Friday, March 31, 2017

Hating Hillary, the Murderer and Liar

 Primary field research: a conversation over dinner with the couple at the next table.

I am in St. Petersburg, Florida, chatting up the locals.  Sitting next to me at dinner was a couple in their 80's, whose name I learned were Jim and Helen.  He was a retired lawn and tree man, who grew up on a farm near Decatur, Illinois and stayed put. It is farm country--the kind of place that looks bright red on election maps.  Everyone they know voted for Trump.

They, too, like Trump and voted for him.

The news today is about 1,000 paid employees in Russia whose job it was to create clickable stories about Hillary Clinton that would circulate on social media.

1,000 Paid Russian Trolls Spread Fake News On Hillary Clinton, Senate Intelligence Heads Told

Those stories had traction and credibility.  Republican voters were ready to believe the implausible.  Obama faked a birth certificate in a conspiracy that goes back over fifty years.  Hillary ran a pedofile sex ring with kid napped children out of a pizza parlor.  Helen and Jim were ready to believe anything, so long as it was bad:

1.   Hillary is a liar.  Each repeated this multiple times.

2.  She just let those people just die in Benghazi, and did not even care.

3.  She murdered people back when she was First Lady.  She had a big affair with that guy, then had him murdered and made it look like a suicide, but everyone knows what really happened.  It was murder to cover the affair.

4.  She let Bill get away with that fooling around in the Oval Office.

They stated these as pure simple facts.

They read the Decatur newspaper and watch Fox News.  Helen could name who she liked the most.  Brett Baier, then Charles Krauthammer.  She recognized that O'Reilly and Hannity were opinionated but she liked them, along with Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter.

Was Obama any better than Hillary?   No.  he was from Chicago and that means he was corrupt and Chicago dominates the state so Chicago methods make the rules.  Obama was a community organizer and he tried to get people in his area to vote a certain way, she said, disapprovingly.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hillary bashing

The Democratic Primary Continues.  The Sanders people are angry.

The triumph of Trump has not brought Democratic unity.  It has exacerbated the divide within Democratic thinking at the grass roots of activists writing in Facebook and at Indivisible rallies.  Facebook is a gold mine of primary research data.

One school of thought is that Democrats need to be incremental and win little battles by choosing battles carefully.  (For example, ok Gorsuch but oppose deporting students.)  The other is your oppose everything Trump so that--they hope--Trump is perceived as utterly outside the mainstream.   There is a problem with the latter tactic: he won the election and a great many people do not consider him crazy.  They think he is courageous and a straight-talking right-thinking patriot.

The Democratic fight shows up in the Gorsuch battle.  Pick the battles or resist is played outby Democratic activists as a continuation of the unresolved fight between Hillary Democrats and Sanders progressives--like the Cold War that followed WW2, the former allies becoming enemies.  Hillary voters tend to see the choice as one between a good liberal (Hillary) and a very liberal Sanders--two politicians on the same scale. The Sanders progressive/Socialists think it is a choice between a sold-out accomodator-collaborator with the dark side of American corporate power versus an idealistic and positive visionary.  Sanders' supporters do not see Hillary and Sanders as being on the same team, while Hillary's supporters do.

Hillary Democrats urge Sanders Democrats to "get with the team" and it irritates Sanders people who perceive it as an invitation to betrayal and heresy.

Some of the friction between the two sides comes from midunderstanding those two different viewspoints.  Hillary supporters are impatient with Sanders people: aren't we on the same side?  Why didn't you help Hillary more?   Sanders people are impatient with being asked to support exactly what they reject: that willingness to work with the enemy, and that enemy isn't Trump.  It is the whole bipartisan array of powerful elites.  The see Hillary as a collaborator with the enemy.

Trump may be the solution for repairing the divide, and it is not simply the unity of disliking and fearing  Trump.  Rather it is the fact that Trump is a disruptor.  He revels in high drama.  Trump likes a crisis.  

World events will create a crisis soon enough and if not Trump will elicit it.  It will be the crisis thst creates the opportunity Sanders supporters want. Sanders wants revolution. A geopolitical, constitutional, or economic crisis will create a kind of "reset" opportunity and Sanders supporters may seize on it to create a lurch in the political order. Sanders wanted a political revolution.  Real revolutions come after events so significant that the old regime has been thoroughly destroyed or discredited.  (Russia 1917, Germany 1945, China 1949.) Theoretically the Financial Crisis of 2008 was enough to discredit Wall Street and the powerful corporate elites, but to the chagrin of the Tea Party and progressives both Bush and zobama propped them up rather than destroyed them.  They repaired the damaged system and did not push reset on it.

Trump was the revolution from the right in protest.  Sanders represents the revolution from the left.  Sanders people want to carry out and complete the resetting revolution and Hillary does not.

So the Democratic constituencies are split and the battle is being fought in skirmishes over how to deal with the Gorsuch nomination.   Hillary-type Democrats are open to accommodating Trump and accepting some of his nominations because they seek incremental change for the better, picking battles, keeping the system intact.

