Sunday, August 21, 2016

Priorities

Meme for Republicans:  Mene, tekel upharsin!
(Hint:  Biblical handwriting is on the wall for you.)
Before leaving us--I won't say abandoning us--for a month-long hiatus in the middle of this fall's campaign, comedian Bill Maher gave us a command:  we must keep as our priority the defeat of Donald Trump.  He used that argument in his "New Rules" closing segment as the reason he would relent on his efforts to ridicule those who would  impede bathroom access for transgender people.

I suppose that one can wait; the embarrassment the North Carolina law to that effect is having on the re-election campaign of its Governor McCrory is its own deserved reward.  With regard to Mr. Trump, though, the Drumpfite policy of Assured Self-Destruction seems to be taking care of that concern on its own--though we should never resist the openings to slag him when they present themselves.  This week, we can see that Drumpf has adopted his Apprentice TV strategy ("you're fired") in managing his campaign efforts, and I have no doubt that the latest stooge, the one of Breitbart heritage, will be the next scapegoat for the campaign's continued failures.  At this point, Trump's single hope is what I have called the "David Duke Effect", the possibility that the poll numbers conceal a large number of bigots who will vote for Trump on Election Day but won't own up to it beforehand, either out of ethical guilt or fear of being ridiculous. Those people, to the extent they exist and are registered to vote, will find a reason to justify this cowardly behavior when the time comes.

Instead, we can expand our objectives beyond the mere Electoral College defeat of Trump; as we discussed last time, Trump's chances boil down to winning all of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio (along with North Carolina), and they equate to those of winning Pennsylvania (or if not PA, then sweeping New Hampshire, Nevada, and Iowa), where Clinton is winning now by about 10 points in polls. Meanwhile, Clinton is imperiling Trump's chances in such "automatic" red states as Georiga, Arizona, and even Missouri and Utah.

The number one priority, then, if Trump's campaign (which so far is amateurish and poorly focused) does not turn things around, will be to utilize his poor performance and inferior candidacy at the top of the ticket to degrade the Republicans'  status across the country.  Again, most of the best opportunities in Senate races coincide with the most important state races for the Presidency, so organizing efforts should focus naturally on those seven states.  In addition, though, there are seats which can and should be gained in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana--the latter, now that Evan Bayh has entered the race, moves from a possibility to a highly promising target.  Besides those three, New Hampshire appears to be the most likely candidate as the fourth Senate pick-up, the minimum requirement to gain control of the Senate. Beyond that, PA, OH, and now, NC, are 50-50 chances, with additional targets worth pursuing in AZ, MO, FL, and IA.  A fifth pick-up out of all these is more than desirable; one state's Senate seat currently held by a Democrat, Nevada, is endangered--Catherine Cortez Musto is currently slightly behind in the polling.

The House picture is more complex and, in general, less hopeful.  A landslide victory at the top of the ticket is the best--probably the only--possibility to enable the Democrats to make up the 30 seat gain needed, as the number of districts held currently by Republicans in which political affiliations and the strength of candidates would favor a pick-up is considerably smaller than that. I am deluged by emails from prospective Democratic House candidates and Democratic Representatives in close races; most or all of those appeals are coming from legitimately contested races, but I cannot distinguish among them (at least, not yet), so I am just giving to the DCCC (headed by my Congressman, the estimable Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico), trusting that group will do the critical analysis to identify how to allocate their resources to maximize the result.

I have my eyes on the long-term prize, the destruction of the Republican party.  This year's campaign is all that I could hope for, in terms of highlighting the split between the Cruzian hard-core conservatives and the Drumpfist backward-looking bigots. No doubt they will do their best to pretend they can cooperate, both as Election Day nears and then after the debacle that seems likely that day, but I'm not buying it.  2018 will be a head fake in the big picture, as the midyear political dynamics will favor the Republicans, as will the number and type of Senate seats the Democrats will have to defend; however, there will be a number of state races, for governor and state legislatures, that will be critical for control of redistricting after the 2020 census.  2020 will be the key year in determining whether the Republicans can recover the momentum they have lost since 2004 or whether their trend remains unmistakably downward:  I think either the Cruz Lizard at the top of the ticket or a toned-down Drumpfist (a contradiction in terms?) would be a disaster; only a more moderate, diversity-welcoming candidate can reverse their decline.

Clinton vs. Trump shows more clearly than ever that the Democrats have now become the natural governing party; the failure of the Republican-controlled Congress is equally evident, and it will be the future humiliation of Paul Ryan by his party that will make that clear to all.  I anticipate fireworks with regard to a battle for control of the Supreme Court, but if the Democrats have control of the Senate and of the White House, the outcome can only be delayed, not prevented, by dubious filibuster.

The Olympics in the Side-View Mirror
I have to admit that I was somewhat wrong in a couple of aspects of my preview:  the NBC coverage on TV has not been as good as I had hoped, and the welcome of Rio's Cariocas  to the world's visitors has been better than feared, while the beauty of the setting is as advertised.

With regard to NBC, the cynicism of the programming and advertising is all too typical.  The prime-time network telecasts are all-American, heavy on the personal profiles, setting up long ad breaks, and light on the variety of sports being presented. Their auxiliary channels have not adequately compensated for the weakness on the network telecast.  I would cite as highlights the volleyball, men's and women's, indoor and beach, and, of course, the track and field (more track than field) . The soccer was OK--at least they carried the final between Brazil and Germany live on one of the other channels--that was probably the second highlight of the games (after Usain Bolt) in the eyes of the world.  The coverage of the return to the Olympics of golf on NBC-owned Golf Channel was surprisingly not as sleep-inducing as golf on TV usually is. After that, I have little good to say about the coverage:  I get it that NBC has to recoup the billions they paid for the rights and deliver the ratings they promised to their corporate bosses and in their ad sales, but the other channels did not have those limitations--and broadening the range of coverage  could extend their ratings. For example, where was table tennis?  Millions of Chinese-Americans would like to know; what I heard was that their attempts to plug into Chinese TV were most difficult.  Field hockey? Badminton? Kayaking? Cycling (if there were no Americans or Brits in the final)?  You may think I'm kidding; I'm not. 

The multiple-channel viewing of the "NBC Olympic Experience" was disappointing; the channels to choose from didn't have Olympics half the time, and the interface was slow and clumsy.  I tried the
"live streaming of all events" as always with live streaming (at least for me), was a rabbit hole (what is userID and PIN for your cable service? I don't have one).  Well, maybe they can get it right in four years.

Finally, the prediction of dominance of the American women's team was accurate (except for the surprise upset in the quarterfinals of UNWNT, the US women's soccer team, which actually adds to the interest level for future women's soccer competition).  The operative comparison for US medal levels is not recent summer Olympics but 1984, when the Soviet Union boycotted "our" Los Angeles Olympics to get revenge for our (Afghanistan-inspired) boycott of Moscow's 1980 one. I'll note the final total comparison in a comment in a day or two when the dust settles.

The two TV personal profiles that did turn my head somewhat were both focused on Brazilians:  the original "Girl from Ipanema" from the song--there is a specific one, she is in her 70's, still very attractive--and the story of Vanderlei di Lima, the marathon runner who was leading in 2004's race in Athens when he was attacked by a deranged spectator.  Vanderlei's mojo was disturbed by the incident (once they pulled off the intruder), but he pulled it together and won the bronze medal.  For the opening ceremony in Rio, he was selected as the national hero who lit the Olympic flame in the Stadium.


I apologize for publishing the first draft yesterday, filled with errors.  I was in a hurry to leave on a car trip and -yes--distracted by the Olympics.

Friday, August 05, 2016

And Now for Somethings Somewhat Different.....

Let's Fly Down to Rio. Not.
I have loved my visits to "Hio", but I cannot recommend this as the time to go there.  I am not expecting any trouble, as such, but the atmosphere will be tense, there will be a lot of defensiveness of one kind or another among the locals who remain, and going as a spectator will be cost-ineffective.  On the last point, I found that to be true going to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and hat was a lot less trouble.

Anyway, it still has to be a bit of a plus for the city, which (always) could use a bit of sprucing up, and the development of public transportation, if safe and effective, could be a game changer there.  I'm not expecting them to blast big holes in all those (populated) hillsides, but just an effective coastal system could be great. Rio is hugely spread out and difficult to navigate.  Finally, it will remind people all over the world that there is a place called Rio de Janeiro, and it looks like it does.  I hope that NBC gets some good dirigible rights! In general, I am against moving the Olympics to new cities all the time when there are plenty of cities with all the required facilities and of recent vintage; however, it made sense to have someplace in South America.  Now we should stop adding new ones for awhile.

