Saturday, May 28, 2016

With No Sanders-Trump Debate, Is the Party Over?

There have been two powerful ideas generated during the 2016 presidential campaign.  We rarely get any new ideas in a presidential year, but these two have resonated deeply in the American public, and even more amazing, the men espousing them have received more than two of every three votes cast in the primaries so far among the three top candidates.

The first idea is that the obscene redistribution of national wealth (socialism for the rich) to the top one percent during the past four decades should be placed front and center on the political agenda, and both parties should be held accountable for allowing this to happen.  No question is as fundamental to any political community than how the pie is distributed and it is the young who have responded with the most fervor to this message.  Sanders has a corollary:  in order to re-balance this outrage the people need to reverse the pointy-headed Supreme Court decision that invited Corporate America to purchase politicians and policies with virtually no restraint or accountability.  Bernie Sanders has been undeviating in presenting this idea, and Trump, freely admitting he has purchased politicians and favors, has hinted that Sanders is right about the corollary, if not about the disgrace of the pie shrinking for the bottom 99 percent.

The second idea is the insight that political correctness is a fig-leaf for failure. The true genius of Donald Trump this year is not his ability to get free press coverage, but his ability to link his flagrant violation of the norms of politically correct discourse to the deeper frustrations Bubba has about the direction of the country.  To speak honestly, he seems to say, is to violate politically correct speech.  Which is the greater outrage, Trump's use of language to describe members of the political class, or the failures of the political class itself in protecting your pocketbook and America's greatness?  In picking as targets iconic establishment figures Trump signals his disdain for the political class, for its failures and its vapid pretensions.  These fools, he seems to say, are the reason why "we don't win anymore."  This is a political critique of our current system, attributing cause and effect, and Trump states it more sharply than any politician in recent times.

There is, however, a second, more emotional, message that mixes into the first.  In his flagrant violation of  the norms of the political class--calling Carly "ugly," Hillary "crooked," Jeb "low energy," Ted "a liar," again and again--and in using the language Bubba himself might use, Donald Trump for a moment, magically, becomes an empowered Bubba himself, with a Harley emblem on his chest, flipping a bird at political correctness and the political class. Trump's followers want Kelly Megyn or Paul Ryan or Hillary Clinton to be outraged about his language.  Their consternation is Bubba's revenge.  This emotional linking of Trump to Bubba's anger is powerful stuff--Bernie doesn't come close--not to be underestimated, and Hillary will have more than her hands full finding a way to crawl out of the failed-political-class box Trump will place her in.

Without a debate between Sanders and Trump the public will not have an opportunity to compare the two major ideas of 2016, side by side, a huevo! like they say in Mexico.  And with one of the two ideas gone from the general election contest (Hillary will never focus on One Percent), the contest threatens to become another over-scripted television reality show, artificially propped up with breathless updates of the latest polls, and predictable insults from Trump in between.  Back in our familiar comfort zones, our minds will, in the words of John Stuart Mill (see yesterday's blog), once again bow to the yoke and we will vote in sync with our statistically calculated demographic cohorts.

This is unfortunate, because until now, the public has shown itself surprisingly responsive to the lure of new ideas, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.  This primary season, for once, showed us all that American politics might be, but almost never is.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump and Political Discourse in America in 2016


They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke.  John Stuart Mill, On Liberty   III-6.

Donald Trump has disregarded the rules of political discourse, lashing out against the discipline of "political correctness" as practiced in America today.  It was not enough that he violated the rules, flaunting his blasphemies time and time again.  Adding insult to injury, he openly berated powerful media personalities and the businesses they work for (Kelly Megyn, Roger Ailes) when these reminded him of the rules.  And he scoffed not only at efforts to curtail his use of language against rivals ("little" Marco, "ugly" Carly), but also at news media efforts to disavow his policy proposals (the thirty foot wall, the ban on Muslim immigration) when these fell outside the box permitted in bipartisan discourse.

The dirty little secret of campaign 2016 so far is that the Republican nominee-to-be has flipped a bird at the political class.  And the public, in gratitude, has rewarded him with the nomination for doing so.  Millions of voters have come to see this bird-flip as the most attractive idea of the 2016 election year (Bernie's One Percent is the only serious challenger),   At some point soon the public will come to focus on the content of his policies and we could just end up with the most honest debate about policies between candidates in many decades.  There is also the possibility of this becoming a farce posing as an presidential election.  But that is always the case:  was the re-election of Obama anything but a farce?  We will have to wait and see.

