Sunday, April 24, 2016

Quo Vadis, Bernie?

Donald Trump will be a candidate for president, whether he is the GOP nominee or runs as an independent and Bernie Sanders is unintentionally helping him by continuing his personalized attacks against Hillary Clinton.  In so doing Sanders is helping the Democratic party blow a great opportunity to put a Democrat in the White House and would scotch any chance even a part of his agenda could ever be  enacted.

Trump’s newest slogan against Clinton is to call her Corrupt Hillary by echoing Sanders’ stump speeches. .Proof of whether donations from Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry or corporate interests resulted in influencing her policy positions is the missing link since her record as senator was one of supporting tough measures that were not in those special groups’ interests.   Even Sanders could not name one piece of legislation influenced by such contributions.

Sanders’ other attack against Hillary is that she is not qualified to be president. Strange.  No one in the race in either party with a resume that reflects both domestic and foreign affairs experience.  Sanders based his attack mostly on one argument: he has the judgment, not her, because he voted against the Iraq invasion and she did not. He had a strong case to differ with her on many issues that she was more of a hawk, but he chose to make this a personal attack on her character instead. This provides the GOP with a handy sound bite which diverts attention from their own extremely hawkish views.

Sanders needs to back off these attacks. They did not work in the New York primary. Polls at this writing indicate it is not working in Tuesday’s northeast primaries either. The resulting math is that Sanders is running out of pledged delegates left to capture, needing at least 59% of all remaining pledged delegates post New York.

Sanders has another challenge that is approximately reflected in the current delegate count. There are just not enough angry Democrats to join his political revolution.  Those in revolt are far more numerous in the Republican party than in the Democratic party, which is why Donald Trump has dominated  the GOP process and Sanders has not gained enough of  the Democratic delegates,  even though they are both appealing to angry masses. The NBC News/SurveyMonkey/Esquire poll released January 3 found that 61 percent of Republicans find themselves feeling angry about current events or the news more than they did one year ago. Only 42 percent of Democrats said the same thing. 

 Instead of making personal attacks, Sanders should focus on his greatest success: his aspirational messages, including fighting nagging income inequality, that have indeed become a significant movement within the Democratic party and cannot be ignored for years to come.    In fact, he has a better chance of seeing his views getting a nod the Convention platform planks than if he makes his campaign a divisive personalized fight that turns polarized delegates against delegates.  Clinton, on the other hand,  can still support the essence of  Sanders’ aspirational goals with greater clarity, but still disagree with the method to achieve them, if she wants to extend an olive branch to his supporters and maintain her appeal to the un-angry.

Monday, April 18, 2016

General election: Tyrannical Trump v Corrupt Clinton?

Donald Trump will be a candidate for president, whether he is the GOP nominee or runs as an independent. . Both Hillary Clinton and Trump are pivoting to the general election and Trump is trying out a technique of name calling that so far has destroyed the opposition: .  His newest slogan against Hillary is to call her Corrupt Hillary, based upon her close ties to Wall Street  and the fossil fuel industry and corporate support of her. He is capitalizing  on Bernie Sanders' charges of the same.

 No one listens to facts much these days but only 2% of Clinton's  campaign funds so far comes from the fossil fuel industry.Open Secrets, the independent follower of contributions, shows sources of her campaign contributions, and Wall Street contributions are only a part of her funding sources; she is not dependent on it.  In the Brooklyn debate, Sanders could name not one vote when she was senator that helped Wall Street that was tied to a contribution.  Those points are logical rebuttals to charges from both Sanders and Trump.

Perception is more important than truth and facts  in politics so Clinton must counter this more  vigorously than with just logic and she must begin now. Repetition has a way of becoming accepted fact.

 However, while she should not indulge in school yard name calling, others may. Sticks and stones may break bones, but in politics words hurt, too, and Trump is a master of the  word technique... 

On issues, Hillary and Trump are not that far apart, though polls show Clinton has the edge over Trump and is close to him on handling the economy..  The general  election will not be about issues, except on foreign policy where Trump seems determined to reinstate a nuclear arms race and upturn alliances established  and carefully nurtured since World War II.  In fact, it may not even be about qualifications and experience and judgment.  

The general election  will be about demographics, and no retooling of messages will help Trump out live his earlier anti Hispanic,anti immigrant, anti women.pronouncements and his flirtations with racists,   .By the way, Ted Cruz is volnerable with all of those same demographics, though so far it is not as obvious since his positions have been couched in less inflammatory language and more subtle policies.

