Monthly Archives: June 2017

lindsey graham donald trump

What’s Wrong with Lindsey Graham?

The warmongerer somehow applauds the Commander-in-Chief for his uncertainty, volatility, and utter ignorance.

Senator Lindsey Graham prided himself in being an outspoken Donald Trump critic throughout the 2016 election, primary and general. He routinely slammed Trump for his position on immigration, proposed Muslim ban, and general attitude towards the military, partisan competitors, and democratic norms. But then Trump became president and Graham changed his tune.

Graham prides himself in extensive foreign policy knowledge. His outlook, though hawkish, often has sense: A strong – and constitutional – response to Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes and increased manpower in the fight against ISIS would be go for the world. Effective foreign policy, however, cannot be carried out when the administration has no clear message or outlook.

The Madman Theory

The madman theory of foreign policy does not work. Trump has stumbled onto this practice likely without realizing it; his gross incompetency and lack of foreign policy understanding – a fact he demonstrated time and again during the campaign – leads to his administration often issuing conflicting remarks about crises or other happenings and operating without a clear vision for the role and America’s place in it.

This uncertainty and volatility driven by Trump’s frightening ability to change his mind within hours, given that he sees a picture or two, hurts America’s image and creates a less stable world. Adversaries, fearing spontaneous reaction from Trump, have every reason to stockpile arms so they can retaliate to the unexpected. It’s a form of insurance – you never know when Trump may launch a strike against your country, so it’s best to have the weapons ready to retaliate in a meaningful way. North Korea’s already following this strategy.



kim jong un madman
Do we want out president to adopt the same foreign policy theory as this dictator?

Resultant Arms Races

Basic game theory teaches us that a military buildup in one country leads to similar actions in neighboring and adversarial states; research and history tells us that arms races make violent conflict more likely. In other words, Trump’s instability and unpredictability ignites a logical chain reaction that risks global conflict.

Why, then does, Lindsey Graham support such uncertainty and applaud the conflicting foreign policy lines offered by different members of the Trump administration?

Party Before Country

Perhaps Graham hopes that Trump’s instability will lead to war and through that war, despotic regimes in Syria, Iran, and North Korea will be overthrown. Perhaps Graham doesn’t understand the potential ramifications of pushing North Korea into further developing its weaponry (a true worry as South Korea and Japan could easily be his with even rudimentary nuclear weapons). Or perhaps Graham hopes that by praising Trump’s foreign policy decisions – even those announced on Twitter or which actively undermine the maneuverings of his Secretary of State or Ambassador of the United Nations – might help Graham join the cabinet if ever there’s a staff shakeup.

Understanding motives, of course, proves no easy task. Graham’s actions, though, undermine his campaign posturing as a continuing thorn in Trump’s side, a voice of reason emerging from the cacophony of a party kowtowing to its adopted leader. He’s rewarding and encouraging behavior that makes America less safe. If he cared about good foreign policy, Graham would be a close ally of Rex Tillerson or Nikki Haley and would constantly pressure the administration to better coordinate with its foreign policy speakers – those who at least understand the value of a discernible American position and who don’t recklessly bumble about on Twitter deriding happenings they don’t understand.



In short, Graham’s praising a madman who doesn’t understand foreign policy and whose actions undermine our interests abroad. He’s returning the respect, credibility, and admirability he earned on the campaign trail when he bothered to call out Trump’s actions. Graham has now receded into the typical and destructive Vichy Republican position: Bow to Trump and challenge him on nothing. Reward recklessness and pray for the best.

trumpcare medicaid cuts

Trumpcare Medicaid Cuts – It’s Going to be “Yuge” and Disastrous

Trumpcare Medicaid cuts will leave 15 million without insurance.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign laid out two simple healthcare promises: No cuts to Medicaid and coverage for all.  The healthcare bill he wholeheartedly endorses, despite considering it “mean,” breaks both pledges in one fell and disastrous swoop.

Trumpcare Medicaid cuts total $880 billion (that’s $880,000,000,000), money which, by and large, will flow to the rich through tax cuts, a type of reverse-Robinhood that if enacted would defy the presumed laws of politics (that broad social welfare programs that deliver obvious benefits cannot be rolled back).



