Thursday, February 28, 2019

ANS -- Why Democrats Should Ignore the Chatter About Moving ‘Too Far Left’ and Go Big

This is an interesting piece about why moving to the center when campaigning doesn't help.  So go ahead and be more extreme -- the major danger is all the media guys who keep saying "don't do it!" We should not let the media convince people that moving to the center is a way to win.  

Why Democrats Should Ignore the Chatter About Moving 'Too Far Left' and Go Big

Backlash is inevitable. So Democrats should be bold.

Alexander Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal at the Capitol in February 2019. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

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The 2018 midterms brought an infusion of fresh blood, new ideas, and youthful energy into the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, and a number of lawmakers—notably those with presidential aspirations—are pushing ambitious, unapologetically progressive proposals to solve some very serious problems. The most prominent may be Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, but there several others: Senator Bernie Sanders's proposal to significantly expand the inheritance tax; Senator Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax and universal-childcare planSenator Kirsten Gillibrand's bid to put predatory lenders out of business by empowering the Post Office to serve as a community bank; Senator Cory Booker's proposal to use "baby bonds" to close the racial wealth gap and, of course, various versions of Medicare for All. And in the House, Democrats are championing a comprehensive proposal to advance key voting rights and curb the influence of deep-pocketed donors.

While it's an exciting moment for progressives who have long urged Democrats to embrace these kinds of bold policy ideas, it's also unleashed a predictable flood of hand-wringing from pundits, conservatives, and more moderate Democrats about whether the Dems are moving "too far to the left." Rather than acknowledging that their own policy preferences hew to the center or the right, the story they tell is that Dems risk alienating college-educated suburban women or disenchanted Trump voters or some other group they ostensibly need to win over in 2020. We also hear endless concerns over the "price tag" for these kinds of policies—never mind that such questions don't seem to come up when we're talking about defense spending or high-end tax-cuts.

It's a safe bet that these kinds of worries will be a staple of mainstream editorial pages and cable news panels for the foreseeable future. But we should really ignore them. Here's why.

The first reason may seem depressing on its face, but could ultimately be liberating. There's good evidence suggesting that voters punish the two major parties for enacting their agendas, and it doesn't seem to matter that much what those agendas are. In other words, in this highly polarized environment, electoral backlash is inevitable, regardless of whether or not a party is seen as moderate or tries to "find common ground" with its political opponents. Negative partisanship is a powerful force.


The fight over the Affordable Care Act illustrates this perfectly. The ACA wasn't, in fact, a scheme first championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, but it did feature the same basic approach. In an effort to make the bill bipartisan, Barack Obama launched "endless efforts to cajole and encourage and beg and plead for Republican support," as Paul Waldman wrotein The American Prospect in 2012, none which kept the GOP from calling it a "government takeover" of the health-care system that would leave millions of families in ruins and literally kill your grandmother.

In other words, Democrats can try to prevent backlash by compromising with the GOP, but they will probably find that it's coming either way. Matt Grossman, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, looked at the electoral consequences of major legislation dating back to the early 1950s, and he made a compelling case that the kind of resistance Obamacare faced could have been anticipated. According to his research, when Democrats have passed significant laws, it's consistently energized their opposition, and the same is true for Republicans: As we saw in November, when they enact their agenda, fired-up Dems come out and punish them at the polls.

In an article for FiveThirtyEight titled, "Voters Like A Political Party Until It Passes Laws," Grossman wrote that while "it might not sound intuitive,…policy victories usually result in a mobilized opposition and electoral losses [as] voters usually punish rather than reward parties that move policy to achieve their goals." It's a dynamic that results from a two-party system in which "neither party seems capable of sustaining a public majority to carry out its governing vision to completion" because their congressional majorities are "simply too narrow and short-lived."


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When Republicans are in power, they tend to pursue a maximalist conservative agenda, even when public opinion isn't with them. Last year's tax scam was a good example. Many of us on the left attribute the GOP's tendency to overreach to the fact that they know shifting demographics are not on their side, and they're trying to lock in as many structural advantages as possible while they can. But perhaps they simply understand that electoral backlash is inevitable in a way that Democrats haven't fully embraced.

