Sunday, April 30, 2017

Democratic Party Gala: The Truth Exposed!!!

Event Program Cover
The truth isn't shocking in the least.  Actually, it is about what you might expect.  Sometimes exposing the truth means exposing simple, everyday competence in building and maintaining a political institution.

I witnessed a hotel ballroom.  Women dressed up, men in jackets and ties.  Dinner.  Speeches.  Congratulations. Thank-yous.

In the event readers have never been to a political party function let me offer an up- close description. The purpose is to strengthen the party institution.   Its leaders meet its activists.   The organization recognizes and awards plaques to its most active volunteers.  There is a "headliner" guest speaker who validates the organization and speaks to the importance of its mission.

Headline Speaker
There is some version of this at the annual gala banquet for any number of institutions: a hospital, a university foundation, an nonprofit organization.  It is the annual institution-confirming gala event.   Business organizations do a version of this at an annual Holiday Party at year end: thank you, congratulations, employee of the year, carry on bigger and better.

Here is what happened at the 8th Annual Wayne Morse Gala, held at the Hilton Hotel in Portland.  It was the annual fundraising and organization-building event for the Democratic Party of Oregon.

1.  Invitations were sent, by email.   Invitees were told to save the date and to buy tickets to the dinner at a price of $125 each.   The headliner was to be Keith Ellison, a progressive congressman from Minneapolis and a suburb.  In a divisive fight he lost to Tom Perez for the role of head of the Democratic National Committee.  Bernie Sanders supported Ellison; Perez had the support of the more "establishment" Democrats.  Immediately after losing Perez asked Ellison to serve as Deputy Chair, and he accepted.  

Mix and Mingle with the Governor

2.  The VIP Mingle Period.    The venue was the Hilton Hotel penthouse meeting space..   As is common in events of this kind there are two events, one after the other.  There is a VIP event then a larger event.   The VIP event is for the various party leaders including elected officials, plus major donors and activists, to mingle with each other and the headliner.   Something of this sort happens in most fundraising events.  In this case people who were members of the President's Circle (i.e. $1,000 per year donors in this case) were invited, as were leaders from the major support groups of the Democratic Party in Oregon.  Especially visible were leaders from the SEIU, a public employee union.   About 200 people mingled in a 23rd floor view site meeting area.
Dem. Party Exec. Director

This is a time and place for chance meetings where issues can be discussed one on one.  Debra Lee, attorney and Executive Director of my local Legal Services program bumped into the State Senator , Michael Dembrow, whose committee is dealing with an issue of special importance to them both, the rules and funding mechanism for providing guardianships to seniors with dementia who have no obvious family member to play that role.  Her Legal Services program does that work.   

Gov. Kate Brown, Debra Lee, and State Sen. Michael Dembrow
Until I mentioned it here I suspect readers never gave a moment's thoughts to that problem.  What happens when a confused 85 year old person, who perhaps has some assets and who gets Social Security now needs someone to assist her in paying utility bills and otherwise handling her finances and making health care decisions.   They are frequently taken advantage of by others and they all need someone to step in to make decisions  Who does it?  Who pays for it? What authority do they have and what accountability is there?  Who makes those rules?    This mix and mingle portion of the event facilitates hat kind of meeting.

Bad selfie with State Treasurer Tobias Read
It is also a time when activists and donors meet elected officials.  They each want the contact, the handshake, the "glad to meet a good Democrat from Medford" talk.  They welcome selfies and the exchange of names.   Candidates want to meet donors.   On the left is an unusually bad selfie, the best of three bad selfies I took.

In this case the VIP mix and mingle period lasted an hour and fifteen minutes.

3.  The big event.   Downstairs in the big Hilton ballroom the venue was set up with a lectern, two big screens to create a large video version of the speaker, and about 150 round tables set up for ten people each.  It was crowded.  It was a "plated" event, i.e. servers brought out the main meal, which was hard to do.  The tables were close together and the room was packed.  They dealt with it by putting out the salads and desserts in advance because there was so little time to serve them separately.  It meant the tables were filled to capacity with plates, centerpiece, bottles of donated wine, salads, dessert, goblets.

There was a subtle message in the look of the tables:  there are a lot of Democrats here today.
Gala ballroom

The Democratic Party Chair, Jeanne Atkins, was the MC.   There was the Pledge of Allegiance then a move directly to awards and recognitions and thank you mentions of donors.  This period of the program went on for over an hour.   The crowd was restless and there was lots of table talk during this period but the program organizers and MC ignored this cue.  A field organizer in Eastern Oregon was retiring and there were two long speeches plus a videotaped congratulation from Ron Wyden: fifteen minutes total.  Other awardees got nearly similar treatment.  

Serious talk
There was a fundraising portion.  Typical nowadays is a technique of asking the crowd for large donations--in this case starting with $5,000--then $2,500, then $2,000, then $1,000 and so on.  That is what happened here.

There was some prep work done in advance of this.   I had received a phone call from Ellen Rosenbaum, the state's attorney general, a Democrat, and she said she had the duty of pre-arranging some gifts so that people would be counted on to announce a major gift.  For this kind of fundraising to feel energizing to the audience it needs to go quickly and the person doing the "ask" needs to know that gifts are ready to come in at the announced level.  Ideally the person doing the ask has an enthusiastic manner made more enthusiastic as people shout out gifts and ideally that person knows the identity of the donor so the asker can thank the donor by name keep the patter going, e.g. "That's John and Mary Doe, thank you, they are from Eugene, is there anyone else from Eugene?  Another Duck?  Surely there is a Beaver here who will join them, one more donor?  Yes! That is the Smith's from Beaverton, a Duck from Beaverton, thank you, anyone else?," etc.   

