Shutdown dumbness

The Thinker by Rodin

There are lots of good things about being retired like me, but if you are an ex-federal employee like me, there is one truly great thing: not having to deal with yet another furlough from yet another government shutdown. These shutdowns became something of a regular thing during the last half of my career. They were always aggravating and pointless, as this current partial shutdown underway proves yet again. That’s not to say that they are easy to endure. Lots of federal employees live paycheck to paycheck, so even if they eventually get repaid it doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering. The ones who suffer the most are probably those required to work anyhow, the “essential” ones like your TSA agents. Lincoln freed the slaves but not the essential employees during a government shutdown.

Some people actually lose money, principally federal contractors. Most of them cannot work unless federal employees supervise them, and in that case their contract usually does not allow them to bill hours. Eventually though there is a whole host of connected people and businesses affected: childcare providers, local businesses, transit systems, the traveling public and those tourists who just want to visit a national park. The longer it goes on the more painful it gets. Sitting on your ass at home is really not much fun, as I discovered. There is a lot of angst to being furloughed as you have no idea when it will end and whether your bank account will hold out until then. And many federal employees were like me: very mission focused, anxious to simply do our jobs.

For me this is now moot. Somehow I will still get my pension payment on time. I guess that and delivering social security checks are considered essential. Chances are though if they weren’t, it would spur both Congress and the President to make choices neither wants to make.

So there is no such thing as a smart shutdown, but there are dumb shutdowns and dumber than dumb shutdowns. This current one is one of the latter. It happened because only at the last minute Trump changed his mind. He apparently was watching Fox News and found out he was being criticized for not being tough enough on his border wall. Suddenly the continuing resolution passed unanimously by the Senate that he had approved was no longer acceptable. It was put up or shut up time for Trump, or at least for a few shrill people in the media whose support he craves. This shutdown has the feeling of one that is going to linger a long time, which might make the 1995 shutdown look like small potatoes.

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? We’re about to find out. Most likely it won’t end well, or quickly. Now that Trump is out on a limb, he has no way to back down without losing face, something a bully cannot do. Lose face and you look impotent.

He complains that it’s a Democratic shutdown, but until January 3 Republicans control all branches of government. And Congressional Republicans have decided to punt the whole leadership thing. When Democrats gain forty seats on January 3, they are unlikely to be in an accommodating mood. And since all spending bills must originate in the House, a Democratic House is not likely to add funding for a border wall.

The Senate could add it back in, but they didn’t feel it necessary last time, and if they send it back to the House with border wall funding it probably won’t pass. Meanwhile, the productivity of millions of federal workers and contractors are lost, while the “essential employees” continue to work without pay. How long before essential employees go on strike? Why show up for work when you have no income to give to the landlord for the January rent?

If the shutdown were about something that mattered, maybe it would be worth the price. But it’s about a border wall that two-thirds of Americans don’t want and that a Republican Congress has repeatedly refused to fund. Moreover, it’s for a wall that won’t even solve the problem that Trump is so concerned about. As Anne Applebaum points out, the number of people crossing the southern border illegally has fallen 90% since 2000. The real scofflaws? Those overstaying their visas, who mostly fly in, 700,000 of which are Canadians. Trump has not proposed building a wall along our border with Canada, so clearly the issue has much more to do with the color of the scofflaw’s skin than anything else.

As a method of keeping people out though a wall is a terrible idea. There are much cheaper ways to accomplish border security and they are working pretty well. One of the best ways is to invest in the countries sending these people, like Honduras. Given them safety and economic opportunity where they live and there is no reason to head north. Of course Trump is now threatening to take away what little aid we give these countries, exacerbating the problem.

Yesterday Trump threatened to shutdown the whole southern border. It’s not clear that he can do that but it would certainly get attention, as about half a million people cross the border legally every day. Considering the amount of trade that goes on between the U.S. and Mexico, including lots of produce and auto parts, doing this for any sustained period of time would be disastrous. If you are looking to tip an economy officially into recession, this should do it.

All this so Trump’s narcissism can be sated a bit. You have to wonder just how dumb his supporters are. Did they really believe all the bullshit he was claiming? If nothing else then perhaps this shutdown will finally reveal the fraud behind the curtain.

It’s unclear how this will all end. Will one side blink? I do suspect if it drags on long enough, Congress will find the wherewithal to override Trump’s veto. The Senate needs 20 of 53 Republican senators to overturn a Trump veto. With 40 new Democrats in the House, 55 out of 199 Republicans would have to vote against Trump, or 27% of the caucus. I think it’s doable if the pain gets bad enough. If Congress does it though it would set a good precedent by making Trump increasingly irrelevant. Here’s hoping.

Trump and the price of being a bullshit artist

The Thinker by Rodin

So basically our government is shutdown because of bullshit.

At midnight today much of the government shutdown again, but this time it was because Trump got caught in his own bullshit. For years he had been talking about a great, big, beautiful wall on our southern border to keep the “illegals” out. It was going to have a great big door, the best of course. I guess gates aren’t allowed on this border wall. And most importantly Mexico was going to pay for it. He said it over and over again. If there was anything about his 2016 campaign that will be remembered in the history books, it will be all the relentless repetitions on this theme:

So you would think that if he really wanted to deliver on his signature promise, it would be pretty simple: order the U.S. Marines to occupy Mexico’s National Palace where its treasury is located and loot the place of the $50B or so needed to build Trump’s beautiful wall and door. Take the money back to the U.S. and build the wall. He’s commander in chief and doesn’t need the approval of Congress to send in the Marines. Or he could order a small thermonuclear weapons to be used on a suburb of Mexico City to show the Mexicans we’re serious … they need to pony up the dough for the wall now.

