Category Archives: Uncategorized

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trump kleptocracy

Vengeance from the Oval Office

“When someone intentionally harms you or your reputation, how do you react? I strike back, doing the same thing to them only ten times worse.”

So Donald Trump wrote in Think Big and Kick Ass. This single sentence best describes the biggest threat a Trump presidency poses: Retribution.

And we’ve already seen him begin to do this. After a dozen women accused him of sexual assault, Trump, during a closing-stretch rally, vowed to sue them after the election. His campaign said they would sue the New York Times after its publication of stories alleging sexual assault (no such suit has materialized). Trump has verbally attacked reporters and even increased the risk of someone assassinating Hillary Clinton with his “Second Amendment people” statement, a form of stochastic terrorism.

Undoubtedly, his baseless and childish attacks on perceived insulters discourage forthcoming behavior. What women would want to accuse Trump (or someone in his administration, inner circle, etc) of sexual assault when Trump would threaten legal action and rally millions into hatred?

He did all that as a candidate. Now, Trump can pursue his vengeance with the full force of the United States government. It really isn’t difficult to see a Trump administration upset at a newspaper’s coverage ban that outlet from White House briefings or other presidential events. They could even go a step further and bring frivolous legal action against the source. Though any such lawsuit would surely be tossed, many small outlets, already pressured by falling subscription rates, might be bankrupted by legal action. They would naturally become less inclined to write negative stories about Trump, even when warranted and necessary to inform the public.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood might be punished by Trump for their opposition. Congressional Republican, acting on behalf of Trump could silence such criticisms by cutting off federal funding. Universities whose professors in any way oppose Trump — be it through research, op-eds, or signing letters warning of Trump’s risk to democratic institutions — could see their federal grants dry up. Any form of criticism or opposition could be muzzled by threatening the livelihood of those who stand up to Trump.

Moreover, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, Trump’s administration might be rent-creating. It could reward loyalists throughout the business community while directing puppet administrative appointees to harass dissidents through regulations and investigations. Supporters continue business as normal while opponents tangle with the federal government — de facto rent creation.

It’s incredibly dangerous to have a think-skinned president. He could respond to any slight by foreign leaders with military power or political sanctions while rewarding complimenters (he’s already been smitten by Putin and seems ready to appease his expansionist desires). How easy it could become to manipulate the leader of the free world! Such manipulation will only benefit our enemies.

Trump’s vindictiveness is not a presidential trait. It risks corruption and the end of a small-l liberal society in which opposition and peaceful dissidence ought to be hailed as a democratic strength. It risks rent-creation and foreign policy blunders. It risks creating the very type of systemically oppressive regime against which we rebelled some 240 years ago.


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oppose donald trump

November 9: The Way Forward

Tuesday delivered unto our democracy a stunning blow. A divided nation somehow elected the very type of man our Founders feared would undermine and potentially destroy our cherished institutions. Donald J. Trump, a man of near infinite ignorance, somehow will be president despite his utter cluelessness about policies, his constant flip-flopping on every imaginable issue, his mocking the disabled, his attacks on veterans and Gold Star veterans, his sexual assault allegations, and his unconstitutional proposals.

I know many of you feel disheartened and devastated. I certainly do. But we must channel what now feels like despair into productive activity to ensure that Trump’s bigotry is defeated and that the next demagogue who runs a tribal campaign is retired to the dustbin of history.

Progressives for Prosperity is committed to restoring American values across the country. We will fight day and night for unity and love and for policies that will better the country for one and for all. In two years, we will have a crucial midterm election; in four years, the chance to right the executive branch. Organizing for those events starts now.

Our grand goal is to move online the traditional campaign elements of voter outreach and engagement. We seek to create a digital machine that offers sound, research-backed policy arguments and then mobilizes voters in support of candidates who subscribe to those beliefs. To accomplish this, we need to build a strong social network across a variety of platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Reddit. The voter today lives online and if we become a part of his or her life, we can advance our arguments and encourage political participation.

