Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Problem with Predictions

Here's one from economist, Paul Krugman, from February 4, 2008:

"If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen."

Fast-forward to now.  Obama is turning blue in Clinton's bear hug.  Krugman is devoting every column again to supporting Clinton's primary campaign, this time against Sanders.  His latest piece reports on some other economists who have dissected some economic theorizing by a Sanders supporter which they allege is wrong.  Krugman adds his own bits including his frequent assertion that voting for Sanders in the primaries will give us a President Trump.

So, the pattern is to set up some theoretical scenario based on some rather obscure campaign issue and then to manipulate that scenario to show how the target candidate is leading us to a disastrous future.  Of course, reality is always a lot messier and almost never takes the form of the invented scenario from the early campaigns.  Krugman is a smart guy, and I'm sure he knows that.  It's disappointing to see him taking the same destructive and dishonest course as he did eight years ago.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Don't blame the Republicans

The whining by the Democrats and their media allies about Republicans blocking Obama on a Supreme Court nomination is getting tiresome.  The Republicans are doing it because they can.  They can because they have a Senate majority.  If Democrats want a Supreme Court that does not favor corporations over citizens, that does not undermine voting rights, that does not weaken women's rights, that does not seek to cripple the right to unionize, then they need to get out the vote and restore the proper balance to the Senate.  Putting a Democrat in the Presidency without a majority in the Senate is going to leave the Supreme Court right where it is now, as a tool of the plutocrats.

Suck it up, Democrats.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

Quite likely the following:

  • Quality, affordable health care.
  • Access to educational opportunity.
  • Meaningful work at a living wage.
When do want those things?

  1. Now
  2. In the sweet bye and bye.
I'm guessing Number 1, or as close to that as possible.

Who will lead an uncompromising fight to achieve those goals?

  1. Bernie Sanders
  2. Hillary Clinton

Go with Number 1.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Is anyone listening?

Thursday night's Wisconsin debate mostly demonstrated the weaknesses of the debate format.  The two candidates focused on symbolic gestures to their hoped-for supporters.  The PBS moderators stuck doggedly to their agenda with no serious attempts to deepen the discussion.  The format, allowing 60 to 90 seconds for initial statements and 30 seconds for responses, guarantees superficiality.  That leaves the pundits in the post-game to talk about little else than demeanor and the effect of one-liners.

Clinton's effort to portray Sanders' policy proposals as impractical seems nonsensical to me.  For instance, her take on tuition free public colleges was that it would not work because governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker would not support the idea.  Well yes, if people don't work at the grass roots level to get rid of the right-wing Koch puppets like Walker, then of course nothing will change in the direction the country is going.  That's the point that Sanders always makes and Hillary always misses.  She obviously views the presidency as a managerial job in which the challenge is to tweak things here and there without any serious effort to challenge the fundamentals.

I don't know how much debates figure into peoples' decisions on who to vote for.  It seems unlikely that the policy presentations on candidates' web sites get a lot of scrutiny.  I do think that people are pessimistic about the future and impatient for changes to a degree that the political establishment does not grasp. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Prison and Sentencing Reform

Here are a couple questions I would like to see asked of all of the Presidential Candidates:

  • What is the explanation for the trends depicted by the following two graphs?
  • What is the relationship between the two graphs?
As presented in a previous post, the first graph shows the rapid growth in the share of income going to the top 10% since 1980.  The bottom graph portrays a remarkably similar slope over the same time period in the incarceration rate.

The bottom graph is taken from a very thorough wikipedia article on U.S. incarceration rates.  As the article points out, other nations have similar arrest rates, but prisoners in the U.S. serve much longer sentences for similar offenses, resulting in much greater numbers of people in custody.  Contributing factors cited in the article include the Three-Strikes laws passed by many states, a huge increase in people jailed for drug offenses, and the growth of the privatized prison industry which relies on a steady stream of new prisoners to stay in business.

Similar graphs can be drawn to show increases in health and educations costs, and probably for quite a few other  issues as well. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Political Prisoners

I've been thinking about two political prisoners in particular lately because they have both been in the news: Chelsea Manning and Leonard Peltier.  Manning is looking at a couple decades of imprisonment.  Peltier has already served forty years.  Setting aside for a moment the particulars of their cases, one thing they have in common is that neither would present any danger to society if freed today. Their retention in custody primarily serves symbolic and political purposes.  The main function of these symbolic detentions is to deter dissent.  It probably does work to some extent to tamp down the rate of  similar offenses and associated dissent, but it does so at great cost.

