The Econometric Models, October 2019

The econometric models of the 2020 election, Moody’s three models and the Fair Model, both predict a Trump electoral landslide. They have been highly reliable for the last 40 years.

A lot can happen between now November 2020. Nothing is a given. But hoping for an economic downturn isn’t a good look for Democrats.

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Failing the Rogin Test

Josh Rogin, columnist at the Washington Post, isn’t impressed with Elizabeth Warren:

It should be obvious this week that the United States needs a president who has the foreign policy chops to speak clearly about the United States’ role in the world and has a real plan to keep our country safe. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) ascendance to pseudo-front-runner status compels us to examine if she is meeting that test — and based on her recent performance, she is failing.

“So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way,” Warren said at Tuesday’s Democratic debate. “We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.”

Realizing their candidate had made a gaffe, the Warren campaign sent out a mid-debate tweet in which “Warren” declared that we need to get our troops out of “Syria,” not the entire Middle East. Campaign spokesperson Alexis Krieg told me in an email Warren “was referring to ‘combat troops’ since we have multiple non-combat bases, in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, etc and she did not mean those.”

The Democratic presidential aspirants more generally are struggling with their positions on the Middle East. In general they agree with President Trump’s stated objective of bringing “endless wars” to a close but they can neither bring themselves to agree with Trump nor can they identify what they’d do differently in a concrete way.

Joe Biden’s position is, apparently, to keep the endless wars endless:

In fairness, none of the Democratic candidates has clearly articulated what they would do in Syria, except for Biden. He said Tuesday he would keep the 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria, give them air support and work back to a position of defending the Kurds and using our leverage to achieve our greater goals.

The Kurds are not fools. They would be fools not to be prepared for U. S. withdrawal.

Bernie Sanders made an interesting observation to the effect that there needs to be an alternative other than endless war and total isolation. My alternative would be a tighter focus on actual U. S. security and our grand strategy and rejection of the American Empire strategy we’ve been pursuing. Characterizing the country with more trade than any other as isolation is a canard, a talking point substituting for serious policy. But engagement with the rest of the world should not be at the point of a gun.

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Chicago Teachers On Strike

The big news here in Chicago is that the Chicago public school teachers have gone out on strike. At Crain’s Chicago Business Greg Hinz remarks:

In the end, maybe it had to come to this. A strong-willed rookie mayor who needs to establish her bona fides as the leader of a tough city vs. a labor union with new leadership and a chip on its shoulder, seeking to reclaim some of its lost glory.

Still, Chicago and parents of its nearly 300,000 students have every reason to be upset. A labor dispute over a new contract between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union not only has not been resolved but has sparked a strike that, if it goes on for long, could cause real damage to the city and its students.

There’s a lot that could be said about this needless strike and no doubt will be. The outgoing mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is part of the subtext of the strike. Not only did he leave the labor dispute for his successor to deal with, he poisoned the well. It is possible to be the smartest, most capable guy in the world and still not be temperamentally suited to be the mayor of Chicago.

It’s essentially a contest over who calls the shots and, sadly, everybody loses. If Mayor Lightfoot relinquishes her statutory control over the Chicago Public Schools, she has no hope of making Chicago fiscally sound. Leaving the children of Chicago to their own devices while they’re on the picket line isn’t a good look for the CTU and the most they can accomplish is to hasten the date of the CPS’s default. And neither raising taxes nor teachers on strike will attract people to Chicago. Everybody loses.

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The Nugget

In Brian Riedl’s critique of the costs of Bernie Sanders’s proposals at City Journal there is a nugget of real wisdom:

This unprecedented outlay would more than double the size of the federal government. Over the next decade, Washington is already projected to spend $60 trillion, and state and local governments will spend another $29.7 trillion from non-federal sources. Adding Sanders’s $97.5 trillion—and then subtracting the $3 trillion saved by state governments under Medicare For All—would raise the total cost of government to $184 trillion, or 70 percent of the projected GDP over ten years

Such spending would far exceed even that of European social democracies. The 35 OECD countries average 43 percent of GDP in total government spending. Finland’s 57 percent tops the list, edging France and Denmark. Meantime, Sweden and Norway—regularly lauded as models for the U.S.—spend just under 50 percent of GDP. The U.S. government, at all levels, spends between 34 percent and 38 percent of GDP, depending on how one calculates.