The coverage should be all that one could hope for this time--another reason not to bother going.   If it starts getting boring on one channel, then there are going to be plenty of options.  That should cut down on the percentage of time we will have to watch the narrated life stories of our American athletes.  Not that they aren't interesting, sometimes, but it's good to have an option, something we did not have in the past (particularly for the Winter Olympics). I'm not going to suggest the "streaming" option in the Internet, which sounds like a recipe for madness at extreme cost (unless you get it for free somehow--and if you do, don't tell me).

So, what will I be watching?  Not the opening ceremony, for which I imagine the theme will be "What's that Smell?  Oh, It's just Bug Spray."   Thousands of people standing around, hoping not to get bitten.  I hope that tonight's highlight will be the entry of the Refugee Team, which I believe is supposed to be near the end, right before the host country.   I'm pretty conventional; I will take it slow the first week, not too much gymnastics, please.  Track and field does interest me, and then there are the finals of the team sports--I am particularly interested in volleyball (both the indoor and outdoor versions), men's tennis, rugby sevens, and women's soccer.

The last one brings me to what should obviously be the story of the Olympics:  the complete domination of the American women.  With the suppression of Russian contestants (complete in track and field, significant in many others) US men should also win their share or more, but the women could reach unheard-of levels.  In sports like swimming, gymnastics, and basketball (and tennis?), US women are going to be beyond reach.  That is why the soccer should be interesting:  the US is clearly the favorite, but there is risk.  And Carly Lloyd just blew everyone away with her performance at the last World Cup--if she can do anything like that at the Olympics, there will be no Katy to bar the door (to endorsements, finally!)

Political note:  The question will be whether Hillary will be able to lay off the potential for prideful boasts about "our women".  I hope so; there is no need--let Donald do it, because he will trip over his member doing it and thus do himself more damage


Song of the Summer
Entertainment Weekly (July 11) had an incredibly lame article in which it announced that it could not announce its Song of the Summer.. My surmise was that they had prepared an article that had the right choice but it had been nixed by the higher-ups.  In further  research today on their SotS ruminations, I saw a couple of dozen songs named, with many different contributors, but still nothing about the song which has clearly dominated the airwaves for the last two months.

Here's a clue:  According to Billboard Magazine, this song is now only the fourth ever to be No. 1 on their Rock, Alternative  and Adult Alternative listings (you would think there might be more, but that's how fragmented the music world is, now).   So, I guess Rock doesn't exist anymore, in the EW universe.   Whatever--I'm speaking of "Dark Necessities", of course, the new Red Hot Chili Peppers' single.

The Peppers have been grinding out quality rock for 25 years or more; they do have different styles they can play, but I would venture to say that their greatest accomplishment has been their consistency over time with an excessive variety of lead guitarists.  That is to say, they needed a change.

Enter Danger Mouse, the top rock producer and man behind the scenes for much of the best music of this era.  The song "Dark Necessities" has the usual Anthony Kiedis vocal styling and the frequently-observed raw insistence of RHCP's great rhythm section (Flea on bass; Chad Smith on drums), but there is something else (besides some new guy on lead guitar, really limited to a solo in the song's final minute):  keyboards, all the way through.  Our man does more than just produce the music, though he is nowhere to be seen in the "Official Video". Thank you, Brian Burton!

So, what is the problem with acknowledging the song's evident greatness?  The title, I think, reveals the problem:  the song does have a forceful tone, maybe a bit overbearingly masculine, and the lyrics' content--lightly nihilistic philosophy, with drug references--might make it less acceptable than the usual love stories that prevail in the pop world these days.

To be fair, though, the lyrics really seem to be there to fit the song's cadence, which is polished, and also both chunky and high-speed.  Just listen  past that plucked bass and hear the tasteful keyboards, and you will see how D.M. has taken the RHCP's natural gifts and raised them a level.

Political Note: I am expecting to see some of our heroes put together a fund-raiser to stop Drumpfism, but they better hurry up. 

YTD Movies
This will be my usual late-summer lament for the quality of the films being produced this year.  I don't have the previews for the year-end binge of "Oscar contenders" yet to encourage me.

I admit I haven't been a regular filmgoer for 2016's output; most of them don't inspire me to go watch. I did see "Zootopia", which was OK--looked like a pilot for a series of sequels to me--but didn't leave me with much.  I never get around to wanting to see most of the action hero/superhero stuff  (Captain America whatever, Bourne, Ghostbusters, Ice Age whatever, and certainly not "Batman vs. Superman"--what a stupid idea!). I am mildly curious to see if "Suicide Squad" ("Dirty Dozen" with superheroes) will live up to the hype, and I will see the Star Trek film.  I like that for this episode they are putting a little less emphasis on the vagaries of human behavior (though that is what Star Trek's basic theme is about), and a little more on the possible nature of alien behavior.

The one movie so far this year that truly made an impression on me was "The Free State of Jones".  A good choice for an election year, it covered a true story of a rebellion against the Confederacy in Mississippi and how it turned out.  Once again, Matthew McConnaughey rose above expectations. On the other hand, the critical darling of the first half, "The Lobster", did not appeal to me.  I like satire as much as anyone, more than most, but this one's premise--that people without a soul mate will be condemned to death in the future--didn't strike me as particularly perceptive.  It did give me a few chuckles, but generally the viewing experience was awkward and tense, and I was somewhat impressed with Colin Farrell's taking on such a weird role.

Looking just forward:  One movie for which I (perhaps alone) am anticipating the release is "The Light Between Oceans", a tearjerker set in Western Australia (a current interest of mine) with a strong cast. I am looking for a place to see "Captain Fantastic", a satire about holier-than-thou living off the grid starring the estimable Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn, of course).  And, after having seen several times the preview for Woody Allen's "Cafe Society"--a strong cast, with Jesse Zuckerberg in the usual Woody-ish role--I have not seen anywhere that the movie is actually playing. Woody may be afraid to go back into the US market with all his bad press, but that is no way to recoup the expenses of a heavy star-filled cast.

Final Political note: "Birth of a Nation", the snarkily-titled story of the slaves' rebellion led by Nat Turner in Virginia, is, to be released in October, could produce some major reaction, as the subject is a highly provocative one.   Talk about the authorities cracking down on African-Americans!

Monday, July 25, 2016

The 2016 Election: It's PFONI!

I don't mean to suggest at all that this is a "phony" election, with its outcome rigged, or with no difference resulting from the outcome.  There are real differences between the national candidates and the national party platforms (immigration, tax policy, climate change), and even larger differences in the governing and leadership style.  If that doesn't convince, there is the Supreme Court, experiencing a 4-4 stalemate on most issues since Scalia's death, and the prospect of a couple of other Supreme Court nominations coming in just the next four years  (Thomas, Ginsburg).

"PFONI" is a mnemonic acronym, a shorthand term I've coined to summarize the focus of this year's election.  Both the Presidential election and control of the US Senate will be decided in a handful of states, and my new word is composed of their first letters, and in order of priority (specifically for the Presidential election).  Technically, it should be PFO3NI, as there are three "N" states that make the cut.  It is partially a coincidence that the key Senate races are in these states; a coincidence that they all have Senate races (2/3 have a contest in a Presidential election year), but of course not coincidental that close Senate races tend to be in states that are close for the Presidential contest.  And yes, there are some other consequential Senate races outside the seven key states (I'll come back to that later), but these seven have most of those that look to be close at the finish.

The background story is President Obama's 332-206 Electoral College margin vs. Mitt Romney in 2012.  To win the election, Trump must net a gain of at least 63 Electoral votes; the states below gave 83 to Obama and 15 to Romney. Let's go through them one at a time:

Pennsylvania  (20 Electoral Votes)- This is the single state that I believe will be most determinant of the outcome:  if Clinton wins it, it is very unlikely she will lose; if not, she is in trouble. Fivethirtyeight.com (will be abbreviated as "538", but don't use that to check the website) has it at 60% probability for Clinton (their "polls-plus" forecast, which takes all into account and estimates election day likelihood), the same as the election in general.  Predictit.org has it at 66% probability for Clinton, the same as her price on winning the election.
If one looks at the demographjcs of the election and of the state, PA will depend on Clinton's ability to draw the votes of the college-educated in suburban Philadelphia and the margins she can draw (turnout) among African-Americans.  As in the election in general, it is all there to be won by her campaign. In this regard, the choice of Philly for the site of the Democrats' convention looks smart, as long as it comes off well.