If a backlash is inevitable, you might as well go big. But here's an important caveat: Not all backlashes are created equal. Some dissipate relatively quickly. The Republican uprising over the Affordable Care Act came and went; the law became much more popular just a few years later when Republicans attacked it. That wasn't the case with the backlash against California Republicans after then-Governor Pete Wilson ran a notably xenophobic campaign in 1994 and then pushed a series of measures that would bar undocumented immigrants from public education and health services. The party hasn't recovered yet in the Golden State.

And there are also areas where pursuing a given policy is worth any painful electoral consequences that may follow. Climate change represents a policy area where we face something of a choice between taking sweeping and uncompromising action or facing potential catastrophe. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said after conservatives panned her arguably over-ambitious proposal to tackle the climate crisis, "We simply don't have any other choice. If it's radical to propose a solution on the scale of the problem, so be it."

The other reason to ignore the hand-wringing over the Dems' increasingly progressive agenda is that several studies have found that voters don't punish presidential candidates, at least, for taking positions that the pundits view as "extreme." Summarizing the data inThe Washington Post, George Washington University political scientist John Sides wrote that the data show "there is scarcely any penalty for being extreme. To put it bluntly: Candidates may be extreme because they can get away with it." (He added that while conventional wisdom holds that Barry Goldwater and George McGovern lost badly in 1964 and 1972, respectively, because they were outside the mainstream, "this had as much if not more to do with the fundamental conditions in the country, not with their own ideological positions.")


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Sides cautions that one shouldn't conclude that "candidate policy views have no impact whatsoever," but "it does mean that an American public that is not that ideological may not use ideology as a shortcut in voting for presidential candidates. And this in turn allows presidential candidates to have views well to the left or right of the average voter."

Political scientists Christopher Achens and Larry Bartels have argued convincingly that most voters just don't have a solid grasp of public policy and take their cues from politicians they admire and other influential voices. So there is a danger that the media's relentless drumbeat about these proposals supposedly being outside the mainstream could convince voters that the criticism has merit.

That's why we shouldn't just ignore all the hand-wringing about Dems' going too far. We need to push back against it aggressively before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

ANS -- To Disempower Lobbyists, Give Congressional Staff a Raise

This presents an alternative way to disempower lobbyists..  Then the article explains why that would work, and would improve our government by bringing in both experience and diversity to our law-writing.  
When my father worked for the City and County of San Francisco as an electrical inspector, he told me that SF had the most honest inspectors in the country and that they paid a high salary because it prevents people from taking bribes.  It seemed to work.  This is an interesting psychological principle that makes sense if you don't believe the libertarians that the only motivation on earth is money.  

To Disempower Lobbyists, Give Congressional Staff a Raise

If we want to diminish the power of corporate lobbyists in Congress, one of the best but most overlooked ways to do so would be to give congressional staffers a raise.

Over the weekend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that her office was going to ensure a living wage for all her staffers by paying no one less than $52,000, which constitutes a living wage in Washington, D.C., for two adults, with one working. Part of making that a reality in Ocasio-Cortez's office means capping her staff salaries at $80,000. Staff salaries are not fixed: in 2018, each office had an average of $1.36 million to spend on staff salaries and official office expenses — the actual number will vary based on factors like the cost of renting an office in the member of Congress's district. While $1.36 million may sound like a lot, with multiple roles to fill in D.C. and in the district, it's spent quickly. In addition to in-district office space, members need staff who can draft legislation to enact a member of Congress's policy proposals; staff dedicated to all the various policy issues a member of Congress must vote on; constituent services staff to help people who live in the member's district; a scheduler to handle the flood of meeting requests and help the member manage the demands on their time; communications staff; and more. As Ocasio-Cortez noted, some of these staffers helping to run the country make around $30,000 in a district where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment goes for over $2,000 a month.

Low staff salaries and limited staff budgets don't just mean that we aren't investing in the people who help ensure we have a well-functioning government — they also empower corporate lobbyists. The revolving door is the most familiar problem: Someone working for a deep-pocketed trade association (the sort of association that represents industries like banking or telecom, and spends time crafting proposed legislation, compiling research and lobbying Congress) can make multiple times what they'd make as a congressional staffer, especially if they have lots of connections, even though they're doing the same work. However, the impact of low staff salaries goes beyond the temptation for a staffer barely making ends meet in a very expensive city to cash out. After all, businesses now spend more money lobbying Congress than taxpayers do for all congressional staff. Why? Because when congressional offices are overwhelmed or understaffed, corporate lobbyists and employees of trade associations are eager to fill in the gaps and provide free labor.

