Friday, April 29, 2016

As someone who has lived...

...most of his life in "cultural isolation," as Ross Douthat put it in a recent piece, "The Idea of Trump’s Electability," I totally understand how a typical white suburban Republican could think Donald Trump's "popularity" with blacks and Hispanics wouldn't be a whole lot worse than Mitt Romney's. Douthat writes (my emphasis):

Trump's favorability/unfavorability ratings with Hispanics are 12/77. If you go back to last August, before the campaign began, Trump had a 20 percent favorable rating with African-Americans; by Republican standards that’s not terrible. Six months of race-baiting later, he’s winning 5 percent of the black vote against Hillary Clinton. And women … well, he’s losing women, let’s put it that way, on a scale that no Republican nominee ever has before.

Hence his essential unelectability, which no centrist positioning is likely to much change. And the fact that so many Republican voters can’t seem to see this, haven’t been able to see this, may be a sign of cultural isolation above all. They can see how Trump might be able to win on the issues if he hadn’t alienated so many millions of Americans on the basis of their race or sex … but they can’t quite grasp how powerful that alienation is for the people who experience it, and how impossible it will be for Trump to overcome.

Now, admittedly, it's no scientific sampling, but the blacks and Hispanics I've talked to about Trump don't seem to react in the same way as I would imagine they did with Romney. I'll bet it was more indifference than anything else in regard to the Mormon plutocrat. But with Trump it's more like hatred -- visceral hatred. And, if I'm right (and sometimes I am), blacks and Hispanics will turn out in huge numbers this November to vote against the Donald. It's that level of hatred, I think, that the polls can't measure.

As for women, well, the Times has another story this morning which mentions:

Katie Packer, who runs an anti-Trump group and co-founded a consulting firm that helps Republicans communicate to women.

Now, I get that many Republicans rarely come into contact with blacks or Hispanics, but don't these guys have mothers, sisters, daughters and/or wives? Are women really such an exotic interest group that Republicans need a consultant to help them "communicate to" them?

I heard Chris Christie's name...

...mentioned this week as a possible running mate for Donald Trump, but I still think it will be John Kasich. The Ohio governor knows his way around Washington, would provide a much-needed bridge to the establishment, and his state is key for any Republican candidate in November.

Then there's this from Bloomberg this morning, "Christie’s N.J. Ratings Hit All-Time Low: Rutgers-Eagleton Poll." What would the New Jersey governor bring to the ticket? Another obnoxious metropolitan New York-area bully? Is that really what the Trump campaign is missing?

Look at this list from Paddy Power. Do you see anyone else who would make a plausible running mate for the Donald?

Carly Fiorina? Not now. Nikki Haley? Possible; might help with women and white suburban Republicans who don't like to think of themselves as racists. Marco Rubio? Trump already beat him in Florida. Could "Little Marco" help with Hispanics? Doubtful.

After that, the pickings get real slim, real fast. I say it'll be Trump/Kasich. Two old white guys: one boring, the other anything but.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Damon Linker has an excellent...

...piece in The Week, "Donald Trump and the power of denial," which links to a 2013 piece by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest, "The GOP Needs To Talk About Bush: Part One," that both say something I've been trying to say for some time now: the GOP can't move forward until it confronts the failures of the last Republican administration. It's one reason, I think, that the current "presumptive nominee" of its party is a thoroughly unqualified outsider.

First from Mr. Mead, whose focus is on foreign policy (all emphasis mine):

Many Republicans don’t like to admit this out loud, especially the power establishment that was close to the Bush administration or served in its upper echelons, but the Bush administration was a first class political disaster for the president’s party. Until Republicans find a way to talk about what went wrong and how future Republican administrations will do better, the GOP will face a stiff headwind of well-merited public distrust.

A lot of official Republican discourse tries to skate past the failures of the Bush years, but this won’t do. It’s a bit like a hostess trying to keep up the bright cocktail party chatter around an eight hundred pound tuna fish rotting in the living room. It isn’t convincing, and the effort does not inspire trust in her judgment. Voters are very familiar with the multiple policy failures of the Bush years (two long unfinished wars, a botched hurricane, no significant domestic reform, frozen immobility on immigration, deficits out of control, the middle class in deepening trouble, the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression); the failure of the party to grapple with those failures, to ask what went wrong and what must change, and above all to tell voters why the next time will be different is the key to Republican vulnerability at the polls today.

And from Mr. Linker:

The right has been deep in denial for years. Honed under the last Republican president into a sure-fire method of inspiring confident resolve in the face of adversity, denial of reality has by now become almost second nature to many party apparatchiks and their intellectual compatriots in the right-wing media. Of course we'll find weapons of mass destruction! The occupation is going just fine! It's not Bush's fault that New Orleans got caught with a bull's eye on its back when Hurricane Katrina blew by! You can't expect the president who's been in office for seven and a half years to take responsibility for the worst financial crisis in seven decades!

I actually think that 9/11, Katrina and the financial crisis could have happened on anyone's watch and that Bush shouldn't get too much blame for them. (I really do.) I mean, who could have predicted (or stopped) 9/11 from happening? Sure, there was the famous memo that Bin Ladin was determined to strike in the U. S., but seriously, what was President Bush supposed to do with that information, close all the airports in America? For how long? And the memo didn't even mention airports. And as for Katrina and the financial crisis (which was many years in the making), stuff happens. Natural disasters strike all the time and financial bubbles eventually pop. (Remember the dot-com bubble? How about the 1987 stock market crash?)

My problem was more with how W. responded to these crises. And in each he was shown to be in way over his head. I won't go into all the mistakes he made following each (we've been through all that a million times already), but just suffice it to say that, as Clark Clifford once said about another Republican president, Bush was an "amiable dunce."

But back to the present -- where does this leave today's Republican Party? With a not-so-amiable dunce who's at least figured out that the party needs to change course.

The 2016 race began with 16 or so candidates who mostly stood for GOP orthodoxy (and the policies of the last administration): tax cuts for the rich, spending cuts for everyone else, entitlement "reforms," free trade, immigration reform, neoconservative foreign policy, etc. Except one, of course, and he's now the "presumptive nominee." Why? Lots of reasons: celebrity, the willingness to "tell it like it is," etc. But, most important, Trump is appealing to the party's base which is no longer buying what the establishment is selling. Trickle-down economics didn't trickle down, free trade deals sent manufacturing jobs overseas, and the ill-considered wars of the Bush years brought middle class kids home without limbs.

Now, Paul Ryan and others still don't get it. They think that if they just speak a little LOUDER then the base will grasp the wonders of the Republican Party's dogma. But Messrs. Linker and Mead are right: until the GOP deals honestly with its failures and its outdated ideology it will be hopelessly lost in the wilderness.

Isn't this year's Republican race...

...kind of a mirror image of the last one?

