Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

We’re heading towards March 3rd, “Super Tuesday,” and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains competitive.  A field of 29 candidates has been winnowed to eight: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren.  Here’s my evaluation  of the Democratic survivors.

The February 10th Qunnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655 ) provided us with fresh insight on the state of the Democratic race: “[Bernie] Sanders gets 25 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while [Joe] Biden gets 17 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg receives 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren gets 14 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg receives 10 percent, and Senator Amy Klobuchar gets 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent.” In other words, heading into Super Tuesday, there are six viable contenders: Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.  Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer appear to have fallen far behind.

In evaluating the top six candidates, I’m using four different criteria: (1) who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump; (2) who does the most to strengthens the overall Democratic ticket; (3) who has the best perspective on “renewing” the presidency, and (4) who champions the best policies.

Who would beat Trump: No matter which of these six candidates is picked to oppose Trump, most Democrats will vote for them.  The February 10th Quinnipiac poll reported: “Among all registered voters, Democratic candidates lead President Trump in general election matchups by between 4 and 9 percentage points: Bloomberg tops Trump 51 – 42 percent;  Sanders defeats Trump 51 – 43 percent;  Biden beats Trump 50 – 43 percent;  Klobuchar defeats Trump 49 – 43 percent;  Warren wins narrowly over Trump 48 – 44 percent; [and] Buttigieg is also slightly ahead of Trump 47 – 43 percent.”

Quinnipiac provides no insight into what fuels these differences, but here are a couple of suggestions: the ultimate 2020 campaign can either be a referendum solely about Trump or it can be a “Which candidate is the least worse” such as the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump.  If the contest becomes a Trump referendum, then it will focus on Trump’s handling of the economy.  (Quinnipiac noted: “Voters approve 54 – 42 percent of [Trump’s] handling of the economy.”) In that contest, Bloomberg would be the best Democratic candidate to attack Trump’s “stewardship” of the economy.

Of course there will be mudslinging, but in a Trump referendum contest: Bloomberg gets the best mark of 3; Warren and Klobuchar get 2; and the others score 1.

There’s another way to look at the question of who can beat Trump: who would be best to counter the Trump-campaign disinformation juggernaut?  (It’s rumored that Trump has raised $1 billion to campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and similar social-media outlets.(https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/ ))  The only Democratic candidate that has a shot countering this is Bloomberg.  So he gets a bonus point.

Who Strengthens the Overall Democratic Ticket:  In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate.  If “Moscow Mitch” McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives.  So the question is: who will be the best candidate to organize Democrats to make sure they win across the board?

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there’s a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally — a Trump acolyte.  In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she’ll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords.  In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump.  Which 2020 presidential candidate would have the best chance of turning Arizona blue and helping Mark Kelly win the Senate seat?  From here, it would seem that Biden, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar would do the best job, because they are centrist candidates.  Possibly Pete Buttigieg but he is not well known in Arizona.  Because of their brand of liberalism, Sanders and Warren would not play as well.

We can carry this analysis through all the states with a contested Senatorial contest: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina.

Here’s my ranking of the candidates on this vector: (3) Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, (2) Buttigieg, and (1) Sanders and Warren.

Who renews the presidency: It goes without saying that Donald Trump has divided the nation and demeaned the Presidency.  (Even Trump voters don’t like his behavior; they have chosen to ignore his Tweets and manic outbursts.)

Which Democratic candidate would be the best choice to unite the nation, bring dignity back to the White House and civility back to the halls of Congress?  At one time, I thought this perspective favored Joe Biden.  Now I would add Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.

Another way to parse this factor is to ask: Which of these six candidates is likely to get the most votes from folks who do not traditionally vote Democrat?  I’d say this is Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden.

Who champions the best policies:  Indivisible (https://scorecard.indivisible.org ) rated the candidates’ policy platforms.  Based on that, Warren and Sanders get a 3, Buttigieg a 2, and Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Biden a 1.  (Mike Bloomberg didn’t get rated by Indivisible but his policies are very similar to those of Amy Klobuchar.)

While the Democratic primaries may be policy oriented, I suspect that the general election will have a more narrow focus: Trump’s “leadership;” the economy; global climate change; health care; and immigration.  All of the top six Democratic candidates are a strong alternative to Trump.  Nonetheless, Bloomberg would do better on the economy.

Summary: Based on the BB rating system, Mike Bloomberg gets an 11, Amy Klobuchar gets a 9, Peter Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren are tied with 8, and Bernie Sanders has 7.  (This rating is heavily skewed by my perception that Bloomberg and Klobuchar would do the  most for the overall Democratic ticket.)

So what should we expect after Super Tuesday?  I believe that on March 4th we will have a three candidate race: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Sanders.  I like Amy Klobuchar but I don’t believe that she has the financial support required to compete effectively on Super Tuesday.  I think that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren once had a shot but, for whatever reason, have not garnered enough votes.  After March 3rd, I predict a three-man race.

What I Learned at the Dog Park

I didn’t attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there’s an opening for Bloomberg.

I live in West Sonoma County — roughly 60 miles above San Francisco.  Most days I take my Australian Shepherd to a well-equipped dog park.  While my Aussie plays, I talk to a regular group of dog owners about dogs, life, and politics.

There’s one golden rule of dog-park behavior: take care of your dog — clean up after him/her and don’t let them abuse other dogs.  If you meet this standard then you are accepted.  And, your political opinion is tolerated.

There may be a Trump supporter among this crew, but they’ve never come out.  Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that the dog-park crew are overwhelmingly Democrats.  Some of them admit that in the 2016 presidential election they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they did not vote for Donald Trump; they either didn’t mark their ballot or voted for Jill Stein.

After the results of the Iowa caucuses were in, I queried the dog-park crew about what they thought the results meant.  Here’s what I learned:

1.Any Democratic candidate is better than Trump but some Democratic candidates are better than others.  (By the way: I never heard anyone say, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not going to vote” — words that my stepson says he’s heard from His “Burning Man” friends.)

2. Some folks really don’t like Bernie Sanders.  He got the most negative comments of any of the Democratic contenders.  But that doesn’t mean these dog-park denizens won’t vote for Bernie in a contest against Trump.

3. There’s no candidate that elicits universal praise.  Most of the dog-park women like Elizabeth Warren but they are not “disciples” — they don’t have the fervor that we saw, from some women, when Hillary Clinton ran.

4. My homies don’t like Trump because of his poor character.  Sure, they don’t agree with many of his policies — such as his denial of global climate change — but this isn’t what’s driving their political behavior.  The dog-park crew can’t stand Trump as a person.  They cite his lying, intolerance, adversarial approach — “my way or the highway,” and all-around ineptitude.

5. For the dog-park denizens, this election is much more about character than policy.  While from a policy perspective there is a liberal group and a moderate group of candidates, their ultimate choice for the Democratic candidate will be based upon their assessment of who would have the best chance of beating Trump — and bringing dignity back to the oval office.

6. Everyone was surprised that Pete Buttigieg did so well in the Iowa caucuses.  (Buttigieg and Sanders tied for first place.)  The dog-park crew likes Mayor Pete but they don’t know that much about him.  Some wondered if a gay man can beat Trump.