Members of Congress frequently attend multiple hearings a week — sometimes multiple hearings a day — where they ask questions of witnesses testifying on a variety of issues. Someone on staff has to research the witnesses, prepare thoughtful questions, anticipate and ultimately draft follow-up questions, and solicit data or any on-the-ground information from relevant outside groups. In other words, preparing for a hearing takes immense time and resources. But staffers don't just work on hearings; they are often juggling multiple other work items like editing press statements, replying to increasing levels of correspondence from constituents, or helping to plan events. All of this means that when corporate lobbyists fill up a staffer's email with suggested questions for a hearing, it might be more feasible to use them, simply due to immense demands on staff time.

Limited staff budgets also mean that one staffer often covers a very wide range of issues — from labor to the environment to education — and thus may feel pressure to defer to the trade groups that present themselves as outside experts on issues the staffer is less familiar with. According to a longtime Hill aide for progressive members, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about job security, "given how thin people are stretched, it can be alluring to copy and paste material sent right to your inbox. Lobbyists deliberately make it easy for you to rely on them, and you need to be sophisticated and vigilant to suss out their client and motives." But this sophistication comes from experience, and experience is too often desperately missing from congressional staffs. A 2017 survey of congressional staff from the Congressional Management Foundation noted that there are "no staff positions in Senate or House committees or personal offices with a median tenure of more than four years." This high turnover leads to a loss of institutional memory and of expertise, making offices even more vulnerable to trade groups that come in with executives claiming years of expertise. Allocating more funds toward staff salaries would allow offices to either hire more people, or hire more experienced staff — both of which would reduce the power and leverage of corporate and trade group lobbyists.

Paying staff more reasonable salaries would also mean that more people from working class backgrounds could afford to take policymaking jobs. Lower salaries mean that staffers encompass a narrower range of opinions and experiences, because they tend to be wealthy people who can afford to work at a lower salary, or to get in the door as an unpaid intern, as a part of a pathway to eventually lobby. And that has a far-reaching cost. Research from Jacob Grumbach of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that Democrats born into wealth vote more conservatively. It stands to reason the same is true for staff members and how they'd advise their bosses. Just this week, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) spoke in a House Financial Services hearing about being a twenty-something Hill staffer who was credit-invisible, under-banked, and used check cashers. Raising staff pay could also help increase racial diversity among congressional staff, something desperately needed: Only one in four House members from the 115th Congress had a person of color in a senior staff role, and as of 2017, only 5 percent of Senate staffers were Black.

How did lower staff pay become the norm in Congress? The decline began with Newt Gingrich and the Republican House majority in the 1990s, who aimed to shrink the government and empower the private sector. They cut both committee and legislative support staff by a third. The trend to decimate government staffing has continued. A 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service (another part of government that could use a raise) showed that all staff positions it examined had decreased median pay from 2006-2015. From 2011-2015, only one role, office manager, saw a meager 0.22 percent increase. The biggest decrease was a 25.83 percent decrease in pay for executive assistants. And caseworkers — the very staffers who are tasked with solving problems for people in a member of Congress's district — saw a 15.41 percent reduction in pay.

Let's diminish the power of lobbyists and make a living wage for those helping to run the country in one fell swoop.

Members are scared to increase staff salaries because the move could be perceived as Congress enriching itself, even though it's only about giving more money to staff. To preemptively address these concerns, Congress could insist that any increase in the office budget go only to staff salaries. The raises could be combined with stricter ethics and transparency rules, to ensure that staffers don't use their inside information to enrich themselves.

Congress members shouldn't let years of anti-government rhetoric prevent them from increasing budgets that would create livable wages for those working long hours to ensure good government. If we want better government that is more resistant to the powers of money in politics, we need to invest in the people doing the real work. Let's diminish the power of lobbyists and make a living wage for those helping to run the country in one fell swoop: Give congressional staff a raise.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

ANS -- Green New Deal is More New Deal Than Green

Here's another one from Studebaker, and it's depressing. (but short) There's a video in it that may not come through -- you can go to his site to see it.  He lays out the worldwide situation on climate change and change in emissions, and the picture is not pretty.  


Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Green New Deal is More New Deal Than Green

by Benjamin Studebaker

Like many of you, I've seen that clip of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) arguing with children about the Green New Deal. If you haven't seen it, I have it right here for you:

In and amidst the hostility, Feinstein said something quite honest in this exchange:

Well, it's [climate change] not going to get turned around in 10 years.

