rigorous standard than her opponent by the media. But blaming that on gender ignores other important reasons for this. I see one standard for coverage of Clinton that amounts to the normal vetting of a presidential candidate in years past. In the last two elections before this one, Barack Obama was held to this standard, but so were Mitt Romney and John McCain. Reporters and pundits believed that any of them might become president, and so the coverage focused on what that might mean for the country. This year, only Clinton is being covered that way, although there are some signs that that may be changing. But up to now, Donald Trump has been held to the same standard as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein; they are interesting side shows, but only Clinton has the chance to actually become president. Trump is more interesting than the other two because he was somehow the best the Republican Party could offer the American people this year, but he is obviously not suited to be president, so no vetting is needed. That attitude in the press has created a situation where a horrible accident could occur, and Trump could actually get elected. But gender has nothing to do with it.

Another reason someone might withhold support from Hillary Clinton is an honest difference of opinion on the issues. This goes back to the primary campaign, where supporters of Bernie Sanders were accused of misogyny, but it still comes up now. In the primary campaign, if you said that Sanders was the more electable candidate, were you saying that you personally would not vote for a woman? If your answer to that question was, no but I don’t think the country is ready, the misogyny police came out in force. But I never saw anyone in the Sanders camp actually say that. Sanders was supposedly more electable because he wasn’t burdened with all the scandals that had gathered around Hillary Clinton over the years. This had nothing to do with gender, since the scandals had begun as attacks on Bill Clinton. More recently, the email scandal has played differently for Hillary Clinton than it did for Colin Powell, for example. But that is because the Republicans and their allies in the right wing media don’t go after their own. In bringing up misogyny in this context, an important difference between the two major Parties gets ignored.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly believe that misogyny is real, and that it is a factor in some people’s voting decisions this year. But calling someone out as a misogynist is not going to win hearts, minds, or votes. In 2008, the best answer to racism was to elect President Obama, and let him prove as he has so well that a black man was well suited to the job of president. So it is now. Hillary Clinton will prove that a woman can do the job by doing it. Until then, we who intend to vote for her do her a great disservice by crying misogyny whenever someone disagrees with us. Name calling is not a way to win an election, especially if it is a substitute for a real discussion of the issues.

I said at the beginning of this article that I had a couple of problems with misogyny. The second problem is the word itself, and what it tells us about the use of language in this campaign. Misogyny is a beast of a word to spell. Sexism is a rough definition, but it lacks the nuance one gets with the word misogyny. Hillary Clinton is a very intelligent person who thinks hard about the details. She tends to try to use exactly the right word to say what she means. Trump, on the other hand, deals in generalities. His language is blunt and lacking in precision, but, unlike Clinton, he uses language in much the same way his supporters do. This is why, with all the documented lies Trump has told, a recent poll showed that people think he is more honest than Clinton. Her use of language involves a precision that feels to some people like she is showing off her big vocabulary. She is a member of the elite, in this view, who don’t understand the problems of real Americans. If she uses words and phrases that voters don’t hear from the others in their social circles, it can also reinforce the idea that she speaks in this manner to conceal important matters from the electorate. Someone who feels this way would say instead, “She talks that way because she is hiding something.” If Hillary Clinton wants to inspire trust, she can start at tomorrow night’s debate by simplifying her language. She will lose some precision, but she will gain a connection that has eluded her up to now. She will help voters decide that she is someone they would enjoy having a beer with. This is a completely shallow standard for choosing a president, and it has nothing to do with the ability to govern, but study after study has shown that it is how many people vote. And it has everything to do with use of language, and very little to do with misogyny.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Madame Secretary,

I will be voting for you in November, because I believe this country faces a stark and obvious choice in this election. I live in a solid blue state that you will carry with or without my vote, but I also believe it is important to participate in the process if you wish to change it. I also hope that your margin of victory will have a bearing on the agenda you choose to pursue. That said, I am disturbed by what I have seen so far in this campaign. In particular, I watched the Commander in Chief Forum, and I was not comfortable with what I saw. This event marked the beginning of the real campaign, the post Labor Day period where the American people turn their focus in earnest to the choosing of the president. This is where you have to get us to trust you, and your performance last night did not do that.