I estimate it raised about $25,000 from gifts announced at that time.

Good retail skills
Governor Kate Brown spoke briefly and enthusiastically.   In my observation she has stepped up her political game significantly from her earlier campaign in 2016.  She is presenting as more energetic, more decisive, and her retail skills, which I described a week ago after an event in Medford, have gotten good. Simply: she gives a good handshake and she is now doing meet-and-greet aggressively and well.  She is not just happy to meet you.  She is thrilled.

Portland area congressman Earl Blumenhauer introduced Keith Ellison.  Ellison is black and he converted to Islam as a young man.  He spoke partially in the manner familiar in black Christian churches,  an oratorical style including call and response, fluidity, and a call to action.  It is more like Martin Luther King than Hillary, Bernie, or Trump.
Headline Speech:  "Hug out our differences."

Ellison spoke for exactly 30 minutes.  The theme and content of the speech was party unity.  He acknowledged the Bernie/Hillary divide in the party and said we should "hug it out."  He urged the people in the room to understand our obligation to reach out and build community.   We cannot tell people how to vote if we do not lay a groundwork of knowledge and empathy.   He said nothing about any issue beyond opposing Trump and his attack on progressive change. 

He finished at 10:00 p.m.

The MC Jeanne Atkins said thanks and goodbyes to a crowd that was standing and filing to the door.   The Gala event in the ballroom lasted three hours.  Democrats celebrated being Democrats.  Democrats saw each other and mingled.  The meeting was about institution building, and the institution was the Democratic Party of Oregon.  

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Obama takes the money. Disaster for Democrats.

It sends a terrible message.

Almost nobody changes their minds by reading a policy white paper.  We understand who is who and what they stand for by big bold messages.  We profile people. We get a sense. We fit people into archetype categories.   

Who is somebody, really?  We don't read the fine print; we look at what the person does.

That is why it is a miserable shame that former president Barrack Obama is getting paid $400,000 to give a talk at a Wall Street health care conference.  Understand, that it is legal and commonplace for a  celebrity to get paid and a former officeholder is a celebrity who draws a crowd.  But the speech signals something damaging to Obama and Obama's policies.

If Beyoncé gets paid it means that people want a lovely singer and it signals that she is a star.  It burnishes her reputation.  If a person understood to be intelligent gets paid a big fee presumably for saying clever and useful things it burnishes that reputation.  Big fee isn't the problem.  The problem is that the Wall Street speech money is going to Obama.

Obama is known for being president, for being a Democrat, for having policies that involved Wall Street that saved the firms and did not prosecute people wholesale for fraud.  Wall Street mortgage loan practices were risky, shockingly stupid, and self-destructive.  In some areas there was rule breaking (procedures for signatures, verifications of appraisals) but more generally the whole system involved fraud.

Institutions knew what they were doing included deception--deception of one another and deception of their customers. There is a term for this.   Financial fraud.

The Obama administration chose to consider the whole mess stupidity and accident, not fraudulent theft of billions.  This policy by George W Bush and continued for 8 years by Obama fueled a populist revolt.  The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, Trump.

No amount of fine print subtle argumentation (including in this blog) matters when it asserted that Obama did what was right and necessary in 2009 and to save the financial system and its institutions meant giving a pass to malefactors by calling them foolish but not criminal.

How should voters think and feel about this policy?  This blog and other thoughtful, nuanced articles said it was smart and necessary.  We had to save financial institutions to save the financial system to save the economy.  If we arrested all the top malefactors the institutions would collapse because their counter parties would lose trust in them.  That message is a whisper.  Obama shouted a very different message by accepting this speech.  

The big message, shown with body language and action:Democrats are sold out to Wall Street. Democrats are in it for the money.  Democrats are corporate whores. It positions Trump as the antidoe.  Maybe the guy too rich to corrupt, So he will maybe drain the swamp.  

This is a disaster got Democratic messaging.   It will be hard for a Democrat to condemn Obama, but if the do not they will appear weak.  If they do they will appear disloyal to a man many people admire. It positions Democrats as friendly with corrupt elites, no better than Republicans.

It may be too late--but not necessarily.  IF Obama were to announce he was going there to give them hell, and if he said that every penny was being sent directly to some charity to help homeless vets and if he said he extracted a promise to give money there in future years, an if in fact his speech gives them hell, and if in fact the news stories are "Obama blasts fat cat lawlessness" in the headlines, then this will mitigate the problem.   But even that won't be enough.

The first impression is a big, bold, unmistakable message:  Obama was a sold out tool of the wealthy all along. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

North Korea Propaganda Videos

North Koreans Get the Message

Take a moment and observe the propaganda videos of the people we are threatening. They are not planning to die.  They are planning to kill.

It helps to understand what your opponents are thinking.

We will strike North Korea if needed.
Donald Trump has announced an end to the current US policy toward North Korea known as "strategic patience."  Trump has defined that strategy as a cowardly failure that gave North Korea time further to develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems.  Time to take care of business, Trump said.   

A US diplomat told UN ambassadors "He will be the president that will deal with this. . . . [T]here will be a military solution if needed."

