Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trump Karma

De-legitimizing Trump.  Karma is a Bitch.   Democrats are attempting to de-legitimize Trump.

Early last year this blog came to a realization about a very successful Trump tactic: de-legitimize your opponent.   It is harsher than merely disagreeing with them.  Instead, you attack their very standing to be in the arena.  You demean them personally.

Here is what I wrote back in April, 2016:

Click Here to read original post

Trump understood that the de-legitimization tactic was irresistible to the media.  Trump's name calling was great TV and brought great audiences.  Policy is slow and boring compared to branding.  Trump relentlessly labeled and accused: Lyin' Ted.  Low energy Jeb.  Little Marco. He performed in bright, bold colors.   And he didn't back down.

August, 2016, leading into the election
He stuck with the Obama birtherism story: he claimed there was real doubt about whether Obama was really an American citizen.  Questions remain, he said.  Investigators are shocked by what they are finding--but which he is keeping secret for now, he said. 

Delegitimization works.  It puts doubt into people's minds.  It creates a narrative that explains things which seem strange.  Obama speaks in careful measured tones about Islam: he must be foreign somehow so maybe there is something "off" about his birth certificate.

Now it is Trump's turn.   Democrats are attempting to delegitimize Donald Trump.

There is a method to the relentless questions regarding Trump and Russia.   This blog--and guest commenter Thad Guyer--have noted that this is an unpromising avenue on its facts.  People do not find Russians all that frightening.  The Donald Trump brand is to be an ultra-nationalist, not a appeaser.  This is an imperfect point of attack for Democrats.   Plus, there is no smoking gun and no actual evidence of criminality.

But de-legitimization does not require facts.  It requires a conspiratorial narrative.  That creates the opportunity for "questions" and "doubts".    The conspiratorial narrative is as follows:

    Trump is a bellicose nationalist.  He shoves Montenegro's Prime Minister, he spurns Angela Merkel, he scolds NATO, he insults Mexico, he challenges China.  He has a pattern. Except for one exception, Russia.  He is conciliatory with Russia.  Strange!

   Maybe Russians have some blackmail on Trump.
   Maybe Trump owes them a bunch of money.
   Maybe Trump got a phony bribe when he bought and sold a house to a Russian billionaire.
   Maybe Jared Kushner is Trump's bagman.
   Maybe Russian deals are why Trump wont release his taxes.
   Maybe there is something to that Russian prostitute-urination story.
   Maybe Trump's campaign actually did create a document that shows collusion with Russian hackers.
   Maybe Michael Flynn is just the tip of the iceberg and Flynn has secrets that may come out.
   Maybe there is a big reason why Trump pressured Comey and the intelligence agencies to drop the investigation and there is actually some devastating secret.
That was 2016, and the target was Obama
   Maybe the Sessions recusal, the Kushner investigation, the Special Investigator, the House and Senate investigations will all lead to something.

Questions are raised.  Maybe Trump isn't what he says he is?  

 Democrats are attempting to weaken him by raising the question that maybe he is a fake president, placed there by Russians, subject to blackmail and secretly serving Russia not Americans.

Denials.  They don't stop the questions.
Democrats are taking a grain of truth--that Trump is less anti-Russian than the previous bi-partisan foreign policy consensus--and giving a conspiratorial reason for it.

Of course, Trump protests and Fox News, which gave uncritical coverage to Trump's birtherism charge, acts indignant.  
Sean Hannity defends Trump and fights back, attempting to de-legitimize the media attacks.    There is a problem with denials: they don't solve the problem.  Of course, a guilty person would deny it.   Trump is simply doing what a guilty person would do, denying.  A person who colluded with a foreign enemy to steal an election would be expected to deny it, and that is exactly what Trump is doing--it is almost an admission of guilt.

Within the conservative media silo the Democratic effort here is backfiring completely.  No surprise.

The criticism, investigations, and "questions raised" simply feed the meme that Democrats and the "fake news" media is trying to destroy Trump with absolutely unfair, unsourced, questions and charges.   They consider it a completely cynical, dishonest attempt to de-legitimize Trump.

