Tuesday, October 31, 2017

President Trump (Volume 2)

I wrote Volume 1 of this series less than six weeks into the Trump administration. I was planning to write them roughly every three months. The main purpose of these posts was to be tracking predictions I made the night Donald Trump was elected. I have neglected writing them in part because while Donald Trump has a rare gift for making controversy, none of the events of the past ten months seemed to clearly delineate the end of the beginning of this presidential term.  Then yesterday happened.  Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted and we learned that George Papadopoulos had plead guilty to lying to the FBI about meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

It is no longer possible for Trump world to say with a straight face that there is no evidence of collusion.  There was collusion. It remains to be seen how significant that collusion in breadth and scope, but it happened. And now Trump must govern under the credible shadow of Bob Mueller for the foreseeable future.

I. New Business: The first 284 days of President Trump.

The bad news is that Donald Trump is bad at being president.  The good news is that Donald Trump is bad at being president.  The bad part is that almost a year into the job, he continues to embarrass his country and cheapen his office every time he speaks.  He fucked up a condolence call to a war widow. He danced with a sword in Saudi Arabia.  He welshed on a promise to pay $25,000 to a gold star dad, until the media shamed him int doing it. He referred to the governor of the Virgin Island as their president. He started a needless fight with NFL players and an ESPN broadcaster.  He is, in short, a feckless idiot.

And this stupidity manifests itself, more substantively in an inability to get much done in congress.  He has failed to repeal Obamacare. His tax reform ideas are laughably shallow and languishing before a tepid congress.  He hasn't passed anything difficult or meaningful, despite having control of both houses.

Which is not to say that he has not done damage.  His cabinet appointments have almost without exception proven to be inept. His secretary of state called him a fucking moron, while also compiling a reputation for his own incompetence as the head of our most important department of government. His ambassador to the United Nations seems hell bent on scuttling the Iran deal, which would mean that we would go back to having nuclear crises with 2/3 of the Axis of Evil.  Ben Carson can not be bothered to learn what his job is and we all have to wonder how Rick Perry's doing at learning what nuclear energy is.

And then there's his own White House staff.  Bannon and Priebus were both fired so the reigns could be turned over to John Kelly, whom the president insists on referring to as General Kelly.  Just 30 days ago it was still fashionable to think that Kelly was going to save us form this mess.  Since that time he has been trotted out to defend Trump for offending the widow of Sgt. Johnson during the condolence call. While doing so he smeared a member of congress. The falsity of his statements about her were established by video tape within hours.  A week later, he still refuses to apologize for his inaccurate statement.  Oh and he chalked up the Civil War to a "failure to compromise". It was unclear at press time how Mr. Kelly proposed the slaves should have compromised their way out of bondage.

The strongest impression that I get of Donald Trump is that he is a very lonely man.  He is obsessed with television and reportedly watches Fox News for hours at a time. He often tweets what Fox & Friends covers in the morning. At night he sometimes complains about television reporters and editorial boards. Now he has indictments to worry about.  I still think it's unlikely that the Russia scandal ends with him in handcuffs or even being removed from office.  But I see dark days ahead, because this lonely old man worries about things like that.  And worst of all, he knows exactly what he is guilty of.  That can't be comforting.

II.  Old Business: The State of My Predictions About Trump.

1. "The Iran Deal will be torn up."
Well, probably. He has taken the first steps towards this but his inner circle seem unwilling to blatantly lie about the fact that Iran is complying with their end of the deal.  As it stands, I believe he will back out of the deal.  Which means that our sanctions will go back in place but the European Union and Russia and China will not sanction Tehran at all.  So Iran will be free to pursue nuclear weapons, and do business with the rest of the world.  America would gain the theoretical ability to conduct military operations against Iran, which would result in a calamity roughly three times as big as what Iraq has been for the past 14 years.  Let's hope that Mattis and Tillerson continue to delay their boss from being completely reckless on this front.

2.  "Antonin Scalia will be replaced by a conservative rather than Merrick Garland."
Check.  And there are some real signs that Neil Gorsuch will be worse than Scalia on substance and form.  He is perhaps second only to Kelly in giving up the ghost about being a moderating influence on our politics.

3.  "ISIS has a new propaganda talking point."
Well, yeah, that's true.  But to be fair to the president, ISIS has lost a lot of territory this year.  In normal times that would be a big story.  But no one is paying attention to that because Trump keeps making side shows here at home. And because no one really thinks that the destruction of Islamic State will be the end of what westerners really care about: large acts of terror committed in Europe and North America.


4.  "It is now the official policy of the United States government that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by China to disrupt American manufacturing. "

Still true.

5. "At some point next year the Congress will repeal Obamacare."

I'm very glad to be wrong so far about this one. The next trick will be to convince Trump that it's good for his reputation to save Obamacare by fully funding the exchanges and the advertising for Obamacare plans.  The hardcore Trumpers like Bannon and Miller will hate that, but it might be something he could be Rumplestilkin'd into doing.

6. "At some point next year the Congress will pass massive tax cuts and the overwhelming majority of these cuts will benefit very wealthy people.:

This is a coin toss now.  Paul Ryan seems to be a dead-ender on this one and I think that a tax bill will get out of the house.  But I'm not sure the Senate will be able to pass anything along the lines of what is being proposed.  Trump needs this bill but he's spending his very limited political capital on Twitter feuds. Frankly if the Republicans don't bass tax cuts, I don't know what their game is even about.