Americans felt relief.
This open talk of a "military solution" did not make big waves in the US because it was lost among the news clutter of the rest of the new Trump agenda.  Besides, Americans generally assume that North Korea is small, weak, and primitive.  It is a version of the same assumptions western powers had of Japan a hundred years ago, prior to the Russian-Japanese War.  North Koreans is poor, conditions are primitive, their scientists second rate.  The failed missile test this week confirmed this view, and there was a great deal of re-assuring news coverage.  Americans have in mind a pecking order of dominance: we are big and strong and North Korea is a pipsqueak.  And their missiles don't work.  

We are Americans.  We can wipe them out if we choose to. 

Comments by Americans on news stories about North Korea express this popular notion:  "If they do anything we will bomb them to smithereens."  "We will squash them like a bug."  "It will be total suicide."  "Let's get it over with and level them."

Thucydides' description of the causes of war are still relevant: self interest, honor, and fear.  Trump and Kim Jong-un both have honor at stake and both have fear of the intentions of the other.  Self interest may not matter.  Besides, a great many Americans assume, we can squash the fat kid and his primitive country.

Click Here: See the pride, power, and resolve
Americans should take a moment to think how the other side perceives this.   Kim Jung-un perceives--accurately--that the American president is threatening a sudden attack.  He openly says it is on the table as an option if they don't do what we want.

More than honor is at stake.  His own power and the sovereignty of his people are at stake.  Honor, fear, and self interest.

Message to his people and the world:  North Korea is not a victim.  It is a great and powerful and independent nation.   Kim Jong-un is communicating to his people that North Korea is a proud nation will not knuckle under to American aggression.  North Korea's leaders and public do not envision national suicide.  They consider themselves ready to fight defensively on their own beaches and aggressively by destroying American cities.  And they can survive a nuclear attack.  Their subways are 300 feet underground.
Click Here: Destroy Washington DC

One does not need to understand Korean to understand the propaganda videos and indeed the videos are a classic example of this blog's premise that political messaging is done with tone and body language, not words.   The music alone tells the story.  Watch this video and listen to the voice of the extraordinary narrator.   Her voice makes clear they are defending a proud independent resolute nation.  There is no reluctance or sense of tragedy.   They will defend themselves and kill tens of millions of Americans with heads held high in victory.

Click Here. North Korea Triumph. Kill American with glee.
Another propaganda video got widespread play in North Korea, for local audiences and to put fear into the minds of Americans.   The video joyfully depicts the bombing of American cities, with missiles raining down on San Francisco and an American flag.  They will squash us like a bug as we sit exposed and they survive and thrive in subways 300 feet underground.

The communication is with action, posture, tone, music, and images.  The message is utterly clear.   North Korea is good and great.  Americans are vile invaders.  North Koreans have pride and power and they are prepared to lash out and destroy the foreign threat and do so joyfully.    American are familiar with the tone of this and we have seen it before in movies when the calvary saves the fort, when the American ships win at Midway, when Americans land at Omaha Beach, when the earthlings kill the aliens, and when we talk about squashing North Korea like a bug.  

North Korea plans victory
The specter of war becomes more understandable when one watches the propaganda of a nation we are threatening.  Donald Trump does not have them cowering.  

They are not imagining Pyongyang being destroyed.  They are imagining the destruction of Washington DC, San Francisco, New York and the USA.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

PERS misery

No one in Government wants to face ugly truths.

This blog post is no fun.

State legislators are facing the grim reality that their pensions are underfunded.  People want to cross their fingers and hope for a magical solution.

Some truths are just too painful to think hard about.   The Oregon legislature (along with almost every other state legislature) is dealing with the problem of pension underfunding.  Oregon Public Employee Retirement System--PERS--assumed that some 70% of the money needed to pay pensions would come from earnings by the portfolio of saved and invested pension contributions.   It was a wonderful idea.  Free money, through the magic of investing, rather than taxing people.

The idea was so enticing and investment gains seemed so easy that beneficiaries of the system were guaranteed an 8%--now 7.5% net--investment return on a fixed income portfolio and, even more unrealistic, a rate of return from investments during the annuity  phase (the payout period after retirement) of 8%.  Typically an insurance company or other institution in the annuity payout business would invest that money in very safe, reliable investments since their obligation is known and relentless: a check a month.  Currently treasury bonds of 10 year maturity pay about 2%, not 8%.  A mix of almost-safe fixed income investments might boost the yield a little, but in a world in which the ten year treasury is 2%, investments that are safe enough to be in that portfolio don't pay a lot more than that baseline.  An interest return of 3.5% is ambitious, and a bill--#560--is under consideration which would make future calculations on annuity payouts to be based on that 3.5%, not 8%, plus some other changes.  

It doesn't fix past problems but it will lesson future underfunding.  People will not like this.  Labor leaders called it "outrageous", considering it too much of a cut.  Moreover, it would cause an immediate avalanche of people retiring which would itself further stress the system.   Picture it from the point of view of a long time employee in her late 50s or early 60s, and there are a lot of them.   If they immediately retire they get, say, $4,000 a month.   If they wait until next year or a couple of years, they get $2,500 a month because new rules would be in effect.  You can bet a great many of them will retire right now, while the old rules are in effect.
Click Here for the Story

There is a disaster facing the Oregon PERS and it is unpleasant for everyone:PERS promised--contracted for--benefits that go far beyond what they can pay without substantial new taxes to make up for what the investment returns almost certainly can not provide.  They promised 7.5% and 8% returns in a world of 3% investment returns.

I am confident most readers have a sense of the difference a return of 8% versus 2 or 3% in the build-up of a retirement account.  Most readers have experience here, watching their own accounts.  And many readers are comfortable with the "rule of 72", a lovely shorthand way of thinking about investment growth.   Divide an assumed investment return into 72.  The product is the years it takes for an investment to double.   