7. No one was surprised that Joe Biden did not win.  People like Joe but they don’t believe he is strong enough to beat Trump.

8. There was mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren came in third.  The dog-park women have Elizabeth as their first choice.  Some men feel that Elizabeth reminds them of a school teacher, who lectured them.

9. I observed that the Iowa result might provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg — who was not on the ballot in Iowa but will be on the ballot for the March 3rd California primary election.  When I made this suggestion, nearly everyone around said, “I’d vote for Bloomberg.”

10. Most of the dog-park crew expect there will be a contentious Democratic Presidential convention in mid-July.

Summary: From this perspective, it looks like the race for the Democratic nomination has narrowed to Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Bloomberg.  For the record, Buttigieg and Warren have dogs; Bloomberg and Sanders don’t.

This is the Way It Ends, Not with a Bang but a Whimper

When I learned that Senate Republicans had blocked witness testimony for the Impeachment Trial, I was reminded of the concluding line from T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men:” “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” I wasn’t surprised that Republicans voted to let Trump off the hook; I was surprised that their coverup was so brazen.

Throughout the Impeachment Trial, I have been hoping that some Republican would take the moral high ground and recognize Donald Trump’s perfidy.  It’s not like Trump was accused of a sexual indiscretion, and then lying about it; Trump was accused of jeopardizing national security for political gain, and then obstructing the investigation.  This is a big deal, a clear impeachable offense, and it’s depressing that Republicans do not acknowledge this.

In the end there were 49 votes to allow additional testimony, and 51 votes against.  Two crucial Republican “swing” votes, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, voted with the majority.  They both grabbed onto political “escape outlets” that had been proffered by the Trump’s legal team.

Tennessee Senator Alexander said ( https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/politics/lamar-alexander-impeachment-witnesses-vote/index.html):

I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense… It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

In other words, Alexander had made up his mind and saw no need for additional evidence.   Rather than describe Donald Trump’s action as “unlawful,” Alexander deemed them “inappropriate.”  Wow.

Alaska Senator Murkowski said (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/31/politics/murkowski-impeachment-vote-statement/index.html):

The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena… Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

Trump’s legal team offered wavering Republican Senators two escape outlets:  Lamar Alexander took the first, arguing that Trump did something wrong but it was not impeachable.  Lisa Murkowski took the second escape route, arguing that the process was so flawed that it was not possible to have a fair Senate trial and, for that reason, no further testimony was needed. (“This is how it ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”)

Next week, the Senate will “acquit” Donald Trump.

Observing Donald Trump over the past 4 years, we’ve learned he’s an escape artist. Time and again, when we thought damning evidence would bring Trump down, he’s skated away. (It’s one of the reasons his behavior is so outrageous; Trump believes he can get away with anything.)  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted starting impeachment proceedings because she was afraid they would fail and Trump would be emboldened.  Then came the whistleblower complaint and Pelosi had no choice but to launch an impeachment initiative.  Next week, The Impeachment Trial will end.  What will the consequences be?

Trump may be emboldened but we still have John Bolton to hear from.  On  January 26th, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html) revealed: “President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.”

Remember that Donald Trump has long asserted that his (now) famous July 25th phonemail with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect” and “there was no quid pro quo.” (“Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).)  For most of us, one phrase sticks out: In return for the promise of U.S. assistance, Trump requested, “I would like you do us a favor,” and asked Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.  Trump’s defense team asserted that this phrase was innocent and Trump did not intend to tie a Biden investigation to the provision of military assistance.  Bolton can refute this.  Bolton apparently had a conversation with Trump where Trump said there was a quid pro quo,  That’s a big deal.

But beyond this, the Republican Senators have thwarted the will of the American people.  On January 28th, Quinnipiac (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/28/politics/quinnipiac-impeachment-poll-witnesses/index.html ) reported: “Three-quarters of registered voters think witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial...This includes 49% of Republicans who think witnesses should be allowed to testify, 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats.”  Most voters wanted to hear more evidence but Republican Senators blocked this.

Ultimately, if voters feel cheated, they will take out their ire on Republican Senators who are vulnerable in the 2020 election: Collins (Maine), Ernst (Iowa), Gardiner (Colorado), Loeffler (Georgia), McSally (Arizona), Perdue (Georgia), Tillis (North Carolina), and possibly McConnell (Kentucky).  If voters feel the Senate Impeachment trial was a coverup, then on November 3rd the American public can express their anger by voting out these Senators, and Donald Trump.

Voters can choose to end this dreadful episode with a bang, not a whimper.

Defending Donald Trump

As Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial began on January 16th, many of us wondered how Trump’s legal team would respond to the serious accusations contained in the two articles of impeachment. It didn’t take long to realize that these lawyers serve as an extension of Trump; they are responding in the manner we have come to expect from Trump whenever he is confronted with his misdeeds.

Trump is accused of (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of Congress.  The abuse of power charge concerns Trump’s conduct with regards to Ukraine:  “President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election. He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his re-election, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States presidential election to his advantage. President Trump also sought to pressure the government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.

The obstruction of Congress charge concern’s Trump’s unprecedented “stonewalling” of the House of Representatives inquiry:  “Donald J Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its sole power of impeachment.

These are serious charges — much more serious than those charges levied against Bill Clinton, twenty years ago — and deserve serious consideration.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect Trump’s legal team to behave professionally.  That’s not happening.

Rather than defend Donald Trump in the conventional manner, Trump’s attorneys have chosen to act as an extension of Trump — to engage in the abrasive and devious behavior that has characterized Trump’s political career.   This behavior has four components.

1. AVOIDANCE: Trump’s attorneys are not directly responding to the accusations.  That is, rather than respond to the accusation that Trump sought to manipulate Ukraine for his own political advantage, Trump’s attorneys respond that Trump’s (notorious) phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect” and then change the subject.

Trump’s lawyers responded to the the articles of impeachment with a 109 page brief (https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ukraine-clearinghouse-Trial-Memorandum-of-President-Donald-J.-Trump-january-20-2020.pdf) that is much more emotional than factual.  In a blistering analysis (https://www.justsecurity.org/68181/four-fundamental-flaws-in-president-trumps-impeachment-trial-memo/) legal scholar Michael Gerhardt stated: “It would take more than 109 pages to correct all of the document’s fallacies and incorrect statements of law and fact… [it is] more of a political screed than a legal document deserving of respect and serious consideration by senators, the public, historians, and constitutional scholars.”

Gerhardt observed that the Trump brief, rather than rely upon reasoned analysis, resorts to “bluster:” “[Thereby] proving the old adage that, ‘If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.'”

2. ATTACK: Rather than respond directly to the accusations, Trump — and his attorneys — attack those who formulated them.  As Democrats presented evidence on the abuse-of-power charge, Trump — and his Republican allies — hurled abuse at them (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrats-scale-back-language-as-trump-and-gop-press-ahead-with-attacks-on-senate-impeachment-trial/2020/01/22/792f642e-3d55-11ea-8872-5df698785a4e_story.html? ).  “The Republican barrage was led by Trump himself, who in Davos, Switzerland, called the top House managers ‘sleazebags’ while denouncing his impeachment as a ‘hoax’ and ‘disgrace’ to his presidency.”