This is exactly the tactic that Trump used to birtherize Obama.   Trump insiders, including Jared Kushner, openly admit that Trump never actually believed the birtherism charge; it was just something Trump said to get attention and because gullible Republicans would buy it.  The fact that it is cynical, hypocritical, and based on mere speculation does not mean that it is not an effective tactic.   The tactic raises unanswerable questions about Trump''s motives.   Maybe he isn't trying to "shake things up" because he wants to drain the swamp.  Maybe he wants to shake things up because he has some secret debt to Russia.  (Maybe Obama was moderate in tone not because he thought moderation was necessary but because he is actually a secret Kenyan and Muslim.  Republicans bought this, then turned out on election day.)

There is no fixing this for Trump.   If Trump changes policy to Russia and does something that is plainly anti-Russia, there could be some obvious explanations:   1.  it is a cover story and diversion, since he is still in hock to the Russians. It is exactly what a guilty person would do.  2.  Trump is attempting to fight back against the blackmail or debt, and change the terms of the blackmail, just like any guilty person would do.   

This is the stronger issue for Democrats
There is a risk for Democrats:  They are not hitting Trump's real weakness.  Trump's hope is that the charge will feel desperate and irrelevant to America's swing voters.  Not wrong, irrelevant.

I consider Trump to be more vulnerable to a charge from the direction that he caved in to the conservative Republican agenda.   The Ryan agenda is unpopular, with trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and benefits austerity.  Trump will lose votes with swing voters in swing states if he becomes conservative, not populist.   People inclined to dislike Trump will believe he is a pawn of Russians, but they are not swing voters.   Swing voters care about jobs and they distrust the mainstream media.  The Russia-collusion charge is at least as likely to feed the "fake news media" meme as it is the Trump-treason meme.   It could work--but backfire.

The better option is to let Trump govern and hang himself with his victories, not by his weakness.  A weak Trump has an excuse for inaction.  A strong Trump, who enacts unpopular policies, is the vulnerable one.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Two Foxes

There is more than one Fox.

The Simpsons mock Trump.

Foolish, not strong.

President Trump's favorite news show is Fox and Friends.  If you wake up early you can see for yourself why he would like it.

   There is no chaos at the White House.  It is a well oiled machine of executive competence.
   The real problem is relentless sabotage by Obama holdovers.
   There is no problem whatever with "Russian meddling" in our affairs.

   Trump is the victim of questions being raised about Trump, based on rumors and suspicions.
   Trump and Republicans were always completely supportive of Obama so these questions raised about Trump are unfair.
   Trump hates leaks and leaks damage America.
Trump loves this program.  Fawning adoration.
   The economy is much, much stronger now than it was 8 years ago and Trump deserves the credit.
   Unemployment numbers are great now and Trump deserves the credit.
   Everyone else in the media picks on Trump.  Picking on the president is un-American.
   Trump and Fox always gave Obama their full support year after year, so it is doubly unfair that Trump is getting criticized when he himself had been so nice and helpful.
   American culture and religion are under attack from atheists, Muslims, liberals, feminists, globalists, people with alternative lifestyles, college professors, foreigners, immigrants, flag-burners, and the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, there is another Fox.  The Fox of The Simpsons.  They don't just mock Trump, they mock Trump's people, his politics, his eccentricities, his hair, his management style, his work ethic, and his attention to Fox News.  They mock Bill O'Reily.  

Click Here: First 100 Days
Take two minutes and sit back and relax.   Click on the links to each of these one-minute clips from current Simpsons shows.   They are funny.  They are savage.  

This blog had observed that direct confrontation of Trump worked poorly in the campaign.  When Rubio attempted to mock Trump it appeared to backfire on Rubio because it seemed out of character.   People who insulted Trump looked like smaller versions of Trump.  But Trump may be vulnerable to humor and hard satire--if it comes from a place where humor and satire are in character.  

Late night TV hosts have picked up that theme.  The Simpsons at prime time on Fox is doing it.  Possibly satire will be read by the public as essentially trivial.  Certainly there needs to be a serious opponent, a non-Trump alternative.   But Trump may be susceptible to having his authority and presence undermined by third parties, and the closer those third parties are to Trump the more powerful and credible they are.