Are Trump's policy proposals simply part of the bird-flip, or do these have an independent life of their own?.  We will find out soon.  Until then we should probably infer only that his policy proposals are part of the bird-flip, metaphors pointing to desired policies, rather than dead serious proposals.  I suspect as we dissect his followers, we will find they want pretty much the same as everyone else:  an honest shot at a good job and a renewed sense that life in America is reasonably fair, a sense that we can reverse the recent rigging of the system at the currently obscene levels.  Perhaps more than most they also want the freedom to express in their own language and cultural style their frustrations with the dysfunctional political system we all agree we live in.  Fascism?  There are parallels to Germany in 1928, yes.  But asking a biker in Paducah to be consoled for his frustrations by the stilted jargon of a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio is about as effective as telling a black woman in 1968 that she needed to write to her congressman rather than defy an order to refrain from crossing a bridge.  And for the talking heads to tell Trump he cannot entertain the idea of building a thirty foot wall is simply an indicator of how impoverished our own stilted political discourse and imagination have become, how much we have yielded to the self-appointed censors whose greedy motivations we have no reason to respect.

The quote above from John Stuart Mill was written as Mill worried that the greatest threat against freedom in England at the time was not an overbearing government, but society itself, as the mass media of the day and the political class of the moment began catering to the socially insecure but increasingly powerful members of the industrial, as opposed to aristocratic, class.  Aristocratic norms and tastes spread throughout society mindlessly as upward mobility came to be associated with having the proper tastes.  Mill thought this trend was dangerous, as many people literally became slaves to social convention, rather than masters of their own interests.  The line "the mind itself is bowed to the yoke" is a powerful reminder of the costs to the self of adhering mindlessly to social conventions.  Whatever else we might think of Trump's suitability to be president, we owe him a debt of gratitude for not bowing at the yoke of what is "politically correct" in the eyes of those those who nearly bankrupted us less than a decade ago, who, with the full approval of the Supreme Court purchase politicians and their votes in Congress on a regular basis, and whose greed is what is truly out of bounds.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oscar and Jeff Square off at the Blue Moon Bar:  Part II

Jeff Steinborn and Oscar Vasquez Butler are both itching for a chance to take on incumbent State Senator Lee Cotter in the fall and snatch back Senate District 36, which is so highly gerrymandered (click here for a map of the district) it has never developed an identity or, perhaps, even a sexual orientation, of its own.  This is basically a Democratic seat except for Picacho Hills, which is upscale Republican, and a few precincts scattered to the East of Picacho Hills in relatively new upper middle-class neighborhoods.  It covers lots of mutually incompatible territory, lumping voters from the farming communities near Elephant Butte Dam (Garfield to Hatch) down to the aging yuppielands near Picacho Hills and working class urban residential precincts in the heart of Las Cruces.  No one can adequately represent all the different and often conflicting interests of the voters of this district, and the incumbent is likely, as in the past, to rely on the ignorance or inattentiveness of local voters to escape cross-pressure scrutiny on specific votes.  Cross-cutting cleavages could be the middle names of this district, and when voters are paying attention, you will make enemies no matter what you do.

Mary Jane Garcia held onto the seat for many years essentially involving herself with statewide, not local, interests (except for capital outlay), and as a cheerleader for Governor Bill Richardson and the state Democratic Party.  She was defeated soundly in 2012 by a virtual unknown, Lee Cotter, after getting caught taking campaign funds for travel expenses while asking for reimbursements for the same trip from the state.  She had been dogged by other ethical accusations for many years.

For a brief background on each candidate, click here for the LC Sun News official version.
Oscar Vasquez Butler

Jeff Steinborn
 











Butler is familiar with the lack of coherence of this district, since he represented a very similar one as a county commissioner, stretching from Caballo Lake in the North down to the South Valley.  In spite of a great deal of essentially condescending (or simply racist) social pressure, Butler was known for his strong advocacy of people living in colonias (by definition, substandard housing neighborhoods), and helped mobilize county attention to the programs and funding available.  While doing so might have been unpopular in establishment circles, he managed to become chair of the Dona Ana County commission, and President of the NM Association of Counties--so he knows how to get along with fellow office-holders.  He was never, however, so ingratiating as to become an establishment figure within the Democratic Party--always a bit of outlaw in him stemming from his days as a volunteer for Cesar Chavez.

Steinborn has also been around a long time, having been elected to the House first from 2006-2010; and then again in 2012 and 2014.  Like Nathan Small, he has been associated with the Liberal organization known as the Progressive Voters Alliance.  Also like Small, Steinborn works for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, as Southern NM Director.  Also like Small, he is best known for his leadership in creating the Oregon Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.  But he is also known for his help with many civic activities, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Klein Park improvements, Radium Springs Community Center, and so on.  Click here for his website for more background. 