The Trump legal brief began: “The Articles of Impeachment now before the Senate are an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions. The Articles themselves—and the rigged process that brought them here—are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected. They debase the grave power of impeachment and disdain the solemn responsibility that power entails… The process that brought the articles here violated every precedent and every principle of fairness followed in impeachment inquiries for more than 150 years.”

3. LIE: Unfortunately, Trump and his lawyers have chosen to lie about many aspects of the impeachment accusations.  Michael Gerhardt noted, “The [Trump legal team] Memorandum is replete with misrepresentations and false statements of fact. For example, it reiterates the canard that the whistleblower’s report is a ‘false account.’ There was nothing false about it. It was corroborated by virtually every witness who testified before the House Intelligence Committee, and so much the worse for the President that the people testifying against him were not Democrats but people he had appointed himself. It does not just strain credulity but decimates it to maintain that everyone who has testified under oath in these hearings is somehow lying while only the President is telling the truth.”

4. MISREPRESENT THE CONSTITUTION:  Finally, Trump and his legal team have not responded to the articles of impeachment with reasoned legal arguments but, instead, with variations on the theme: Trump is above the law.

Michael Gerhardt observed, “The Memorandum is replete with misrepresentations and false claims about the law and about impeachment practices and procedures as well. For example, the Memorandum repeatedly complains that the House did not afford the president ‘due process.’ Throughout the House’s impeachment proceedings, Republicans proclaimed ‘due process’ was a problem. Yet, the very same Republicans who made this complaint were invited to or participated in the closed door depositions the President is now complaining about… The President had these safeguards, and more, throughout the House proceedings. He was given a surplus of fair process (including being invited to attend the testimony of constitutional law scholars and even have his counsel question them), but he turned the opportunities down. Importantly, the President was also given the explicit opportunity… to have his counsel present for hearings and object to the admission of testimony and evidence when that information was submitted to the House Judiciary Committee by the House Intelligence Committee witnesses.”

Summary:  In Congressman Adam Schiff’s brilliant closing remarks at the January 23rd Senate Impeachment trial (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/adam-schiff-closing-argument-transcript-thursday-impeachment-trial), he adopted the solemn theme “right matters.”  “If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what [Donald Trump] did was not right.. And you know you can’t trust this President to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump.”

Sadly, for Donald Trump’s defenders, right doesn’t matter.

2000-2019: What Hath The Internet Wrought?

While I usually write about politics, I’m also interested in technology.  And, of course, technology is political. So here are a few observations about the social and political impact of the Internet in the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.

THE INTERNET turned fifty in October.  The modern era of the Internet began in 1989 with the invention of the “world-wide web” and the first web browser.  The past twenty years has seen rapid deployment of the Internet throughout the world — although in some locations, such as central Africa, it’s difficult to read your email without a satellite phone.

The vast expansion of the Internet has impacted all aspects of our lives, from our daily personal rituals to the conduct of our businesses.  It’s been facilitated by the develpment of high-speed telecommunication networks, LTE (long-term evolution) — mostly 4G in the U.S.  And by the advent of the PDA (personal data assistant) and e-commerce (electronic commerce).

DOMESTIC INNOVATION:  It’s hard to believe, but twenty years ago, none of us sat in bed in the morning, checking our cellphones for email or text messages or Facebook posts.  The fact we can do this is due to several developments.

Ipod, Iphone, Ipad: The Ipod launched in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010.  Of course, cellphones have been used for forty years.  But the modern era, the “smart” phone, began with the delivery of the iPhone in 2007.  This was the first phone that allowed you to make voice calls, send text messages, read your email, and surf the web.

Multiple factors contributed to the ubiquity of the PDA.  Communications companies built national LTE networks.  And, beginning in 1992, there was a rapid deployment of wireless network technology — WiFi.

Of course, it’s very convenient to be able to have a full range of communications on your phone.  But there are social consequences.  Email has been around since the advent of the Internet and came into widespread use in the 70s.  That was when social observers first noted that people will say things in an email that they would not say in a text.

There’s no doubt that over the past 20 years there’s been a “coarsening” of social dialogue.  The Internet has promoted worldwide rapid communication, but it’s also made it more likely that citizens will fire off thoughtless hostile comments.

Social Networks:  In 2004 Facebook was launched at Harvard; in 2006 it became generally available.  (That same year, Twitter came out.)  Social networks are now part of the American social landscape.  (Millions of Americans wait for the next Trump tweet.)

We can debate about whether this is good or bad.  There’s no doubt that the social networks have both contributed to the coarsening of social dialogue and increased the amount of “fake news.”  (Millions of people now get their news via Facebook.)

Hacking:  With the rapid expanse in the use of the Internet there’s been a corresponding increase in computer crime of all sorts.  Most of us have had experiences with various sorts of hackers: stolen (digital) credits cards, viruses or worms…. There’s a lot of wealth on the Internet and its ubiquity has spurred a new breed of thieves.  It’s estimated that there is one hacker attack “every 39 seconds.”(https://hostingtribunal.com/blog/hacking-statistics/#gref)

BUSINESS INNOVATION:  At the same time that the rapid deployment of the Internet has facilitated personal communication,  new Internet tools have been a boon to business.

E-Commerce: 1995 saw the formation of both Amazon and eBay.  (Shortly thereafter Paypal was formed.)  These companies made it possible to purchase a wide variety of new and used goods without having to travel to a “bricks-and-mortar” store.  Soon the public’s buying habits had dramatically shifted.

Streaming: Although there were earlier music streaming services, the first significant service was iTunes in 2001.  A comparable service for videos was provided by YouTube in 2005.  Although Amazon had been selling books over the Internet since 1995, it was not until 2007 that it introduced the Kindle and the notion of the eBook — streaming books, magazines, and other documents.

In 1997 Netflix was formed to facilitate renting DVDs over the internet.  In 2010 it refocussed and began delivering DVD content as streaming media. (In 2012 it also began delivering original content.)

New forms of Service Delivery: Entrepreneurs noted that where you could deliver goods via the Internet you should also be able to deliver services.  This led to the 2008 launch of Airbnb followed by ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and freelance labor exchanges such as Taskrabbit.

Cloud Computing:  Although the notion of “cloud computing” — the on-demand use of shared computers and data storage — had been discussed since 1996, it first became widely available via a 2006 Amazon offering.  What this means is that businesses, of various sizes, do not have to have their own dedicated computer facilities; they can purchase these resources from Amazon, or the like, as they need them.  (Nor do these business have to have other specialized facilities such as accounting, human resources, and marketing; they can also be purchased from companies such as Salesforce.)

Personalization:  As e-commerce developed, massive amounts of consumer data were collected.  This has permitted vendors, such as Amazon, to personalize offers to their customers; that led to messages such as, “based on your recent purchases, we recommend the following products…” Personalization expanded beyond e-commerce to news services that began delivering tailored messages and articles.

Microtargeting: Since 2004, U.S. political parties have used a form of personalization, “micro targeting,” to tailor political messages to specific audiences.  (In 2016, this practice included information obtained via Facebook.)

