Ultimate Republican solution to bad economic news — Don’t report it!

Doonesbury by GB Trudeau

❝ “What’s measured, improves.”

So said management legend and author Peter F. Drucker about the value of using metrics to define specific objectives within an organization.

Drucker is no longer with us; if he were, he might want to have a few words with Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback, despite promising to measure the results of a “real life experiment” in cutting taxes, has decided to cancel a quarterly report on the status of the state’s economy.

❝ Although Brownback’s spokeswoman said “a lot of people were confused by the report,” no one has been fooled. The problem was that the reports didn’t match the governor’s predictions for the state’s soon-to-be-booming economy. Local news media, including the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Kansas City Star, flagged the abandonment of the reports as evidence not only of policy failure, but as an attempt to hide that fact from the public…

❝ Since the Brownback tax cuts were passed, almost nothing has gone as promised in Kansas. Revenue plunged and the state resorted to pulling money out of its rainy-day fund to plug the holes. A number of critical services, including for road maintenance and schools, were cut. The business climate has been poor, and the economy has lagged behind neighboring states as well as the rest of the country.

Why hasn’t this worked out? As we have discussed before, the failure of the Kansas tax cuts to do what was promised is a simple combination of state budget math and human psychology.

❝ The math is simple: Tax cuts tend to reduce revenue, in Kansas’ case much more than expected. To change people’s behavior requires more substantial incentives than changing things by a few percentage points. The reduced revenue led to spending cuts that lowered quality of life. In response, rising numbers of people and companies have left the state…

❝ Kansas’ gross state product fell behind the six-state region and the nation for the third straight year…

Private industry wages in Kansas grew at a slower pace last year than they did in the region and the U.S. — as they did during the past five years…

By just about every measure, Kansas’ tax experiment has failed to meet the promised performance objectives. Killing the quarterly report won’t change this…

❝ Brownback is now said to be considering tax hikes. He has paid the deserved price for his errors, with a 26 percent approval rating, the lowest of any governor in the U.S. The people of Kansas have paid a bigger price.

Dribble-down economics fail for the umpteenth time in a Century. No, that won’t stop Republicans from advocacy. They have nothing else to offer. Modern economic analysis, 21st Century solutions for leftover Republican economic disasters are still a work in progress. The kinds of jobs that give us something that looks like full employment prove that.

And we still have a gerrymandered Congress that keeps useless turd-brain roadblocks in office for at least another 4-6 years. So, don’t get too cheerful, yet, over the possibility of ordinary American voters reforming the system. After all, ignorant Kansas voters elected and re-elected Brownback.

The price of patriotism

❝ Nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers have been ordered to repay huge enlistment bonuses a decade after signing up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan…

The Pentagon demanded the money back after audits revealed overpayments by the California Guard under pressure to fill ranks and hit enlistment goals. If soldiers refuse, they could face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens…

❝ Faced with a shortage of troops at the height of the two wars, California Guard officials offered bonuses of $15,000 or more for soldiers to reenlist.

A federal investigation in 2010 found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were improperly doled out to California Guard soldiers. About 9,700 current and retired soldiers received notices to repay some or all of their bonuses with more than $22 million recovered so far.

❝ Soldiers said they feel betrayed at having to repay the money.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart. “People like me just got screwed.”

Van Meter said he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the military says was improperly given to him.

❝ The California Guard said it has to follow the law and collect the money.

One of the benefits of serving as mercenary for the last bastion of imperial war.

The West Is burning — How much blame goes to climate change?

Click to enlargeJohn McColgan, USDA

❝ So far this year, wildfires have scorched nearly 5 million acres in the U.S. That sounds like a lot, but compared to 2015, the season has been downright tame. Last year at this time, more than 9 million acres had already burned, and by the end of the year, that number would rise to more than 10 million — the most on record. In 2015, the Okanogan grew into the largest fire Washington had ever seen, breaking a record set just the year before. California recorded some of its most damaging fires, including the Valley Fire, which torched around 1,300 homes. More than 5 million acres burned in Alaska alone. But that’s not to say that this year has been without drama. For instance, California’s Soberanes Fire, which was sparked by an illegal campfire in July, is still smoldering. The effort it took to contain that blaze is believed to be one of the most expensive — if not the most expensive — wildfire-fighting operations ever.