7. "Immigration policy is about to become a lot less thoughtful."
This was the safest prediction I made, but even I didn't think they would be detaining 10 year old girls with cerebreal palsy.

8. "There will be a bunch of dumb protectionist policies put in place. "

Well he did withdraw from TPP, and he's always prattling on about trade deficits.  But it seems this issue was more symbolic than anything.  The biggest thing to watch for on this front next year is NAFTA.  Trump would be wise to get some marginal changes to the deal and claim that it's a huge, tremendous win for American factories.  But if things go bad for him elsewhere, he might decide to blow the whole thing up. And that will hurt the whole world.

9. "The implements of the federal government will be used to settle the president's political scores. "

Every damn day.

10. "The new school of political science thought will be personality based."
Meh. Sure.

III. New Business: What to Look For.

It is easy to fulminate on the spectacle that is Donald J. Trump living in the White House and flying on Air Force One and being saluted by colonels and green berets.  The ludicrous nature of these visuals is captivating.  The damage this spectacular narcissist will do is going to be hard to measure.  But there are at least some signs that institutions are holding the line, as best they can.  Yesterday's news was the best sign of that yet.  I do think the next nine months will be worse than the previous nine.  But maybe, just maybe, the senate and the courts and the man's own incompetence will make things less terrible than I feared they would be 51 weeks ago when this horrible man triple bank shot his way into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

But if there is one thing to look for between now and the next time I get around to chronicling this b-list gangster movie of a government, it is this: the way that right-wing news outlets kowtow to their leader.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board yesterday proposed this modest solution: Trump should pardon everyone in his inner circle, including himself, of any and all crimes related to Russia, and then resume governing.  Maybe this is just the Wall Street Journal's fever dream about tax reform not passing.  But someone in that room should have said "Guys, you've just disavowed the rule of law. Do that and we can never be taken seriously again."

But no one said that and no one will say it on Fox or Breitbart, etc. But those people need in the #MAGAsphere on Twitter and every asshole uncle around the Thanksgiving dinner table in a few weeks needs to hear the truth: we are nothing without the rule of law. And it's the job of citizens to tell them. Every chance you get.



Monday, May 15, 2017

We're Not In Kansas Yet, Toto (Musings on Better Call Saul, Season 3)

The inherent problem of prequels is that the stakes are low.  We know the next chapter and how the story turns out for at least most of the main characters. The creators of Breaking Bad seemingly had an even greater challenge than say, George Lucas, in that Breaking Bad starts in the most ordinary of circumstances: a working stiff gets a bad medical diagnosis.  By the end of its brilliant run most of the best and most memorable characters are dead.

Saul Goodman does not die a physical death over the course of Breaking Bad, but we know that he disappears into mundane circumstances with a pronounced need to keep a low profile. The obvious idea was to give Saul an origin story of his own, by starting the story before Saul was Saul.

But no one wants to watch the story of how a man became the manager of a Cinnabon.  So Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould did something truly inspired: he built a universe for our hero that is equally balanced between the doomed cast of Breaking Band and characters who are not even mentioned in Breaking Bad.

The new characters are a brother, Chuck, played by Michael McKean and a love interest, Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seahorn.  I've been a fan of McKean since childhood, and he is as good in this part as he is Spinal Tap or the Christopher Guest movies.  Ms. Seahorn was unfamiliar to me before this series. But from the first episode, the audience is drawn to her. She's a striver in ways that nicely echo Jimmy's slightly shadier vocation as a hustler.  She is beautiful and she is smart. There is always a hint of some damage that she underplays. We don't know a lot about her biography except what gets dragged out of her on a job interview.  And that's where it gets interesting for this show's future.

I should mention at this point that a lot of my enjoyment of this series is heightened by the fact that I am a working lawyer.  The dialogue on this show captures the real way lawyers write and speak better than any police procedural or blockbuster based on a John Grisham novel.  They nail the details, even when the temptation is there to be splashy.  (See in particular the pedestrian cadence of the opening statements at Jimmy's disciplinary hearing in Episode 4.)

But the writing is marked by a much broader point of distinction.  This show is so good because it shows us in painful detail just how hard the characters work to create these problems for themselves. Mike doesn't just run afoul of Gus Fring.  He stays up half the night chewing on macadamia nuts waiting for Gus' underworld to show up in his driveway. And Chuck can not simply be happy for his brother or grateful for his compassion.  He goes to absurd lengths to get even, not because he hates Jimmy but because he put so much value on a petty point.

A wonderful plot device has framed each of three seasons so far. Each begins with a flash-forward in black and white to a taste of Jimmy/Saul/Gene's future at the mall in Nebraska. Filmed in flat black and white, we see our hero reduced to the status of a working schlub. He brings his lunch to work. His only pleasure to surreptitiously watch his old basic cable commercials on a beat up VCR with a homemade cocktail.  He lives in fear of the police and is cut off from his one true passion: defending people that just need someone to give a crap about their future.