The Senate race promises to be close.  Pat Toomey is a Republican that is too conservative for the state; he won in a poor Democratic year (2010) against Joe Sestak (perceived to be a weak candidate by the party elders).  Sestak lost the primary to Katie McGinty, who is running neck-and-neck with Toomey in the polling.

Florida (29 EV) -  A must-win state for Trump;  it is nearly impossible for Trump to win without FL (ignoring the nonsense Trump campaign people offer about totally blue states like NY, CA, CT, IL). Tthe only alternative would be to overturn and sweep states like MN, WI, MI, all of which have been consistent--close, but Democratic--in every recent Presidential election.  FL's basic demographics will match large margins for blacks and Latinos for Clinton against those among white non-college voters for Trump; the deciding factor might be the large elderly population, so Trump's positions on Social Security and Medicare (which I haven't clearly heard yet) could be make-or-break--expect him to try to out-pander the Democrats in this area.  It's very much 50-50 right now, though I think the longer-term dynamics will favor Clinton.

The Senate race  will be one of the highest-profile ones, and the outcome is far from certain.  Marco Rubio's late entry, a complete reversal from what he had always said (but still not too surprising), turns it from an uphill struggle to hold his seat to something somewhat likely.  Rubio is not particularly popular in his state these days, as evidenced by the trouncing he took from Trump, but the Democrats are not ready to take him on:  a fierce primary battle between two Congressmen, one a Blue Dog (Patrick Murphy) and the other a raving, ethically-compromised radical (Alan Grayson).  Grayson wins my award for the most consistently amusing emails, but I share the party's doubt that he may be the strongest potential opponent.

Ohio (18 EV) - As always, a key state for the Republicans' hopes, and what should be fertile ground for Trump's appeal to embittered, working-class whites.  He would be favored if not for his failure--so far--to make peace with his defeated rival, Gov. John Kasich.  Without Kasich's support, or if it comes too late, Trump has to be considered the underdog. (538 has it about 50-50, Predictit 60-40 Clinton).

The Senate race has a lower profile than Florida's, but it is also very close, with each party nominating strong, somewhat bland candidates who are proven winners in statewide elections, Rob Portfman for the Republicans and Ted Strickland for the Democrats.  It will likely be a tossup all the way to Election Day.

Next come three "N" states, I'll start with the one with the most Electoral votes:
North Carolina (15 EV) - This is the only one of the seven which went Republican in 2012 (after going very narrowly for Obama in 2008); we are told the demographics are gradually shifting more toward the Democrats in the state, but this year's vote may show a  reversal of the trend.  It polls very close right now, but I tend more to the 538 view (60-40 Republican) than Predictit's 50-50.

The Senate race has an incumbent, Richard Burr, against a promising woman contender, Elizabeth Ross.  Burr is what passes for a moderate Republican outside New England, and Ross is a moderate Democrat.  The state's politics have been roiled by the passage of the infamous legislation requiring transgender persons to use the public bathroom of their "birth gender", which is causing great embarrassment to the Republican-dominated state government.  Predictit gives the Democrats a 40% chance to pick up this seat.

Nevada (6 EV) - This state has moved from reliable Republican to narrowly favoring the Democrats in national elections; the question is whether the impending retirement of the state's political kingpin, Senator Harry Reid, will change the balance of power. It is polling even, but I would favor the Democrats.

The race for Reid's Senate seat is perhaps the most critical of all; the Democrats need to gain four seats (and keep control of the White House, or five without it) to regain control of the Senate.  All of the other seats mentioned are Republican-held and many represent good or great chances for Democratic gains, but losing this one would make the Democrats' task doubly hard.  Of course, a smaller state's Senator gets the same vote as the Senators from New York or California. The Democrats' candidate, Catherine Cortez Musto, was previously the state Attorney General; the Republicans', Joe Heck, is a Congressman and party regular. It will be a hugely expensive race and is a true tossup;  Cortez Musto will have plenty of support from national organizations.

New Hampshire (4 EV) - The Granite State provides surprises, but usually just in the primaries:  it gave Bernie Sanders a large margin, and Donald Trump in the same day.  In its polling, third-party candidates are unusually strong.  Really alone among the states of the Northeast, there is doubt about the likely outcome, but it is also unlikely NH will make the difference in the Electoral College.

The Senate race is a high-profile battle between two strong candidates, Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Republican incumbent, Kelly Ayotte.  Ayotte has tried to maintain some distance from Trump and has avoided being tarred with the brush of the darkest Republican slurs. Hassan is at least at parity in the contest.

Iowa (6 EV) - IA was a great state for President Obama (two general election wins, and a crucial win in their 2008 caucuses) but has been less-than-great for Hillary Clinton.  This year she eked out a narrow win over Sanders which would have been disastrous if she had lost.  This is not a state where the Democrats' huge advantage with minorities will help her; she will have to win this on her appeal to college-educated whites.  In this regard, it is typical of the fulcrum of the which will decide the national race.  (See below for the demographics discussion on a national level)

The Democrats are pressing to make the Senate contest here a close one but the odds are somewhat against them.  The longtime incumbent Chuck Grassley, is a little vulnerable because, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is single-handedly preventing Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, from getting a hearing (though everyone knows he is fully qualified and actually quite moderate).  Unfortunately for Democratic nominee Patty Judge, the issue has not ripened much anger, and it would not convince many Republican-leaning independents to turn against Grassley, who has always won easily in the past.

I must mention three Senate seats for which the Democrats are currently favored to pick up seats, in order of likelihood:  Wisconsin, where Russ Feingold seems headed toward gaining revenge for his surprise loss to conservative Ron Johnson in 2010; Indiana, which has suddenly become a great pickup target for the Democrats to gain the seat being vacated by Republican Dan Coats, with the late entry of former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh (this deserves a column in itself); and Illinois, where the expected large Democratic turnout makes Rep. Tammy Duckworth the favorite to defeat the slippery incumbent, Mark Kirk, in a battle of candidates with physical handicaps (Duckworth a veteran amputee, Kirk a wheelchair-bound survivor of a serious stroke).  Kirk emails me regularly with his progressive positions on the environment and social issues, is a leader in attacking the Iran deal, and dodges Trump at every opportunity, but I don't think it will save him.   These three make the Democrats' task of gaining the Senate very achievable.

There are some other races beside all these where the Democrats have some chance:
Missouri, where they have a strong candidate in Jason Kander, but he will have an uphill battle because of the state's Republican lean in the Presidential race; Arizona, where John McCain is facing his toughest challenge yet and is at odds with the Trump campaign; and Georgia, which is a longshot possibility for the Democrats also in the Presidential race.   The shortest route for the Democrats to gain control is winning WI, IL, IN; one of OH, PA, or FL; and holding onto NV.

Demographic Shifts & Final Notes
538 has an interactive tool which I love for this Presidential contest (originally they called it the "swing-o-matic", now it is the more dignified question, "what would it take to turn the Blue states Red?"). It allows the reader to try out shifts in the turnout and party percentage, on a national basis, for five demographic groups (college-educated whites, non-college educated whites, blacks, Hispanic/Latinos, and Asian/Other) from their starting point, which is the 2012 data, updated for demographic changes.  Those shifts you choose are then applied on a state level and you can see if they cause a change on the state-level voting outcomes.  This was done several months ago and the basis of the projection is static--it's not updated for recent polling, and it doesn't take into account third-party voting.  (To adjust for that factor, I would suggest to keep the party vote percentages the same, so as to maintain their relative shares, but reduce turnout--more on the white groups, less on the minorities.)

My own starting scenario for the general election (two-party version) makes the following shifts, which I think are all arguable:

  • College-Educated Whites go from 56% Republican with 77% turnout to 51%/71%;
  • Non College Educated Whites go from 62% Republican with 57% turnout to 67%/65%;
  • Blacks go from 93% Democratic with 66% turnout to 90%/59%; 
  • Hispanics go from 71% Democratic with 48% turnout to 83%/55%; and 
  • Asian/Other (includes Native Americans) goes from 67% with 49% to 75%/56%. 
Guess what?  Those changes offset such that the result in the Electoral College is the same, 332-206. Shifting the turnout down, as I proposed, only shifts NC into the Democratic column.  If, from the changes I suggest above, I revert College-Educated Whites to the edge Mitt Romney gained, IA and OH flip, but the Democrats retain a 330-208 margin.   After that, then, the swing comes from the margin (much more than the turnout) for the Hispanics: At the 2012 level of 71% Democratic, the Republicans get 295 EV, picking up WI, VA, NH, PA, and FL.  The tipping point on Hispanic support, with that unfavorable scenario (bad news on whites, lower turnout for blacks) turns out to be 80% Democratic, when it flips suddenly to a 295-243 margin for the Democrats.