But no. Apparently what he really meant was that if Mexico refused to pay for it, Congress has to pony up the money instead. He is now spouting the line that the shutdown is the Democrats’ fault, even though until January 3, 2019 Republicans still control Congress.

I guess reinforced fences aren’t enough. It’s got to be a wall, a wall that somehow won’t get tunneled under like happens now. It’s got to be a tall wall to keep the drugs from coming in, as if they won’t continue to come in the way they already have: tunnels under the border, hidden inside trucks and in airplane cargo, or by speedboats. It’s going to have to be a hell of a tall wall to keep a catapult from throwing drugs over the wall, assuming smugglers want to try such a brazen method. With over two thousand miles of border, it wouldn’t be too hard to find a spot to toss some of it over.

Here’s the saddest part: Trump never really wanted the wall. The wall was a means to an end: to get elected (which surprised him) but really to get the crowds at his rallies riled up. It gave him the adulation that he craves more than anything else. Trump as usual wanted to have his cake and to eat it too. Apparently Trump loves the “illegals”; at least he loves to hire them. Apparently the maid who cleaned his toilet at Mar-a-Lago was undocumented. Trump doesn’t want to pay pull price for anything, so of course he will have his managers look the other way to bring in the cheap help.

Anyhow, he apparently he did a good job of selling this wall thing with his base. Now they actually want him to build it. His base is only 25% of the public, but he’s convinced that somehow with this base happy he will win reelection, although a majority of Americans don’t want a border wall. Congress at least understands it’s kind of pointless: why spend $50B to build a wall that won’t even solve the problem?

In fact, if ever constructed it would make things a lot worse. It would be an eyesore for sure. It will get breached repeatedly. Like any other public infrastructure, it will require patching and maintenance. If Republicans’ willingness to spend money on highway infrastructure is any clue to how it will play out, the undamaged portions wall will simply deteriorate from neglect. Some migratory animals wouldn’t migrate anymore, not that this would bother them. Most importantly, the cheap labor we’ve depended on from the south to keep the economy humming might slow down, leading to our economic decline. I mean are you going to volunteer to clean all those airport toilets? Are you going to volunteer to pick crops in California and Arizona?

That won’t happen. But what will happen in time is that sufficient numbers of guest worker visas will get approved anyhow. Agribusiness won’t allow Congress to pull these visas anyhow; heck, Trump’s many resorts and winery depend on these special visas. Those from Central and South America who want to come here will do it the old fashioned way: on a tourist visa whose expiration date they will ignore. For the most part they will have to fly in, which is not cheap. Perhaps we’ll get a higher class of “illegal”.

This pointless shutdown is all about saving face for Trump. Someone pulled the mask of the old Lone Ranger. Ironically, Tonto did it.

Trump won’t escape justice this time

The Thinker by Rodin

Karmic payback is a bitch. Donald Trump has spent a lifetime avoiding accountability. He got out of serving in Vietnam by having the family doctor write letters saying he had bone spurs in his foot. He escaped poverty by being born into a rich family and by having a father who made him a millionaire (in today’s dollars) at age three.

Letting others take the hit for him cushioned most of his failures. His father bailed out his failing businesses at least three time. When his businesses failed, fellow investors often took it on the chin instead of him. He also stiffed lots of contractors. When things got tight financially, he found people and institutions willing to bail him out.

It’s pretty obvious now why he has refused to release his tax returns. They will show he is not nearly as wealthy as he claims to be. Investigations seem to be showing how he really got his money during the last decade or so: loans from Deutsche Bank, which were probably underwritten by Russian oligarchs. There was also lots of money laundering: selling condos for inflated prices, disproportionately to Russian oligarchs and always in cash.

For Trump, it’s always about the money. He’s assumed that money buys privilege. Wave enough green stuff under their noses and he can make affairs with Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy bunnies disappear. And to his credit, between this, his late father’s money and lots of suspicious money laundering, it’s worked for him. All his life he has taken huge risks, but most of them were cushioned. It’s given him a brash and oversized obnoxious personality. Trump has always stayed one step ahead of the game. However, he’s going to find out that he can’t escape consequences and justice this time.

Trump will be able to postpone a lot of the accountability that is coming at him. His best strategy for holding on is to win reelection in 2020 or die in office. Because of a Department of Justice regulation that declines to prosecute presidents while in office, holding onto power is essential to continue his no-accountability lifestyle. He’s also hoping his latest Supreme Court pick, Justice Kavanaugh, will go to bat for him in a future ruling. The question likely to make it to the court: can a sitting president be indicted while in office for state crimes if federal regulations won’t let him be prosecuted for similar federal crimes? A decision by the court there might expand protections to exempt these as well as long as he is in office.

So far it’s not looking too good for Trump. A federal judge has allowed an emoluments lawsuit by Maryland and the District of Columbia to go forward; subpoenas of the Trump Organization will soon be issued.

