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Has U.S. Democracy Been Trumped? Bernie Sanders wants to know who owns America?

#14701 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-03, 21:20

From Trump Got His Wall After All by Rachel Morris at HuffPo:

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IN THE TWO YEARS AND 308 DAYS THAT DONALD Trump has been president, he has constructed zero miles of wall along the southern border of the United States. He has, to be fair, replaced or reinforced 76 miles of existing fence and signed it with a sharpie. A private group has also built a barrier less than a mile long with some help from Steve Bannon and money raised on GoFundMe. But along the 2,000 miles from Texas to California, there is no blockade of unscalable steel slats in heat-retaining matte black, no electrified spikes, no moat and no crocodiles. The animating force of Trump’s entire presidency—the idea that radiated a warning of dangerous bigotry to his opponents and a promise of unapologetic nativism to his supporters—will never be built in the way he imagined.

And it doesn’t matter. In the two years and 308 days that Donald Trump has been president, his administration has constructed far more effective barriers to immigration. No new laws have actually been passed. This transformation has mostly come about through subtle administrative shifts—a phrase that vanishes from an internal manual, a form that gets longer, an unannounced revision to a website, a memo, a footnote in a memo. Among immigration lawyers, the cumulative effect of these procedural changes is known as the invisible wall.

In the two years after Trump took office, denials for H1Bs, the most common form of visa for skilled workers, more than doubled. In the same period, wait times for citizenship also doubled, while average processing times for all kinds of visas jumped by 46 percent, even as the quantity of applications went down. In 2018, the United States added just 200,000 immigrants to the population, a startling 70 percent less than the year before.

Before Trump was elected, there was virtually no support within either party for policies that make it harder for foreigners to come here legally. For decades, the Republican consensus has favored tough border security along with high levels of legal immigration. The party’s small restrictionist wing protested from the margins, but it was no match for a pro-immigration coalition encompassing business interests, unions and minority groups. In 2013, then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions introduced an amendment that would have lowered the number of people who qualified for green cards and work visas. It got a single vote in committee—his own. As a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security observed, “If you told me these guys would be able to change the way the U.S. does immigration in two years, I would have laughed.”

Senior adviser Stephen Miller is usually regarded as the White House’s immigration mastermind, but his maneuvering is only a sliver of the story. The most fine-grained and consequential changes would never have been possible without a group of like-minded figures stationed in relevant parts of the government—particularly the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, the agency within DHS that administers visas. Early in Trump’s presidency, said the former DHS official, there was a “strategic sprinkling” of people who “shared a common vision and were ready to outwork everybody.” They included Gene Hamilton, Miller’s “terrible sword at DHS” (his actual title was senior counselor to the secretary), and Francis Cissna, the soft-spoken former head of USCIS whom colleagues describe as “an encyclopaedia of immigration law” and “a total immigration nerd.” “If you said to him, what’s on page 468, second paragraph” of the Immigration and Nationality Act, another former DHS official marveled, “he would quote it to you.”

Amidst the chaos at DHS, the restrictionists have already radically scaled back America’s asylum and refugee programs for years to come. But no category of immigrant ( 1 ) has escaped the uptick of denials and delays—not the Palestinian student with a Harvard scholarship who was deported upon landing in Boston, or the Australian business owner forced to leave after building a life here. Not the Bolshoi Ballet stars who somehow failed to meet the criteria of accomplished artists, or the Iraqi translators who risked their lives for the U.S. military and whose annual admissions went from 325 to just two after the change in administration. Then there are the consequences that are harder to capture in headlines or statistics: the couples whose marriages broke down when the foreign spouse was forced to wait far longer than usual in their home country, and the unknown number of people who have abandoned the attempt to stay because of financial hardship or the strain of living with a level of uncertainty that becomes untenable.

“What became clear to me early on was that these guys wanted to shut down every avenue to get into the U.S.,” the first former senior DHS official said. “They wanted to reduce the number of people who could get in under any category: illegals, legals, refugees, asylum seekers—everything. And they wanted to reduce the number of foreigners already here through any means possible.” No government in modern memory has been this dedicated to limiting every form of immigration to the United States. To find one that was, you have to go a long way back, to 1924.