Remember in 2012 when the GOP was desperately searching for an alternative to the "moderate" Mitt Romney? Such as Jeb Bush? Or Chris Christie?* But all that was left were two "conservatives," Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. And remember how they couldn't "unite" to stop Romney?

This year you have an "outsider," Donald Trump, whom the party bigwigs are also desperate to stop, with the only acceptable alternative, Paul Ryan, demurring on a run, a la Jeb or Christie. So, like Santorum and Gingrich, only Ted Cruz and John Kasich are left to stop the Donald, but they can't quite get it together either.

Oh, and remember how Romney only carried 24 states for a total of 206 Electoral votes? Trump will be very hard-pressed to improve on that. (My guess is he will fall quite a bit short.)

* Two examples of what George W. Bush meant when he said, "The point is you don't get to pick the environment in which you run."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The voters are unhappy...

...according to a Wall Street Journal piece last summer, "Unhappy Voters Shake Up Presidential Race: Unsettled electorate gives a lift to antiestablishment candidates, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds."

Or are they angry? "Polls show angry, anxious electorate for 2016," said CNN in September.

And it's not just Republicans; everyone, it seems, hates the establishment. "Democrats hate the Washington establishment, too," according to the New York Post last fall.

Or . . . maybe not so much.

As a piece in Vox pointed out, the Democratic establishment was a big winner last night. And that may be one of the most under-reported stories of the 2016 campaign. Not only did the party's establishment candidates -- Chris Van Hollen and Katie McGinty -- win their Senate primaries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively, but President Obama has an 82 percent approval rating from his fellow Democrats in the latest Gallup poll.

The media, in an effort to be unbiased, often applies false equivalence to both parties. On the one hand Republicans, blah, blah, blah, but on the other Democrats also blah, blah, blah.

Yeah. Just because the Republican Party is in a major-league mess right now doesn't mean the Democrats are too. From Bloomberg just a few days ago, "To Go or Not to Go: Republicans Face Trump Convention Dilemma":

At least four top Republican U.S. senators say they’ve decided to skip July’s party nominating convention in Cleveland to campaign in their home states. Several others say they haven’t decided whether they’ll make the trip, and at least one will boycott the event if Donald Trump emerges as the Republicans’ presidential pick.

Let me know when some prominent Democrats announce they're going to miss their convention.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Here's a thought...

...for you: Imagine if Hillary Clinton beats back the primary challenge from Bernie Sanders (more than likely) and defeats Donald Trump (likely) in the fall. That would be reassuring, wouldn't it? The Center would hold. Phew!

But then, just as George H. W. Bush, who ran for, and won, his predecessor's third term, Hillary is the victim of a recession sometime in the next four years. (We're about due -- the economy has been recovering since 2009.) Then, in 2020, someone even more progressive than Sanders defeats Clinton for the Democratic nomination, or someone even more "populist-nationalist" (that's fascist, right?) than Trump emerges to win the general election.

I know, I know; it's crazy.

But a story in the Times this morning, "Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes," said (my emphasis):

Disenchantment with the political mainstream is no surprise. But research to be unveiled this week by four leading academic economists suggests that the damage to manufacturing jobs from a sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century has contributed heavily to the nation’s bitter political divide.

Cross-referencing congressional voting records and district-by-district patterns of job losses and other economic trends between 2002 and 2010, the researchers found that areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.

We saw this in the 1930s -- there were a number of far right and far left groups. What if -- what if? -- we look back on these as the good ol' days?

Billy Paul, who recorded...

...the No. 1 hit “Me and Mrs. Jones” in 1972, died at age 81. This was a big song when I was in eighth grade.

From his obit in the New York Times (my emphasis):

After attending the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School of Music, he sang in local jazz clubs and recorded ballads for minor labels before being drafted into the Army, serving in the same unit as Elvis Presley in West Germany. With Gary Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son, he formed the Jazz Blues Symphony Band.

“We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a jeep driver,” he told the magazine Blues and Soul in March.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“We just need your e-mail address so we can e-mail you all day every day for the rest of your life.”

My first response to...

...the news that John Kasich won't be competing in Indiana as part of a deal with Ted Cruz to divide the remaining states in the hope of denying Donald Trump the Republican nomination is, Really? You can't compete in the state next door to your own?

My second (initial) response is, This thing's over; Trump won. (I'll get to that one later.)

From an article in Bloomberg, "Kasich Fails to Steal Ball on 'Home Court' as Trump Dominates: The Ohio governor is not faring well in polls of two states that border his own." (my emphasis):

While Kasich still hopes to win the party's nomination on multiple ballots in Cleveland by promoting himself as the most electable candidate, his supporters offer a variety of reasons why the Ohio governor, elected twice in a state that Republicans must carry to win the presidency, isn't getting much traction -- even from his neighbors. He jumped into the race too late. He wasn't flashy enough or angry enough. But most of all, he's a pragmatic government insider at a time that voters fed up with the status quo.

I have another excuse reason: the GOP base is no longer buying what establishment candidates like John Kasich are selling.

From another piece in the New York Times on Saturday:

Sounding much like an infomercial pitchman on late-night television, gesturing with both hands, and practically shouting over a trumpet-blaring soundtrack, Mr. Trump rattles off his promises. Nine, to be exact:

“We’ll cut taxes for the middle class, negotiate new trade deals, bring back jobs, save Social Security and Medicare without cuts, end illegal immigration, build the wall, strengthen our military, knock out ISIS and take care of our great veterans.”

Now let's take these one by one.

Cut taxes on the middle class? Build the wall? Not gonna happen.

Negotiate new trade deals? Bring back jobs? Take care of our great veterans? Probably not gonna happen, especially with this Congress. Psst: Republicans will send kids off to lose limbs in stupid wars, but they're not gonna take care of them once they come home -- that's socialism!

Save Social Security and Medicare without cuts? Definitely. The vast majority of Americans want a safety net. Especially old white people who make up the GOP base.

End illegal immigration? Is this really a problem? More Mexicans are leaving the U. S. than coming. (And let's be honest: when Trump and the Republicans talk about "illegals" they're talking about Mexicans.)

Strengthen our military? What the hell are Republicans talking about? The United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. (I guess spending more on defense is always a good applause line with Republicans.)

Knock out ISIS? It's already happening. The trick is to deal with the anger in the Middle East that's causing terrorism from groups like ISIS. And no one -- left or right -- has figured that one out.

As for Kasich and the rest of the Republican establishment, what are they offering? Lower taxes on the rich, more trade deals and immigration that crush middle class incomes, and entitlement "reform"? News flash: The GOP base no longer wants that. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Bettye Caldwell, who was instrumental in the founding of Head Start.

I know "Betty" is short for Elizabeth, but I'd never heard of the name "Bettye." Would that extra "e" at the end cause any confusion?

"My name is Bettye, with an 'e'?"

"Yeah, I know how to spell Betty. Waddaya think, I'm a moron or somethin'?"

"No, I mean an extra 'e'."

"Oh, you mean B-E-T-T-E-Y?"