It’s hard though to see a scenario where charges are not filed after he leaves office. There is one really wacky outlier possibility: Trump decides to pardon himself for any crimes he may have committed. A president’s pardon power in the constitution is not explicitly limited to prohibit him from pardoning himself. That’s because the constitution assumed that the president would not be wholly corrupt. It appears that a president cannot pardon crimes explicitly specified in the constitution itself. Ultimately it would be up to the Supreme Court again to decide if Trump could legally pardon himself. As stacked as the court is with right wing judges, it’s hard to see how even a court full of “strict constructionists” could uphold such a pardon. It would make a mockery of the rule of law. Trump of course has explicitly said he has the power to pardon himself.

So in early 2021 or early 2025 at the latest, the game is up for Trump and his accountability moment will finally arrive. Fortunately for prosecutors, Trump has left numerous breadcrumbs that will make documenting his complicity and intentions a no brainer; his Twitter feed is an obvious place to start. Trump is his own worst enemy, a condition due to his obvious case of malignant narcissism. Far from being a stable genius, he is an impulsive dumbass instead.

Maybe he still suffers from delusions that he can get the justice he wants by appointing people who will stifle Mueller’s investigation. That horse is already out of the barn. Mueller’s final report may be squelched by a new Attorney General (who won’t recuse himself from the Mueller investigation), but Mueller has already written de-facto reports. They are called indictments. Moreover, Mueller has smartly decentralized parts of the investigation, for instance, turning over the prosecution of Michael Cohen (Trump’s late personal attorney) to the Southern District of New York. It’s unlikely that whoever oversees Mueller will do much to restrain him. The political costs are too high.

Trump is stuck, but so is the nation. I’ve suggested before that Trump might just resign. A more reasonable president would when he saw the odds against him. But in Trump’s case, a resignation opens the door for prosecutions against him to start. Trump is obviously not playing with a full deck; he may be too stupid to realize this and resign anyhow. But he has every incentive to hang onto power simply to avoid the accountability that has always been chasing him. The House may impeach him, but he’s unlikely to be convicted in the Senate, even though the legal case for his corruption is overwhelming. So likely we have two more years of struggling with a slowly dissembling Donald Trump instead.

Given Trump’s obesity and the psychological stress he is obviously under, it may kill him first. As he gets loonier and loonier, a 25th amendment remedy could be triggered. Given though how much lunacy he has already inflicted on us, and Pence has not triggered the 25th amendment, it’s hard for me now to see how this can happen. But it certainly could. There may be some limit to his lunacy that those left in his administration simply can no longer tolerate.

Ultimately justice should be served, in the courts if not from his premature death from a stroke or embolism. It remains to be seen though whether there will be much left of our democracy at the end of this national trial. But while our courts at least seem to remain largely uncorrupted, there is plenty of reason to feel confident that justice will eventually be served on Donald J. Trump.

An appreciation for George H.W. Bush

The Thinker by Rodin

There is perhaps some irony in the passing of our 41st president and the sad sack of shit we currently have as president. I loathed George W. Bush as president, but his father was a good president, which is hard for this Democrat to admit. George H.W. Bush was a moderate Republican from a different era, and one of the few Republicans that I genuinely respected and whose presidency was effective and well managed. In the future, if Republicans want to have any hope of having their nominee elected, he or she will have to act and look a whole lot more like 41 and a whole lot less than 45.

That 41 (I will use his number for convenience) did not win reelection was something of a fluke. He should have. It’s just that the 1992 election was weirdly complicated. Specifically, it had a viable third party candidate, Ross Perot, who managed to siphon off 19% of the vote. Most of Perot’s votes came from Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. Both parties learned from Perot’s candidacy. Mainly they learned to nip these in the bud and not let an independent candidate get in an official presidential debate in the first place. Perot was in many ways a harbinger of Donald Trump: plainspoken, rich but unlike Trump transparently honest. Tea-partiers to be found a lot to like in Perot: something unconventional and different who was also very concerned about spending and outsourcing. So did some Democrats, who didn’t particularly like Bill Clinton as their nominee.

41 was an effective president for many of the reasons that disqualify nominees today: he was one of those elite insiders. His father was a senator from Connecticut who groomed him for public life. 41 was thrown at a variety of bureaucratic roles and mastered them all from U.N. Ambassador to CIA Director. Bush was basically a stereotypical New Englander: born in Massachusetts, residing in Connecticut through his childhood years and spending summers in Kennebunkport, Maine. Officially he resided in Texas, but he never really seemed Texan. He was a New Englander in spirit, and that included his moderate Republicanism. New England is one of the few areas of the country where you can still find moderate Republicans.

Of course he was not a perfect president. It’s not hard to find things about him that rankled me, such as his cutting of funding for AIDS research. But he was unusually sober, and fully versed on the complexity of the modern world from having experienced it in so many roles in service of his country. He was perhaps best as Commander in Chief, assembling a coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, doing it at a modest and shared cost, and mindful (unlike his son) of the complexity of politics in the area, and the danger of removing Saddam altogether.