The gap between 38% and 57% isn’t an enormous one and the difference between 34% and 43% isn’t that much, either. Our problem in the United States is not that government spending is too low. It is that we are not getting value for what we’re spending.

That’s what I miss in the present discourse. There’s a lot of bickering about whether to make government bigger or smaller and not nearly enough discussion about making it better.

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The State of the GM Strike

The editors of the Wall Street Journal aptly summarize the conundrum the UAW faces:

If you no longer have a monopoly, trying to extract monopoly rents is obviously a formula for going out of business. The UAW leadership understands this. And the union long ago lost its monopoly over auto labor thanks to foreign-owned auto factories mostly in the South.

As I’ve said before I simply do not understand why the UAW did not go to the mat on this issue 45 years ago when they still had that “monopoly power”. That was checkmate. Since then they’ve just been playing out the moves.

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The Online Campaign

Will the real 2020 presidential campaign be waged online? That’s what Thomas Edsall suggests in his most recent New York Times column:

For all his negative poll numbers and impeachment-related liabilities, President Trump has a decisive advantage on one key election battleground: the digital campaign.

Under the management of Brad Parscale, the Trump re-election machine has devoted millions more than any individual Democrat to increasingly sophisticated microtargeting techniques.

The accompanying chart, compiled by the Wesleyan Media Project, describes the partisan gulf in political spending, through September 19, on Facebook and Google by leading presidential candidates: Trump’s $15.9 million is more than the $15.5 million spent by the top three Democratic candidates combined.

But these figures substantially understate how far Democrats are behind.

Trump’s operatives have been working since 2016 to develop and test techniques to identify voters, determine message effectiveness and develop tools of electronic communication.

The irony of this is that Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign had this figured out. If the Democrats fail in their digital strategy it’s a token of how thoroughly they have repudiated him. There is a tremendous weakness in a president’s not leaving a viable party structure. That’s visible in the tremendous age gap among the Democratic presidential aspirants. Candidates older than 50 but younger than 70 are very thin.

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One Question

In an op-ed in the Washington Post former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, certainly sounding as though he were running for president, criticizes the present group of aspirants:

The president of the United States runs the executive branch, with its hundreds of agencies and 4 million employees. The job’s essential skills primarily involve leadership and management, not policy analysis. The country elects a commander in chief, and yet based on the campaign so far, one might think we are electing a legislator in chief — or a prime minister whose party controls a parliament.

In reality, the next president is likely to face a closely divided Congress. Winning passage of legislation, whatever its details, will require a mix of compromise and cajoling, horse-trading and arm-twisting, favor-granting and trust-building. Yet candidates speak as though the power of the bully pulpit will be sufficient to overcome opponents. It won’t, as recent history makes abundantly clear.

The fact is: A legislative proposal is only as good as the execution plan that accompanies it. And even the best plans must be flexible enough to accommodate necessary changes, to prevent the perfect from being the enemy of the good.

Candidates can promise the whole loaf. But executives need to figure out how to get at least half. Or as my old friend, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, often said: “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.”

and asks one question:

The presidential aspirants are not short on big ideas. But voters must demand they explain how they intend to move from proposing plans to actually implementing them, including passing them through Congress. Those who dodge the question by speaking of revolution and the bully pulpit aren’t up to the job.

You may have noticed that I have made similar observations myself. Although the present group of Democratic aspirants to the presidency meet the technical legal qualifications for president with the possible exception of Joe Biden and Cory Booker they are only tangentially qualified to be president. They don’t have the basic requirements of experience or attitude. Is not being Trump enough?

That’s a pretty claustrophobic definition of the presidency for me.