Not Sanders.  Remember, Sanders refused to be a Democratic until he filed for the Democratic nomination.  He was a Socislist before and now again.  His supporters don't  want collaboration and incremental change.  That is what they oppose.

Sanders gave progressive Democrats hope for something more.  Sanders called it a revolution.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gain, Fear, Honor: the Gorsuch nomination

Thucydades said nations go to war for three reasons: gain, fear, and honor.  Let's look at a Democrats and Republican and see what might bring nuclear war.

Democrats may unite to defeat Gorsuch because in good game theory strategy they simply must.  The Republicans refused to allow Obama to appoint "his" judge. Justice Scalia died with eleven months to go in Obama's term of office and Republicans refused to consider him.  It would be smart and strategic.  Nothing against Gorsuch personally.   This is just a hostage trade situation.

Smart strategy: When hit, hit back.  Were Democrats  to accept this insult their pride would be hurt and Democrats fear they will appear weak and it will embolden Republicans.  Republicans need to decide how to respond. They want the appointment because they would gain an ideological ally on the Supreme Court. Their pride would be hurt.  But is it in their interest?

Thad Guyer says, yes.  I think most certainly not.  Republicans are weighing pride which tells them they must insist on the nomination even at the cost of the end of the filibuster, against interest, which tells them that Senate rules are what mske the senate so great a prize compared with the House.  (Gain is a wash.  Any alternate would have roughly the same ideology.)

A senator would lose a great deal of political power if Senate rules were to move further toward the House's majority rule.  People routinely risk losing 15 and 20 years of House seniority to become a junior senator.  Why? Because senate rules make each senator a tyrant, and not a petty one.  Their ability to put holds on appointments, their ability to object to things moving forward, and the filibuster make certain that each senator must be listened to and accommodated.  Every senator gets a mini-veto on legislation.  Senator Cruz used the power of his office to block the senate and caused him to be widely--some say universally--hated by his colleagues, yet he is still powerful and still must be accommodated.

My prediction us that senatorial self interest will outweigh pride.  Republicans will be patient and will crow their victory when someone even more conservative than Gorsuch is appointed.  Pride will get its due, but not until Gorsuch is sacrificed, in my prediction.  Republicans will let Gorsuch be filibustered and rejected.  It is just too good being a senator to give up its power simply to let one guy become a judge when there are hundreds of alternatives.  (Maybe even Ted Cruz thus time.  What a wonderful way for GOP senators to get rid of the tyrant.)

Thad Guyer thinks otherwise:

"Gorsuch Will Not Be Confirmed??"

My first jolt at this improbable prediction was tempered by my own very wrong prediction that Ryancare would pass. My reasoning was Ryan would pressure the Freedom Caucus so hard they would cry uncle, because such humiliation of Trump would be out of the question. But, in fact, Trump didn't care if Ryancare failed, he didn't own it, and it was itself Plan B. Alternative Plan A was let it fail, then replace Obamacare with Obamacare. Obamacare is like a suicide vest now strapped to Democrats timed for a 2018 midterm explosion. By contrast, Trump does own Gorsuch, he's inextricably and psychologically joined to Trump. There is no upside in Gorsuch being defeated, it could only be severe psychological damage to Trump, and a feckless, needless loss for the Republican Senate.  

There is no Freedom Caucus in the Senate except Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and Mitch McConnell is no Paul Ryan. If Paul Ryan could have pushed a nuclear button to change House Rules to pass Ryancare, he would have used that nuclear option. House Speakers historically get deposed by the radical fringes, Senate Majority Leaders don't. There are only two senators per state, but many gerrymandered Congressional districts which even in sum can only produce 30 or so mutants. Every single senator by contrast must win statewide approval, and the only mutants are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Unlike the House, the two mutant Republican senators do support Gorsuch. 

Indeed, there is no headcount of Republican Senators who are even on the fence on the Gorsuch confirmation. To the contrary, the headcount remains how many Democrats will end up supporting him. In short, the Senate is on a different planet than the House. On Planet House Mutant, not a single Democrat joined the Republicans. That won’t be the case in the Senate.

Gorsuch will fail only if Mitch McConnel is willing to have his wife's (Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao) administration fail. Pulling the nuclear trigger in finishing off the filibusterer already crippled by Democrats requires little more than abandoning sentimentality over the old ways. Senate Republicans gratuitously accepting defeat to preserve the filibusterer so that Democrats can later kill it is out of the question. Accepting defeat on Gorsuch would be political suicide for Republicans, and would unleash the nihilistic Mad Max lurking in Donald Trump. Gorsuch not getting confirmed despite enough Republicans to confirm him would put the Senate onto a different planet. I can’t see that happening.

Democratic Strategy. What would scientists do?

Scientists play games.