He was wise enough when running against Ronald Reagan to declare that Reagan was a believer in “Voodoo economics”, a term I’m pretty sure he coined. He was proven right; both Reagan, his son and now Trump ran up disastrous deficits. His attempt to stem the federal deficit by increasing revenues in a compromise with a Democratic congress earned him heaps of scorn from fellow Republicans, but it was a smart approach. Unfortunately this, plus an ill-timed recession largely due to the Gulf War ultimately doomed his reelection prospects.

In 2006, I rated our 20th century Republican presidents. George H.W. Bush is my pick as the best of the lot since Teddy Roosevelt. Pragmatic, world-wise, affable, sober and serious, he turned out to be the president we needed, just not the one we wanted.

History will treat he and his administration very kindly. It has already rendered judgment on his son’s, and it’s not flattering.

The decline and fall of the Trump presidency has begun

The Thinker by Rodin

One thing is pretty clear to me as a result of the 2018 midterms: the decline and fall of Donald J. Trump has started in earnest. Most likely it will quickly pick up speed.

The phases are a lot like dying, except Trump is unlikely to ever reach the final stage: acceptance. If he’s still around on January 20, 2020 when a Democrat is inaugurated president, it will probably be up to the Secret Service to bodily remove him from the White House. I doubt he will show up for the inauguration of his successor, breaking with a long precedent. After all, he couldn’t be bothered to show up for two Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. I don’t think there’s a back door on the White House, but I think there is an underground walkway to the Executive Office Building. That’s probably how he will sneak out of Dodge.

We’ve hit peak Trump, at least as far as Trump’s political power goes. Granted he can still wreak a lot of damage and do other crazy things like getting us into a new war. But he’s reached the point where any action is ultimately self-defeating and only his base believes he is truly working in the national interest. If Trump’s past is any guide to his future, he may cash in his chips and resign, particularly if Mueller’s report ever gets released. The only part of being president that he likes is the attention it gives him, and lately it’s been a lot of negative attention. No fun in that!

Trump is such a child that this latest phase was entirely predictable. He tried to spin his midterm losses as a great victory at first. A few days later it finally dawned on him that he was, well, largely trumped. Then of course he started pointing fingers because of course he couldn’t possibly be to blame. The most recent one was that these defeats were because he was not on the ballot. How strange! One of the few joys he gets from the presidency is holding rallies. He went all over the country to stir up his base and repeatedly told them they had to show up. And they did, but there’s just a lot less to Trump’s base than there used to be and they did not show up in the numbers that Democrats showed up. He held three rallies in Montana trying to defeat Democrat Jon Tester and failed.

The nation has been onto the disaster that is Donald J. Trump for a long time. Trump still hasn’t figured it out; at least it’s not something he can admit to himself. But emotionally he knows he’s been whipped. You can see it in his poutiness and isolation, but also by his reflexively defensive positions. He knows he can’t keep House Democrats from investigating him next year. He’s tried putting in a lackey, Matt Whitaker, as Acting Attorney General to blunt the Mueller probe, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to work. Before November 6th, he had Congressional Republican majorities to protect him. Starting in 2019, House Democrats are going to strip him metaphorically naked. We’ll see his tax returns. We’ll learn how much the Trump Campaign was in bed with the Russians. For the next two years, his life will only continue to get more hellish. This is why I think there’s a significant probability he will simply resign at some point.

Even Fox News isn’t reliably parroting his talking points anymore. Actually it’s been Fox News that has set most of his talking points. That is principally Trump’s source of news and opinions, but Fox News’ listeners are predominantly rapidly aging senior citizens. With all the younger people of color coming into Congress, it’s pretty clear that changing demographics are finally reaching critical mass. What eventually emerges won’t necessarily be blue states from sea to shining sea; most likely there will always be plenty of red states in between. Before 2020 though it may finally dawn on Republicans that Trump is a dead man walking and it’s in their best interest to cut him loose. They probably won’t summon the nerve to find a primary challenger to Trump, but they should field someone. As he continues to dissemble, it will be easier for some Republicans to summon some courage in the hopes of beating the long odds. Suddenly, Jeb Bush may not look so bad anymore.

Trump was never great at picking people to work for him. Mostly they are incompetent but sometimes he picks someone actively malicious and effective. Most quickly flame out. His White House is chaotic with no one really in charge. The most recent prominent example was picking Matt Whitaker as acting Attorney General. It’s unclear whether his legal staff first looked into this. I doubt they did because any competent attorney would have warned him picking Whitaker was probably against the law. Most likely Trump just decided impulsively to pick him and left it to staff to deal with the wreckage. This just goes to show his utter incompetence.

Trump certainly excels at keeping the focus on feeding his own ego, and the media is likely to keep dancing to his tweets in the hope of continued advertising revenue. While the general rule is that even negative attention is better than no attention at all, Trump will discover that when attention only generates bad press that it can cut him, make him bleed and perhaps fatally wound him too. Stay tuned.

The bluing of America continues

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m still not done analyzing Election 2018. With each passing day as more races finally get called, it’s absolutely clear that the Blue Wave arrived on November 6th.

In the U.S. House, Democrats have picked up 36 seats officially. They lead in three others. Republicans lead in three others, but by tiny margins: less than 1000 votes in GA-7, 3000 in NY-27 and 1200 in TX-23. Right now this looks like a 39 seat gain for Democrats. Considering how gerrymandered districts are, this is astounding. Republicans would have been routed much worse if districts were drawn fairly. However, had districts been drawn fairly, it’s not clear that Republicans would have had a majority of seats in the current House at all. After the 2014 election, Republicans had a 30 seat majority; and after 2016, a 24 seat majority. Since 2014, it’s likely that Republicans maintained control of the House only because so many districts were highly gerrymandered.