SUMMARY:  By any measure, the Internet is a gigantic resource (https://www.livescience.com/54094-how-big-is-the-internet.html)

“According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes, or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year…. According to Cisco’s research, 8,000 petabytes per month of IP traffic was dedicated to video in 2015, compared with about 3,000 petabytes per month for Web, email and data transfer. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes or 2^50 bytes.)”

There are more than 100,000 e-commerce sites with significant revenue.

But big is not synonymous with good.  The Internet is a gigantic resource that is available — at least in rudimentary form — all over the world.  But it is not necessarily a trustworthy resource.

in 2020, Internet users do not have to be “techies;” they do not have to a deep technical understanding of how the Internet works and where Internet data comes from.  But these users do have to be skeptics because they are being bombarded with misleading information; and they do have to be wary because their privacy is under daily attack.   Sadly many Internet users are not skeptical or wary and, therefore, they are subject to manipulation on a scale not seen before.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s base — with a disproportionate number of uneducated white men — has proven easy to manipulate.  Daily, they are bombarded with Trump tweets and false news from related Internet sources.  The formation of the Trump cult is one of the unsavory side affects of the massive deployment of the internet.

Who’s Afraid of Michael Moore?

At otherwise jolly holiday parties, my political friends couldn’t stop talking about Michael Moore’s prediction that Donald Trump would win in 2020. (Remember, Michael predicted Trump would prevail in 2016.)  How worried should we be?

Michael Moore made his prediction in a December 26th conversation with Amy Goodman (https://www.democracynow.org/2019/12/26/michael_moore_donald_trump_impeachment ):

“I believe whoever the Democrat is next year is going to win by 4 to 5 million popular votes. There’s no question in my mind that people who stayed home, who sat on the bench, they’re going to pour out, in California, New York… The problem is, is that [Trump] will — if the vote were today, I believe, he would win the electoral states that he would need, because, living out there, I will tell you, his level of support has not gone down one inch. In fact, I’d say it’s even more rabid than it was before, because they’re afraid now.”

Moore explained to Goodman that he believes the reason 2016 Democratic presidential candidate  Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump was because, in states like Michigan, she did not generate enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats.  In 2020, Moore is afraid that Democrats will lose again if they repeat the Clinton “mistake.”

The good news is, again, number one, never forget, there’s more of us than there are of them. The majority of the American people agree with us. Seventy percent of the voters next year are women, people of color and young adults… So, what we have to do is we have to make sure we don’t give them another Hillary Clinton to vote for. 

Michael Moore is a smart guy.  What he is saying is that if, in 2020, Democrats nominate a Hillary-clone then they’ll lose again because Trump will carry the midwest and, therefore, win the electoral vote.  This is an important argument that has three components: 1. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because Democrats in critical states, such as Michigan, didn’t vote for her.  2. Moore believes the 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  3. In 2020 the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  That is, Trump will probably carry the Independents.  Furthermore, Moore believes Trump will probably win the same “red” states and the Dems will probably win the same “blue’ states and therefore, the race will come down to the same handful of states such as Michigan.  Let’s examine each of these contentions.

1.Hillary lost swing states because registered Democrats didn’t vote for her.  The 2016 election post-mortem suggested that Clinton lost the electoral college because she underperformed in three states and lost them by a total of 77,759 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,307 votes (0.7 of a percentage point), Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (0.7 of a point) and Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2 of a point).

Michigan: Trump had 2,279543 voters (47.50%) and Clinton had 2,268,839 voters (47.27%).  Two other candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had 223,499 voters (4.66%).  So it’s likely that some Democrats who didn’t like Clinton, chose instead to vote for Johnson or Stein.

The CNN exit polls indicated that while there were more potential Michigan Democratic voters than Republican, only 88 percent of Dems voted for Clinton versus 90 percent for Trump.

Wisconsin was similar to Michigan: Trump had 1,405,284 voters (47.22%) and Clinton had 1,382,536 voters (46.45%) , while Johnson and Stein had 137,746 voters (4.62%).  Once again it was likely that some Democrats that didn’t like Clinton voted for Johnson or Stein.

Pennsylvania results indicated that Trump had 2,970,733 voters (48.18%) and Clinton had 2,926,441 voters (47.46%).  Johnson and Stein had 196,656 (3.19%).

The CNN Pennsylvania exit polls were similar to Michigan.  There were more Democratic voters (42%) than Republican (39%) but only 87% of Dems stayed with Clinton versus 89% that stuck with Trump.

Conclusion: In these key states, Michael Moore is right when he states that Clinton lost because her base didn’t stick with her.  But it’s an oversimplification, because Moore ignores the decisive role played by Independents — Trump carried the Independents in each state.  (By the way, the national exit polls indicated that Trump carried Independents — 20 percent of the electorate — 48% versus 41% for Clinton.)

2. The 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  Michael Moore believes that 2020 Dems are about to make the same mistake they did in 2016 and nominate an unpopular candidate — leading to a “hold your nose” election where Trump will prevail. The most recent polling data doesn’t support this.  538 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-democratic-presidential-candidates-are-becoming-less-popular/ ) notes that Trump is by far the most unpopular candidate (47.8% “very unfavorable” rating).

Among the Democratic candidates: Joe Biden had a 31.4% “very unfavorable” rating, while Bernie Sanders had a 34.4% rating and Elizabeth Warren 34.2%.

Conclusion: Michael Moore seems to be off in his assertion that the 2020 centrist Democratic candidates  will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.

3. In 2020, Michael Moore assumes the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  There are  actually two parts to this assertion; the first is that Trump will, once again, carry Independent voters.  This doesn’t seem to be the case.

The latest Gallup poll shows that Trump’s approval rating is 42 percent with Independents.  This is consistent with the 2018 election results where Democratic candidates “took 55 percent of independents compared to just 41 percent for Republican candidates.” (https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/475607-independent-voters-will-make-donald-trump-a-one-term-president)  A recent The Hill article observed: “A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 62 percent of independents ‘disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president.’ ”

This shift in the sentiment of independent voters seems to indicate that, in 2020, Independents will prefer the Democratic presidential candidates over Trump.  There isn’t a lot of polling on this, but a November Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-trails-democratic-rivals-in-national-survey-as-independents-move-away/2019/11/04/) showed that among Independent voters: Biden led Trump by 56% to 39%.

The second Moore assertion is that the 2020 election map will look the same as it did in 2016.  That is, the coasts will go to the Democratic presidential candidate, the south and heartland will go to Trump and the election will be decided by a small number of states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Many Democratic strategists don’t agree with Moore’s perspective; they think many more states will be in play.  Seven states have been mentioned as possible Democratic targets.

Arizona: In 2016. Trump won Arizona with 48.1% (Clinton got 44.6%).  However, the state is inexorably swinging towards the Democrats.  In 2018, Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema replaced (outgoing) Republican Jeff Flake.  Recent polls show that Trump’s popularity is waning; Real Clear Politics indicates that he and Joe Biden are tied in the Arizona polls.  (Explanation: I’m using Joe Biden as the potential Democratic candidate because — in these seven states — Biden has the best poll numbers versus Trump.)