So do gamblers, head coaches, stock traders, Pentagon war strategists, and political leaders.  They want to work out the best strategy for winning in a competition.  Some biologists speculate that all of life--every heartbeat and breath and emotion--is devoted to that very subject: what is the best strategy.

One strategy that works pretty well in a struggle between two approximately evenly matched opponents is "hit back." The strategy has been refined to: "cooperate when one is cooperated with, hit back when one is hit, and don't hit first."   This works better than simply "hit back."   This strategy has a problem, though, because when it is employed by both sides, if one side accidently "hits"--even if it was intended as cooperation but erred in some way or was misinterpreted--then the two opponents would be locked in an endless cycle of hit back, hit back, hit back: nonstop war.   So the further refinement is to hit back most of the time but sometimes not, just to test whether the other side is ready to cooperate and start a cycle of cooperation.   

Democrats have a decision to make.     Republicans "hit" with their decision to deny Obama the ability to appoint a replacement to Judge Scalia in his final 11 months of office.  This set a new standard of hardball partisan warfare.  Do Democrats need to treat that as a "hit"?

Probably, yes.  They need to do it even if they don't really want to, even if they know it prolongs partisan gridlock, a condition that hurts a Democrats more than it hurts Republicans. (Democrats are the party that wants government to work; Republicans are the party that thinks it wants less government except in areas where it wants more government.)

Republicans will consider it weakness if Democrats do not retaliate.  Worse for Democrats is tat Democratic activists will consider it weakness.  It would be possible for Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell to work out an arrangement regarding replacing Ruth Ginsberg whereby they consent to appointment of a liberal moderate or some other backroom balancing deal to end the warfare but Democratic activists will not stand for it.   Therefore, I expect the Gorduch appointment to be a sacrifice.  Gorduch will not get his sixty votes, even though he would otherwise be generally acceptable.

Democrats would lose face.  Democratic senators would face a primary opponent.

Then, of course, Republicans have a choice on how to respond to the Democratic "hit" on Gorduch.  Do they have to "hit back" with the so-called nuclear option?  It would end the filibuster rule for the Senate.  

That would be a self inflicted wound, hurting both a Democrats and Republicans since it would dramatically weaken the power of each individual senator.  Senate rules make senators prima donnas, members with the power to stop everything.  Majority rule would reduce that power.  It would be as if in a tit for tat Cold War retaliation cycle, Boston bombed so Leningrad is bombed so the Soviet Union decides to jam all electronic communication.  Oops.  They use that for their own propaganda purposes.  

Predictions:  Gorduch will not be confirmed, Republicans will not end the filabuster rule, but Republicans will save face by doing some other visible "hit" but one that se-escalates the warfare, for example by ending some oil extraction rules that flagrantly fly in the face of Democrats and their concern about climate change. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Coalition Government

A short observation while I travel and have limited access to the internet.

The Republican team is still intact.   Lots of issues will find Republican majorities but relatively few thing have both a Republican majority in the House plus 60 votes in the Senate.

There is a majority coalition in the House.  It requires re-figuring things and pulling together a progressive agenda with lots of Democratic votes and zero Freedom Caucus votes.  In fact that is what I predict in an infrastructure bill.  If Trump wanted to do it he could create Medicare For All Lite, some version of expanded health care that actually did what he promised but with one big exception.   It would be simpler and universal and better but it would be expensive.

What will it take for Trump to become a big government populist?  He would have to have an emotional crisis that makes him want to punish the Freedom Caucus members and he would need to see a pathway to Mt Rushmore.  He would need to be this century's Theodore Roosevelt, doing something great.

I believe he would rather be great than be conservative.

It could happen.   Maybe Bernie Sanders can pitch it to him.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Greg Walden dodges a bullet

Greg Walden is a Happy Guy.   He Wanted to Lose the Healthcare Vote.

If repeal and replace had succeeded Greg Walden would have had a very bad law to defend.  He needed to fail.  That lets him keep Obamacare for his District and have Obamacare to criticize.   It is perfect for him.
Greg Walden had a problem.   His success at politicking for a Republicans earned him a big role: chair of the House committee overseeing the supposed repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  The only thing that would have been popular was what Trump and Walden promised: something impossible.  It was going to be terrific: universal, simple, inexpensive, and better.

Greg Walden is not embarrassed.  He is relieved.
It was just political salesmanship, also known as a lie.   It was a fantasy.  It was buncombe.  Donald Trump understood that and so did Greg Walden.

Greg Walden understood far better than did Donald Trump that "success" was a disaster politically.  They would have had a complicated, expensive, inadequate law to defend.   Obamacare isn't that bad--especially for Walden's district.   The biggest thing wrong with it was that voters had been taught to hate it.   The solution was right at hand.   Fail.

And fail he did.  Now his constituents who voted for him, not realizing he and his team were actively working to reduce the Medicaid expansion which gave so many of his voters care under the Oregon Health Plan, will get to keep what they have.  The rural hospitals in his district will get to stay solvent.  From a health access point of view, Obamacare is a satisfactory arrangement.   And now, as a politicajl matter, it is perfect.  People who resent paying for the healthcare of people poorer than themselves have Greg as a frustrated advocate.   Prosperous people with the ACA tax surcharges stay angry and they have Greg as a frustrated advocate.  Voters who hate anything Obama get to stay unhappy, right along with Greg.

