Weekly Musing 2-8-15

Weekly Musing 2-8-15

Saul Anuzis

RedBlue States

The Surprising Power of Blue-State Republicans

There is a basic mystery at the heart of modern Republican presidential politics. The party’s voters, despite electing conservatives to the House and Senate, have repeatedly chosen relatively moderate nominees, like Mitt Romney and John McCain, in the primaries.

With the 2016 campaign underway, and candidates positioning themselves for money, endorsements and staff, the establishment of the party is again at the center of the conversation. Even though Mr. Romney said on Friday that he had decided not to pursue the nomination, a third Bush seems poised to run, and has suggested he will not bow down to conservative activists.

How does a Republican Party seemingly dominated by the South, energized by the Tea Party and elected by conservative voters also consistently support relatively moderate presidential nominees? The answer is the blue-state Republicans.

The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.

It’s easy to forget about the blue-state Republicans. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats, and so officials elected by states and districts that supported Mr. Romney dominate the Republican Congress.

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.


‘SEC primary’ could have a lasting effect for Southern voters

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s push to make the South among the first in the nation to vote in the 2016 presidential primaries has landed squarely on the national radar — an eye-opening experience for a region used to being taken for granted.

Now experts say it may even have lasting effects in elections well past next year’s, as potential candidates shift long-term strategies toward the region. Its creators are riffing on the name of the most powerful college football conference in the country. So they have nicknamed it the SEC Primary, a nod to the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference.

“A lot of candidates have taken the South for granted, and it’s long been fragmented in primaries. It hasn’t been as valuable a bloc like it was in the 1980s,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist who has written extensively on presidential primary strategies. “This is going to put the South back in the center, and Georgia would be right in the middle of it.”

The plan involves a March 1 primary, essentially a new Super Tuesday spate of elections for Southeastern states and a few neighbors. The move is all but guaranteed to give the South more influence in choosing presidential nominees, particularly if there are a number of candidates contending for the nod.

Moreover, all parties can participate. Any serious candidate, be they Republican, Democrat or other, will have to pay attention.

And that, supporters said, was the point.


Watch America drift more and more to the right since 2008

The reddest states in America in 2014 were Utah and Wyoming, according to Gallup surveys. The most Democratic were Massachusetts and Maryland — states that last November elected new, Republican governors.

Every year Gallup provides an assessment of how Democratic and Republican states are, by subtracting the percentage that identifies with one party from the percentage that identifies with the other. In 2014, 51.4 percent of Marylanders were Democratic or leaned Democratic, compared with 29.6 percent that felt that way about Republicans. That’s a net margin of 21.8 percentage points for the Dems.

But clearly this isn’t politically predictive, since the new governor of that state is Larry Hogan (R), not Anthony Brown (D). What the Gallup data is instead particularly good at is showing trends over time.

Since the dawn of the Obama era, the whole country has shifted to the right. Literally every state but one is now more Republican it was than six years ago. (Which one? Be patient.) We colored the lines according to how strongly Democratic or Republican the states are now; note that red lines (Republican states in 2014) drift across the halfway mark into Democratic territory as you go back in time.


How We Won Texas – Greg Abbott’s campaign can teach the 2016 GOP how to win.

As Greg Abbott takes the reins as the 48th Governor of Texas, political operatives on the right should take a closer look at his campaign and learn a lesson or two for 2016.

The 2014 election cycle was a very good year for Republican candidates across the country, but the challenge of re-claiming the White House in 2016 is staring us directly in the face. And while Attorney General Abbott’s 20+ point win in the gubernatorial election seems like a foregone conclusion in hindsight, it was not always a sure thing. In fact, at the point that State Senator Wendy Davis entered the race, she was the darling of national Democrats, as evidenced by the fact that much of President Obama’s top campaign talent descended upon Texas to help her turn the state blue.

Turning the Democrat dream of a blue Texas into the nightmare of a massive loss happened because we ran a campaign that used every tool and strategy a modern campaign has at its disposal, and did so in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Too often campaigns try to fight the last winning war. For Texas Democrats that meant trying to remake their campaign in the shape of Barack Obama’s successful 2012 re-election. And we saw the results.

Candidates running in 2016 should see this as a cautionary tale. The Obama campaign did many good things, but every campaign is different and candidates need to adjust to changing demographics, technology and public opinion.

With that in mind there are certain principles on which successful campaigns like ours can build. We were guided by three basic principles that every Republican running for President needs to apply to their campaign: (1) talk to one audience; (2) measure outputs, not inputs; and (3) test and retest.


Why wages aren’t rising – Obama is scooping up investment money that had created jobs

The people who have gotten whacked by this tax are wage earners. Here’s why: When you raise the tax on investment, you get less investment. When businesses invest less, fewer workers are hired, and existing workers have less machinery, technology, computers and equipment to work with. This means they can’t be as productive on the job and their wages stagnate.

Incomes rose in the 1980s and 1990s when investment taxes fell under Presidents Reagan and Clinton. Wages have stagnated under Mr. Obama as taxes have risen on capital.

The nearly flat growth in middle incomes is, in part, a result of the higher taxes on the rich.

A landmark study on this topic by economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute looked at business tax rates and wages around the world. He found that business taxes were inversely related to average wages. This is, in part, because capital flees from places where tax rates are rising.