Example:  If there it a pool of $100,000 and the investment return is 8% then 72 divided by 8 is 9, and therefore the $100,000 grows to $200,000 in 9 years and to $400,000 in 18 years and $800,000 in 27 years.  Those early contributions of an employee with a 30 year career really grow.

In a 3% investment world, calculate that 3 goes into 72 exactly 24 times.   So $100,000 grows to $200,000 in 24 years and adds another $20,000 by the 27th year, for a total of $220,000 versus the $800,000.   The difference is huge.

But the consequences are equally bad on the payout side and readers may be less familiar with how this works and its implications.   Assume that the brand new retiree, a long time employee now age 64 has, thanks to investment returns and taxpayer deposits, created an pool of $500,000 to pay for her retirement which would be, on average 20 years, the approximate life expectancy for a 64 year old woman.   PERS would calculate that that pool would be paid down to zero over the next 20 years.  They would have reserved the money to pay her retirement, just the way the system is supposed to work.   

Imagine if the pool earned no yield at all, zero.  It could pay out $25,000 a year (20 times 25,000) and the money would run out exactly as predicted in 20 years.  Perfect.  If PERS had made no promises about returns other than a return of that principal over her lifetime then the system would be sound on the payout side,and they would pay her some $2,100 a month for the rest of her life.   But that is not the promise they made.

Instead, PERS promised that they would calculate the internal rate of return of that pool of $500,000 as if it earned 8% and would calculate the guaranteed payout for the rest of her life accordingly.  So when figuring how much her payout would be they came up with a much, much higher figure than the $2,100 a month they would pay out if they were simply withdrawing the principle.  After all, the $500,000 would earn $40,000 per year, not zero, in that first year, and almost that much the second year, and so on,  so as they paid down the amount the amount still left in the account would be earning that 8%.  They therefore could--and did figuring an 8% investment return--guarantee a monthly payment of  $4,182, or just over $50,000 a year.  That is what a $500,000 pool would allow if in fact it earned 8% per year as it slowly paid out over 20 years.

Unfortunately, 8% investment returns are simply not realistic.  So taxpayers need to step in to replace the money that investment returns cannot likely earn.  How much? At 3.5% internal returns during the payout phase, an ambitious but sensible number, the investments earn enough to pay out some $2,900/month, or $34,800 a year for the 20 year life expectancy.   Investment returns are about $15,000 short of what was promised.  Every year.

It gets worse.  The PERS people promised cost-of-living adjustments on top of the unrealistic payouts.  Inflation does not solve the PERS problem.  It continues it.

Click here for the Oregonian article
The Oregon legislature is looking at bills which will, if passed, reduce some of the gap, but none of the solutions are pleasant for public employees.   One proposal is the increase from 3 years to 5 the years under consideration for the final salary.   Many employees seek overtime and other pay adjustments in their final years in order to boost the salary which is multiplied by the number of years for pension calculations.  Another proposal is to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.  It would mean payments are for fewer years.  

Each of these things help but the real solution is that taxpayers must pay more.

Oregon State Senator Alan DeBoer talked to me about a bill under consideration that would add a surcharge of another 1.5% on incomes of $250,000 per year or greater.  This would move the marginal tax bracket for high earners from 10% to 11.5%. The extra money would be dedicated to boosting PERS, he said. There are risks. Prosperous people are the ones who write campaign checks and Oregon is testing the boundaries of how high a state income tax can be.   It makes Washington and Nevada, two neighboring states with zero income tax, more and more enticing to prosperous retirees free to move their tax home elsewhere.  But most taxpayers do not earn $250,000 a year.  It may be popular enough to pass.  

The other solution, which is inevitable, is that school districts and other public bodies simply budget more money raised to go to retirees and cut the services for their current mission.   Fewer teachers in the classroom and school programs get cut  longer lines at the DMV, fewer caseworkers for foster children.  That is the reality.  Government services will get worse and taxes will go up, both.   

Why?   The State of Oregon made a deal that turned out to be a very, very expensive one, and now we are beginning to pay for that mistake.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Democrats take note: It is "liberal" to want the laws enforced.

Democrats can be the "law enforcement" party.  It doesn't "move us to the center."  It moves us to the left.

Democrats are at a crossroad.  They need to understand that the way to victory is to be their  true selves.  But they may not understand who they really are.

I experienced an email exchange with a college classmate that opened my eyes to a problem with Democratic progressives.   Political tribalism and defense of groups "on our team", groups traditionally oppressed by white male majorities, have cause progressives to conflate "law enforcement" with prejudice.   I had written, "I posit that Democrats (and centrist parties in Europe) need to get in  front of the unease over immigration and accept that something as good as immigration needs controls, limits, and affirmative policies of assimilation."  Referring to this blog, I added "Yesterday and today I wrote about how Democrats can have an ethical, consistent, pro-immigration position that re-connects them with the American public.  It is an aggressive call for legality, control, accountability, and good citizenship."
We were political, progressive, activist, and young.

A classmate read this, quoted it verbatim, and then said "To become more emphatically anti-immigration would not win over (or back) any strongly anti-immigration voters and would undermine the Democrats' strengths across the board, among groups affiliated with immigrants and with classical liberals.  Peter, your overall approach is "move to the center" to win back white males."

This exchange reveals a problem for progressives, an imbedded assumption that enforcement was per se "anti-immigration" even when it was expressed as a pro-immigration method for legitimizing and regulating immigration.  And it imbedded an assumption that recognizing and validating the reality of points of friction in immigration was a "move to the center", a pointless exercise.