❝ With wildfire, such superlatives have, paradoxically, become normal. Records are routinely smashed — for acreage burned, homes destroyed, firefighter lives lost and money spent fighting back flames. A study published earlier this year found that, between 2003 and 2012, the average area burned each year in Western national forests was 1,271 percent greater than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Like the extreme hurricanes, heat waves and floods that have whipped, baked and soaked our landscape in recent years, such trends raise the question: Is this what climate change looks like?

❝ John Abatzoglou and his co-author, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, estimate that human-caused climate change was responsible for nearly doubling the area burned in the West between 1984 and 2015. If the last few decades had been simply dry, instead of some of the hottest and driest on record, perhaps 10.4 million fewer acres would have burned, they say.

❝ Wildfire is particularly responsive to temperature increases because heat dries things out. It sucks moisture from twigs and needles in the forest the same way it does from clothes in a dryer, turning this vegetation into the kindling, or “fine fuel,” that gets wildfires going…

To shore up confidence in their estimates, they repeated the analyses in their study using eight different fuel-aridity metrics and then averaged the results. “One thing that gives me confidence is that all eight of these essentially lead to the same conclusion,” Williams said. “All eight have been increasing. All correlate well with fire.”

❝ In the end, they found that more than half of the observed increase in the dryness of fuels could be attributed to climate change. Fuel aridity, in turn, correlated very closely with fire activity for the time period they looked at — it explained about 75 percent of the variability in acreage burned from year to year. “That means that it is a top dog,” Williams said. “Correlation is not causation, but the correlation is so strong that it’s very hard to get a relationship like this if it’s not real.”

Williams added that as aridity increased, wildfire activity increased exponentially. “This isn’t a gradual process. Every few years we’re kind of entering a new epoch, where the potential for new fires is quite a bit bigger than it was a few years back.”

RTFA for more detail. Once again, science and maths point the finger at responsibility. Not only for cause; but, for the refusal to offer any constructive solutions. Congressional conservatives are so set in their commitment to stopping any change brought by our nation’s first Black president they’re willing to burn in a hell of their own creation.

Yes, of course, they won’t. Neither will the contributors to their demented campaign. The voters who keep them in office? That may be a different story.

Trump gets four times more support than Hillary – from bots

“Pay no attention to those wires coming out of my pants!”

❝ More than four times as many tweets were made by automated accounts in favour of Donald Trump around the first US presidential debate as by those backing Hillary Clinton, a study says.

The bots exaggerated support for the Republican, it suggests, but Trump would still have won a higher number of supportive tweets even if they had not.

The authors warn such software has the capacity to “manipulate public opinion” and “muddy political issues”…

❝ The investigation was led by Prof Philip Howard, from the University of Oxford, and is part of a wider project exploring “computational propaganda”.

It covered tweets posted on 26 September, the day of the first debate, plus the three days afterwards, and relied on popular hashtags linked to the event.

❝ First, the researchers identified accounts that exclusively posted messages containing hashtags associated with one candidate but not the other…

The researchers then analysed which of these had been posted by bots. They identified an account as such if it had tweeted at least 50 times a day across the period, meaning a minimum of 200 tweets over the four days…

In total, that represented a total of 576,178 tweets benefiting the Republican nominee and 136,639 in support of the Democratic one…

Nice to see serious examination of how technology has changed opinion-shaping. Now, I’m still waiting for pollsters to identify how often their telephone polls still rely on calling folks with landlines. And other fossils.

Voter impersonation fraud – 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast

❝ Voter ID laws are back in the news once again, with two new opinions from the Wisconsin Supreme Court late last week dealing with the state’s ID requirement, which would allow people to vote only if they provide certain forms of government-issued ID. The Court made some minor changes to the law but otherwise upheld it. However, the ID requirement is still on hold pending a federal lawsuit.