Which gets us back to Kim.  On that job interview last season she is asked where she is from.  She replies that she is from a small town in Kansas, near the Nebraska state line.  In another episode she wears a Kansas City Royals t-shirt to bed with Jimmy.

It's about 90 miles from Omaha to the Kansas state line.  Vince and Peter could have made Kim be from anywhere in the world, but she's just a short drive away from Gene's shopping mall.  This is not an accident.

Before the start of season 2 and season 3 I tweeted out that I wanted the flash-forward to end with a knock on Gene's door and for Kim Wexler to be the one who knocks.  It may or may not happen exactly that way, but I do believe Gene is destined to meet Kim in the black and white plains of his drab future.  I like to think that this will be more than just a flash-forward.  I think, at some point, the story will shift to the present.  And like the Wizard of Oz in reverse, the screen will fade to color when Jimmy and Kim meet there.

As for Chuck, I don't expect him to make it out of Better Call Saul alive.  I think that last week Jimmy and Kim did a masterful job of raising doubt about Jimmy's real motivations when "confessing" to his brother.  I expect that Chuck, under the influence of Howard, will realize that Jimmy can do more damage to HHM then they can do to him.  I think they will work out a compromise where Jimmy keeps his law license but has to stop using the McGill name when practicing law.

Hence, the need to become Saul Goodman. And at some point he too will become ensnared in the world of Fring and the cartel.  We know how that ends for Saul.  But the real story to watch, the one to root for involves Gene and Kim and the promise of some kind of future.  Much depends on just how much damage Saul does to her reputation.  I expect it will be enough for her to have to leave town. But not enough for her to turn him away when he reappears in her life, older, balder and bedecked in the uniform of an Omaha Cinnabon.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

President Trump (Volume 1)

The most widely read entry in the modest history of this blog was written a few hours after Donald Trump was elected president.  In that post I made 10 predictions for what Trump's election would mean to America.  My intention is to update the status of my predictions from time to time and to write about the general status of the Trump presidency.  Thirty eight days in, this is where we stand.

I.  New Business; The first 38 Days of President Trump.

1.  The man's brain is addled.  I never thought he was especially smart,but the feeble nature of his mental process and communication style is staggering. I first noticed this while listening to the inaugural address in my car.  He obviously used professional speechwriters for the address but just couldn't help adding personal flourishes like this one:

     "an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful 
      students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that 
      have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized 
      potential."


Well that is pretty dark. But can you spot the Trump flourishes?  I'm pretty sure he added "beautiful" to the description of students.  And the phrase "deprived of all knowledge" is really asinine. I just looked at the official transcript ant the word "all" is not there, which means he ad libbed that perfectly pointless adjective.

Every public utterance by him is made in the goofy syntax of a middle school child or a recovering stroke patient.  Whenever he is asked a substantive question, he wings it and betrays a lack of knowledge on whatever the issue is at hand.  He has demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge with regard to Frederick Douglass, The Two State Solution, and the practicality of repealing and replacing Obamacare.  I can't say that his brain has been deprived of all knowledge, but his capacity to think and speak seems to have diminished much more than in a typical man his age.

2.  His management style is chaos. Every administration struggles to get their arms around the enormity of the American presidency. Team Trump is further handicapped by an unwillingness to let holdovers stay in important positions and an understandable refusal of many competent Repbulicans to be affiliated with the coming train wreck that this presidency is likely to become.  There are hundreds of important jobs now vacant that he has not even nominated a successor. And the horrible execution of his immigration executive order is only the most public display of the disorganized shambles that this administration is.

3. His self-obsession and self-dealing are even greater than imagined.  We're about to start the sixth week of his presidency and he still brags about winning a very narrow election as if it was the greatest accomplishment in human history. Even more troubling, he has no regard for the appearance of personal impropriety. He will never disgorge his financial conflicts and he obviously believes that there is no need to be subtle about this practice. He doubled the fees to join his country club, and now spends almost every weekend promoting the place in person. His hotels are profiting from foreign governments and he even landed a very valuable trademark for himself in China. This scam is the essential fact of Trump's presidency: his aim is to finally become the multi-billionaire that he always lied about being.

4.  Congressional Republicans still think they can squeeze a conventional Republican agenda out of this shit show.  The stock market is performing very well.  Wall Street is still optimistic that the GOP will get major tax cuts and substantial reduction of economic regulations. It's very possible that they will, if Trump does not interfere with the process too much. He won't care about blowing a hole in the deficit, because he will declare any such predictions to be fake news.  So the GOP can load up on tax cuts for the rich as long as the middle class also see some relief.  This sugar rush will probably provide some additional growth this year and the job market might remain strong for the next 18 months or so. If that happens, the midterms will be less disastrous for Republicans than they probably fear now.

5.  He is ruthless.  His comments about the press and his obfuscations related to the Russian interference with his election are chilling.  He obviously intends to obstruct any investigations of his election and to punish anyone who leaks unfavorable information to the media.  He seems to believe that the media make an effective enemy for him and his plan to be re-elected is predicated on discrediting the very people tasked with exposing his corruption.