So, my feeling is that Tim Kaine is a good pick for Hillary, apart from the fact that she likes him, and that she feels he could do the job:  he should help with blacks, Latinos, and college-educated whites.

A different scenario results from leaving all the breaks the same as 2012 but shifting just the non-college educated to the high-turnout, high-Republican level above.  That shifts FL,OH, IA,NH, and crucially, CO (by 0.1%) to the Republicans and gives Trump a 272-266 margin.

As for the polls, my suggestion is to ignore them until August 15:  once the impact of the conventions has settled, we will see if Hillary has a real lead or not.  We should certainly expect that the percentage choosing neither will drop from 20% to about 10%, but it will make all the difference if it looks more like 47-43 Hillary or 45-45.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Well, They Went and Did It


I wake up in the morning, and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
And I can't understand
No, I can't understand
Why life goes on the way it does

Why do the birds go on singing? 
Why do the stars shine above? 
Don't they know it's the end of the world? 
--Herman's Hermits (1964)

OK, it's not that bad--not yet. Nothing really bad has happened yet to the country simply because the Republicans have nominated as their Presidential candidate a poorly-informed, bigoted bully who seems to be running because it feeds his ego. 

I remember feeling this way, though, in early 2001 once we had gotten past the disaster of the 2000 election and its aftermath:  Bush hadn't done anything stupid yet.  And we know how that one came out. 

We have already covered the question of whether Trump is the "least-appealing" candidate of the postwar era (or is it now the prewar era? History will tell) Due to his uncertain ideology and his relatively weak ability to lead an effective national campaign, I rated him only the third most-dangerous candidate of the last 60 years, behind Reagan and Dubya.  But that would change if the American electorate does the unthinkable and actually elects him. 

His views are perhaps unprecedented in modern times among Presidential candidates for their virulence (though Nixon may have been as bad, he was less open about it).  In terms of riding an unexpected popular movement, taking a politically inexperienced businessman candidate to of uncertain party loyalty to a Republican nomination, though, I can think of a precedent.  Wendell Willkie, a former Democrat, appeared practically from nowhere to take the 1940 Republican nomination; he ran a spirited campaign but lost the Electoral vote, 449-82.  Willkie's political career after the defeat infuriated his party; in those days, after World War II had started but before Pearl Harbor, he stood out as one of the strongest backers of greater involvement.  Unlike Trump, he had very progressive, internationalist views.  Though we remember Franklin D. Roosevelt's death shortly after being re-elected one more time, in 1944, Willkie actually died before he did 

So, that is encouraging, but of course Hillary is no FDR.  At least, I don't think so. 

Status Report:  Ship Still Sinking
Personally, I think Donald should use the word "titanic"--it would be a good addition to his vocabulary, fits well with the other adjuectives he typically uses, and it would be a delicious reference to his chosen party and its state.  The Republicans have hit the iceberg, and it has a name: Drumpf. 

George Will does a good impersonation of a rat, and so it is appropriate that he has already bailed on the party.  I have to respect those, like John Kasich and Mitt Romney, who have taken a firm stance on principle against their party's nominee, though rowing in the opposite direction of the tack the wind is pushing the boat does not work very well.  Most of the more respectable members of the party resemble those who are reaching in desperation for anything still floating after the vessel sinks under the waves. Finally, there is Ted Cruz, who has commandeered a life raft and is heading further out to sea.  I have sensed (not watching, saying "la-la-la" so as not to hear) that Cruz has released his supporters from any obligation to vote for his nemesis; he is positioning himself well for a 2020 bid to run as the True Conservative, At Last.  I like it. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Conventional Thinking

Donald Trump looks at the national party convention as a big TV show--and he's not wrong about that.  He will judge his TV production's success by the TV ratings his "showbiz" package produces, as compared to the one the Democrats will put on the following week.  Therefore, the least I can do as a public citizen is to vote with my remote:  the Republican convention's live broadcasts on the various networks will not receive one minute of my television monitors' time.  There may be some drama, very likely a metaphorical train wreck of some kind or other (either inside or outside the convention hall), but I can catch up with them through alternate sources (Stephen Colbert with Jon Stewart, Bill Maher's coverage, Rachel Maddow's....)

From the Democratic convention I expect little drama, but the roster of speakers will be far more impressive:  both Michelle and Barack Obama, both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden.  I am flying out for vacation on Wednesday of that week (and we don't have home TV service where I'm going), but I'll do my best--maybe head to a local watering-hole Wednesday night for the President and Thursday night for the President-to-be.

My Problems with Hillary Clinton
I have been remiss in clearly proclaiming my endorsement of the presumptive Democratic nominee for the Presidency, though I believe any reader of my past posts would see that I always believed she both should and would win this election. Now that even Bernie Sanders has provided his endorsement, I certainly have no reason to hold back:  I promise my full support for her campaign. 

Still, I have some reasons for concerns, which I now intend to list, explain, and also point out some concerns others have that I do not share.  I hope this does not qualify me for the social media epithet, "concern troll", the meaning of which I confess I do not understand.

Concern 1:  Too Much Continuity - This is a concern more about electability than substance.  I am not looking for major changes from the policy directions President Obama has been pursuing; the lack of efficacy in the federal government (or in most state governments) is a function of Republican obstruction.  The question is whether the country needs a change, and, if so, can Hillary Clinton be expected to deliver it.  I was more concerned about this when it appeared the race might be Clinton-Bush II (the first was 1992!) , and now that it's Donald Trump that will be her opponent, it seems the question will be about change for change's sake rather than status quo vs. a plausible alternative.

The return to the White House of the Clintons after 16 years does seem a bit reactionary, as though we could wish away the last decade and a half  (or, at least, it seems nostalgic).  My desire is that Hillary win as big as possible, carry the Senate and bring the House closer to an even split, do her best to hit the ground running in 2017, have a good two years, campaign hard for the party in 2018, and then decide:  does she really want or need four more years of this?  Unless I am mistaken and she falls in love with the power (which would be a big problem), I think she can pass the torch to her designated successor--which is exactly why her choice of VP is so important--and leave office in January, 2021 with her place in history secure.

Concern 2:  Too Cozy with the Moneyed Elite - I don't think it's entirely fair to criticize her for the positions she took in favor of Wall Street when she was their Senator, nor do I think that her performance as Secretary of State gave unusual preference to American business (the fact is, it's just business as usual for State to seek to promote American business interests abroad).  What she has done since then as a private citizen doesn't concern me, either:  she and Bill have been reaping big bucks, for themselves and for their very worthwhile Clinton Foundation, and that's fine with me.

The concern I had is about the big money contributions she has been happy to receive, for her campaign and for the PAC's that support her.  I recognize that President Obama did the same as she has been doing, with the valid justification that unilateral monetary disarmament is a fool's strategy; however, she seems a bit too comfortable with it.  I will say in her defense that a lot of the big money she has raised has been passed on to other Democratic candidates, and that she has come out clearly for a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United (something that will seemingly never pass) and, more importantly, for making it a litmus test for Supreme Court justices she will nominate. Again, though, I wish she would walk the walk a little (more in the mode Bernie Sanders did):  it means little unless she is willing to sacrifice her self-interest, at least a little, for the cause.

Concern 3:  The War Hawk Thing - Let's just say that it would be good if Hillary has an opportunity to say "no, thanks" to some proposed military incursion between now and November.  She has more than established her strong support for a robust American military posture.  A little more than required, even.  At least she has the good sense to regret that her 2002 vote to give Dubya authorization for military action in Iraq turned out the way that it did, something Mike Pence does not have.

That's it.  Now for a couple of concerns I've heard expressed that I don't share.

She Didn't Accommodate Bernie Sanders Supporters Enough -  Hillary does not have to make the concession of choosing a Sanders follower, or Sanders himself, for her Vice Presidential nominee, and she won't.  In some sense, Sanders might have made sense as the nominee once it became clear Trump would end up being the Republicans' nominee; get the cat to catch the rat, as they say.  It was never going to happen, however.  From the point of view of giving the Democratic primary campaign and the platform for the general election some real substance, I am glad Sanders ran, and also glad that his efforts were so successful. It's now part of the party's DNA, and that will pay great dividends in the future.  When it comes to the VP pick, though, Hillary should pick the best person to get white, college-educated voters to support her, someone intelligent who could carry on as President if needed.

