Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Boredom Of Heaven

Buttigieg Moves Up To Fourth In Latest WaPo Ranking

The Washington Post has a committee that votes each week on the likelihood of each Democratic candidates chances of winning the party's nomination for president in 2020. That chart above shows their latest ranking of the candidates.  The most significant move this week was Pete Buttigieg rising four places in the WaPo ranking. He now sits in fourth place -- behind Biden, Sanders, and Harris.

That's Not OK

Political Cartoon is by Clay Jones at

The "Nones" Are Larger Than Any U.S. Religious Group

The group of people who claim to have no religion is now larger than any religious group in the United States -- slightly larger than evangelicals and catholics.


According to newly released General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?” — now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.
That makes the two groups statistically tied with Catholics (23 percent) as the largest religious — or nonreligious — groupings in the country.
“Nones have been on the march for a long time now,” Burge said. “It’s been a constant, steady increase for 20 years now. If the trend line kept up, we knew this was going to happen.”

He Knows A Lot About Wind

Political Cartoon is by Ed Hall at

The GDP Growth From The Tax Cuts Is Going Away Now

The only thing Donald Trump has going for him is a fairly good economy (although while the numbers look good, too many people are not benefitting from it). We can argue about whether he is just the beneficiary of a growing Obama economy or deserves some credit for the economy. But one thing is becoming clear now -- the economy is starting to slow, and Trump's tax cuts are not producing the growth they were supposed to produce.

Here's how Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman puts it in his NY Times column:

So far, Donald Trump has passed only one significant piece of legislation: the 2017 tax cut. It was, to be fair, a pretty big deal: corporations, the principal beneficiaries, have already saved more than $150 billion, and over the course of a decade the tax cut will probably increase the budget deficit by more than $2 trillion.

But the tax cut was supposed to do more than just give stockholders more money — or at least that’s what its proponents claimed. It was also supposed to lead to many years of high economic growth, 3 percent or more at an annual rate.

Independent observers were skeptical, to say the least. They conceded that the tax cut might lead to a brief sugar high, because that’s what big deficits do. But any favorable effects on growth, they argued, would soon fade out. And they always insisted that it would take some time to assess the tax cut’s actual effects.

Nonetheless, when the economy grew pretty fast in the second quarter of last year, Trump and his supporters cried vindication, and ridiculed the critics.

But a bit of time has passed since then. The chart (above) shows the U.S. economy’s growth rate by quarter since the beginning of 2018. The last number isn’t official; but there are a number of independent observers, including both Federal Reserve banks and private financial institutions, who produce “nowcasts” that estimate growth based on early data. At this point all of these nowcasts show slowing growth, and most put the first quarter at around 1.5 percent.

So do the results so far look like the huge, sustained boom the Trump camp promised, or the brief sugar high predicted by the critics? . . .

The Trumpist theory — which was, I’m sorry to say, endorsed by conservative economists who should have known better — was that there was a huge pile of money sitting outside the U.S. that companies would bring back and invest productively if given the incentive of lower tax rates. But that pile of money was an accounting fiction. And the tax cut didn’t give corporations an incentive to build new factories and so on; all it did was induce them to shift their tax-avoidance strategies.

As Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, a casual glance at the data seems to suggest that American companies earn a lot of their profits at their overseas subsidiaries. But a closer look shows that the bulk of these reported profits are in a handful of small countries with low or zero tax rates, like Bermuda, Luxembourg and Ireland. The companies obviously aren’t earning huge profits in these tiny economies; they’re just using accounting gimmicks to assign profits earned elsewhere to subsidiaries that may have a few factories, but sometimes consist of little more than a small office, or even just a post-office box.

These basically phony profits then accumulate on the books of the overseas subsidiaries, rather than the home company. But this doesn’t affect their ability to invest in America: if Apple wants to spend a billion dollars here, it can always borrow the money using the assets of its Irish subsidiary as collateral. In other words, U.S. taxes weren’t having any significant effect in deterring real investment in the U.S. economy.