This can only be accomplished with help from all of our followers. Now is a time of activism. Your likes, shares, and retweets spread our message to thousands of people. Your generous contributions allow us to target advertisements across the nation and acquire the data necessary to forming and mobilizing winning coalitions. We need each of you to continue sharing, interacting, and giving so we continue building our organization.

Here are some of our immediate goals:
1. Build a robust email list to share new articles and thoughts
2. Expand our Facebook reach
3. Expand our Twitter base
4. Raise $1,000 to purchase voter data from select swing states
5. Prioritize web development to advance arguments

Down the road, here are some nice-to-haves:
1. Create a podcast
2. Routinely post videos on YouTube
3. Develop a thriving Reddit community
4. Host phone and text banking events to spread issue awareness
5. Establish local meetups across the country

We are also looking for help in these fields:
• Writing
• Web development
• Online organizing
• Fundraising
• Miscellaneous coding projects

If any of those areas pique your interest, please send an email to progressivesforprosperity@gmail.com or shoot us a message on Twitter. Should you wish to participate in another way or if you have ideas about how can expand, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Yesterday, we experienced a significant setback in the search for equality and justice. Tomorrow, we can reverse that. Let’s channel our disappointment and anxiety into productive activities. Please join us in recapturing the soul of America and ensuring that its dream continues for generations to come.

Thank you.


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hillary clinton bernie sanders

Before You Vote, Consider This

Primary voting starts in just 6 days with the Iowa Caucuses.  A little more than a week later brings the New Hampshire primaries; after that, it’s off to the races with Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday.  We know you’re seeing many campaign ads, are inundated with opinion posts on Facebook and Twitter, and likely are already predisposed to a certain candidate.  Please, though, consider this before you caucus or cast your primary vote.

Democrats face an election of head versus heart

Bernie Sanders’ upstart, insurgent campaign identifies a singular problem – income inequality – and seeks to address it.  Nothing more.  His candidacy is premised on the one issue; the plans he offers cannot – and will not – pass Congress.  Lofty rhetoric of fundamental change plays well and offers ideas whose merit needs to be debated, considered, and discussed, but words with no hope of action do not a president make.

Hillary Clinton represents the head of the Democratic Party.  Of course, the House of Clinton has been a mainline force for decades.  More importantly, though, Hillary has long been considered a policy wonk, willing to work across the aisle to see legislation pass and to make change happen.  Bernie’s strong liberal positions earn him a weak congressional record with very few significant legislative achievements and no known ability to compromise on his values.  Love it or hate it, compromise and deal making gets things done in Washington.  Vote for the head of the Democratic Party and let the heart continue to fight in the Senate and to shape discourse without further polarizing and gridlocking our legislative system.

Political Revolution

I take many problems with this phrase.  It’s blatant reference and conjuring of Karl Marx’s writings make it immediately distasteful, reminiscent of failed ideas, and undemocratic.  Even ignoring that, the phrase is still wrong.

We don’t need, nor does anyone want, a full-on political revolution.  The country needs people to vote.  Turnout rates are incredibly low when compared to other Western democracies.  Voters skew older and wealthier than the average American.  Increasing the turnout rate will lead to more young and poor citizens voting, therein boosting Democratic vote share and the appetite for redistributive policies.  Progressive platforms win when turnout is high.  No political revolution is needed.

People voting is not a revolution, it’s simply a democracy at work.

Minimum Wage

Though it’s clear the minimum wage needs to rise, an increase to $15/hr is simply irresponsible.  That would double the current minimum wage.  Such actions would greatly increase unemployment through much of America.

