Saturday, June 11, 2016

It's Still the Economy Stupid - Part 1

Hillary Clinton's Views On Fixing the Economy

Roma Downey Doing the Big Reveal
Hillary Clinton: On a Mission From God
Touched By An Angel was a popular television series that ran from 1994-2003.  Basically it was feel good show about an angel, played by Roma Downey, who would intervene in the life of someone who needed help.  The payoff scene was always the same: Downey would start glowing in a supernatural way and explain that she had been sent by a loving and caring God to help that individual.  The reaction of the person being helped was always the same: awe, wonder and gratitude.

Watching the coverage by CNN on Hillary Clinton's victory speech reminded me of that payoff scene.  When I saw the holy glow around Hillary, I was congratulating in my mind the brilliant sound and light crew who were able to pull that off.  I was more than a little disappointed that it was instead accomplished by CNN's own video editing.  CNN's fawning reaction and manipulation of things is what many of us have come to expect and many on the left are blind to, as they hypocritically decry the "bias" of Fox News.  The reporting was filled with the same awe, wonder and gratitude of a Touched By An Angel episode as well.  For me though, it is just the latest example of Hillary hype over substance.  She still is less than useless when it comes to the realm of ideas.  

Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was executed with brilliance and consistency.  George Bush, who only two years before in the wake of the Gulf War seen incredibly positive performance ratings, seemed to be in complete control of the political landscape and in an unassailable position.  Many prominent Democrats with presidential ambitions were not inclined to run against him.  Yet a relatively unknown southern governor was undaunted by the challenge.  He recognized weakness in the form of widespread dissatisfaction that existed with Bush's performance following the war, particularly on domestic issues.  More importantly, he capitalized on the growing dissatisfaction as well with the declining economy as the prosperity of the Reagan years waned through Bush's rejection of the "voodoo economics" of his predecessor.  Lower wages and growing unemployment created a slight opening and, sensing this weakness and exploiting it brilliantly, the Clinton campaign strategist James Carville came up with an unofficial motto that kept them focused on this weakness: "the economy stupid".  It was a focus that propelled Bill Clinton to the White House and illustrated how important economic issues were in the post Cold War world to American voters.

This week Hillary finally dispatched what should have been an easy bunny like foe, Bernie Sanders.  However, like the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a grenade was needed to dispatch the fierce bunny in his rampages.  In Hillary's case the "Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch" was the controversial and
premature declaration of her clinching the nomination by the Associated Press the night before the California primary.  Hillary was looking a little shaky in California and, as increasing scrutiny about her scandals was also coming to the forefront, there was speculation as to the damage a loss in California to Bernie Sanders would do to her campaign.  By declaring her the de facto Democrat nominee before a vote was counted in California, on the basis of the supposed commitment by a few superdelegates, the AP created a situation guaranteed to keep Sanders voters away from the polls.  It was another shockingly partisan display by a press that seems "all-in" on making her president.

However, that is history; the race for the White House now begins in earnest without distraction.  On Wednesday, Hillary walked into the lion's den of Fox News and was interviewed by Bret Baier. Baier is no fawning Hillary fan, and did a proper job of asking her tough questions, something she is entirely not used to.  A couple of minutes into the interview Baier, citing a recent right direction/wrong direction poll showing that 65% of Americans feel things are moving in the wrong direction, asked Clinton what she would do differently about the economy from Obama.  The premise of the question is obvious: if Americans by a 2:1 margin think things are not going well, what changes would she make.  Her answer was rather amazing - essentially she discounted the poll and said she would double down and do nothing differently.  Her jobs plan would be to work on infrastructure, giving another once over to the same roads and bridges which evidently still are in need of repair even after seven years of Obama's hard work.

There are a couple of problems wrong with this approach.  First, it is based upon the flawed notion that government spending is the cure to all ills. More importantly, it also trusts the false notion that economic growth can be achieved, not by creating new and productive jobs, but by essentially performing maintenance.  So what's the difference?  

I learned the difference between capital improvement and maintenance in a practical way several years ago when I was selling my house.  My realtor told me that the badly needed new roof and furnace I had recently purchased for a good deal of money did not add a dime to my house's value. The reason for this is things like home maintenance and infrastructure maintenance are like the Red Queen's race in Alice In Wonderland: they are merely running as fast as you can to stay where you are.  Only by expanding and improving things is value added.