Florida:  In 2016, Trump won Florida with 48.6% (Clinton got 47.4%).  As we know, this is a volatile state.  At the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by a 2 percent margin.

Georgia:  In 2016, Trump won Georgia with 50.4%.  We know this state is difficult to peg because of historic Republican-instigated voter suppression.  Nonetheless, at the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by 8 percent.

Iowa:  In 2016, Trump won Iowa with 51.1%.  In the latest polls, Trump leads Biden by approximately 2 percent.

North Carolina:  In 2016, Trump won North Carolina with 49.8%.  At the moment, Biden leads Trump by 3 percent.

Ohio: In 2016, Trump won Ohio by 51.3%.  In the latest poll, Biden leads Trump by 6 percent.

Texas:  In 2016, Trump won Texas by 52.2%.  In the latest polls, Trump and Biden are even.

Conclusion:  Michael Moore is predicting that Donald Trump will again win in 2020 because (1) Democrats will nominate an unpopular candidate — Moore, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, believes that Joe Biden will prove to be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  (2) Moore’s second assertion is that Democrats will again lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  At the moment, Biden (and other Democratic candidates) are ahead of Trump in these three states. (3) Moore’s third assertion is that, in 2020, Independent voters will break for Trump.  Once again, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  (4) Finally, Michael Moore believes that the 2020 electoral map will be the same as it was in 2016.  Once again, this is questionable.  At the moment, Democratic candidates — particularly Joe Biden — seem to be extremely competitive in seven states that Trump carried in 2016.

I’m not saying that Trump will definitely lose in 2020.  I’m saying the situation looks different than it did in 2016 and Dems should have “guarded optimism.”  At the moment, several Democratic candidates — notably Joe Biden — have a good shot at defeating Trump.

2019: Ten things to be Thankful For

2019 has been a dark year.  Americans have spent much of the year under the grim shadow cast by mad emperor Trump. Nonetheless, there is much to be thankful for. Here are ten reasons to be grateful.

1.Nancy Pelosi: Twelve months ago, when it was clear that the Democrats had won a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, some pundits suggested that it was time for Nancy Pelosi to move on — someone else should become Speaker of the House.

What a mistake that would have been!  During 2019, Pelosi has been the primary leader of the Democratic Party, effectively leading the House Democrats through the treacherous impeachment landscape — and simultaneously overseeing the passage of more than 400 major pieces of legislation.  At the end of the year House Democrats impeached Donald Trump, setting the stage for a historic 2020 trial.  Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

2. Increased awareness of Global Climate Change.  Because of her vocal leadership on climate change, Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s person of the year (https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2019-greta-thunberg/).  But it wasn’t only Greta that spread the word; all over the world, celebrities and politicians stepped up to make the public aware that climate change is an existential threat.  As a result, 2019 polls indicate that 75 percent of Americans believe that humans fuel climate change and a strong majority regard it as a crisis.  Thank you, Greta Thunberg, Bill McKibben, and the many other climate change leaders.

3. Fire Season has ended.   Because of climate change, California had an extended, deadly fire season.  During the Kincade fire, my community had to evacuate and go without electricity for six days.  Fortunately, most of us escaped the mammoth fire.

We’re thankful that fire season is over.  (And that we have since had normal rainfall.)  And we’re grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our emergency-service providers.

4. The Democratic Presidential Candidates.  So far, Democrats have had 28 politicians announce they would compete for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  At the moment, 15 are still in the competition that begins with the February 3rd Iowa caucuses.

The good news is that these candidates offer a full-spectrum of opinions regarding how to move the United States forward.  The bad news is that it’s not obvious who would offer the best chance of defeating Donald Trump.  Nonetheless, in a year dominated by Trump’s shadow, each of these candidates offered glimmers of hope.

5. The Whistleblower(s).  At the beginning of the year, Democrats believed that the Mueller report — into Russian interference in the 2016 election — would bring to the light the treachery of the Trump campaign.  Instead, the report confused Americans; rather than unite us in recognition of Trump’s perfidy, the Mueller report heightened the polarization. Many Democrats fell into a funk.

Then, in September, we learned that a whistleblower had filed a report with the Director of National Intelligence regarding a bizarre phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.  In this call, Trump offers a bribe to Zelensky — military aid in return for compromising information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.  As a result of the whistleblower’s complaint, House Democrats began an investigation into Trump’s actions that eventually resulted in two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Thanks to the whistleblower and the others who are providing detailed information about Trump’s treachery.  And thanks to the investigative journalists that continue to tell the truth about what goes on in Trump’s White House.

6. Reporters and Aid-workers at the Southern Border.  The heinous Trump Administration “family- separation” policy began in 2018 and has continued to this date.  In January of 2019, the White House admitted that they had separated more children than had previously been reported and they did not have an adequate tracking system in place.  (At the end of the year, whistleblowers reported that almost 70,000 children had been detained.)

Throughout 2019, reporters and aide-workers have been at the border, chronicling the consequences of the family-separation policy and — whenever possible — providing comfort to the children and their families.  Thank you aide-workers who minister to the suffering.  (And thank you to activists everywhere.)

7. The New Democrats in the 2019 House of Representatives.  In January, Democrats welcomed 59 new members to the House — their most diverse class ever.  The most notable of these new congresswomen was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  We can say a lot about AOC but most importantly, she, and her associates  brought a breath of fresh air to the Democratic Party.  Thank you, AOC and associates, for shaking up the Dems.

8. Democracy Advocates.  Even though much of the world has been under the shadow of Donald Trump, and other totalitarian leaders, there have continued to be political actions by advocates for Democracy. In Hong Kong.  Russia.  Iraq.  Even Saudi Arabia.

We’re grateful for all those who stood up for Democracy.  Hold on, in 2020 we’ve got your back.

9. Nature.  In 2019  my family completed our move to the country.  What a blessing!  No matter how dreadful the state of U.S. politics, taking a walk among the Redwoods always cheers me up.

10. Music. In hard times like these, music is my go-to source of comfort: Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash…

2020 brought the wonderful Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary series.  And the stories of how music transformed the impoverished lives of the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and many others.  “Country Music” was a reminder of the rejuvenating power of the music of the American people.  And, a reminder that, even in these dark times, there is more that unites us than divides us.

Donald and Boris

Even though we’re 5000 miles away from London, the results of the December 12th British election sent a chill through left-coast voters.  The ascension of Boris Johnson was painfully reminiscent of the 2016 election of Donald Trump; further evidence that we have entered the buffoon era of geo-politics.  There are two political lessons to learn from the British tragedy.

Two Unpopular Candidates:  The British General Election was an awkward “popularity” contest between Boris Johnson, leader of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Labour — the British press characterized it as the “ugly baby contest.”

In this sense, the British contest was a replay of the 2016 U.S.  presidential election that pitted two historically unpopular candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  The final 2016 Gallup election poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/197231/trump-clinton-finish-historically-poor-images.aspx ) found Trump with a 61 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton with a 52 percent unfavorable score.

