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 

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. 


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 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 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 is 86 cents in WI and 88 in MN.

When the first Comey letter came out 10 days ago, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sometimes the Smallest Crimes Are the Most Revealing

In the 1997 Neil Labute film "In the Company of Men" there is an early scene that takes place in a men's room.  The film's villian, Aaron Eckhart leans on a sink while his co-worker and best friend occupies a stall. When the friend lowers his pants, about a dozen coins fall out of his pockets and spread out over the floor.  Eckhart teases him for a moment, then tells him not to worry about the coins. He stoops down to the floor and begins to pick up the scattered change.  When he's done he looks at the accumulated coins and picks out three or four coins, worth no more than 45 cents.  He puts them in his pocket and leaves the rest in his hand, presumably to return to his friend.

It's a small gesture, but very revealing. He's the kind of man who would steal a couple of dimes from his best friend. Over the course of the film, Eckhart becomes the clear villian and turns the friend into an unwitting henchman in a series of depraved acts against an innocent hearing-impaired woman.  The theft of those coinss is easy to miss on first viewing but it establishes so much about where these characters are headed.

Eight days ago tape surfaced of the Republican nominee for president bragging about being able to get away with extremely lewd behavior towards women because he is a celebrity. Since then at least nine women have come forward to describe outrageous, lascivious agression by Mr. Trump.  As a result, the campaign has descended into an argument about the meaning and boundaries of sexual assault versus behavior that is merely crude and boorish.  I find some of these women very credible and I believe he has committed multiple sexual assaults.  The accounts are horrific but they can't be independently verified.

Trump has responded, predictably, by assailing the veracity of the women's accounts and questioned both their character and (God help us) their physical attractiveness.  Just two weeks ago we learned that Mr. Trump once claimed losses of nearly a billion dollars on one year's tax returns and less than a week since he admitted that he used those losses to not pay taxes for many years afterwards.  This behavior was apparently legal under the convuluted tax code provisions in place at the time. In an oridinary election season, this would have been the defining moment of the campaign. But we have sunk only lower since then and there's little hope of a rebound.

But I write today to discuss a much smaller transgression. It is not a crime as serious as sexual assault or financial chicanery on the scale of Mr. Trump's tax dodge.  You can't even buy a pizza for the amount of money involved.  I write about this not becase I think it will change anyone's vote on October 15th. If you still intend to vote for the Republican nominee, it will take something unfathomable to change your mind.  But petty crimes are sometimes the most revealing.

One of the few bright spots of the 2016 media coverage has been the yeoman work of David Fahrenthold. Writing for the Washington Post, he has doggedly tracked down every charitable contribution that Trump has claimed ot make and every single line item on the tax returns of the Trump Foundation.  This week Mr. Faharenthold found an entry from 1989 for a donation to the Boy Scouts of America.  The donation was in the amount of  seven dollars.  It was annotated with the word "Membership".  Fahrenthold Tweeted this out to his followers and they pointed out that this number could have been for the membership fee for Donald Trump Jr. The younger Mr. Trump was 11 years old at the time of the donation.  The Boy Scouts of America did indeed confirm that the annual membership for their organization was seven dollars in 1989.

That's who Donald Trump is.  Rather than write a seven dollar check for his son's Boy Scout troop he wrote the check from his charitable foundation.  This is a very minor violation of the tax code.  But think of the families who have to scrape together the funds for their children to participate in extra cirricular activities. It is so revelaing of his character. Mr. Trump is a nasty, petty individual who will cut every corner to gain an advantage, however small.

It is a common trait among unsavory types.  The boxing promoter Don King has been sued numerous times for having defrauded boxers out of various sums of money. Hector "Macho" Commacho was once called to testify at one of these trials and he testified to a variety of penny-ante ways that King swindled him out of money over a period of years.  Asked at one point why he thought Mr. King would behave that way, Commacho said "Because Don King would rather steal a nickel than earn a dollar."