This idea of government creation of busywork jobs is an example of a school of thought that says a model where 100 men are paid to dig holes and another 100 are paid to fill them in accomplishes something useful. What is missed here, however, is that in order to have value, the work that a worker does must exceed the value of what he is being paid.  In sales, as I am, this is an obvious reality.  My company pays me a salary, benefits and expenses of $X a month.  In order to justify my position, I have to generate enough sales to cover not only my costs, but the operational overhead costs of the company and contribute to the greater financial goals as well.  By doing this, I contribute to the success of the company and ensure it has the capital it needs to grow and expand.  This is the only true measure of the value of the worker and his wage, and is why attempts to make a moral argument about how an unskilled worker needs to make a "living wage" (like $15 an hour) make no sense to any businessman.  So just hiring people to do stuff is not the answer now any more than it was in 2009.  They have to do useful stuff.  

Don't get me wrong, potholes need to be filled and bridges need to be repaired.  I just think it is ridiculous to base a road to economic recovery on them.  A different vision is needed and in Part 2 I will describe Donald Trump's ideas on the economy.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Year of the Weevils

[Scene from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003; dir. Peter Weir)]

It is May 1805 aboard the British corvette HMS Surprise.  The warship's officers are seated at table for dinner mess.

At the head of the table sits Lt. Jack Aubrey, captain of the Surprise.  He addresses the ship's physician and friend Stephen Maturin, an avid naturalist. Aubrey delights in joshing him.

Aubrey, gesturing at two weevils on the table (in those days a not uncommon sight on vessels):  Do you see those two weevils, Doctor?

Maturin:   I do.

Aubrey:  Which would you choose?

Maturin, peering at them:   Neither. There's no difference between them. They're the same species of curculio.

Aubrey:   If you had to choose. If you were forced to make a choice. If there was no other...

Maturin: Well then, if you're going to push me... . I would choose the right-hand weevil. It has significant advantage in both length and breadth.

Aubrey bangs his fist on the table in triumph:   There, I have you! You're completely dashed! Do you not know that in the service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?

The same dilemma all too frequently confronts the American voter,  The candidates they must choose from on Election Day are, metaphorically, the same species of curculio.  They must select between the "lesser of two weevils."

In other words, voters typically vote, not so much in favor of one candidate as they do against the other candidate.

Which is why political ads are so often negative ads.  With regard to Independents, they're not so much Vote for me as they are Don't vote for the other candidate.  Or, with regard to committed Democrats or Republicans, Stay home on Election Day.

By and large, 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Weevils.

The latest Gallup poll, reporting on a survey carried out between May 1 and May 22, puts businessman Donald Trump's unfavorable rating at 60 percent, historically the highest ever for a major presidential candidate.  It was even higher before Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich dropped out of the race, and committed Republicans began to accept the reality that Trump was going to be their weevil.

Secretary Hillary Clinton's unfavorable rating isn't far behind:  54 percent.

The poll has a statistical deviation of plus or minus 1 percent, with a 95 percent confidence level.

As with Trump, Clinton's unfavorable rating is expected to decline once Senator Bernie Sanders capitulates--which may not happen before the July Democratic Convention--and committed Democrats begin accepting that she is their designated weevil.

Some prominent Republicans are so disenchanted with Trump, whom they regard as utterly unqualified for the Office of President, that they've announced that Clinton has become their preferred weevil.  The list includes prominent national security analyst Colonel (Retired) Peter Mansoor, about whom I posted earlier.  But it's unlikely that the GOP rank and file will follow their lead.  They'll either hold their nose and vote for Trump, or stay away from the polling booth in droves.

There's speculation that Sanders' supporters are so strongly opposed to weevil Clinton that they will refuse to support her, although it's unlikely that many of them will choose weevil Trump.

One question therefore becomes:  Will 2016 be a low turnout year? (If so, this arguably would benefit Trump, since Republicans tend to fare better in low turnout elections.)  Another, posed on June 3 by the New York Times, is "Clinton and Trump have terrible approval ratings.  Does it matter?"
“We are in a position where both parties have extremely negative views of the opposite party and that pulls down the candidates’ favorables,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll. “The good news for both of them is they have to run against each other. So, in that sense, neither is substantially disadvantaged.”
There's also the matter of the "bounce" that nominees historically get in the immediate wake of their respective party conventions.
“If the 2016 convention unifies Democrats in anything like the way it did in 2008, there will be some boost in Clinton’s support, especially if Sanders gives her a strong endorsement and brings people back into the fold,” Mr. Franklin said. “It’s conceivable that Trump produces an extravaganza that gives him some boost as well.”
I suppose that as the Democratic sibling in Sibling Rivalry I'm supposed to rebut my brother's most recent post.  But if the Weevil Thesis holds together over the next months--and I feel certain it will--then there's plainly little point in doing so.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Hillary Clinton and the "D" Word