Part of this litigation — and any rational debate about the issue generally — hinges on two things: costs and benefits. The costs of these sorts of laws vary, because the laws themselves differ from state to state (some are far more burdensome than others). The ostensible benefits, though, are all the same. And in addressing these purported benefits, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blew it. Twice.

❝ First, the court cited the idea that ID laws could enhance public confidence–that is, in theory, the laws might make us feel better about elections in that they might provide some security theater. It turns out, though, that this effect is hard to spot…

Second, the court said that ID laws can help stop fraud. It then cited an example of recent fraud … that ID laws aren’t designed to stop…

❝ Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

❝ I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

So much for the happy horseshit shoveled atop public understanding of electoral fraud. The Republican Party in general – and lately, Donald Trump, el Supremo – have been parroting this crap at the expense of state budgets and constitutional rights.

Time to lose this latest Big Lie before it becomes any more acceptable by gullibilus voter americanus.

What are the goals of the Trump/Bannon White Nationalist coalition after Election Day?

This week, Donald Trump’s campaign took a new and even darker turn. As multiple women accused the Republican Presidential nominee of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Trump gave speeches on Thursday and Friday that had two themes: he denied all the charges against him, most notably by arguing that his accusers were not attractive enough for him to assault, and he claimed that the accusations are part of a global conspiracy against him, involving the Clintons, the news media, international banks.

Trump has long been a conspiracy theorist. He gained a prominent role in American politics in 2011 by questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace…It’s no surprise, then, that Trump has been advised for decades by Roger Stone, a prominent political strategist and conspiracy theorist who believes that Lyndon B. Johnson had Kennedy killed…and that George H. W. Bush may have tried to kill Ronald Reagan…

But it took someone a little smarter — and more cynical — than Trump, Stone, or Jones to distill Trump’s platform of protectionism, closed borders, and white identity politics into one message about a global conspiracy. The man behind this new message is Steve Bannon, who became the C.E.O. of the Trump campaign in August. Bannon is on leave from Breitbart, the right-wing news site where he served as executive chairman, and where he honed a view of international politics that Trump now parrots.

Bannon embraces the growing populist movement in America, including the “alt-right,” a new term for white nationalists, who care little about traditional conservative economic ideas and instead stress the need to preserve America’s European heritage and keep out non-whites and non-Christians. Under Bannon, Breitbart promoted similar movements in Europe, including the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France, Alternative for Germany, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands. Bannon likes to say that his goal is “to build a global, center-right, populist, anti-establishment news site.” After the election is over, Breitbart, which has offices in London and Rome, plans to open up new bureaus in France and Germany.

This ambition extends to supporting the election of right-wing candidates…

…He believes that the white working class is still the key to the election, because the Clintons have never been able to win without this demographic. While Bill Clinton won two Presidential elections with the support of white working-class voters, this view is wildly at odds with recent changes in the electorate, which have made the Democrats more reliant on minority voters and college-educated whites…

Bannon’s view of the media is similarly narrow. He sees the dominant conservative media players as the establishment, not as allies. He views Fox News as highly unreliable on the nationalist cause…He despises Rupert Murdoch—the chairman and C.E.O. of the News Corporation…When Bannon ran Breitbart, he didn’t want his reporters appearing on Fox, because he believed the cable news channel had made smaller conservative news outlets subservient to it…

Bannon…is a right-wing new-media entrepreneur who is building a political and news infrastructure that mimics Europe’s nationalists. After Trump’s speech on Thursday, when he linked Clinton to “international banks” and “global financial powers,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement that Trump “should avoid rhetoric and tropes that have historically been used against Jews and still reverberate today.”

The rhetoric that Bannon is feeding Trump makes it increasingly likely that Trump will lose in a landslide. Polling averages show Trump trailing Clinton by eight points, the largest gap since August…Most election forecasts put Clinton’s chance of victory at about eighty per cent.