II.  Old Business: The State of My Predictions About Trump

1.  "The Iran Deal will be torn up."
He has been a bit reticent on this front.  He still bad mouths the deal but he has not acted to unilaterally end the agreement.  Some of this is due to his administration being bogged down in other fights but I think the greater measure of it can be attributed to the fact that the deal is good for America. The alternative is an Iran that is free to pursue nuclear weapons technology without any real threat of UN sanctions being imposed  I will be very happy to be wrong about this prediction, but I will say that he is keeping the option open. If he needs a big, scary enemy for target practice, Iran may be his best option.  Put this in the maybe column for now.

2.  "Antonin Scalia will be replaced by a conservative rather than by the extremely centrist Merrick Garland."

That nominee is in place and will get his hearing soon. The Democrats will face a lot of pressure to oppose him but they probably can't stop him from being sworn in. By the time I write Volume 2 of this series, he will be on the bench.

3.  ISIS has a new propaganda talking point.

Well, this I undersold.  Our national reputation has been severely damaged and we are beginning to pay an economic price for that. Travel to the United States has declined and the decline in searches for airfares to the United States have declined even further.  Most heartbreaking, we recently had a hate crime murder in Olathe, Kansas. Two Indian nationals were killed by an nationalist terrorist, one fatally.  There has also been an uptick in desecration of mosques and synagogues. I really hope that these are isolated incidents, but it does feel like the crazies have been emboldened by having a virulent nationalist in the Oval Office. This will have consequences. We are an embarrassment and the world is keeping its distance.


4. It is now the official policy of the United States government that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by China to disrupt American manufacturing. 

Still true. And I wrote that before Trump picked the CEO of Exxon to be the Secretary of State. 

5. At some point next year the Congress will repeal Obamacare.

This one has been the most interesting development.  For six year, vowing to repeal Obamacare was page one of the Republican catechism and Republicans delighted in voting to do so dozens of times. But now that they could actually pass a bill that their president would sign, those same members of congress have lost the appetite.  They clearly fear a backlash for getting rid of Obamacare benefits like the expansion of medicaid and mandatory coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.  But Obamacare is paid for with taxes on some very rich people and Paul Ryan believes that repealing those taxes is the most important thing he can do as speaker. 

I think the Republicans willl move more slowly on this front than I first anticipated. They will probably spend a good chunk of this year gutting the program but they are definitely gun shy about facing voters in a midterm who just lost their benefits.  I expect the final litigation package won't be voted on until 2018 and there will be some substantial delays in the expiration of the most popular benefits. If the Republican dodge catasrophe in the midterms, they will come back to gut more of the law in 2019.

6. At some point next year the Congress will pass massive tax cuts and the overwhelming majority of these cuts will benefit very wealthy people.

This will get done.

7. Immigration policy is about to become a lot less thoughtful. 

QED. 

8. There will be a bunch of dumb protectionist policies put in place. 

Trump is even worse on free trade than I expected him to be. He seems to believe that the United States should only make bilateral trade agreements rather than regional or global deals. TPP is dead and China will soon fill that vacuum. Instead of trade among nations on the Pacific being regulated by the values of neoliberalism, they will be governed by the whims of waterdowned one-party state pseudo-capitalism. That's terrible news.

One insane little nugget beginning to make the rounds is that Trump wants any trade deals to contain a provision that the United States can automatically back out of the deal if we run a trade deficit with the other country. That's the economic equivalent of a prenuptial agreement that triggers an automatic divorce should one spouse have more orgasms than the other.

9. The implements of the federal government will be used to settle the president's political scores.

We're seeing this mostly in the arena of press access, but believe me this will spread to lots of other places.

10. The new school of political science thought will be personality based

A little too early to tell on that one. I do think that someone will run on the Trump model in the democratic primaries. Mark Cuban is the most likely choice.  But if I am encouraged by anything it is the breadth of negative reaction to Trump's style.  Even some Fox news types are turned off by Trump's habit of making everything about himself.  I think the next president is likely to be a profound reaction to Trump's personality. So I would look for someone sober and unassuming, even modest, to be his toughest challenger.


III.  New Business: What to Look For.

Before too long, the government will begin passing substantial legislation on things like taxes and healthcare.  There might be a period of relative normalcy as the shock of having a deranged president wears off. But Trump can not help himself in certain arenas.  He will fight the press and he will insult his critics at every turn.  The leaks will probably continue because people in positions of authority know that their president is not trustworthy. I think the financial conflicts of interest are the area most likely to birth a full blown and sustained political scandal.

I also think Trump's penchant for secrecy is going to do him real damage. He can't keep doing these press conferences where he sounds like a crazy person by denying things that are absolutely true.

IV.  The End.

Liberals have been energized by this administration. Yesterday, this mobilization of political goodwill paid its first dividends in Delaware, where a special election was held for a senate seat that determined which party controlled that chamber.  The Democrat won by 17 points. buoyed in part by volunteers from neighboring states.

This enthusiasm should not be mistaken for a sign that Trump's presidency is doomed. A lot of liberals on Twitter seem to think that impeachment is imminent. It is not. Both house of congress are Republican and vast majorities of the people who voted for him think he's doing a fine job. So far he hasn't done anything that will hurt those supporters too much. But he also hasn't done anything to win over a single person that voted for Hillary or a third party candidate.