That case was settled out of court and Don King kept untold millions, some earned, some stolen a nickel or two at time. Don King is a prominent supporter of Donald Trump's campaign for president. They have been friends for a long time, going back to various boxing events held at Donald Trump's casinos in Atlantic City. They did a lot of business together and somehow never ended up in court against one another.  I guess they got along in bussiness

In 1966 Don King was convicted of non-neligent homicde. He did nearly four years in prison.  His victim, Sam Garrett worked for King at an illegal gambling den.  King stomped him to death because he owed him $600.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Questions I Would Ask at the Debate

Before the first Republican presidential primary debate I posted on Facebook that I felt like a wedding guest who just realized that the Best Man, who is getting up to give his toast, is visibly drunk.  Before tonight's debate, I feel like a wedding guest again, but this time I'm at the church.  The preacher just asked if anyone knows of a reason why the couple should not be married.  In the pew behind me, I just heard the bride's ex-boyfriend clear his throat, and he is rising to his feet.  I turn around to look, and I see that there are note cards in his hands.  I look closer, and realize that they have pictures.

To put the past week in some broader context context, consider that the last debate was 13 days ago. Since then we learned that one of the nominees lost almost a billion dollars in on tax year.  And no one is talking about that.

I started thinking about questions for this debate a week ago and I realized something: it's difficult to phrase good questions for Donald Trump.  Whatever you ask, he will just pick up a bead and run with it. The debate rules prohibit the audience members from asking follow-up questions, although the moderator can do so.  They will have their work cut out for them.

Donald has a pretty good knack for reading rubes.  He normally might be well suited to this debate. He might, for instance, be able to read the mood of the qestioners well enough to give them the feeling that he is relating to them, even as the words he deliversa re indecipehrable nonsense.  Of course, he will have to deal with an extra heaping of anger and resentment tonight, of the media, of his opponnent and of the party establishment that is abandoning him by the hour. He may think that his best tactic is to attack, attack, attack.  That will be an epic mistake and very awkward television history, sort of like if somone stood up at Westminster Abbey and interrupted the Pincess Diane/Prince Charles weddding by bringing up Chuck's love for Camilla Parker Bowles.

For Donald Trump.
1. You have spoken at campaign rallies about recent incidents between the United States Navy and the Iranian Navy.  You have remarked on the fact that some Iranian sailors make obscene gestures to our destroyers and that if you were the commander-in-chief you would order the commanders of those ships to kill the offending sailors.  When told that this would constitute an act of war, you claimed that it would not.  Let's suppose that after you take office, an American sailor fliped of an Iranian vessel and the Iranian ship responded by shooting that sailor dead.  How would you respond to the death of that American sailor?

2.  You often brag about having graduated from the Wharton School of Business. Whenever discussing trade deals you refer to trade deficits that the United States runs with other countries as those countries "stealing" or "taking" money from "us."  Why do you think trade imbalances are theft?

3. You have said that Climate Change is a hoax created by the Chinese to undermine American manufacturing. What evidence do you have for this and how much time have you spent analyzing the scientific evidence for climate change, which has been accepted by virtually every climate scientist on the planet.

Bonus Retread Question:  In your campaign speeches you oftne say that business experience and knowledge of how to get business deals done as the most important qualifiction you have to serve as president.  You have blamed a lot of President Obama's failures on his lack of business experience.  Why then did you choose Mike Pence, a man with absolutely no business experience to be your running mate?  (Incredibly, the Republican party has twice nominated buisness men for president on the theory that those skills translate well to being president. And yet both men choose as their would-be successor men with literally zero such experience.)

For Secretary Clinton.

1. Throughout your career you have shown a prediliction for secrecy. Recent examples include your refusal to release transcripts of speeches given to private banks and your decision to use a private email server so as to minimize having your communications be subject to disclosures required of official documents. Often the consequences of this sercrecy is more sever than the consequences of prior disclosure would have been  Have you learned this lessoon and will you pledge to err on the side of transparency going forward

2. The United States gives about 3 billion dollars of foreign aid to Israel every year.  Israel is a wealthy country that continues to violate international law by occupying Palestinian territory and building illegal settlements there. What does the United States get for this aid and will you be willing to withhold those funds if Israel continues to refuse to work towards an indpendent Palestinian state?

3.   The current opiod addiction problem relates back to the decision of the FDA to approve Oxycontin for pain-relief in the 1990s.  Many doctors are now reigning in their presciption rates for those drugs, but many users have turned to the black market to get their fix and are now being prosecuted for drug crimes.  What would your policy priorities related to this epidemic be?

Bonus Retread Question  Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was intentionally killed under your orders issed by President Obama whil you were Secretary of State.  What policies will you put in place to ensure that no one will be denied due process during the process of adding names to this list.  (I barely had to change the wording of that one.)