I don't blame Bernie for the delay in his endorsement, either.  For one thing, he didn't need to give up his shot until the off chance that Hillary might be indicted had passed (was that months ago, though?) He owed his passionate supporters a good battle over the platform, which was duly battled, and seems to have emerged as a reasonable center-left amalgam. In particular, it calls out the issues of climate change, income inequality, and campaign reform more than it would have without his influence.

The Damned Emails:  Here is what Hillary, and her subordinates, were guilty of:  a conspiracy to deny the American public the access to her private communication which the Freedom of Information Act allows.  Is that a crime?  I'm no lawyer, I don't know, but apparently it wasn't enough to indict a ham sandwich, let alone a major party Presidential nominee.  I am sympathetic to her desire, though I recognize that any hope of privacy is pretty much a lost cause.

As a conspiracy, it was evidently a total failure.  We now know a lot more about all her emails than we ever would have known, or care to have known, if she had used the government server.  Even if some misguided do-gooder had hacked and released them all, something not improbable in this day. They don't amount to much in their substance, and it is generally not understood that she used secure lines of communication, available to the State Department in every nation, for the really important stuff.

I have been arguing in Facebook and the like that nobody cares--outside the chattering classes of the Beltway, or the professional information security professionals who get so worked up about the rules There is another group, those who are unalterably opposed to her anyway and see it as a great opportunity to make political hay.  I'm not in any of those groups.

TP: T'Pence for His Thoughts
Mike Pence is the perfect "Veep", as in the brilliant TV satire with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss  in the title role.  There is absolutely no reason to think he will serve any purpose other than to reassure right-wingers that Trump's on their side.  In that regard, though, he was a solid choice, much better than the other two finalists, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, would have been.  Gingrich would have threatened to one-up his craziness at times, and Christie, by now, is so thoroughly humiliated that even Trump could not stand to have him around.

The gossip is that Pence was having trouble with his re-election bid for Indiana governor and this provided him a relatively safe harbor.   From Hillary's point of view, Pence is no threat and she can name any intelligent moderate or liberal, confident that person will show up Pence as the raving loony with a reassuringly normal look that his record shows that he is.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Turkey coup: (At least) Four Theories

In the interest of providing better information to you, my readers, I sometimes take on the task of reading posts from commentators whose views are antithetical to mine, so that I can monitor their thinking and communications strategy.  There are also those, like Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, who are useful to read because they so consistently get things wrong:  they overthink questions, or force stuff out due to their job-related necessity of producing against publishing deadlines, and embrace wrongheaded ideas.  The logic, of course, is that if Cilizza says A, then not-A is more likely to be true.

Then there are a couple for which both of those are true:  distasteful views, offensively expressed, but also consistently wrong predictively.  Bill Kristol is one; and Dick Morris another.  So, when I read Dick Morris' assessment of the motivation for the plotters of the attempted coup in Turkey, I got a major clue for a theory to discard.  I have an intense interest in Turkey and its role in geopolitics--for me, Turkey's right at the heart of every issue in the Middle East and it can be a determining factor in many of the possible outcomes, whether positive or negative. In the aftermath of the coup yesterday, facts are few and speculation is rampant as to what they were trying to accomplish, and I will be joining in on that.

Morris, who made his name advising the Clintons for their Democratic-lite, centrist "Third Way" triangulation in the '90's, but has since shown himself to be no friend of the Democrats and an extremely unreliable source of political advice, advanced the theory that the coup plotters were trying to save secular Turkey from the Islamist tendencies of President Erdogan. His theory is not ridiculous; the Turkish military views itself as the protector of the secular state formed by Ataturk after WWI and has staged several successful coups against the civilian government in the past when the military leaders saw the government as straying too far from Ataturk's design.   ,

The problem with the theory is that Erdogan's Islamism is very mild.  While it is true that his party has broken substantial new ground in terms of accommodating religious followers of Islam into the Turkish political system, he has not governed as an Islamist, has not attempted to introduce Sharia law, has not taken action against non-believers.  He has governed as a nationalist who represents the aspirations of the Sunni Moslem majority.  Turkey is overwhelmingly Sunni Moslem, over 95%, but the degree to which Turks actively practice varies widely, and there are many diverse strains of Turkish Islam within that broad classification.

So, in fact, my first speculation on the motivation for the coup attempt is the opposite:  it is a bit of a longshot, but it's possible that there could have been a more radically Islamist faction in the military that wanted to overthrow Turkey's government to try to end its efforts in support of the anti-ISIS coalition.  As I have discussed previously,  policies with regard to the Syrian civil war are very complex:  they are first, ardently anti-Assad; second, anti-Kurdish nationalist; and only third, anti-ISIS.  Still, they have done quite a bit:  they allow the US air forces to attack ISIS positions from its Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey, they have done more to seal their borders with Syria to prevent infiltration of radicals in both directions.  There is plenty of evidence that ISIS has targeted Turkey to punish it for what it has done--suicide bombers in Ankara and, repeatedly, in Istanbul, topped off by the recent attack (apparently by Chechen supporters of ISIS) on the airport there.  I say it's a longshot, because it may have been unlikely ever to have succeeded, but a successful coup by forces friendly to ISIS would have been a catastrophe for the rest of the world.

For the next theory I would advance I have no evidence whatsoever, but it seems logical to me.  It requires some background.  The sporadic civil war in the southeast against Kurdish nationalism which simmered for decades seemed possibly to have ended just a few years ago.  The head of the movement, Abdullah Ocalan, had been captured by the Turkish authorities; in prison he had urged his followers to lay down their arms, and he seemed likely to make a peace agreement.  Recently, though, it fell apart;  ceased, there were some terroristic attacks blamed on the Kurds, and the violent struggle resumed, at a  much higher level of lethality than before:  Turkish armored forces surround the center of several Kurdish towns, where rebels have barricaded themselves and plan to fight to the death, feeling in fact that they have no choice, as surrender would lead to their movement's liquidation and their own lives' as well.

Erdogan seems much at fault to me, and his motives questionable.  It is arguable that the resumption of war was a tactic in his ongoing self-aggrandizement campaign, an effort to modify the constitution to give himself even more power.  One key for him is to drive the legal Kurdish parliamentary party below the 10% threshold required for representation in the national Parliament.  Hostilities started shortly before a snap election Erdogan called to try to boost his numbers in Parliament--he did gain, but not enough, and the party (called the HDP) remained just above the threshold.

So, the theory is that some elements of the Turkish military are highly dissatisfied with how they are being employed, killing their fellow citizens, and blaming Erdogan.  The one thing I heard from the coup side during the brief period they controlled the public media was that they were doing it to save the country from Erdogan, who "had lost all claim to legitimacy".  Less-specific versions of this military resentment theory  is that they rose up in response to his autocratic tendencies--which are clear, and frequently denounced in the West--and his suppression of civil liberties, especialy freedom of dissent and of the press.

If the intention was to provoke a popular uprising against Erdogan's authoritarianism, it failed spectacularly.  The popular uprising was among Erdogan's supporters--he deftly called his people to the streets by social media, then upon returning to Istanbul's airport from his vacation, and they answered his call.  Even the opposition parties, including even the HDP, spoke out in favor of the constitutional government and against the coup, regardless of what they deemed the motives of the plotters to be.  At the end of the day, it looks as though Erdogan's hand will be strengthened again in the reaction to the coup, with the defense of constitutional democracy ironically ending up in its reduction.

The final theory is a subtle one, but supported by some of the few facts known. Even during the height of the confusion and uncertainty, persons speaking on behalf of the government were already blaming it on followers of a Muslim cleric, Fetullah Gulen.  Gulen has been blamed before by Erdogan, for an abortive coup attempt some years ago, which gave the President the reason--whether invented or not--to purge a number of military officers and prosecute some alleged traitors.

Gulen is a moderate Islamic cleric who was once an ally of Erdogan and has many followers in the country; Erdogan may see him as his greatest rival.  After the falling out, though, Gulen flew the coop and is now actually living in Pennsylvania.  It is hard to imagine that Gulen would think he could direct a successful coup against a powerful government from such a distance, and he has denied any connection with the coup's plotters.  It is just barely possible, though, that Turkey's extensive secret police force caught wind of discontent among the military, whether related to Gulen or not, and that the government provided some secret encouragement to those forces, confident they could suppress the rebellion in the end--as they have done.