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House Subpoenas

Standing committees of the U. S. House of Representatives or the House as a committee of the whole have the authority to issue subpoenas. Under the rules of the House Intelligence Committee the subpoena must be authorized by a vote of the majority of the committee or the chairman of the committee may issue subpoenas on his or her own authority.

For a Congressional subpoena to be valid three rules were enunciated in Wilkinson v. United States:

  1. The committee’s investigation of the broad subject must be authorized by its chamber
  2. The investigation must pursue a “valid legal purpose” and
  3. The specific inquiries must be pertinent to the subject matter the committee was authorized to investigate

Failure to response to a Congressional subpoena is a misdemeanor.

As may be noted there are some discrepancies between House rules on subpoenas and judicial opinion.

The above are the reasons for my insistence that the House vote to authorize the “impeachment inquiry”. IMO such a vote would place the House and its committees in a substantially stronger position with respect inter alia to subpoenas. Failure to authorize the inquiry may cast doubt on the validity of subpoenas issued the whole House, its committees and subcommittees, and the chairmen of those committees.

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You Can’t Tell The Players Without a Scorecard

Let me see if I understand the present situation in Syria correctly.

We have troops in Syria under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). That gives the president broad latitude in pursuing the individuals who perpetrated the attacks on September 11, 2001 and countries that aided them. No one thinks that Syria aided the 9/11 attackers. We’ve actually been supporting rebels who are affiliated with Al Qaeda so the AUMF is being used to justify helping those it was written to allow us to attack.

We do not have a formal alliance with the Kurds. The Kurds don’t actually have an organization with which we might have a formal alliance. They’ve been fighting DAESH to defend their homes and they would have done that whatever we did. For them it’s a matter of survival.

We do have a formal alliance with the Turks but they have become the Bad Guys and we’re fighting them without even a tissue of legal authority. Or are we fighting them? Maybe they’re just bombing us.

The Russians actually have a formal agreement with Syria and the Syrian government has requested the Russians’ assistance so, unlike us, the Russians being in Syria is perfectly legal.

And then there’s the Iranians. We’ve abrogated a treaty with the Iranians which some very well-informed people seem to like which doesn’t appeared to have slowed the Iranians’ nuclear development program down much if at all but has given them a considerable amount of cash to allow the regime to engage in foreign adventurism. They’re basically providing footsoldiers in the Syrian government’s efforts to regain control of their country.

Is that about right?

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Where’s the Approval Collapse?

At Bloomberg Jonathan Bernstein muses over why President Trump’s approval rating hasn’t collapsed following all of the bad news and the House Democrats’ “impeachment inquiry”:

Three weeks into the Ukraine scandal, there’s been basically no movement in President Donald Trump’s approval rating. He’s at 42.2%, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling tracker, down just a bit from where he was on Sept. 24. The big change, which I looked at last week, is that the group of voters who oppose Trump and also oppose impeachment has emptied out. Now turn to the question of why his approval rating has stayed stable so far.

He comes up with three prospective explanations:

  • The news sources for those who support Trump and those who oppose him are completely distinct. Trump supporters haven’t been hearing bad news.
  • Trump supporters now equate opposition with impeachment and they don’t support impeachment.
  • The numbers are just locked in. Not many people are changing their opinions.

Add to that two more. First, as I’ve suggested, Trump supporters, while fully cognizant of the bad news, just don’t see what all of the hooplah is about. It’s just Trump being Trump. Another possibility is that the Democratic presidential candidates are so discouraging that to a lot of people Trump still looks good by comparison.

Regardless of the reason, so far this situation is very different from that which confronted Nixon. Nixon’s very high support practically collapsed overnight. Trump’s comparatively low support is remaining pretty much where it has been for the last six months to a year.

It’s more like the situation that Bill Clinton saw—the domestic economic situation was good enough that people weren’t discouraged by the president’s misbehavior and they didn’t think it rose to the level of impeachment. Maybe something will change. Or maybe it will unfold much as the Clinton impeachment did.

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