Trump probably needs to win the same states he won last time to be re-elected. He probably needs dramatic economic improvements to hold on to states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Maybe his tax cuts will stimulate enough activity to make that happen, but I still think Trump will be an underdog to win re-election.

V.  2020 Foresight.

Well, I guess these periodic updates on Trumpland will need a hook.  So I will conclude with a forecast for how I think this term of the presidency is likely to end.

Resignation:                                                                  1%*
Death or Incapacity                                                       2% (Not to be morbid, but it happens.)
Impeachment                                                                 3%
Completes Term, Gets Re-elected                               21%
Completes Term, loses to Democrat                           58%
Completes Term, loses nomination                            10%
Completes Term but does not run for 2nd term            5%

*Asterisk for the possibility of resigning in order to avoid imminent impeachment. that could happen, but he would never voluntarily give up this kind of power.)
Trump im


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President-Elect Trump

Well, I was wrong and I was wrong loud. I'm the Dick Morris of 2016.

The best analysis requires the best data, and it will be weeks before we have that. Right now it looks like not enough Clinton voters turned out to match a groundswell of support for Trump in the corridor across the Great Lakes.  I expected her to lose Ohio but Trump winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are going to prove to be enough to win the presidency. When all the votes have been counted, Trump will have lost the popular vote by about one million ballots.  Right now, Trump appears to have won Wisconsin with right about the same number of votes that Romney got four years ago. But Hillary Clinton is about 250,000 votes behind what Obama got then. Donald Trump seems to have also won Michigan and Pennsylvania with right about the same vote totals that Romney got. It's early, but it looks like Clinton failed to get her voters out in those three states and that's why we will have a Trump presidency.

We will have time to figure out who didn't turn up and why. But the most important thing to start thinking about are the consequences of this election. They are real and some of them are immediate. I'm sure I will think of more as the days go by,

Ten Things That a Trump Presidency Means for America and the World.

1. The Iran Deal will be torn up. Iran will be allowed to resume its nuclear program and the west will have no access to inspect those facilities. At some point Trump may use this as an excuse to make war, but not right away.

2. Antonin Scalia will be replaced by a conservative rather than by the extremely centrist Merrick Garland. I don't think Trump cares much about the Supreme Court and I'm sure he will be told that fear of a moderate court is what inspired a lot of people who did not like him to vote for him. I think he will give those people a candidate they agree with. He or she will just have to kiss a lot of ass in the screening interview.

3. ISIS has a new propaganda talking point. The Crusaders just elected a man who doesn't even want to allow Muslims in to his country. We will find out if having a president say the magic words "Radical Islamic Terrorism" causes ISIS and like minded groups to wilt.  Call me skeptical for now.

4. It is now the official policy of the United States government that Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by China to disrupt American manufacturing.  The Paris Accords will be moot and we're going to see a whole bunch of environmental regulations ripped up.

5. At some point next year the Congress will repeal Obamacare. The Democrats will fight to save some of the most important protections, and they will probably succeed in saving a few things. The GOP will agree to some watered down continuation of the requirement to cover people with preexisting conditions. But the subsidies and the individual mandate will be gone. The fight will be over whether states can keep the Medicaid expansion. I think the Republicans will be afraid to take this away, but I'm sure they will dilute it.

6. At some point next year the Congress will pass massive tax cuts and the overwhelming majority of these cuts will benefit very wealthy people. Those coal miners won't have to worry about pesky safety regulations restricting their work condition but at least the Estate Tax will be abolished for them.

7. Immigration policy is about to become a lot less thoughtful. Trump has to come through on some version of building a wall and deporting lots of people. Spoiler alert: Mexico will not pay for the wall but there will be very real pain felt by young Americans who were brought here by undocumented parents. The GOP establishment will try to blunt this, but Trump does not owe them much.  This is going to be ugly.   And we're going to stop taking refugees from Syria. We will contribute to the horrible humanitarian crisis there rather than helping it.

8. There will be a bunch of dumb protectionist policies put in place. Trump will pass some symbolic law that punishes companies for moving jobs overseas and he'll create a new tax shelter that allows those companies to move money back to the United States without paying taxes on it.  This won't affect many people in the real world, but he has to have something to point to when people ask him what he did about all the countries he claims are "stealing" from us because we run trade deficits with them.

9. The implements of the federal government will be used to settle the president's political scores. He will try to pass some slapdash attempt to make our libel laws more like those of Britain. He will grant access only to favorable media outlets and he will use the bully pulpit to get into insult contests with figures great and small.

10. The new school of political science thought will be personality based. They will say that W., Obama and Trump were all charismatic figures who defeated candidates that were less likable and more bland in the alternative. Someone or other will run for the Democratic nomination in the style of Donald Trump. Mark Cuban comes to mind. Maybe Michael Moore will run too. We will never expect candidates to disclose their tax returns or delineate complex policy proposals again.

Unless, of course, this presidency is a disaster. It's entirely possible, and I would say likely that the idea of electing a man bereft of experience and lacking a single idea more serious than "Make America Great Again" will be discredited in short order.  We'll know by the midterm elections if not sooner. I suspect Trump will get the typical honeymoon and score some early successes on easy stuff next year. Americans won't really form a lasting opinion of him until he responds to a significant crisis. That will come sometime during 2017.