I have a certain admiration for honest centrism. So often these days, politicians pretend to be more radical than they are to excite voters, only to disappoint them. But it's not merely because we can't get the votes in a Republican senate to pass the Green New Deal. No–it's because the United States is at this point no longer capable of cutting its own emissions enough to deal with climate change, and it's unlikely to successfully lead other states in this direction even if it tries.

Climate change is an irreducibly global problem. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s report, limiting temperature rise by 1.5 degrees centigrade requires a 45% cut in global emissions by 2030. If we tolerate a 2 degree rise, we could instead cut emissions by just 25%.

The United States, however, commands just 15% of total emissions. The EU commands a further 10%, while other rich states (such as Japan, Australia, and so on) add another 8%. This means that the rich states only control about a third of total emissions. China controls nearly another third (about 30%), and the rest comes from the remaining developing countries, with India and Russia making the largest contributions (7% and 5%, respectively) of that bunch. These developing countries are not merely failing to cut emissions–they are continuing to increase their output. This means that reductions from rich states are cancelled out by the growing emissions of developing countries. The IPCC report recommended making this cut from the 2010 level, but by 2014 China increased its emissions by nearly 15% over that 2010 level, and global emissions rose 8%.

The Paris Climate Agreement won't make much difference, not merely because the United States has abandoned it, but because of countries like Canada, who routinely sign climate agreements and then openly flout them:

Canada helps people like Donald Trump make the argument that other countries won't hold up their end of the deal. Say what you will about the United States–at least we're honest. Canada has lied pathologically regardless of which of its political parties have been in power for nearly 30 years now. Why would anyone take a voluntary climate agreement seriously given these figures? You'd have to be a moron to trust Justin Trudeau.

Canada is rich, but it's a cold petrol state with lots of interior permafrost it would be perfectly happy to dust off. It doesn't care. Then there are countries like India, where without considerable outside aid, choosing not to increase emissions is choosing to let poor people die in squalor. I met a couple Indian gentlemen at an event at Cambridge. These men have advanced degrees and are quite willing to acknowledge that climate change is very real. But they don't think it merits priority for India, and they are proud of Prime Minister Modi for choosing not to prioritise it. Modi has signed the Paris Accords, and if you've heard his remarks at Davos, you might think he cares about this. But in the last year alone, Indian emissions have risen by 6.3%. These increases wipe out the hard-won decreases the EU is achieving while most other countries do nothing or make it worse.

So what is Green New Deal really about? It's not going to save the kids. I think there are three main reasons politicians sign these climate deals and entertain legislation like this:

  1. Signing the Paris Accords or committing to vote for a Green New Deal make it look like we're doing something, even though we're not. They alleviate the fears of activists without meaningfully addressing the substance of those fears. In other words, international climate accords are the opiates of the people, and they can win you votes.
  2. Many politicians want to do a big pile of infrastructure spending, but they want to find a way to make that infrastructure spending sexy. The Green New Deal is more about the "New Deal" than it is about the "Green". It's a jobs program in a slick suit. Or, to put it another way, it's not "Green" as in trees, it's "Green" as in greenbucks.
  3. Some politicians genuinely care about climate change. Because there's no world state through which we might hold rogue polluters like Canada to account, all they can do is tilt at windmills at the national level. For them that's reason enough to try.

This is one of the fundamental problems of this century–at this point, we have integrated the global economy so thoroughly that there may now be many irreducibly global problems that cannot be solved at the national level, even with an American commitment. That commitment is still not forthcoming, and the latest push to pass the Markey/Cortez resolution isn't going to change that. If Dianne Feinstein won't budge, try moving Senate Republicans. We don't have the global political institutions we need to handle problems like this, and every time we try to create them voters baulk, accusing us of trying to destroy their cultures and deprive them of "sovereignty" and "national self-determination", as if there were any meaningful sense in which they still had these things to start with.

Going forward, if Bernie Sanders wins and the congressional composition changes, we should of course create lots of jobs and spend lots of money replacing our ageing infrastructure, and we should make sure when we do create those jobs and spend that money that it's spent on clean jobs and clean technologies. But we shouldn't imagine it's going to save the world, because even Green New Deal is not enough. It's going to take a lot more than that to put the climate monster back in the box.