The Real Killer

As I read Jeet Heer’s plea to Democrats at Salon to “stop obsessing over Hillary”, it occurred to me that obsessing over Hillary does have the effect of deflecting attention from party leaders. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

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What They Need to Do

Just some casual observations about Democrats re-taking the U. S. House of Representatives. In order for Democrats to re-take the House they need to take seats presently held by Republicans.

  • Out-spending Republican candidates isn’t enough.
  • Energizing the base isn’t enough.
  • Nationalizing the campaign isn’t enough.
  • You can’t use power politics.
  • Changing demographics may help but it won’t necessarily swing elections.

You’ve got to run better candidates that appeal to more people and speak to the people of the districts they want to represent.

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Indonesia Slouches Towards Islamism

The editors of the Wall Street Journal note that the Special Capital Region of Jakarta in Indonesia, often a bellwether for Indonesian politics more generally, is on the cusp of electing an Islamist governor:

The speed at which the Islamists were able to transform this governor’s race is a reminder that Indonesia’s democracy remains young and volatile. The consolation is that this is less about radical change in the beliefs of Indonesian voters than a reflection of the bitter battle between two groups of secular politicians—Mr. Widodo’s reformers and more traditional elites. Radical groups were able to exploit this clash for their own purposes.

Mr. Baswedan was previously known as a moderate Muslim and served as Mr. Widodo’s education minister until he was replaced in a July 2016 reshuffle. His removal was largely driven by Mr. Widodo’s need to consolidate Muslim support in advance of the 2019 elections. This helps explain why Mr. Baswedan was replaced by a member of the Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Muslim organization.

Mr. Baswedan was then recruited by the secular Gerindra Party, run by the son-in-law of the Indonesian dictator Suharto. Only after the Islamists began to attack Governor Purnama did Mr. Baswedan begin to advertise himself as a religious conservative. In January he gave a speech to the hardline Islamic Defenders Front and claimed the Quran prohibits voting for non-Muslims.

We’ve seen this movie before. It’s playing out right now in Turkey which has evolved from secular military rule to secular democratic government and then to Islamist authoritarian over the period of the last 35 years.

If Indonesia becomes Islamist liberal democracies with Muslim majorities will have become pretty darned rare.

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Putin’s Strategy of Influencing American Politics

Some statements from unnamed American officials have come out that provide more detail on Russian President Putin’s strategy for influencing American politics. Reuters reports that some confidential policy papers from a Putin-controlled Russian thinktank outline the strategy:

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The idea that Russians want a “softer line” from U. S. policy with respect to Russia does not surprise or terrify me.

I don’t think that Russia should engage in propaganda campaigns aimed at undermining the U. S. electoral system but then I don’t think that the U. S. should engage in propaganda campaigns to influence Russian politics, either.

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A Fly on the Wall

In another bit of significant news, yesterday President Trump announced that he’d signed an executive order governing the issuing of H-1B visas. CNNMoney reports:

On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order that directed federal agencies to implement a “Buy American, Hire American” strategy. The order included a section geared at immigration reform.

The order tasked four department heads (including the Secretary of Labor, who has yet to be confirmed) to suggest reforms to ensure H-1B visas are given to the “most-skilled or highest paid” petitioners. Additionally, it asked them to propose new rules and guidance for preventing fraud and abuse of work visas.

It’s just a step but IMO it’s a step in the right direction. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the board room at Tata or Infosys about now. Or Microsoft or Facebook for that matter.

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The Georgia 6th

The special election race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District to replace Tom Price, appointed President Trump’s HHS director, has been bathed in national attention. Democrats from all over the country have rallied to the support of young Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running against a field of 18 candidates vying for the seat, mostly well-known Republicans. In the election held yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Courier reports that, although Mr. Ossoff failed to score the knockout punch that many had hoped for, his candidacy survives to face Republican Karen Handel in the run-off:

Roughly five hours after polling locations closed, major networks began projecting that Georgia’s 6th District special election would be heading toward a runoff on June 20.

That means Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, the race’s top two vote-getters, will have nine more weeks of expensive and heating campaigning before voters will decide who will replace Tom Price, now Trump’s health secretary, as the representative for Atlanta’s affluent, leafy northern suburbs in the House.

Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary film maker and political novice, told his supporters late Tuesday that a runoff “shattered expectations.” “We will be ready to fight on and win in June if it is necessary,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday evening, former Secretary of State Karen Handel vowed “start the campaign anew” on Wednesday, as her onetime Republican opponents began to coalesce around her. “Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person,” she told supporters.

The New York Times feature on the run-off is full of eye-catching graphics.

I don’t expect the national attention to abate. The race is widely seen as a referendum on Trump. If the run-off vote were to break down solely along party lines, Ossoff would be defeated but the mood of the Georgia Sixth echoes the mood of the country. Mr. Ossoff’s impressive result, garnering 48% of the votes, illustrates deep-seated support of the Democrat Party in the district less than it does a general rejection of the status quo and in the George Sixth District Republicans are the status quo.

That is the lesson of the 2016 general election and the lesson of the Georgia Sixth District primary. The electorate wants change and until they get it there will be turmoil, upsets, and surprise victories. That there is less general agreement on the exact nature of the change required than on the need for change is a complication.