Click Here: First 125 Days. Up to the minute.
Again, click on the links.   Enjoy the humor.  It comes quickly.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Red America--A Field Report

Planting season in Red America.

Field Report, Medford.   A real field, of melons.

Republican and Democrat, Red and Blue, it is well into planting season at latitude 42 North.  Agriculture takes place in farm country, and farm country is red.   I grew up farming with my father and brother on a farm that has been in the family since 1883.

This year I am doing an experiment in low till melon growing.   Normally I bring the field down to bare earth so the melons have no competition from other plants.  This year I left the field grass that was a holdover from prior years, and have planted in the bare strips.

About an acre, just planted to Tuscan Cantaloupes, Orange Honeydews, and Santa Claus melons, looking west across the field toward Table Rock.

Same field, looking south, toward the Rogue River

Three miles from my farm is a general farm and ranch supply store.  They sell things people need to grow food:  work clothes including gloves and boots, hardware, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, spray equipment, power tools including chain saws and weed trimmers, fencing material, seeds, baby chicks, pumps, generators, irrigation equipment, auto and trailer parts, and a million other things.  In the midst of this, at a service counter for equipment repairs, they sell political buttons.

These buttons are placed there as un-self-consciously as are gopher traps and metal fence posts.  It is why I have suggested Democrats change their language and messaging on guns and treat guns to something closer to the way they treat alcohol, marijuana, and pornography.   Acknowledge that some people like them, that they are with us, period.  Be pro-gun.  Why?  Because a big hunk of the American people are pro-gun.  Possibly a pro-gun person can put controls on guns, the way alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are regulated, but certainly an anti-gun person cannot, as we have seen.  Controlling guns is like banning alcohol or pre-marital sex.  The control is worse than the problem because it runs up against a fact of life: people like their guns like they like their alcohol and sex.  Under Nancy Reagan "just say no" marijuana was wide open in the underground in Oregon.  Under current Oregon law there is more marijuana, but it is taxed and better controlled.   Alcohol is better controlled in 2017 than it was during prohibition ninety years ago.

Agriculture happens on a schedule of nature, not a schedule of the calendar.  It is a very wet year in Southern Oregon.  Crops are late.  Fields were too wet to work.  The ground was cold.   You cannot plant melon seeds into cool earth--the seeds would just sit there and rot.  This year I got the seeds in the ground May 18-20th, three weeks behind last year.

Photo taken yesterday.  Land worked up poorly but they are up.

The economics of farming have changed in the past 50 years.   In 1967 I earned about $2,000 from an acre of melons, which I split with my younger brother.  Harvard tuition for a year was $1,760.  I sold melons for 17 to 20 cents a pound.  Another way to look at it is that 10,000 pounds of cantaloups, sold wholesale, equalled a Harvard tuition.   Last year I sold melons for 40 cents a pound, and grew about as many as I grew fifty years ago, although expenses are much higher.  I netted some $3,000.   Harvard tuition and fees are now $50,000.   It would take 120,000 pounds of cantaloupes, sold wholesale, to equal it now--12 times as much, but actually more given that expenses for seeds, fertilizer, and fuel to drive the daily load to market is much higher.

August scene: Barbara Saigo picks a vine ripe melon.
Melons are too cheap.  Melons consumers buy today, right now, were picked green, mechanically, from industrial operations and delivered to stores, just like every other day of the year.  They are bland, in the nature of melons picked green, but they are orange and they cut nicely for fruit salads at buffets, and they are cheap.  Consumers have been taught that melons are a cheap, bland commodity.  That sets the price.

Field tested cantaloupes and watermelons.

The process of commodification of melons has been taking place over 50 years.   Trucking got much more efficient and less expensive.  Packaging got less expensive--they used to come in wooden crates.  Systems to bring melons up from Central America got less expensive. Globalization did its work.  Meanwhile, consumers were trained to think of melons as something that one could eat any time of year.  It became popular in restaurant fruit salad buffets in which its primary value was its color: a splash of orange to mix with green honeydews and red watermelons.

