Posts tagged ‘Ezra Klein’

Hope and Redemption

I think I mentioned in my last blog that I was on a plane to Hawaii. Five plus hours to kill and with a guy with advanced prostate cancer, and eye on the seat belt light and the line at the latrine, distraction is a good thing. I was going to read a couple of mystery novels, but I thought maybe after listening to the Ezra Klein conversation with Paul Krugman, I should download some other Podcasts and listen if my eyes got tired. So what you are going to get here is kind of an eclectic mishmash of Buddhism and hope for our politics going forward. As one of my categories for these blogs go, they connect the dots.

I got an text from a good friend worrying about how things are falling apart. My last blog written a couple of hours ago reflected that malaise. What happened to us? Well I will get to that in a minute, but the real question is what can we do about living in this atmosphere of continuous stress? So the first conversation I listened to was an Ezra Klein interview with Robert Wright, about What Buddhism got right about the human brain. Now this discussion was a trip through mindfulness, trying to transcend self, and to find contentment.

Wright made an interesting observation, and that is that the human brain did not evolve to live in the world we live in. The brain evolved to never be satisfied. Had we achieved satisfaction we would stop the search. We evolved to spread our seed, so sex, food, all the the things that keep us going were designed not to satisfy us so we would sustain and keep eating and spreading our seed. Might spread some light on why monogamy is maybe an adaption we still struggle with. In many ways we were built to be anxious. Buddhism through meditating and mindfulness tries to control all those thoughts that are careening off our brain and just be in the moment, to become more fully aware of our oneness with the world.

Okay so much for the theory. The interview was about an honest attempt to get there, can any of us really get there, and what may be the benefits. But one of the experiences that I have found in my old age is instead of being controlled by my reactions to things, to really see and examine the experience, which then de-arms the emotion and lets us chose our own feelings/reactions about it. Here is an example. You are driving on the freeway and some dumb shit asshole with a death wish cuts you off. See the loaded language here. You are angry. But I have been lately finding myself saying, wow, that was interesting. Okay, not all the time, but most of the time. It is a state where you become much less judgmental and more accepting of what is going on around you. Yeah, he is probably a total jerk, but I don’t have to be and oh my, I did a really good job of dodging that fool.

Of course there is a lot more to this interview and if you are interested in Buddhism as an approach at peace and more tranquility in your life, it is worth a listen. But they ended the interview by talking about the world of Trump and how we deal in a world that could be falling apart. I will not try to summarize, but you still can be active, you don’t float away on another plane, but you deal with what you can change and like the driver careening into your lane, wow, how interesting, maybe I can make a difference by writing this stupid blog instead of sulking or throwing stuff.

One last thought before I leave this topic. I am a Vietnam War Veteran. So the day came when I packed up my stuff and left my family for a year. I learned some really important things, actually all the same thing, in that year, one from Earnest Gann (author of The High and the Mighty), one from Victor Frankl (The author of the Meaning of Life), and one from mindfulness without the meditating.

First Earnest Gann, and being cool under high stress. He tells the story in one of his novels about a pilot who is ferrying a bomber over to Europe for WWII. They are below the weather flying up a fjord with shear rock walls on either side, unable to climb up because if they do, they can’t get back down through the weather to land, and hoping the airport is at the end of the fjord. The copilot is going nuts while the pilot is calm as a rock. Finally the panicking copilot can’t stand it and asks the pilot how he is so sure the airport and their only hope of landing is up ahead. And the pilot replies, because we don’t have any other options. When you don’t have any options, enjoy the ride.

The second is a little shorter but in the same vein and that is from Victor Frankl who studied survival in the death camps in WWII. What he learned was that when you can no longer control anything, and they have taken everything away, there is one thing that you still control and they can’t take away. You have the freedom to choose your attitude. The last thing was what I learned in my year of wishing I was home and being lonely, missing a year out of my kid’s lives. And it is that if you can’t do anything about it, be in the moment. Look around you. This may be all there is. Take it in. I kind of think Buddhism is really intuitive. So if Donald Trump and the Republicans really are the Apocalypse, well that’s interesting. Got wine?

Okay, the other interview was with three really smart people on Trump’s America, how we got here, what failed, and is this the end. These would be Ezra doing the interview, E.J. Dione, Norm Ornstein, and Thomas Mann, all savvy observers of Congress and our political system. This Podcast was called, How the Republican party created Donald Trump. Now I don’t want to take you through this trip, especially if you are a reader of this blog. But they started with an interesting question. The framers had designed our system so that a Donald Trump would never be president. What happened?