 It will  also be about character. Trump calling Hillary a liar is one that we have not heard since earlier in the campaign season, mostly because all fact checkers named Trump the liar of 2015 because of his  twisting facts to make his anti immigrant points.Next to Trump, Hillary looks good. and the pot calling the kettle black is not a winning strategy. Calling her unlikeable will not work either because in polls he comes out worse than her in that category. Calling her weak with little stamina has not worked for him so far because it appeared to be sexist, that women are de facto the weaker sex.In fact, Hillary Clinton's vigorous campaign style and strength in debates has put to rest that line of personal attack.

 Now he is trying out Corrupt Clinton. No doubt he will be coming up with every bit of dirt and nuance, truth twisting  and insinuations he can to make this tag stick.  This sadly portends of the level of the upcoming campaign season, pretty low down and dirty, and a diversion from his weaknesses on issues and personality. That is a page from " A great offense is always the best defense" school of thought.

 Trump's appeal has also been about his perception of being a strong leader, though polls show Hillary ranks right up there with him.  The question becomes what kind of a strong leader. Is it one who leads with facts and advocates for policy and understands  and can use the legislative process?  Or is it  Trump's strong man methods of bullying and extortion , firing generals and subordinates who do dare to opine against his self conceived policies, and twisting the truth when it suits him? That is his art of the deal that  also  makes him  vulnerable to attack. 

Calling him a fascist or a Nazi has not worked ...but there is a tag to his name that might ring true in a name calling kind of campaign.  Calling him Tyrannical Trump might work as a way to attack his personal fitness to be president.. Apologies: I could not resist a bit of fighting fire with fire.

 He may have put his finger on the corrupt poitical system run by the political establishment because it idoes not reflect the grass roots.  When it comes to democracy,though,  he is hardly its torchbearer. His leadership style is the kind of strong man anti-democrat demogogue  that put fear into the founding fathers.  They constructed a Constitution to check and balance against that leadership style. A Trump presidency would mean years of gut wrenching conflict and power struggles, both constitutionally and with demographic groups he alienates.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cruz's tax proposals fall flat in the year of income inequality issues

If there is one driving characteristic of this chaotic primary season common to both the GOP and Democrats, it is a revolt by those left behind in our slow, steady, but uneven economic recovery from the Great Recession.  .  Growing and persistent income inequality is  a concern of every candidate surviving the primaries and caucuses except one: Ted Cruz, whose flat tax plank would not only perpetuate income inequality, but could make it worse. In fact, Cruz is out of step with the hottest domestic issue of this campaign year.

There are differences between the camps regarding who is to blame for rising income inequality. Both Trump and Sanders have made hay by pointing fingers at trade agreements ,while  supporting protectionism or “fair trade” .Trump wants to slap a 45% import tariff on goods unfairly traded and on all Chinese imports, meaning the price from electronics to clothes we buy now would rise considerably.   Sanders places protection of jobs in the US above any other consideration except raising the minimum wage. Hillary Clinton and Sanders have sparred over not if but how much the raise should be., Clinton fears raising import fees because of resulting  trade wars.   Eleven million US workers in industries engaged in trade could be impacted if our trading partners retaliated by raising tariffs on US goods.

All of these may be factors contributing to income inequality, but GOP tax policies deserve the greatest share of the blame:  Keeping taxes low on investors in the economy  has been the priority  of the GOP and the  dominating tax policies for many years.  Even President Obama   had to agree to keep Bush tax cuts on upper income brackets in any proposals he made and to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

Statistics and data show that during this period the rich have only gotten richer and the rising tide of economic recovery did not lift all boats or trickle down to the rest of us as the GOP had promised. Even former  GOP Congressman and host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe,  Joe Scarborough, has called “thirty years of trickle down economics,  B___ S___”.

Sanders’ solution is to raise taxes on everyone, but more so on the rich, to pay for free public college education and  Medicare for All .  Like her current platform, Clinton’s senate record reveals her consistent support of  progressive taxes and middle class tax cuts, while opposing Bush tax cuts favoring the wealthy. Donald Trump  wants to eliminate tax breaks for the rich, raise taxes on the wealthy, and lower CEO pay.

Ted Cruz’s non solution is a tax proposal that is more likely to increase income inequality ,not decrease it. He wants to trash the graduated income tax and replace it with the flat tax.. A flat tax would impose  the same percentage, 16% or so,  on all across the board, with some variations and exemptions, followed by eliminating the IRS .  Cruz throws out glowing  estimates of unleashed  economic growth and post card size tax returns.  Critics of the flat tax have argued that growth would  not generate  enough revenue to avoid massive cuts to federal programs  and that flat taxes mostly  benefit the already wealthy. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Is our method of nominating the presidential candidates democratic?

