Recent Posts

Eric Ferguson

Trump inherited a strong economy

by Eric Ferguson on February 7, 2017 · 0 comments

trump12The latest jobs report from the BLS shows the loser of the last election gets to be president with a healthy economy. 4.8% unemployment is roughly full employment. Economists generally seem to think full employment is 5%, though I recall it was defined as 4% back in Economics 101. The rate has ticked up a point each of the last two months, which seems contradictory to decent job growth, but it’s actually common for an improving job market (at least as defined by workers) to lure more people into the labor force.
The BLS actually has six definitions of unemployment, which it explains in the monthly release linked above, but briefly, they’re called U-1, U-2, etc. The 4.8% “official” rate is U-3. The broadest measure, sometimes called the “real” rate, is U-6. That rate is 9.4%, so like U-3, it’s less than half its peak from the financial crisis and and 2008-2009 recession. Much as we might wish policy makers hadn’t fallen for austerity so the recovery could have been much faster, at the end of the Obama administration, we find ourselves in a good place or, as the loser would call it, a catastrophe.
The bad news is Trump is claiming credit for the economy, much as he’s hailed for being a financial genius for being born extremely wealthy. The good news, for our day-to-day working lives, is that there’s no recession in the immediate future. Trump should thank Obama. Conventional wisdom assigns the economy of the first year of a presidency to the credit or blame of the prior president. Putting aside just how much presidents actually affect the economy, the economy moves slowly and policies take time to have an effect. Even the Recovery Act, the fiscal stimulus when Obama first took office, intended as an emergency measure, took until mid-2009 to have any effect, and a lot of it probably had no effect until 2010. In other words, no matter how much Trump screws up, he probably can’t screw up the economy until next year.

Of course, given how Trump’s policies generally seem as if they were whims of an emotionally immature crybaby, I offer no promises about the economy staying good. I’m more or less crossing my fingers that the economy is healthy enough, that Trump can’t give us a 2008 sequel before some real president can address the problems he caused. The fingers of the other hand are crossed in hopes that if he does cause another deep recession, it comes when he’s still president so the blame goes where it belongs.


Let’s think about Mars

by Eric Ferguson on December 25, 2016 · 0 comments

Mars? No, Earth didn’t just suddenly become a happy place and the man-child who won the electoral college didn’t just suddenly hand over the presidency to a adult. I just need a break from Trump and trumpers and deplorables thinking they get to lord it over decent people. I’ve written a bunch about Trump and recovering the Democratic Party and salvaging something of our democracy, and I’ll write more of course. Readers, I assume, have read and will read as much as I have, but now it’s late December and I want a break from it. So if you want a moment’s break too, … Mars.

What brings this up is the National Geographic mini-series Mars, which combines a drama about the first attempt to build a colony on Mars with a documentary about real-life space flight. It was just six one-hour episodes, so easy to binge watch. I recommend it. Spoiler alert: I’m going to mention plot points, though I’ll put them after the “read more” link in case you’re reading this on the front page or from a search result.

The fictional Martian colony was built in the 2030’s, and though NASA is currently working on a Mars lander to send a manned mission, assuming our new anti-science second-place finisher doesn’t kill it — ugh, couldn’t stop thinking about the current catastrophe — the 2030’s seem awfully optimistic for a colony. Wouldn’t it make more sense to build a base on the moon first? It’s the same technological problems to be solved either way, basically. I’m aware Mars and Earth’s moon aren’t the same, but close enough. The key difference is that the moon is about three days away, starting from blast-off, assuming Apollo speeds, whereas Mars is about a year each way. Problems will be inevitable, and not all foreseen, so it seems utterly logical to develop the technology to build an extraterrestrial base where help is three days away instead of year.

I’m thinking of how ironic it is that when in the 2012 campaign Newt Gingrich suggested building a moon base, he was laughed at, but it’s the only sensible thing he’s ever said. Well, there was the time as Speaker of the House he said, “I resign”, but otherwise the moon base was the only smart idea he had. Ugh, guess I just ventured into thinking about the anti-science party again.



Facing reality about the election

by Eric Ferguson on December 14, 2016 · 0 comments

trump3Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead continues to increase as states continue to process absentee ballots and provisional ballots, and we certainly can take some comfort in Hillary winning by the standard used in healthy democracies, but we also have to face a structural problem. This is twice in this young century this has happened to the Democratic candidate. This strains the idea this is a statistical oddity. For all that it lets us push back when Trumpers claim he won some sort of landslide or mandate, we have the same problem with the electoral college we have with the Senate, the House, and most state legislatures: the way those bodies are structured favors Republicans. Both the way districts are drawn and just how the current US population is spread among the various states results in Republican voters being efficiently distributed. That’s most clear when looking at how congressional and legislative seats are gerrymandered in so much of the country, but the structure of the Senate does the same thing. Since each state is equally represented, and small states tend to be populated by the demographic groups that lean Republican, the Senate overrepresents conservative areas. The electoral college isn’t as bad since population counts too, but there would be no President Trump, as there would have been no President Bush Jr., without an efficient distribution of people inclined to vote Republican.