Furthermore, Trumpcare’s Medicaid cuts will throw 15 million off insurance, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.   7 million more would lose insurance for other reasons.  In total, some 22 million individuals will lose insurance under Trumpcare, leading the CBO to project that around 50 million Americans — around 15 percent of the nation — will be uninsured within the next decade.

This, of course, violates a promise then president-elect made: “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.”  So he proclaimed in a Washington Post interview where he touted putting the finishing touches on a healthcare plan that ultimately failed to deliver on his promises to his voters and the country.



Trumpcare Medicaid Cuts

But that’s not all.  Trumpcare Medicaid cuts may well force senior citizens out of nursing homes.  700 rural hospitals at risk of closing may be pushed into bankruptcy.  These hospitals by and large help older, poorer, and sicker individuals who, due to Trumpcare, will likely be unable to afford health insurance and unable to receive emergency treatment due to close hospitals.

The New York Times’ Upshot found that Trump’s own voters — those who placed their faith in the uncaring demagogue; who truly believed Trump when he claimed he would leave no American behind, least of all his base — would suffer most from Trumpcare and its Medicaid cuts.



So, not only does Trumpcare violate two major Trump campaign and post-Election Day promises, it does so at the expense of older, poorer Americans, those who by and large supported Trump and pushed him to electoral victory.

Trumpcare’s Medicaid cuts are going to be yuge, and they’re going to devastate a number of Americans.  Trump’s willing to screw tens of millions of Americans and break his word simply to cut his own taxes.

2017 elections

The 2017 Elections Bode Well for Democrats

Democrats made large gains in the 2017 elections

The 2017 elections have seen a large swing to Democrats vis a vis their results just one year ago.  Special House of Representatives elections held in ruby-red, long uncompetitive districts have seen Democrats come tantalizingly close to major upsets.  While Democratic wins remain elusive, victories only tell half the story: The near-20 point swing towards Democrats in the 2017 elections indicate that 2018 may very well be a landslide year.

Chart 1 shows that the Republican margin in each district fell, on average, by 17.7 points.  Democrats dramatically improved upon their 2016 House showing, due in part to an energized base, an unpopular Republican president, and a national swing to Democrats, as evidence by congressional generic ballot polls.

2017 elections
Chart 1: Though Republicans won, the 2017 elections show a definitive trend away from Republicans.

Kansas 04

Donald Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton by 27 points (60-33) in the 84 percent white district.  Since 2002, the closest congressional race saw the Republican candidate win by 22 points.  Clearly, Democrats are traditionally not competitive in this R+15 state.



Yet Democratic candidate James Thompson lost to Ron Estes, then the Kansas State Treasurer, by only 6.8 points, a dramatic turnaround from both the 2016 presidential and congressional results.  Overcoming a 15 point structural disadvantage would be incredibly difficult — clawing back some 9 points and forcing high-profile Republicans to make campaign appearances deep in the GOP’s heartland shows that Donald Trump’s historically low approval among the American people can make competitive safe seats.

Montana At-Large

Montana has a weird dynamic: It happily elects Democrats as senators and governors, but opts for Republicans at the congressional and presidential level.  Since the state has one district, the constituencies are the same at each level.  In 2016, it elected a Democratic governor while overwhelmingly voting for Donald Trump and then Representative Ryan Zinke.

Thus, when Greg Gianforte, who lost the gubernatorial race in 2016 decided to try again in the 2017 elections, he stood as the overwhelming favorite.  His opponent, Rob Quist, had no political experience and was not a particularly gifted candidate.  But the race soon tightened, prompting Donald Trump Jr to venture to the state in hopes of propping up the millionaire Republican.

On Election Day eve, the race took an unexpected twist when Gianforte assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs.  This act of violence threatened to tilt and already close contest to the Democrat, but Gianforte survived due in large part to the early vote: Around 2/3 of Montanans had voted before the incident.  A poll taken on Election Day showed movement towards Quist, but not enough to overcome the already-cast ballots.