When Trump cut the tax rate, some companies “brought money home.” But for the most part this had no economic significance. Here’s how it works: Apple Ireland transfers some of its assets to Apple U.S.A. Officially, Apple Ireland has reduced its investment spending, while paying a dividend to U.S. investors. In reality, Apple as an entity has the same total profits and the same total assets it did before; it hasn’t devoted a single additional dollar to purchases of equipment, R&D, or anything else for its U.S. operations.

Not surprisingly, then, the investment boom Trump economists promised has never materialized. Companies didn’t use their tax breaks to invest more; mainly they used them to buy back their own stock. This in turn, put more money in the hands of investors, which gave the economy a temporary boost — although for 2018 as a whole, one of the biggest drivers of faster growth was, believe it or not, higher government spending.

So the theory supposedly behind the Trump tax cut has turned out to be a complete bust. Corporate accountants got to have some fun exploring new frontiers in tax avoidance; the rest of us just ended up saddled with an extra $2 trillion or so in debt.

Now, I’m not deeply worried about that debt. Given low borrowing costs, the costs and risks of federal debt are far less than the usual suspects — again, the same people who cheered on the Trump tax cut — have claimed. But think of all the other things we could have done with $2 trillion — all the infrastructure we could have built and repaired, all the people who could have been given essential health care.

What a colossal, corrupt waste.


Political Cartoon is by Mike Stanfill at

Voluntary Ignorance

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Greatest Cruelty

Who's Winning The "Endorsement Race" Among Democrats

There was a huge brouhaha about endorsements (especially of super-delegates) in the 2016 race for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders supporters thought it was unfair that most party officials and politicians supported Hillary Clinton over Sanders (even though those officials had the same right to support the candidate of their choice just like all other Democrats).

The Sanders supporters tried to claim that it was the super-delegates that unfairly nominated Clinton. It was a ridiculous and false argument. Even if no super-delegate votes had been counted, Clinton had a substantial lead over Sanders among other delegates, and would have been nominated anyway.

But in an effort to make their nominating system seem more fair, the Democratic Party changed their rules for the 2020 nomination. There are still super-delegates, but their votes will not be counted in the first round of voting at the national convention.

That does not mean the endorsement of party officials and politicians are no longer important. Many Democrats look to see who their favorite officials and politicians are supporting -- and if no one is nominated in the first round of voting, the super-delegates will have their votes counted in the second round.

So, while endorsements may not be as important as in the past, they do still have value. That brings up the question -- Who is winning the "endorsement race" so far?

The good folks at are keeping track of endorsements. And they have a point system to weigh the importance of those endorsements. They give:

10 points -- for former presidents, vice-presidents, and national party leaders
8 points -- for governors
6 points -- for U.S. Senators
5 points -- for former nominees, former national party leaders, and 2020 candidates who dropped out
3 points -- for U.S. Representatives and mayors of large cities
2 points -- for statewide elected officials and state legislative officials
1 point -- for other Democratic National Committee members

As you can see in the chart above, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are leading with 55 points each. Amy Klobuchar is second with 44 points. Bernie Sanders is fourth with 21 points. And rounding out the top five is Joe Biden with 18 points (although that could quickly change if he officially enters the race).

The charts below show the party officials and politicians who have endorsed each candidate.

No Replace

Political Cartoon is by Mike Thompson is USA Today.

Public Says Trump Has Not Distanced Himself From Racists

The chart above reflects the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center -- done between March 20th and 25th of a national sample of 1,503 adults, with a 3 point margin of error.

Trump apologists have tried to claim that Donald Trump is not a racist, and does not support white supremacy or white nationalists (in spite of his claim that some of them are good people). But the American people are not buying it. They know about his racist history, his bigoted claims during the campaign, and believe he has been too soft on the white nationalists and supremacists.

About 56% say Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalists (and other racists). Only 29% believe he has, and 75 believe he has separated himself from them by too much.

The Toady

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart at

The Public Says NO To Replacing Obamacare

Donald Trump has instructed his Justice Department to intervene on the side of the GOP-controlled states who are in court trying to abolish Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). Those states have won a judgement from a Texas judge that ruled Obamacare unconstitutional, and the case is now pending before an appeals court -- and will likely wind up being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said he will be known after Obamacare is overturned as the "health care president". He says that's because it will be replaced by something better. There's only one problem with that -- he doesn't have a better plan (or any plan at all), and neither do the congressional Republicans. They have tried for nine years to come up with a plan, and they have failed. They can't even get the members of their own party to agree on a plan, and none of the plans they have proposed would cover all Americans or control medical costs.