A friend of mine, a Bernie Sanders supporter, was thrilled with her ability to participate in a caucus and that she had a voice. At least she thought she did.   Great, I said. Now let us see if other caucuses send enough delegates to the county, district and state conventions to reflect the state support for Sanders. What? Do you mean it is possible my vote could not count?  she asked.  I explained the Colorado process was set by state party rules. The numbers of delegates sent to the state convention via their delegates to district caucuses would chose the delegates sent to the national convention and they were to be chosen proportionately. So it was. Sanders got 59%, or 38 delegate votes for the national convention. Clinton receive 40.3% of the state delegates and received 28 delegate votes.   “Proportional” is the national Democratic party rule for both primary and caucus states.
That is not the way the GOP works. Winner takes all is permitted but is not required. The Republican party meeting in Colorado Springs’ state convention last week did not hold caucus preference votes in advance, with delegates to the state convention totally unbound. The result was that Ted Cruz ran away with nearly 100% of the delegates (3 reserved for party officials), and any Donald Trump supporters were left with virtually no voice at the national convention. 
To complicate matters, both parties send some  unpledged delegates to the national convention and even most pledged delegates are only bound through the first ballot. All can flip. Flipping those delegates is now the focus of the battle between Sanders and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
What sort of a democracy is this, you ask?  That question is up to your party organization’s interpretation.   Take it up with your party leaders in the next four years if you do not like it.  
There are two basic kinds of democracy: winning popular vote rules or we elect representatives to make decisions for us. The United States is the latter. We elect representatives to vote for president for us in the Electoral College and we elect representatives to Congress to make decisions for us. The political parties have adopted the representative democracy approach even though there were no political parties at the time of the writing of the Constitution nor are political parties even mentioned in that document or amendments.

Why did our founding fathers form a representative democracy?  Stability, is likely the answer.  Our founders had had some bad experiences in the colonies with populist movements, and they knew that public opinion was quick to change allegiances and easily manipulated by the media of the times: newspapers and pamphlets. They wanted to give greater voice to the ‘establishment’ to insure lasting stability of the system and to slow down extreme fluctuations. Others wanted the ability to give disproportionate power to small states by allocation of the number of their representatives.  Their wisdom was born out by the French revolution that resulted in chaos, disillusionment with democracy, with even the inventor of the guillotine later to become its victim. This resulted in the dictatorship of Napoleon and restoration of monarchy. It is a lesson from history we should not take lightly.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Democrats could blow a good thing

In the early days of the 2016 presidential cycle, a time that seems so long ago, I  remember when Bernie Sanders tossed his hat in the ring, the   message put  forth by his supporters was that he only wanted  to force Hillary Clinton to embrace his more left leaning issues.  He proposed some pie in the sky remedies, free state university tuition, Medicare for All, and no more trade agreements that harm American jobs. 
 Few knew him then, but many do now and he had a message that spoke to so many, those who were burdened by tuition debt and those who felt left out of the recovery from the trickle down economics of the Bush years and the 2008 crash. He has avoided with skill appearing to criticize the policies of Pres. Obama while doing it anyway.
Many of Sanders’ proposals have not gotten much scrutiny. The cost to the American taxpayer of these proposals is an issue that has gotten lost in the wishful thinking of his ardent supporters.  All would have to see their taxes rise, though more so on the rich. The tax increases to the middle class would be offset by the savings of the government supported programs he claims, but that tradeoff’s economic soundness has never been fully vetted. Putting up trade barriers also begets retaliation by countries who would raise their tariffs on American imports.  Eleven million US workers have jobs dependent on exports. Trade wars could hurt workers more than raising trade barriers would help.
 Sanders now sees himself closer to winning the nomination and he points to polls showing he is electable. All of the delegate counters on mainstream media say the potential delegate tally needed to catch up with Hillary only adds up with great difficulty. Sanders is banking that  if he pulls even with Clinton in earned/pledged delegates, enough of the  super delegates who are still free to switch will automatically come to him. He will have to do better than just even: super delegates are political pros who are more establishment and are not prone to go back on promises unless they see Sanders as a clear winner.  
  Instead of a well-meaning uncle sticking to a comparison of issue positions, Sanders has switched strategy:   to attack Hillary Clinton personally, as a person who takes money from big oil and fossil fuel interests.  That is a direct charge that she is corrupt. Per a recent Washington Post fact checker, no fossil fuel PACs or corporations have contributed to her campaign and if the individuals who did were employees or lobbyists of the industry, those contributions did not exceed 2% of the total she has raised.    
 So heated have Sanders’ personal attacks of Clinton been, some of his supporters are pledging not to support Clinton if she gets the nomination. If they keep that up, Democrats are in danger of blowing a good thing.  There is a chance if the Democrats support one another in the general election regardless of who they supported in the primaries, given the dismal poll numbers of either Trump or Cruz, Congress could change hands, the Supreme Court would be more favorable,  and chances are better that some of the  agenda  outlined by Sanders in  some version could actually  be implemented.