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“The Problem With Donald Trump’s Fact-Free ‘Instincts'”: Lack Of Basic Understanding Of Government And Public Policy

Donald Trump has a handful of core issues that help define his political identity. Indeed, one need not be a political news junkie to be able to rattle off the list: the New York Republican wants to “make America great again” by banning foreign Muslims from entering the country and addressing immigration by building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border.

It was literally in his surreal campaign kick-off speech that Trump made international headlines by declaring, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

For anti-immigration voters, Trump quickly became the presidential candidate they’ve been waiting for. But what does the presumptive Republican nominee actually know about his signature issue? Joshua Green has a fascinating new piece in Bloomberg Politics, which is largely about Trump undoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ years of work, but the article included one anecdote in particular that amazed me.

He explained the genesis of his heterodox views. “I’m not sure I got there through deep analysis,” he said. “My views are what everybody else’s views are. When I give speeches, sometimes I’ll sign autographs and I’ll get to talk to people and learn a lot about the party.” […]

I asked, given how immigration drove his initial surge of popularity, whether he, like [Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions], had considered the RNC’s call for immigration reform to be a kick in the teeth. To my surprise, he candidly admitted that he hadn’t known about it or even followed the issue until recently. “When I made my [announcement] speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech,” he said, “I didn’t know about the Gang of Eight…. I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess.”

For quite a while, it’s obviously been a problem that Donald Trump lacks a basic understanding of government and public policy. But anecdotes like these are a reminder about an alarming, related detail: he’s not particularly interested in current events, either.

I’m not even sure he’s clear on the meaning of “instinctively.”

The political fight surrounding the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was a politically dominant issue for months, and given Trump’s apparent interest in immigrants and the Mexican border, one might assume he followed the debate closely. Except, he didn’t. As recently as a year ago, he launched a presidential campaign predicated in part on his immigration views, which consisted of a few offensive soundbites.

After all, he doesn’t arrive at his conclusions “through deep analysis.”

Instead, Trump says he understood U.S. border policy “instinctively.” That doesn’t make any sense. If he had literally no substantive understanding of developments at the border, it’s impossible to rely on instincts to understand the value of current border policy.

Let me put this another way. If I pitch Rachel Maddow on a story for the show, she can instinctively tell whether or not it’s a good idea because she has expertise in this area. If I were to ask her the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, she couldn’t offer an instinctive answer because she has a limited background in birds and physics.

If I were to ask Donald Trump about the value of a high-rise in Midtown Manhattan, he could probably give me a decent instinctive answer. If I were to ask him to reflect on U.S. border security, he can’t – because, according the man himself, he has no idea what he’s talking about.

When Trump refers to his “instincts,” he seems to mean guesses that result from superficial news consumption. For a guy having an argument in a bar, that’s fine. For someone seeking the nation’s highest office, it’s cause for alarm.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 27, 2016

May 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Governing, Immigration Reform, Public Policy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Hopes Of Appearing Normal”: New GOP Ad Campaign; ‘Republicans Have Feelings’

Vinny Minchillo, a Republican campaign strategist based in Texas, isn’t the most famous GOP consultant in the country, but he did claim to have “reinvented political advertising” while working for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2012.

But that was two years ago. In 2014, as Danny Vinik discovered, Minchillo is spearheading an entirely different kind of campaign. It’s called “Republicans Are People, Too.”

RepublicansArePeopleToo.com … aims to combat the partisan rancor directed at the GOP. In short: to humanize Republicans demonized by the left as women-hating, nature-destroying Fox News addicts. A 97-second video on the site informs viewers that Republicans do things that you may not associate with conservatives. […]

Minchillo is now an executive at Glass House Strategy, a public affairs company that specializes in political campaigns – although, despite the upcoming midterms, Minchillo is not advising any campaigns at the moment. That, he says, makes it the perfect time to start a grassroots campaign to change the Republican Party’s image.

The whole video is posted below, and you’ll just have to see it to believe it. The message did not go so far as to say, “Republicans are capable of functioning as well-adjusted human beings,” but that seemed to be the general direction of the message.