“Performance” is exactly the problem, in fact. You gave good answers to the questions you were asked, but, as is so often the case, they felt rehearsed and planned. I know that is part of running for office, but it is especially important for you to make us feel that we are hearing not what you think you should say but rather what you genuinely believe. Donald Trump may inspire fear and disgust with the things he says, but no one doubts that they are seeing him for who he is. I have read articles that say that, in private, you are a great listener, and you inspire great loyalty as a result. We the American people need to see that side of you. We need to see you not explaining, but just caring. That is how you will earn our trust. That is how you will turn my vote of necessity into a vote of enthusiasm. And that is how you will make it harder for your enemies to get these endless scandals to stick to you.

So, I have a suggestion. As often as possible, set up events where you meet one on one with a private citizen. It should be someone who does not totally agree with you, maybe even someone who is leaning towards voting for Donald Trump or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Present a private conversation with this person on live television. There should be no moderators, no live audience, and most importantly, you must have no idea in advance what questions this person will ask. Just sit down to talk for an hour, and let the cameras roll. Be yourself, and let us see who that is.

I know how this sort of thing works. I can not ask this of you unless I hold up my end of the bargain. So yes, if you wanted to have one of these conversations with me, I would be willing. There is actually a lot I would like to tell you and ask you, and it wouldn’t be all softball questions. I don’t want to put my contact information out in this public forum, but I should not be hard to find if you are interested. I would not accept any compensation, because I do not want this to have any appearance of impropriety. Having said all that, I really don’t expect you to choose me. But I hope you will somehow see this, and will consider doing these events. Thank you.

Darius Rips

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

A few days ago, I posted an article on Facebook which raked Jill Stein’s platform over the coals, and demonstrated that her proposals are not based on reality. The author used this to make the case that Stein is completely unsuited to be president. In sharing this, I missed the point, and so did the article. I expected that the article would set off a firestorm of comments, and it did. What I did not expect is that no one really bothered to refute the points the article actually made. Instead of arguing that they believe in Stein, my friends instead began lining up their attacks on Hillary Clinton. Others came to Clinton’s defense, including me, but we did not stress Stein’s faults either. The argument is still raging. In thinking about all this, I realized that Jill Stein’s fitness to be president is beside the point. Almost no one is voting for her to be president. They are voting to express their anger at how the Democratic nominating process was handled. They are expressing their displeasure with Bernie Sanders for wanting to work within the system for change, and surrendering his perceived ideological purity to do so. And most of all, they are voting to express their mistrust of Hillary Clinton.

When you understand this kind of voting, you begin to see it everywhere. The Republican Party establishment had coronated Jeb Bush as their standard bearer before their nominating process ever got going. They knew he was a weak candidate, but they thought that, by flooding the field with Tea Party protest choices, they could get Bush through to the nomination. The field of extremists would cancel each other out, making the size of the field the perfect defense against further encroachment. They did not expect that Donald Trump would quickly master his role as a protest candidate. As with Jill Stein, Trump’s fitness to be president does not matter to his faithful, because they do not expect him to be elected. Instead, he is a figurehead who gives them an avenue to express their anger. The absurd proposals he reiterated this week regarding immigration do not matter, because his followers don’t want real policy proposals from him. They want his anger at trade policies, perceived preferential treatment of minorities, and his disdain for elites like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who think they know what is best for the people Trump speaks to.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, has been pushed as a possible counter-protest choice for Republicans who can not bring themselves to support Trump. Johnson and his party stand, more than anything, for severe limits on government. Keep in mind that establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell have dedicated themselves to the refusal to govern for a Democratic president, and the choice of Johnson as a protest becomes understandable. In some ways, a Republican vote for Johnson is an expression of anger at themselves for failing to control their own party. For a progressive voter, a vote for Johnson is a rejection of our political process. It is an exercise in bomb throwing, saying that the process does not work, and the only way to fix it is to destroy it. Neither a progressive nor a Republican who votes for Johnson is saying anything about whether Johnson is fit to be president.