I will give you the short version, The Republican Party became the problem when the party was taken over by people who hate government. The system in the electoral college no longer stops an unfit candidate, the unfair representation of conservatives who hate government from state by state gerrymandering, and the power of Senators from small population urban areas skewing representation. Urban areas, where most Americans live, are underrepresented. The impact of social media, fake news, Fox News, and right wing talk all played a role, not to mention Democrats losing touch with the problems of America. Finally, Republicans, instead of drawing a line, saw advantage in feeding the base racism, nativism, misogyny, and ignorance, were riding the tiger to election wins, when the tiger ate them. When they tried to stop Trump in the primaries the establishment was slaughtered. Good and tasty.

So where does that leave us? Well here is the plus side. Changing the Constitution to change some of these problems, which I have weighed in before, is very hard. But Thomas Mann and others think that maybe Donald Trump just gave the whole system a jolt. Maybe it was just what we needed. From the chaos and disaster of a Donald Trump, the nation may just have gotten their wakeup call. I have argued that Republicans with their failed ideas have had traction because people could be duped as long as those ideas were not put into play. Well now they are and the failures will be in some ways catastrophic, people will die and that is not hyperbole.

But maybe that is the cost. We have lost so much in the eyes of the world, in our own integrity, and yet, maybe this is just the jolt to get us back on track. Remember, you always have the freedom to choose your attitude. RESIST! TO THE BEACH! WHERE THE HELL IS MY LONGBOARD? That is the moment I am in.

Intellectual Friday

No, I am not claiming to be an intellectual (I wish I was, but I struggle), but I do like to dive a little deep sometimes. She who must never be mentioned here calls me the charter member of the boring book club. But hey, it is the 21st century so instead of WTF Friday and listing how, as Paul Krugman calls the Trump Administration, the Apocalypse, is progressing, let’s discuss a wonderful podcast I came across. I am a fan of because if you are looking to understand issues, that is the place to go. Ezra Klein runs the place and Ezra is an intellectual and I came across this recent podcast (The Ezra Klein Show) of him interviewing Paul Krugman (Economist and NYT columnist) called “An orgy of serious policy discussions” with Paul Krugman.

Now their topics ranged from such proposals as a guaranteed basic income (UBI), to robots taking jobs, monopolies, healthcare, the tax bill, taxes and if they help or hurt the economy, and it was amazing. Now before you go all left-wing nut jobs on me, let just say that these are two people who have thought about these things deeply, with Paul more grounded in the politics of today and what is possible than you would think. So it was a real discussion, not a left-wing hedonist fest. I would strongly recommend you listen to it, but the best part was at the end when Ezra asked this question:

What is the role of policy journalism and policy analysis, be it from us, from think tanks, from wherever, in an era when the decision-makers do not actually seem to care if the weight of the evidence is that they’re getting policy wrong?

Now I am totally paraphrasing here, but there were three parts to his question:

  • You and I are work as political analysts and we provide analysis of policy looking at possible impacts to different policy decisions. I am beginning to wonder it we have a job anymore.
  • Those in power (Republicans) are not interested in analysis of policy anymore, just confirmation they are right. The tax bill is an example where we can provide detailed impacts to help them craft smarter policy and they don’t care.
  • Generally, Republicans and Democrats are very much alike as opposed to very different, but Democrats are still open to looking intellectually at policy outcomes and modifying their policies to achieve better ends. Why is that?

Here is how he phrased It:

You and I both get, I’m sure, a lot of emails from extremely intense liberals, and I do not find those emails to be all that different from the emails I get from extremely intense conservatives. I don’t think individual liberals and conservatives are different in what they’re willing to believe, and I think a lot of research supports that.

But liberal institutions — the Democratic Party is one, but much more broadly the think tank community, the academic community, which leans liberal, the journalistic community that is left of center — has been much more resistant to some of the bullshit that has infected the conservative community. There seems, to me, to be an asymmetry in the responsibility of the core mediating institutions.

Now on the first and second point Ezra and Paul were in agreement. It is that cliché, facts don’t matter any more to most of the Republican Party. While they were both loath to say it, ideology had totally captured them. I call it faith-based thinking. President Trump, who is a symptom of their malaise, is a pathological liar* and most of his policies, thus theirs, are based upon false data. You remember cigarettes don’t cause cancer? Well flow down exists and global warming is just variations of nature, nothing to worry about. While they did not mention it, the attack on the press, they call “Fake News,” is an attempt to stifle real analysis. So there was agreement here.

There was a sidebar discussion here about how some fairly reasonable economists have gone over to the dark side to support that tax cuts will pay for themselves utilizing either non-existent data (Mnuchin), or data that has been thoroughly debunked. It had to do with who was paying your bills. It is easy to believe something if your paycheck depends on you believing it, and Paul pointed out that Republicans are much more controlled by big money contributors than Democrats.