"No, B-E-T-T-Y-E."


"Never mind."

Ready for a rant...

...from a crabby old man? No? Then scroll down. (You've been warned.)

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta had a no-hitter this week against the Reds. That's great! But forgive me for not jumping on the Cubs' bandwagon just yet. (That's an actual bandwagon, above, in case you didn't know.) After all, it's only April and there are 144 games left in the regular season.

On Thursday night my son breathlessly texted me (my emphasis):

Arrieta no-hitter!!!!! (Yep, no fewer than five exclamation points.)

Jake Arrieta last 24 regular season starts: 20-1, 0.86 ERA, two no-hitters, 14 starts allowing zero runs, 24 straight quality starts.

That's impressive -- no doubt about it.

But what I wanted to say was:

Yeah, but he choked in that last playoff game against the Mets when it really counted.

(I told you this would be the rant of a crabby old man.)

Forgive me if I'm just a little bit cynical. (Is that the right word?) Last year, you may recall, the St. Louis Cardinals (.617) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (.605) had the two best regular-season records in baseball. The Cubs beat the Bucs in the Wild Card Game and then defeated the Redbirds, 3-1, in the NLDS. Even I was excited!

Now it was time to go up against the hated New York Mets. (I still remember 1969.) But the Cubs, I was told, bested the Flushing squad, 7-0, during the regular season. It's a lock! Will the Cubs beat the Mets in five games, or six? Or will they sweep 'em?

Well, I don't have to tell you what happened. (I can't even write it.) But I was also told that the Mets team that faced the Cubs in the NLCS was an entirely different lineup from the one they played during the regular season. Huh? Then why even have a regular season? Just sit out the summer and have some sort of a round-robin tournament in September.

And then -- jumping to football -- I was told the Carolina Panthers would just dominate the poor Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Cam Newton, you see, was positively unstoppable. Now, again, I don't have to tell you what happened, but I seem to remember Mr. Newton mostly on his butt all day.

Which brings me to my final rant (Yay!): Is sports just random? Sometimes it seems that way. Maybe that's what fans like about it, but I prefer a universe that's a little more orderly than that. I want regular seasons and playoffs to determine the best team, not just the best team that day. Is that too much to ask?

P. S. Go Cubs!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Guy Hamilton, who directed...

...Goldfinger and three other James Bond films, died at age 93.

From his New York Times obit:

“Goldfinger” remained the shining jewel in Mr. Hamilton’s career. In 2010, The Guardian of London, cataloging the film’s virtues, wrote: “Where to start? The card game that opens the movie or the epic golf match in the middle? The gold-obsessed villain or the hulking Korean hardman? The near-castration with the laser beam or the gangster compacted in his Continental? And who could forget sexually ambiguous Pussy Galore, as essayed by husky-voiced, karate-chopping 40-year-old bombshell Honor Blackman? It’s a compendium of everything one loves about 007.”

Incidentally, Gert Fröbe, the German actor who played the title role, didn't speak a word of English. He just moved his lips and his lines were dubbed in later (at about 9:45 of this video).

As an avid reader...

...of the Irish sports page obituaries, I feel compelled to say at least a few words about the untimely death of Prince.

And the first thing I would have to say is that I'm embarrassed at how little I knew about the incredibly talented and prolific artist. How did I miss the whole Prince phenomenon? Am I just too old? (Don't answer that.)

Sure, I'd heard of him and "Purple Rain." (Although I wasn't exactly clear on whether or not that was the title of a song or a movie. Turns out it was both -- who knew?) I had also heard the occasional Prince song on the radio -- "When Doves Cry" or "1999" most often -- but thought they were catchy tunes, nothing more. I was never motivated to pursue his music beyond that. In fact, if you had asked me about him before last week I probably would have responded by saying something like, "Is that guy still around?"

And I'm from Minneapolis!

About the only things I can recall about Prince were that he once bought a house in the old-money Minneapolis suburb of Orono and painted it purple, much to the horror of his Pillsbury and Cargill neighbors. (Think of Mr. T's "Chainsaw Massacre" on the old Armour estate in Lake Forest.)

The other is the time I was out driving near Lake Minnetonka in the 1980s or '90s and was stopped at a light. Up pulled a scrawny black guy on a purple motorcycle and a burly white guy on another (his bodyguard?). If it wasn't Prince it was an elaborate impersonation. I wasn't overly impressed, though. I think I said something to the effect, "Hey, everybody, isn't that that Prince guy over there? It is? Cool. Now where should we eat?"

It's not like he was Paul Kantner or anything.

Friday, April 22, 2016

In case you missed it, there...

...were two really good pieces this week about personal finance.

The first was by Neal Gabler, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans: Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them." The second was by Megan McArdle, in answer to the first, "Parents Are Bankrupting Themselves to Look Adequate." They're both worth a read.

First, from Mr. Gabler (all bold emphasis mine):

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 PERCENT of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.

Remember Neal Gabler?  For three years, he "was one of the replacements for Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on the PBS movie-review show Sneak Previews."

You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

Gabler takes responsibility:

Choice, often in the face of ignorance, is certainly part of the story. Take me. I plead guilty. I am a financial illiterate, or worse—an ignoramus. I don’t offer that as an excuse, just as a fact. I made choices without thinking through the financial implications—in part because I didn’t know about those implications, and in part because I assumed I would always overcome any adversity, should it arrive. I chose to become a writer, which is a financially perilous profession, rather than do something more lucrative. I chose to live in New York rather than in a place with a lower cost of living. I chose to have two children. I chose to write long books that required years of work, even though my advances would be stretched to the breaking point and, it turned out, beyond. We all make those sorts of choices, and they obviously affect, even determine, our bottom line. But, without getting too metaphysical about it, these are the choices that define who we are. We don’t make them with our financial well-being in mind, though maybe we should. We make them with our lives in mind. The alternative is to be another person.

In retrospect, of course, my problem was simple: too little income, too many expenses.

I don’t ask for or expect any sympathy. I am responsible for my quagmire—no one else. I didn’t get gulled into overextending myself by unscrupulous credit merchants. Basically, I screwed up, royally. I lived beyond my means, primarily because my means kept dwindling. I didn’t take the actions I should have taken, like selling my house and downsizing, though selling might not have covered what I owed on my mortgage. And let me be clear that I am not crying over my plight. I have it a lot better than many, probably most, Americans—which is my point. Maybe we all screwed up. Maybe the 47 percent of American adults who would have trouble with a $400 emergency should have done things differently and more rationally. Maybe we all lived more grandly than we should have. But I doubt that brushstroke should be applied so broadly. Many middle-class wage earners are victims of the economy, and, perhaps, of that great, glowing, irresistible American promise that has been drummed into our heads since birth: Just work hard and you can have it all.