Ambition is No Substitute For Talent and Accomplishment

One of my favorite professors in college was Dr. Williamson "Wick" Murray, who specialized in European military history.  Professor Murray had a favorite phrase to describe an incompetent individual.  Such folks were inevitably dismissed with "clearly a dilettante".  It was not a word I was familiar with at the time, but it means someone who cultivates an interest in a subject without any real knowledge or commitment.  This is Hillary's real problem.  The "D" word.

She has no real core or ability except for ambition.  Policy is nothing more than the means to her ends, and actually accomplishing something means little as well - a good show is all that matters.

Bernie Sanders supporters are very vocal in their opposition to Hillary Clinton as a candidate.  They feel that that the deck has been stacked against their guy unfairly by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in deference to the donor class, who see Hillary as a continuation of the highly successful second term of Bill Clinton.  The Sanders supporters are not wrong in this.  Everything from the lack of debates early in the election cycle, the deliberate timing of the few that were held to downplay their impact, to the entire super delegate process and how it is being manipulated to give Hillary wins in delegate counts even when she loses the popular vote in a primary, give the impression that the game is rigged.  A great example of this is the New Hampshire primary.  Bernie Sanders won 60% - 38% in the popular vote and was awarded 15 of 24 available delegates.  Yet by the end of the week, he was trailing Hillary by over 400 delegates because of "commitments from the superdelegates" (who technically do not vote until the convention).

There is a point of view behind rigging the system that is shared by both parties.  They want to manipulate things so the "establishment" candidate wins.  This candidate, with the backing of the deep pockets of the donor class, is considered to be the best option in November, and to advance the prestige of the party.  Philosophy or core values be damned, this is pure oligarchy in action.  Key elections are just too important to be left to the will of the people.  

To say that Hillary Clinton is ambitious is breathtaking understatement.  Everyone knows it, but Hillary acts like it is her little secret.  Whenever pressed on whether she would run for president, she acted like she had no idea.  Yet everything she did upon leaving the White House was built around a triumphal return eight years later.  Moving to New York and getting elected to the senate was step one.  But the plan went sideways in 2008 when Barack Obama came from nowhere and stole Hillary's dream.  So steps were taken to ensure Hillary faced no serious opposition in 2016 and would enjoy an unbroken triumphal parade to the convention.  These manipulations were not supposed to be as obvious as they are, because they were supposed to quietly function in the background, not be thrown on the table like trump cards (no pun intended) as the super delegates were following her initial setbacks.  

This system was supposed to (quietly) ensure that 2016 would be Hillary's year.  Serious contenders like Biden were quietly urged to sit this one out.  The competition was supposed to be easily blown aside allowing her to arrive at the convention with a united Democrat Party behind their candidate. With an almost unbreakable lock on electoral votes based on the whole Red State/Blue State dynamic, the plan seemed foolproof.  Yet, as in 2008, something unexpected happened.  This year, an even more unlikely contender emerged in the form of Bernie Sanders, and he is raining on Hillary's parade in a big way.

This raises an important question - if Hillary Clinton is the "inevitable candidate" she strives to be, then why can't she get the job done of decisively defeating what should have been a token candidate like Bernie Sanders? I think the reason is that she has lots of baggage that won't go away that a sense of entitlement or selfish ambition won't solve.  

Friday, June 03, 2016

Retired Colonel Peter Mansoor, Lifelong Republican, Will Vote for Hillary Clinton

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

My friend and colleague Pete Mansoor, a retired Army colonel, has just completed a series of interviews with CNN, msNBC, and other outlets. Pete is a life-long Republican. In all of of these interviews he goes on record to state that not only does he regard Donald Trump as unacceptable as a commander in chief, he will vote instead for Hillary Clinton.

Pete's qualifications as a military analyst could hardly be stronger.

Pete isn't simply a retired colonel, he graduated first in class at West Point,  commanded a brigade in Iraq, served as the founding director of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There he helped to edit FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, published in 2006, which was used to reshape the conduct of the Iraq War.

In the fall of 2006 he served on the so-called "Council of Colonels," a task force of senior officers created by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that reexamined the strategy for the war in Iraq.

The capstone of his 30-year career was as Gen. David Petraeus' executive officer in Iraq during the 2007-2008 Surge.