Erdogan has moved to accuse Gulen of treason and to demand he be extradited by the US to Turkey to stand trial. The Turkish government, in the aftermath of its success, has also closed Incirlik to military operations, with the argument that rebel air force elements (most of the worst damage and loss of life during the coup resulted from attacks by rogue helicopters and attack planes; generally speaking, the Army elements involved proved unwilling to take on the citizenry) are still afoot.  We shall see how long that condition lasts, but extradition is generally a long, uncertain process and Gulen might plausibly request political asylum.

Of course, more than one of these theories could be true.  The only combination logically impossible is the combination of  Morris' defense-against- Islamism one (which I discount) and my radical-Islamist one.  In particular, the combination of #3 and #4--government provocation of dissatisfied elements--seems possible to me.  We are likely to ever have any definitive proof, barring a statement in public trial from leaders of the plot, which I would not expect will be permitted.

Turkey's messy politics seem likely to involve the US ever more, but for us it is the cost of the assistance from a very significant ally (beyond Incirlik, NATO's Eastern Mediterranean fleet is based in Izmmir, on the Aegean coast).   I will be interested to see how the US Presidential candidates will respond to these challenges:  Hillary Clinton, I am certain, will be well-informed and sensible, while Trump, I expect, will demonstrate a lack of understanding of any of the subtleties, and may have trouble identifying it on a map if asked.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Thoughts on Independence Day

Well, they went and did it.  The voters of England (except London) and Wales rejected common sense, the leaders of their political parties (except the once-shunned UK Independence Party), all the "so-called experts", and their own conationals from Scotland and Norther Ireland in the surprising referendum vote against remaining in the European Union.

I believe in the maxim that the markets overreact to every new piece of news, and in fact the downturns experienced all over the world, but particularly in the British markets and in the value of the British currency,  have already largely reversed, but I think they actually may have gotten it right the first time.  I have no doubt that Britain will move rapidly into a well-deserved recession, as trade will fall, with trading partners deterred by increased uncertainty. I don't feel that this--alone--will lead to a global recession, but, despite the denials by most of the Leave advocates, this result will contribute to a trend already underway, reciprocal raising of barriers to trade, which may do so. 

I still have some notion that the result of the referendum is not definitive and irreversible; the constitution of the European Union requires legislation by Great Britain (an act of Parliament) in order to invoke Article 50, which would commence the process of separation.  The Conservative party alone has a majority of seats in Commons, so they could do it without any support from the other parties, and I would hope none of the members of other parties (with the exception of the single UKIP member, and the possible exception of the Wales nationalist party, but I doubt that as well) are foolhardy enough to support this act.  So, the party would need to hold firmly together to this policy that many, but not all, of its members wanted despite the opposing position of its leadership.  This seems to include the probable new leader, Theresa May, who supported Remain but looks likely to inherit the party's burden due to the spectacular failure of the party's Leave advocates to have a plan to move ahead after it won the vote.  

A strong British Labour party leader--and one doubts that the current leader is such--could make the Brexit gamble so politically risky that some Tories might desert, or, more likely, when things go bad, could win a major electoral victory in 2020 and reverse the disastrous decision.  It might not be too late by then, particularly if the contrast emerges soon enough, to salvage the integrity of the nation and delineate some reasonable terms for re-entry. 

If not, then we are looking at a probable decision by Scotland's voters to separate itself from Britain, renewed trouble between Northern Ireland's Protestant majority and Catholic minority, and, regardless, continued centrifugal forces within the EU:  in the words of the Irish poet Yeats, "the center cannot hold".   

Britain's loss--of prestige, of business, of the strength of its currency and its debts--may translate into some gains for the US, but we should not cheer the English show of its independence.  In the long run, its weakness, and that of the EU, will do us no good.  I would hope that the EU will respond to this challenge by strengthening its legitimacy and capability to act in a unified way.   I would also urge all to show patience and avoid further hasty action:  I remind all that the US needed some 13 years to go from its own Declaration of Independence to the establishment of its Constitution, with the failed attempt of governing through the Articles of Confederation in the intervening years.

For a clear, simple, humorous, but factual review prepared especially for Americans to understand the current status of Brexit, I recommend the post at this link. 
  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Little England/ LIttle America

The referendum vote in Britain this Thursday on whether to remain in the European Union seems to me like a smaller version of the challenge American voters will most likely face in November.  The ultimate question is whether the free exercise of badly-informed democratic opinion is pointing toward a negative response to Abraham Lincoln's resolution that  government "of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth".

The more short-term questions are whether Britain will do harm to itself by voting to isolate itself from its economic and political community, for reasons that range from dubious to fallacious to objectionable, and whether the US will do something similar this fall by electing Donald Trump.

The good news is that polling on the British question, which was trending toward a narrow vote to Leave the EU, has turned in the past few days.  The unfortunate aspect of that good news is that the incident that has apparently spurred the reversal in opinion was the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, an advocate of remaining in Europe and an advocate for refugees.  The weird aspect of that story is that the nativist lunatic who committed the act was a follower of a US white supremacist group (the "National Alliance").  Which leads me to the following question:  If Donald Trump were British, would he be calling for the ban of all Americans?

The trend on the polling does follow the pattern of previous closely-contested referenda in modern days, such as the ones in Quebec on leaving Canada, or of Scotland's recent one on leaving Britain, in which a small wave of caution hits just before the final vote, preventing the leap into the unknown. So, it may not be entirely due to the Jo Cox murder, though that does seem to have shocked some into rethinking the matter.

Politically, the matter is fairly complex and has shown the ability to drive a wedge into both of Britain's major parties. Prime Minister David Cameron promised the vote in his last electoral campaign, in which his Conservative party won a narrow outright majority in Parliament.  It helped keep his party unified for that vote, but the referendum itself has now caused a major split:  many in the party have been steadfastly against Britain's participation in the Common Market/European Community/EU for decades, and this has been their opportunity to come out and say so publicly without being censured.  If Cameron loses, he will likely resign and control pass to his party's Euroskeptic faction, headed by former London Mayor Boris Johnson (the Conservatives could retain control, regardless, until 2020).

The Labour party, with its current left-wing leadership, has come out clearly against the referendum's passing, but I have little doubt that there will be a significant share of defections in the popular vote of normal party supporters.  The sentiment among much of the working class that EU has brought a major influx of low-paid foreigners, undercutting the domestic labor market, is one of the strongest pulls of popular opinion in favor of the Leave option.  The sentiment is not totally unfounded, but it is somewhat delusional to think that raising barriers to globalized labor competition will keep (or return) jobs for workers at home if the economics are against it.

The United Kingdom Independence Party, which has few members of Parliament but has popular support of over 10% in opinion polls, has been leading the fight for what is called "Brexit" (British exit), arguing on the basis of English nationalism and xenophobia about immigrants, especially non-Christian ones, and particularly Muslim refugees.  The movement in favor of Brexit really gained footing, though, when it gained some support from prominent Conservatives, and some in the financial community who saw advantage from it, though virtually all economists agree that withdrawal will have a negative effect, at least in the short term.

Why should those outside Britain care about the outcome?  As our visiting satirical interlocutor John Oliver humorously said to us about his British compadres,
As long as those crooked-toothed scum-goblins keep shooting out royal babies and Doctor Who episodes, who gives a tally-ho fuck what happens to them?
Well, first of all, it appears Wall Street really did care.   Worries about the vote drove the US stock market down last week, no more than a reflection of similar drops in European markets.  Brexit presents uncertainty, which the markets despise, but also probable drop in global trade and productivity.

Other likely downside outcomes include:  the probable withdrawal of Scotland, which wants to stay in the EU, from Britain; similar temptations for secessionist movements in other parts of the EU; the possibility of new border problems between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; strengthening of nativist movements throughout Europe; and crisis in the weaker economies of the EU.  

I would not mourn the demise of the Cameron government; its sponsorship of the vote is fulfillment of a campaign promise which was pandering to a disloyal faction representing much of the worst of British politics. The folly and ambivalence of the Conservative government is epitomized by the vote being held during the Glastonbury music festival, during which hundreds of thousands of potential No votes will be disenfranchised, and by the number of members of Cameron's cabinet who brazenly oppose his government's policy.

The diametric opposite to Brexit, Britain participating in a more committed manner in the EU, is what I would advocate in the aftermath of the referendum failing.  Britain could make a real difference in the EU if it chose to take a leading role, instead of the classic British stance toward Europe, trying to control outcomes while remaining uncommitted. Interfering a bit, our President Obama openly urged that Britain take that positive, ambitious approach, and it's clear American interest remains with a strong, peaceful Europe, which Britain could help shape to its benefit and the general benefit of all.