But the real question of why liberals have not gone down the rabbit hole of ideology and faith-based thinking while Republicans have troubled them both and I don’t think either found a satisfactory answer. It is hard to understand why seemly intelligent people, ignore facts and data. This idea that Liberals are just as ideologically stunted as Republicans and data and facts does not shift their positions is the false equivalency argument so often pushed by the media to seem fair and balanced when the Right has gone off the cliff.

Paul argued that Republicans are more hierarchical and follow the leader, and Ezra, in his words, pushed back saying the party fractured this year as the base rejected the establishment. Paul countered with there is still the hierarchical structure, it just moved away from the establishment Republican Party to the Right wing media machine. Democrats on the other hand have always been a coalition of interest groups with a diversity of ideas.  They have to be flexible.

You can listen or read these arguments at your convenience, see the link above, but since it is my blog, I have some thoughts here. They are not new or original, but may better explain the difference and why conservatives will fail if they haven’t already.

First in answer to Ezra’s question about whether political analysts have any value anymore, of course they do. The why of failure is part of the recovery process. The downfall of conservatism is the political process, which is why they are trying so hard to stifle the vote and control the news. No matter how sure they are of their policies, when they fail to deliver, sooner or later there will be a revolt. We are already starting to see that.

Remember better cheaper healthcare and yet they have no plan? The tax cut bill which is their other major thrust will hurt, not help the economy and again, eventually this will be felt at the base level and then they are dead meat. As long as they were a minority party, they could blame the other side, now with failure as a metric assured and they holding all the levers of power, who do you blame? Right now the economy is soaring (in Wall Street) but that will end as economic inequality does more and more to suppress demand. Then what. Oh, and if you are a person who actually looks at facts and data, that soaring economy is simply the continuation of the growth from the Obama Administration.

Now on the issue of why conservatives had a tendency to reject policy analysis, I will ask you this: Why is the Republican Party the home of conservative Christians? Said another, way, what does the word conservative mean? Studies have shown that conservatives tend to be more fearful people. They don’t like change. Liberals by their very nature are more willing to try new things. Conservatives want to hold on to what they think has worked. In evolution this may have helped the race survive. But today it is a liability in a world-changing very fast and adaption is critical to our survival.

They like simple answers because simplicity makes the world controllable.  Complexity is terrifying because it provides more choices and drives them into a defensive crouch.  So the market place solves all problems, flow down works, tax cuts pay for themselves, and morality is defined by the Bible not informed by science and data.  And to keep it that way, you have to have a system to reject countervailing ideas and analysis.

Add to that a media structure that is little more that a reinforcing propaganda machine (Fox News and Right wing radio), with real news’ (corporate owned and for profit media) real weakness not challenging false assumptions with facts and data because it would seem to make them biased, and you have world where you have created an alternate reality where you don’t need policy analysis anymore.  You have all the answers you need. Oh, and it explains why the conspiracy theory phenomenum is much more prevalent with Republicans.

All the rest that Ezra and Paul identified are true, but you do really have to understand their psychology and need for total control.  That is why conservatism leans toward order and finally tyranny so evident in Donald Trump. Racism comes from fear.  Nativism comes from fear.  Misogyny comes from fear (women in control???)Watching the Roy Moore election was a case in point of denial to stymie any change.

One last thing as I have to do some real work.  Many people including myself have argued that we need a two-party system.  As the argument goes, one party balances out the other, and through debate, better solutions are arrived at.  All that goes in the toilet when one party is not longer susceptible to policy analysis.  The Republican Party is not longer a political party in that sense.  But here is the amazing thing, the Democratic Party is way more than a single party.  Real debate goes on using real policy analysis to decide how to proceed.  Think about the arguments between Hillary and Sanders on healthcare or paid for advanced education.  Welcome to real political discussion again.

The only hope for the country is to recognize that the Republicans are no longer salvageable and we need to put them out of their misery.  2018 would be a good time.  Have a good weekend and I will post from the North Shore of Hawaii next week.


Impeachment and the Failure of Our Constitution

Ezra Klein wrote a piece yesterday that everyone should read on impeaching the President.  At this point most sane people have arrived at the conclusion that having a racist, misogynistic, pathological liar, who is unstable and may be losing his grip on reality for President is a very dangerous situation.  Ezra argues that impeachment should be used more frequently to protect America from temporary moments of insanity. Then he chronicles why it hasn’t.  I will just summarize here.

First the Founders put high crimes and misdemeanors as the justification, and then rejected defining those terms.  To make a long story short, it is up Congress.  We seem to be locked into the idea that it must be an actual crime or mental incapacity (25th Amendment) when in fact, it can be anything they want.  Ezra makes a good case that utilizing the 25th Amendment could cause a civil war as the deplorables who have their own reality, would see this as usurping power by the Republican elites.  It is a good point.