Turnout is critical in a primary election, and in this aspect of the campaign Steinborn may have an advantage.  He is skilled with social media, election technology, and is likely to make serious efforts to get his identified voters to the polls.  On the other hand, if overall turnout is decent, Butler probably is closer to the cultural core of the district, giving him an advantage, turnout notwithstanding.

There isn't much statewide interest in this campaign.  The winner of the primary is expected to beat Cotter in the general, for a net gain on one seat for the Democrats.  But there are other senate seats said to be in contention:  Democrat John Sapien, for example, has a primary opponent and the general election is likely to be competitive, so the D's could lose a seat there, offsetting a defeat, should it materialize, of Cotter.  Another seat said to be in play is that of Bill Soules, Democrat, said to be in a tough race against a Republican challenger.

One element that remains unknown in the general election is the Trump factor.  It remains to be seen whether the anger Trump taps into against the political class goes down to the New Mexico precinct level.  There are some initial signs that it does, at least in some areas normally solid for the Democratic Party.  With Bernie, who directs existing anger not toward people, but toward policies, apparently out of the picture, and with Hillary continuing to slump in national polls due to questions about her character, a surge for Trump among voters of both parties could have a significant impact on the down-ballot elections.  But this is beyond predictability at this point in time.
House and Senate Primary Races in the North of Doña Ana County:
Voters Will Have Experienced Representation:  Part I Nunez and Small

Last night at the Blue Moon Bar in Radium Springs, candidates for House District 36 and Senate District 36 spoke to a gathering of voters.  Andy Nuñez will be the Republican candidate for District 36 and Nathan Small will be the Democratic candidate.  Neither faces opposition in the primary election.  In Senate District 36 Lee Cotter, the Republican incumbent, will face either Oscar Vasquez Butler or Jeff Steinborn, who face each other in the primary.

Andy Nuñez
Nuñez has been around a long time, and is well known to voters of District 36 (click here for a map), having served in that position for many years as a Democrat, as a Republican, and as an Independent.  This year he is running as a Republican, in a district that tends to vote heavily Democratic, but which knows him well.  Party identification will probably not make much difference in this race except among the least informed voters.  He has specialized in water issues, and is usually seen as a friend of the farmers of the North valley of Dona Ana County.  He also serves as mayor of Hatch.
Nathan Small

Nathan Small, from Las Cruces, was one of the first persons elected from within an organization that calls itself the Progressive Voters Alliance.  He served two terms on the city council, and is known for his contributions to the Organ Mountains Desert Peak National Monument.  He was named citizen of the year by the Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2012.  He is employed by the NM Wilderness Alliance.  It is hard to imagine someone with such strong Liberal credentials standing up to the popularity of Andy Nuñez in such a conservative district, but Small is one whose hard work, experience in elections, and likeability make him a serious competitor in this race.

There is a sub-text to this race, probably more important to the political class than to the voters.  Democrats would love dearly to retake the House this year, having lost it in the last election for the first time in many decades.  Nuñez is well known in the House, and many legislators of both parties would welcome him back.  But his presence would add one more Republican to the mix, making the task of dumping Don Tripp as Speaker more difficult.  Small is therefore one of the candidates the Democratic Party would dearly love to get elected, and funding sources will probably be mobilized all over the state to that end.  This year, however, voters have shown deep disdain for the preferences of the political class (Hillary and Jeb Bush being primary examples the political class a year ago thought would waltz breezily into the nominations) and if this disdain holds for HD District 36 it might not be a big factor.  I've known the district since Walter Parr won it I believe in 1976, and it has gone for Democrats and Republicans alike since then.  Voters will look each candidate in the eye and vote as they please, not as they are told and not because of the labels attached.

Another element in the race is the traditional conservatism of the district, dominated not by the voting strength of the farmers, but by their powerful influence.  Small is at least nominally a creature of the Progressive Voters Alliance, a Liberal political action group that has been around since the Kerry campaign in 2004.  Andy is a Conservative's Conservative, fiscally, socially, and vocally.  The very word Liberal brings a scowl to his face, even if tempered by the more cautious term Progressive. So there are a number of cross-currents running through the main stream of this race.  

One moment last night captured these crosscurrents.  Asked the Marijuana question, Small, Steinborn, and Butler all proved they could thread the needle of this question ("on the one hand... but then on the other...")  Not Andy:  "I am against marijuana, legal, illegal, industrial, medical, or any other way," he said.  Is there a part of this answer you don't understand?