Donald Trump has remained unpopular.  In December 2019, roughly 52 percent of voters disapprove of his performance in office ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/).  According to the 538  summary, Donald has been in this negative range since April of 2017; during these 33 months he’s been viewed unfavorably by 52 to 57 percent of poll respondents.  Based upon this polling, Trump has been the most unpopular President in recent American history.  This is unlikely to change between now and November 3, 2020.

On election day, how popular will the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate be?  It’s unlikely that any candidate will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  Nonetheless, at the moment, It’s difficult to get a comparable approval rating for the leading Democratic candidates.  (A recent Monmouth University Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_121019/) found that among Democratic voters Elizabeth Warren had the highest net favorability rating (+61) and Michael Bloomberg the lowest (+1).)

According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3651), most of the leading Democratic candidates would beat Trump: “If the general election for president were being held today, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Joe Biden, while 42 percent say they would vote for President Trump. When Trump is matched against other Democratic contenders the race remains in single digits: Bernie Sanders gets 51 percent, while Trump has 43 percent; Elizabeth Warren receives 50 percent and Trump gets 43 percent; Michael Bloomberg gets 48 percent to Trump’s 42 percent; Pete Buttigieg has 48 percent, while Trump receives 43 percent…”

If the only issue was popularity, and the election was held today, Donald Trump would probably lose.  Considering this, it should be noted that over the past 36 months, Trump has made no concerted effort to increase his favorability ratings; Donald has not reached out to those  who did not vote for him in 2016.  Trump’s strategy is to (1) hold his base and (2) drive down the popularity of his competition.  He implements this strategy by either disenfranchising likely Democratic voters or by disparaging his competitors via social media.  (Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine President Zelensky announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden is an example of Trump’s elaborate attempts to influence the popularity of his competitors.)

Simple Message:  In their analysis of why Boris Johnson won, the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/13/five-reasons-the-tories-won-the-election) observed that Johnson, and the Conservative Party, had a simple message, “get Brexit done, repeated over and over again [that] appears to have resonated with a public weary of the lack of resolution over the UK leaving the EU.”  In contrast Corbyn and Labour “had a multiplicity of huge policy offers from mass nationalization to free broadband and compensating women in the 50s for the rise in pension age…”

Corbyn could have helped by taking a strong remain stand but, instead, meekly called for another referendum.  (At a distance of 5000 miles, Corbyn came off as a wimp.)

Johnson won because he was the least ugly baby and he campaigned with a simple message.

In 2016, Donald Trump had two simple messages: “Build the wall” and “Drain the swamp.”  With regards to the latter, Trump successfully painted Hillary Clinton as a member of the Washington elite, part of the swamp, and played to his base’s antipathy towards government.

In 2020, Trump will likely resurrect “Build the wall” as “Finish the wall.”  And he will tout the economy, claim, “You never had it so good!”  But what about “Drain the swamp?”  Will Trump dare to repeat “Drain the swamp,” after presiding over one of the most corrupt administrations in American history?  Perhaps not.  But then again, we’ve learned that Trump has no shame — and that his base will likely swallow whatever lies Donald feeds them.  (Trump tells his base that impeachment demonstrates that “the swamp” is alive and well.)

What is certain is that whomever the Democratic presidential candidate is, Trump will attack them as corrupt.  (We’ve already seen that with his attempt to implicate Joe Biden in a Ukraine scandal.)  Trump will try to drive down the favorability ratings of his opponent by lying about them: Biden as corrupt, Sanders as a crazy socialist, Warren as Pocahontas, Buttigieg as “wink-wink,” etcetera.

What will the Democratic response be?  No doubt one message will be, “We can’t afford four more years of Trump!” And Democrats might find a companion message concerning global climate change:  “Trump fiddles while the planet burns.”  Or Democrats may opt for a simpler message, such as Joe Biden’s promise to “bring us together.”  (In the December 19th Democratic debate, Biden effectively repeated this, “I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that’s the case, we’re dead as a country. We need to be able to reach a consensus.”)

The lesson from the British General Election is that popularity matters — even when both candidates are unpopular — and voters prefer a simple message.

Capitalism Has Failed

In the seventies, I was privileged to hear the British economist E.F. Schumacher — author of “Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered” — speak in Palo Alto. Schumacher observed that we were all living in the new age of dinosaurs, where our economy is ruled by giant corporations that roam the earth crushing everything in their path.  Schumacher cautioned his audience to be prepared for the day when corporations collapsed. That’s where we are now: giant corporations are beginning to disintegrate.  Capitalism has failed and the end times have come for mega corporations.  Donald Trump is a harbinger of the death throes of capitalism.

Even though the holidays are just around the corner, December 2019 has been unusually depressing.  Every day we receive new warnings that the environment is in perilous straits (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/10/arctic-sea-ice-cover-falls-to-alarming-low-as-temperatures-rise). There are riots throughout the world.  And, of course, there’s the omnipresent news about mad emperor Trump.

These aren’t isolated events.  Global Climate Change is the result of unfettered capitalism; corporations pillaging the planet.  Social unrest is most often the result of economic injustice produced by the unequal distribution of income and capital that are the byproducts of the dominant economic system.  And, as Robert Reich notes (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/08/donald-trump-citizens-united-anti-democracy-decade?), Donald Trump is the logical consequence of unfettered capitalism.

Rather than dismiss Trump as a pathological politician, it’s necessary to see him as the extreme symptom of unfettered capitalism.  It’s important to defeat Trump in 2020, but even more important to address cancerous capitalism that threatens the soul of democracy as well as the well-being of the planet.

There’s a lot to say about Donald Trump, but we can begin by recognizing that he’s the consummate capitalist.  In all circumstances, Trump places his own interests above other ethical (and legal) considerations.  (Donald favors the crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare that characterize capitalism in 2019.)  Trump is resolutely committed to the maxim: “the ends justify the means.”  (This explains his astonishing willingness to lie, as well as his predilection for self-dealing.)  And Trump typifies the paternalism that permeates giant corporations.

The fact that Trump is the consummate capitalist shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  It explains his appeal to his base. UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild’s epoch study, “Strangers in Their Own Land,” explicates the strange hold that Trump has over his followers — the cult-like aura that’s been created.  Hochschild had lengthy talks with a broad spectrum of southern voters living in some of the most polluted areas of Louisiana.  The interviewees in “Strangers in their own land” blamed government for their lack of success.  Their sole hope for salvation was big business — capitalism.  Hochschild observed that her interviewees “identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent.” In other words, Trump supporters identify with Donald and believe he will provide their salvation.

Of course, this is a position taken out of desperation.  Trump voters cling to a “leader” who steadfastly represents the capitalist interests that are destroying their lives.  It’s collective insanity.

I’m traveling down this sad road to make a point to Democratic voters: when you consider which candidate to support in the upcoming presidential primaries, it’s not sufficient to stop with the notion of who can beat Trump.  Most of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump —  a recent Quinnipiac poll found that all the major candidates beat Trump by 4 to 9 points.  Since Trump is an extreme symptom of America’s dysfunctional economic order, the key question to ask is: which candidate is best prepared to change unfettered capitalism?

Seven candidates have qualified for the December 19th Democratic debate: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg who hasn’t qualified for the debate, are billionaires; they have progressive policies on many issues but not on fundamental reform of corporations.  Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are self-identified “moderates;” none of them advocate elemental reform of corporations.  (Nor does Andrew Yang, although he leans in that direction.)