Isn't this rank hypocrisy??   Of course.  So what?  It works for Greg Walden and it saves the things that people in the district need.

High school students fresh from civics classes might be disappointed in Walden, but older more jaded voters will simply have their expectations met.   Congress is a mess.  Nothing works.  Greg appears to be on "our side" because we do keep the Medicaid expansion which helps so many of his constituents and the hospitals stay solvent and Planned Parenthood stays in business.  

But meanwhile we also have good old Greg saying that there is something out there that would be really terrific, if we could only get that through Congress.  

For a moment there it looked like Republicans would have to govern and they would have to do what they promised.  But they failed.  Whew.  Now back to what works politically:  blame it on Obama.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Start with a premise: Trump is a brilliant strategist

Trump opponents hate the premise, so they are inclined to reject it out of hand.  But, pretend a moment.  Pretend he is a master at persuasive messaging.

What would Trump do??

Remember, Trump does not care about policy but he cares about being popular.

First of all, he would campaign against Obamacare, for the simple reason that it was complicated, incomplete, expensive, cumbersome, new, and it was created by Democrats.  It was unpopular generally and especially among Rebublicans.  So of course he campaigned against it.   That does not take a genius.

Second, he would recognize that any new health care bill will be complicated, incomplete, expensive, cumbersome, new, and would be created by Republicans and would be doomed to be unpopular.   But since he campaigned against it he has no choice but to make a show of repealing Obamacare.

Third, he would make the show, but "move on" just before a vote.   Then he would immediately say that Obamacare survives, that Democrats caused the defeat, he would repeat the word "Democrat" multiple times, he would say that Democrats 100% own Obamacare, and he would move the news to something popular: tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

Fourth, a brilliant strategist would understand that to be credible as a feint and phony attempt he needs to make it look good and needs to let the Democrats gloat, so indeed he welcomes the gloating and tells Paul Ryan to hold out there and admit it was a loss, a failure, that they came up short.

And that is exactly what happened.    It is entirely possible that Trump is, as his detractors believe, a blowhard of middling intelligence who stumbled upward due to Democratic incompetence in nominating a Hillary.   But it is possible, just possible, that Trump is actually very good at this.

The smart thing for a Democrats to do is pretend that he is, and attempt to defend against a genius, not a buffoon.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Win-Win. Lose-Lose.

Lose by Winning and Win by Losing.

Either way is perilous, both for Democrats and Republicans.  It is either Obamacare or Trumpcare.

If the House passes an Obamacare replacement bill today it will be called a tremendous victory by Republicans.  They can govern!   Trump is a masterful negotiator!  The Freedom Caucus is filled with loyal Republicans, at least in a pinch.  It will be a high point for Republicans.   Talk will emerge about the new tax cut bill, the new infrastructure bill, Trump on Mt. Rushmore.

Democrats will look like weak, outvoted spoilsports.

If House Republicans fail to pass a bill today the will look like Keystone Cops, right?  Everything pundits have said bout their inability to govern will be shown to be true.  Trump is weak!  A blowhard!  In over his head!    Right?

Not so fast.  It is more likely the reverse.

If the House passes this they are utterly committed to governing.  The resultant mess is theirs.  Trumpcare is unpopular, and it will be Trumpcare.   If they don't pass a law today they will look silly and disorganized but Republicans have a consolation prize.  They get to keep campaigning and complaining about Obamacare, calling it a disaster and doing their best to starve it and make it unaffordable along lines that please Republican constituencies. 

Republicans do not want to succeed.  They are only proceeding on this because they promised they would and because failure undermines Trump's credibility on what they really want: tax cuts.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Be Careful, Democrats. It is too soon to Crow..

Democrats need to be careful here.  Don't be comfortable the GOP will make a political hash of replacing Obamacare.  

Donald Trump laid out a threat to Republicans in the House.   We either pass this bill or I will "move on," he said.  It was an ultimatum and he put them, not him, on the spot.  I will look like I can govern and it will be you House members who look bad.

I hear Democratic pundits sounding sure Republicas will both fail to replace Obamacare and that they will look incompetent.  I agree they will fail, but not that they will failure politically. They are capable of joining with Trump to put a veneer of being able to be a party capable of governing. They might pass something and call it great.  It won't pass the Senate, so reluctant  House members need not worry the will be stuck with Trimpcare.  They will name the Democrats in the Senate as the villians.

And Democrats cannot yet pretend they are a united party.  They aren't.  The Sanders people and the establishment Democrats are as divided as the GOP.  The ideological purists of the Democratic left consider the establishment Democrats to be "corporate" and sellouts.  The Perez-Ellison split mirrors the Sanders-Hillary split.