Democrats have an obvious partisan interest in reforming American elections so one person’s vote is equal to anyone else’s, but we can point out that no modern democracy values some votes more than others. This anachronism from the 18th century unfortunately serves Republicans well. In fact, they would not only not hold the presidency without it, but they would not hold the Senate either. That means we’re unlikely to modernize our elections and government structures unless Republicans find themselves disadvantaged. We’re going to have to find ways to win anyway.
And I wish that were all the tough lessons from this election.
Voter suppression laws are working. The author of that linked article, Ari Berman, mentioned in a radio interview (sorry, that means nothing to link to) that most of the people in Wisconsin who didn’t vote because of photo Id restrictions actually did have ID that would have let them vote. They didn’t vote because they wrongly thought they couldn’t or they were unsure and didn’t want to deal with being turned away from the polls. So even just the legal battles, court orders and failure of the Republican government to comply with court orders regarding rules and publicity, did the job of keeping people away from the polls. I haven’t seen the numbers to know how much that holds true for other states, or if the numbers were sufficient to flip the election result, but at least Democrats lost votes because of suppression. So for Republicans, suppression worked. I wish I could say Democrats didn’t pay attention and didn’t do all they could to combat it, but I have a terrible feeling Democrats DID pay attention and do all they could, and it just wasn’t enough.


Keith Ellison is no anti-Semite

by Eric Ferguson on December 7, 2016 · 0 comments

US Rep. Keith EllisonWhen I say Keith Ellison is no anti-Semite, I’m not just speaking as someone who leans left in my politics and likes a lot of his policy positions. I actually know the guy. I’m DFL chair of a state senate district within his congressional district and I’ve been working with him since he first ran for congress in 2006. He’s not an anti-Semite, nor is he anti-Israel. I’m not going to rehash his whole record and the debunking of the allegations being made. Vox has done that admirably. I’m looking to add the voice of someone who knows him.

American politicians are expected to show their pro-Israel bonafides by being one-sided. They’re not allowed to admit that both sides have legitimate points and painfully real security concerns. Keith has visited both Israel and Palestine, and I’ve heard him speak sympathetically of the plight of both sides. I distinctly recall, during one of the spasms of violence in the occupied territories, he explained how awful the Hamas rocket attacks were for Israeli civilians under constant threat of attacks, frequently forcing them to take shelter in case the rockets landed on them. This was in private, not just an attempt to say the right thing to a certain audience. No doubt the wingnuts trying now to swiftboat him would have jumped all over the sympathy he expressed for Palestinian civilians having their lives controlled in destructive, and sometimes even in petty ways, by the Israeli occupation, like restrictions on consumer goods intended merely to make life uncomfortable, not to improve security — because in America we can’t acknowledge there are two sides with valid points and their own suffering.


An election about change — too fast not too slow

by Eric Ferguson on November 19, 2016 · 2 comments

I’m working on a longer post about lessons from this excruciatingly close and catastrophic election, but I wanted to make this point now, because a certain conventional wisdom is forming. I would think we just learned to have a little more skepticism about conventional wisdom, but maybe not.
We keep hearing this was a change election. Consider the possibility this was the opposite, an anti-change election. Trump voters aren’t unhappy because there’s not enough change. They’re unhappy because there has been too much change. They want it rolled back. When they feel left behind, sometimes they’re doing quite well but don’t like how the country is changing. They actually tried to tell us with all the talk of making America great again as if it no longer is, of how things were better back in the 1950’s.
This is a long read, but worth it: A new theory for why Trump voters are so angry — that actually makes sense.

Cramer’s recent book, “The Politics of Resentment,” offers a third perspective. Through her repeated interviews with the people of rural Wisconsin, she shows how politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.

This is in Wisconsin, where city dwellers run just about nothing, not even always their local governments since the GOP state government feels free to override any local ordinances they don’t like. Trump voters are feeling resentful that the country is less white, more foreign born, less Christian, and more metro than it used to be. Consider the possibility that what moves the left, like economic inequality, achievement gaps, and unpunished banksters just has no currency on the right. When they say they want change, they mean an America that’s more white, less metro, less tolerant of gays, more Christian, more native-born — like it used to be. Change has come not too slow, but too fast.