The American people know that. They know that abolishing Obamacare would be a disaster, because the GOP has no plan. They also know that abolishing it would not be an improvement. It would just rob millions of Americans of the heal insurance they currently have.

As the chart above shows, only 35% of adults want to replace Obamacare with some nonexistent Republican plan, while 55% say they want to keep Obamacare and improve it.

The Democrats are floating a plan to replace Obamacare. They want to replace it with a single-payer system (like Medicare For All). That is more popular than what Trump wants to do, but not popular enough. As the chart below shows, the public is split on whether that is a good idea. About 43% say it's a good idea while 45% say it is not. That 2 point margin is within the poll's margin of error.

There is a change that would appeal to a majority of Americans though. It is illustrated in the bottom chart. About 51% say they want to keep Obamacare but also allow adults to buy into Medicare instead of purchasing private insurance. That may be the way to go for now. It will let the public get used to a public health insurance plan, and make it easier in the future to extend that plan to all Americans.

All of these charts reflect the results of a recent Quinnipiac University Poll -- done between March 21st and 25th of 1,358 voters nationwide, with a margin of error of 3.3 points.

A Shooting On 5th Avenue

Political Cartoon is by Darrin Bell at

Schiff's Response To The GOP

Friday, March 29, 2019

Vision Test

Trump Says He's Been Exonerated - The Public Disagrees

Robert Mueller has submitted the report of what he found in investigating Trump's collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign. No one outside of executives in the Justice Department knows what is in that report. All we have been given is a four page summary of the report by Attorney General Barr (of a report that we know now is at least 300 pages long).

It's highly unlikely that Barr's short summary is really indicative of what is contained in the Mueller Report. But Donald Trump doesn't care (just like he has never cared about facts on any issue). He's already bragging loudly that the Mueller Report completely and fully exonerated him of any collusion with Russia.

Fortunately, most Americans are not stupid enough to believe that without seeing proof. It turns out that 56% of adults (and 55% of registered voters) say they don't believe the Mueller Report has exonerated Trump of collusion -- and the same is true of majorities of men, women, those under age 45, those over age 45, whites, nonwhites, Democrats, and Independents.

The only group thinking Trump was exonerated are Republicans -- big surprise.

The chart reflects the results of a new CNN / SSRS Poll -- done on March 25th and 26th of a national sample of 701 adults, with a margin of error of 5.4 points.

Punishing His Party

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Demographic Breakdown Of Support For Dem. Candidates

These charts are from a new Quinnipiac University Poll -- done between March 21st and 25th of 559 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents, with a 5.1 point margin of error.

Unlike many other polls (which just show the overall support for candidates), this poll breaks the support down by demographic group -- party preference, gender, race, age.

As other polls have shown, the leading candidates are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. The surprise is that it shows that Pete Buttigieg has moved up into sixth place -- ahead of Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and the rest of the Democratic field. This is the first national poll to show Buttigieg gaining support.

Trump "Doctor"

Political Cartoon is by Benjamin Slyngstad at

Gillibrand's Record On Guns Won't Help Her Presidential Bid

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) is running for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. But so far, she has been unable to get above 1% or 2% in any of the polls of Democrats.

Part of the reason may be because voters outside of New York are not very familiar with her. But part may also be that Democrats remember she was the first, and most vocal, Democrat to demand that Senator Al Franken resign (even though the charges against him were spurious and unproven).

Now something else has been revealed that won't help her with Democrats -- her past support of gun rights (and her support by the NRA).