What works in New York does not work in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Expensive cities need higher minimum wages than do cheap places.  The cost of living simply differs over much of the country.  San Francisco, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles are all much, much, much more expensive than Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sioux City, Iowa, and Gary, Indiana.  The national minimum wage cannot be premised on the cost of living in the most expensive cities; it must establish a baseline above which states and localities should increase their minimum wages.  $15/hour would increase unemployment and inflation (if the base wage starts at $15, all other rates must then be raised to maintain hierarchy) in states like Nebraska, Ohio, Vermont, etc.  Costs, too, would rise.  The benefits are slim with a national wage hike to such an absurd level.

Hillary wants to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.  This still represents a large and substantial increase, but precludes many of the unemployment worries caused by Bernie’s plan.  The difference between the two plans – Bernie’s desired wage is 33 percent higher than Hillary’s – has a real impact: It raises business costs by at least that amount.  To offset the costs, firm will either layoff workers and/or raise prices.  A $12 minimum wage lifts millions out of poverty without creating the unemployment and inflation caused by a $15 wage.  It respects the cost of living differences between states and encourages municipalities, like New York and San Francisco, to update policy on their own terms.  The national minimum wage, as Hillary understands, should be set at the lowest common denominator; wages should be raised to higher levels by the government closest to the people whom the wage will impact.  They are in a better place to make that decision.  Hillary, and not Bernie, understands that.

A lot of policies can be made on the national level; this is not one of them.

Free College

College is an investment.  Students decide whether to go to college to boost potential earnings.  Like any investment, they must have skin in the game.

College should not be free for everyone.  It should be affordable and students should have the opportunity to attend debt-free, but the government should not subsidize a public college education for all its inhabitants (also irresponsible to raise taxes only to redistribute them to the children of wealthy parents).  His plan relies on Wall Street taxes, but that would not raise enough money to pay for the plan.  How would he fill the gap?  Similarly, ideas capping interest rates on student loans are nonsense.  Many are upset that one can get a mortgage with a cheaper interest rate than a student loan.  This makes economic sense.  Loans are based on risk.  Students are risky.  Even after earning a degree, earning potential might be low.  Unlike a mortgage, which is backed by a house (a real, physical asset), student loans have no backing.  A bank cannot seize a degree in the case the student does not repay debts.  The risk associated with student loans leads to higher interests rates.  That’s not a corrupt economy; that’s basic market principles.

Hillary’s proposes debt free public education.  This makes sense.  It stops cost from being an educational barrier while ensuring that students still have skin in the game (as it is an investment, after all).  She also goes about this in the right way: public universities are operated by the states; Hillary’s plan incentivizes states with block grants to urge them to provide no-loan tuition.  Moreover, in the case of loans, Hillary will cap repayments at 10 percent of income.  This ensures that students will not sacrifice subsistence to pay down debt.  It also does not interfere with the forces of the free market – it doesn’t distort supply, demand, and risk elements.  Unlike Bernie’s plan where the proposed funding does not add to the price tag, Hillary’s plan to cap deductions for top tax-earners would cover her proposals.  Hillary solves college debt and makes college affordable without introducing moral hazard or burdening the free market.

Free college is not a good idea.  Debt-free college is.

Infrastructure Spending

Bernie has the right idea here.  $1 trillion of infrastructure spending is necessary for the health of our economy.  However, the timing is wrong.  Such an endeavor should be undertaken during a recession so it can serve as an economic stimulant.  When the unemployment rate is 5 percent, as it is now, the government needs to tighten its belt and close deficits, paying down the national debt.  That theory stems from basic Keynesian principles.  When the economy inevitably sags again, stimulus spending will be needed to create jobs and spur economic growth; that’s when Bernie’s plan should be introduced.  To do so now is fiscally irresponsible.

Hillary, on the other hand, proposed a reasonable $250 billion infrastructure plan that would create jobs and provide needed service to the country’s crumbling roads and bridges without severely straining the federal budget.  In addition, Hillary calls for a $25 billion seed fund for an infrastructure bank, a crucial step to ensuring the long-run vitality of America’s modes of commerce.  The bank would help finance another $250 billion in infrastructure improvements.  Her plans will create jobs without straining the federal budget, critical during a boom period in which we should be seeking to close the deficit and pay down debt, not add another $1 trillion to it.