Even worse is the increase in taxes Mr. Obama plans on estates. The Obama plan would eliminate what is called “step-up basis at death” on capital gains taxation. Under current law, at the time of a parent’s or grandparent’s death, the increase in the valuation of an asset from when it was originally purchased is not taxed. This is to offset the effects of the estate tax. Mr. Obama‘s plan would tax estates and impose the regular capital gains tax on inherited assets — a business, property or stocks. And he would raise the capital gains tax to 28 percent.



The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment

Here’s something that many Americans — including some of the smartest and most educated among us — don’t know: The official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading.

Right now, we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is “down” to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.

None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job — if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks — the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news — currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren’t throwing parties to toast “falling” unemployment.

There’s another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 — maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn — you’re not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.

Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find — in other words, you are severely underemployed — the government doesn’t count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.

There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.


Is Libertarianism Mainstream or Extreme?

William F. Buckley Jr. offered a slightly different assessment: “He’s conservative, but not a conservative.”

Rand Paul is no George W. Bush fan. He’ll probably wind up being a Jeb Bush primary opponent. Paul is nevertheless more credibly positioning himself as a “right-wing moderate” by being libertarian, but not a libertarian.

The distinction is important. While full-spectrum libertarians remain a small minority, most of the electorate holds at least some libertarian views. Classical liberalism still suffuses the political culture. If they look hard enough, libertarians will find themselves in agreement with virtually everyone at some point.

Except if you’re a libertarian, your preference might be to disagree with virtually everyone all the time, especially other libertarians. Elements of libertarianism are totally mainstream and becoming more so, but to some of its adherents the essence of libertarianism is to be drawn to the fringe.

Back to Rand Paul. Traditionally, Republican presidential candidates present themselves to the primary electorate in one of two ways. One approach is to try to be seen as the One True Conservative in the race. Ted Cruz will probably try to claim that mantle in 2016.

The alternative is to argue you are a reasonable, electable Republican who can pivot to the center and reach beyond the base in order to win the general election. For whatever reason, this is popular with Republicans named John or Jon: John Anderson in 1980, John McCain in 2000, Jon Huntsman in 2012 and maybe John Kasich and John Ellis Bush in 2016.

Paul is trying to use libertarianism to somewhat combine these two strategies while also doing something completely different. He can simultaneously position himself to the right of most Republicans on economics while moderating the party’s image on mandatory minimum sentences, drug laws, even foreign policy.


Putin Fist

Putin’s Shaky Hold on Power

In fact, the Russian leaders now face a crisis of their own making. The steady rise in living standards during the 2000s, stemming from high prices for oil and gas, led to euphoria and an implicit deal between the authorities and the population according to which the authorities would be free to steal as long as the income of the population continued to rise. Living standards did rise but corruption crippled normal development. Now that oil prices have collapsed, Russia has no other comparable source of revenue and Western sanctions are preventing badly needed investment.

Under these circumstances, there is a serious danger of social tension. In Russia today, 110 persons, including Mr. Putin’s cronies, control 35% of the country’s wealth while 50% of adults have total household wealth of $871 or lower. In 2014, food prices rose 15.4%. It is a measure of the government’s concern that it has cut the price of vodka, despite the need to fill the treasury. This is a transparent attempt to use vodka to tranquilize the population.

If the economic situation in Russia continues to worsen, many Russians may come to see that the Ukrainian model of a peaceful and spontaneous rebellion against a corrupt regime can have relevance for them. It was because of the potential power of the Ukrainian example for Russia that Mr. Putin began the war in Ukraine in the first place.

The cost of the fighting has been hidden from Russians but, as the death rate climbs, the war may soon become less popular. The Russian authorities state officially that there are no Russian troops fighting in Ukraine but the movement of thousands of troops is impossible to hide and it is similarly impossible to hide soldiers’ funerals.

In St. Petersburg, calls are coming in to the hot line of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization from parents of soldiers who report anonymously that their children are being commanded to sign contracts that enable them to be sent to Ukraine. Such reports are also coming from a number of other regions.


Our Amazingly Plastic Brains

The basic neuroplastic principle of “use it or lose it” and the benefit of forming new brain connections through intensive learning also apply to people without brain problems. Physical exercise produces some new cells in the memory system, but mental exercise preserves and strengthens existing connections in the brain, giving a person a “cognitive reserve” to fend off future losses and to perfect skills.

Brain exercises developed by the neuroscientist Dr. Merzenich have been evaluated in a National Institutes of Health study, published by George Rebok of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. People who did the brain exercises—called Brain HQ—showed benefits 10 years later. They didn’t just improve on the brain exercises; their cognitive function improved in everyday life. Earlier studies showed that the exercises increased a person’s mental sharpness, so they could process information with the speed and accuracy they had when they were 10 years younger.

We still have a lot to learn about the brain and its powers of recovery, of course. But increasingly we have the evidence to conclude that we have been seeing our brains the wrong way for too long. Metaphors often conceal as much as they reveal. One day, we may well marvel at how odd it was that, for several centuries, we chose to view our ever-changing, activity-craving, animate brains as fixed, passive, inanimate machines.


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