Here is part of the report by Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott at CNN:

Speaking at the official launch of her presidential campaign on Sunday, US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand singled out the National Rifle Association as an example of special interests taking priority over the will of the people.
"Right now, special interests are displacing the voices of the people of this country. Find me a so-called unsolvable problem, and I will point you to the greed and corruption in the way," Gillibrand said, speaking in front of Trump International Hotel in New York. "The NRA stops popular, common sense gun reform, while stray bullets kill children in our communities."
But during her tenure in the US House of Representatives from 2007-2009, then-Rep. Gillibrand fought vigorously in defense of gun rights, including the right to own handguns. While in the House, the New York Democrat represented a more conservative, rural district, compared to the more liberal statewide constituency she represents as a senator.
Gillibrand's position, which was politically advantageous at the time in earning the endorsement of the NRA in her 2008 re-election bid, could now prove a political liability in the 2020 Democratic primary.
    Gillibrand has said she regrets her past positions and frames her views on guns at the time as supporting hunting rights.
    "On guns, I should have done more, I regret not caring about other communities," Gillibrand said at an MSNBC town hall last week. "My community didn't have the gun violence that other parts of the state had, and, in fact, the biggest issue for upstate New York was hunting rights."
    But Gillibrand's advocacy extended beyond hunting rights. She signed an amicus brief that argued for overturning a handgun ban in Washington, DC, and that private gun ownership was a guaranteed right unconnected to service in a militia.
    The amicus brief was submitted to the US Supreme Court while the court was hearing the 2008 landmark case, District of Columbia v. Heller. The court ultimately repealed the city's strict gun control laws in a sweeping victory for gun rights advocates. . . .
    At the same time the Heller case was moving through federal courts, Gillibrand co-sponsored legislation that would revoke the city's gun control laws. The proposed bill, however, went much further in restricting the city's ability to write its own gun laws than the court's ultimate decision. The core of the proposed bill, called the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act," made it so that Washington, DC, would not be allowed to pass any laws restricting firearm usage and ownership that exceed existing federal rules.
    The pro-gun bill also would have repealed the city's ban on semi-automatic weapons, most registration requirements for possession of firearms and a ban on owning ammunition. These aspects weren't addressed by the Supreme Court. . . .
    Gillibrand's support for such measures was key in her earning the backing of the NRA in her 2008 bid for re-election, with an "A" rating from the NRA indicating she was a "solidly pro-gun candidate." Gillibrand boasted of the "A" rating on her House website.
    "As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, it is a privilege to have the endorsement of the NRA and the support of Upstate New York's gunowners and hunters," Gillibrand said at the time. . . .
    By September 2010, her NRA grade changed from an "A" to an "F." Meredith Kelly, Gillibrand's communications director for her presidential campaign, said she proudly earned the NRA's repudiation.
    "Senator Gillibrand proudly earned an 'F' rating from the NRA a decade ago, and has been a passionate advocate for critical reforms to address the scourge of gun violence across our country ever since," Kelly told CNN's KFile in an email.

    "Special" Olympics

    Political Cartoon is by Gary Huck at

    I Hope We Can Agree

    Thursday, March 28, 2019

    When Children Are Less Important Than Guns

    Polls Agree - The Public Wants The Mueller Report Released

    Robert Mueller has completed his investigation, and submitted his report to the Justice Department. But, so far, no one has seen the report except for executives in the Justice Department. Attorney General Barr released only a short summary, and has said it could take weeks before a redacted version of the report could be provided to Congress or the public.

    Trump has boasted that the report completely exonerated him of all charges. That is not what Barr;s short statement said, and likely is not what the Mueller Report said. If it really exonerated him, why are Republicans (like Mitch McConnell) try to block the report's release?

    I smell a rat, and I think the general public does, too! The chart above shows the results of four recent polls on whether the Mueller Report should be made available to the public. In all four polls, the public (and Democrats and Independents) want the report released overwhelmingly. And in three of the four polls, a majority of Republicans agree.

    The polls are:

    The Ipsos / Reuters Poll -- done on March 25th and 26th of a national sample of 1,003 adults, with a 3.5 point margin of error.

    The Politico / Morning Consult Poll -- done on March 25th and 26th of a national sample of 1,978 registered voters, with a 2 point margin of error.

    The Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between March 24th and 26th of a national sample of 1,500 adults, with a 2.8 point margin of error.

    The Quinnipiac University Poll -- done between March 21st and 25th of a national sample of 1,358 voters, with a 3.3 point margin of error.