The American people were asked to choose between a career politician with some sketchy advisors and a propensity for secrecy and an ignorant, semi-literate rage monster with the temperament of a four  year old and the knowledge base of a high school sophomore of middling intelligence. The choice our electoral system made between them disheartens me as an American citizen, but I know the hurt is so much worse for people who are Muslim, Latino, recent immigrants or have been the victim of a sexual assault. It looks for the moment that there are more people afraid of what a changing world meant to their own future than were concerned about the well-being of such marginalized groups. We overlooked so many warning signs and  condoned some genuinely horrific behavior yesterday. This is not a pretty day in our history. And we have voted for worse yet things to come.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

4th General Election Forecast: Clinton 49.7, Trump 44.6, Johnson 4.1, McMullin 0.8, Stein 0.7 (Electoral College 322, Trump 216)

In about 48 hours, we will know the identity of the election winner. That winner will be Hillary Clinton. The margin will be similar to the election of 2012 but there are a handful of states that could go either way.  Trump would need to win every single one of them to get to 270 votes.  If you go to Predictit.com and buy shares in the states most likely to vote for Hillary, you can get 274 EV and the cheapest state would be Pennsylvania at 79 cents. Even if Trump pulls one truly significant upset in one of those states, Hillary could save the election by winning one of the other states where she is favored. Florida (69 cents) or North Carolina (61 cents) plus New Hampshire (76 cents).

But the elections could be close. If Nate Silver again correctly predicts every single contest this time, and his model does not change tomorrow, she will win 278 to 260. But consider that this includes Trump winning Nevada, because Nate's models, unlike betting markets, do not factor in the early vote. I think Hillary stands an excellent change of exceeding 300 Electoral Votes, but that's not guaranteed.

Trump's route to 270.

To build Trump's path to 270, one would expect to start him with the 206 Electoral Votes that Romney won in 2012. The day before the 2012 election I wrote a blog post called Romney has 5 Paths to 270 (and one to 269.)  This was based on my reading of the polls, the futures markets and the 2008 vote.  For each of those paths, I assumed that Romney would win flip North Carolina because it was his best chance of a pick up. He did flip NC back to red, but four years later it is the state most likely to flip back to blue.  So let's start Trump with 191 EV.  The only other Romney states he has a significant chance of losing are Arizona, Nebraska's 2nd congressional District and possibly Utah. But a close election would mean he turned out enough of his voters to hang on to the shaky red states. So he starts with 191. From that starting point he needs to add:

Three  Contests where he is favored:
1. Maine's 2nd congressional district, where he is currently the slight favorite. (192)
2. Iowa, where polls have shown him ahead for awhile. (198)
3. Ohio, where his anti-free trade positions and his support for the coal industry have resonated. (216)

These are the only contested states where he is the betting favorite.  I think he is likely to win all three of them, but I expect Ohio to be close.

Nothing Could Be More Floridian.
4. Not unlike Romney in the previous cycle, he almost certainly wins NC if he wins the presidency. But unlike last time, the polls and betting markets are against him, slightly. (231)
5. Florida, Florida, Florida.  I once thought FL would be an easier win for Trump than NC but today's early vote numbers looked great for Democrats. I really do favor Hillary here, but it's easy to go broke betting on the good sense of Floridians. (260)

The Last 10 Are the Hardest.
For weeks I assumed Donald's best path to 270 would involve Nevada and New Hampshire getting him to exactly 270. The NV numbers do not look good for Republicans and Hillary is also a heavy favorite in New Hampshire, which seems to be trending leftward as the Boston suburbs sprawl ever northward. This is still his best path, and you go to election night with the polls you have, not the polls you want. (270)

A Big 10 Upset.

If Trump fails to run the states listed above, he will need to pull a significant upset elsewhere. His best chances are in Big 10 Country:

A. If Trump wins Pennsylania (20 EV)  or Michigan (17 EV), he could win even if he lost North Carolina and New Hampshire. He also could win the election if he kept NC but lost both NV and NH.
Hillary's price on Predictit.com is 83 cents in PA and 79 in MI.

B.  If Trump wins either Wisconsin or Minnesota (each with 10 EV), he could afford to love NV and NH. Hillary's price on Predictit.com is 86 cents in WI and 88 in MN.

When the first Comey letter came out 10 days ago, Predictwise.com gave Hillary a 91% of winning. That got down to 82% before starting to rebound. She is nearly back to where she was, standing at 89%. Trump has a tough road to 270. With a good result in NC and FL, the election may come to a merciful end a couple hours sooner than expected.


ForecastPopularElectoralChanges
First (July 10th)Clinton 50, Trump 44, Johnson 4, Stein 2.Clinton 348-190(From 2012) Clinton wins NC and NE-2
Second (Sep 26th)Clinton 49, Trump 45, Johnson 4, Stein 2Clinton 340-198Trump wins IA, NE-2 & ME-2
Third (October 16th)Clinton 50, Trump 43, Johnson 4, Stein 2, McMullin 1Clinton 359-179Clinton wins IA, NE-2, ME-2 & Arizona
Fourth (November 7th)Clinton 50, Trump 44, Johnson 4, Stein 1, McMullin 1Clinton 322-216Trump wins AZ, IA, OH, NE-2, ME-2









Sunday, October 23, 2016

UUntitled Reaction to the Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere

This post contains spoilers for the Walking Dead's Season Seven Premiere.