What does the price of melons have to do with the theme of this blog, politics and messaging?   A lot.  Rural economics are being shaped by global forces and rural residents are being squeezed.  Someone in every family needs to work "in town", in the real economy of urban life, with computer screens and manipulation of data.

August: Vine Ripe and Perfect
Progressive voters who want to understand red-state and red-county frustrations need to understand and integrate what has happened to agricultural prices to angst and frustration in rural America.   My situation personally was just fine, for the same reason that a great many others are able to survive living rural: I earned money outside the rural world, in the urban world as a Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor,  so I can afford to own a farm and grow melons.  But that makes me a visitor, not a resident.  I can observe it with empathy, but I don't live fully inside it.  Red state and red county Americans observe the language and messaging of Democrats and think they are speaking to different Americans, folks who live in town, folks whose problems are violence on commuter trains, not irrigation water and and ground squirrels.

Meanwhile, a field report of a different kind:

Field Report by Thad Guyer:    "Stillwater, Oklahoma"

I spent the weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma with Vietnamese family friends from Saigon.  The husband got a two years student visa for an advanced degree, allowing him to bring his wife and three grade school kids.  A Trump critic, he was cautiously optimistic about living in a deep red community.  He reports he’s received nothing but a warm immigrant welcome in Stillwater, where people know he’s an invited guest with a student visa, not an “illegal”.  Today we had brunch at Granny’s Diner in the town center, a place filled with make America great and gun rights messages on t-shirts.  Locals at neighboring tables cooed and chatted with the three shy Vietnamese girls, and told us about the best recreation areas. 

My friend seems thankful his daughters will spend two years in red America, judging for themselves rather than adopting the “deplorables” global stereotype of white rural America. In talking with people on the flights in and out, and at the hotel, it becomes apparent that being labeled depolorables was a wounding experience.  But these wounded voters have no apologies for legal gun rights, legal border controls, legal limits on globalization killing their industries, legal free speech about Islamic terrorism.  Trump’s politics are strongly supported here, but there’s no outpouring of love for him, a kind of New York City carpetbagger with the right politics and game show host persona. “Of all people who oughta understand why we go for Trump despite this Russia thing”, a businessman told me at the tiny airport, “you’d think it’d be Hillary people with her boatload of scandals, her husband’s too.  Ya pick from what ya got”. Bush, Rubio, Kasich and the GOP D.C. lineup looked like slim pickins indeed to these folks. 
The three daughters meet a local fisherman

For the few I met who cared at all, they scoff at Russiagate and “the son-in-law” scandals. “Bankers wreckin’ the economy with that mortgage meltdown”, “leakers breakin’ the law left and right”, “Hillary deletin’ emails”, “Obama sendin’ plane loads of cash to Iran”, were things they cited, followed by variations of “and we’re supposed to worry about Trump doin’ this or that?”   In Payne County, Oklahoma, they were incredulous that Democrats-- of all people-- are demanding outrage from them over Trump.  Repeatedly I heard sentiments like “if Trump broke the law, let the law deal with him, but last time I checked, CNN is not the law”.  Democrats, to say the least, are not regarded here as “law abiding”.  These Okies readily pointed to “liberals” embracing flagrant violations of immigration law, and celebrating criminal national security leakers just to “get Trump”.  “I hate Trump” one guy told me, “but I hate Muslim terrorists even more”. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Mentally Ill?" or "Christian Terrorist"?

Article in Willamette Week. Jeff Christian is wearing the flag.

Jeffery Joseph Christian kills two men on Tre-Met train.   Who gets the blame?

Trump?  Christians?  Racists?  The mentally ill?  The transit district?  The teenager wearing a scarf?

Murder on Tri-Met.   A man began shouting anti-Muslim comments against two girls in their mid-teens, one of whom was returning from worship services and was wearing a head scarf.   Several men on the train intervened.   They were stabbed.  Two were killed and one was hospitalized and is expected to live.

The murderer had taken the name Jeffery Joseph Christian.  He wanted to make a point of his religion.  He has attended white supremacist gatherings.  His rants to the girls were understood by others on the bus to have been racist, white supremacist, anti-Muslim hate speech.