He also points out that the Founders put into place many checks and balances to ensure we would not be found in the situation we re in today, starting with the electoral college where the political elites were suppose to assert their better judgement when the rabble got it dangerously wrong.  Today we have a rubber stamp electoral college that overrides the popular vote.

He also points out that the Founders did not foresee the two Party system we have today that basically protects their own no matter how bad.  He noted that the impeachment process only happens when the opposing party to the President occupies Congress.  Today we see that in operation as a man who even many Republicans are calling unstable, protect him to protect an agenda.  But as Ezra pointed out, the Presidency is not what the Founders envisioned and the amount of power it has today is unparalleled.  In a moment he can destroy the modern world.

Yes, we should use impeachment more often, but as Ezra pointed out, not likely.  I think we are reaching a point where our Constitution does not work anymore.  On the tax cut debate, I listened to Bruce Bartlett, economist, historian, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, and Treasury official under George H. W, Bush, ask if we had lost our brains.  He is a traditional Republican who believes in controlling our debt.  He points out that the Republican Congress is in an alternate reality,  tax cuts have never paid for themselves, we are almost at full employment, and business are awash in money. A tax cut is not even called for, but tax reform is.

Further he makes a really insightful observation, the majority of the country is against this tax cut, and Republicans don’t care.  He points out that it is possible under our Constitution for 40% of the population to elect a super majority.  In other words we have a system where our representatives are not responsive to the electorate, but only to their donors with no fear of retribution.  In other words, our system doesn’t work any more, from the electoral college and gerrymandering, to unfair representation by rural states.

I really wonder as Ezra did if we have the wrong system for today’s world and we need a system similar to a parliamentary system where a vote of no confidence would force an election where the people can speak again and not wait 4 years.  We have a lot to fix and it is becoming clear that under our system, we can’t fix it.

There is one bright side, assuming with the latest with Flynn going for a plea bargain doesn’t send the President over the edge and start launching missiles, the Republicans may get their way on tax cuts and other policies, but the result will be a slow crash and burn because these policies don’t work.  See Republican Bruce Bartlett above.  As the nation is wrecked, Americans just might come out to the polls in 2018 and 2020 and turn this around.

I will add this caution. It is clear looking at the contacts with Russians, that there was collusion, they had a hold on Trump, probably through money laundering.  It is no coincidence that Mueller interviewed Kushner just before we find out Flynn pleaded guilty.  He was going to catch him in a lie and probably did.  Our unstable President will get more unstable and hopefully the generals in the White House will have a 24/7 watch on him.  The noose is around the neck and tightening and he could do anything.  We live in very dangerous times. If we get through this, we have a lot to fix.


Another Moment of Absolute Truth

Ezra Klein has written a SOTU address President Obama should have given if he wanted to be totally honest. It basically says the system we have now simply can’t work. Agreement and getting along is political suicide. I strongly recommend you read it and ponder how we fix it. As it is now, the only way government will work is if we become a single party system, or said another way, one party has complete control of the government and the levers of power.

Here are some pertinent exerts:

The hard thing I have to say to you tonight is that I was wrong. When I ran for president, I believed that the political system could be repaired by people of goodwill, who genuinely wanted to agree, to reach out, to compromise. I ran for president telling you that the problems in American politics could be fixed through elections. But the problems run deeper than the people serving in Washington at any given moment, and the way all of us in this room are elected is making them worse.

… The refrain I hear all around the country is, “why can’t you guys just agree?” It’s the right question. … No one likes the answer I’m about to give, but it’s the right one. The political system isn’t built like a family. It’s not designed like a business.

You want to know the truth? Government, or at least the political system, is like a football game. You ever think about why football games are they way they are? You have all these guys hitting each other so hard they cause each other permanent brain damage. So why do they do it? Why do kids who aren’t getting paid a cent do it?

They do it because that’s how the game works. They do it because the rules are you line up in front of the other team and then you hit them as hard as you can. They do it because, for one side to win, the other has to lose. And they do it because, if they don’t do it, they’re off the team. Football has no place for conscientious objectors.

The honest truth is that that’s how politics works, too. We’ve got two teams. And only one of them can win the election. So they line up and they hit each other as hard as they can. They don’t cooperate because the rules don’t let them cooperate. They don’t agree because agreeing means losing — and losing is political death. Losing means you can’t help the people you came here to help.

If this was just about policy, we could come to agreement. I promise you we could. When you’re just talking about policy there are lots of ways to make both sides happy. But this isn’t just about policy. It’s about power. It’s about who will win the next election and govern the country. And while policy questions have answers that can make both sides happy, elections only return answers that make one side happy.