Rigged Economy

Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke wrote in his memoir that Bernie has a “conspiracy view of the world.”  This is absolutely correct.  Bernie envisions a world in which “the billionaire class” – in perfect sympathy with ideas of class warfare – tries to keep everyone else suppressed below them.  It’s an outlandish sentiment that bears little reality to data.

Economic mobility has not changed in 50 years, since the Johnson administration.  Only if you think that the economy was rigged during the liberal heyday of social programs, tax and spend policies, and Democratic legislative domination can you now believe that the economy is rigged.

Yes, inequality has grown, but that’s not a bad thing.  Income inequality is the natural result of a market economy.  Not everyone can earn the same income.  Higher incomes generate incentives and are rewards for society’s most talented and hard-working.  That inequality exists proves our economy is working.

The problem is stagnant middle class wages.  For the middle class, incomes have not grown in 25 years.  Yes, the top 1 percent’s income has grown manifold, especially following the Great Recession, but much of that can be attributed to stock market increases and changing payment schemes for CEOs.  That’s simply not the problem.  Taxing the rich to give to the poor would not solve inequality.

This is another instance in which Bernie’s policies break down.  He relies on soaking the rich to combat inequality.  Such ideas don’t raise middle class incomes.  A $15/hr minimum wage raises incomes only so far as it doesn’t create unemployment – and it will.  Bernie doesn’t focus on job creation and wage growth; he focuses on taking and giving – a concept that simply will not work to fix the only issue to which he is committed and pretends to be versed.

His policies and rhetoric of a rigged economy pitting the little guy against corporate fat cats is only correct if you ignore economics.

Wall Street

Once more, there’s a disconnect between Bernie’s fiery, populist rhetoric and reality.  His platform centers around breaking up the big banks.  But guess what?  Doing so would not have prevented the 2008 financial crisis, which started with pure investment firms (Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers).  Breaking up big banks does not solve problems potentially endemic to the financial sector.  In fact, “a breakup of the largest financial institutions would reduce the value that they provide for the economy, businesses, and consumers. Recent research points to significant economies of scale and scope at large financial institutions, leading to efficiencies for businesses and consumers.”

Bernie’s spectacular fundraising pitch – reinstalling Glass-Steagall – fails to live up to his goals.  Like politicians on the far right, Bernie has an incredible immunity to social science.

The best means of preventing another financial calamity seems to be taxing the behavior that made the 2008 crisis awful: reliance on short-term, often overnight, funding.  Prior to 2008, many banks needed overnight lending from other institutions in order to pay daily operating expenses and meet capital requirements.  As assets lost value, banks began to worry about solvency and ceased the web of lending.  This prevented banks from meeting daily operations and made them illiquid, prompting a fire-sell of assets that were quickly losing value.  In came a crisis of solvency and banks suddenly faced bankruptcy.  To prevent another catastrophe of the sort, banks need to be discouraged from short-term funding.  Hillary’s plan does this by levying fees on the institutions that rely heavily on volatile, short-term loans.

Her proposals are many times better than Bernie’s because she addresses the root problem instead of issuing rally cries.  There’s a reason Hillary is respected on both sides of the aisle when it comes to policy credentials and know-how.

Money and Special Interests

Here, too, lies another instance in which Bernie’s call to action stands against political science research and would actually increase political polarization.

No corporation expects to buy a politician.  All the money in the world cannot elect a candidate if the candidate’s positions are anathema to the majority of voters.  Decision making is still – and is always – left in the hands of the voters and it becomes their responsibility to turnout and have their voices heard.  It seems misplaced and normatively wrong to forbid companies from exercising speech and preferences while not placing any blame on apathetic voters.