Republicans became a party of protest and sold a majority of Americans on the idea that government does not work and that politicians are corrupt.  They did not simply convince Republicans.  They convinced Democrats.  They do not yet have a unified response to Trump.  Indeed, Democratic interest groups have been intransigent when contemplating deal making on the Gorduch nomination.  "Anything less than a gull commitment to resistance, including a filabuster of Judhe Gorduch, would be a betrayal of the communities you represent."

A college classmate, Alan Weisbard, said it nicely in a post to fellow classmates:

It is a hell of a lot easier to be an ideological purist when you don't have the responsibility for governing.

Today's Republicans are ideologically opposed to government, and have no talent for its practice.

Their brand for decades now is that government doesn't (and can't) work. They are doing their best to demonstrate the truth of that proposition.  And under their so-called management, the proposition is substantially correct.

We desperately need new management, committed to the proposition that government can work for the good of the people, and committed to making it work. Whether that describes contemporary Democrats is something of an open question.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Democrats misunderstand Republicans.

Repeal and Replace Obamacare: Bad for Hospitals

Democrats misunderstand the political needs of Republicans.   Democrats in the Senate and citizens at the rallies and Town Halls are busy crying about the 15 million--or maybe 24 million--people who would lose coverage under Trumpcare.  Yes, Republicans care about human suffering but they understand correctly that Obamacare was wealth redistribution and richer people were giving benefits to poorer people.   The ideological values of Republicans--patriotism, work ethic, self-reliance, distrust of government, skepticism of benefits to the undeserving--are all brought into play by Obamacare.

Protect the productive from freeloaders
Democrats need to get it through their heads:  a lot of people like the idea that millions of people are being kicked off the Obamacare charity wagon.   That's the point.   In their heads they are not imagining a hard working white Christian husband and wife, both of whom are good employees of employers who don't provide benefits and they are not imagining their 7 year old child with a compound fracture of the leg standing forlornly at the doorway of a hospital.    Instead, they are imagining a lazy person eager to game the system, or a criminal here in the country illegally, or a person terribly improvident in his life choices hoping an indulgent country will save him from his own stupidity.   They are the undeserving poor.

Senators and rally-goers run the risk of assisting Republicans.   Defense of the poor is understood to be the indulgent mommy taking money from hardworking Americans to assist the feckless and the criminal.  It makes Republican office holders feel righteous.  It allows them to play to their political base.  It feeds the notion that the world is divided between workers and freeloaders.  Mitt Romney spoke of them: the 47%.  Speaking of cuts to Meals on Wheels Budget Director Mulvaney said "When you start looking at places that we reduce spending one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?  The answer was no."

Republicans have compassion, but they focus their attention of different people than do Democrats.

Democrats need to refocus their attack on Trumpcare.   An article in Breitbart--the semi-official internet news outlet for Trump--reveals this point of mutual interest between Republicans and Democrats.   The Buffalo Buyout refers to a special deal Trump was offering to protect the Republican areas of New York State from making transfers of money into the Democratic New York City, an effort to round up votes to get to a majority to pass the bill.   

From Breitbart, emphasis added:

"House leadership may have thought it was doing a clever thing helping out non-New York City areas of the Empire State, that tend to be Republican. But, they forgot that Rep. Dan Donovan (R.-NY) represents one of the most Republican districts in the country, Staten Island, which is one of the five boroughs of New York City. Although, Donovan was leaning towards voting for the bill, he is now firmly undecided.
The former district attorney said four hospitals in his district would suffer severely under the new rules the speaker’s team designed to win over the upstate New Yorkers.       Full Article
Bi-partisan concern
Hospitals are an intersection of the interests of Democrats and Republicans because everyone can identify with being sick.  Democrats and Republicans go there and Democrats and Republicans make charitable gifts to them.  They are a public good.
Obamacare, in providing expanded Medicaid and insuring more people, reduced significantly the amount of uncollectible charity work done by hospitals.  The former system transferred money invisibly from employees and employers with private health insurance who overpaid in order to attempt to make up the losses racked up by the uninsured.   Trumpcare, in reducing the number of taxpayer subsidized patients throws the burden back onto private insurers and hospitals.

The best sign for rally-goers to carry would be "Save Our Hospitals."  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Extraordinary Experiment: What if Hillary and Trump Switched Genders

What if we saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with Fresh Eyes?

Of course, we cannot.  Trump and Clinton were very familiar to us when we saw them at their televised debates.   

Click to watch: Two minutes
But what if. . . ?

What if we could see their debate--and more generally see them speak and interact when played by actors, which helps us experience them as fresh faces, thereby disassociating them from all the things we know and hate or love about the candidates.

Professors at NYU set up exactly that experiment.

And they did it by switching the Trump role to a woman and the Clinton role to a man.  Above is a shot from the rehearsal and two minutes of video of the rehearsal.   It is worth the two minutes of your time.   I urge readers to watch it before I share my own observations since I do not want to prejudice your own thoughts.