Well there it is. And maybe that explains why Republicans can’t except when they have things wrong. They can’t admit it because it makes the other side right and that can never happen. It is a dangerous world and I have no idea how to fix it but to throw the other guys out.

So What’s Ahead?

It’s that time of year when all the news (unless Air Asia or politicians (this year Republicans) provides us a distraction) is all about the 10 best, 10 worst, top stories of 2014, and what to expect next year.  It puts me to sleep because I was awake last year and my top 10 list turns out to be quite a bit different from the mainstream media’s.  They are all running in a herd.  But having said that, politically let me tell you what is going to happen next year.  NOTHING!

Oh there will be smoke and mirrors, fire in the hole, sparks and small explosions, but we are in a climate where nothing is  really going to change.  Do you hear anyone saying the number 1 crisis facing us is the environment? And why is this important?  Because for most of us who are not in the 1%, it is really all about the economy stupid.  As Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman discussed in their interview, we are gridlocked, “It seems possible that we’re looking at a decade or more in which we have a political system that is essentially unable to make any forward motion on major problems. It might be able to respond to a crisis, but it cannot affirmatively legislate.”

Oh wait, the Republicans, due to some very stupid voting by the rabble, put them in charge of the Congress and our economy.  And according to political editor for MSNBC, Kari Dan, Republicans, if they can get by all their internal distractions, have “big bold ideas” to  put forward.  But I have to ask, what big bold ideas?  They don’t have any.  We have an economy that is moving further right and what we have been doing under Democrats and Republicans is facilitating the rapid growth of economic inequality.  So is Obamacare the problem?  Are immigrants causing the problem?  Are high taxes on the rich causing these problems?  Are too many regulations and government interference causing these problems?

The answer is mostly no yet the Republican big bold ideas are just more of what we have been doing, only more extreme.  And it is what has caused all these problems.  Obamacare, Immigration reform, reforming the tax code to be more fair, government regulations and looking at government regulations and seeing where improvements can be made are all attempts to address problems with solutions.  The Republicans are all about just undoing them.  How does that help? The problems don’t go away.  So no, we are not going to see big bold plans, just more attacks on the progress we have made.  That is their big bold plan, bring in the wrecking ball.

An aside here.  I just heard a Republican complain about how her insurance just went up.  So does that justify tearing down Obamacare?  What about the full coverage you now get including birth control, not being able to deny you insurance, and keeping your kids enrolled until they are established in their own lives?  Isn’t that how insurance works, those who are healthier pay more so those who are sick can be treated?  Do you want low insurance so others get none and when you really do have a problem, your claims can be denied?  If you have a pre-existing condition insurance can you now be denied, or in the small print, you are not covered? Oh, these people hurt my brain.  But the point is they don’t like it, but have not yet presented a better option (like a single payer plan?).

So there is a silver lining here in nothing getting done.  We really have some systemic problems that are not going to be addressed by minor tweaks of our economic system. Republicans are going to fracture into the Know Somethings (KSs), and the Know Nothings (KNs).  The KSs know that they must get somethings done even if they don’t want to really change anything.  The KNs want to gutt government and really don’t want it to be effective because they don’t believe it is.  So we are going to see internal ideological wars and the exposing of their inability to have any new ideas or lead.

On the Democratic side there is a choice to make.  Nothing is going to get done, at least nothing important.  Immigration reform has been purposed as a candidate.  It is never going to happen.  See the KNs and how they control primaries.  So if we are to ever move forward, the Democrat Party has to draw the line and move away from their middle of the road approach.  The beltway media will go crazy with their both sides do it, but in reality as the Democrats have compromised, the voting population doesn’t see much difference with the two parties and nothing is getting fixed.  It is time to clearly define the problem by not comprosing with it.

So what could get done is that the Democrats get their mojo back.  If they can resist the temptation to get something done, anything, to look productive going nowhere, they can redefine the conversation.  The new conversation is about populism and helping the middle class.  The conversation and the policies that follow are about redistributing the pie for the benefit of everyone.  They have to convince even the 1% that this growing inequality is going to be bad for them too.  After all, when they have all the money, who are they going to sell their stuff to?  I could make a list of the things that need to be done, but the critical one is to refocus the discussion on how to grow our middle class.  Once that is seen as the goal instead of growing the rich and waiting for handouts (called flowdown), the policies will follow.  Until we have changed the conversation we will be chained by the KSs, and the KNs to old arguments that get us nowhere.  That is what the next two years should be about.



End of Year Great Quotes From Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein interviewed Paul Krugman on and here were a few gems (unless indicated they are from Paul) ([ ] are from me.):

Yeah, the way Ebola was covered was about at the same level as media coverage of shark attacks.  The Public would have learned nothing.

Our intelligence is really lashed to a lot of things that aren’t about intelligence, like endless generations of social competition in the evolutionary fight for the best mates. [Emotioal Intelligence anyone?]