This post is untitled because I don't want to spoil the Episode for People on the West Coast. It's title would be "When You Cheat Your Audience, You Declare a War You Cannot Win."

We all knew that season six was going to end with Negan braining someone with Lucille. The only reason to watch that episode was to find out who.  The producers decided to cheat the audience of that moment because they knew the "Who Shot J.R.?" factor would create a lot of buzz.  But it was a cheat of the fans that was destined to fail for two reasons. The first reason is that the deaths were inevitably going to leak in the age of social media and camera phones.  And leak they did. In fact, good portions of the script were out there for the past week.  Once that cat was out of the bag, the episode was doomed to failure because the melodramatic emotion of the cast members could never play straight without the suspense or shock factor of the deaths.

This cheat was especially bad because they had to know that lots of super devoted fans would obsess on figuring out who the kills were. The most convincing case based on the evidence was for Michonne.  The finale contained several POV shots.  The first few were all from Michonne's perspective.  The last one was from the victim's. If you respect the audience, you would keep that commitment.  And I will admit that even as the show started, I hoped it would be Michonne. Michonne is one of the best characters in the show but the integrity of the show required her death. I was really hoping to not be cheated. I hoped the leaks were disinformation. That would have really been something.

You put your audience into suspense, those who really care enough are going to find a way to end the suspense. So some of those devoted fans scoped out the shooting locations and figured out who was missing. Then someone put their mitts on a script and shared its contents online.  I normally avoid spoilers because I'd rather enjoy a show than play "I've got a secret" with its creators. But I had no hesitation in reading these spoilers and watching the associated YouTube videos.  If you don't respect me enough to present an honest work of art, I do not feel bound by the normal rules of fandom. And I'm obviously not along.

Execution.
To be fair, the episode could have been worse.  My initial expectation was that Lucille's victim would be Abraham.  He's important enough for the other characters to care about but not so important that his absence would undermine the show. Glenn is a great character, so his death upped the stakes considerably. But the moment was so anticlimactic that I actually chuckled at the detail, meant to be shocking. that his eye was hanging loose from the socket. I had a similar reaction to Carol shooting Lizzy in the back of the head while she looked at the flowers.  This show overestimates its emotional range.

The storyline of Negan feeling the need to break Rick made sense. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems capable of carrying the story forward as a villain with the right mix of pathos and mischief. That's very encouraging.

If I could give one note to the creators going forward, it would be to shift away from the relentlessly dark tone toward something more constructive and at least occasionally amusing. They went all in on making Negan's arrival frightening.  They need to step in the other direction for a bit.

AMC's lousy spin off, Fear The Walking Dead saw its ratings plummet this year and I think the cliffhanger was part of that. It was probably the first tangible fallout from mistreating the mother ship's audience so blatantly.  But none of this will immediately impact the show.  Tonight's ratings will be huge and people will stick with the show for the rest of this season.  If they follow the comic books, season eight should contain some great action that might give the show a revival.

AMC needs this show and the cash it generates. There are enough die hard fans that it will go for at least another four seasons. I"m not giving up on it, because the premise remains fascinating and there are still a handful of characters that I feel invested with. But the show's best moment probably passed, and there is now one fewer death that had the potential to be truly shocking.  Damn shame they ruined that moment by provoking their fans.

What Happens Next.

Keeping Darryl as a hostage was a good wrinkle and I am looking forward to what happens between him and Dwight.  The Kingdom shoul introduce a handful of new characters and at least the tiger will be cool. The coming arc is pretty obvious: Rick and his people will rebuild and reform. We've seen that before, but never from such a low starting point.

So yes, I'm still on board. I might even blog about the mid season finale or some other milestone. But if Rick and the gang looked down, they would probably see a dorsal fin sticking out of the water.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Third General Election Forecast: Clinton 50, Trump 43, Johnson 4, Stein 2, McMullin 1 (Electoral College Clinton 359, Trump 179)

I did my first forecast before the conventions.  I stood pat with that prediction until three weeks ago, when Trump's enduring poll surge forced me to modify a 50-44 Clinton result just slightly to Clinton winning 49-45. Since then, we've had 3 debates and a never ending string of dumpster fires for the Republican ticket have tilted the race back in Hillary's favor. I am therefore adjusting my projection back toward the Democratic nominee. I now project Clinton to win 50 percent of the vote to Trump's 43 percent. One new wrinkle: I think Evan McMullin will get one percent of the vote. With a little bit of luck he could catch Jill Stein for 4th place.

ForecastPopularElectoralChanges
First (July 10th)Clinton 50, Trump 44, Johnson 4, Stein 2.Clinton 348-190(From 2012) Clinton wins NC and NE-2
Second (Sep 26th)Clinton 49, Trump 45, Johnson 4, Stein 2Clinton 340-198Trump wins IA, NE-2 & ME-2
Third (October 16th)Clinton 50, Trump 43, Johnson 4, Stein 2, McMullin 1Clinton 359-179Clinton wins IA, NE-2, ME-2 & Arizona

Specific Changes.