American Parallels
Naturally, Donald Trump's shoot-from-the-hip answer to the question of Brexit was that they should do it..  His candidacy advocates many of the same political arguments as the Leave campaign: fear of foreigners, economic nationalism, worker insecurity, voodoo economics.  Britain and the US often follow similar contemporary political trends, and I will have increased fear for our domestic outcome if the British vote goes badly.  

Meanwhile, it goes badly for the Drumpfster.  His inane, insensitive comments after the Orlando mass murder have, for once, rebounded against him, even in his own party.  His campaign seems a shambles, lacking strategic direction and losing control of the news coverage. Here's a comment I mis-heard from Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" this week when I was only half paying attention:  "Republican leaders are concerned about being downwind from Trump's shit".   Now, I'm sure he wouldn't say that:  maybe it was "shift"?   However, it sounds right to me.

Trump had to back down from his initial advocacy of a ban on gun purchase for people on the US' terror watch list:  he found himself outside the NRA's protective shell on that one, so he shifted.  The votes go on in the Senate, an exercise in futility.  I would hope that the Democrats find some proposal that they can support from the ones the Republicans make, perhaps the Susan Collins one to limit the ban to those on the smaller no-fly list, and to make it easier for those on that list to prove they should be taken off it, as long as the provision has some elements of which the NRA does not approve.  It would really be a shocker if something were actually to pass, not that it would get by the Republicans' unperturbed House majority.  It would, however, suggest the possibility of action, something which gun-control voters like me despair of ever seeing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rating the Appeal of Presidential Candidates

The other day a friend of mine commented in disgust that Hillary Clinton was the "second-least appealing POTUS candidate in my voting life".  (Implying Trump being the least, in his view.)   As he has often accused me of overstating, I decided I should take him to task on this one.

I know my friend's politics quite well.  His ideal candidate would merge the ideological purity of Bernie Sanders with Barack Obama's pragmatism; at the other extreme would be Ted Cruz.  Rather than his "voting life", while I can guess the date range of that, I will go for a larger sample, all of his life.  He's just coming up on his 60th birthday, so I will range from 1956 forward, but judging the candidates by the political standards of their times, not our current era's.   The other stipulation is that I will consider only the major party nominees.

Counting this year's presumptive nominees, there are 24 different major-party candidates in those 16 elections.   Richard Nixon is the only three-time candidate (two wins, one loss).  Six ran twice in the chosen time frame; there are no two-time losers (because Adlai Stevenson's first loss was before, in 1952), and there are only two among them who won once and lost once (Jimmy Carter and Poppy Bush).   The other 17 ran only once, and a whole bunch of them never got to demonstrate their policies' theoretical appeal while governing in the White House.   Here is my ranking of them on the policy dimension, from "most appealing" to least.
George McGovern (1972); Stevenson (1956); Dukakis (1980); Hubert Humphrey (1968); John Kerry (2004); Obama (2008-12); Al Gore (2000); Walter Mondale (1984); Jimmy Carter (1976-80); Lyndon Johnson (1964); John Kennedy (1960); WJ Clinton (1992-96); DD Eisenhower (1956); GHW Bush (1988-92); Nixon (1960, 1968-72), Gerald Ford (1976); Mitt Romney (2012); Bob Dole (1996); John McCain (2008); Barry Goldwater (2004); Ronald Reagan (1980-84); and George W. Bush (2000-04).  

Where to place the current ones on the policy appeal spectrum for my liberal friend?  I would put Hillary just after Eisenhower, and Donald Trump just above Goldwater.  There are some certainly some close calls in there, but I feel good about the ranking in general.

But wait, there's more.  The overall appeal of a candidate should be based not just on the policy positions he (or, now, she) holds, but also on that candidate's potential to head a winning campaign. A positive but weak candidate offers little promise to the potential voter;  similarly, a negative, strong candidate poses greater danger than a negative one who can't get elected.  In fact, knowing my friend, his comment denigrating Hillary must be based at least as much on her weakness as an electoral draw (in his view) as with dissatisfaction with her policies.  (Though it could be just personal distaste, but I will give him more credit than that.)

So, my ranking on potential or demonstrated competency in heading a general election campaign is as follows (best to worst):

Reagan; Obama; WJClinton; Eisenhower; Johnson; Kennedy; GW Bush; Nixon; Carter; Trump; Romney; McCain; Gore; Humphrey; GHW Bush; Kerry; HR Clinton; Ford; Stevenson; Dole; Dukakis; Stevenson; McGovern; Mondale. 

That ranking is largely based on the track record (wins and losses), but secondarily on the quality of the opponent(s), with tiebreakers based on my observations on their skills, or lack of skills, in things like debates, organizing a campaign team, building a coalition, sticking to an effective script, improvising, etc.  I rate Trump (#10 of the 24) higher than Hillary (#17) by quite a bit, because of his mastery of public relations (and her lack of it) and psychological warfare, and I don't give Hillary much credit for being a highly competent, but unexciting, debater.  Of course their mettle has not yet been put to the definitive test.  If Hillary wins from this position, she would be the lowest-rated campaigner to win a general election in his lifetime.

I now put these two sets of rankings together to make a composite measure of the "Benefit/Damage Capacity"; again, from my friend's point of view.  The approach I have chosen is to look at the variation from the mean ranking (12.5), in terms of the policy ranking; then adjusting by the variation from the mean on electability:  those positive on policy gain benefit by being more electable (and lose it by being unelectable); while the negative value for those worse than average is intensified if they are more electable.

The table below gives the results:

Major Party POTUS CandidatesPolicyElectability


Benefit/Threat formula
2008 Obama (also 2012)6217
1992 WJClinton (also 1996)12310
1964 Johnson10510
1960  Kennedy1168
1976 Carter (also 1980)997
1968 Humphrey4147
2000 Gore7135
Kerry5164
Stevenson2194
2016 HR Clinton14173
Ford17181
1996 Dole19201
1988 Dukakis3211
1972  McGovern1231
GHW Bush (also 1992)15150
Goldwater22220
1984 Mondale824-5
2012 Romney1811-7
Nixon (also 1968, 1972)168-8
McCain2012-8
1956 – Eisenhower134-9
Drumpf2110-11
GW Bush (also 2004)247-17

Reagan (also 1984)23


1


-22              








The majority of the candidates clearly fall into the “meh” category; either moderate, not very electable, or both.  Most of the ones who are ideologically potent, either positive or negative (always from the point of view ascribed to “my friend”), make up for it by watering down their potency with weak electoral skills.   The ones at the extreme ends of this composite ranking—Obama, Slick Willie Clinton, Reagan, Dubya--were either unusually strong moderates, or the potent combination of hardcore conservative with folksy appeal. 

There is one other exception to the variety of meh-ness, and his case frankly shows the weakness of this approach.  On the policy scale, I would argue that Eisenhower was moderately appealing, he should probably be the highest-rated Republican from my liberal friend’s perspective of all candidates in his lifetime.  (Nixon did have some progressive accomplishments to his name, but we know better:  they were sops to the left at a time his team was at its weakest in Congress, and he didn’t really mean it.)  Ike was a “progressive conservative” in some meaningful senses:  he opposed segregation in Little Rock, built infrastructure, appointed liberal Supreme Court justices Earl Warren and Potter Stewart, and wisely gave his greatest attention to those things that modern American Presidents do which really matter:  foreign and military affairs.  In a very conservative time, he dared to pick some spots to challenge the sleepy Cold War consensus (think of his historically significant comment referring to the "military-industrial complex").

Here’s the point:  he’s right in the middle on the “policy appeal” scale; I put him slightly below the median.  His slightly negative value on policy appeal becomes magnified by his enormous electability to make him one of the greater negative-value candidates of the era.  This is unfair to him:  if you move him up one slot, to twelfth, his value becomes positive vs. the mean and he goes up to the top rank on the positive side. 

Hillary drops right in there around Bill and Ike; in her spot (again, slightly negative), her low electability makes her a net positive (her slightly negative appeal is more than canceled by the “positive” of being low in potential).  If, though, we shift her up two slots, to twelfth, she becomes a net negative (-4 to be precise).  Either way, though, she fits into that mediocre group and is nowhere near the worst. 