The way forward

by Eric Ferguson on November 14, 2016 · 2 comments

We’ve had a few days to grieve. I know the process doesn’t end just like that, on a schedule. People we know, in our community, in our circle of friends, maybe us, are going to be directly harmed in the dark days to come. The deplorables are feeling free to indulge their prejudices. Before moping any further, remember the anecdotes of non-white and non-Christian children already being bullied in school, women being accosted in public by strange men who think trump rules apply everywhere, DREAMers whose legal status can be revoked in an instant once Trump can revoke Obama’s executive orders. People are about to lose their access to health care when Obamacare is repealed. They’re about to lose protection from the depredations of the big banks when financial reform is repealed. People are going to lose their voting rights, abortion rights, their right to organize and bargain collectively when hard-won rights come under unrestrained Republican attack.


People on the downside of life need us to be strong. Time to snap out of our melancholy and get moving.


And be aware there are bright spots, and there is a way forward.


Never forget, or let anyone else forget, that Hillary Clinton won. The loser gets to assume the presidency, but in terms of who got the most votes, which is what should count, we won — and we didn’t just beat Trump. We also took on the malpracticing mainstream media, a partisan FBI, the Russian government and it’s puppets at Wikileaks, and we beat them. The electoral college, this archaic election system, was one more opponent than we could beat. But we still got more votes, and that needs to be repeated until this bigoted fraudster is gone: he’s the loser. Hillary won.


Also keep this mind before despairing, and let the GOP despair for the future: once again, young adults were heavily Democratic, which has been the case several elections in row. The 18-year-olds who started going heavily Democratic in 2004 are only just now reaching 30, roughly the age where they start voting with regularity. Hispanics and Asians punch below their weight in turnout, but that’s unlikely to last forever and their numbers are rising. The fastest growing religious group is the “nones”, and they are heavily Democratic. Republicans are exultant now, but they’re also on a clock, with an utter fool as a leader. Look at the coming dysfunctional administration as entertainment, because otherwise it will be tragedy, and be glad we aren’t stuck with one of the Republicans who might have been effective at doing awful things.




What can be said about the latest killing?

by Eric Ferguson on July 10, 2016 · 0 comments

revolver muzzleI won’t pretend to wrap it all in one neat package. The killings of police in Dallas, in retaliation for the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, rub emotions raw and bring in more of the current conflicts within the country. Even just that phrase “in retaliation” implies a direct connection not everyone will want to acknowledge. Here are some thoughts on the subject, even if not with a neat bow around them.
There seems to be a contradiction between an attack made in the moment of anger over an incident, and something planned, but those two things can be simultaneously true. As obvious as it is the Dallas shooter was motivated by the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, he had a small arsenal, obviously prepping for something like this. So it’s both an attack spurred by a specific event, and something planned in advance. That’s something those who think it a lie that the Benghazi attack was in response to a video should keep in mind.
Was the Dallas shooter walking around with his rifle, right out in the open? Texas has open carry. A man named Mark Hughes was misidentified as a suspect because he was walking around a non-violent protest with a rifle, apparently missing the whole point of non-violence. Police could tweet his photo but they couldn’t stop him. Did they see the shooter, and were unable to do anything because it was perfectly legal to carry a gun in a volatile situation? Were the deaths of these police officers basically inevitable when Texas instituted open carry? Maybe the shooter somehow stayed concealed and didn’t rely on being able to carry a gun openly, but odds are we’ll never know for sure. What difference might it have made if just carrying the gun was enough to allow police to stop him?


Forget winning and go for a blue wave

by Eric Ferguson on June 28, 2016

Update: sorry about comments being closed. I don’t know how that happened, and no one has been able to figure it out how to enable them. I’ll just say our CMS system is very much not my favorite.
Hillary Clinton brushing her sleeve at Benghazi hearingIn this article on how the presidential election looks state by state, they spent a lot of pixels on Pennsylvania and Florida. There’s good reason, since Pennsylvania might be drifting right and Florida left. This perennial swing state Pennsylvania becoming friendlier for Republicans, and polling Hillary and Trump evenly is a legitimate story, as is Florida giving Hillary maybe they first sizable lead any presidential candidate has had there since the days of the “solid South”, but it’s also story of just two states. They buried the lead a bit. Sort of … they did put Pennsylvania and Florida in the title, but it seems the movement of two states isn’t the big story. This seems like the big story: they project Hillary has 279 electoral votes after they moved Florida to lean D and Pennsylvania to toss up, which means,

A presidential candidate needs 270 Electoral Votes to become president. In other words, if Clinton wins just the states leaning in her direction, she would be president without needing any of the toss up states — Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio or Pennsylvania.