Moreover, when corporations donate to political campaigns, they tend to do so in a bipartisan manner because they want things to get done.  It’s bad for business when Congress fails to pass laws.  Take, for instance, the 2011 debt ceiling debacle.  Corporations and their lobbyists urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling as failing to do so would have resulted in an economic catastrophe.  However, many House members and some Senators wanted to default on obligations because the grassroots voters thought that was the best position.  Businesses actually tried to bring the sides together.  That’s not corporate-induced polarization – that’s corporate induced bipartisanship.

Preventing the moderating force of many of these corporations from influencing elected officials actually worsens polarization by increasing the impact of grassroots donors.  Proposals in which small donor sums are matched by the government can empower radical candidates who attract a broad grassroots movement.  In the presidential election, that would pit Bernie, the most liberal senator, against Ted Cruz, one of the most conservative.  It’s easy to see how that might lead to more extremists in both congressional chambers, worsening polarization and ensuring that no legislation whatsoever is enacted.

That said, it’s important to point out the most corporate political money goes to lobbyists.  Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it can bring sides together to pass budgets and raise the debt ceiling.  The main impact of Citizens United and Speechnow is the ability for individuals – whose motivations are quite different than those corporations – to donate vast sums to super PACs.  But there’s still no definitive literature on how super PACs and individuals impact elections.  In fact, if 2012 is any precedent, super PACs and outside money have a muted impact on elections.

Super PACs and unlimited contributions are inherent parts of free speech.  Since Buckley v. Valeo, money has been equated with political speech, and for good reason.  By and large, there are three ways to engage in the political process: 1) donate, 2) volunteer, and 3) vote.  Each contains elements of speech and each should be unlimited.  Let’s use a though experiment.  If you supported a candidate, how would you act to ensure the candidate’s election?  You would donate, volunteer, and vote and you would want to complete freedom to do all three.  Perhaps the easiest way of engaging with politics is to donate money to campaign committees and PACs.  They have a competitive advantage in producing political communications as they specialize in it (I could make lawn signs on my own, but a campaign will do it much more efficiently).  In this sense, I’m using money to further my speech by giving it to an organization that can best amplify it.  My donation adds to the marketplace of ideas and allows many points of view to be presented to the electorate.

Liberals tend to dislike Citizens United because conservatives make the most of the decision.  That’s no reason to curtail rights.  We cannot limit speech because we don’t like what’s being said.  We must instead counter donations or utilize the other elements of political engagement to ensure victory for our candidates and ideals.  We can’t limit freedom because we don’t like what’s being done with it.  A liberal society is bettered and strengthened when speech is wholly encouraged.

Lastly, accepting this chart from political science research, we see that more money in elections betters the chances of challengers to unseat incumbents.  Challengers need fewer dollars to sway voters and given the natural incumbency advantage – around 5 to 9 percentage points, for a variety of reasons – more money can lead to more competitive races.  And, if the challenger raises a lot of money but his or her views are deplorable, it’s easy to still vote for the incumbent.

screenshot-www.washingtonpost.com 2016-01-26 11-58-24

 

What’s more, there is nothing Bernie, as president, can do.  To overturn Citizens United, either a new Supreme Court case is needed or a constitutional amendment (which no president can pass or propose).  Any case needs to have standing and injury, hard to prove considering the equal availability of all to make use of the campaign finance system.  It would set a dangerous precedent to sue based on speech unfavorable to one’s interests.  Bernie doesn’t seem to understand this – he tweeted that he would appoint Supreme Court justices whose first case would be to overturn Citizens United.  That’s not how the judicial system works.  Furthermore, establishing any sort of litmus test for a judicial nominee makes a mockery out of judicial independence – a value enshrined in the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.  It amounts to subversion of the Constitution.