Democrats are at a complicated intersection, attempting to figure out from which direction to create a cohesive alternative to Trump.  Some people want to push to the left, others to push to the center.  Should Democrats be more like Sanders and Ralph Nader, or more pragmatic like Chuck Schumer?  If Democrats define enforcing laws as "moving to the center" and the opposite of "moving left" then they are making a grave mistake, both ideologically and politically. 

Democrats need to recognize that they should be comfortable in their true identity: the party of law enforcement.    Immigration enforcement is not inherently racist, xenophobic, or cruel.  Indeed, it was established to make immigration possible, better, safer, and more fair to everyone.  There is a huge message in the fact that Hillary lost a third of the Hispanic vote even though Trump openly insulted Hispanics as a group.  Those Hispanic voters were here legally and they were citizens.  Immigration scofflaws not only jumped in line in front of patient people playing by the rules they create a large underground economy of people working under the table, not paying taxes, people employable without the bother of paperwork on Workers Compensation, Unemployment, wages and hours laws, etc.  

Those laws of worker protection were not created by conservatives.  They were the achievements of progressive Democrats.  By turning a blind eye to immigration fraud Democrats are undermining themselves.   By extension, turning a blind eye to labor violations undermines Democratic credibility when defending environmental regulations, workplace discrimination regulations, banking regulations.

Democrats are the party of laws for the public good.  It is Republican crowds who stand and cheer the elimination of the EPA and its rules against dumping coal sludge into rivers. 

Republicans are eliminating those pesky rules
 Why has the left defined immigration enforcement as "conservative?"  Some of it is anti-Trump reflex and some of it is progressive tribalism.  Progressives want Hispanic voters "on our team" so they defend the person, not the law.  Progressives observe the institutional racism and prejudice against blacks so they reflexively support blacks against aggressive policing, especially by white policemen.  And there are, indeed, widespread examples--some on videotape--of discriminatory policing.  The solution to the problem of bad, discriminatory policing is careful attention to the laws, not lawbreaking.   Policemen who exercise prejudiced or brutal tactics are breaking the law.  Sometimes they get away with it because they, too, are scofflaws, and are sometimes abetted by their own tribe: the tribe of blue uniforms.

Bottom line: Democrats and progressives--and their historic agenda--are far more likely to be protected by careful enforcement of the law than they are by ignoring the laws.  The great oppression of the white south against blacks in the 20th century was made possible by white scofflaws.  Most of the Trump battle against "excessive regulation" is to relax the protections of the law.   Obeying the law should be a progressive virtue.  

It will feel strange to Democrats to think that way.  Yes, there are incidents of bad policing.  But when it is observed people look to the law to call it out, investigate, and punish the illegal policing.  Scofflaw behavior is the tactic of traditional, customary majority oppression.   The bright light of attention to the law for more often protects the vulnerable.  

Meanwhile, Thad Guyer once again looks at events in the US from his vantage point in Vietnam.  He defines "moving to the left" not as I do above--celebrating law enforcement--but as a move to economic and cultural liberalism--McGovern and Mondale--as a response to electoral defeat.  He observes that it is what Democrats do and that it is a political disaster for them.  

Guest Comment by Thad Guyer:

“Democrats Likely to Rage to the Left in 2020”

Here’s what history shows us is likely to happen in 2020 with Democrats challenging Trump’s second term. We get angry after presidential election losses, then usually rage to the left and get smashed. Upset that Hubert Humphrey was defeated by Nixon in 1968, Democrats went way left and ran George McGovern against Nixon’s second term. McGovern was annihilated “in one of the largest electoral landslides in U.S. history”. (See, Wik, When Reagan unseated Jimmy Carter in 1980, Democrats went ballistic and again moved further left with Walter Mondale, who won only his home state. (See Wiki, Outraged that George Bush stole the 2000 election from Al Gore, Democrats put up a perceived New England elitist John Kerry, ending in a defeat of 31 to 19 states. (See, Wiki

The one time in the last 50 years when Democrats succeeded in knocking out a Republican president seeking a second term was when we settled on “pragmatist” contender who alienated much of our angry left base. That was Bill Clinton unseating the first President Bush after we rejected ultra-left Jerry Brown, aka “Governor Moonbeam”. (See, Wiki,

I can’t remember a time when Democrats have been so angry and enraged as they are now. Yet, we labor under an empirically unsupported belief that angry Democrats get “energized”, that mean-spirited protests and campus riots demonstrate grass roots resolve, that if we just “get back to the basics” of our most liberal ideologies the American electorate will embrace it. Thus, last week our new DNC Chair Tom Perez announced in stern tones a new “purity” test that henceforth every Democratic candidate from small town mayors up must be pro-choice or they’re out. Pro-choice, of course, is central to our party platform. But because we accept that pro-life people can also be “good Democrat voters”, like many Catholics and Hispanics, we’ve not made it a litmus test. Yet suddenly our DNC chair has called into question the eligibility of “anti-abortion Democrats in the party, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia”. (See Huffington Post, “Democratic Party Draws A Line In The Sand On Abortion Rights”, Perez ironically flip-flopped to this purity test after being skewered by pro-choice advocates for supporting a pro-life Democratic mayoral candidate-- the day before.