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#14702 User is offline   Winstonm 

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Posted 2020-February-03, 21:34

I'd like to wish Rush Limbaugh a painless but speedy exit.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Black Lives Matter.
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#14703 User is offline   johnu 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 04:56

Still zero results from Iowa's Democratic caucuses due to problems with its smartphone app. At least it didn't cost 2 million dollars like the ACBL's software debacle. May I suggest they use my high tech solution, an abacus and carrier pigeons. It was floated in the media that part of the difficult was reporting a couple of dozen numbers from each caucus, all at once. :lol: I have no idea why the individual caucuses were supposed to send delegate counts to the central party organization. It's a source of mistakes and should have been done centrally. On the other hand, the state party is the one who screwed up the counting in the first place so who knows? :rolleyes:

I repeat my suggestion that different states should take turns being the 1st state to hold presidential primaries/caucuses. If so, Iowa could be 1st in the nation in 200 years.
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#14704 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 06:15

This will be partly about politics, partly about the technology problem. We will get the results from Iowa sooner or later and I fully expect they will be accurately presented. Still, this should not have happened and there will be a political cost. Also, the Des Moines Register was supposed to release the results of a poll on Sunday and couldn't. do so because of some tech screw-up. Something about fonts from what I read. I gather the DMR poll is well-regarded, or at least was well-regarded.

I'm 81. But just two days ago I was helping one of my fellow seniors with a computer issue, I often do. I am not completely out of touch. Still, it seems that over the last couple of years problems with technology have become more frequent and more frustrating. One of my favorites: After some sort of tech meltdown (I forget the details, a big storm or some such) I had to get some stuff up and running again. After some work I figured it out. Push this, then push that, then do this other thing and so on. Well, I only thought I had figured it out but I eventually had to call for help. Ah! For one of the buttons that I was to push it turns out that I was to push and hold it in for five seconds. Stupid me, I didn't know that.

But good grief! Are the leaders in the Iowa Dem party so lacking in experience that they did not know of the potential for tech calamity in an untested system? Did they not practice with at least one complete run through?

There will be conspiracy theories advanced. Conspiracies happen, but my bet is on incompetence. Or naivety.

There are consequences to such lack of foresight. A year or so back I gave up on a doctor when I concluded he could not handle the technology he was using. I don't expect a doc to be a tech whiz, I do expect him to regard it as important enough so that he hires someone who knows how to navigate it. He didn't, and so I went elsewhere. Screw-ups have consequences.
Ken
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#14705 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 10:56

The KISS principle comes to mind. From wikipedia:

Quote

The acronym was reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (creators of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, among many others).

While popular usage has transcribed it for decades as "Keep it simple, stupid", Johnson transcribed it as "Keep it simple stupid" (no comma), and this reading is still used by many authors.

The principle is best exemplified by the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. Hence, the "stupid" refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to repair them.

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Variants

The principle most likely finds its origins in similar minimalist concepts, such as Occam's razor, Leonardo da Vinci's "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication", Shakespeare's "Brevity is the soul of wit", Mies Van Der Rohe's "Less is more", Bjarne Stroustrup's "Make Simple Tasks Simple!", or Antoine de Saint Exupéry's "It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away". Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Cars, urged his designers to "Simplify, then add lightness". Heath Robinson machines and Rube Goldberg's machines, intentionally overly-complex solutions to simple tasks or problems, are humorous examples of "non-KISS" solutions.

A variant – "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler" – is attributed to Albert Einstein, although this may be an editor's paraphrase of a lecture he gave.

Something else worth keeping in mind for engineers and software developers: pay considerable attention to the average user who should be at the core of everything you do.
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#14706 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 12:07

View Posty66, on 2020-February-04, 10:56, said:


The KISS principle comes to mind. From wikipedia:



Something else worth keeping in mind for engineers and software developers: pay considerable attention to the average user who should be at the core of everything you do.


As a kid in Minnesota, fishing was a major activity. We would go out in a boat powered by a three and a half horsepower outboard, made by Champion. By the time I was 10 or so I was the one who would from time to time dismantle the motor to clean out accumulated gunk. Later I found the motto of Champion about extra features: "If we don't have it, it can't break". And, they could have added, a ten year old can handle the maintenance.

Yes, they need to keep "average user" in mind. Over and over again, confusion arises. A techie can explain why the answer is obvious. Yes, once I understand the design, the answer is obvious. But I didn't design it.

This all does not excuse the Dem leadership. We all have found this or that tech item to have unexpected difficulties which are very simple to fix once you know what to do and impossible to fix before you know what to do. So you prepare. Or at least for an important matter like this you prepare. Or you should. prepare.