November 6th has resulted in some amazing shifts. For example, Orange County in California has six U.S. house seats, now all filled by Democrats. This was where the Reagan anti-tax revolution was born. Before it was 4R-2D. Two of Nevada’s three seats are now blue. In Iowa, it was 3R-1D and is now 3D-1R. It shouldn’t be too surprising the California added six Democratic seats and New Jersey added 4. What’s more surprising is that Texas added 2 Democratic seats, Florida added 2, and Pennsylvania added 3. There were a few genuine surprises: a Democrat won OK-5, considered likely Republican district. They won one in nearby Kansas too. Utah looks likely to place a Democrat in the district containing Salt Lake City. The only place where things turned into a real fistfight was in Minnesota, which turned into a draw: Republicans flipped 2 Democratic seats while Democrats flipped 2 Republican seats.

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats are likely to lose a total of two seats, reducing their share to 47-53. They had to defend 25 of 34 seats, four of which were in deep red states (North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia). Of those four they kept just West Virginia with Joe Manchin’s win. But Democrats defeated Dean Heller’s reelection bid in Nevada, and flipped retiring Jeff Flake’s Republican seat in Arizona giving it to a bisexual woman, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Republicans picked up no seats in states that were not already crimson red. Arizona is now a purple state, Texas is looking a bit purple with Ted Cruz’s narrow win and now Nevada looks reliably blue. In Florida, Democrats may have been their worst enemy thanks to a badly drawn ballot in populous Broward County where the Democrat Bill Nelson’s name appeared in a small box in the bottom left corner of a very tall ballot. Many Democrats who voted Democratic for governor missed this entirely; possibly resulting in what looks like Nelson’s loss.

Democrats look to pick up five governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin. Three are particularly notable but today I’ll concentrate on Maine, where Janet Mills won convincingly, ending Paul LePage’s deeply divisive era (he left due to term limitations). This plus the pickup in of a house seat in Maine makes Maine less red and a bluer form of purple. One Republican “win” in Georgia looks highly suspicious. Brian Kemp oversaw his own election, disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters and set up fewer machines in heavily Democratic districts. It’s probably more accurate to say he would have lost if the election had been run fairly, as the margin of his victory was less than 60,000 votes.

Some other metrics are interesting. The U.S. House for the first time will have over a hundred women: 103 total, 4 of whom are nonvoting (delegates). Three members are Muslim, 2 are Native American, at least 11 are of Asian ancestry and 48 are black. So women are about 25% of the House now, nowhere close to the 51% of the population they represent but a sizable improvement. These statistics mirror the Senate’s, with 22 out of 100 senators women. Two are Asian, 3 are black and 4 are Hispanic. Overall the Senate does not look like America, with 88% of senators’ white.

Democrats now control 14 state legislatures. Republicans control 23 legislatures. Republicans flipped only one chamber: the Alaska House. Democrats picked up two state supermajorities. Perhaps more importantly than what Democrats gained was what Republicans lost. They lost supermajorities in the Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, Republicans lost supermajorities in both the state house and state senate.

In short it was an impressive election for Democrats by almost any metric. Republicans have plenty to fear in 2020. The nation is bluing up.

Election 2018 – Curiouser and curiouser

The Thinker by Rodin

I woke up Wednesday morning and wrote my last post thinking the midterms were over. Two days later it’s clear they are not. They are still unfolding. Each passing day suggests that this was indeed a true wave election for Democrats, not the high tide as I suggested on Wednesday.

In that post, I had originally thought Jon Tester had lost his Senate race, but when all the votes were finally counted, it turns out he won convincingly, by nearly 3% of the vote. Similarly, last night in Arizona Kyrsten Sinema pulled ahead of Republican Martha McSally by half a percentage point, or about 600 votes, as absentee ballots were counted. In Florida, just .2% of the vote (or about 18,000 votes) separates Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson from Rick Scott. A recount is likely. But it’s not over in Mississippi either, where a runoff will be held. There were actually two senate elections in the state, one a special election. On the second, two Republicans were on the ballot so these votes were split, but Democrat Mike Espy was only .9% behind front-runner Cindy Hyde-Smith. It’s possible but unlikely that Democrats will flip this deeply red state too. Remember a year ago no one believed that Democrat Doug Jones would win his special election in Alabama either. So the best case for the Senate would be 51R-49D, which would leave the Senate unchanged. As I noted, given the dynamics, just holding on to their 51R-49D minority would have been a major accomplishment for Democrats. Right now a 53R-47D Senate is looking most likely.

In the House, it looks like there will be 230D-205R. I thought a ten-seat majority was most likely, but Democrats look to actually have a 25-seat majority. Without question, the House election was a blue wave. These numbers are all the more surprising considering how deeply gerrymandered these voting districts are. You have to go back to the 1974 election to find Democrats picking up so many seats in one election. The 1974 election of course was just after the crest of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. And in 1976, as a result of Watergate (and President Ford’s deeply unpopular decision to pardon President Nixon), Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency. Given Trump’s decision yesterday to fire Jeff Sessions and install his lackey as Acting Attorney General, history could well repeat itself in 2020. Trump may be destroying the Republican Party. Nixon and Ford only gravely wounded it.