Pete, a fellow in the Council of Foreign Relations, currently holds the Raymond E. Mason Professor Chair of Military History at The Ohio State University, where his duties divide equally between service to Ohio State's Mershon Center for International Security Studies and teaching in OSU's Department of History.

He is the author of three books, two of which--Baghdad at Sunrise:  A Brigade Commander's Experience in Iraq and Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War--recount his experiences in the Iraq War.

With all these qualifications--as well as Pete's quick, sharp mind and ability to present his views lucidly, forcefully, and concisely-it's no wonder that he's a much sought after figure for media interviews.

He is also one of 100 national security analysts who came out in opposition to the Trump candidacy in March.

As I can attest from numerous discussions with him, Pete has is a die-hard Republican with a formidable ability to articulate the Republican political philosophy.  When he decided that he had to reject the GOP presidential nominee in favor of Hillary Clinton, hell did not exactly freeze over, but a skin of ice definitely formed.

Here is Pete's interview with Chris Hayes's All In on msNBC. He has made similar statements, among other venues, on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

Thursday, June 02, 2016

It Can Happen Here

The Sibling Rivalry venture is largely animated by the concern that my brother Scott and I share about the poisonous nature of what passes for political discourse in this country.  Columnist William Raspberry put it well:  "Our public debates . . . have become the civic equivalent of road rage."

My brother and I don't see this state of affairs as merely distasteful.  We see it as a clear and present danger to the republic.

Because despite the endless predictions of certain ruin if one's political opponents get power, my brother and I have the impression that no one really believes it.  But the fact is, republics have been rare in the history of the world.  Republics that have actually succeeded have been even more rare.  The United States existed for less than a century before it collapsed into a horrific civil war that killed 2 percent of its population and nearly killed the republic.

It took a number of things to bring about that war, but one of them was the apocalyptic tone of the political rhetoric that preceded it and the extremism that such rhetoric bred.  In the decade before the conflict, things got bad enough the U.S. congressmen carried weapons into the House and Senate chambers and challenged each other to duels.  In one infamous case, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts nearly to death.  Brooks used a cane for the purpose.  Witnesses said that he brought it down on Sumner's head repeatedly with a swing that resembled the slashing of a dragoon's sword.  Most everyone present in the chamber made not a move to stop it.  The few who did were held back by a South Carolina congressman who had encouraged the beating.

Afterward, Brooks received congratulatory telegrams and gits of canes, with one of them inscribed, "Hit him again."

In the same month, in the newly formed Territory of Kansas, Americans had already begun to kill one another over the question of whether Kansas would come into the Union as a free state or a slave state.

None of this is news.  You can find this information in any American history textbook.  We excuse it as something unique and acceptable because, after all, the central issue was slavery, and if any political controversy involved ultimate stakes that couldn't be compromised, surely slavery was it.  Surely if over 600,000 Americans had to die so that 4 million Americans could gain freedom, then the civil war was worth it.

Except that the 4 million Americans did not gain freedom. We fought the Civil War, not to bring about a truly free society, but--as matters turned out--to bring about the Jim Crow South.

On the occasions when I remind people of what once happened when Americans talked politics the way we do today, these same people--who routinely speak of Obama as a dictator and Trump as a fascist and Hillary Clinton as a "c-nt"; who call Islam an evil religion, pure and simple; and say that illegal immigrants are rapists and murderers; and that the "1 percent" is deliberately hell-bent on creating a plutocracy--think that what I say is "a bit much."

Whatever happens, surely we're not going to have another civil war.

I don't think we will, either.  But my brother and I do think that there is more than one way for republics to die.  Right now Americans are choosing--or tolerating--a pretty good one.

If we Americans think the republic falls, we think it will be those awful other guys who will do it, and we have to stop them.

We're wrong.  If the republic falls, we will have all done it:  those of us who engage in a rhetoric that makes reasoned discussion impossible, and those of us who merely look on, shaking our heads in dismay.

Twenty-five centuries ago the Greek dramatist Aeschylus offered a warning:

Far-stretching, endless Time
Brings forth all hidden things
And buries that which once did shine.
The firm resolve falters.  The sacred oath is shattered.
And let none say, "It cannot happen here."

My brother and I are just ordinary people.  We know we're not all that important in the grand scale of things.  But we know that we are citizens, and we have to do what we can.

Gandhi once said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Well, we want our children to grow up in an America in which citizens discuss politics in a civil way.  And the only way in our power to help do that is to model the change we wish to see.