Next:  Vasquez Vs. Steinborn

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FORO PARA CANDIDATOS ESTA NOCHE EN RADIUM
Esta noche se dará un foro en el Blue Moon Bar de Radium Springs, a partir de las 6 p.m.  Los candidatos, cuyos distritos abarcan el norte del condado de Doña Ana  serán:

Para senador del estado:  Jeff Steinborn y Oscar Butler Vasquez
Para Representante:  Andy Nuñez (Republicano) y Nathan Small (Demócrata)

El evento está auspiciado por el Southwest Organizing Project Action Fund.

Se pudrá consumir cerveza u otro tipo de licor durante el foro

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Decision is to Extradite Chapo

The Mexican Foreign Ministry announced on Friday the extradition of Chapo Guzman to the U.S. will proceed.  This may take several months of appeals but it can certainly take place within the term of office of President Pena Nieto, who will leave office at the end of 2018.  Chapo is currently in a Juarez prison, but might be returned to fight his appeals nearer to Mexico City, closer to the bureaucracy that will handle the appeals.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

From the One and Only Blue Moon Bar:
Your Choice for County Clerk
Maria Rodriguez, Republican
Scott Krahling, Democrat
County clerks buy the voting machines, they designate polling places and election day staff, they keep voter registration files, and count the votes, and in all of this there is a lot of room for mischief.  Heather Wilson, running for the US Senate, went early on election day to a key precinct where she expected to get a big wad of votes.  Instead, they ran out of ballots in the first ten minutes, forcing voters to wait or come back later, and in other key Republican precincts where she needed to win big.  It was all fixed up in a couple of hours, apologies all around, but turnout in R precincts was not as high as expected.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  There have also been cases in which the clerk drastically cut down the number of polling places and voters were forced to stand in line for hours.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  You might also remember the scandals of missing money in the Secretary of State's office (this office monitors elections), indictments, and a recent jail sentence for a Secretary of State who had a gambling problem.  This is not just a New Mexico problem.  In Ohio, usually a key state in a presidential election, dozens of blatant voter suppression techniques almost certainly changed the outcome of a presidential election not that long ago.

I was hoping Maria Rodriguez would come packing a six-gun or Scott Krahling might challenge Maria to a game of pool with two shots of tequila on the line or at least a Blue-Moon Bar-appropriate exchange of obscenities:  No dice:  we got a polite civics lesson from each instead.

At a forum last night at the Blue Moon Bar, sponsored by the Southwest Organizing Project, the Democratic and Republican candidates for County Clerk presented their views to a crowd of about 20 voters who braved the hail and rain to attend.  

Krahling is the current Chief Deputy Clerk, in charge of elections.  He also served at a county commissioner from 2009 to 2012.  He exudes a calm, professional demeanor and seems sincere in his commitment to make voter registration and voting as easy as possible.  (Full disclosure:  Mr. Krahling was a graduate assistant of mine at NMSU a few years ago).  As an example, he cited the Oregon system, where citizens are automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver's license (they can opt out via mail if they want to) and similar systems in other states. 

Rodriguez was appointed Magistrate judge in Dona Ana County in 2004 by Bill Richardson, when Ann Segal resigned to take another job.  She filled out the unexpired term to the end of the year.  Richard Silva, elected in 2004, replaced her.  She also served as a paralegal in the US Attorney's Office in Las Cruces, and with two federal magistrate judges as well as the DEA and the federal public defender.  While Krahling emphasized providing more access to voting, Rodriguez stressed the need to make sure registration and voting procedures conform strictly to the letter of the law.

The different emphases are classic:  nationally and in New Mexico Democrats tend to benefit when voter turnout is high and registration is easy, since more New Mexicans identify with the Democratic Party, and Republicans benefit more when registration levels and turnouts are low.  In political circles in New Mexico there is a current debate about whether Hillary (if she secures the nomination) will increase or decrease Democratic voter turnout, in comparison with Donald Trump.

Hispanic citizens in New Mexico tend not to like Trump; they outnumber Anglos in New Mexico, and vastly outnumber Anglos in the Democratic Party.  This bodes badly for Trump.  On the other hand, Trump has generated unaccustomed enthusiasm in many states, raising turnout among Republicans.  In a close election, even minor shifts in voter turnout can swing an election, and there are dozens of mischievous ways the election machinery can affect turnout.
Candidates Present Themselves at Blue Moon Bar Forum

Left to right:  Kim Hakes, Craig Buckingham, Bill Standridge, Maria Rodriguez, Dickie Apodaca, Scott Krahling, and John Vasquez

The District 5 Commissioner taking office next January will be a fresh face, and possibly not very controversial.  I was hoping a Donald Trump- or Bernie Sanders-type challenge would emerge to liven things up, and clarify voting choices, possibly about the sheriff, but alas, it did not.  The candidates do have ideas and opinions, but most minimized risk at the expense of generating excitement.  The next commissioner in District 5 is likely, if last night was an indication, to hold his cards closely to the vest, at least at the beginning, and keep his ideas to himself.  Hold me to this prediction, I may be wrong.