There are a variety of issues involved.

   1. The good-hearted heroism of the three good Samaritans, who were stabbed trying to defend young women being harassed on a train.

   2. The inherent risks of mass transit.  Mass transit is controversial in Portland.  City fathers have been pushing it through infrastructure priorities against the will of a great many people who think it unrealistic and socialistic.  People like their cars, and Portland is not New York City or Boston; Portland's growth was built around cars, not subways or light rail lines.  Portland has been nudging people into mass transit rather than cars with zoning and infrastructure decisions.  This is a setback.

  3.  Media coverage.   Oregon newspapers and television treat this as a top story, with the anti-Muslim animus being front and center. Fox News, Breitbart, and Drudge ignore the story.   It is nowhere to be seen.   They don't see this as a terror story.   If it were it would be linked to killings in Orlando and San Bernardino and Paris and the Boston Marathon.   

   4. Framing the debate: Mentally Ill or Christian Terrorist.  Murders by racist Christians like Timothy McVey in Oklahoma City and Dylann Roof in Charleston and now Jeffrey Christian in Portland are framed as mental health and competency issues, a deluded person does some evil act.  Jeffrey Christian is understood to be representative of something:  representative of crazy people--not representative of white people, Christians, or people who voted for Trump.

   5. Backlash against liberals and Democrats.   Murders by self-described Christians simply do not fit a narrative of anti-American terror.  Fox and Breitbart can ignore it but some citizens openly announce their resentment that there is any equivalency between terrorist acts by Muslims and Christians.    They distinguish between Jeffrey Christian and the Orlando or San Bernardino shooters.  Jeffrey Christian is not "one of them" or a representative of "their team" or indeed anyone's team.   He is a one-off.

The TriMet driver is an example of people feeling that backlash.  They understand Islamic terror incidents to be guided by a broader guerrilla war of organized opposition to Western culture.  The actions of Christian racists are affirmations--misguided, but still affirmations-- of Western culture, and only similar to Islamic terror in the tactic of terror and murder.  They understand that the notion of "war on terror" is incorrect. Muslims are making war on Americans.  Murder by Muslims and murder by Christians are both wrong, but the dangers are very different because they differ in intent and goal.   There will always be random crazy people who murder--people like Jeffrey Christian--but Muslims who kill are like an infectious disease.  There is a danger of contagion.

Pushback in Facebook

The driver of the bus wrote a Facebook post which condemns Democrats for making the equivalency she considers false.  Jeffrey Christian was evil and mentally ill.  Islamic murderers are soldiers fighting America.   Don't confuse the two, and don't blame Trump, she writes.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Beat up the Media

The day before the election Montana congressional candidate Greg Pianoforte throws a reporter to the floor and starts hitting him--in front of witnesses.   He is charged with assault.

It isn't a disaster for him.

Sometimes the things that need explanation are what did not happen.    What did not happen was an outpouring of negative opinion on Gianforte.  The incident happened too late in the game to change the election--most voters had already voted by mail--but interviews with voters who planned to vote for him showed that the incident didn't change their opinion of the candidate.   They excused it.  The reporter had it coming.  They all have it coming.

Guest post writer Thad Guyer points to a warning expressed by Rachel Maddow that the mainstream press might be over-reaching on the Trump-Russia-Obstruction-of-Justice story.  It is possible, she said, that there simply isn't enough there to justify all the time and innuendo and the media will have been exposed as having done the "witch hunt" that Trump accused them of.

Click Here: one minute clip
There was an early indication that the Trump-Russia-Obstruction story would lack political power.   It was, again, what did not happen.   During the campaign Trump openly called on Russia to hack Hillary's server and find the 30,000 deleted emails--emails he called "missing."   His crowds cheered at that.  What was missing was shock.

It did not seem shocking or wrong that Russia would be asked to hack an opponent's campaign.   They would be doing a service, for the public good.