And then there are all the essentially non-political prisoners, people incarcerated for a great variety of crimes.  A great many of those have been locked up for non-violent transgressions.  Many are elderly and in ill health like Peltier.  The rationale for keeping them locked up for extended periods seems very thin.   What portion of the prison population do they represent?  Thousands?  Hundreds of thousands?  A clue is to be found in the facts that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country and that the 2.2 million people in U.S. prisons represent a 500% increase over the past thirty years.   It seems abundantly clear that the whole judicial and penal system needs rethinking.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New Hampshire - The Bottom Line

The last question from the moderators of the debate asked the candidates to prioritize their issues, saying that the first one chosen had the best chance of success.  Hillary rejected the premise, saying she wanted to get a lot of things done and believed she could move forward on many fronts simultaneously. In terms of getting backing for those efforts, she said she wanted to engage in a dialog with the American people.

Bernie said with great clarity that what was needed to move forward was a political revolution, meaning that people turn out to vote for progressive candidates, and especially for the purpose of getting big money out of politics.  With that goal established, the road would then be open to make the changes needed in the economic and political system of the country.

To me, it seems like Hillary's call for "a dialog with the American people" is really just the same old empty rhetoric that is always produced at election time, offering fine phrases instead of real programs of change.  The idea of "a dialog with the American people" sounds to me a lot like calling for commissions and advisory boards and other such political shams which really concede no real power to the people.  It all just points to the fact again that Clinton is part of the moneyed class and that, for all her protestations, she is the establishment candidate.  She may be perfectly sincere in her beliefs, but they are the beliefs of the past, and I think that explains much of her lack of support by younger voters.

What Bernie was pointing to is that there is a dialog with the people in progress right now in the form of an election, and if enough of them speak up for meaningful change, then the politicians will have no choice but to listen and respond.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Town Hall

Did you manage to tune in to the CNN townhall featuring Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?  CNN cut me off, saying I needed to pay someone some money to continue watching.  I got to the broadcast finally via the RawStory site.  Hard to understand how that all is supposed to work, or why we should put up with that kind of commercialization of political discourse.

Bernie delivered.

Hillary can't seem to give a straight answer to any question.  For instance, an audience member asked her how people could have confidence in her ability to avoid the kind of mistake she made in supporting the Iraq war.  Hillary conceded the mistake and then proceeded to blame George Bush for deceiving her as to the purpose of seeking the backing of Congress for his move against Iraq.  She gave no reason at all why anyone should believe that she would not make a similar blunder in the future.  Her answers to questions about campaign financing, medical marijuana and end of life assistance were similarly lacking in clarity.  What she seems to offer at bottom is an effort to put out fires as they appear.  Seems like a pretty flimsy platform for a presidential bid.


Are you sick of hearing about the Presidential election yet?  Well, we've made it through one primary so far.  The results of that were what?  Inconclusive, right?  Forty-nine more to go.

One of the obvious downsides of the interminable U.S. Presidential election is that it sucks the air out of the political process.  People become wholly focused on the results of the top of the ticket, they are sapped of the energy needed to look deeper into the process, and they end up hoping the person they select as President will take care of business without the need for any further real involvement by the electorate.  So, how as that worked out for you?

Bernie Sanders' call for a political revolution addresses the above.  What he is pointing out is that it is necessary not only to elect him President of the United States, but also to support his agenda to a depth which extends down into Congress, state and local governments.  Because, let's face it, a very large part of that massive governmental structure is under the control of a Party that works against the interests of the people who have voted them into office.  Have you heard Hillary Clinton make a case for that kind of change?

Clinton is making a lot of policy pronoucements and promises that look good to an energized progressive base.  What also speaks loudly is her omission of details of any new ideas for reforming the process down at the grass roots level.  What she is proposing by inference is that she will rely on the same old Democratic Party machine which has abdicated its responsibility to progressive principles and engaged in the same corrupt campaign finance machinations that power the Republican Party.

Some perspective on all of the above is available today in an article by Ryan Cooper, "The Case Against Hillary Clinton", which is a brief review of a book, My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency, by Doug Henwood.   Cooper summarizes the key points of the brief against Clinton as President including her right-of-Obama militarism, her ethically questionable involvement with husband Bill's foundation, and her ties to the financial elites including her six years on the board of Walmart.

It is likely true that Clinton would not appoint right-wing zealots and incompetents to the Supreme Court, and she likely wouldn't turn against the progess made over the years in regard to women's rights and a lot of other causes dear to progressive hearts.  She could even conceivably (if improbably) preside over a period of financial growth as was the case during Bill's terms in office.  What also seems inescapable is the conclusion that another Clinton Presidency would keep the country moving in the same direction toward ever-greater income and wealth inequality while paying lip service to liberal ideals.