Here comes the money quote, to which Ms. McArdle responds in her piece:

My wife continued to work, and we managed to scrape by, though child care and then private schools crimped our finances. No, we didn’t have to send our girls to private schools. We could have sent them to the public school in our neighborhood, except that it wasn’t very good, and we resolved to sacrifice our own comforts to give our daughters theirs. Some economists attribute the need for credit and the drive to spend with the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome, which is so prevalent in America. I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite. (All right, I wanted them to be winners.)

And it payed off:

Although I don’t have any regrets about that choice—one daughter went to Stanford, was a Rhodes Scholar, and is now at Harvard Medical School; the other went to Emory, joined WorldTeach and then AmeriCorps, got a master’s degree from the University of Texas, and became a licensed clinical social worker specializing in traumatized children—paying that tariff meant there would be no inheritance when my parents passed on.

Mr. Gabler concludes by saying:

In effect, economics comes down to a great Bruce Eric Kaplan New Yorker cartoon that was captioned: “We thought it was a rough patch, but it turned out to be our life.”

In her piece, Ms. McArdle gets right to the point:

To be sure, Gabler is perhaps not as brutally honest with himself as he might be. “I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses,” he says, while recounting his decisions to live in Brooklyn, and then in the Hamptons, while sending his daughters to private school and expensive colleges. This is keeping up with the Joneses, of course. Gabler happens to belong to a social class in which the markers of success are living in the orbit of an expensive coastal city and educating your children at an elite school, not necessarily driving a fancy car or having a second home on some Florida golf course. Yet the former often costs more than the latter would. The majority of the people in the world do not live in the New York metropolitan area, and do not send their kids to Stanford University, and yet they somehow manage to get through their days -- even, I dare say, to occasionally live worthy lives and die happy.

And yet she admits:’s hard not to want to give the best to your kids.

On the East Coast, affluent parents of bright children explain that they absolutely must live in the best possible school district, and send their kid to the most prestigious possible college. In “flyover country,” parents explain that they have to have a nice new car for the kids, because safety. Also a bevy of very expensive activities, from travel sports to marching band, because otherwise their lives will be blighted. Auto accidents are declining, and bright, motivated kids are probably going to do OK no matter where they go to school. Yet parents can convince themselves to spend near-infinite amounts seeking marginal improvements.

The problem is worst on the coasts, where those amounts really do seem to spiral towards infinity (but of course, incomes are higher there too). But it’s everywhere; people are locked in a status arms race that somehow often comes to focus on the happiness or safety of their kids.

Here is where, I think, Ms. McArdle gets closest -- but only closest -- to the truth:

The truth is that your kids will care about how nice your car is, about whether they can be on travel hockey with their friends, about whether they can go to fancy schools like their friends. And if you were raised in a social class that regards any of these things as the basics of a decent life, you will feel horrible about denying them. 

As the father of two grown sons, I would put it just a little bit differently.

I think what motivates parents most of all is the potential for shame in telling your kids that you just can't afford X, Y or Z. Because you're a failure in life.

When we made the decision to move to the suburbs back in 1992 I didn't want to be the poorest guy in town, which would have been the case had we moved to Winnetka, for example. I just couldn't bear the thought of having to tell my kids that, no, we couldn't go to our vacation home in Vail for spring break because we didn't have a vacation home in Vail. In fact, we didn't have a vacation home at all. Because their dad was not some private equity whiz like their classmate's father -- what was his name, again? -- oh, yeah, Bruce Rauner. (And what the hell is "private equity," anyway?) No, their dad was just a jamoke who worked on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, making a respectable, if not astronomical, living.

So we moved to Glenview instead, where I felt like we were comfortably in the middle of the pack. I'm sure my sons had friends whose parents had vacation homes in places like Vail, but they also had friends who came from more modest backgrounds than us.

The trick with kids, I think, is that they don't know what they don't have. But, at the same time, they also know what they don't have. Huh?

In other words, your kids may not realize that they don't live in Winnetka, but they also don't know how people in Winnetka live. But if they grow up in Glenview they know whether or not they can participate in "travel sports or marching band," as Ms. McArdle notes. So the trick, again, is to live in a town in which you can keep up with the Joneses. Because if everybody else goes to Vail on spring break except your family your kid will look at you like you're a loser. (And you may indeed feel like one, even if you're reasonably successful.) And if all of his friends play travel hockey except him you'll feel incredibly guilty. (I know I would have.)

What's the bottom line here? I don't know. Live within your means, I suppose. Ms. McArdle's right. But it's food for thought, and these are two good pieces.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

James Pethokoukis beat me... the punch with an excellent piece, "Donald Trump has killed Reaganomics. And that's okay."

Or at least he beat me to that title. The rest of it isn't exactly what I would have written.

A week or so ago, I heard Charlie Rose ask Jeanne Cummings, Mike Barnicle, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann if the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton was dead (at about 23:00).

In other words, have events, and Bernie Sanders, pulled the Democratic Party -- and Hillary -- to the left in such a way as to make everyone forget the centrist years of President Clinton? And the answer, I think, is yes.

But I think that's the wrong question. To me a better one would be, Is the counter-revolution ushered in by Ronald Reagan dead? And my answer would also be yes.

In my grand history of the United States, I would list the four major events as:

1) the Revolution,
2) the Civil War,
3) the Second American Revolution, aka, the New Deal, and
4) the Reagan (counter) Revolution.

Now, it could be argued that I left out a few minor things: the Progressive Era, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, etc. But just humor me for a minute.

If the New Deal radically restructured American life (and I would argue it did), then the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower was just a brief interruption in the years 1933-68. I guess you could say that both Eisenhower's and the Nixon/Ford administrations were just interruptions in the years 1933-1981. The reason being that neither of those two-term presidencies tried to repeal the New Deal. (Nixon may have actually strengthened it.)

Then along came the Gipper in 1981 and his (counter) Revolution. And, just like Ike and Nixon, Clinton's two terms in the nineties may have been just an interruption in those years. Remember "the era of big government is over"?

But maybe W.'s disastrous administration was the final nail in the Reagan coffin just as Carter's was the dénouement of the New Deal.

If all of that is true -- are you still following me? -- then maybe the question Mr. Rose should have asked is, Is Reaganism dead? And I would say, again, yes.

But, first, Mr. Pethokoukis argues that Donald Trump's:

...candidacy has undermined the intellectual credibility of modern Republican economics.

How so? By taking "supply-side" economics to its logical (and absurd) extreme:

[Trump] says he wants to deeply cut taxes by some $10-12 trillion over a decade, while also balancing the budget without cutting projected entitlement spending. To meet all those goals, Trumponomics would have to generate growth of more than 10 percent annually over a decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. And as their analysis notes, real GDP growth would have to be twice as high as the fastest growth period in the last 60 years. Only emerging economies playing catch-up grow that fast. More likely, Trump would dramatically increase the national debt by 50 percent or more, which is bad for growth. In other words, Trump's tax plan is every bit as ridiculous as his plan to build a megawall, conduct mass deportations, and launch many trade wars to "bring the jobs back." 