OK, here it is.

I liked the Trump character, as played by the woman above, far more than I liked watching the real Donald Trump in live action.   And I thought the Hillary character, played by the man, sounded more irritatingly prim and stuck in his political posturing than I remember feeling when I witnessed the real Hillary say the same words.   The woman playing Trump seemed animated, yes, but genuine.  The man playing Hillary seemed composed, yes, but calculating and un-genuine.

The ongoing subject matter of this blog is success and failure in political messaging.  This bit of video is helpful to students of the past election and to candidates and observers of future ones.  There is something appealing about apparently earnest advocacy.  Candidates who appear to calculate and parse out political positions on narrow grounds of policy look untrustworthy.

To my eye the Trump-character's interruptions did not seem particularly bullying nor impolite when depicted in this video.  They struck me as spontaneous.   

NYU story: Click Here
The authors of the study thought they were analyzing gender and their hypothesis was that Trump's behavior would come across as "shrill" when voiced by a woman, and indeed that the real Trump could get away with dominance behavior that a woman could not.  They, too, were surprised.    

My own sense is that the portrayal is less about gender and more about simply removing Trump/Clinton pre-conception baggage from the debate.   This has a longer term implication for Donald Trump.   Trump created a big, big brand.  Trump has his staunch fans--currently supposedly about 37% from the polls.   It could well be that Trump's actual behavior would be more popular if it were performed by anyone but Trump.  Trump made his enemies, and whatever Trump does will be seen as Trump.  

It was enough to make him president but it may not be enough to make him a successful one.


Monday, March 20, 2017

No privacy for public employees. Lucky for them.

Public Employees salaries are public.  The public has a right to know where their money goes.

Even your kind old first grade teacher?  Yes.  Even her.    And she should be grateful because the fact that it was public all along helps assure her that she gets to keep it.  Everyone all along the way had the chance to know what we were getting into.

Oregon's largest newspaper once again this year published a link to the database of the Oregon Public Retirement System recipients.


The database is user friendly.  It defaults to listing recipients in declining order of monthly payment but one can easily type in a name and see both the former employee's final salary and their current monthly benefit.

Pension debate
These employees were public employees.  The data here is a public record.  And PERS and its formulas generally are matters of public debate.  The Oregon legislature will find it difficult to fund current operations of education, roads, and other services, plus the costs of healthcare under Medicaid expansion, primarily because the pension program is underfunded currently.  Taxpayers need to make up the difference.  It is an expensive mess.

Duck coach Mike Bellotti
The primary impact of this report, especially since it defaults to showing the highest paid recipients first, will likely be public surprise and dismay at the high amounts of the payouts.  The big policy debate--how should Oregon handle its PERS obligations?--comes down to actual people getting paid actual benefits.  One cannot understand the big picture unless one understands the details.   What people were paid, how long they worked, and their payout are those details.   

Therefore, there is no privacy, even for the equipment operator on a road grader of a county public works department, nor for a 4th grade teacher in Myrtle Creek, nor a DMV records clerk in Salem.  Readers can look up their old high school teachers and see their PERS benefit.  

Some are public officials whose work put them in the public eye.  The second largest recipient is former Oregon football coach Mike Bellotti, undoubtably a public figure.  He got paid $1,320,000 a year in his final years as coach, which, when combined with the formula of years of service created a pension of some $536,000 a year.

Prolific Neurosurgeon
The highest paid person was an Oregon Health Sciences neurosurgeon who gets paid $55,000 a month in retirement, having earned $1,800,000 a year at the end of his 20 year career.   Is he a public figure?  Possibly anyone earning 1.8 million dollars a year from the public is, by definition, a public figure.  He was described as a "prolific" and "star" surgeon who left Oregon Health Sciences to go to a practice in Seattle where he carried out a high volume practice.  In his 16 months there he did 661 procedures and brought in fees to the hospital of $86 million dollars.   He also generated 49 complaints over his surgery practices, which put him into the news.   Presumably he is newsworthy and therefore a public figure.  

Our former schoolteachers are not, but they don't have privacy either.

Their salaries and payouts and photos lead the newspaper story.

Note that a 40 year employee, whose final salary was $77,000 receives $262,000 a year in retirement benefits.   The PERS formula strongly favors long careers.

Of the 121,000 recipients of PERS listed here, 526 receive more than $10,000 a month in income, a little fewer than one half of one percent.   That 526th highest paid person worked for 25 years, had a final salary of $96,000 a year and now receives $120,000, which is 125% of his former income.

A more typical employee, drawn from the midpoint of the 121,000 recipients, is a woman who worked 22 years, had a final salary of $68,000 a year, and draws $2,200 a month.   A former high school teacher of mine worked 30 years for the Medford schools, earned $42,000 a year when he retired young in 1995, and now gets $42,000 a year.   Another, who worked 30 years and earned $51,000, gets $62,000 a year.

