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Eric Ferguson

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Eric Ferguson

Democrats getting our messages crossed

by Eric Ferguson on June 13, 2017 · 0 comments

trump12Go ahead, get the snark out of the way. “Isn’t that always the case?” Maybe, however, we’re talking about a specific matter where different Democrats put out messages that don’t go together.
This is something I’ve noticed during the last couple monthly jobs reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (the most recent report is always here). Different Democrats reacted in ways to indicate there are two schools of thought on how we should frame the economy. One tries to pick out weaknesses, like a dropping amount of jobs created each month or a decline in the rate of participation in the labor force, to show how the economy is weakening since Trump got hold of it. The other, and I subscribe to this other (or should I say still subscribe), holds that the economy is currently strong and we need to emphasize that Trump inherited this economy.


I understand where the other side is coming from, because there are weaknesses in the last jobs report, but that’s always the case. Even the strongest economy has weak spots, so of course it’s tempting the emphasize the weak points. The problem is an economy with an unemployment rate around 4.5% is pretty good, and it looks ridiculous to argue otherwise. Yes, there are always some regions and occupations that aren’t sharing in the prosperity, and there are long term problems and potential problems. That doesn’t mean the unemployment rate isn’t low because it’s high in some places. That’s just a variation that always occurs, like some regions and industries got spared the 2008-2009 recession, even as awful as it was.


We may have passed peak trumper

by Eric Ferguson on May 11, 2017 · 0 comments

europeWhen I say we may have passed peak trumper, of course I know that it’s still early days for the Trump administration and he may get a second term. At the risk of being overpessimistic, it’s tough to beat incumbent presidents: maybe not as tough as beating incumbent congressmen, but still tough. Likewise the other big extreme right electoral win last year, Britain’s brexit, hasn’t even taken place yet (though the effects showing up so far are pretty much as the excoriated “experts” predicted).
So sure, in policy terms, the worst of the extreme right, alt-right, authoritarian right, nativist right or, to use the euphemism, “populist” right, is yet to happen. The corruption and vandalizing of our democratic institutions is just getting going. Yet, in electoral terms, it seems like the worst has passed. Trump won the GOP nomination and a big minority of the vote riding the same electoral wave that passed brexit, and before that put conservative conspiracy theorists in charge in Poland, and outright proto-fascists in charge of Hungary. Now it appears the fever broke even before it got to France, where a nativist FOP (Friend of Putin) ran a campaign indistinguishable from Trump except in the country she was going to make white, err, great, again.



Let Republicans Kill the Filibuster

by Eric Ferguson on April 7, 2017 · 0 comments

Republicans chose to use the “nuclear option” and kill the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Good. In the short term it lets a extreme right winger sit for life on the Supreme Court to be essentially another Antonin Scalia, and the Republicans succeeded in stealing a Supreme Court seat. Apparently conservatives believe in preserving behavioral norms only when they see short term advantage to it.
But this is a long term benefit to liberals, not conservatives, as the filibuster has benefited conservatives much more than liberals. Note that I said “liberals” and “conservatives”, not “Democrats” and “Republicans”. As your Republicans friends like to say, when trying to claim Democrats are the real racists, lots of Democrats voted against civil rights way back when: a half truth with a half that explains why killing the filibuster is better for liberals. From the end of Reconstruction until the “Solid South” finished switching which party it was solid for in roughly the 1980’s, both parties had conservative and liberal wings. The most conservative element of American politics was southern white Democrats, also called “dixiecrats”, now called “the Republican base”. Conservatives used the filibuster to block anti-lynching bills. Yes, the filibuster made it hard to do anything about lynching during the first half of the 20th century. The civil rights bills of the 60’s might have passed a decade earlier, but didn’t because they were filibustered by a big enough conservative minority.


Bad Actors and Big Wars

by Eric Ferguson on April 3, 2017 · 1 comment

coat of arms of Hapsburg empire of AustriaApril 6th marks the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. If there’s one metaphor you’ve read in every history of World War I, it was probably “tinderbox”. That’s how the pre-war world is frequently described: “Europe was a tinderbox”, or “rival alliances were a tinderbox”. If someone had asked me about WWI before recently, I probably would have said “something something tinderbox” too. Not now, in a change Trump has already wrought. I occurred to me that it was in a way something worse: two bad actors started the war. There was nothing unavoidable about it. Two people could have stopped it. Yes, two, and how this relates to Trumpworld will likely be guessed by readers before I spell it out, but let’s spell it out anyway.
That’s not to dispute that the European empires weren’t a metaphorical tinderbox, but when weren’t they? Was a balance of power that could crash down in a major war an invention of the early 20th century? We’ve had balances of power between rival states going back to at least the invention of states, and I suspect it goes back to whenever groups of pre-historic humans noticed there were other groups of humans, and found themselves asking how strong everyone was and who were likely enemies or allies. Point being, it’s wrong to think there was something unique in the early 20th century and it had to result in a big war inevitably. Maybe it was inevitable, no way to know, but it didn’t have to happen right then, the way it did. So why did it? What caused such a massive breakdown of global order and the world’s biggest war (pending the next world war, of course)? What went wrong?
What went wrong was two bad actors: Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

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Trump inherited a strong economy

by Eric Ferguson on February 7, 2017 · 1 comment

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.

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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.