He concludes by saying (my emphasis):

Maybe the best case scenario here is that this tax-driven embrace of Trumpism finally ends the dominance of old-school supply-siderism on GOP economic thinking. Imagine a future Republican presidential primary where it isn't always 1980, where candidates don't feel compelled to play ersatz Reagan and offer fantasy tax plans as the price of admission. Imagine candidates competing to have the most detailed, evidence-backed plan to improve higher education or reduce poverty. Maybe then "supply-side" reform to boost the labor supply and innovation can mean something broader that mega-tax cuts: regulatory reform, education, and public investment in basic research and infrastructure. And America can again have an effective center-right party.

It's a good piece; I agree with pretty much everything in it. Mr. Pethokoukis appears to be one of the few conservatives with an open mind and a willingness to live in reality. (David Frum is another that comes immediately to mind.)

But I would have used that same title to say something just a little bit different. While the GOP establishment, best exemplified by Paul Ryan, is still living in the 1970s, Trump (and Ted Cruz to a much lesser extent) is driving the Republican Party away from Reaganism.

Forgetting the Donald's crazy tax plan for a second (and Mr. Pethokoukis concedes Trump doesn't talk about it much), if you focus on some of the other issues Trump does talk about, it's quite a departure from St. Reagan. Trump differs from the GOP establishment on trade, immigration, foreign policy and entitlements, all of which -- most importantly -- are resonating with the base.

And that's what I mean about the death of Reaganism. Never mind the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton; the Republican Party we have come to know over the last 36 years may be dead. Even if Trump is denied the nomination, the base has spoken. And what it has said -- loud and clear -- is that it wants to preserve welfare (for old white people, at least), put an end to trade deals that send blue collar jobs overseas, put the kibosh on immigration reform and stop sending young people to wars of choice that result in them coming home with lost limbs or PTSD.

The question now is, Is the establishment listening? I would say no, but whether they know it or not, the Reagan era is dead.

Nature vs. Nurture, Part Infinity.

Now Scientific American weighs in on the question with a piece, "Do Genes Time One's Loss of Virginity? (my emphasis):

...a new study suggests that the genes that drive puberty also influence some of the next stages of sexuality: age at first intercourse and—for women—age at first birth.

Aha! I knew it. But:

Of course, genes are not the only factor. Parenting, religion, social mores, peers and many other factors come into play. But researchers at the University of Cambridge estimate that genetics can explain about a quarter of the difference in the likelihood that an individual will have sex relatively early or wait to start.

Actually, I'm of a mind right now in which I give at least some of the credit (and blame) for all of our behavior to environmental factors.

But, remember, Nature vs. Nurture -- either way it's your parents fault.

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Douglas Chrismas, the founder of Ace Gallery in Los Angeles.

You don't suppose anyone ever misspells that last name, do you? I mean, tries to add a "t"? (Even my spell check highlighted it.) Just imagine:

"Last name, please?"

"Chrismas -- no 't'."


"You put a 't' in there."

"I did what?"

"Never mind."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Doris Roberts, who played

...Ray Romano’s mother on Everybody Loves Raymond, died at age 90.

Interestingly (to me, at least), Ms. Roberts was ten years older than Peter Boyle, who played her husband on the show. Mr. Boyle, in turn, was only 22 years older than Mr. Romano, who played his son.

From Ms. Roberts's obit in the Times:

Despite her desire to be cast in more serious roles, Ms. Roberts had a gift for mining humor from the darkest situations. She made this plain in a Jewish Virtual Library interview, in which she recounted the final illness of her second husband.

“He was dying, and he looked at me and said, ‘I just worry about you, I wonder how ...’ Then he stopped in the middle of the sentence. He looked me in the face and said, ‘You know, on second thought, that will be your problem.’”

Milt Pappas, who...

...pitched his first major league game with the Baltimore Orioles at the ripe old age of 18 and was later traded for the future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, died at 76.

From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

On Sept. 2, 1972, he had a perfect game going against the San Diego Padres with two outs in the ninth inning when he walked Larry Stahl on a 3-2 count. The pitch appeared to be outside, but Pappas blew his stack at the umpire, Bruce Froemming, and though he completed his no-hitter, he was angry about the call for the rest of his life. He contended that with nothing at stake except baseball history in the making, Froemming should have given him a break on the final pitch and stretched the strike zone.

“I still to this day don’t understand what Bruce Froemming was going through in his mind at that time,” Pappas told ESPN in 2007. “Why didn’t he throw up that right hand like the umpire did in the perfect game with Don Larsen?” He added: “It’s a home game in Wrigley Field. I’m pitching for the Chicago Cubs. The score is 8-0 in favor of the Cubs. What does he have to lose by not calling the last pitch a strike to call a perfect game?”


Pappas’s first wife, Carole, was the subject of some mystery when the Pappas family lived in Wheaton, Ill., a Chicago suburb. On Sept. 11, 1982, she disappeared one Saturday while running errands. There was some suspicion of foul play, but five years later, in August 1987, her body was discovered inside her car at the bottom of a retention pond blocks from their home.

Really? No one thought to look there for five years?

Over the weekend, someone...

...told me it was unrealistic for a high school graduate to expect to make a living wage in this country. (At the same time, he and his wife argued that too many young people go to college.)

"Those days are never coming back," he said. "The General Motors' model of paying workers $30 an hour just wasn't sustainable -- they went bankrupt!"

But is that true? Did high wages kill the American auto industry?

From a 2014 article in Yes! Magazine, "If Unions Are Breaking Automakers, Why Are BMW and Mercedes So Rich? In Germany, auto workers get paid well and their companies still profit" (all emphasis mine):

Actually, Germany paid their autoworkers about $67 an hour (including wages and benefits). But the United States paid its average worker only $33 an hour (also including wages and benefits). On top of that, German car manufacturers were highly profitable, despite the comparatively large paychecks of their workers. BMW earned a before-tax profit of 3.8 billion euros, and Mercedes-Benz hauled in profits of 4.6 billion euros.

Now, I have to confess, I had never heard of Yes! Magazine before. From Wikipedia:

YES! Magazine is a non-profit, ad-free magazine that covers topics of social justice, environmental sustainability, alternative economics, and peace.

The magazine is printed on recycled paper...

Okay, okay, so it's a lefty publication.

Is there a more mainstream outlet to back up this argument? How about Forbes? Rich people love Forbes. From 2011 (granted, that was five years ago, but well after the auto bailout in 2009), "How Germany Builds Twice As Many Cars As The U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice As Much":

In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany’s big three car companies—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz ), and Volkswagen—are very profitable.

How can that be? The question is explored in a new article from Remapping Debate, a public policy e-journal. Its author, Kevin C. Brown, writes that “the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.”

The article’s author, Kevin C. Brown, asked Claude Barfield, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, why the German car companies behave so differently in the U.S. He answered, “Because they can get away with it so far.”

So, in other words: It's a choice, not a necessity.