I think at this point. Elizabeth Warren is now the visible embodiment of the wing of the Democratic Party that’s determined not to return to Clinton [Bill}/Blairism.  That makes her useful even if she doesn’t run as – I don’t know – a ghost or something looming over Hillary. [Clinton/Bairism was just moving the country right during a bubble in the economy, solved nothing and hastened the final collapse]

Ezra:  Can a president be successful amidst divided government in Congress?  Paul:  I’d say basically no … You can have the economy expanding, no foreign crises, and you can preside over a time of prosperity, which is kind of what happened with Bill Clinton.  But if anything actually has to be done, no.  Everybody in Washington has learned this very damaging lesson, which is that if somebody else holds the White House, by you have blocking power, sabotage works. [Italics mine]

Ezra:  And I agree with you, I think you have a level of political polarization that makes successful legislating very, very difficult amidst divided government. It seems possible that we’re looking at a decade or more in which we have a political system that is essentially unable to make any forward motion on major problems. It might be able to respond to a crisis, but it cannot affirmatively legislate. [That is where we are today with the Republican with no ideas and blocking everything]

One of my pet peeves actually is that people talk about policy as if, as long as you’ve avoided a hot crisis, things are okay even when they’re obviously not. The pet peeve that affects me personally is the cancellation of the Hudson Rail Tunnel in New York City, and it’s kind of perfect. Essentially, because of political partisanship, we still have the world’s greatest city totally dependent on a tunnel completed in 1910 for all public transit linkage to the west. That doesn’t show up in an abrupt collapse, but those sorts of things show up in a steady degradation of our prospects. [Total lack of imagination by Republicans and their continued austerity policies]

Yes, the unemployment rate is down, but we still have a lot of long-term unemployment. We still have a really lousy environment for new college graduates. This doesn’t show up in any dramatic event, but it means that we’re seeing a lot of dreams getting killed in ways that are going to take a toll on national morale, with hardly any focused political pressure to do anything about it. [The numbers look good, but most of us don’t see it]

I think if you really did something about wage stagnation you would find that it would have a pretty strong effect in curbing incomes at the top as well. I think if you try to understand the factors behind soaring incomes at the top, they are many of the same forces that are leading to stagnating incomes for workers. [It really is one pie and how you cut it]

Kind of sums up for me most of the major issues we face and the real problems solving them.  Too bad this, like all really good journalism, will get ignored.



Democrats Getting the Right Message

The Cycle today (MSNBC) pointed out that more and more young people are not becoming Democrats, but becoming independent.  Many when polled say they don’t see much difference between either party.  Now as an old guy, this is crazy, but true.  They don’t see much difference but they will feel it.  Ezra Klein wrote a piece on Vox entitled Are the Democrats out of new ideas? and in it he cites the Republican view:

The Republican Party is thick with ambitious young politicians arguing over big ideas. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budgets have taken over the GOP. Sen. Rand Paul has begun a war with the neoconservatives. Sen. Mike Lee has been fighting to move Republicans beyond supply-side tax reforms.

… “For Democrats, the election should in part be a warning about their overwhelming intellectual exhaustion,” wrote Yuval Levin, a leader among conservative reformers, in a triumphalist, but sharp, post-election analysis.

Now I would argue that this is the wrong message for Democrats and I think they get it.  First Ezra says that the Republicans are arguing over big ideas.  Really?  At the heart of it is smoke and mirrors and provenly failed policies, just more extreme.  But in the article that Ezra wrote, he quotes from Neera Tanden, the Center for American Progress’s president at their  annual policy meeting about how they see the problem:

I asked Neera Tanden, the CAP’s president, and a former policy staffer for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, whether Democrats were intellectually exhausted. No, she said, but the thinking on the left had become too small; as a side-effect of being in power, Democrats had become too obsessed with ideas that could plausibly pass. “The difficulty for progressives in the last few years has been that trying to think up ideas that can make it through the House Republicans has limited the debate.”

But now, she continued, “we’ll have to think beyond the Obama era, beyond the congress of today, to what we should be doing in the long term.,,, Republicans have heretofore put forward ideas that are counterproductive. But Democrats have put forward ideas that are insufficient.”

Bingo!  We thought too small and we really did look like the other guy.  When you try to find things that they will agree to, in this world, you become them.  Ezra goes on to say that pushing harder on the core Democratic  principles will sound like Obama retreads, oh hum.  I don’t agree.  Look at the Republicans going big on the same old supply side BS and he called it “big ideas”.  So Democrats could learn from this, go big.

A real agenda would be to refocus on who is your base and it is middle America.  People get excited about Elizabeth Warren because she is not afraid to say what we all know, we are being gutted by the present system that protects and favors the wealthy.  So Democrats need to realign their ideas around the basic premise that we are going to level the playing field and then build policies around that.