The Blue Moon Bar was a great venue for the forum, which was organized by Arturo Uribe, of the Southwest Organizing Project Action Fund (SWOPAF?  Would be nicer if it was SWOPAction Systems and Services)

On the Democratic side are candidates Dickie Apodaca, John Vasquez, and Bill Standridge.

Dickie Apodaca (who was a student of mine in the 1980s) is an engineer, emphasizing the role of the county commission in creating accountability.  He spoke most passionately about taking his father, a World War II disabled vet, to El Paso, where they would wait all day to see the doctor.  His feelings run deep, but they are under solid control, and he appears to have a quiet self-assurance.

John Vasquez has an unusual profile as a candidate for a Dona Ana County office.  He is proud of his American Indian heritage.  He attended the United World College in Las Vegas, NM, a British-based prep school with an elite student body from around the world.  Can probably play rugby.  He was also an operational planner in the army at Ft. Carson, Colorado, a job that exposed him to various key aspects of organizational planning.  Currently, he is also Vice Chair of the Dona Ana County Democratic Party.

Bill Standridge, wearing a black cowboy hat, is a small business owner who has also been president of a labor organization managing 15 labor unions across the state.  He is clearly the most traditional Democrat running for this seat, and he would probably feel very much at home in the up-front or behind-the-scenes hustle-bustle of county politics.  He spoke with conviction about the lack of transparency in a recent decision of the Commission to approve a bus service after it was voted down twice, and wondered aloud how 63 lawsuits of various kinds have somehow accumulated against the county.

On the Republican side, Craig Buckingham is a police officer with the county who served in Desert Storm.  He advocated beefing up public security, modifying the county comprehensive plan, and the need for commissioners to exercise leadership especially in dissecting the budget.  He seems comfortable and self-assured as a public speaker, familiar with the art of soundbites, and he had a reasonably clear notion of how to make sense out of the organizational machinery of the county.

Kim Hakes is a retired banker with many years of experience in Las Cruces.  As an example of the dysfunction of the county he cited the creation of a bus route to Anthony that apparently cost $1.5 million to set up and $750,000 to maintain, that very few people use--he and his wife took the bus on the complete routes twice, to make sure about the volume of traffic.  This prompted the only true discussion among the candidates, with various candidates finding their own lessons in this anecdote about what needs fixing in the county.  Candidates emphasized getting better processes in place to evaluate the expense, rather than simply shutting it down--an example of the cautiousness of the group last night.  Hakes is highly articulate, well prepared, and would challenge others to improve the clarity and sharpness of language used in debating issues.

My Take:  There is a lot of raw talent here:  none of these candidates are slouches and each would bring a solid base of experience and perspective to the job.  Each is intelligent.  The question I have is whether the entrenched machinery of the county with all it's departments and standard operating procedures, and the constant flow of egos among elected officials, and given the handcuffs of the Open Meetings Act (which guarantees either a lack of communication among commissioners or else un-transparent flows of communications), is manageable:  these guys are each talented enough to be deeply frustrated by the way things are.  Under such circumstances it is hard to predict whether an effective coalition among commissioners can be created to give the county a positive, consistent, direction.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Links:
The Tigres del Norte and other norteño Mexican musical groups, perhaps because they are closest to the Lowest of the Lower 99 of Mexico, were among the first to understand the long-term mass-entertainment value of drug trafficking lore.  Once it became clear law enforcement activities were not designed to stop drug trafficking (this began to sink in about 20 years ago in Mexico), the Mexican public and news media years ago began seeing it as a cross between a virtual reality show and the old fashioned soap opera.  Various television series about the lives of drug lords are years into production, and the Reina del Pacifico, Sandra Ávila Beltrán, now out of jail (she was captured in 2007), has just granted her first full-fledged interview since her release in 2015, getting various things off her chest.  At 56 she is beginning to show her age, but her evolving self-portrait is still a work of art that continues to fascinate, a sort of female version of Andy Warhol or Elton John.  As Chapo ponders his fate, swallowing anti-depressant pills in his jail cell in Juarez, surrounded by people from the rival cartel who would love to kill him, the Mexican government must determine whether to extradite him to the US., and the suspense about this in popular culture is beginning to feel like the final days before the last episode of Breaking Bad.

Grist for the mill of popular culture, a new cartel is making inroads into the Tijuana platform for exportation of the drugs to the US, as covered by Borderland Beat.  Locally, National Geographic has published a strong article on the bouncing back to life of Juarez after the violence, definitely worth reading.