Perez has found he likes anger, and went on a profanity-laced rampage. Trump’s “a goddam liar” our DNC chair thundered to a big audience. The Republican leadership “doesn’t give a shit about people”, he shouted, followed by their “shitty budget” is hurting health care. (See Youtube,

Rick Millward’s recent blog describes the anger process from “shock” to “acceptance”, and why rage is counterproductive: “Accepting responsibility for our own complacency is empowering, as it opens the possibility of making a change that will endure.” (See, Millward, “Good Grief”, If there ever was “complacency” in an election it was 2016 and Clinton’s sure thing win. Hopefully, Democrats will work through the anger, but many in our base may prefer the DNC’s Chair’s profanity, served up with flailing arms madman style. Many might think its high time for all kinds of purity tests, if not leftist ninjas smashing windows, burning things, and forming human shields to keep conservatives from speaking. But electoral history tells us the likely outcome unless we get pragmatic.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

We get by with a little help from our friends. We are also blinded by them.

Everyone knows about media silos.   This blog has described them, news departments report on them, political pundits decry them.   Fox News is one, and it defines itself as the fair and balanced alternative to the mainstream media one.

There is also a mainstream media liberal sophisticated educated silo and it is hiding the truth from Democrats.  Democratic candidates at every level need to open their minds to the simple fact that some of what Trump says is very popular.

And, happily for Democrats, a Democrat can endorse those policies in good conscience.

This was when the RNC silo and the Trump/Fox silo were different.
In October of 2016, when "everyone knew" that Trump was going to be wiped out in the upcoming election I observed the Deputy Chief of Staff of the RNC, the senior assistant to Reince Priebus (and now the deputy Chief of Staff to President Trump, again the senior assistant to Priebus) tell a small room of students and visitors at Harvard's JFK school that Fox News had been a disaster for the Republican Party.   The silo of friends talking to friends created group-think and extremism among the Republican base.  It meant the Republican Party was cast in the Fox image with politicians unable to get out of the extreme group think box.  It was being creating an angry, nationalist, protectionist party rather than a conservative small-government party, she said, and it was ruining Republicanism.  Those were the days when the RNC/Ryan establishment party was fighting the Trump party and Ryan was embarrassed to go on stage with Trump.

The meeting was off the record, but she was careful anyway.  She didn't overtly say Republicans were going to face electoral disaster, but it was the assumption behind everything she said that afternoon.    It turns out that the Fox vision of America was more popular than she--and other leaders of the Republican Party--understood.

Click here for the article
Still, her point was a good one: the silo of Fox News and its big audience may seem like an advantage, a nonstop infomercial, but in fact it locked the GOP into a way of thinking, with people fighting each other for being the most pure, the most extreme.   What she did not understand--not yet, anyway--was that Trump and Fox were more in touch with the voters than her own establishment Republican/RNC/National Review/Weekly Standard media silo.

Thad Guyer observes that the supposed cultural and political tailwind given liberals by the mainstream media, led by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and TV news, is as crippling to Democrats as Fox News was to Republicans.  Guyer says mainstream news is hiding a reality from Democratic politicians and thought leaders by asserting relentlessly that citizens don't really want a border wall and that generally Trump is unpopular so they do not have to listen to what Trump says.   After all, he lost the popular vote, his approval numbers are low, he says wild things, so Democrats can ignore him.

This blog has asserted repeatedly, especially in recent days, that in fact Democrats need to wake up and realize that Trump won states that Democrats should have won because he is, in fact, saying things that make sense to a great many voters, and that Democrats need not "give up their principles" by recognizing this and re-connecting with their voter base.   They can regain their principles by changing.  Plus, they regain their connection with the American voter.  Win-win. 

Click Here: Politico article
It is a good, worthy Democratic principle to "drain the swamp"; Sanders said it but Trump said it more clearly.  Democrats can adopt this policy and message and take on the elites groupthink and policies among their own allies.  Republicans are re-claiming attachment to Goldman Sachs and Wall Street and Democrats should let them.   

 It is a good, worthy Democratic principle to have border controls so that immigration works under regulation, not under scofflaw illegality.  Democrats are the party of regulation, not the party of free-for-all, so let Democrats praise rather than hide from border security.  It is an issue of order and safety, not xenophobia and racism.  

Democrats are already re-thinking free trade and its effects on working people in America and it is a good, worthy Democratic principle that our trade should assist American workers, not American business leaders.  Democrats have ceded talk of jobs, jobs, jobs to Republicans.  Democrats should reclaim the job issue.

But as Guyer has noted, the progressive, Democratic, culturally sophisticated news media repeats the cultural and intellectual ideals of urbanity and sophistication and privileged elites and it downplays the truth that Trump reflects the feelings of a great many people.  Democrats are afraid to touch them because they have Trump's name on them and the media has cast anything Trump as xenophobic, uninformed, and unpopular.  There are principled, informed, and very popular reasons for Democrats to consider those policies, but their media friends and its groupthink is blinding liberals to that possibility.

Another comment by Thad Guyer.   

"Left Media Silences Needed Democratic Moves Toward the Center”

Its not just that Democrats are shouted down when trying to take steps toward the center, as Upclose observes. It’s also that dedicated Democratic media like the NYT and Washington Post act as gate keepers of whether and how to report on those steps. For example, unless you read deep and beyond the article titles which obscured it, you wouldn’t know that Nancy Pelosi said today: “Let us all recognize that we have a responsibility to protect our borders.” Thus far only the NYT on the left has reported this, though not prominently. (See NYT, This is a big step for the Democratic leader, but apparently too sacrilegious to be highlighted. The NYT slipped in something even more hopeful for Democrats returning to power: “Democrats support increased border spending, just not in the form of a wall”. No other left media has made a point of this since Clinton won the nomination.