    Cutting Him Loose

    Political Cartoon is by Matt Wuerker at

    The Percentages Viewing Democratic Candidates Favorably

    The chart above is pretty self-explanatory. It shows the percentages of Democrats and of all registered voters who view each of the possible Democratic candidates for president favorably.

    The chart reflects the results of the latest Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between March 24th and 26th of 1,500 national adults (including 1,249 registered voters). The margin of error is 2.8 points.

    Chopping The Budget

    Political Cartoon is by Gary Huck at

    The GOP Has An Inexplicable Hatred Of Health Care

     It was shocking to see the Trump administration join Republicans in several states in trying to get Obamacare abolished (by having courts rule it is unconstitutional).

    They got spanked on this issue in the 2018 elections -- where the number one issue listed by voters in flipping the House of Representatives was health care. Why would they want to replay this issue in 2020? Are they trying to commit political suicide? Or do they just have a pathological hatred of Americans having decent and affordable health care? It seems like the latter to me.

    Here's what Paul Krugman had to say about this in his New York Times column:

    Of all the political issues that divide us, health care is the one with the greatest impact on ordinary Americans’ lives. If Democrats hadn’t managed to pass the Affordable Care Act, around 20 million fewer Americans would have health insurance than currently do. If Republican-controlled states hadn’t refused to expand Medicaid and generally done as little as possible to support the act, national progress might have tracked progress in, say, California – so another 7 or 8 million people might have coverage.
    You obviously know where I stand on this political divide. But I’m starting to believe that I misjudged Republican motives.
    You see, I thought their behavior was cynical and strategic: They opposed Obamacare because they thought there was political mileage in scaring people about change, and also in denying Obama any successes. Oh, and their donors really hated the taxes on the rich that pay for the ACA’s subsidies. And right up through 2016 they could hope to convince voters that they had a secret plan for something much better than Obamacare.
    Indeed, all of these things surely played a role in GOP health care strategy. But at this point they’ve clearly lost the political argument. In 2017, Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare made it clear to everyone that their party didn’t have any better ideas, and never did; everything they proposed would have devastated the lives of millions.

    Then health care became the top issue in the 2018 midterms, and voters who considered it the most important issue went Democratic by a three to one margin.
    So you might have expected Republicans to cut their losses. Maybe Trump could have done what he did with NAFTA: keep Obamacare basically intact, but make a few minor changes, give it a new name – the Yuge Maga Care Awesomeness, or something – and claim that it was totally different and better.
    But no. Most Republican-controlled states are still refusing to expand Medicaid, even though Washington would bear the vast majority of the costs. Utah held a direct referendum on Medicaid expansion, which passed easily – so the will of the voters was clear, even in a very conservative state. Yet GOP legislators are blocking the expansionanyway.
    And now the Trump administration, having failed to repeal the ACA when Republicans controlled Congress, is suing to have the whole thing declared unconstitutional in court – because what could be a better way to start off the 2020 campaign than taking insurance away from 20 million Americans?

    As an aside, this latest Trump move completes his utter betrayal of the people who put him in office. Consider a place like West Virginia, where a lot of people gained health insurance thanks to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The state went overwhelmingly for Trump anyway, because he promised not to cut health care, and also promised to bring back those good jobs in coal. So I made a little chart to show what he’s actually offering West Virginians:

    The point is that it’s no longer possible to see any of this as part of a clever political strategy, even a nefariously cynical one. It has entered the realm of pathology instead. It’s now clear that Republicans just have a deep, unreasoning hatred of the idea that government policy may help some people get health care.
    Why? The truth is that I don’t fully get it. Maybe it’s anger at the thought of anyone getting something they didn’t earn themselves, unless it’s an inheritance from daddy. Maybe it’s a sense that a lot of gratuitous suffering is or should be part of the human condition, or God’s plan, or something. I try to understand how others think, but in this case I really do find it hard.
    Whatever the reason, however, the fact is that whatever they may claim, today’s Republicans hate the idea of poor and working-class Americans getting the health care they need.

    Trump Compares Poorly

    Political Cartoon is by Jen Sorensen at