Indeed, for those who can’t watch clips online, here’s the entire on-screen text: “Did you know? Republicans drive Priuses. Republicans recycle. Republicans listen to Spotify. Republicans put together Ikea furniture. Republicans are white. Republicans are black. Republicans are Hispanic. Republicans are Asian. Republicans read the New York Times in public. Republicans use Macs. Republicans are grandmas, daughters, Moms. Republicans are left handed. Republicans are doctors, welders, teachers. Republicans donate to charity. Republicans enjoy gourmet cooking. Republicans shop at Trader Joe’s. Republicans like dogs and cats, probably dogs a little more than cats. Republicans have tattoos and beards. Republicans have feelings. Republicans are people who care. Republicans are people, too.”

It’s almost as if we’re seeing a promotional video put together by a group most Americans find repulsive, so its members put something together for YouTube in the hopes of appearing normal.

Indeed, let’s make this plain: if you’re a member of a political party, and you find it necessary to remind the public that your party is capable of human emotion and routine human behavior, then your party may have a very serious problem.

It’s not that Minchillo’s ad is wrong, of course. Obviously, Republicans are human beings living normal American lives. The problem is the overly defensive nature of the argument – if you have to remind the public that Republicans “are people” and “have emotions,” then you’re implicitly suggesting that Republicans’ basic humanity is, at least for some, in doubt.

Jon Chait joked, “It’s just always suspicious when somebody strenuously denies an accusation that has not been made.”

This video http://youtu.be/Iff7mNsGK50 no doubt intended to convey the opposite message, but “Republicans Are People, Too” underscores a branding issue for which there is no easy solution.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 25, 2014

September 26, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Public Policy, Republicans | , , , | 1 Comment

“The Disease Of American Democracy”: The Monied Interests Are Doing What They Do Best – Making Money

Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.

A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother?

A new study scheduled to be published in this fall by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page confirms our worst suspicions.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens.

Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Instead, lawmakers respond to the policy demands of wealthy individuals and monied business interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

Before you’re tempted to say “duh,” wait a moment. Gilens’ and Page’s data come from the period 1981 to 2002. This was before the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in “Citizens United,” prior to SuperPACs, and before the Wall Street bailout.

So it’s likely to be even worse now.

But did the average citizen ever have much power? The eminent journalist and commentator Walter Lippman argued in his 1922 book “Public Opinion” that the broad public didn’t know or care about public policy. Its consent was “manufactured” by an elite that manipulated it. “It is no longer possible … to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” Lippman concluded.

Yet American democracy seemed robust compared to other nations that in the first half of the twentieth century succumbed to communism or totalitarianism.

Political scientists after World War II hypothesized that even though the voices of individual Americans counted for little, most people belonged to a variety of interest groups and membership organizations – clubs, associations, political parties, unions – to which politicians were responsive.

“Interest-group pluralism,” as it was called, thereby channeled the views of individual citizens, and made American democracy function.

What’s more, the political power of big corporations and Wall Street was offset by the power of labor unions, farm cooperatives, retailers, and smaller banks.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith approvingly dubbed it “countervailing power.” These alternative power centers ensured that America’s vast middle and working classes received a significant share of the gains from economic growth.

Starting in 1980, something profoundly changed. It wasn’t just that big corporations and wealthy individuals became more politically potent, as Gilens and Page document. It was also that other interest groups began to wither.

Grass-roots membership organizations shrank because Americans had less time for them. As wages stagnated, most people had to devote more time to work in order to makes ends meet. That included the time of wives and mothers who began streaming into the paid workforce to prop up family incomes.

At the same time, union membership plunged because corporations began sending jobs abroad and fighting attempts to unionize. (Ronald Reagan helped legitimized these moves when he fired striking air traffic controllers.)

Other centers of countervailing power – retailers, farm cooperatives, and local and regional banks – also lost ground to national discount chains, big agribusiness, and Wall Street. Deregulation sealed their fates.

Meanwhile, political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents. As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphing from state and local membership organizations into national fund-raising machines.

We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments.

These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting.

But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized.

We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, and our votes.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, August 18, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Politics, Public Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Free To Be Hungry”: Conservatives Believe That Freedom Is Just Another Word For “Not Enough To Eat”

The word “freedom” looms large in modern conservative rhetoric. Lobbying groups are given names like FreedomWorks; health reform is denounced not just for its cost but as an assault on, yes, freedom. Oh, and remember when we were supposed to refer to pommes frites as “freedom fries”?

The right’s definition of freedom, however, isn’t one that, say, F.D.R. would recognize. In particular, the third of his famous Four Freedoms — freedom from want — seems to have been turned on its head. Conservatives seem, in particular, to believe that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.