The most interesting protest candidate to consider in this light is Bernie Sanders. I have no doubt that Sanders began his campaign as a protest. As an avowed socialist who lived most of his life during the Cold War, Sanders must have started with the assumption that he would not win. He also must have known that, as a Jew, he would have to deal with anti-Semitic attacks if he became the nominee. Hillary Clinton would never have stooped so low, but Donald Trump certainly would have, and I am grateful that we never had to find out how well it might have worked. A vote for Sanders then, as he framed it, was a vote for the economically dispossessed who were being ignored by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. For Sanders, this was always a protest from within, which is why he ran as a Democrat to begin with. Of course we know what happened. Sanders drew far more support than even he expected. His socialism proved not to be an obstacle for far more Americans than he ever dreamed. It was when it started to get real that the Sanders campaign began to slow down. Faced with the possibility that he might actually become the nominee, it suddenly began to matter how he would actually govern, and Sanders got bogged down somewhat in the details. In the end, he came up short of the needed delegates. At that point, he did what he had said he would do from the very beginning. He fought for, and won, concessions to his positions, and then he came out in support of Hillary Clinton. Up to now, his is the only protest candidacy this year that has succeeded on its terms.

Growing up as I did in a family that placed a great importance on politics, I lived through many arguments about the value of protest voting versus supporting an actual potential president. The conclusion that I reached is the one I am sticking to this year. Primaries are the times to support protest candidates, the time to express one’s ideals for what the president should be and do. In the general election, especially one where the differences between the candidates are as stark as they are this year, I vote for the best potential president available. By refusing to opt out of the process by protest voting, I believe I am letting the Democratic Party know that I must be counted, this year and in elections to come, as a likely voter. A Republican who wants to influence his or her party this way can vote for Trump if they believe he represents the direction the Party should go in, or he or she can let the Republican establishment know that things have gotten out of hand by voting for Hillary Clinton. The system we have is not going to be destroyed by the protest votes of perhaps 15% of the electorate, (a generous number). Instead, I believe, these voters are telling the two major parties that they can ignore their votes, and govern only for the ones who actually put and keep them in office. There is nothing ideological pure about this, and I hope for the chance to criticize President Hillary Clinton in this space starting next year. But I will not withhold my vote from her, given everything that is at stake.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Company You Keep

It is becoming apparent that Donald Trump has very little chance of being elected in November. It’s hard to call his actions missteps when his latest revamping of his campaign staff seems to indicate a belief on his part that his problems stem from too much restraint in the name of unifying the party. Perhaps it was the publication last week of two open letters from the Republican Establishment that led Mr Trump to conclude that he should stop trying to please the Establishment wing of the party if this was the thanks he would get. In this letter, Republican legislators and campaign officials appealed to Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, to stop all financial support of the Trump campaign, and instead devote all financial support to Senate and House races. The signees believe that Trump may cost the Republicans their current majorities in both the House and the Senate. By contrast, this letter from former Republican national security officials does not seek any result beyond making sure that Donald Trump does not become president. What both letters share, however, is a firm resolve to disown the Trump phenomenon, to say that voters should not judge the Party by its current nominee. So it is worth asking if voters should in fact make this linkage.

The letter to Priebus is the least credible in this respect. It is saying, “Don’t let the American people blame us for Trump”, but the Republicans in the Senate are still saying by their refusal to even hold hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland that they are holding out in the hopes that Donald Trump can be elected and name a replacement. Mitch McConnell and others stated early in the process that they wanted the American people to decide in November who should be the next Justice; that statement has backfired badly, and become an implicit endorsement of Trump. The letter from the national security experts is on firmer ground, because its signees do not hold and are not seeking office. Still, they have been promoters of the Republican brand for many years, and Donald Trump did not arise from a vacuum.

Donald Trump represents what might be called a “political breakout”. In the stock market, a stock or index can reach a certain price level several times, only to fall back again. That price is referred to as the resistance point. There is eventually a final push, and the price “breaks out”, usually hitting price levels far above the previous resistance point. This is illustrated in the chart above. A breakout does not have to measure the actual value of a stock; instead it is a measure of mass psychology, a final squashing of the doubters, however strong their arguments. The politics of fear have been practiced by the Republican Party since at least 1968, with Nixon’s appeals for law and order. In subsequent elections, various Republican standard bearers invoked welfare queens and Willie Horton in the name of faux patriotism. This in turn fueled the rise of the Tea Party, along with financing from the Koch brothers and others, and the building of a media machine that spread deliberate misinformation designed to spark anger and fear. All of this was done in the belief that the Republican Establishment, our letter writers, could control and use the forces of negativity they were cultivating. This is the year that the Establishment found out they were wrong. Trump has broken through their resistance, and he controls them.