Pelosi made her statement that Congress has “a responsibility to protect our borders” in the context of Trump’s metaphorical wall. It’s a metaphor at several levels, but none more important than this: It may well be the border wall or Obamacare funding. Trump says he’ll give one dollar in Obamacare subsidies for one dollar toward the wall. That sums up the whole tragedy of Clinton losing the election and our current state of Democratic disarray: Don’t endorse border control, don’t get elected, don’t get health care or climate protection. Instead of trashing deplorables over the wall, Pelosi tried to shift the debate to the practicalities of border control: “The fact is that the wall is a dereliction of duty in doing that”, she said. That is, her approach in protecting Democrats in the House is to oppose the wall as being an ineffective border control, not as being racist or xenophobic.

The left media has also kept up the chant that Trump’s unpopularity should do-in his border and climate policies, claiming that even his supporters have turned against him. This is a false narrative that further hampers a Democratic comeback. The same Trump voters who misled pollsters in saying they did not support him or were undecided, are still understating their continuing and growing embrace of Trump. Just as WaPo, NYT and CNN ignored the polling data that Hillary was going to lose (data which UpClose repeatedly reported in predicting a Trump win), they are at it again in claiming Trump lacks popular support to get what he wants. 

Left media simply refuses to report or highlight that the new Washington Post/ABC poll shows that Trump would not only still beat Clinton, but that he would win even the popular vote against her. CNN gave a low key acknowledgment of this: “Trump would best Clinton 43 to 40% in a hypothetical rematch today.” (See, CNN, The right media has further undermined the left media in this continuing under-reporting of pro-Trump polling data. (See, Washington Examiner, “Wash Post poll hides: Trump still beats Clinton, 43%-40%”, and Fox News, “Trump slams pollsters as survey buries sustained popularity over Clinton”,

The liberal media may not be the “enemy of the American people”, but it clearly has been an irresponsible ally both in Trump getting elected and in continuously fueling his support. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Democratic Disfunction

Interest group leadership

Democrats are messing up.  

They are held hostage by their own interest groups so they are losing touch with the voters. 

Warning to Democratic readers:  Thad Guyer has a long comment.   It is bleak. It is something we need to consider.

Democrats defined themselves as a coalition of their own interest groups, and it is the nature of interests groups to be clear, narrow, and focused.  Organized labor.  Environmentalists. Blacks. Feminists. Those groups are on the vanguard of change.   They lead.  They say things that would be unthinkable until they are said.  They push boundaries.

They don't seek compromise.  They have a vision to pursue. 

Push the edges
Example:  Saturday, at the internationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I heard an extraordinary young woman with a big job discuss how the Festival was embracing diversity in all aspects of the theater's work.  She said she was pushing the proposal that in some upcoming year that every single one of the twelve plays they produce might be written by people of color, thus exempting the namesake of the theater, William Shakespeare, a white guy, from having a play produced.   Will it happen?  Well, it could not happen until it was thinkable, and it was not thinkable until someone on the vanguard thought it, and uttered it, and began to advocate the idea.   This is a tiny example, but it is how cultural leadership happens.  The leaders push at the margin.

Organized labor leadership are committed to being advocates, not decision makers.  Their job is to advocate for everything they can get for their members and presumably school boards and county commissioners push back.  The decision is made in the overlap of the two sides, not by the labor leaders. The leaders don't compromise, they push.  Compromise is in the result.

A similar thing happens within the other activist portions of the Democratic party.  Hillary led the party to call it impossible--a micro-aggression bit of racism--to say that "all lives matter" instead of "black lives matter" period, full stop.  Expanding the sentiment to "all" was defined as dissing blacks.  The result: Democrats caved to black leadership and indeed did well among blacks, but white people, including white women and Hispanics who Hillary considered to be part of her coalition, got the predictable racial message that Hillary-style Democrats were excluding them.  And white men, excluded by both race and gender, went overwhelmingly for Trump, thus electing him.

Target Democrats, gleefully.
I am witnessing a similar thing happening among politically active environmentalists.   A potential future Democratic candidate for 2nd Congressional District Congress to replace Greg Walden met with me this weekend and told me he voted for Jill Stein.   "Pretty good" is not good; it is bad.  

I watch the extraordinary energy and vitality of local activism in opposition to a natural gas pipeline.  The responses to the above post in an environmental group website--Rogue Climate--were immediate:  "Go Hannah!", "I wanna play.", "Great Leadership Rogue Climate!", "Great news!" "Woot woot!" "Hooray!!!" "Thank you!!!!!!"   One poster repeated the frequent epithet, calling Brown "a traitor." 

The group has focus and they have leverage, not with their opponents, but with their allies among pro-environmental Democrats running for office.  They are sending a message:  being "way better than the Republican" is not good enough.   You need to be right on the issue or they harass and sabotage from the left, electing a Republican.   It is a game of chicken and Democratic officeholders understand their policies and political careers are at risk.  Here is a subsequent post which was immediately "liked."

Soul went on:  "Time to pressure Governor Borwn on taking on LNG Pipeline -- she's really gearing up for re-election campaign (2018 election) and even more responsive to input."

Locally and nationally, Democrats are attempting to find their way.  Can they tolerate a Nebraska congressional candidate who is not consistently pro-choice on abortion?  Maybe not.  Can they figure out whether Wall Street needs to be regulated--or smashed? Chuck Schumer gets harsh criticism.  Can they be environmental enough by wanting to regulate fossil fuel extraction, or do they need a full-throated opposition to the means by which it is extracted and transported?   Red state Democrats are at risk in primaries. 