Trump’s response to these numbers has been to tell his supporters, repeatedly in recent days, that the election is “rigged,” creating a sense of grievance about the likely results that can be exploited after November 8th. Trump and Bannon have given up on trying to defeat Clinton. They seem more interested in creating a platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics that may bedevil the Republican Party—and the country—for a long time to come.

To me, the only question to be resolved is what will they end up being called. Will they win the battle for control of the Republican Party – still an important name – and defeat more traditional Congressional Republicans? Will they maintain a position within the Republican Party as the new leaders of the Tea Party – created by fossil fuel barons like the Koch Bros and creeps like Dick Armey. Or will they try to take the Tea Party out of the Republican Party forming a right-wing 3rd Party – if they lose the battle for internal control of ideology and the all important purse strings.

I don’t care what the answer is. Recognizing the likelihood of this proto-fascist movement bringing together everyone from “respectable” Congressional racists like Jeff Session all the way over to Klan and militia types – my responsibility is to support movements for democratic solutions on the Left, within and without the Democrats, and oppose the dangers presented by a united white supremacist, fascist movement in America.

This is only the beginning, folks.

How Trump happened

By Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz

❝ As I have traveled around the world in recent weeks, I am repeatedly asked two questions: Is it conceivable that Donald Trump could win the US presidency? And how did his candidacy get this far in the first place?

❝ As for the first question, though political forecasting is even more difficult than economic forecasting, the odds are strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton. Still, the closeness of the race (at least until very recently) has been a mystery: Clinton is one of the most qualified and well prepared presidential candidates that the United States has had, while Trump is one of the least qualified and worst prepared. Moreover, Trump’s campaign has survived behavior by him that would have ended a candidate’s chances in the past…

So why would Americans be playing Russian roulette (for that is what even a one-in-six chance of a Trump victory means)? Those outside the US want to know the answer, because the outcome affects them, too, though they have no influence over it.

❝ And that brings us to the second question: why did the US Republican Party nominate a candidate that even its leaders rejected?…

❝ …For starters, many Americans are economically worse off than they were a quarter-century ago. The median income of full-time male employees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for those with limited education to get a full-time job that pays decent wages.

Indeed, real (inflation-adjusted) wages at the bottom of the income distribution are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it is no surprise that Trump finds a large, receptive audience when he says the state of the economy is rotten. But Trump is wrong both about the diagnosis and the prescription. The US economy as a whole has done well for the last six decades: GDP has increased nearly six-fold. But the fruits of that growth have gone to a relatively few at the top – people like Trump, owing partly to massive tax cuts that he would extend and deepen.

❝ At the same time, reforms that political leaders promised would ensure prosperity for all – such as trade and financial liberalization – have not delivered. Far from it. And those whose standard of living has stagnated or declined have reached a simple conclusion: America’s political leaders either didn’t know what they were talking about or were lying (or both).

There are two messages US political elites should be hearing. The simplistic neo-liberal market-fundamentalist theories that have shaped so much economic policy during the last four decades are badly misleading, with GDP growth coming at the price of soaring inequality. Trickle-down economics hasn’t and won’t work. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum. The Thatcher-Reagan “revolution,” which rewrote the rules and restructured markets for the benefit of those at the top, succeeded all too well in increasing inequality, but utterly failed in its mission to increase growth.

❝ This leads to the second message: we need to rewrite the rules of the economy once again, this time to ensure that ordinary citizens benefit. Politicians in the US and elsewhere who ignore this lesson will be held accountable. Change entails risk. But the Trump phenomenon – and more than a few similar political developments in Europe – has revealed the far greater risks entailed by failing to heed this message: societies divided, democracies undermined, and economies weakened.

Joe Stiglitz is solid as ever. RTFA for many details I omitted.

One of those times when I wish he wasn’t so inspiring. In recent years, I have pointed my “deepest” economic and political commentary to China, to others interested in, focussed on the dynamism we’re witnessing in Asia. Joe is right, of course. And we’re not going to contribute much from the United States to getting this planet’s culture and environment on track without sorting out the criminal mess that has grown to rule this nation.