NM in Depth has an interesting piece on campaign spending so far this year.  Is it any surprise that the largest campaign funder, Advance New Mexico, has received all of its money from interests in Texas and a national GOP fundraiser?  One wonders just which "New Mexico" interests they wish to advance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

 Entrevistas Con Candidatos:  Manténganse Pendientes
En los próximos dias entrevistaremos a varios candidatos del Condado Dona Ana, tal como lo hicimos hace algunas semanas con los postulantes para el Concilio de Sunland Park.  Nos interesa saber el nivel de conocimiento del candidato con los temas que son de interes para el pueblo votante del condado.  Nos hemos dado cuenta que muchas veces los candidatos adoptan frases y promesas genéricas, bonitas, y de buen sonido pero sin hacer el esfuerzo de aprender lo que realmente sea el interés del votante.  Lamentablemente, cuando esto ocurre, el ganador muchas veces se siente prepotente, hace cualquier tonteria  con su autoridad, ignorando la voluntad e interés del votante.  Hemos visto esta situación con frecuencia entre candidatos para la Comisión del Condado, quienes consiguieron su victoria solamente para votar contra los intereses de los que votaron por él, a veces vendiendo su voto de alguna manera u otra, y otras veces escuchando la voz de intereses ajenos y no la de sus votantes.  El remedio es exigir que el candidato sepa precisamente tus expectativas de antemano, denunciar cualquier traición y si fuera necesario buscar otro candidato para las siguientes elecciones.  Por esa razon es importante acudir a los foros de los candidatos, para poner en claro tu interés, y mantener siguimiento con el comportamiento del ganador después de las elecciones.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Still in Denial:  Parties, Congress, and the Media:
What Part of System Failure Don't You Understand?

Language has been the terrain of the 2016 presidential election.  Trump's blasphemies--his language on immigration, about his rivals, about Republican Party mischief, the terms he used to describe Megyn Kelly and the stuffy news media establishment, and now about Paul Ryan--have been newsworthy in the colorfulness of his in-your-face insults hurled at the established political order.  Every time the political class concludes Trump has "gone too far this time" with his language, his numbers shoot up another notch.

Sanders' blasphemy, not as colorful as Trump's, is in its own way just as shocking, and in-your-face:  The system has recently been "rigged" for the rich by the rich.  Campaign finance law, supported by the Scalia Court, is part of this corruption, which and has left 99% of us standing in the dust.  We need a "revolution."  If you fall within the lower 99%, and you aren't doing as well as you expected, he seems to say, it isn't the fault of immigration enforcement or gay marriage or Liberal policies:  building a wall will not stop the rigging of the system in Washington in favor of the One Percent.

These blasphemies, targeted at different audiences (Sanders' is younger and more upwardly mobile, Trump's is more insecure) have reinforced each other, and neither, probably, would have succeeded as dramatically without the other.  Just as you think a Trump insult, say, about Megyn Kelly, is about to turn you off, Sanders reminds us she and her network are part of a gilded political class that indeed has rigged the system, including much of the electoral machinery.  The targets of his strongest insults tend to be iconic stand-ins for The Establishment:  Fox News, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan.  And just as Sanders is about to bore you with one more soundbite about the "one percent,"  Trump reminds us that "we don't win wars anymore," suggesting there is a serious national cost we've paid for allowing this to happen.  

While Trump tends to be more respectful toward the institutions of America (these will Make America Great Again) he mocks the arrogance and pretension of people in charge.  Sanders is more polite about the people, it is the corruption of the institutions that need fixing.  But these are after all two sides of the same coin:  both candidates cry out at us:  System Failure! System Failure! System Failure!  Both agree:  the rich have bought off politicians; Congress is dysfunctional. Our wars are not bringing security; our national infrastructure is crumbling.  Corporate America should not be allowed to shelter income abroad at the expense of the working class.  The system has failed us.  This is the message the parties, congressional leaders, overpaid talking heads in the media, for all their consternation about Trump's language and Bernie's preaching, don't seem to get:  They have become living symbols of system failure.

For four decades presidential elections have been steered toward a competition between True Conservatives (including debates about what that means) and Almost-True Conservatives.  The underlying blasphemy of Trump and Sanders is that they ask us to reflect on just what this debate has done for the county.  The dirty little secret of campaign 2016 is that the twenty million voters who have voted for Trump and Sanders have voted to reverse course.  This means dumping the political class; changing the rigged rules that have left Bubba and everyone else fighting each other instead of paying attention to the underlying game.  Above all--and this is what Trump and Sanders each understands:  you cannot reverse course without changing the formulaic, deceitful language that has become the currency of political discourse.  The political establishment is entirely correct in fearing either candidate, and it is their language that they most fear.