Still, the race showed Democratic competitiveness well away from diverse urban centers, which, along with the KS-04 results, portends a diverse House battleground in next year’s midterms.

South Carolina 05

The race to replace for House Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney flew under the national radar.  Mulvaney won the district by 21 points in both 2014 and 2016; Trump underperformed Mulvaney but still won by 18 points, better than his numbers from South Carolina as a whole.

Yet Democratic challenger and political novice Archie Parnell nearly pulled a dramatic upset, falling just shy of defeating state representative Ralph Norman.  Parnell benefitted from the race remaining local, allowing the candidates to compete without millions from outside groups being spent or with visits from high-profile officials.  The non-nationalized race shows an energized Democratic base and a Republican base in need of massive investments in time and money to be driven to the polls.

Georgia 06

The most expensive House race in history drew extraordinary national attention and saw a campaign season last longer than many countries’ national elections.  Democrats pinned their hopes on former congressional aide and documentarian Jon Ossoff whereas Republicans opted for Secretary of State and former gubernatorial and senatorial candidate Karen Handel, a well-known politician.

For once, high turnout hurt Democrats.  Ossoff failed to improve on his Round 1 results because turnout in the R+8 district that in 2012 voted for Mitt Romney by 23 points.  He did, however, dramatically improve upon his 2016 Democratic predecessor, meaning he attracted some Republican support to pull 48% of the vote.



When a heavily Republican district experiences general election level turnout for a special election, Democrats suffer.  The other 2017 elections show that Democrats are energized to vote — lower turnout in GA-06 likely would have meant Republicans staying home.  Instead, Republicans spent tens of millions of dollar and sent Trump administration officials to the district to spur turnout.  And given there are more Republicans than Democrats in GA-06, it follows that more voters would mean more Republicans voting for Handel.

What do the 2017 elections mean for 2018?

The 2017 elections may leave some Democrats discouraged, but they needn’t be.  Across the board swings towards the party coupled with high base turnout and lagging Republican turnout indicates that 2018 will be a swing year.  If the 2017 elections Democratic swing is applied to all districts, Democrats will walk away from the midterms with a hefty majority.

Of course, such a pronounced swing is unlikely to happen.  But the results largely echo the aforementioned generic congressional ballot polls.  Taken together, Democrats — as of this writing — may well see a 6-10 point swing across all House districts.  That would be enough to make them the majority party.  Furthermore, the competitiveness of the 2017 elections in a diverse swarth of districts shows that Democrats will have many battlegrounds in their quest for 2018.

Conclusion

Don’t be discouraged by losses.  Recognize the political environment and the pronounced swings to the Democratic Party.  Be encouraged for the midterms.  Keep organizing, mobilizing, and persuading.  These results point to a great election ahead.

georgia's sixth district

Georgia’s Sixth Special Election Prediction

Ossoff the Slight Favorite in Georgia’s Sixth

My model projects that Jon Ossoff will receive 50.14% of the vote on Tuesday’s special election, which, when factoring the model’s margin of error, translates to a 51.00% chance of victory.

The model relies on a few variables — Donald Trump’s low approval rating, generic congressional polling the currently favors Democrats, Georgia sixth’s partisan voter index (PVI) as calculated by the Cook Political Report, and 2016 district presidential election results.

georgia 6 2016

This aligns with recent polling that has Ossoff a couple of points ahead of Republican challenger Karen Handel and with analyst consensus that Ossoff heads into the election as the favorite.

Ossoff has raised more than $23 million in his attempts to win the seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who, in 2016, won the district by 23 percentage points and once held by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.georgia 6 education

Georgia’s sixth congressional district is the most-educated district to be represented by a Republican; it has transitioned from a Republican safe seat to the most obvious example of evolving political coalitions: As the educated become increasingly Democratic, suburban districts throughout the country now offer Democrats a narrow pass to the House majority.

georgia 6 race

An Ossoff victory in Georgia’s sixth would be a further example of a national shift towards Democrats that could lead to a strong midterm showing in 2018 unless President Donald Trump improves his presidential approval rating.  It might also scare Republicans from similar districts long unworried about reelection races (other vulnerable Republicans may be encouraged to retire if Ossoff wins).  At its extreme, an Ossoff win might push Republicans into taking a harder stance on Trump and the man scandals surrounding his presidency.