Some people will consider it fair and reasonable, others will consider it too expensive. The Oregon courts said it was a contract and a deal is a deal.  What is undeniably true is that the contracts that awarded these pensions were public, were discussed at the time, reviewed and debated publicly over the past five decades, and were entered into by school boards and legislatures elected by the people of Oregon.  The deal was not private, it was public.

A deal is a deal
Therefore, there is an equivalence in lack of privacy:  public employees, working and retired, receive a benefit that was arrived at openly.  The searchable database is nothing new.  Neither retirees nor public can pretend surprise, either at the lack of privacy for people who perhaps expect it but simultaneously for the public who might look at the salaries and pensions and be surprised.  

People on both sides--public and employee--knew the deal.  


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Win by breaking things

Democrats should be reckless.  It is a path to victory.  Or maybe they can win by retreating a little.

Political scientist Seth Masket notes that Republicans have been winning big recently because they have a structural advantage over Democrats.  It isn't gerrymandered congressional districts and it isn't that their policies are more popular.  It is that they don't mind the idea of government chaos but Democrats do.

Weakness:  Democrats want government to work.
Therefore, in the hardball of politics Republicans have been willing to shut down the government  and simply refused to consider the appointment of Garland to replace a vacancy with eleven months left on Obama's term, in effect setting up the precedent that the Senate might never fill a Supreme Court vacancy.  Masket's proposed solution is for Democrats to mimic Republicans.  Obstruct everything.  

It worked politically for Republicans--witness their success at the state and federal level in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016--plus it sends a message back that obstruction works both ways and it is in the Republican interest to cooperate with Democrats. Click to read the article

There is another approach.  Democrats can recognize reality: Republicans control the House, Senate and White House.  They won elections by opposing Obamacare.  They have the majorities and the power to remake healthcare in America.  It is undeniable that the ACA is complicated, incomplete, and in some cases unaffordable for the people it is intended to help.   Obamacare is unpopular.  Some people argue it currently polls pretty well, but in fact it was poll tested in real live elections, which is why Republican have the greatest majorities in the House in a century.  

Pre-election position: confirm nobody
Democrats can be intransigent on nomination of Supreme Court justice, doing exactly to Neil Gorsuch what Republicans did to Merrick Garland. The base will demand that and enjoy seeing it.

But on healthcare they can simply let Republicans have their way. [I realize this is shocking to some, but hear me out.]   It will be a disaster for Republicans, both as a policy matter and a political one.  It is cruel to some but it will not be as cruel as the situation was just eight years ago.  Republicans will attempt to ameliorate  some of the pain with some provision for people with pre-existing conditions.  (All sorts of middle income Republicans working in the gig economy who lack an employer health plan were simply unable to buy insurance and therefore risked 100% of their family's assets if someone got cancer.  Republicans emphasize with those people.)

The pre-ACA situation was not an utter disaster for the poor.  They could not pay and they had no more money to lose.  They got what they needed: free health care.    The real pain was for exactly the people who were the voting bloc that elected Trump: the working poor, people how sometimes had homes and retirement accounts to lose when they got sick.  The doctors, hospitals, and drug companies took everything they had, then the working poor went bankrupt.  

The poor and near-poor in fact got healthcare by going to emergency rooms.   The emergency room was the safety net.  It was not a financial disaster for the poor because they had nothing to lose. It was, however, a financial disaster for the working poor, the taxpayers, and for America's hospitals who had patients with uncollectible accounts.   Republican voters and office holders are not in favor of the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor and near poor that was imbedded in Obamacare.   However, by ideology and tradition they are in fact very sensitive to the concerns of taxpayers, insurance companies, drug companies, and hospitals.   

That is who will be hurt by Trumpcare.  Let them get hurt.  They won't stay hurt for long.  
(Yes, a few members of the working poor--those kicked off the Medicaid expansion and those who lose insurance--will be hurt.  Someone in their family will get sick, they will lose everything they accumulated.   They won't be imprisoned; they simply will be made poor, just like a lot of other Americans.  It is tragic for them, but it is what we had 8 years ago so it is an old tragedy and not a new one, and it is a tragedy that the people of the USA voted to risk.  The people have spoken.)

Republican's are at bat
Democrats may need a show of opposition and they need not announce a retreat.  Republican dissent alone is sufficient to create opposition to it and the opposition to it will have more credibility when it comes from Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and the Heritage Foundation than if it comes from Democrats.  There will be plenty of public opposition but the end result must be branded as the Republican plan. 

Democrats can complain bitterly that Republicans have the vote, that Republicans are in charge, that they repealed Obamacare, darn it.

The real problem for Republicans is that do not want to govern because in fact they do not have a governing majority or any plan better than Obamacare.  Their only majority that held together the party is dislike of Obama/Hillary/Pelosi.   

The great tool in the hands of Democrats is that the Republicans are in charge.  Their task is simple:  make certain the public understands that they are in charge.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trump Mistake

Trump is doing something UnTrump-like.   He is mixing up his messages.