In the end we have a choice: elect rhetoric or elect results.  Bernie’s policies fix no problems, especially not those about which he cares.  What’s more, his proposals are too far left to have any chance of passing a Republican or split Congress.  With no ability to set an agenda and no laws to his name, a Bernie presidency would amount to nothing but a cheerleader-in-chief, fervently calling for an end to the problem he doesn’t know how to solve.

Hillary has a record of working across the aisle.  Her policy ideas draw from social science and actually address root issues.  She’s a leader and has breadth of knowledge about which the single-issue Bernie can only dream.  It’s fine to have a single-issue politician in the House or the Senate, but in a president, we need someone ready to fight on all fronts, someone able to make deals, and someone truly able to lead the country forward.

We need Hillary.


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Obama’s Political Brilliance

It’s been widely expected that President Obama will take unilateral action on immigration.  On Thursday night, we’ll finally get to see Obama’s plan as he will unveil expected executive action in an address to the nation from Las Vegas.

What a brilliant political move!

I’ve long chided Democrats for their messaging failures and inability to grab an issue by its horns and take control of it.  Republicans are experts at messaging and controlling an issue – look at Benghazi, Obamacare, and even the economy.  Immigration, however, is one issue the Democrats dominate.

Undoubtedly, Democrats are in the drivers seat with regards to this issue because Republicans nobly failed to enact immigration reform and even stood staunchly against it.  Despite promises from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the Republican House failed to work with the Senate Democrats to compromise on immigration reform.  At least that’s how the American voters view the situation (a message that was successfully developed by Democratic leadership).  Voters see Democrats as taking initiative on immigration whereas Republicans are but an obstacle.

That was likely to change, though, after the 2014 midterm elections.  Republicans, undaunted by being labeled as the party of “No”, won Congress and thus can now control the legislative process.  A rational Republican congress would seek to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  It’s in the best interest of the Republican Party to utilize their Congressional majority, developing a track record on which congressional candidates and their presidential flag-bearer can run in 2016.  Being able to turn to accomplishments that are acceptable to the American people will give legitimacy to a Republican majority and buoy their chances at maintaining and furthering their congressional majority.

Plus Republicans do not fare well with minorities.  If Republicans are able to take control and credit for immigration reform, they could offer a substantial argument as to why minorities should support them in future elections.  Republicans have everything to gain by championing immigration reform.

President Obama undercut them.

By taking the issue out of legislative hands, Obama can enact far-reaching reform and, most importantly, he will claim a victory for the Democratic Party.  Immigration reform will bolster Democratic credentials with minority voters and likely keep and solidify their support for Democratic candidates.  Republicans would have had a chance to claw minority support away from Democrats, but Obama’s executive actions will prevent this from happening.  Considering a large turnout of minority voters was a crucial element of the Obama-coalition – a bastion of support for the president in 2008 and 2012 – Democrats want not only to repay them for their support, but to keep minority voters in their base camp.

The midterm elections prove how poorly Democrats fare when voter turnout drops.  Mobilizing minorities would likely be challenging in the future if Democrats could not appeal to a positive track-record.  Minority voters will be key in consolidating support in newly-blue states like Nevada and New Mexico and if the Democrats want to have any chance of putting Arizona and Texas into play, they need to mobilize and win support of minority voters.  While immigration reform won’t guarantee minority support – after all, to assert that they are single issue voters is insulting – it provides an important victory and offers evidence of the beneficence of electing Democratic officials.

After the midterm elections, the immigration ball was rolling into the Republican’s court.  Obama swooped in and returned it to the Democrat’s side.  Should Obama deliver sweeping immigration reform, the Democrats will have scored a huge electoral and policy victory.  Well done, Mr. President, well done.


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Economic Understanding is the Key to Prosperity

Economics may drive the actions taken by individuals and corporations, but governments are intended to provide a fair playing field for all and ensure that society is doing the best for all of its citizens not just those with financial means and power.  From this stems the great debate of what economic philosophy should a government embody?

Well, here this issue is effectively and informatively debated.  Watch and learn:


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