These might be increasing the minimum wage, making the tax code fair, aid to students, a better healthcare system with Medicare for all, a social security system that pays more and is a retirement program for everyone, making banks to big to fail divest, and a major program of investment in our infrastructure (investing in tomorrow through people and infrastructure).

Right now the Beltway groupthink is all about what political risks are being taken by issuing an executive order over immigration and the Republicans are threatening all kinds of retribution.  From mainstream media this is upsetting the apple cart and there may be more strife. Be afraid.

From Steve the Contrarian, this is what tells all those young people both parties aren’t the same.  It should be just the beginning of large battles, not thinking small to see if we can move the needle slightly and look more and more like the problem, but changing the direction of the needle and define us for the next election.  The way to get back in the game is to stand for something and the Democrats forgot that when they thought anything bipartisan must be progress.

Getting Distracted by the Wrapings

Ever as a child been really excited about a present under the Christmas tree because you think it is really special because of the ornate packaging and open it to find socks? I make my living in the consulting world by trying to figure out what the present should be, not how to wrap it. It is amazing how people get distracted by the wrappings and forget about the present. Wrappings can be important to get attention, but in the end it is about what is in the package that counts.

There were two things I read this morning that reinforced that concept of not judging a package by its wrapping. The first was an a really good takedown of McKay Coppin’s Buzzfeed’s piece (Paul Ryan’s Inner City Education) on Paul Ryan by Matt Yglesias. Matt’s point here was that the piece was all what Paul Ryan said about his concern for the poor, not what his budget actually told us he really thinks. The Buzzfeed piece was a well written piece that was all packaging and nothing inside. Welcome to the majority of reporting these days, form over substance

The second example was an truly interesting interview by Ezra Klein with Frances Lee, Professor of American Politics at University of Maryland. The gist of the interview was that we think we send politicians to Washington to work together (except for the Tea Party of course) to solve problems and do the best thing for the country. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Politicians are simply about winning. The classic example is Obamacare which once the Republicans were for and now are against. We have such a evenly split electorate, that the minority party’s only interest is in opposing everything that the party in power proposes to differentiate themselves in order to win the next election. Think of it like this: Why would you vote for the minority party if they were working with the majority party to implement their solutions? What’s to change?

And then as Ezra brought up, enter Pyscho-Politics. When you look at the flip-flops on issues because the other party has proposed your idea, you come up with ever more complex rationalizations to justify your new position. So the bottom line here is that if you thought both sides were ever going to work together when either side has the potential to win back power, you are dreaming. It is not about finding the most optimal solution to our problems and implementing them. It is about winning, solutions be damned.

Americans see their political system (wrappings) as a system where there are honest disagreements, and compromise works to craft a solution that will both pass and will work. The reality (what’s in the package) is that politics in our times is about winning, and what you are for I am against. Said another way, dysfunctional government. We see it every day.

How to fix all this? We are a country that focuses on the packaging, not on the contents. We have few real policy discussions in our news, just political discussions, and no they are not the same. The day we start voting for people whose policy positions, and not their persona are our focus, will be the day we start turning this around. Oh, and we would need a media that rationally investigates and analyzes policies so we could be informed about them. Yes, I know. I dream.

More on Economic Inequality had an interesting article on economic inequality and why it is increasing written by Ezra Klein. He did a much better job than I did with my bullets yesterday. One thing that is left out of the discussion is how oligarchy is self-defeating. If we really are a market economy and we want to continue to grow, then people have to buy stuff from us. How can that happen if we are sucking up all the money to the top .1% and the rest are living on subsistence wages?

It can’t and oligarchies are self-destructive. Of course that might be okay if you have a zillion dollars and then that gets cut to one half zillion, but the economy that must grow and expand to benefit the rest of us just shrinks. So in a democracy, if this form of capitalism only benefits the very rich, why wouldn’t we vote it out? Just how long can the oligarchy keep a lid on things with their wealth and resulting power? See the problem?

Actually we are seeing this played out in real time in today’s politics. Oh, it is being hidden under rocks on health care, immigration, minimum wage, equity in women’s pay, and fear the deficit, but the real issue is one party that is focused on transferring more and more wealth to the .1% and solidifying their control by manipulating the polls through operation hours and voter ID laws. I just wonder how long it is going to take for people to wake up and quit voting against their own interests.

One last thought: While Thomas Piketty has identified that capitalism in its present configuration will bring us ultimately lower growth and the super rich, let us not forget the economist Joseph Stiglitz and his work to show how the inequality hurts us and our future, not to mention some more ideas than just a wealth tax on how to make capitalism work for all of us.