Donald Trump has a message problem.   If the House is going to push through some kind of repeal and replace bill, which then gets to the Senate, Trump can say that he killed Obamacare.  Then he will go to work saying how much better Trumpcare is.

Or, if it passes the House then dies in the Senate, Trump can say that he and Republicans did their job but the mean Democrats in the Senate killed it.  Possibly in fact it will be the conservative senators who say it is Dead on Arrival who will have killed it but either way the Democrats can be blamed.

But Trump needs to the the center of attention.  He wants to be the prime mover.  So he is saying now--again--that Obamacare is dead.

However, he also says that Obamacare is dying on its own.

And he is saying that he is killing Obamacare.

If Obamacare is dead, then we will have "Trumpcare"
This is a problem that Democrats can exploit if they get their act together.   In fact any health plan will be an unpopular mess.   Nothing has consensus, even Medicare for All and even if it were free to Americans because some people would object strongly to the new entitlement.   Something unpopular will result.   Trump is muddling up what that unpopular thing will be.   Politically Trump is going to want the political disaster to be Obama's, not his.

Even his own semi-official website is confused, saying simultaneously that Obamacare is dead and that Obamacare is a disaster. 

Read it here

Trump is quoted in Breitbart's article:  “I also want people to know that Obamacare is dead,” Trump said. “It’s a dead health care plan. It’s not even a health care plan, frankly. 

Mistake.  If Obamacare is dead then the resulting mess is Trumpcare.

Trump cannot bear not being in the middle of the action, having publicly failed and having the nation's health care program have someone else's name.   It would show his political weakness and he does not want to admit to weakness, even when it would be in his interest.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Negotiations 101: Cut Meals on Wheels

Everyone is taking the bait.  Trump does not actually want to cut "Meals on Wheels."

Democrats stand to get snookered.

 Republican officeholders stand to look reasonable and compassionate. 

Government entitlement-haters get to think they are listened to.

Most important:  Trump gets more of what he really wants.

Democrats need to understand: it is just a negotiating position, setting the stage for "reasonable compromise."

Democrats do need to understand the reality that in fact a lot of people like the Trump budget, as is.  Trump presented a budget document that was intended to appeal to a political base that wants money spent on the military rather than programs to help lazy, handout-seeking people who are sponging off them.  It is a Trump promise kept--cut payments to the supposed undeserving.   A great many Americans receive government money in one form or another.   They consider themselves fully justified (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Disability payments, Mortgage interest deductions, Accelerated Depreciation, farm price supports, Pell Grants, solar energy tax credits, electric car rebate, etc.) but they simultaneously consider the money given to others to be unjust and abusive, especially if it goes to people unlike themselves economically or racially.  

"Jaws Drop": Exactly the Headline Trump Wants
A great many people persist in thinking that undocumented immigrants get free everything, from housing, food stamps, phones, healthcare.  It isn't true.  They don't qualify for any of those.  The fact that the presumption persists shows how powerful is this idea.  So the Trump initiative in cutting Planned Parenthood, Public TV, Public Radio, the Councils for the Arts and the Humanities, the EPA, after school meals for school children, the State Department, foreign aid all fit into a pattern of promises kept to that wide constituency who opposes money sent to constituencies of liberal elitists.

Don't worry:  Congress will save it.
By having Mulvaney speak publicly that he was concerned for the struggling taxpayer, not just the struggling housebound senior, he confirmed Trump's promise to cut benefits for the undeserving.  Trump looks tough.

And now, of course, Trump will get overruled by the Congress.   GOP officeholders who want to sound tough on spending--but who are still need to sound reasonable--now have an easy example for their compassion and common sense.  They will vote to save Meals on Wheels.  It gives them political cover.  It allows them to cut other programs, each of which have their constituencies and detractors, but they will appear "balanced" since at least they supported Meals on Wheels.

Democrats need to avoid focusing on this one.   If they aren't careful Democrats will "win" the battle to save Meals on Wheels.  Winning would be bad!  That would position Trump as "meeting Democrats half way" which is what Trump wants.  Cutting the EPA and State Department and American "soft power" but saving Meals on Wheels is not "half way."  

Remember, this is a negotiation and Democrats should try to be as good at it as is Trump. The more Democrats talk about the value of Meals on Wheels the better for Trump and the worse for them because it is their weakest argument; it shifts the midpoint and balance of the negotiation.  Opposing the Meals on Wheels cut assumes that it was serious and realistic, and that it set a midpoint for cuts.  

Democrats should focus on the big programs that provide widespread public benefit including American soft power, the EPA protection against cancer, etc.  Let Republicans save Meals on Wheels.  Democrats should scoff that Republicans have to fight to save it and not lift a finger lest they legitimize Trump's gambit.

Democrats should not defend Meals on Wheels.  They should publicly laugh at Republicans for having to save it, thus preserving the area of reasonable give and take.   But what if Republicans don't save Meals on Wheels?   Democrats should be so lucky.