I think the letter writers really do believe what they have written and signed their names to. They are sincerely shocked and appalled by Trump’s excesses. They genuinely fear the harm his candidacy could do to his fellow Republicans. But they created this situation over the course of many years. Trump has gathered the angry mob, but they were the ones who stoked that anger, carefully they thought, for all this time. Trump has taken all this negative energy and harnessed it. Our letter writers belatedly recognize the danger, but they have not accepted their responsibility for it yet. That will be a job for voters in November.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Trickling Down With Trump

On Monday, Donald Trump unveiled his economic plan. It contained no actual numbers, so it wasn’t so much a plan as a theory. He sprinkled his comments with jabs at Hillary Clinton which could be, and were, fact checked, and Trump was shown to be dishonest once again. But the big lie in his speech was the theory he was touting, and that went unchallenged. The theory was the one that has been the mantra of establishment Republicans since Ronald Reagan: that massive tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations create jobs. In fact, the experiment has been tried, and it failed miserably. We don’t have to refute this with more theory when we have actual evidence. With just a little thought, we can find the fatal flaw in this theory. And it is also fair to talk about unintended consequences.

The United States had eight years of huge tax cuts of the sort Trump wants when George W Bush was president, and they gave us the weakest economic recovery in American history. The stimulus that was supposed to follow from this never happened, so we also saw a vast increase in the federal deficit. Pundits on the right will sometimes point out that we can’t know what the deficit might have looked like if we had not also been at war, but Trump gives me no confidence in that regard. Job growth was anemic, which made the 2007-2008 collapse far more painful than it needed to be. To understand why, you need to realize that trickle economics assumes that companies do not hire because they can not afford to. Why else would tax cuts stimulate the economy? But this assumption makes no sense. We have seen companies post record profits and sit on hordes of cash, but where are the jobs? And what happens to the money, if it does not prod hiring? One thing that happens is an increase in mergers and corporate takeovers. These actually cost the economy jobs.

Another is an increase in speculative investing. This is what wealthy individuals do with their tax cuts when they are supposed to be creating jobs. The Bush cuts created a new, lower tax rate for capital gains. Before, capital gains were taxed at the same rate as regular income, but Bush created a new rate that was about half the rate for earned income. A capital gain is the profit you make when you sell an investment for more than you bought it for. So now, when you calculated the risk of an investment, you could figure in the reduced tax rate. The new capital gains rate meant that it now made more sense than before to buy oil and gas futures as investments. This has meant that everyone pays a price at the pump that is inflated by the purchases of speculators. But the capital gains tax cut also made junk mortgage investments more attractive, thereby making the 2008 financial crisis worse. Trump, in his speech, also targeted what he called excessive regulations, so he would restore the conditions that made the 2008 crisis so serious. In particular, he made his billions in real estate, so he can be expected to work hard to remove any and all regulations on the real estate industry. Liar loans and other abuses in the mortgage industry that led to the financial crisis are all good for Trump’s business.

It is only fair to ask what does create jobs. Before Ronald Reagan sold the nation trickle down religion, it was widely understood that the real reason companies hire is that they expect to sell more stuff. That means good marketing and good new products, but it also requires a large number of consumers with spendable cash. This is why, in actual case histories, minimum wage increases generally lead to increases in hiring. So do boosts to programs like Food Stamps and Social Security. In theory, Universal Health Care in the United States would cost jobs in the insurance industry, but those losses would be more than offset by increases in consumer spending. Companies would also see a sharp reduction in their labor costs, since they would no longer have to provide medical benefits. Donald Trump wants to take this country in the opposite direction, and we have seen before where that would take us.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

In this bizarre campaign season, I am seeing a lot of talk about third parties. Nearly half of all registered voters are now registered as independents, and fantasies are being spun that these voters somehow represent a unified bloc that only awaits a hero for them to rally behind. Could it be Jill Stein? Gary Johnson? Bernie Sanders, if only he had been willing to try? Progressives who are dreaming this way have not thought through what a viable progressive third party could mean. In any case, most registered independents will actually vote for one or the other of the major parties, but do not want their registrations to commit them to either party in advance. Having said all that, we may be witnessing the birth of a viable third party this year, but not the one progressives are talking about.