I suppose everyone will be explaining why this is someone else's fault. I am prepared to congratulate and thank the first person who steps forward and says "This was my fault".

Oh. But not me. Wasn't my fault! Nope. Not me.
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#14707 User is offline   shyams 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 13:16

Regardless of how the app/software failed, it must surely be possible to obtain all the results (by road or some equivalent) to a central location for counting within 24 hours. I am unable to comprehend such a prolonged delay.
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#14708 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 14:57

View Postshyams, on 2020-February-04, 13:16, said:

Regardless of how the app/software failed, it must surely be possible to obtain all the results (by road or some equivalent) to a central location for counting within 24 hours. I am unable to comprehend such a prolonged delay.


An optimistic view: They realize that they have seriously screwed up and they are determined to take enough time to be absolutely certain that after they release the results later today there is no chance whatsoever that tomorrow or the next day they will have to say "Oops".


This would make sense, at least to me. They are off to a bad start but if they fix it and fix it right then it might largely, not completely but largely, blow over.

Added: Speaking of "Oops". I see now that they plan to release "partial results" at 4 their time. I don't think I like that.
Ken
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#14709 User is offline   akwoo 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 15:30

If the automobile industry had developed like the computer industry, cars would now cost $100, get a thousand miles to the gallon, and blow up once a year, killing everyone inside.
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#14710 User is offline   Zelandakh 

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Posted 2020-February-04, 22:10

View Posty66, on 2020-February-04, 10:56, said:

The KISS principle comes to mind. From wikipedia:

Quote

The acronym was reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson


It is worth mentioning that the "keep it short and simple" form predates the US 1960s "keep it simple, stupid" by well over 20 years. This origin myth seems to be American revisionist history worthy of a Hollywood movie.
(-: Zel :-)

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#14711 User is offline   johnu 

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Posted 2020-February-05, 00:58

View Postshyams, on 2020-February-04, 13:16, said:

Regardless of how the app/software failed, it must surely be possible to obtain all the results (by road or some equivalent) to a central location for counting within 24 hours. I am unable to comprehend such a prolonged delay.

24 hours have gone by and still no idea when the final results will be released. The Iowa Democratic chairman said “The underlying data is secure.” Unfortunately, that data is so secure that nobody can access it.
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#14712 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2020-February-05, 03:49

I never heard of the Shadow company before. That doesn't prove much. But from what I have been reading it is hard to see why they would be trusted with such an important task.

I doubt the people who chose this company, trusting it to work, not giving it a thorough test, can give a satisfactory explanation. Probably the national party must accept that some really incompetent people were involved and then go on as best they can from there.
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#14713 User is offline   Winstonm 

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Posted 2020-February-05, 07:53

View Postjohnu, on 2020-February-05, 00:58, said:

24 hours have gone by and still no idea when the final results will be released. The Iowa Democratic chairman said “The underlying data is secure.” Unfortunately, that data is so secure that nobody can access it.


They thought the data on the Titanic was secure, too, at the bottom of the Atlantic.
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#14714 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-05, 11:44

It's gratifying to see Rob Portman getting his head handed to him in comments on his NYT op-ed titled Why I'm Voting to Acquit President Trump.

Fong from Texas said:

What ever happened to the Rob Portman from the Clinton impeachment who said:

"I am also concerned because the President - by the very nature of his office - has a special responsibility to set an example. At a minimum, there cannot be one standard for the President and another for the citizens he serves. This past summer, I called on President Clinton to resign. I did so because I believed it was the right thing to do for the country in order to maintain the honor and dignity of the Office of the Presidency and to spare the country from going through a long, divisive and distracting impeachment process. The President and his advisers have continuously signaled that he has no intention of stepping aside. Thus, we find ourselves at this difficult crossroads. We are a nation of laws and, as a Member of Congress, I have a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. I must vote to impeach"

Lightening14 from Ohio said:

Senator, I’m a constituent. I live in northeast Ohio. I’m a retired Marine with service in two wars. I’m also a former employee of the U.S. House of Representatives, so I know how legislation and Congress works. I’ve been a Republican for 42 years. I’m a moderate. I’m the kind of voter you want (or maybe, given I’m in Trump Country, not). But no more. I read your self-justification in the NYT today and I am entirely ashamed of you. As I listened to the roll call vote on witnesses in the impeachment trial and I heard your negative response, the die was finally cast for me. You don’t think the two articles of impeachment reach the threshold for both impeachment and removal? Were you at a different “trial” than the one I watched?I thought you were a principled man who has taken unpopular, but principled positions before and would not disappoint in this, probably the most important vote of your political career. You had the opportunity to help free us from a demagogue who has sown division, lied beyond count, and soiled the Office of the President. When today you cast your vote to acquit, that sound you might hear is me and my fellow moderate Republican Ohioans walking away and looking for an alternative to you and the GOP. Because it no longer represents the values and beliefs I hold dear. It’s become a personality cult.