That’s not just a win. That’s a wave. The predictable caveats apply, like it’s still June and the election is months away. Anything could happen and some things will. We don’t know the effect of the voter suppression laws a bunch of Republican state governments have put in place since 2012. Maybe Trump is as smart as he claims to be and loads of new voters will be coming out to for him. Maybe the polls are grossly wrong and he’s really way ahead. Maybe Mexicans and Muslims really do love him. Nah, I don’t buy those last three either.
Different analysts might come up with different results on a state or two, but essentially, they all come up with the same result: Hillary is winning without even winning the toss up states, let alone flipping any light red states. Not only that, but some red states are looking a light shade of red. No, I’m not buying the close vote in Utah, and even Arizona and Georgia are likely to revert to their mean and come around to Trump, but the fact we’re even this conversation means we could be looking at a wave.
Not that a blowout is a wave. A big win for Hillary doesn’t necessarily entail coattails for downballot candidates to hang on to — but it could. It will be no surprise I’m happy to hear, given my plea for Hillary to compete for winnable congressional seats in this non-competitve state of mine, that she’s pursuing a 50-state strategy. It’s the same thing Howard Dean was pursuing when he chaired the DNC, and he’s working with Hillary on this.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

OK Now You Can Panic
Did Donald Trump even know what “Brexit” was when he was first asked about it? The answer seems obvious:

“And Brexit? Your position?” I ask.




“The Brits leaving the EU,” I prompt, realizing that his lack of familiarity with one of the most pressing issues in Europe is for him no concern nor liability at all.

“Oh yeah, I think they should leave.”

Any bets on whether he was hoping the interviewer would clue him in on what the EU is? Probably lots of Americans had no idea what “Brexit” was, but they aren’t a major party’s nominee for president, and they probably didn’t form an instant opinion on something they knew nothing about. Trump, who knows nothing about what’s going on with arguably the most important nation in the world as far as America’s concerned, wants to be entrusted with American foreign policy.
So on the day after the vote, with Britons deeply split and financial markets in a panic, did he show he learned anything? Let’s put it this way: he tweeted “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

{ 1 comment }

Hillary’s vice-president

by Eric Ferguson on June 22, 2016 · 3 comments

warrenI’m just going to start with the conclusion and say I think Hillary is going to pick Elizabeth Warren for vice-president, and the related point, that seems like a good choice. That’s admittedly doing some reading of the proverbial tea leaves, and tea leaf reading has such a poor record with predicting vice-presidential picks, that I make that prediction with low confidence. I can’t think of a strong counter-argument, so file that lack of confidence under “predictions are hard, especially about the future.”
And certainly, I’m not in Hillary’s confidence, at least not since trying to fool her with that Bill costume. You make just one bad decision, as I tried to explain to the Secret Service guy…
Warren is one of a number of people mentioned in reports based on leaks, or maybe claims of leaks, and reports based on anonymous whoever. For example, “Clinton has also begun to winnow a list of more than a dozen potential choices, another senior Democrat said.” Well, if “another senior Democrat” said it, who can argue? Hillary has met with Warren more than once. Warren endorsed Hillary in an interview with Rachel Maddow, and when asked if she would be ready to be president if she was vice-president and the worst happened to Hillary, she just out and out said yes. Maybe she’s just that self-confident, but that sounded like someone who had been seriously thinking about it.
Then there are the reports Senate minority leader Harry Reid is looking into Massachusetts’ unusual procedure for replacing a senator. Maybe he’s just idly curious. What a coincidence.
Vox looked at strength and weaknesses of list of candidates supposedly leaked. It seems a plausible list, and most names are popping up elsewhere. All the candidates have strengths and weaknesses, but what sticks out is that Warren has the strongest strengths, and the most addressable weaknesses. Others have weaknesses like lack of campaign experience, lack of governing experience, low name recognition, and to connect to my point about Reid, a bunch are incumbent senators whose replacements would be chosen by Republican governors. So if Hillary wins, a senate seat flips to the Republicans. I actually thought AL Franken and Amy Klobuchar would be considered, not just for what they might bring to the ticket, but because their replacement would be chosen by a Democratic governor. Warren’s replacement, though picked by a Republican, would be temporary since Massachusetts requires a special election 160 days after the vacancy occurs, not coincidental with the next even numbered general election like most states. In other words, picking Warren entails less risk of ceding a Senate seat than if several other rumored candidates were chosen.
And here’s an oddball reason for thinking Warren will get picked: Wall Street is convinced she won’t be.