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have a lot to say about corporate reform.  Senator Sanders has a long record speaking against giant corporations and monopolies.  “Corporate America doesn’t give one damn about workers.”  He favors measures to increase corporate accountability, to shift the wealth of the economy back into the hands of the workers who create it.  For example, he would, “Give workers an ownership stake in the companies they work for.”  If he became President, there’s no doubt that Bernie Sanders would work for drastic reform of corporations.

Nonetheless, the most expansive corporate-reform proposals has been developed by Elizabeth Warren. “We need courage to take on corporate monopoly giants… big, structural change.”  Senator Warren has a lot to say about the problem of unfettered capitalism.  In her position paper, “Empowering Workers through Accountable Capitalism” (https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/accountable-capitalism/?) Warren has four key proposals:

“1. Require very large American corporations to obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, not just shareholders.  2. Empower workers at big American corporations to elect no less than 40% of the company’s board member. 3. Remove bad financial incentives by restricting directors and senior executives at big corporations from selling company shares.  And, 4. Ensure corporate political spending reflects the interests of workers: Big American corporations must receive the approval of at least 75% of their shareholders and 75% of their directors before engaging in any political expenditures.”

Capitalism has failed.  We’re entering the end times for giant corporations.  Nonetheless, in 2020, Donald Trump will run as the champion of corporate interests (monopolies, bailouts, corporate welfare, and “pay to play” political influence).

It’s essential to both defeat Trump and to elect a Democratic president who will advocate significant corporate reform.

The New Normal

This week, Northern California had its first significant rain and our fire season ended. (Unfortunately, as I write this, there is a big fire burning in Southern California near Santa Barbara.) For the last several years, fire season has lasted longer than it once did, and the fires have been more ferocious. Californians are beginning to acknowledge that this is the new normal.

Here in Sonoma County — north of San Francisco — we’re still recovering from the mammoth Kincade fire, which started on October 23rd and was fully contained on November 6, 2019. It burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 374 buildings.  Amazingly, no one was killed; probably because the County Sheriff ordered a massive evacuation and our local utility company turned off almost all the county’s electricity.  (Once the evacuation order was lifted, it took several days for power to be restored.)

Most of the locals see the Kincade fire as a consequence of three factors: global climate change, reckless building in the “wildland-urban-interface” (WUI), and infrastructure decay.  Climate change has caused our summers to become much drier and the fall winds to be more intense.  (During the Kincade fire there were 96 mile-per-hour winds.)  For a variety of reasons, California’s suburbs have pushed into the wildland-urban-interface and shortsighted city planners have let developers build in locations there were once thought to be too dangerous because of the possibility of wildfires.  Finally, our energy infrastructure has not been properly maintained by the primary Northern California provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E); now, when the winds kick up, we are at risk because of aging transmission lines and transformers.  (Belatedly, PG&E acknowledged this; early in the course of the Kincade fire, the utility shut off all electric service in the projected path of the firestorm — most of west Sonoma County.)

The question Californians now face is how to adapt to the new normal.  One option would be to relocate, but that would likely mean a move out of state because all parts of California are now threatened by wildfires.  (Indeed, most of the western states have this problem.)  And, of course, moving to another state means moving to an area that is subjected to another consequence of climate change, such as hurricanes.

The other option is to remain in California and support substantial action to mitigate fire risk.  Two approaches have been suggested; both of them involve major financial expenditures.  One is to upgrade the electrical grid in a way that minimizes the fire risk.  The other is to “harden” vulnerable communities.

As a consequence of the 2017 Tubbs fire — also in Sonoma County — and the 2018 Camp Fire — up the road in Butte County — PG&E declared bankruptcy. (https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pge-bankruptcy-filing-20190129-story.html)  Now Californians are embroiled in discussion about what to do with the utility.  This will take several years to work out.

In the meantime, Californians, who live outside big cities, must be prepared to have their power shut off for days at a time — during fire season. In other words, Californians who live in rural areas, or the “WUI,” will have to have substantial backup power — generators or solar panels plus batteries  — or do without.  This new reality applies to both homes and businesses — one of the problems uncovered during the October Sonoma County evacuation was that many gas stations did not have power and therefore their pumps didn’t work.  (Obviously, the prospect of continuous power outages places a singular burden on the less fortunate members of the community.)

Regardless of the ultimate disposition of PG&E, the electrical grid needs to hardened.  In many cases this means burying transmission lines and distribution lines.  In other cases this means fortifying electrical substations and transformers.

Vulnerable communities also need to be hardened.  City planners need to severely restrict further building in the WUI.  (A restriction that runs head-on in California’s desire to provide more housing units.)  Communities must provide incentives for landowners to maximize their defensible space.  Evacuation routes need to be widened and adjacent foliage needs to be cleared.  Substantial fire breaks need to be created between communities — spaces at least one-quarter mile wide.  Finally, funding should be provided so that communities can provide “shelter-in-place” fire refuges.

(If these steps aren’t taken, insurance companies are going to declare large swaths of California as uninsurable.  Meaning that many rural communities will disappear.)

If you live outside California, and think none of this relates to you, you’re mistaken.  Global climate change will impact all regions of the United States.  If you live in areas along the Atlantic or Gulf coast you will be subjected to hurricanes and rising tides.  If you live in the midwest, you will be subjected to ice storms and tornados.  When you recognize that this is the new normal, you will be faced with the same decisions that confront Californians: either move or take dramatic action to accommodate these new challenges.  You can run, but you cannot hide.

Talking to Republicans About Impeachment

The holidays are coming.  And with them,  more opportunities to talk to those recalcitrant Trump supporters in your family.  Such as Aunt Bertha who believes God sent Donald on a mission.  And Uncle Bert who wants Trump to blow up Washington. Here are ten tips on how to talk to them about the impeachment process.  Ten responses to familiar Republican (false) arguments.

Contention 1: “Democrats are trying to overthrow the 2016 election.”  This a good place to start the conversation because there is an element of truth in this Republican argument.  Response: Yes, impeachment is about removing the President from office and replacing him with the Vice President.  Democrats are using this process because they believe Donald Trump has committed grave offenses that threaten our Democracy.  (Helpful hint: Don’t mention that Vice President Mike Pence could also be a candidate for impeachment because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal.)

Contention 2: “Democrats are making a false charge.  Trump’s call to Ukraine was perfect.”  Helpful hint: take a deep breath.  Response: have you read the White House memo on the July 25th call?  (It’s not a transcript.) Trump discusses U.S. aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor” and mentions an investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden. Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is bribery. That’s why there is an impeachment inquiry.

Contention 3: “The Whistleblower was out to get Trump.”  Time for another deep breath.  Response: everything that was mentioned in the Whistleblower report has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  Trump has admitted the basic facts so the Whistleblower is no longer relevant to the investigation.

Contention 4: “All the evidence is second hand.”  Response: While the original Whistleblower report was indeed second hand, this information has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  For this reason, the critical evidence is first hand; it’s been provided by Donald Trump or others who listened to the phone call.