Back in the 1980s and '90s, I was a big believer in free markets and free trade. I read all of Ayn Rand's books (even some of the non-fiction ones!) and bought into the Republican philosophy wholeheartedly. (I even voted for George H. W. Bush -- Reagan's third term -- in 1988.) After all, didn't Econ 101 teach us that free trade was good always and everywhere? So the U. S. wouldn't make cars anymore (or anything else, for that matter). Big deal! Comparative advantage would just free up those workers to do something else, like work in the service sector. And just think of all the cheap foreign-made stuff they could buy at Walmart!

But a funny thing (or a not-so-funny thing) happened in the meantime. Those manufacturing jobs did indeed go overseas and American workers embarked on new careers (if they were lucky) that paid quite a bit less than their old jobs. (Personally, I'd take a high-paying job over cheap crap at Walmart any day -- wouldn't you?) And now, after thirty years of falling behind, they've finally found someone whom (they think) will represent them. (You know, the guy with the funny hair.)

So what's going to happen now? I still think Hillary will win in the fall, but the people who have responded to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not going away. All those high school graduates who are literally killing themselves and the young college graduates who owe a trillion dollars in student loans that can't get jobs good enough to pay them back won't just disappear after the election.

My son is fond of saying that "it's all made up." And he's right. (He usually is.) Laws, for example, were "made up" in someone's head and exist only so long as we say they exist. When the majority decides to change them, we change 'em.

Or take money. It's just an electronic line-item on a computer these days. (Unless you keep gold under your mattress.) It's only "yours" for as long as we all agree it's "yours." There's nothing carved on stone tablets, handed down from God on some mountaintop, that says the government can't tax wealth, for instance. Never mind your income, by the stroke of a pen, the feds could say they want one percent of your net worth. Or two percent. Or ten. Or . . . you get the idea. Remember, it's all made up. And it can all be remade.

I don't know how this whole thing plays out, but I do know that if the "system" no longer works for most people, it may be time to change the "system." (When Jean Valjean couldn't afford to buy bread he just took it.) And if the assault on the middle class continues in this country there could be a revolution. I don't mean the shooting kind, like France in 1789 or Russia in 1917 (or the U. S. in 1776), but the non-shooting kind, like the New Deal in the 1930s.

Something's got to give.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“. . . and will to the best of my ability, which is terrific ability, by the way. Everyone agrees, I have fantastic ability. So there’s no problem with my ability, believe me. . . .”

Thursday, April 14, 2016

In a follow-up... my post on Tuesday, Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post (all emphasis mine):

The 2014 election yielded the highest number of GOP House members since 1928, and the second highest number of GOP senators. There are currently 31 Republican governors. The GOP controls 70 percent of state legislatures and enjoys single-party rule in 25 states.
Real Clear Politics election analysts Sean Trende and David Byler have put together an index of party strength, based on performance at federal, state and local levels. By their measure, Republicans are doing their best overall since 1928. "The Republican Party," they conclude, "is stronger than it has been in most of our readers' lifetimes."

Gee, what happened back in 1928? Oh, yeah; Herbert Hoover, above, was elected president on the eve of the Great Depression. The Republicans didn't win back the White House until 1952 -- 24 years later!

And the guy who won it back, Dwight Eisenhower, essentially ratified all the changes brought on by the New Deal. (That's the subject, by the way, of an upcoming post, "The Death of Reaganism.")

P. S. Mr. Gerson is as deluded as the rest of the GOP establishment. He goes on to say:

Eventually, Republicans will require another option: A reform-oriented conservatism that is responsive to working-class problems while accommodating demographic realities. This is what makes Paul Ryan so attractive as the Hail Mary pass of an open convention. But, more realistically, it will be the work of a headless Republican Party, reconstituting itself in a new Clinton era.

A) Paul Ryan is a reform-oriented conservative? That's rich; there is no daylight between the ideologue speaker and Ted Cruz; and

B) The base doesn't want what the establishment -- represented by Mr. Ryan -- is selling.

This trip into the wilderness for the GOP may take even longer than I thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I'll be in Minnesota...

...for the rest of the week visiting my mother. Blogging should be lighter than usual.

In a follow-up... my post yesterday about Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Steve Rattner explains the Donald's appeal in an op-ed piece in the New York Times (all emphasis mine):

For too many, those new dynamics have been painful indeed. In Michigan, where Mr. Trump won big, wages in manufacturing have fallen from a high of $28 per hour in 2003 to $21 at present, after adjustment for inflation, a stunning 25 percent decline.

Meanwhile, the number of manufacturing jobs in the state has fallen from almost 900,000 in September 1999 to just under 600,000 at present, a picture that is repeated across the country.

...And the establishment's response? According to Josh Barro, writing in Business Insider:

What are the apparent planks of [Paul] Ryan's vision for the party? One is that Republicans shouldn't use Trump-style appeals to white-identity politics. A second is that Republicans should talk more nicely about poor people while cutting their benefits. A third is that Republicans should maintain their orthodoxy on free trade, free markets, and the need for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

You might recognize these principles as substantially identical to those espoused by Marco Rubio — and one key lesson from this campaign is that Republican voters have very little interest in Rubioism.

Ryan understands that he is about to be thrust into leadership of the Republican Party without ever seeking or receiving its presidential nomination. But he does not yet get that the party's substantive policy agenda must change if its candidates hope to win a majority of voters without the appeals to protectionism, nationalism, and racism that are so compelling for Trump voters.

The bottom line? The Republican Party base is hurting, Trump appeals to them, and the establishment's best answer is more of the same.

GOP, say hello to the wilderness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What's the difference...

...between Mikhail Gorbachev and Donald Trump?

One was responsible for the dissolution of a creaky, old, bloated institution that had lived long past its sell-by date.

The other was the leader of the Soviet Union.

Now, I know what you're thinking: By many measures, the Republican Party is healthier than ever. And you'd be right. Not only do they control the House and Senate, but in the last seven years the GOP has also made great strides at the state and local level. From a recent piece in Bloomberg:

Depending on how you measure it, Democrats in Congress, governors’ offices and state legislatures have lost either a lot of seats or a ton of seats to Republicans since Obama moved into the White House. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a commanding lead of 246 seats to 188 for Democrats (with one vacancy). Republican governors preside over 31 states while Democrats run only 18. Just seven states are under unified Democratic control of the governor’s office and legislature. For Republicans, the corresponding number is 22.

It's true. In many ways the Republican Party is at the height of its power. But . . . if you look at the map below you'll notice that the old Soviet Union was at its apex shortly before Gorbachev took office:

If you squint, or click on that map for a larger view, or are just a child of the '70s like me, you'll notice that Soviet influence was practically everywhere: Latin America, Africa, Afghanistan -- everywhere!

But, just like a wise old trader at the Merc once told me, the market always looks best at the high.