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Move Along, Nothing to See Here

I think there’s a palpable desire to avoid confronting the truth reflected in this article at Huffington Post about the skyrocketing homicide rates in some American cities:

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says Americans are “safer today than they have been at almost any time” in the past quarter-century, but projected an 8 percent increase in the nationwide murder rate.

The report’s authors calculated the estimates based on preliminary FBI data from the first half of 2016. When the FBI releases its full set of 2016 crime statistics later this year, the Brennan Center predicts, the national murder rate will be at 5.3 murders per 100,000 people, about the same as it was in 2008. The national murder rate peaked at 9.8 murders per 100,000 people in 1991, nearly double the estimated 2016 murder rate.

The Brennan Center’s report also projects that the overall crime rate will increase less than 1 percent from 2015 and that the national violent crime rate will increase by about 6.3 percent.

The report finds that just a few U.S. cities played an outsized role in the nationwide uptick in the murder rate in recent years and had a distorting effect on the overall murder rate. Three cities ― Baltimore, Chicago and Houston ― “account for around half of the increase in murder in major cities between 2014 and 2016,” the report says.

The reality is that there is a problem but it’s not a crime wave. Consider the following:

City Percent black population
Chicago 32%
Baltimore 63%
Houston 25%
New York 16%
Los Angeles 10%

It practically leaps out of the table at you.

Cities with a large percentage of black population are having a problem. It isn’t just Chicago, Baltimore, and Houston. Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia have homicide rates that are a multiple of the national average, too. I think it’s a combination of gangs and that police forces in those cities have lost the confidence of their black communities. Confidence once lost is a darned hard thing to restore.

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Seizing an Opportunity

At Business Insider Allen Smith reports on a proposal by Trump advisor Chris Ruddy that strikes me as pretty shrewd. Cut a deal with Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg whereby she’d retire and he’d nominate Merrick Garland to replace her:

Chris Ruddy, a confidant of President Donald Trump, told Business Insider in a Monday interview that Trump should cut a deal with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His proposition: Replace her on the bench with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacated seat in 2016.

Ruddy, who wrote about his opposition to the Senate’s invoking the so-called nuclear option to help get Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, said Trump nominating Garland to the court would be a “huge move.”

“I think they made a big mistake by pulling the nuclear option,” Ruddy said. “I wrote about it. I said they should not have done it. I think that he still should pick Merrick Garland and do a deal. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wants to retire, and I think they should swap her out, give her an offer where they would put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court.”

“They would remove a very liberal Democrat with a moderate, consensus Democrat, who I think Garland is,” Ruddy added. “And I think it would be a huge move and a sign for Trump that he’s willing to break through the political ice.”

Such a move would

  • Preserve the putative partisan balance of the Supreme Court
  • Potentially move the ideological balance of the court in a direction more to the liking of his base
  • Ensure that Trump has another bite at the Supreme Court justice apple rather than gambling on the health and temper of Justices Ginsburg and Kennedy
  • Give the impression of being conciliatory without actually being conciliatory

Would Trump do it? Would RBG bite? I have no idea.

I doubt that it would pick up any support from the Sanders-Warren wing of the Democratic Party but it might sow some doubt.

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Where’s the Omelet?

At Venture Beat Matt Bencke makes an argument I’ve made myself and still believe—that automation will create more, better jobs than those it displaces:

In conclusion, the printing press, sewing machines, combustion engines, ATMs, and “gig economy” (ugh) all caused massive disruption that was eventually very good in the end. Machine learning will have a much bigger, broader impact, and it will take less time. It is inevitable, and it is already happening (though it’s still early days).

The problem that he doesn’t step up to address is that automation isn’t having that effect right now. His tacit argument is that today’s workers just aren’t prepared for the jobs that are being created.

But those jobs aren’t being created. What’s actually happening is that the credentials required for the relatively small number of new jobs being created are rising. The jobs still don’t actually need more than a high school education but American workers are increasingly finding themselves in competition for those entry level jobs with foreign workers with advanced degrees.

We’re frequently told that you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Eventually, those who say that better darned well come up with an omelet.

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The Tax Code Isn’t Written For Us

Or for government. It’s written for big businesses and the wealthy. I want to underscore this point made by the editors of the Investor’s Business Daily:

The IRS instructions for filing out the 1040 form include a box near the back that estimates how much time it takes to fill that one form out. This year, it’s 15 hours. That’s a 67% increase from 1988. This year, the instruction booklet runs 241 pages. In 1988 it was fewer than 80.

The tax code has become so complicated that even the IRS complains about it. In its annual report to Congress, the IRS’ national taxpayer advocate, Nina E. Olson, writes that the tax code imposes a “significant, even unconscionable, burden on taxpayers.”

This is the hidden tax.

There is a multi-billion dollar tax preparation industry out there that shouldn’t exist at all and wouldn’t if our system of tax reporting and paying weren’t so byzantine. If that system were for us or even for the ease and convenience of the government itself, that would be considered a colossal failure.

But it isn’t for us and it’s succeeding in its objectives.

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