In the governors’ races, it sure looks like Brian Kemp’s win in Georgia is a direct result of voter suppression. Not only did he as secretary of state rigorously cleanse the voter rolls, in some minority precincts voters waited more than four hours to vote. According to the Washington Post:

Another problem was the limited number of voting machines in some locations. More than 1,800 machines sat idle in storage in three of the state’s largest and most heavily Democratic counties. In Fulton County, according to figures provided by elections director Rick Barron, the ratio of machines to registered voters was lower than it had been in 2014, despite predictions that turnout was likely to break records for a midterm election.

It’s also possible that voter suppression was a factor in the Florida governor’s race too, still under dispute but with Republican Ron DeSantis officially ahead by .4% or about 36,000 votes. One thing is clear: since Florida voters approved an amendment granting voting rights to ex-felons, future elections like this will be harder for Republicans to pull off.

In short, this turned out to be a wave election for Democrats using pretty much any metric. Only the U.S. senate races broke for Republicans, which was to be expected since Democrats had to defend 25 of 34 seats. And day-by-day, their win looks less impressive.

Election 2018 postmortem – more of a high tide for Democrats than a blue wave

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s probably fair to say that yesterday’s midterms lived up to nobody’s expectations, except perhaps the Cook Political Report’s. They did a pretty good job of calling the House, which Democrats now run. The way it looks the morning after, Democrats should take the chamber 228 – 207. After the 2016 election, Democrats were behind 194-241; so 34 seats were flipped if these results hold. 218 were needed, so they will probably end up with 10 extra seats. That’s certainly a huge improvement and ends eight years of being out of power, but wasn’t quite the tidal wave Democrats were hoping for. Maybe it was a high tide instead.

The Senate results were a bummer for Democrats, but really it should not have been unexpected. Several contests are still too close to call, but if things hold up the 51 – 49 Republican majority will expand to 53 – 47, a two seat pickup. It was a crazily bad year for Senate Democrats to just retain what they had. 34 seats were in play and Democratic incumbents held 25 of them. Five of these incumbent Democrats were in deep red states (Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia and North Dakota). Democrats retained only West Virginia and Montana. They narrowly missed in Arizona and Montana but picked up Nevada. In a big wave they might have retained their seats. Trump’s rallies and constant polarization were successful in keeping these states red. If you add up all the votes cast in these Senate elections, Democrats outpolled Republicans by ten million votes. But in a country where Montana has the same clout in the Senate as California, it didn’t matter. Geography was the Republicans’ friend last night and was the primary factor in their wins. 2020 won’t be so kind to Republicans. In 2020, 21 Republican seats are up for grabs versus 11 Democratic seats. In 2022, 22 Republican seats are up for grabs vs. 12 Democratic seats. So it’s unlikely that their majority will persist beyond 2020, in spite of having geography in their favor. Some losses though suggested hints that the tide may turn in a few years. Beto O’Rourke lost by less than three points to Ted Cruz. Texas is definitely purpling up as indicated by a number of down ballot House races Democrats picked up, most notable TX-32 with Pete Sessions’ loss.

The governors’ races were opposite of the Senate races. 36 seats were in play, and Democrats controlled only 9 governorships. There was nowhere for Democrats to go but up. Some wins were huge for Democrats: Scott Walker was thrown out in Wisconsin; Kris Kobach lost his race in the deeply red state of Kansas. The big disappointments were in Georgia and Florida, where wins by Kemp and DeSantis might well be due to voter suppression. Some voters in Georgia waited five hours to vote and you would be correct to guess these were not in Republican strongholds. Both wins suggest the South still has plenty of racism. One plus for Democrats in Florida: a referendum that passed will allow ex-felons to vote. This might be a significant advantage for them in 2020. Overall, Democrats did well with governorships, now controlling 23 of 50, a net pickup of seven seats.

In state legislature races, Democrats flipped four state senates (Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and New York) and two state houses (Minnesota and New Hampshire). Democrats now control New York’s legislature and governorship, and the New Hampshire’s legislature too. Republicans flipped no state houses. Overall though Republicans still have a huge majority, controlling state senates 30 – 18 and state houses 29 – 20.

For me the biggest disappointment of the night were in Georgia and Florida. It’s still possible Stacey Abrams will pull out a win in Georgia, but it’s unlikely. Some races look lost by tiny margins, particularly Jon Tester’s seat in Montana. But there is plenty for Democrats to celebrate elsewhere. The Nevada senate seat was a sound win for Democrat Jacky Rosen. Nevada is turning into a reliably blue state. In Virginia U.S. house races, Democrats triumphed in a number of squeaker contests, including VA-2 and VA-7. I used to live in VA-10 and was thrilled that Jennifer Waxton soundly trounced incumbent Barbara Comstock with an 11-point win. Democrats flipped this nearly forty-year red seat to blue, and blue is where it will probably remain as it covers much of Fairfax and Loudoun counties near Washington D.C. In addition, Dave Brat lost in VA-7. You may recall he claimed Eric Cantor’s old seat in a surprise win in a Republican primary. This win is very sweet for Democrats.