And, like the old Soviet Union of the 1970s, the Republican Party of today is ripe for a fall. From immigration to trade to taxes to entitlements to foreign policy to social issues to -- what have I left out? -- the GOP is not only out of touch with the rest of the country, but Trump has shown that the party is also out of touch with its own base.

Also, like the old Soviet Politburo, the Republican Party elites (those same people who are pushing the idea of Paul Ryan for president -- including Ryan himself) are falling back on tired, old party dogma. (The speaker of the House may not be so much of a "fresh face" as Karl Rove has alluded as a modern-day Republican Leonid Brezhnev.) If we only speak clearer or LOUDER, they seem to be thinking, surely the rabble would come to its senses and recognize the wonders of tax cuts for the rich.

So what happens between now and the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer? Well, either Donald Trump amasses the 1237 delegates necessary to win on the first ballot, or he shows up with a plurality of delegates and wins anyway, or he loses on the second or third ballot to Ted Cruz, or Paul Ryan wins on the fourth ballot, or some other scenario no one has yet envisioned. But, chances are, whichever candidate the Republicans eventually decide on will lose anyway in November. (The Democrats have too big of an advantage in the Electoral College.)

And what will be the long-term effect of Trump's campaign? It just may very well be the realization among the hoi polloi that the Republican Party has been, to quote Paul Krugman, "an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class."

While I don't expect the Party to actually break up, Soviet Union-style, I do think it may go into the wilderness for an extended period of self-examination. What will emerge? I don't know, but I doubt very seriously it will look like the Republican Party of today.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When I was growing up...

...and the manager of a losing baseball team -- even if he was a good one -- got fired, my dad used to say something like, "You can't fire the whole team." And he was right: the best manager in the league can't play without players.*

I thought of this when reading "Why Trump Supporters Are Angry — and Loyal," by Elizabeth Williamson in the Times this morning. The author cites two conservatives in particular who are disparaging Donald Trump's voters.

The first, Erick Erickson (all emphasis mine):

...calls Trump supporters “Branch Trumpidians,” and appears to spend much of his time retweeting insults of them. Last week Mr. Erickson wrote that the only people who love Mr. Trump “are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, a white victim class of mostly blue-collar workers, a group of white folks who have failed at life and blame everyone else for their own bad decisions.”

The second, Kevin Williamson, a correspondent for National Review, which has endorsed Mr. Cruz (and who seems to me a male version of Ann Coulter -- someone desperately seeking attention by saying outrageous things):

...wrote last month that it is “immoral” and “a lie” to say “that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t.” Mr. Williamson wrote that these voters have no one to blame for their distress but themselves, and certainly not the Republican establishment.

The fight to keep the nomination from Mr. Trump now moves to his home state of New York, whose primary is April 19. Kraig Moss, a Trump supporter, lives in Owego, a town in what Mr. Williamson called “hardscrabble white upstate New York” where “the white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”


I'm also reminded of a question my British friend, Jamie, has asked me from time to time, "I get why the one percent in America vote Republican; but why would anyone else?"

And it's a good question (and one for another post). But my point here is that it seems like some Republicans who don't like Trump want to fire the whole team instead of the manager. 

It makes me want to say to them, Psst: Be careful. Those Trump voters are your party's base. If you fire them you won't have anyone left but the donor class. 

* That's Billy Martin, above, who, with Jimmie Dykes, holds the modern-day record for most MLB teams managed, five.

Have you ever heard...

...some Republican on TV say something to the effect that since Donald Trump has only won about 37 percent of the votes cast in the GOP primaries that about 63 percent have voted against him? Do you find that persuasive?

Damon Linker, writing in The Week yesterday, poured a little cold water on that argument (my emphasis):

There is, instead, a field of candidates, each of them campaigning for votes. Prior to Tuesday's primary, Trump had won roughly 7.8 million of them. Cruz had won about 5.7 million. Then there was Marco Rubio (still in third place) with 3.4 million, John Kasich with 2.8 million, and so forth down through Ben Carson and several other candidates with considerably fewer than a million votes each.

The #NeverTrump movement is claiming, in effect, that the combined 13 million or so votes that have been cast for Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Carson, and the others should be considered a vote for Not Trump — and that, as the presumptive runner-up, Cruz should be the one to serve in the Not Trump role on ballots in November.

That is, quite simply, ridiculous.

Don't agree? Let's consider how this kind of reasoning would have played out four years ago.

At this point in 2012 — the day of the Wisconsin primary — Mitt Romney had won 4.6 million votes. And his opponents? If we combine the votes won by Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, the tally for Not Romney was 6.7 million.

Now of course Romney went on to win a majority of the delegates, as Trump is increasingly unlikely to do. But we're talking about the beginning of April in both election cycles. And at this moment, Romney had earned 39.8 percent of the votes cast compared with Trump's 37.1 percent.

That's it: a total of 2.7 percentage points separating the frontrunners.

If someone had floated the idea at the time of the 2012 Wisconsin primary of depriving Romney of the nomination and handing it at the convention to runner-up Rick Santorum — who, incidentally, had won almost the same portion of the vote (27 percent) that Cruz has in this cycle — that person would have been considered mad. And the judgment would have been correct.

I keep asking people... name one state -- one state -- that Ted Cruz could win in the general election that Mitt Romney didn't in 2012. And all I keep hearing is *crickets*.

Both Nate Silver and Ross Douthat have very persuasive pieces this week on how Cruz could get the Republican nomination at a contested convention this summer.

I've also been thinking lately that Cruz would be the most conservative GOP candidate since Goldwater. And the other day FiveThirtyEight ran a piece that essentially confirmed my suspicion.

Now the world has changed -- I get that. And, unlike Goldwater, any Republican nominee today would carry a bunch of reliable red states. But my question remains, Which state(s) could Cruz win that Romney didn't? And if the answer is indeed *crickets*, what the heck is the Republican Party thinking?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Chicago Cubs are...

...undefeated so far, 2-0, for a 1.000 winning percentage. Go Cubbies!

Before I get too carried away, though, it's worth noting that the last team to go undefeated was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who went 67-0 in 1869.

Who was the greatest baseball team ever? Well, in recent years you'd have to say the 1998 Yankees, who went 114-48 (.704) and won the World Series. The 2001 Seattle Mariners were 116-46 (.716) but didn't even make it to the Fall Classic.

In the post-war period the 1954 Cleveland Indians went 111-43 (.721) but lost the World Series. The Tribe was swept, in fact, by the New York Giants, who were only 97-57 (.630).

So what Major League Baseball team had the best winning percentage ever? The 1906 Cubs, with a record of 116-36 for a winning percentage of .763. Can you believe it? And whatever happened to those Cubs? They lost the World Series. To the Chicago White Sox. I can believe it.

The Sentence of the Day... from "Donald Trump’s Rise Shows Religion Is Losing Its Political Power," by Eduardo Porter in the Times (my emphasis):

Still, it took Mr. Trump to identify the real Achilles’ heel in the Reagan coalition: an economic policy built around tax cuts for the wealthy that has failed to deliver the goods to the Republican base for far too long.