Do a thought experiment: imagine he had said, what we need is for Kim Jong-un and North Korea to hack Hillary.   That would have been shocking.  That would have been conspiring with the enemy.   But Russia, not so much.   The American neocon elite foreign policy people may still consider Russia an enemy and threat, but American voters have changed their view. The battle lines are not political or ideological, they are cultural.   Russia is a white, Christian, nation.   Our real enemies are people who are culturally or racially foreign.  North Korea and Middle East Muslims are foreign and frightening; Russians are not.

The mainstream press and the foreign policy establishment are losing credibility with the people because they are acting as if collusion with Russia is frightening.  It "should be" frightening, they say.  Russia is the enemy, they say.  They come across as legal nit-pickers, attempting to make a big deal out of Trump saying that of course he fired FBI director Comey to take pressure off the investigation. It was similar to the "smoking gun" obstruction of justice crime that cost Nixon the presidency but Trump said it proudly and Nixon tried to hide it.  Trump understands that cooperating with the Russians won't be considered treason and wont be considered politically wrong.  Cooperating with Muslims is politically dangerous, but not with Russians.  They really aren't the enemies, so why make a federal case out of it.

The media is losing credibility as they continue that case,  and it shows up in Montana on election day.   Gianforte assaults a reporter?  So what?

Here is Thad Guyer's analysis and warning:

Thad Guyer Guest Comment

Rachel Maddow Warns of Trump Russia Investigation Collapse and Media Black Eye”

On May 19th Rachel Maddow issued a sobering warning about the possible reckless use of anonymous sources on Trump Russiagate—“we better have this right”. What spooked Maddow was the sworn testimony by top DOJ and FBI officials that James Comey never requested more investigation resources.  She said a pillar of the “obstruction of justice” claims is that Trump fired Comey because he demanded more resources, and that if that pillar falls then a rash of embarrassing “retractions” must follow. 

The frenzy on Trump Russiagate seems to be dying out anyway, not for lack of effort by journalists, but for the public tuning it out. We’re fast approaching the one year anniversary of Trump’s infamous “Vladmir, if you’re listening” callout to Russia to find Hillary’s 30,000 deleted emails.  Yet, the almost daily “revelations” seem to go nowhere. Desperation is seen in the ever more tenuous media sources described only as “people familiar with the matter”, and CNN’s recent stooping to cite a source who “knows” Comey as a “person familiar with his thinking”. See, “First on CNN: Comey now believes Trump was trying to influence him, source says”, (May 20, 2017  So low has regard for the media sunk that a Republican Congressional candidate just got voted in handily after choking a journalist with both hands. 

No media giant seems more unnerved now than the Washington Post. It’s newest unsourced claim is “Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation” (May 26, 2017  “Focus” is a strong term to use, and despite the sensational headline, the WaPo article itself basically explains Kushner is not a focus of any investigation.  Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Goerlick, who was Bill Clinton’s deputy Attorney General, has been dismantling WaPo’s claims. CNN repeated the “focus” term but only in saying that is what WaPo says.  I haven’t seen the NYT use the term, and the WSJ has forcefully rebutted it. See “Jared Kushner to Cooperate in Any Probe Into Meetings With Russians” (May 26, 2017 More telling about this desperation may be that while the NYT and most outlets led with headlines this week about terrorist murder of children in Manchester, both WaPo and CNN placed Trump leak stories first.   

The American Interest, a conservative never-Trump foreign policy magazine published a persuasive article the day before Maddow’s warning entitled “After Mueller, Trump Critics Worry Maybe There’s No Scandal” (May 18, 2017  It portrays as a dangerous gambit the liberal media and Democrats putting so many eggs in the “criminal” prosecution and “impeachment” baskets, when after a 14 months investigation no evidence has yet surfaced about criminality anywhere close to Trump. So far, it’s looking less like a Watergate and more like the Iran Contra scandal that never ensnared Reagan legally or politically.  As I referenced in an earlier comment, Pew Research found trust in the media plunged over the unsubstantiated claims against Reagan, while belief in Reagan remained high with his supporters even after a few aids pleaded guilty.