As for Trump, I would argue that ideologically he is not the most diametrically opposite candidate to our ideal, though he has aspects within his limited range of expressed policy positions that are unusually toxic.  On social issues, or on tendency toward military aggression, he was nowhere near the worst in his party's field this year.  (Though, speaking of "least appealing POTUS candidate",  there were about 15 worse than Hillary running this year.) Neither is he one of the strongest candidates from the point of view of electability, but I see him as clearly ranking third-worst in terms of damage potential.  Of course, I may be underrating him—it’s happened before. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Hey, I'm Angry, Too!

Let’s Make a Deal with Donald
Donald Trump must immediately eat shit and die. Only a Trumpesquely huge act of self-sacrifice could possibly atone for the damage he has already done to the Republic.
OK, following the DrumpfCon Method, that was my initial negotiating position.  I’m willing to discuss something less than that.  For example, I’m willing to consider the notion that his public self-execution by copravorification could be delayed until the day before the election; that would please House Republicans desperate to avoid his taint and could give hope to the hapless sap lacking in dignity and self-esteem who accepts Drumpf’s VP nomination.  Another alternative might be for him to give up any and all of his positively-valued assets to the Veterans Administration and go into permanent exile in North Korea.  But I will not give on the stipulation that he must first consume massive quantities of his own turds on the Rachel Maddow Show.
Am I serious about these somewhat intemperate demands?  About as serious as The Donald is when he says he will build a beautiful wall with Mexico and make them pay for it, or apply a 45% tariff to all Chinese imports.  Al Franken calls it “kidding on the square”; it's exaggeration.   Am I being unkind, say, to his loved ones, in calling for his reduction to dust, non-biodegradable plastic, and a pile of crap?  First, he is little more than that now; secondly, I’m sure that Melania will be able to find another sugar daddy, even if--as I imagine is the case--he will leave her precious little.  So, no.
What about the profanity here?  I have generally avoided it in this blog, but excrement is a vital part of our ecosystem; we should recognize it for what it is.  We don’t need to bow down to it, as the Republicans are doing, but we should put it to work in fertilizing a better future.
Predictit.org Pricing as a Means of forecasting the Electoral College Vote
My hobbyhorse has opened markets on the outcome of a fair number of states--not all, but the ones where they feel there might be enough interest on both sides to make a market.  These are the two-part choice only:  will the Democratic party win the state (no names of candidates), and will the Republican party win it?  The prices go from 1 to 100 in one-cent increments only, and the opposing side has the complement (i.e., the price for No on Republican party winning=price for Yes on Democrat winning).  The absence of an “Other” I think is an unfortunate, minor omission I will discuss below    
The states are ranked below by their cost to buy Democratic Yes (yesterday’s price--I have today’s to show the amount of random variation/trending that one sees from day to day).   We can  go down the order and see, to a given market-driven level of probability, what states would be expected to go Democratic.  The states marked with a * are those I called true Toss-up states in my previous post with the electoral vote map.
So, we start with those that have no markets but are assumed to be safe Republican (including the 1 EV in NE that went for Obama in 2008; I’d love to see a market just on that one):
States (EV)
6/4 Price for Democratic Yes  (6/5 price if different)
Cumulative Repuublican EV
Solid R plus 1 NE EV
N/A
153
GA  (16); IN (11)
24
180
AZ (11)
33
191
NC (15)
39 (40)
206
FL (29)
56
235
OH*  (18)
58 (55)
253
NH (4)
59 (60)
257
IA* (6)
59 (57)
263
PA (20
63
283
NV* (6)
65 (70)
289
VA* (13)
67 (68)
302
WI (10)
68
312
CO (9)
69 (66)
321
MI (16)
69 (71)
337

Effectively, 25% of the cumulative market weight would have Trump at 180  Electoral Votes, that rises to 206 Electoral votes at 40%.  Then there is a fairly large gap, which passes the median (50%) mark, until it hits a group of states with between 50% and 60% likelihood of Democratic win.  Even winning all four of those, which has the support of 100-60=40% of the market weight, would not get Trump to 270 electoral votes; he needs PA to get over the hump (or, interestingly, NV without PA to get to 269, which, with the sizable Republican majority of House delegations, would almost certainly be enough to guarantee his victory). I differ with the markets somewhat; I think VA and NV less likely to go Democratic than the majority of Predictit.org bidders, while I am more optimistic with regard to FL (at least unless Trump goes with Marco Rubio or Rick Scott as his VP nominee).
Two other states currently have Predictit.org markets, NY and CA.  Each was at 86% on 6/4 (CA moved to 88% today) , which I find ridiculously low (I have invested a little in the obvious outcome in each), but if they went Republican, their combined  84 Electoral votes, with the other states above, would take Trump to a monstrous 421 votes and would surely signify the end of Western civilization as we know it.
I need to revisit the  unconventional call on NM in my previous electoral map as being only “Leans Democratic”, instead of being much more solid.  My earlier calculation was based on the Republicans' effectively mobilizing their downstate base  (Very West Texas, very right wing, and very anti-immigrant) and a lack of enthusiasm for Hillary in the highly liberal North.  Trump’s feud with Susana Martinez, which may be papered over but cannot be ignored, and his failure so far to get Ted Cruz to come out for him, together have put an end to my speculation along those lines.   I have to resist being stubborn about changing my expectations when facts are substantially changed.
Third-Party News
The ploy last week by Bill Kristol, the neo-con editor of the conservative National Review magazine, who announced that he had identified a "credible conservative" candidate willing to run against Trump and Clinton, someone with "a real chance" of winning, turned out to be largely a head fake. The name he had in mind was David French, a respected writer on the Review's staff, but someone with a name recognition rating approximately equal to the quantity of his "real chance", about 0.01%. Of course, with no party, no ballot access, it's probably lower than that, and French has only expressed his willingness, not a formal candidacy, with the clock ticking on getting signatures to be on state ballots.
So, for the time being, we are left--beyond the two major parties--with the finalized Gary Johson-William Weld ticket for the Libertarians, and Jill Stein for the Green Party.  The widespread antipathy for both Clinton and Trump does offer some hope to these outsiders, particularly the Libertarians. Some polling indicates their support is near 10%, not enough to get them on the debate platform, which might enable them, with a strong performance, to become a credible mainstream alternative to do some real damage, but, if that kind of number held up, could mean the difference in several closely-contested states.  History suggests, however, that third-party support fades a bit in the final days of the general election campaign, when voters have to get real about which of the two major-party candidates they can live with. 
The Libertarian ticket is designed to attract moderate Republicans:  both Johnson and Weld are what would be considered social liberals.  Neither is particularly pure as a small-government libertarian, I would say.  They also have a bit of an issue in that their policy platform doesn't differ enough from Trump's positions (to the extent coherent positions can be derived from his statements).  In this regard, they could draw more or less equally from independents who have more personal aversion to both Trump and Clinton; I don't know that they will be successful drawing Cruz-type Republicans dissatisfied with Trump.  Then there is Stein, who might capture a percent or two among Sanders leftists who can't reconcile themselves with Clinton but see no value in Johnson/Weld; no meaning here except opportunity lost for the Democrats.  If predictit.org creates a market for Johnson's popular vote in the general election--something they have not done but I would expect--I would bump up my previous expectation of 2-4% to the 4-6% range, if available. 
In predictit.org terms, someone who really thinks that a third-party  might win a particular state (and is later proven right) could win twice, a return of close to 100%, by buying No on both the Democratic and Republican markets.  I would, however, remind the reader that neither John Anderson nor Ross Perot ever won any states.  
Still more Predictit.org News
There is a market on the winning party of the Presidential election; this one includes "Other" as an option (currently at 4%; I still hold a couple of shares at 3% from when Bloomberg was thinking of running, which I thought would boost that price, which I could then sell at a profit); the 64-37% current Democratic/Republican markets are oversubscribed on the positive side, which I would expect to correct. This market is still open to new participants, whereas the market for the name of the person elected in 2016 (an old one, started last year, which has names like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bloomberg, and all the failed Republican candidates) has the maximum allowed number of participants at 5000 and thus is closed to new participants for the time being. That one has Clinton 59%; Trump at 37% (those figures correspond well to the state-by-state markets tabled above) , Sanders at an unrealistic 7%, Johnson at 4%, and Biden at 6%--which I would describe as somewhat half-wishful thinking by those Clinton-haters expecting Hillary to be indicted and drop out, similar to the thinking I had with my semi-snark bids for Bloomberg previously. I never really thought he could win, but I did think the market could move up. In this game, there are the permanent bids, where you plan to hold until the end when the market is "resolved", and the market timing "investment" moves, when you like the price and buy in until such time as you don't like the risk/reward anymore.