Unquestionably for Democrats, regaining control of the House of Representatives was the achievement of the night. This means the Affordable Care Act won’t be overturned and the many corruptions of the Trump Administration will get a serious investigation. There are likely other bombshells that Trump will have to deal with in the months ahead, most noticeably Special Council Robert Mueller’s reports. Impeachment is probably pointless since it won’t amount to conviction in the Senate, but investigations should fully expose Trump’s corruption and his tax returns are likely to get released.

Obviously the partisan wars were not solved last night. The next two years are likely to be even more divisive as Democrats regain some power. One hates to root for failure, but we are long overdue for an economic recession. Considering the trade sanctions, Trump did remarkably well in Red America. If he continues with his current policies though many Red State voters may finally smell the smelling salts in 2020. Some, like Kansas, have already awoken.

My hazy Election 2018 predictions

The Thinker by Rodin

Predicting elections is hard, but that doesn’t keep the prognosticators from trying. The view does get somewhat clearer the closer you get to Election Day. As 2016 attests, there are always wild card factors that will somewhat obscure our vision. We like predictability but sometimes the voters don’t tell us how they really feel until you count the votes.

In truth, there are so many factors in elections these days that even the very wise cannot see the ends. There has never been voter suppression on quite the scale we are seeing it in this election, at least not since the Jim Crow Era. We’ve got voters in Ohio being purged from the voting roles because they didn’t vote in the last election. We’ve got the state of North Dakota, with the sanction of the U.S. Supreme Court, prohibiting Native Americans from voting if they don’t have a fixed street address. We’ve got two secretaries of state basically controlling who gets to vote in their election for governor (Kansas and Georgia). In Dodge, Kansas, now predominantly Latino, we have just one polling place for the whole town, which is a mile from the nearest bus stop. We’ve also got some tried and true voter suppression tactics: false mailings, racist robocalls and fewer voting places in minority areas. None of this seems to bother our Supreme Court, although a federal judge or two can succeed in preventing some of the worst excesses. In Georgia, a federal judge rejected the “exact match” standard for voting imposed by its secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp.

Offsetting this you have record early voting in states that allow it and what looks like what will be record turnout (at least for the last several decades) in a midterm election. Republicans as a share of voters have declined since 2016, and Independents look to be breaking primarily for Democrats. Women form a majority of the electorate, and they are leaning heavily Democrat. 40% of young voters tell pollsters they will definitely vote in this election, still not great but far higher than in previous years. Research suggests they will break at least 2 to 1 for Democrats. Trump’s latest tactics to try to sway voters likely won’t do too much, simply because so many voters have already voted. Voting on Election Day is becoming the exception rather than the rule. I used early voting in 2016 because I was out of town for Election Day. This year I will be one of the laggards, because it’s a short walk across a field to the nearby middle school where my wife and I will cast our votes.

So how all this will ultimately turn out is today anyone’s educated guess as many more factors are obscured than in previous elections. It is unquestionably the most important election in my lifetime, except perhaps 1964 when Barry Goldwater was on the ballot. Goldwater you may recall wanted to nuke the commies in Vietnam. We had a more sensible electorate then and he was soundly trounced. Trump is already in office and is far more erratic than Goldwater ever was. So we’ll see and hold our breath. My guess is that Democrats will be breathing a lot easier Wednesday morning and will do much better than conventional wisdom suggests.

I can’t claim this from any deep insight, but the tealeaves are not too hard to read. In special elections and limited elections last year Democrats did fantastically. The only reason they didn’t win the Virginia Senate last year was because of a tied vote in one district, decided by a coin toss. It doesn’t get any closer than that. They picked up the governorship, lieutenant governorship and attorney general, and flipped the deeply red Virginia House of Delegates. In states like deep red Oklahoma, Democrats have won a number of special elections. Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents pretty much everywhere, often with incredibly strong candidates, many of them women and first timers running for office. Democrats are outraising Republicans and appear to be running a better ground game. In short, Democrats have energy and a string of proven victories since 2016. Trump’s negatives are too baked in for any one event to do much to change voters’ minds. And besides, many of them have already voted.

But there are nightmare scenarios out there. In 2016, we didn’t see Russian interference in our election as a credible threat, which was one reason I predicted Clinton’s victory. This time it may come down to races that are fraudulently decided. In certain places in Texas, if you check the box for voting a straight Democratic ticket, you are voting for Republican Ted Cruz. We’ve seen election officials stuff the ballot box before, most notably in Cook County, Illinois in the 1960 election. It’s quite possible that John F. Kennedy was not a legitimately elected president. For the last few decades, Republicans have proven to be ruthless. I wouldn’t put it past some of them who could control the public vote tally by reporting false numbers. In general though our election reporting system is fair, while eligibility rules for voting are in many places deeply unfair.

I believe that Democrats will retake the U.S. House of Representatives. My guess is they will take it by at least a 10 seat margin, but I think it’s quite likely the number will be 20 seats or higher. Few pundits expect Democrats to retake the Senate, given that far more incumbent Democrats are running this time than Republicans, and many in deeply red states. Polls are all over the place but despite the bad math I don’t think that Democrats will do worse than their current 49-51 minority. If this is a true wave election then seats that look tied or close to tied will break primarily for the party out of power. For example, Texas might well send Democrat Beto O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate. If it occurs, this will be a seismic political event suggesting that Texas can no longer be counted in the red state column.