I saw Hugh Hewitt...

...on MSNBC last night and he was asked about Ted Cruz's path to victory. If I remember correctly -- and I can't find it anywhere this morning -- Mr. Hewitt's answer involved the Supreme Court. It was something to the effect that the open seat on the Court would bring out voters for Sen. Cruz.

To be fair, Hewitt may have been talking about the Republican nomination, not the general election in the fall. But let's assume Cruz does win the nomination in a contested convention and fast-forward to November.

Take a look at that map of the 2012 election at the top of this post. Even if Mitt Romney had won Ohio, Florida and Virginia, he would have still fallen short of the 270 Electoral votes necessary to win.

Now consider a right-wing ideologue like Ted Cruz. Which states could he win that Romney didn't? I don't see any, do you? Even against a deeply flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton, it's hard to imagine Cruz doing as well as Romney did in 2012.

Is Trump done?

After all, he lost the Wisconsin primary yesterday by 13 points. And in the all-important race for delegates, Ted Cruz positively crushed the Donald, 33 to 3 (with six still up for grabs).

And what about Hillary? Not only did Bernie Sanders beat her by 13 points in the Badger State, but the Vermont senator has now won six out of the last seven contests.

So what the heck is going on here?

Well, let's consult the betting markets. And according to Paddy Power, Trump and Clinton are still favored to win this thing:

Trump, 10/11
Cruz, 9/5

Clinton, 1/10
Sanders, 5/1

On PredictWise:

Trump, 53 percent
Cruz, 28

Clinton, 88
Sanders, 13

How about PredictIt?

Trump, 43 cents
Cruz, 33

Clinton, 83
Sanders, 17

I could keep going, but "arbitrage" should provide you with essentially the same results no matter how many sites you consult.

A contested Republican convention is also probable, though, and Nate Silver has a must-read piece for political junkies, "It’s Probably First Ballot Or Bust For Donald Trump At The GOP Convention," which makes a Trump nomination seem unlikely.

But the bottom line, even after last night's shellacking, is that it's still Trump's and Clinton's nominations to lose.

Oh, and Hillary wins in the fall.

P. S. Need a laugh? Read this.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Today is the Wisconsin primary...

...and if you don't know Milwaukee as well as I do (and no one who has never lived there has been there as much as me), here are two pieces from 2014 that are still valid about Milwaukee and, by extension, Wisconsin.

The first, "Democratic, Republican voters worlds apart in divided Wisconsin: Entire communities vote red or blue as metro Milwaukee grows more politically segregated with nearly every election cycle," is from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Money quote:

Metropolitan Milwaukee is the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation.

It's true, but it wasn't always that way. Since I met my wife back in 1984 Wisconsin has become more and more like . . . Mississippi.

The second piece is from the New Republic, "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star." A taste (my emphasis):

Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. 

Not long after a substantial African American community took shape, Milwaukee’s industrial base began to collapse and its manufacturing jobs disappeared. This left almost no time for the city to develop a black middle class or a leadership elite. Within short order, Milwaukee had some of the most glaring racial disparities in the country. Today, it has the second-highest black poverty rate in the United States, and the unemployment rate is nearly four times higher for blacks than for whites. The city had never been exactly welcoming to African Americans—its tight-knit enclaves of Germans, Jews, and Poles had fiercely resisted housing and school integration. But the decline of the black ghetto so soon after many of its residents had arrived made it easier for white Milwaukeeans to write off the entire African American community, or to blame it for the city’s troubles. White flight, like the Great Migration, came late to Milwaukee, but it came fast and fueled with resentment. Between 1960 and 2010, the population of the three formerly rural counties around Milwaukee County (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, or the “WOW” counties, for short) nearly tripled, to 608,000.

During this period, the WOW counties continued to expand. But unlike suburbs elsewhere, they had not grown more diverse. Today, less than 2 percent of the WOW counties’ population is African American and less than 5 percent is Hispanic. According to studies by the Brookings Institution and Brown University, the Milwaukee metro area is one of the top two most racially segregated regions in the country. The WOW counties were voting Republican at levels unseen in other Northern suburbs; one needed to look as far as the white suburbs around Atlanta and Birmingham for similar numbers. The partisan gulf between Milwaukee and its suburbs in presidential elections has now grown wider than in any of the nation’s 50 largest cities, except for New Orleans, according to the Journal Sentinel series.

It is as if the Milwaukee area were in a kind of time warp. Like the suburbanites of the ’70s and ’80s elsewhere in the United States, the residents of the WOW counties are full of anxiety and contempt for the place they abandoned. “We’re still in the disco era here,” says Democratic political consultant Paul Maslin. This has affected the politics of the state in myriad ways. The nationwide trend of exploring alternatives to prison hasn’t reached Wisconsin—it has the highest rate of black male incarceration of any state in the country. 

It's depressing. There was actually a time when I would have moved to Milwaukee, but no more. In many ways it's a true backwater. I don't know if it's because the Cream City is stuck between Minneapolis and Chicago or what, but it's been in decline almost since the time I was born. In 1960 Milwaukee's population topped out at over 740,000; by 2010 it was under 600,000.

Everyone says Cruz and Sanders will win today, but then the map turns to states more favorable to Trump and Clinton. I'll be glad when the focus is off Wisconsin.

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Monday, April 4, 2016

This may be the greatest... name ever: Rocky Lombardi.

Do I really have to... this same video every year on Opening Day? Yes.

While I'm at it, let's... about another one of President Obama's alleged foreign policy "mistakes": that red line in Syria. I actually think it was one of the president's best decisions -- I really do.

Business Insider has a piece that's typical of the conventional wisdom on the subject, "Former US defense secretary: Obama hurt US credibility when he backed down from his red line on Syria." A sampling:

Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider that the Obama administration's decision not to act after the regime of Syria's embattled president used chemical weapons against civilians was a "serious mistake" that hurt America's credibility in the world.

"Backing away from reacting once the red line was crossed impacted American credibility not just in the Middle East, but I think it was being watching in Moscow and Tehran and Beijing and Pyongyang and elsewhere," Gates said. "So not acting in response to crossing the red line was a serious mistake in my view."

Gates also said: "The rest of the world must know that when the president of the United States draws a red line, that it is dangerous, if not fatal, to cross it."

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Who does that remind you of? The guy at the top of this post? I won't go into the whole history of the Vietnam War but suffice it to say that Johnson knew as early as 1964 that the war was a fool's errand but stayed in (and escalated it) to maintain U. S. "credibility." The result? Almost 60,000 American soldiers died. (Click here to read all the Vietnam War casualties.)

So, my question is, does President Obama get any credit for all the carnage that didn't happen because, unlike LBJ, he changed his mind on a silly "red line"?

Some people might say that Obama "overlearned" the lessons of Vietnam. Perhaps. But, as a child of the seventies, I'd say he learned them just about right.