Let’s suppose that a group of people had done the years of hard work it would take, starting from the ground up, and actually built a viable progressive third party in time for this year’s election. Let’s call it the Progressive Party. To be viable, they would have started years ago by running in very local races, and grown organically to the point where they now had members of both the Senate and the House, and they were able to stage primaries and caucuses in all fifty states and hold a national nominating convention. So now, the Progressive Party presents to the country their first candidate for president of the United States, who I will call John Doe. For those who are bitter that Bernie Sanders did not win the Democratic nomination, and who refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton, Doe is their dream candidate. Roughly 13 million people voted in the primaries for Sanders, and that sounds like a lot of people. But it is only about 10% of the total turnout in the last two presidential elections, so it is not enough to elect anyone, even with three candidates on the ballot. Knowing that, many of those 13 million voters would stay with the Democrats and vote for Clinton, especially since the Progressive Party, in the eyes of a majority of the public, is brand new. So, generously now, Doe is going to receive about 5% of the vote. That’s a great start, something to build on to be sure, but nowhere near a win. The vast majority of those votes come from the Democrats, so it becomes more likely that Trump wins. In trying to build a progressive third party, there would be an initial cost of Republican victories that could have been Democratic ones. This year, we face an extraordinary election, and the risk is simply too great. I would like to see someone build a viable third party like this, but we might have to sacrifice a few elections before this model would yield a John Doe who could actually win the presidency.

But, historically, this is not the model for how American third parties have arisen. It may well be that a scenario like the one I just outlined has kept any grass roots party from achieving the critical mass necessary to become a viable third party. That transitional phase where the growing pains of a new party cost an established party a series of elections is just too great a price to pay. Instead, third parties in our history have arisen from schisms within existing parties. In 1824, the Whigs and the Democrats arose from a split in the Democratic-Republican Party. In the 1850s, a split in the Whigs over the issue of slavery yielded the Republican Party. In both cases, a viable third party arose at the expense of one of the two previous parties, one of which soon vanished.

The modern Republican Party has been hijacked by far right wing extremists, and the Trump nomination represents their greatest victory to date. Old school Republicans remember a party that collaborated with Democrats to actually govern the country, but that doesn’t happen now. For some years now, moderate Republicans have been leaving either the Party or the government, as the extreme wing has made it harder for them to hold off far right challenges in their primaries. In the primary season just passed, there was more of a hope than an effort to promote an establishment candidate who could withstand the rise of Donald Trump. The Party no longer had an attractive moderate candidate for old school Republicans to rally around. So now there are important Republicans who fear that Trump is headed for a defeat in November of historic proportions. They fear that his campaign could produce such in bad taste for voters that the Republicans could also lose control of one or both houses of Congress. And so we are seeing every day now a story about another Republican who has announced that he is leaving the party, rather than risk being associated in any way with the Republican candidate for president. Especially if Trump does lose by a landslide in November, we could be seeing a split in the Republican Party, and the birth of a new third party. This would be a center-right party, more like what the Republicans were like in the 1960s. Some moderates who left the Republicans could easily swell the ranks of this new party, as could people like Jim Webb, who previously left the Republican Party to become a conservative Democrat. They would be able to offer a slate of candidates with name recognition who could start winning elections immediately.

If this third party comes to be, it would push the current Republican Party far to the right, as its remaining more rational members would join the new party. Initially, the Democrats could be the big beneficiaries of this, as the conservative vote is split. But I think, as happened in our history, this new party would quickly supplant the old Republicans, who might live on as a fringe party on the far right, but would never again enjoy the power they have now. In this scenario, The Democratic Party, by virtue of losing some of its most conservative members to the new party, would become somewhat more progressive. But , while this altered Democratic Party would be more welcoming for progressive candidates, those who seek an alternative to the current Democrats would keep looking.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Do the Math

Politics, in the end, is a branch of mathematics. The candidates must decide how to attract voters and donations to their causes. These calculations involve millions of voters and dollars. But much smaller numbers can be just as important.The political math I have been thinking about lately involves the numbers one and two.