The end game may be nearer than we think.  Despite the total collapse of anonymously sourced media claims that Steve Bannon was on his way out, he’s stronger than ever, close to Trump’s side in Saudi Arabia this week. Now Bannon is to lead a high-powered hit squad to deal a death blow to the liberal media and outspoken Democrats as the Russiagate narrative falters. See Chris Wallace, “Bannon to head Trump's Russia war room of legal A-Team” (May 26, 2017 FoxNews

Let’s hope Rachel Maddow’s concerns don’t come to pass.  The damage to Democrats could be extreme.

Friday, May 26, 2017

PERS misery: The Oregon Legislature looks at taxes.

Legislators have a problem.  Taxpayers have a problem.   Some problems are so big they have to be ignored.

This blog looks closely at political messages.   This one is no exception.  The message on PERS is silence and deferral.  The truth is too terrible.  We have a big, big bill to pay.    

PERS--the Public Employee Retirement System--is based on a set of promises contracted between state and local governments and their employees.   I have been writing about it but I have an advantage over candidates, officeholders, or media outlets that need to be careful about alienating their audiences.  I have nothing to lose.

The situation can be summarized this way:

   Governments promised retirement benefits to employees.

   The benefit rates seemed plausible and affordable at the time of the promises, paid for in large part by assumed investment growth, not taxpayer or employee payments.

   It turns out that the operation of the retirement formulas meant that many retirees have very high benefits compared to the money actually deposited to pay those benefits and it became way, way more expensive than predicted.

   The Constitution says that governments cannot take away property from citizens without just compensation, and a contracted-for retirement benefit is "property," just like real estate.

   The easy solution (great investment results that earn so much money that the payments can be made from investment earnings, not taxes) hasn't worked out.   

   Taxes have to make up the difference.

Click Here: Portland Oregonian article
There it is--the simple, awful, truth.   Taxpayers are going to have to pay up because earnings simply won't do it.

The Portland Oregonian returned to the subject: PERS experts debate the appropriate assumed rate of return.  The contributions required by taxpayers to top up the difference between the rate of return guaranteed by the PERS system and the actual rate of return could equal 45% of payroll--and that assumes a 7% return on investments at a time when the actual assured rate of return is 2% in Treasury bonds.   It could be way, way worse than those "assumed" returns and even those demand expensive top-ups by governments.  Taxpayers are on the hook.

Local TV station KTVL had a three part series describing the problem.  It was titled Paying for the Past.   I was interviewed in all three parts of the series.

Click Here: Part Two           Click Here: Part Three

I have learned--writing as a citizen observer--what candidates and officeholders know all too well.  PERS participants simply do not want to hear that the taxpayers have a problem.   A deal is a deal.  We earned those benefits, they say.  Even if one agrees with them on the debt owed, when one brings up the subject of a realistic return on investments it is understood to be an attack on employees, not as an objective description of potential investment results.  Investment results assumptions are a political position.  The PERS burden is too hot to handle as a topic.
Facebook comment on my KTVL Interviews

Second, I have learned that taxpayers simply do not want to hear it, hear that their tax money goes to pay for work long past, paid to people long retired, rather than to current services.  People don't like to pay for current services, but they really hate paying for past services.

The subject is a perfect storm of misery:  It is a big and important, but it is difficult for both Democratic and Republican officeholders to talk clearly and openly about it.   Democrats do not want to offend public employees and Republicans don't like taxes.

But we need a tax plan that raises new revenue, somehow.

The Oregon legislature examines a replacement of the Oregon corporate income tax.    We need new tax revenue because Oregon has a problem, PERS underfunding, but no one wants to talk about that problem because it makes everyone look bad.

Officeholders can put their faith in magic: implausible investment results.  The alternative is to do nothing and put it off until better, more courageous, officeholders will do the job they failed to do. Magic might happen.

More plausible, though, is that the public is reminded by both the media and the officeholders that we have a bill to pay.  It gives context to new taxes to replace the corporate income tax.  Waiting and dithering and holding out for some imagined perfection of painless taxation is the politically safe thing to do.   

But it isn't responsible and the office-holders know it.   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Proxy Wars: Congressional races in Georgia and Montana

The 2018 Election is happening now.  We are watching the opening battles.

Democrats raise money.  Republicans respond with a new form of attack ad.