In 2016, Portman trounced his opponent, former Democratic governor Ted Strickland, by 3,118,567 to 1,996,908 votes in a race that was once thought to be a potential pickup for Dems. I hope Mr. Lightening14 can convince 1,121,659 other Buckeyes who voted for Portman in 2016 to switch their vote in 2022. This does not look like an easy task.
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#14715 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-05, 15:58

From Mitt Romney shows us all is not lost by Jennifer Rubin at WaPo:

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Romney, now the only person in history to vote to remove a president of his own party, was eloquent as he calmly delivered his speech from the floor after so many other Republicans had embarrassed themselves with transparently ridiculous excuses for acquittal. He explained, “My own view is that there’s not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that’s what the president did.” With that he dispelled the rationale that this was not impeachable conduct. It was the most impeachable conduct imaginable.

He told his colleagues and the country that “leaving it to the voters” was a dodge. "The Constitution doesn’t say that if the president did something terribly wrong, let the people decide in the next election what should happen,” he said. “It says if the president does something terribly wrong, the Senate shall try him. And so the Constitution is plain.” Indeed it is, although his colleagues would delude themselves into thinking the trial itself was punishment.

Romney patiently related the key facts: “The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political.” He concluded therefore that “the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.”

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#14716 User is offline   shyams 

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Posted 2020-February-06, 01:12

View Posty66, on 2020-February-05, 15:58, said:

From Mitt Romney shows us all is not lost by Jennifer Rubin at WaPo:


I haven't followed the news and/or tweets in response but I would guess Trump would have already replied to Romney with crass putdowns.

Edit: He did! (https://twitter.com/...288731235700737)

This post has been edited by shyams: 2020-February-06, 01:15

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#14717 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-06, 12:06

From Peter Baker at NYT (12:52PM Thursday):

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WASHINGTON — President Trump is making a formal response to his acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial during a statement from the White House after making clear at a prayer breakfast earlier in the day that he remains deeply angry and aggrieved.

The president stayed out of public view on Wednesday after Senate Republicans defeated two articles of impeachment charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but at the bipartisan prayer breakfast Thursday morning held up newspapers with banner headlines about his acquittal and then lashed out at his opponents.

Mr. Trump has insisted that he did nothing wrong although even some of the Republicans who voted against conviction said that his efforts to coerce Ukraine into helping him tarnish his domestic political rivals were inappropriate. Instead, he has presented himself as the victim of a partisan witch hunt and his aides and allies over the last day have expressed a desire to exact payback.

The Senate rejected both articles almost entirely along party lines, with Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, the only member of the upper chamber to break party ranks. Mr. Romney voted for conviction and removal from office on the article charging abuse of power, calling the president’s actions a blatant violation of the public trust, but voted against the obstruction of Congress article, arguing that the House should have pursued court options to obtain information blocked by the White House.

The first article thus fell 48 to 52, far short of the 67 required by the Constitution for conviction and the second article was rejected 47 to 53.

The battle is hardly over, though. House Democrats indicated they will continue their investigation and subpoena John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, while Senate Republicans moved to investigate Hunter Biden for his business dealings in Ukraine while his father, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was in office.

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation,” Mr. Trump told an audience of religious leaders and followers at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning. “They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.”

The guy can troll.
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#14718 User is offline   y66 

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Posted 2020-February-07, 06:42

Here's David Brooks at NYT channeling Matt Yglesias:

Quote

As several people have noticed, this was the most politically successful week of the Trump presidency.

First, President Trump’s job approval numbers are rising. When the impeachment inquiry got rolling in October his Gallup approval rating was 39. Now it’s 49. If he can hold this level, he’ll probably be re-elected.

Second, impeachment never became a topic of conversation among rank-and-file Democrats, let alone independents and Republicans, so it was easily defeated in the Senate.