One is the size of a possible Democratic majority in the Senate. It could be that close, so every seat will be essential. I live in New Jersey. We do not elect a Senator this year, but we are also a solid blue state. I can usually vote my conscience. But, to gain a Democratic majority this year, not everyone will have that luxury. It might come down to what happens in Indiana, for example. Evan Bayh is nobody’s idea of a progressive, although his voting record is better than I would have expected. But a victory for him is a progressive victory. To see why, you first have to understand that Indiana is not going to elect a true progressive to the Senate. Remember, this is a state that thinks having Mike Pence for their governor is a good idea. But if a Bayh victory means the Democrats control the Senate, the Democrats would gain the chairmanships of all of the Senate committees. Surely some of those chairpersons would be progressives. Beyond that though, a Democratic Senate would mean that Clinton could nominate a more progressive judge to the Supreme Court than she would if the Republicans retained control. A Democratic Judiciary Committee chairman would allow this nomination to get out of committee to be voted on by the full Senate.

Two is the number of terms a president can serve since the ratification of the 22nd amendment in 1951. Lately I have been seeing a lot of posts advocating term limits for the House and Senate. A recent one also called for cutting the lifetime pensions for Congressmen from the current level of, if I remember correctly, $117,000 a year. Two assumptions are involved in this. One is that $117,000 is a lot of money. To most members of Congress, it is not. The majority of members of both the house and Senate are millionaires. More to the point, many parlay their government experience and connections into high paying lobbying positions when they leave congress. Cutting the pension would only create a greater incentive to do so. The second assumption term limit advocates make is that outgoing legislators would be replaced by better people. That’s just silly. If that were possible, the person you wanted replaced would not have been elected in the first place. Term limits are also a blunt instrument, forcing out both good and bad people. Again, I live in New Jersey, and we had the good fortune to have as our Senator Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg was elected to five terms, and he had one of the most progressive records in the Senate over that time. It does no good for me to sit in New Jersey and call for term limits as a way to remove Mitch McConnell from his Senate seat in Kentucky. It is up to progressives in Kentucky to mobilize and work for McConnell’s defeat. Otherwise, whoever replaced McConnell might not have the power that his long service has brought, but he or she would be no better otherwise. In the House, term limits are a particularly bad idea. A person could only serve for a total of four years, all of which would be spent campaigning for that lobbyist job. A much better way to counter the power of entrenched legislators is to be in the habit of casting meaningful votes in Congressional election years. Progressives have been terrible at this recently; we were almost invisible in the 2010 and 2014 elections, allowing Republicans to gain and extend their majorities in those years.

Related to this last point, and also a matter of numbers, is the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Most experts predict that the Democrats will not be able to take the House this year, because there are too many safe Republican districts. These are the result of gerrymandering. We can deplore it all we like, but we as progressive voters must learn to do more. Gerrymandering happens when redistricting is done every ten years. At that time, each state draws its districts to favor the party that controls the state house and state legislature. These posts are decided in odd-year elections, and we progressives have been almost completely absent in these elections. In 2015, Bernie Sanders was calling for his political revolution, but his supporters did not show up to vote. The Tea Party never makes that mistake. They made a point at first of always voting, even when the available Republican was not conservative enough for them. Over time, they were able to take over the process, and elect the candidates they wanted. As a result, their electees controlled the redistricting process in much of the country in 2010. We have only until 2020, when the next redistricting happens, to try to reverse this trend.

All of these political equations yield the same result. We must vote meaningfully. As things stand, that means supporting some candidates who are not perfect. But as we become the likely voters that are the pollsters’ sole concern, we will start to have more candidates we can feel good about. In the meantime, we must understand that our votes for the least bad candidate in one place can empower a better candidate somewhere else. They can also create more chances to get better candidates elected. To unseat those who have gained the power to block action on our issues, we must do the hard work of actually winning an election against the odds. Even if Bernie Sanders had actually won the nomination and the presidency, that would not have been enough to solve these equations. That will take time, commitment, and patience.