Of course, that the race is competitive and has become the most expensive House race in history points to new national battlegrounds and Trump-caused problems for Republicans.  A victory or narrow Ossoff loss doesn’t change that; a victory would, however, drive media coverage and hand Democrats a much-desired win for their resistance movement.

democratic socialism

Democratic Socialism: A Disastrous Ideology

Democratic Socialism must be avoided

What is Democratic Socialism?

Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly resonant campaign introduced a new phrase into our political lexicon: Democratic Socialism.  The phrase seeks to rhetorically touch up “socialism,” an ideology rightly associated with death, despair, and disaster.  Democratic socialism, however, is a catastrophe wrapped in a seemingly innocent movement.  Tt should be avoided and shunned at all costs.

Democratic socialism strives to combine the forces of democracy with social ownership of enterprise — in other words, it hopes to establish a socialist system.  Preceding “socialism” with “democratic” doesn’t modify socialism.  Socialism’s goal is itself democratic in theory: Centralized ownership benefits the masses rather than those with capital (capitalists).  The phrase “democratic socialism” solely seeks to distinguish this vision from the Soviet Union’s Marxist-Leninism, not modify socialist goals.

Similarly, “social ownership of enterprise” amounts to no less than the nationalization of industry and the centralization of production.  Only by the government owning the means of production could enterprise ever achieve social — ie, democratic; ie, lay — ownership.

So democratic socialism offer socialism, but by a better name.

And socialism, of course, does not work, for it quickly descends into despotism while destroying economies.



bernie sanders democratic socialism

Descent to Tyranny

History proves that statement: All socialist experiments led to autocratic, repressive states that deprived their citizens of natural rights. Democracy itself tends towards self-destruction through demagogues who subvert constitutions and strive for self-serving authoritarianism.  Democratic socialism would remove the republican safeguards that prevent demagogic takeover while increasing the riches of office — subvert the constitution, establish unilateral government control, and enjoy the spoils of all nationalized industries.

In other words, the leader, or leading party, has every reason to bend the economy to their desires.  Tyranny of the minority ensues, with the beneficiaries of the centralized system fighting the majority of the population, necessarily involving coercive forces and a seizure of rights (and wholly destroying the democratic socialist vision).

Destruction of the Economy

Even in the idealized world in which the government remains true to democratic virtue and does not succumb to natural human desires to enrich oneself, socialism — and so democratic socialism — falls short of all stated goals.  It destroys the economy by ignoring human nature.

All socialist societies dream of eventual classlessness (which, combined with the abolition of private property, amounts to communism) with the centralized means of production that supposedly serves the (democratic) masses.  It ignores market forces in place of government-decided prices and output (it is impossible for the government to determine optimal quality and price; in attempting to do so, it will be surely be swayed by some minority — a further imposition of minority tyranny as a select few decide the availability of goods for general purchase).



Without incentives and with central planning, the economy quickly stagnates.  Human nature requires incentives to spur productivity and innovation.  Without the ability to reap rewards for hard work — with the government guaranteeing an outcome — worker productivity and the standard the living decline precipitously.  Output then declines, which either forces prices to rise (as they would in a market) or the government subsidizes consumers and producers to maintain a certain price level, straining government coffers and causing debt to spiral, or a government-enforced price (without supplying subsidies) quickly leads to scarcity when production halts as its cost quickly outstep income.  Either way, the economy tumbles and the standard of living plummets.

democratic socialism
The revolution thrust Cuba into abject poverty.

Conclusion

Democratic socialism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  The phrase itself does not modify its fundamental belief in a socialized economy.  Socialism always seeks to be democratic, but because of human nature — because of demagogues and the ease with which a corrupted socialist state can be used to enrich oneself — always descends to tyranny.



The economy similarly suffers.  Central planning ignores incentives, and thus human nature.  Historically and theoretically, socialism leads to dramatic declines in the standard of living.  Only pain and suffering increases.