To the extent that it was noticed, impeachment worked for Republicans and against Democrats. Approval of the Republican Party is now at 51 percent, its highest since 2005. More Americans now identify as Republicans than as Democrats. As Gallup dryly observed in announcing these numbers, “Gallup observed similar public opinion shifts when Bill Clinton was impeached.”

Third, there is no Democratic transcender. The Iowa results, though far from final, indicate that there is no obvious candidate who can be quickly embraced by all factions of the party. With Mike Bloomberg now doubling his campaign spending, it looks like the Democratic primary battle is going to go on for a while.

Democrats may wind up in a position in which they can’t nominate Bernie Sanders because he’s too far left, and they can’t not nominate him because his followers would bolt from a Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg-led party.

Only 53 percent of Sanders voters say they will certainly support whomever is the Democratic nominee. This is no idle threat. In 2016, in Pennsylvania, 117,000 Sanders primary voters went for Trump in the general, and Trump won the state by 44,292 ballots. In Michigan, 48,000 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 10,704. In Wisconsin, 51,300 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 22,748. In short, Sanders voters helped elect Trump.

Fourth, Trump has cleverly reframed the election. I can see why Nancy Pelosi ripped up his State of the Union speech. It was the most effective speech of the Trump presidency.

In 2016, Trump ran a dark, fear-driven “American carnage” campaign. His 2016 convention speech was all about crime, violence and menace. The theme of this week’s speech was mostly upbeat “Morning in America.”

I don’t know if he can keep this tone, because unlike Ronald Reagan, he’s not an optimistic, generous person. But if he can, and he can keep his ideology anodyne, this message can resonate even with people who don’t like him.

Trump’s speech reframes the election around this core question: Is capitalism basically working or is it basically broken?

Trump can run on the proposition that it’s basically working. He has a lot of evidence on his side: The unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. Wages are rising. The typical family income is higher than it has ever been.

Americans seem to accept this position. Confidence in the economy is higher now than at any moment since the Clinton administration. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were a year ago. Three-quarters of Americans expect to be even better off a year from now.

Democrats, by contrast, have congregated around the message that capitalism is fundamentally broken and that the economy is bad. As Matthew Yglesias noted recently in Vox, when Democrats were asked in the PBS NewsHour/Politico debate if the economy was good, they all gave the same answer.

Joe Biden: “I don’t think [Americans] really do like the economy. Look at the middle-class neighborhoods. The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed.” Pete Buttigieg: “This economy is not working for most of us.” Elizabeth Warren: “A rising G.D.P., rise in corporate profits, is not being felt by millions of families across the country.” And so on down the line.

An opposition party can retake the White House in a time of rising economic conditions, but it can’t do it by denouncing capitalism and it can’t do it by denying the felt reality of a majority of Americans.

It’s hard to defeat a president in good times. U.C.L.A. political scientist Lynn Vavreck, the author of “The Message Matters” and a co-author of “Identity Crisis,” has found that the rare candidates who do succeed find issues that voters care about just as much. In 1960, John Kennedy ran on the missile gap. In 1968, Richard Nixon ran on law and order. In 2016, Trump ran on Middle America identity politics.

What would that issue be? Well, in his book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth,” Benjamin Friedman argues that in prosperous times voters are more tolerant of diversity, more committed to fairness and expanding opportunity. As he puts it, “Economic growth bears moral benefits.”

That suggests that Democrats should acknowledge that the economy has done well since the Obama recovery in 2009. They should argue that this is the time to take advantage of prosperity to begin a moral and social revival. This is the year to run a values campaign, one that champions policies to make America more socially mobile, caring and interdependent.

In 2020, running on economic gloom or class war probably won’t work.

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#14719 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2020-February-07, 08:13

View Posty66, on 2020-February-07, 06:42, said:

Here's David Brooks at NYT channeling Matt Yglesias:







The cited article comes pretty close to matching my views. It is essential that the Dems
1. Acknowledge to themselves and their colleagues that they are in a tough spot.
2. Think through why that is. They must find some answers other than "It's all somebody else's fault".
3. And then, of course, they must chart a new course.

The Dems are looking so bad, basically donkeys who can't find their way home, that I have come to think that one of Sanders strongest points is that he is not a Democrat. But that's not enough.

If Joe Biden would have asked me, I would have told him that voters would not be impressed with the argument "Vote for me, I'm electable". The Iowa outcome has made that argument even less viable.

And they hoped nobody remembers the Iowa reporting fiasco. Sure,apps fail. But that is not the whole story. From everything I read, the planning was close to non-existent. I do not think it is too cynical to suspect that someone in the planning group noticed that the guys who started Shadow were old buddies from the Clinton campaign and decided to throw a contract to them and then hope for the best.