Paul Ryan is the latest member of the gilded political class of Democrats and Republicans who refused to see what was in front of their noses.  Paul Ryan has been assiduously nurtured by the Republican political class, and it turned to him instinctively, as Trump got closer to winning.  Trump didn't blink at the bluff:  Ryan doesn't have to support me.  When was the last time Ryan got ten million votes?  the logic, after all is said and done, is unassailable.  Isn't this supposed to be a country where votes count?  And isn't Ryan a bigwig in a Congress that stopped solving national problems years ago?

This election is likely to be fought on the battlefield prepared by Trump and Sanders:  it will be about system failure and what to do about it, not about which of two flavors of conservatism do you prefer.  Above all, the election will likely go to the candidate who creates the most persuasive language to talk about system failure, something Americans have rarely had to talk about in the past, but is now front and center on the political agenda.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dual Rhetorical Banjos in Campaign 2016

Several struggles emerged during the primary season this year, each undermining the rhetorical rules of American politics erected by the political class largely without challenge over the past two or three decades.  These rules, while disguised as norms of etiquette, actually protected the overall political and policy outcomes achieved--but never publicly articulated--by the political class.  In challenging conventional rhetorical rules both Trump and Sanders took the very first steps toward a launching serious challenges to the underlying outcomes of the political system as we find it today.

One important battle was Trump's blasphemy in exposing Kelly Megan as part of a cabal of biased insiders within the highly privileged private sector profit-driven media, posing as sacred and neutral gurus of the public airwaves but actually shading things in not-so-subtle ways to conform to their bosses' preferences.  Voters of all political persuasions were secretly delighted and grateful to Trump--regardless of our views about his suitability to be President--at the sight of Fox news executives scrambling to deal with Trump's attack on Kelly's obviously loaded-for-bait questioning when he threatened to boycott the next Fox debate unless he was treated fairly.  It was all the more delicious because the struggle was not between Liberals and Conservatives but inside the sacred, stuffy temple of Conservatism known as Fox News, where Republican presidential candidates are supposed to genuflect at the alter of Fox CEO Roger Ailes, self-appointed guardian of the sacred Republican flame.  Until this attack, the game played by Republican campaign strategists was to prepare a campaign battleground designed to prove one's stronger commitment to "Conservative" values, and to justify all policy stances as motivated by a desire to adhere to deeply held "Conservative" principals.  Trump made it clear all of this was contemptible nonsense:  networks are driven by profits, not political rituals or a search for conservative truth, and Fox News is no exception:  you may not like my blasphemies, he seemed to say, but you don't treat me fairly, I rain on your parade.  Trump one, Fox zero.

This battle alone opened up an enormous hole in the highly constricted edifice of allowable "Conservatism" creating a much larger space for debate than has been the case for at least twenty years.  The possible paths this space might take sometimes seem very scary indeed--especially when you think about Trump's electoral base--but removing fetters to honest discussion is a sign of greater democracy, not less.

Sanders' battle with rhetoric was to introduce the terms "rigged" and "corrupt" into American political discourse.  Until Sanders, Democrats had to skirt around these terms, avoiding them at all costs.  Perhaps afraid to take on the sacred cow of the Scalia Court (Citizens United), political rhetoric had to imply that campaign finance reform was simply another Liberal policy reform, at the same level, say, as stronger investment in mental health care.  Nonsense, Sanders thundered:  it was political corruption that deprived most of us from enjoying the benefits of US economic growth over the past forty years.  And the rhetorical rules of politics, which restrain us from challenging corruption, are simply part of the corrupt and rigged package.  Like Trump, Sanders expanded the square footage of what is possible in American political discourse today.  Hillary, whose husband participated fully in the rigging of the system when he was President (Trump has called him on this), has not come up with an adequate answer to this rhetorical shift.  Until she does, Trump will be perceived as the more honest of the two.

It is extremely difficult to reform an entrenched political class that has greatly increased the capabilities of the dominant classes.  But as Confucius said, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.  And in insisting on doing so, both Trump and Sanders have--so far--done all of us a major favor.  Trump tells his voters it should be OK to ask why we seem to be losing ground to the rest of the world, without being accused by the rules of Conservative rhetoric of lacking patriotism or of having bad breath; Sanders tells his voters we need to admit both parties colluded in producing a corrupt political system that expands the national pie only for the 1%.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Mexicans Left Breathing the Dust as the 2016 Nominating Campaign Starts Rolling Up the Tent