And so democratic socialism must be avoided.  Democratic socialists must be spurned.  Those seeking to overhaul the economic system into one that has never once worked must never gain power.

Socialism Doesn’t Work

Learn from History

How soon we forget.  How quickly collective memory fades.  How poorly schooling covers recent history.

How shameful that the country’s youngest voters gravitate towards an economic theory that has never once worked.

Voters between 18 and 29 years of age view socialism – which has resulted in countless failed experiments that doomed countries and resulted in millions of death – more favorably than capitalism.

socialism doesn't work

This aligns well with the recent Democratic primary: Self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders dominated among young leftists whereas Hillary Clinton thrived with middle-aged and older liberal Democrats better versed in the fatal conceit of socialism.

What is socialism?

Socialism, which involves the government centralizing, nationalizing, and controlling the means of production, never works in practice.  The Soviet Union should be the most glaring example of socialism’s discontents.  While the USSR never implemented true communism – they settled for a derivation of Marxism, further perverted by despotic repression – it fully implemented collectivism.  And its economy utterly failed.

An initial postwar boom driven by massive fiscal investments in heavy industry – economic growth can be attained even in collectivist environments when enormous resources are thrust upon a given sector; however, that growth is neither efficient nor sustainable – led to epic economic stagnation that the Soviet Union tried to alleviate through market-based reforms.  In other words, the world’s greatest socialist experiment turned to capitalism to salvage its state (and, in the end, it still could not).  This also says nothing of the unfathomable human cost, both in terms of death, poverty, and suffering, that accompanied the failed endeavor.



Real-World Socialism

Incentives matter and under true socialism, with government owning property and the means of production, there are no productive incentives.  Individuals have no reason to innovate or search for profit – a quest that does create jobs and drives down costs while boosting the standard of living for a nation and all its inhabitants.  China, though ostensibly socialist, has realized the need for incentives and thus has implemented many market reforms.

Communist Cuba has entirely failed, resulting in unspeakable poverty and a continuing flood of refugees escaping the villainous regime.

Venezuelan socialism has destroyed the once-vibrant Latin American country.

Scandinavian countries, often touted as socialist successes, are not, in fact, socialist.  Sweden and Finland are among the world’s most competitive countries.  Socialism spurs no competition (and competition drives employment and high standards of living).  Denmark, which Bernie Sanders esteems as the dream socialist state, takes offense at such a label and prides its market economy.  Another tidbit: the public services provided by Denmark are not exemplary, Denmark has privatized many infrastructural elements, and there’s much doubt about the welfare state’s sustainability.  Denmark’s welfare state doesn’t replace the (labor) market – it furthers it.



Socialism vs. Social Welfare

Perhaps favorable views of socialism stem from ignorance

Socialism is not a robust welfare program, but rather the centralization and state-ownership of the means of production.  Government controls capital and industry; the economy is planned centrally with no regard to individual desires, profit incentives, or human capital.

Welfare is not socialism.  A social safety net through services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit provide for seniors and the poor, helping the latter compete – and hopefully thrive – in a robust labor market.  Welfare is not about stripping from individuals the means of production but rather by helping labor market entrants and ensuring an equal starting (but not finishing) ground for all.

The younger generations who favorably view socialism may well confound the two concepts.  Couple this with fading collective memories of the Soviet Union’s economic failure, massive human toll, and ultimate dissolution, and today’s youth may yearn for a theoretically appealing – but in reality appalling – economic program.  The Great Recession and general income stagnation makes many lust for change of any sort.  Unfortunately, critical thought rarely accompanies such lust.



Capitalism is imperfect, no doubt.  But capitalism – and capitalism only – has led to remarkable economic growth and a breath-taking rise in our standard of living.  It’s produced wealth unimaginable just 200 years ago and product creation in so rapid a pace that the size of a computer dropped 99 percent in just four decades, while simultaneously becoming many orders of magnitude more powerful.

Embracing an economic ideology that has always failed over markets and competition is simply foolish.  Today’s left must not ever embrace socialism.