Democratic activists are hyper aware: is the Democrat a "sellout"?  Is he or she "corporate"?  Is he or she "soft"?  

Democratic interest groups push Democrats into positions that leave a wide open lane for Republicans to win.  Democrats win the support of interest group leaders and lose the election.  There is a harsh message for Democrats to view:  red Ohio, red Pennsylvania, red Michigan, red Wisconsin, and Trump in the White House.   A great many people consider it a disaster for the country but it is not an unmitigated disaster for the interest groups themselves.  They prosper with their supporters when there is a clear, clean, terrible opponent.  I am not saying they welcome the loss to a Republican, but it is not a disaster for them.  It gives them purpose, energized fundraising, and moral clarity.   (People who voted for Jill Stein or stayed home to send a pro-Sanders message have their virtue intact.)  The people most directly hurt are the Democratic professional pros, the incumbent or aspiring officeholders, the ones doing the political calculation of what is possible.  Without support from their left flank they realize the grim truth that they risk loss. They know it and so do the interest group leaders.

Democrats are at a loss on immigration and The Mexican Border Wall.  Activist Democrats are focused on "resistance" to Trump and Trump supports a wall and he built a coalition around fear and dislike for immigrants. (The bad ones rape us, steal from us, sponge our benefits, and do terror on us, while the good ones take our jobs.)   The hate-everything-Trump activists prevent Democrats from picking up on cues that there is in fact public demand for immigration order and control, and that it is OK to voice it.  Therefore, they have ceded the wide political lane for Republicans to win on this issue as well.

This blog wrote yesterday that there is a positive, pro-immigrant/pro-control affirmative and compassionate which acknowledge and embraced the very predictable citizen un-ease with high immigration numbers.  We have been here before.  High immigration numbers create tensions which create nativist sentiment and nativist political parties.   Trump heard this.  Democrats, too, need to hear it.   Democrats don't need to succumb to nativism, but they need to address it and shape an ethical, realistic, affirmative response to it.  It is do-able.  Democrats are the party of affirmative government action, and that is what the situation requires.

 Instead, their own base has locked them into denial and avoidance of their own base.  The problem is not that Hillary used the word "deplorable".  The problem is that she--and other Democrats--framed the immigration issue as deplorable vs. virtue, racism vs. anti-racism. The issue could have been--and still could be--defined as chaos versus reasonable control, as illegal versus legal, as unassimilated versus good American citizens.   Everyone agrees the current situation is bad ,so Democrats need not defend the status quo.  They can be a voice a change.

But since Democrats are failing in this task Thad Guyer's bleak description seems very credible:

Thad Guyer Guest Comment: "Au revoir politique traditionnelle"

For over 50 years, two traditional parties have controlled French politics, and articulated the entire policy agenda for implementing the core values of "liberté, égalité, fraternité". The Socialists and the Republicans were those two parties, and it has been "difficult for parties outside these two major coalitions to make significant inroads" (See, As with our Libertarian and Green parties, all other French parties remained outsiders, fringe, far left and far right. From living in Europe in 1996 to frequent trips to Paris since (including twice last year), the French left and right mainstream seemed like old friends, popping out at me from ubiquitous newspaper stands to subway walls. My French colleagues belonged always to one of those two parties.

In recent years I saw the fractures beginning, the concern over immigrant men clustered thickly around the train stations, the warnings about pickpockets, the blankets and tarps starting to appear in streets around the city, the fears of terrorism at all transportation hubs. Then urbanites I knew started relocating to the suburbs or moving away from Paris altogether. "Uncontrolled" was the key word used to describe immigration, spoken not as xenophobia but as something terribly broken; a feeling that government didn't have a handle on it, that there was a free for all at the borders underway that would only grow more uncontrolled unless somebody did something.

That disaffection laid low both traditional parties this weekend, supplanted by two extremes on immigration: The National Front wants to end most immigration and globalism, led by Marine Le Penn; and an amorphous sounding so-called "centrist", Emmanuel Macron, who says the answer is to embrace "inevitable" and "unstoppable mass migration" and globalism. Macron does not even represent a political party, he quit the Socialist party to found a “movement” called “The March”. Neither candidate could get even a quarter of the vote, combined they got 45%, leaving 55% of the electorate who voted for neither of them dismayed. The two major parties of late had talked tough on controlling the borders, but by now lacked credibility. They will still wield most of the power in a fractured parliament, but the new president will not be from their ranks. By contrast, the establishment parties in power in the US (Trump for the Republicans), Australia (Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal Party) and the UK (Theresa May for the Conservative Party), and even the shaky Dutch coalition (led by Mark Rutte), hold power now with one thing in common: resolute, clearly articulated controlled immigration and border policies.

Pollsters say that Macron, who is viewed by most voters as a "vapid" and "hollow" ex-banker huckster, will defeat Le Pen, who is viewed by most voters as a reckless xenophobic nationalist. Leaders of both major parties are urging their members to hold their noses and vote for Macron not as support for him, but to avert the "dangerous nationalist". Today Paris is not the city of lights, but the city of despair. The one thing that most voters agree on is that the traditional French body politque has been wrecked by the establishment's lack of ability or resolve to control runaway immigration and globalism.

Heretofore in the US, UK, Australia and France, a political party that failed to demonstrate that ability and resolve has faced electoral defeat, hopefully to have one of their own at the top another day. But what happened in France this weekend shows it can get even worse—parties lacking that resolve can lose their “major” party status altogether, and be supplanted by a fringe party, or a newly invented “movement”.

Democrats should take heed.