Contention 5: “What about the Bidens?  Shouldn’t they be investigated?”  Response: Democrats have no objection to an investigation of the Ukraine activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  However, this investigation has nothing directly to do with the impeachment inquiry; it is a separate matter.  [Pause for emphasis.]  Donald Trump controls the Department of Justice and and the FBI and they have yet to initiate an investigation into the activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  [While this was being written, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — launched a problem into the Bidens (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/graham-launches-probe-into-bidens-burisma-and-ukraine/2019/11/21/5a5675b4-0ca5-11ea-97ac-a7ccc8dd1ebc_story.html ). ]

Contention 6: “There was not a crime because no damage was done; Ukraine got the money.” Take another deep breath.  Response:” After the July 25th phone call, military aid to Ukraine was put on hold by Trump.  The aid was not released until September 11th, after the whistleblower report and after the House of Representatives launched related investigations.  Because of this sequence, many characterize what happened as a failed bribery attempt.  Nonetheless, a bribery attempt that fails is still a crime.

Contention 7: “The Impeachment process is flawed.”  Response: The Impeachment process is similar to that used in previous impeachment inquiries — for example, the Clinton impeachment — except for the fact there is no special counsel involved.  This process follows the rules set down by the House of Representatives and those rules include the involvement of Democrats and Republicans at each phase.

In addition, it would help the process if Donald Trump did not forbid the testimony of relevant witnesses.  (Of course, it would also help if Trump testified before the impeachment panel.)

Contention 8: “Trump should be able to confront his accusers.”  Take a deep breath.  Response: There are two phases of the impeachment process; the inquiry — held in the House of Representatives — and the trial — held in the Senate.  Trump will be able to confront his accusers during the Senate trial.  In addition, House Speaker Pelosi has offered Trump a chance to give testimony during the inquiry and offered his counsel an opportunity to present evidence during the House process.

Contention 9: “Whatever… it’s not an impeachable offense.”  Take two deep breaths.  Response: Whether or not Trump’s acts — bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power — are impeachable offenses needs to be decided after the process has played out — by a vote in the Senate.  It’s serious enough that it should not be dismissed on a purely partisan basis.

Contention 10: “I don’t care what Trump did.  As long as the economy works for me and my family, I’m supporting Trump.”  Take many deep breaths.  Response: “I will pray for your moral compass to be restored.”

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

 While the impeachment inquiry continues to command most of the attention of the mainstream media, in the background the Democratic presidential candidates continue their slog towards the February 3rd Iowa caucuses. Here’s the BB perspective on how these candidates are doing.  And a prediction as to what the race will look like coming out of “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd.

1.Elizabeth Warren: Massachusetts Senator Warren garners the number one slot for two reasons: she has the most momentum and she has “out wonked” all the other candidates.  Elizabeth has a plan for everything stretching from the very serious (how to deal with global climate change) to the other extreme (how to get Americans to eat more vegetables).

In addition to would-be-dictator Trump, Americans are beset by a frightening array of problems:, including climate change, wealth inequity, and cancerous capitalism.  Senator Warren is the only candidate to have a well-thought-out plan on all of these.  It’s convenient to characterize Warren as a candidate of the left and others, such as Joe Biden, as a candidate of the “center,” but the reality is that Elizabeth wants big change in American society and many of the other candidates — such as Biden — seek modest changes.  The BB perspective: The U.S. needs big changes.

2. Joe Biden: Former Vice-President Biden is a nice guy who was a worthy sidekick to Barack Obama.  Can he run the show on his own?  I’m not convinced.  Biden seems old — he’ll turn 77 at the end of the month — and lacking the energy required to run the big show.

Some Democrats are attracted to Joe because he’s a “safe” choice.  They believe he’s the most likely to beat Trump: The current Real Clear Politics poll of polls shows Biden beating Trump by 10.2 percent.  However the same poll shows Warren beating Trump by 7.3 percent.  So they both beat Trump — and Biden has way more name recognition than Warren does.

The election has two steps: beat Trump and fix America.  Warren would do a better job on second step.

3. Bernie Sanders: Bernie doesn’t seem to have the same fire that he did in 2016.  He seems tired — although not as tired as Biden, who is one year younger.  Bernie has been “out wonked” by Elizabeth Warren.

On October 1st, Senator Sanders had a heart attack.  A month later, the attack doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.  Nonetheless, while his fundraising is ticking along, Bernie has slipped slightly in the polls. (For example, the latest New Hampshire Quinnipiac poll shows Bernie running behind Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg.)

BB prediction: after losing the New Hampshire primary, Bernie will drop out and support Elizabeth Warren.

4. Pete Buttigieg:  So far, the big surprise of the Democratic presidential primary contest has been Mayor Pete.  (In the second quarter, Buttigieg raised more money than all other Democratic contenders — $24.9 million.)  Mayor Pete is very smart and has a remarkable public presence.

If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are candidates of the left, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are “moderates.”  For those Democrats who initially supported Biden, and now think he is too old, many have shifted to Mayor Pete.  (Who is 37; forty years younger than Biden.)

BB prediction: After “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd, Biden will drop out and the competition will narrow to Warren, Buttigieg, and the billionaires.

By most accounts, Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg have more than 75 percent of the primary votes of Democrats.  No other candidate has double digit support.  Why?

The women: Harris, Klobuchar, and Gabbard.  Six months ago Senator Kamala Harris was a hot political property — challenging Warren, Sanders, and Biden as a frontrunner.  Now her support has greatly diminished.  Two problems: Harris didn’t give voters a clear reason to support her and she got out wonked by Warren and Sanders.

I’ve expected Senator Amy Klobuchar to surge in Iowa.  For “moderates” she seems like a good alternative to Joe Biden.  Instead, Pete Buttigieg has taken this role.

Tulsi Gabbard keeps hanging around.  The “maverick” candidate.  Some say that if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Gabbard will be his choice for VP.

The billionaires: Bloomberg and Steyer. The big news this past weekend is that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination.  (He’s the sixth richest person in the U.S.; one of our 2153 billionaires.)  Bloomberg has good liberal credentials — for example, his positions on climate change and gun control — but he isn’t an exciting candidate.

For months San Franciscan Tom Steyer has been pushing for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  (And for taking action on climate change.)  HIs hearts in the right place but I don’t see Steyer becoming a frontrunner — the latest California Democratic primary poll shows Elizabeth Warren in 1st place with 27 percent of the vote and Steyer in ninth place with 1 percent.

The “outsiders”: Yang, Booker, and Castro.  Andrew Yang is another “maverick” candidate — who has gotten more traction than Tulsi Gabbard.  Nonetheless, his national support continues to languish in the single digits.  If Biden or Sanders falter, will Yang get more support?  I don’t think so.

What’s the story with Cory Booker?  He does well in the debates but it doesn’t seem to translate into more voter support.  I expect Booker to drop out before Iowa.

Several months ago, Julian Castro surged and then faltered.  He’s a candidate who looks better on paper than he does in person.  I expect him to drop out before Iowa.

(As this was being written, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick entered the New Hampshire primary.  It’s another indication that “moderate” Democrats aren’t happy with Biden.)

Summary: The competition for the Democratic nomination will come down to Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.