Trump has ensured that this election will be all about him. In the end that may be what decides who controls the Congress. If I had to bet, I would bet for a 50-50 Senate. But it’s not inconceivable that Democrats will flip the Senate too.

Democrats can expect to pick up ten or more governorships and control of many more state legislative bodies too. It should be a very good night for Democrats overall. The only question is how good it will be.

We are living in Future Shock

The Thinker by Rodin

Americans lived through a frightening week last week. Bombs were sent to prominent Democratic politicians and supporters. Thankfully, none of these exploded. The FBI apprehended a suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc. Yesterday something far worse happened: eleven people were killed and six injured in an obvious hate crime at a synagogue near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Robert Bowers was quickly arrested for these crimes.

Both Sayoc and Bowers fit the usual pattern for these criminals today: right wing domestic terrorists and big Trump supporters, although Bowers had some criticisms of Trump. Sayoc’s van was famously festooned with right wing invectives and pictures on almost every window (which restricted visibility so much it was probably illegal). Both Sayoc and Bowers used social media, in Bowers case to basically announce his attack on Jews was imminent. Bowers’ crime might have been prevented if someone had bothered to notice it or if we did not allow people like him to have guns in the first place.

It’s not surprising that most of these incidents are by right-wing domestic terrorists. Statistically these people cause 71% of these domestic terrorism incidents, with just 25% domestically by actual Muslim terrorists. This Anti-Defamation League (ADL) heat map makes abundantly clear who’s most likely to trigger these incidents and they tend to be male, white, Republican, conservative and loners. With yesterday’s latest incident in Pittsburgh, the right wing can now claim 74% of the victims of these incidents. From their social media postings, it’s clear that Trump inspired both Sayoc and Bowers. Trump of course with his advanced case of malignant narcissism disclaims any association with these perpetrators. With a case as bad as his, of course you are going to praise a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who body slammed a reporter as “my kind of guy” and feel no remorse. His narcissism would not be malignant if he felt remorse.

What’s harder for most people to see is that horrendous incidents like these are entirely predictable. What’s new is that we have Donald Trump as a prominent catalyst; no president has ever incited people to violence before. This gives these incidents explicit sanction. To an extent we are all players of this game because we are awash in a world undergoing great change. Certain personality types though are more likely to “go postal” than others: those groups who feel the most threatened. Conservatives at least in theory like things the way they were (and in most cases they weren’t actually the way they were) so are more likely to engage in these crimes, as borne out by the ADL’s heat map.

Trump of course is a master bully. My own personal theory is that he is empowering other former bullies to be bullies again. Curiously, many of these actions actually amount to cowardice of some form. Sayoc’s alleged actions mailing pipe bombs allow him to hurt other people without necessarily being discovered. (He was a particularly inept criminal, leaving fingerprints on his explosives. His crazy van was certainly a red flag and doubtless helped authorities track him down.) Bowers showed up in person with a number of armaments including an assault rifle. When Trump tells people at his rallies that it’s okay to beat up reporters at the rally and he’ll pay their legal expenses, he’s obviously giving explicit sanction to others to act as his proxies. A legal case could be made that Trump is guilty of inciting terrorism.

Change is an inevitable consequence of living. We’ve been plunging headlong into the future at rates that obviously make a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with it too. Ironically, conservatives are causing much of the change they are fighting against. For example, if you say that businesses should be able to create any product they want because they are innovators and capitalism is great but not consider the consequences, you end up with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter that show us only content that meets our own biases. To deal with their cognitive dissonance, Trump has labeled anything he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” and it’s clear that the supporters at his rallies largely agree.

They are obviously wrong. My mother-in-law, a lifelong smoker, never agreed that smoking causes lung cancer, even though the research was overwhelming and she died a painful and somewhat premature death from lung cancer. Climate deniers, principally right-wingers, are doing the same thing. It’s like the lobster getting out of the pot and turning up the heat then jumping back into the pot. It’s counterproductive and makes no sense. And we know it’s only a matter of time, should we live so long, when they will be proven wrong. Our species might die off as a result, but to them this is just more fake news.

Liberals are not entirely blame free either. How much freedom can we promote when many of the consequences of freedom also contribute to these problems? For example, if we want a higher standard of living for everyone without figuring out a way to do it in a sustainable way, we contribute to the destruction of our planet. We can’t always be sure our proposals will actually solve the problem, or fit the circumstances.

I believe that there are larger forces at work. Most of us will carry the values we learn from our parents and pass them on to our children, so it takes generations to change most of these values if they change at all. We also unconsciously carry many of our parents’ issues and anxieties. Unfortunately, we don’t have generations to get it right. Anxiety is actually a rational reaction to a rapidly changing world, but paralysis is not. Unfortunately for conservatives, we can’t go back to the way things were. And unfortunately for liberals, we don’t have the luxury of trying many approaches until we find the right combination. We have only the fierce urgency of now that none of us can escape, with many of us lacking the wisdom for making an informed choice. I hope November 6 proves me wrong.

(For those of you wondering, this blog is not completely dead. I’m feeling the need to continue at least through post 2000, as it seems a good closure point. Ideally I’ll get there on our before December 12, 2018, the end of sixteen years of blogging.)