Trump's appointment of two congressmen to be Cabinet officers, Tom Price of Georgia and Ryan Zinke of Montana, created two vacancies.   Congressional vacancies are not filled by appointment.  One must be elected to be in Congress and we are watching Democrats and Republicans nationally flex their muscles.

From National Democratic Party
It is all about sending a message.  Two votes in the House of Representatives will not change the balance on anything, but election of Democrats in either seat will demonstrate that Trump is weak and Democrats are energized.   More important, it would imply that the Republican agenda is toxic and that it is career ending for GOP officeholders to pursue it.

From Oregon Democratic Party
I am inundated with solicitations for money by Democrats,  first from Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in Georgia, and now from Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate in Montana.  

The solicitations go out over the names of nationally prominent Democrats, especially Nancy Pelosi.  The national party sends me one or two solicitations a day.   The Democratic Party of Oregon sends me  a solicitation once a day, urging both a check and participation in a phone bank for Quist.  I have been getting three or four emails a day asking for money.  Right now.     

Nancy Pelosi fundraising letter
There is a pattern to the solicitations: manic enthusiasm and then crushing agony.  The Republicans are on the run and we can win!!!   We are going to lose because Republicans have poured in money!!!   The words are all superlatives.  The election isn't just important, it is "incredibly important."  Don't just send money, "rush" to send it.  Our candidate is not just facing competition, he is facing a "plunge in the polls."  It isn't just worrisome, "it terrifies."

Money is matched and double matched.  

Meanwhile, Republicans also send emails, but I personally get fewer of them. That is my fault.  Having attended and signed into Town Hall rallies back in 2015 and early 2016 for Trump, Cruz, Christie, Rubio, Fiorina, Kasich, and others I had created a monster for myself .  I was on everyone's list.  Their defeat by Trump did not end the appeals.  It is evident in hindsight that a primary purpose for doing in-person events in New Hampshire and other early primary states is to build a mailing list of good email addresses.  It became tedious to examine and delete them since I was getting so many.  After the election I opted out.

Check out this dangerous new form of attack ad, made possible by Citizens United: Click Here. 30 Second Ad

Clever, Deceptive, Dangerous Advertisement
Republicans Respond. Massive national fundraising has its downside.  It is the subject of a clever attack ad response by a Republican oriented SuperPAC.  This ad breaks new ground, and we may well be seeing more ads of this kind. 

Support Ossoff
I urge readers to take 30 seconds to view the ad.    

It is funded by a SuperPAC which calls itself the "Congressional Leadership" PAC. The name suggests nothing about its orientation, making no reference to Republican Party or a candidate.   The ad appears to be an ad for the Georgia Democratic candidate Ossoff, authorized by Ossoff, intended to support Ossoff.  In fact, it is just the opposite: a cast a plausible--but cliched--San Francisco citizens endorsing Ossoff.   

The ad does not give itself away by using freakishly weird endorsers--no scary armed black gangster character and no flamboyant drag queen--just generally plausible San Francisco characters who will seem "off" to a suburban Georgia constituency.   An unwary viewer could easily think it was a Ossoff ad--just an oddly self destructive one since it implies that Ossoff must be tone deaf to his need to represent Georgia, not San Francisco.

This kind of ad is possible in this post-Citizens United world of SuperPACs, with the author and intent of an ad being unclear or even intentionally deceptive.   This ad has a bright sunny feel to it.  Its power comes from how plausible it is, but because it is plausible as an Ossoff ad it is not clearly negative.  The ad may be too subtle--or just subtle enough.  The ad does not go for humor in its deception; it goes for deception straight up.  Look, Ossoff is beloved by San Francisco; enough said.

This ad may inspire copycats that are not subtle in the least:  I can imagine ads featuring skinhead racist characters earnestly endorsing white Republican candidates, paid by a SuperPAC with a vague or deceptive name, intended to sabotage a Republican candidate.   I can imagine ads intended to sabotage Democrats using endorsers less credible, and more weird or frightening, than the characters in the above ad.  We might see glassy eyed pot smokers and welfare cheats for Democratic candidates, said clearly and earnestly into the camera, paid for by "Leadership for America" or some other vague name.