Like bit players in a movie standing by for the set to be readied for a take, New Mexicans, as usual, have watched the 2016 presidential campaign from the outer sidelines.  Unlike voters in Iowa or Indiana, presidential candidates have not been seen at local cafes courting them, listening to the local political gossip, trying out new themes.  We've been spectators, bit players without a speaking role, not actors at the center of a stage.  And as the fans begin heading for the exits now that The Trump and Hillary have become the "presumptive" nominees, only California promises to offer some remaining drama, with its primary set for June 7.  We will probably learn a great deal about how Hispanic voters feel about politics (and the Trump Wall) in California, where Los Angeles alone has far more Hispanics than all of New Mexico.  If New Mexico is mentioned at all it will likely be an afterthought.  Twelve percent (548 out of 4766) of the Democratic delegates to the convention will come from California.  About one percent (43 out of 4766) will come from New Mexico.

California will be interesting.  In the Presidential primary there each Democrat voter will vote for one of seven Democratic candidates and each Republican will vote for one of 5 Republican candidates.  However, voters who have registered with no party preference may vote in the Democratic Party presidential primary (or, if they choose to do so, in the American Independent Party or Libertarian Party primaries)--but not in the Republican primary unless they re-register as a Republican by May 23 2016.  Given the sometimes undignified food-fights of the Republican presidential race so far, it seems unlikely many unaffiliated voters will actually switch registration to Republican just to be able to vote for or against Trump in the primary, now that Indiana ended the suspense.  But among unaffiliated voters, it remains to be seen whether many of them will freely walk into the voting booth to vote for Bernie, as they have tended to do in other open primaries.  Given that most California polls show Hillary ahead, a lop-sided chunk of unaffiliated voters appears to be Bernie's only chance of winning there.  I expect most of Bernie's supporters in New Mexico will be calling voters in California rather than voters in New Mexico between now and June 7.

In New Mexico, with the nomination all-but already settled, it seems unlikely the presidential race in either will help turnout.  Local candidates will have to do most of this grunt work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Links:
 The Journal of the American Medical Association released an article online on April 10 by Chetty, R, Stepner M (Stanford University), Abraham S, et al., with a fascinating statistical analysis of the relationship between income and life expectancy, broken down to the county level and large metropolitan commuting zones.  It is free, and well worth downloading.  Major takeaways:
  1. Nation-wide, gaps in life expectancy by income increased from 2001-1014.  For those in the bottom 5% of income life expectancy remained the same; for those in the top 5% life expectancy during that time frame increased by about 3 years.
  2. Life expectancy increases continually with income.  If you are a man in the top 1% of income at the age of 40 your life expectancy is fully 15 years more than a man of 40 in the bottom 1%; for women the gap is 10 years.
In Dona Ana County men in the top quarter of income can expect to live to about 83, about 7 years longer than men in the bottom quarter of income.  For women the gap is about 5 years.  In the Albuquerque metropolitan region men in the top quarter can expect to live to about 85, about 10 years longer than men in the bottom quarter, while for women the gap is about 6 years.  On the other hand, men in the bottom quarter of income in Dona Ana County live about one year longer than men in the bottom quarter in Albuquerque.

The best place to live in New Mexico, statistically speaking, if you want to live to a ripe old age in any income category, is Santa Fe or Rio Arriba and Taos counties, where men in the bottom income quartile can expect to die around the age of 77 and men in the top quartile can expect to die at about 86 years of age.  In these counties women in the bottom quartile can expect to die at the age of abut 83 and women in the top quartile can expect to hang on to the age of 88, only two years longer than their male counterparts.  The article has exceptionally clear maps where you can compare, county-by-county, these results.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Links:
About the links:  James Hamilton at Econbrowser asks the question why lower oil prices has not lifted the economy.  His answer:  while consumers have spent the extra cash, especially among those who rely on gasoline (trucking companies, taxi drivers), lifting the economy, oil producers have offset these gains by reducing spending.  Once the employment drop in the oil sector registers, we can expect a corresponding drop in GDP.  This gives added credence to the rumors of an impending recession.  NMPolitics.Net links you an excellent site, Buying of the President 2016 (click here) and a story about big money shoveling its way to the Hillary campaign while she tries to keep up with Bernie in bashing big money on the rhetorical end.  Tim Taylor summarizes evidence suggesting "alternative" jobs account for all the job growth during the past ten years.  Robert Reich shows that the big banks are even bigger than they were before the bust, directing you to a statement by the Vice Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (click here) that the assets of four big banks are about the same as GDP in the US in 2012.  ProMarket discusses how special interests have intimidated journalists into legitimizing those with an interest in denying man-made climate change.

Talking about intimidation, Heath Haussamen (click here) posted a chilling story last week about a border check point stop and followed with another story written by Cassie McClure (click here and here) who suggests abuse of authority at check points is common.