Hence the war on food stamps, which House Republicans have just voted to cut sharply even while voting to increase farm subsidies.

In a way, you can see why the food stamp program — or, to use its proper name, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — has become a target. Conservatives are deeply committed to the view that the size of government has exploded under President Obama but face the awkward fact that public employment is down sharply, while overall spending has been falling fast as a share of G.D.P. SNAP, however, really has grown a lot, with enrollment rising from 26 million Americans in 2007 to almost 48 million now.

Conservatives look at this and see what, to their great disappointment, they can’t find elsewhere in the data: runaway, explosive growth in a government program. The rest of us, however, see a safety-net program doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: help more people in a time of widespread economic distress.

The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak. Multiple careful economic studies have shown that the economic downturn explains the great bulk of the increase in food stamp use. And while the economic news has been generally bad, one piece of good news is that food stamps have at least mitigated the hardship, keeping millions of Americans out of poverty.

Nor is that the program’s only benefit. The evidence is now overwhelming that spending cuts in a depressed economy deepen the slump, yet government spending has been falling anyway. SNAP, however, is one program that has been expanding, and as such it has indirectly helped save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But, say the usual suspects, the recession ended in 2009. Why hasn’t recovery brought the SNAP rolls down? The answer is, while the recession did indeed officially end in 2009, what we’ve had since then is a recovery of, by and for a small number of people at the top of the income distribution, with none of the gains trickling down to the less fortunate. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, but the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. Why should food stamp usage have gone down?

Still, is SNAP in general a good idea? Or is it, as Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, puts it, an example of turning the safety net into “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

One answer is, some hammock: last year, average food stamp benefits were $4.45 a day. Also, about those “able-bodied people”: almost two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.

Beyond that, however, you might think that ensuring adequate nutrition for children, which is a large part of what SNAP does, actually makes it less, not more likely that those children will be poor and need public assistance when they grow up. And that’s what the evidence shows. The economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach have studied the impact of the food stamp program in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was gradually rolled out across the country. They found that children who received early assistance grew up, on average, to be healthier and more productive adults than those who didn’t — and they were also, it turns out, less likely to turn to the safety net for help.

SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.

Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 22, 2013

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, Public Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Something’s Gotta Give”: A Deeper Divide In A Culture War That’s Now Spread To The Full Range Of Public Policy Issues

There’s been a lot of polling conducted about the George Zimmerman verdict, and/or the whole Zimmerman-Martin saga. And a lot of it tracks divisions on, well, most other major controversies in American politics, including partisan attachments and competitive national elections.

One way of looking at the congruence of opinion on issues directly relating to race and ethnicity and on all kinds of other issues is that it reflects a partisan and ideological polarization that’s taken on the atmosphere of a culture war. The other way, of course, is to suggest that we’re in a culture war that’s now spread to the full range of public policy issues.

In his latest National Journal column, Ron Brownstein adds the considerable weight of his judgment to the latter proposition:

Although the contrasting attitudes about law enforcement ignite more sparks, that question of Washington’s proper role now represents the most important racial divide in American life. Minorities preponderantly support government investment in education, training, and health care that they consider essential for upward mobility. Most whites, particularly blue-collar and older whites, now resist spending on almost anything except Social Security and Medicare.

This clash rings through the collision between Obama (who won twice behind a coalition of nonwhites and the minority of whites generally open to activist government) and House Republicans (four-fifths of whom represent districts more white than the national average). In their unwavering opposition to Obama on issues from health to immigration, House Republicans are systematically blockading the priorities of the diverse (and growing) majority coalition that reelected him. Without more persuasive alternatives, Republicans risk convincing these emerging communities that their implacable opposition represents a “stand-your-ground” white resistance to minorities’ own rise. In the meantime, a rapidly diversifying America risks a future of hardening disparities and enmities if it cannot forge more transracial consensus in the courts—or in Congress.

If Ron’s analysis is right, of course, there’s another scenario for the future if “hardening disparities and enmities” cannot be overcome: one side or the other might actually win for long enough to set a new course for the future. For a brief moment that seemed to have happened in 2008. I’m sure some conservatives thought they saw it happening in 2010, which is why they quite literally couldn’t believe what was happening just two years later. But whether the current gridlock leads to a currently unimaginable “transracial consensus” or something else, something’s gotta give before long.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July, 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Public Policy, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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