For the second time I'm updating only to move a few electoral college votes in one direction. In fact the four changes in this update cancel out the three changes from the first. Here are my thoughts on each:

Iowa and Maine 2nd District: These are places that Obama won twice and I don't think Trump is going to ouperform Romney anywhere. Maine's 2nd district is mostly white and rural, so that's probalby his best pickup opportunity but I think his oafish behavior has turned off enough people to prevent him doing better than Romney even there. This behavior simply does not fly in Iowa.  He will lose for the same reason that he lost the caucuses there: there is a more palatable alternative.

Nebraska 2nd district:  My hunch is that this will be be the closest jurisdiction on election night. Warren Buffet is fighting hard for Hillary there and I think she will out perform Obama in 2012, when he lost it but probably fare worse then 2008 when he won it.  Nate Silver gives Trump 51% of winning it.  I think Hillary will finish strong, so I'm tipping this over to him.

Arizona: This would be a significant pickup for Hillary. It's only voted for a Democrat once in the last 68 years. But the states Latino population is booming and Hillary is putting resources there, something that Obama never did. (In part because it was McCain's home state.)  I think the state has progressed and will flip blue.  

Four Scenarios for Election Night.

In a close election the battle grounds would be Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.  This is not shaping up to be a close election. THe battlegrounds are instead Arizona, Iowa and Georgia.  But how big will the margin be?  I think the race will take one of 4 paths. 

1. Clinton wins by more than Obama's 2008 Margin.  Barack Obama won the popular vote in 2008 by nearly 10 million votes. That translated to 7.36% and was good enough for 365 electoral votes.  I think Hillary has a tough rode to get to 365.  She should win all 332 of Obama's 2012 states plust North Carolina. That gets her to 348.  NE-2 and Arizona only get her to 360. (Note: the electoral college has been updated since the 20120 census, which tilted it a few points toward the Red, because Illinois, New York and Pennsylania all lost electors.)  To get past 360, she would need to add a true upset.  Georgia and or Utah would do the trick. So would Missouri.  Montana would only get her to 363. A sweep of all these states would get her to 395.  I think that's very unlikely.  Chances of Hillary winning with 365 or more electoral votes?  About 10%.

2. Clinton wins by less than Obama's 2008 margin but more than 2012.
Obama was re-elected by a margin roughly 1/2 the size of his first win.  He won the popular vote by just over five million votes, which worked out to 3.86% and 332 electoral votes  I think Hillary is very likely to win North Carolina and is only really needs to worry about Iowa and Maine's second district. If she wins NC but loses those 2, she still comes out ahead of Obama in 2012, gaining 15 but losing 7. That would be 340-198.  Chances of Hillary winning 333-364?  About 60%.

3.  Clinton Wins an Election Closer than 2012.
This would take a substantial shift towards Trump.  He presently seems incapable of making that happen, but outside events could intervene.  If Trump defends NC, he will probably add Iowa and ME-2 to Romney's pile.  That gets Hillary down to 325.  Trump might also win Ohio and Florida under these circumstances. That would get Hillary down to 278.  Chances of  Hillary winning with 270-332?  About 20%.

4. Trump Wins, Barely.
In my second forecast I went to some pains to describe Trump's likeliest path to 270.  That involves
1. Defending NC to keep Romney's 206 votes.
2. Add Iowa and ME-2. (213)
3. Add Ohio (231)
4. Add Florida (260)
5. Add Nevada (266)
6. Add New Hampshire (270)

That's still his likeliest path, but Nevada and New Hampshire seem to be trending towards Clinton in a big way. To replace those 10 votes, he would need a substantial upset in a largish blue state.  Michigan, Wisconsin and (of course) Pennsylania would do the trick. Nate Silver gives Trump about a 10 percent chance in PA and WI, slightly less in MI.  Chances of keeping Hillary below 270?  Less than 10%.

Enter McMullin.
Evan McMullin has emerged as a sane alternative for conservatives who are repulsed by Trump.  He is only on the ballot in 11 states but that doesn't really matter because he's only campaigning in Utah. He is running a de facto favorite son campaign, albeit in a state that is no longer his home. (He was born in Utah but raised in Washington State.)  He is a Mormon and a BYU alum.  His appeal is obvious especially to social consservatives that don't want to vote for a brigand like Trump but are reluctant to vote for the Democrat or Libertarian.

Some recent polls have him getting around 20% of the vote in Utah.  With a little luck he could make a 3 way race.  He is selling a fantasy scenario of winning Utah withe around 500,000 votes and somehow depriving Hillary of 270 electoral college votes.  The race would then go the House of Representatives, where he would have to persuade 26 delegations to vote for him.  This will not happen as it would require asking Republicans to ignore about 50 million votes case for its nominee in favor of a guy who probably will get around one million votes.

But Trump has turned off a lot of voters. There are a lot of people do not want to tell their kids and grandkids that they voted for a monster over the first female candidate for president. One optin is to lie, the other is to indulge McMullin's fantasy. At least some public intellectuals on the right are going to do just that.  With some luck, he could lap Jill Stein and the Green Party, especially if Hillary finishes strong and convincnes enough young people not to waste their votes on the profoundly unqualified Jill Stein.