That's a short beginning list.
After some morning coffee I will be able to think up some more, but Brooks does a good job in the article and really, if the Dem leadership is willing to address it, I am sure they can think this through themselves. Time is getting short.
Ken
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Posted 2020-February-07, 08:15

From What's Powering the U.S. Economy? It's a Mystery, Frankly by Noah Smith at Bloomberg:

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The U.S. economy’s steady growth — the longest stretch since World War II without a recession — is something of a mystery. Last summer, the yield curve inverted, which traditionally is the most reliable signal of an impending downturn. There were all sorts of plausible reasons the economy could take a turn for the worse -- a mountain of increasingly risky corporate debt, a slowdown in China, President Donald Trump’s trade war, manufacturing weakness, increasing uncertainty about government policy and so on.

Yet no recession has appeared. Gross domestic product growth has been remarkably steady at a little more than 2% — probably the best, on average, that can be hoped for given the aging population and the global productivity slowdown.

And the labor market is stronger than at any time except the late 1990s, with workers at the bottom of the income scale getting real wage increases.

Why is the economy doing well despite all the headwinds? Trump supporters will tend to credit the president’s late 2017 tax reform. But this is unlikely. If the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had made the economy more efficient, it would be have led to a surge of business investment. But economics research finds little impact, and real private investment actually decreased in the second through fourth quarters of 2019.

It’s also possible, of course, that the tax cut has raised consumption by driving up aggregate demand. Paul Krugman has put this forward as an explanation. It’s also true that under Trump, deficits have risen to levels not seen since 2012:

So Much for Fiscal Discipline

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But this is unlikely to have provided the economy with a major boost. First, the tax reform’s benefits flowed mostly to the wealthy. Wealthier people tend not to change their consumption much in response to changes in income, because unlike poor and middle-class people they have no pressing need to pay off their debts or buy necessities. Fiscal stimulus also tends to have much less of an effect when the economy is healthy than when it’s in recession. Thus, the tax cuts probably provided little stimulus while raising the deficit.

So if it wasn’t the tax reform, what’s keeping the recovery rolling along?

Low interest rates haven’t yet sparked a consumer borrowing boom; the ratio of household debt to gross domestic product remains at low levels and shows no signs of rising.

Trump might assert that his trade war helped. But exports didn’t go up during the past year. And if U.S. consumers are shifting from imported goods to domestically produced ones, the shift is very minor.

Few Signs of 'Buy American'

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The recent weakness in business investment, especially in manufacturing, also suggests that the U.S. is not benefiting from a wave of reshoring by multinational companies. Chinese labor costs have risen, and China has become a less attractive investment destination because of the trade war and Chinese government policies. But so far, companies are mostly just shifting their overseas production to other low-cost countries like Vietnam rather than bringing it back to the U.S.

The truth is, there’s no obvious driver of U.S. growth. The most likely explanation is that the economy is simply in a phase of boring normality.

Most people tend to think of the business cycle as a series of alternating booms and busts. The U.S. economic record seems to confirm this, with recessions coming at least once a decade. But while this is certainly possible, most macroeconomic models envision the economy as a production machine that just keeps chugging until some sort of shock disturbs it from equilibrium.

Since the end of World War II, there have been three main types of shocks that have thrown the U.S. economy off kilter: financial bubbles and crashes, Federal Reserve interest rate hikes or big increases in oil prices. None of these are threatening now. The rise in risky leveraged lending doesn’t seem big enough to cause another financial crisis. Vivid memories of the crash of 2008 are probably preventing excessive speculation in stocks and housing, while the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and the scars of that disaster probably are holding back financial institutions from piling up excessive risks. Meanwhile, oil prices and gasoline prices are at moderate levels, and the Fed in 2019 reversed some of the interest rate increases of prior years. Much has been made of Trump’s trade war, but so far the real impact has been minor even in sectors such as agriculture.

So U.S. consumers simply have little reason to stop consuming. They’ve deleveraged since the crash, their homes are appreciating modestly in value, their wages are rising at a decent rate and their pensions are doing fine. Barring a new financial crisis, a major Chinese collapse, a sharp reversal of course from the Fed, or more dramatic meddling from Trump, the economy may simply keep sailing along.

If you lose all hope, you can always find it again -- Richard Ford in The Sportswriter
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