UPDATE: Matt Taibbi has written a book called “The Divide”:

… to demonstrate that unequal wealth is producing grotesquely unequal outcomes in criminal justice. You might say that’s an old story, but Taibbi believes that, just as income disparities are growing ever wider, so, too, are disparities in who attracts the attention of cops and prosecutors and who doesn’t. Violent crime has fallen by 44 percent in America over the past two decades, but during that same period the prison population has more than doubled, skewing heavily black and poor. In essence, poverty itself is being criminalized. Meanwhile, at the other end of the income distribution, an epidemic of white-collar crime has overtaken the financial sector, indicated, for instance, by a proliferation of record-breaking civil settlements. … that any aggressive prosecution of big banks could destabilize the economy, Wall Street has come, under President Obama, to enjoy near-total immunity from criminal prosecution. (NYT Book Review)

To me this just demonstrates how this inequality is building frustration that will eventually lead to violence. That 47% that Republicans so hate are a creation of their own politics and if they continue them, their fear may be well justified. Gross economic inequality will be their downfall.

Connecting the Dots

I would write about politics, but what is there to say? I think I pretty much described the situation in So How Are Republicans Driving Us Off a Cliff Again?. Basically nothing is going to happen. Democrats do not have everything right, but they are willing to address problems with proposed solutions. Republicans hold on to the status quo with promises of lower taxes and less regulation and let you try to figure out how that is going to address global warming, our frayed infrastructure, social injustice, or our economy. And the economic inequality just soars.

There was the foray by Jeb Bush into politics with a show of empathy for undocumented aliens. There are many interpretations of this, but I read it quite simply. He cannot get elected without the Hispanic vote. So he is testing the base to see if he can get by the primaries being rational. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he craves the White House so much that he wants to be a tool for the Tea Party and knows if he is, he can’t win the general election. The Republicans have created a monster that they can no longer control.

Ezra Klein has his new website up and running ( and he wrote about one of my favorite topics, how our politics colors they way we see the facts, or more appropriately how we selectively choose our facts (Knowing What We Know Part II). The problem with the article, and maybe because he is starting a new enterprise and he wants to attract a broad cross-section of readers, is that he describes the phenomenon as symmetrical, both conservatives and liberals suffer the same blinders equally. But as Paul Krugman points out:

But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? … Or look at how liberals reacted to the woes of We heard a lot of talk about how it was Obama’s Katrina, or his Iraq. But was there anything like Bush’s “heckuva job” moment — which was matched by widespread insistence on the right that he was actually doing a great job? Was there anything like the years-long denial that anything was going wrong with the Iraq occupation? On the contrary, liberals were quick to acknowledge that the rollout was a disaster, and in fact sort of freaked out — which, as Noam Scheiber says, is what they usually do in the face of setbacks. And what’s more, as Scheiber says, that’s a good thing: faced with setbacks, liberals rush to fix things, rather than denying the problem. Hence the stunning Obamacare comeback.

Paul goes on to pose the critical question, why is it asymmetrical? “People want to believe what suits their preconceptions, so why the big difference between left and right on the extent to which this desire trumps facts?” I think I have answered that question and he attempts to, but if we are to move forward more people need to quit blaming both sides (partisan arguments) and see where the real problem is.

Finally, Frank Bruni brings us a real gem in insight into what may be the reason that the younger generation is much more disconnected and sort of rudderless in a time when we should be fighting for a new direction. He describes his experience as a university teacher making allusions to past events, music, or common cultural phenomena and gets blank stares.  She who must not be mention here has related the experience in her teaching career to me many times.  Frank, I think, hones in on maybe the root cause:

But the pronounced narrowness of the cultural terrain that they and I share — the precise limits of the overlap — suggests something additional at work. In a wired world with hundreds of television channels, countless byways in cyberspace and all sorts of technological advances that permit each of us to customize his or her diet of entertainment and information, are common points of reference dwindling? Has the personal niche supplanted the public square?

I am sure you have experienced the same thing in social media where one of your younger friends posts in a language of truncated code and you have no clue what they are trying to communicate.  They are living in a niche culture you are not familiar with.  But to complete my connecting the dots, think about the blog I wrote yesterday mentioning Zachary Fine’s op-ed about why millennials are disconnected, and undecided having been raised in an environment where acceptance of more diverse lifestyles and ideals has led to a false belief in equivalence.  I opined that maybe they lack critical thinking skills to analyze these various ideas to determine which are superior.  But Frank offers an even more compelling argument that maybe we are losing our common culture to make these value judgements that are critical to our future. And maybe that is why we are seeing crazy conservatives.  They sense that their foundations with the new generation is a foundation built on sand that is shifting rapidly.

Yeah all this stuff connects in amazing ways if we are paying attention.